Beautifully Honest Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Whitcraft Winery

Whitcraft is a small, family-owned and operated winery in Santa Barbara, CA known for their traditionally made and “unadulterated” Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Established in 1985 by Chris and Kathleen (Barnato) Whitcraft, the winery started as a passion for both the craft of winemaking and the lifestyle. Chris learned from California greats including Joe Heitz, Dick Graff, and Burt Williams while simultaneously hosting a radio show about wine from 1978 to 1989. Chris and Kathleen’s son Drake joined the family winery and took over in 2007, maintaining the traditional practices of hand-harvesting, foot-pressing, no added enzymes, and native yeast fermentation. Whitcraft’s wines are pure, well-balanced, and honest representations of the fruit and terroir, often remaining low in alcohol and not seeing much added SO2. Drake hand fills and corks his wines, with production incredibly limited and often reserved for mailing list clients or restaurants. Though Chris passed away in 2014, his vision and passion live on through Drake to this day.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.49% ABV

The 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir is translucent pale ruby in color. Once this opens up, the nose displays aromas of ripe red cherry, wild raspberry, forest floor, stemmy underbrush, mint, dusty dried rock, and light baking spice. Moving to the palate, the wine showcases notes of strawberry, black cherry, cranberry, licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, white pepper, and green herbs and vegetation. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) finish. Would love to revisit this wine with a few more years of bottle age.

Price: $68. Whitcraft Pinot Noirs are some of my favorites out of California, and while they don’t have that opulence found in a lot of cult Cali Pinots I think they strike up right with some of the big dogs and therefore make a good value play. Pair with grilled duck breast, herb-roasted chicken, or goat cheese and salami.

Tasty Bordeaux Blend for Everyday Drinking

Today’s Story: The Paring

The Paring is like a “little sister” to Jonata and The Hilt, both wineries I wrote about previously, and is produced from blocks that are either too young or not stylistically aligned with its big sisters. As I mentioned in previous posts, Jonata and The Hilt are sister wineries of Screaming Eagle through a shared owner in Stan Kroenke who also owns the LA Rams and other sporting teams. Jonata excels with Rhône and Bordeaux varieties while The Hilt commands Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, providing the basis for the Paring portfolio which includes a Bordeaux Blend, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rosé of Pinot Noir. Fruit for The Paring is sourced primarily from the Ballard Canyon, Sta. Rita Hills, and Santa Maria Valley regions of Santa Barbara, and the winery also shares its skilled winemaker Matt Dees with Jonata and The Hilt.

If you care to further your reading today and perhaps get a glimpse into the “big dogs,” you can check out my prior reviews on Jonata and The Hilt below today’s tasting notes.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Red Blend

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2015 Paring Red is opaque deep ruby/purple in color and near black at its core. I suggest giving this a good hour+ decant, which helps the wine blossom to showcase a nose of blackberry compote, crème de cassis, spiced plum, anise, tobacco, crushed rock, cinnamon, and a hint of oak. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of black plum, blackcurrant, blueberry, redcurrant, sweet tobacco, charred earth, green herbs, espresso, and light toasted oak. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $25. This is a very fairly priced everyday drinker that I think can both appeal to a broad range of consumers (thanks to its fruit-forward qualities) and to the more particular “connoisseur” (thanks to it NOT being oak-bombed and offering some nice depth). Pair this with ribeye steak, veal, or charcuterie and mild cheese.

Prior Jonata and The Hilt Posts:

2005 Jonata El Corazón de Jonata (click here)
2010 Jonata Tierra (click here)
2006 Jonata El Alma de Jonata (click here)

2016 The Hilt Cuvée Fleur Chardonnay (click here)

Stunning California Chardonnay – for Half the Price it Should Be

Today’s Story: Chanin Wine Co.

I recently wrote about Chanin when I reviewed the 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir in Elegant Pinot Noir From Santa Barbara County, though if you missed it I recreated the winery’s background below.

Chanin Wine Co. was established in 2007 by winemaker Gavin Chanin, and his goal is to produce single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. Gavin selected the vineyards to source his fruit based on their organic (or at minimum sustainable) farming practices while also seeking older vines. The current vineyard selections include Sanford & Benedict in the Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley, and Duvarita just west of the Sta. Rita Hills. Gavin eschews higher alcohol levels in his wines to foster balance and finesse, while practicing gentle winemaking methods and avoiding additives such as commercial yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes. All of Chanin’s wines are bottled unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2015 Bien Nacido Chardonnay is gorgeous deep gold in color and transparent. This was beautiful out of the bottle, but really opened up after an hour in the glass and continued to change with the nose showcasing aromas of lemon zest, white peach, golden pear, stone fruit, white florals and honeysuckle, dry/dusty gravel, brioche, faint dried vanilla bean, spice, and stone minerality. On the palate, I get notes of golden apple skins, baked pear, peach, lemon and lime citrus, white lily, crushed rock, hazelnut, exotic spice, saline minerality, and very light toasted oak. This is full-bodied with beautiful medium (+) acidity and a remarkably well-rounded mouthfeel into a long, lingering finish that makes you yearn for another sip. 23 barrels produced.

Price: $39. This wine is a ridiculous value. Not only are the complexity, precision, and depth something to write home about, this stands up to a significant amount of high-quality white Burgundy I’ve enjoyed over the years. I truly must applaud Gavin Chanin for this exceptional bottling. Pair with hazelnut-crusted roast chicken, smoked whitefish, or lobster.

Incredibly Versatile Trousseau Gris

Today’s Story: Jolie-Laide

Jolie-Laide is a small, boutique winery established by Scott Schultz in Forestville, California, though he sources his fruit from various California winegrowing regions and appellations. I previously wrote about Jolie-Laide’s history and reviewed their 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache in A Journey for the Mind and Palate, and I highly encourage you to read this post if you haven’t already. For now, let’s get onto the tasting notes of today’s remarkably fun wine.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Trousseau Gris

100% Trousseau Gris; 12.4% ABV

The 2019 Trousseau Gris is transparent peach/salmon in color. The nose showcases aromas of tangerine, melon, stone fruit, white florals, cream, white peppery spice, and saline mineral. On the palate, I get notes of white peach, nectarine, melon, pink rose, honeysuckle, white tea leaf, and crushed stone minerality. This is medium-bodied with crisp medium (+) acidity and plush mouthfeel into a fully rounded and long finish.

Price: $30 direct from winery. This is a great value for several major reasons. Its quality and precision are impeccable, it is very fun (drinks like a cross between a rosé and white wine), and the versatility is profound. Pair this with lobster, herb-grilled chicken, or a turkey sandwich.

A Fun, Nearly Extinct Abouriou

Today’s Story: Absentee Winery

Absentee Winery is a boutique winery established in 2016 by Avi Deixler in Point Reyes, California and is situated in a barn of a working dairy farm. Avi had to fight tooth and nail with the Marin County Planning Commission to establish his winery, but ultimately he prevailed and is the only registered winery in the North Marin Wine District. Before starting Absentee, Avi worked at wineries in California, Oregon, Australia, and France and ultimately gained an appreciation for natural wines and wanted to produce his own with ONLY grapes. Avi sources his fruit from the organic-certified Poor Ranch in Hopland, and his wines are produced using whole cluster fermentation and carbonic maceration with no additional yeasts, temperature control, or SO2 and sulfites. Also interesting is the fact that Avi “refurbishes” his own barrels by purchasing used barrels and hand sanding the interior to remove any residue, blemishes, and chemicals. Avi’s wines are produced in a hands-off style and bottled unfined and unfiltered, with the results embodying true expression of fruit unhindered by modern additives.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Flaws

100% Abouriou; 14.5% ABV

The 2018 Flaws is deep opaque purple in color, nearly black at its core. Once this opens up, which doesn’t take too long, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, blackberry, black raspberry, violet, dried leather, loamy earth, vanilla, and slight woody spice. On the palate, I get notes of black plum, blackberry jam, tart cherry, anise, black pepper, baking spice, and underbrush. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Note: Not sure what happened to the label of my bottle, it’s supposed to show half of a bear on roller skates. Looks like this guy got flipped upside down and printed both ways!

Price: $40. On a value perspective, this is a bit pricey. Particularly if natural wines are your style or you want to explore the arena, there are much better options when it comes to your wallet. However, this was purely a fun wine to try because I’d never before heard of Abouriou, the nearly extinct variety, and it was highly enjoyable. Pair this with barbecue pork ribs, grilled sausage, or roasted duck.

A Journey for the Mind and Palate

Today’s Story: Jolie-Laide

Established by Scott Schultz, Jolie-Laide is a small, boutique winery crafting wines in Forestville, California. Jolie-Laide is a French term of endearment for something unconventionally beautiful that translates to “pretty-ugly,” and Scott decided to use it in naming his winery following experiences in the restaurant business. When he worked at Bouchon in Yountville, Scott realized that the majority of people didn’t seem to explore the wine list but rather stick to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Cabernet Sauvignon. He thought this was a travesty of sorts, given the wonderful varieties including Gamay, Valdiguié, Vermentino, or Trousseau Gris. Eventually Scott transitioned out of the restaurant business and found himself working alongside Pax Mahle, a wildly skilled winemaker in his own right. One year, Pax allowed Scott to make a wine of his own using 1-2 tons of fruit and he decided to use none other than Trousseau Gris because of how fascinating of a variety it is to him. Alas, Jolie-Laide was born and continues to produce magnificent and wildly fun wines today.

When it comes to sourcing his fruit, Scott works with farmers he has known for years who largely follow organic practices and work incredibly unique sites. After harvest, all of the Jolie-Laide red fruit is foot crushed and left whole cluster with some of the varieties (like Gamay) seeing carbonic maceration. Thanks to Scott’s selection of incredible sites, he can be pretty hands-off during the rest of the winemaking process and let the terroir and fruit speak for itself. Jolie-Laide lets their wines ferment naturally and, instead of using temperature control, says “we stick things in the sun if we need to get them warm” (source). Furthermore, Scott adds little SO2 when necessary in part because his wines tend to be bottled young to both preserve freshness in the fruit and provide barrels for the following year’s harvest.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache

100% Grenache; 12.8% ABV

The 2016 Provisor Vineyard Grenache is pale ruby/garnet in color and moderately transparent. I drank this over 4.5 hours (don’t ask me how I restrained myself) and it is remarkable how drastically this picked up weight over time. The nose showcases aromas of candied strawberry, juicy raspberry, black cherry, red licorice, sweet tobacco, granite, oregano, and cinnamon. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of muddled strawberry, tart red raspberry, candied plum, anise, tobacco, dark leather, crushed rock, green herbs, and peppery spice. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. While this started off thin and falling off by mid-palate, my patience was handsomely, handsomely rewarded.

Price: $38. Buy it. All I can say is if you can find this bottle close to the price, it is supremely worth the adventure. If you do though, and haven’t taken heed of my commentary above, I implore you once again to give this air. Pair with braised pork, wild boar, or smoked charcuterie.

Elegant Pinot Noir From Santa Barbara County

Today’s Story: Chanin Wine Co.

Chanin Wine Co. was established in 2007 by winemaker Gavin Chanin, and his goal is to produce single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County. Gavin selected the vineyards to source his fruit based on their organic (or at minimum sustainable) farming practices while also seeking older vines. The current vineyard selections include Sanford & Benedict in the Sta. Rita Hills, Los Alamos between the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley, and Duvarita just west of the Sta. Rita Hills. Gavin eschews higher alcohol levels in his wines to foster balance and finesse, while practicing gentle winemaking methods and avoiding additives such as commercial yeasts, bacteria, and enzymes. All of Chanin’s wines are bottled unfiltered.

Fun Fact: The artwork featured on Chanin’s labels is Gavin’s own.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.28% ABV

The 2014 Duvarita Vineyard Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color and moderately transparent. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of strawberry, red cherry, rosehip, leather, tobacco, loamy earth, smoked game, green herbs, and exotic spice. On the palate, this displays notes of bright red cherry, muddled strawberry, black raspberry, violet, worn leather, charred earth, stemmy underbrush, and cracked pepper. Light- to medium-bodied with a velvety mouthfeel, medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. 34 barrels produced.

Price: $50. Not really the style I was expecting, as this reminds me of a Kosta Browne or Williams Selyem, but this is certainly a delicious Pinot Noir. This is very well-made and the lower alcohol content does seem to help bring out the elegance and finesse of the wine. Pair this with seared tuna, grilled quail, or herb-roasted chicken.

Natural Valdiguié That Nearly Left Me Speechless

Today’s Story: Broc Cellars

Broc Cellars, located in Berkeley, California, is a boutique winery established by winemaker and owner Chris Brockway. Though Chris purchases the fruit for his wines, he ensures that all of it comes from sustainably or organically farmed vineyards (often managed by him) where the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or fertilizers is eschewed. In crafting his wines, he utilizes spontaneous fermentation where only natives yeasts and bacteria reign supreme without any additives. Chris doesn’t add any nutrients, enzymes, or tannins to his wines and adds zero to minimal SO2 depending on the wine. For his varieties that range from Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay to Nero d’Avola and Valdiguié, Chris sources fruit from Mendocino, Sonoma, and Solano counties as well as Alexander Valley and beyond.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Got Grapes

100% Valdiguié; 11.5% ABV

The 2018 Got Grapes is pale purple in color and moderately opaque. I simply let this open in the glass with the nose showcasing aromas of cranberry, dried raspberry, red and purple florals, slight barnyard, wet sand, steel cut oats, eucalyptus, and rocky mineral. Once on the palate, this delicious wine displays notes of crunchy red raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate, rocky soil, stemmy underbrush, tobacco leaf, black pepper, and mineral. This is light- to medium-bodied with gorgeous medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. This Valdiguié is sourced from two dry farmed vineyards in Mendocino County, and the fruit is destemmed and fermented on the skins before being pressed into tanks to complete fermentation and aged for 6 months in neutral French oak barrels. 400 cases produced.

Price: $27 direct from winery (I snagged it for $24). This is not a wine for every palate but it is not too far out there by any means for those who want to explore a naturally-made wine. For me, I thought this was absolutely fantastic and for its price not only of supreme quality and delicious but certainly fun. Pair this with roasted chicken, grilled salmon, or charcuterie and hard cheeses.

Perplexing and Fun California White Blend

Today’s Story: Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery

I previously wrote about Dirty & Rowdy when reviewing their 2018 Familiar Mourvèdre in Wildly Fun California Mourvèdre, but I will recreate their story below.

Dirty & Rowdy is a small, family-operated winery founded in 2010 by couples Hardy & Kate and Matt & Amy with the goal of producing minimal intervention “honest wines.” Known for their range of Mourvèdre bottlings, Dirty & Rowdy also produces Petite Syrah, Chenin Blanc, and blends that include a GSM and Semillon-dominant white almost all with 100% whole cluster native fermentation, either zero or minimal SO2 added, and no filtering or fining when bottled. Dirty & Rowdy sources their fruit from vineyards in Mendocino, Monterey, Contra Costa, El Dorado, and Amador Counties, with most vineyards organically farmed or at a minimum “responsibly” farmed and unique.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Familiar Blanc

55% Semillon, 16% Chenin Blanc, 15% Pinot Blanc, 10% Viognier, 3% Muscat, 1% Marsanne; 12.3% ABV

The 2018 Familiar Blanc is gorgeous medium gold/yellow in color and completely transparent. The delicate nose emits aromas of melon, peach, tropical citrus, white florals, straw, chamomile, and saline mineral. Once in the mouth, this easy drinking wine displays notes of pear, golden apple skins, lemon zest, grapefruit, honeysuckle, white pepper, stone minerality, and wax. This is medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity and a fully-rounded mouthfeel into a medium length finish. The wine is produced with 60% whole cluster and 40% skin native fermentation with no winemaking additives and minimal SO2.

Price: $30. Similar to my experience with the Dirty & Rowdy Familiar Mourvèdre I reviewed a few weeks ago, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and fun wine. Pair this with shellfish, roasted pork, or Manchego cheese.

Boutique Syrah for the Explorer

Today’s Story: Arnot-Roberts

Arnot-Roberts is a boutique winery established in 2001 by Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, two childhood friends who grew up together in Napa Valley. After college, Nathan started working with his father as a cooper of oak wine barrels while Duncan pursued winemaking throughout Napa and Sonoma counties. Arnot-Roberts began with a single barrel of wine the duo produced in their basement and over time grew through the purchase of fruit from renowned vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, El Dorado, and Amador counties as well as the Santa Cruz Mountains. When selecting vineyards, Arnot-Roberts makes sure the farmers are both “passionate and conscientious” because their goal is to produce small quantities of honest, terroir-driven single-vineyard wines which truly express their unique place.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Que Syrah Vineyard

100% Syrah; 12.2% ABV

The Que Syrah Vineyard, planted in 1993 at an elevation of 850 feet, is the oldest planting of Syrah on the Sonoma Coast. This organically-farmed vineyard is composed of sedimentary schist, shale, and fractured mudstone and Arnot-Roberts became the steward of the site in 2013.

The 2016 Que Syrah is mostly opaque medium purple in color heading toward fuchsia at the rim. I decanted this for 1.5 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of plum, blueberry, licorice, rocky soil, black olive, green beans, ground herbs, and smoke while screaming of whole cluster fermentation. Once on the palate, this displays notes of brambleberry, black plum, cola, wild blueberry, mild sweet tobacco, crushed rock, ground green pepper, olive, and exotic spice. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, elegant medium tannins, and a long finish. 4 barrels produced.

Price: $70. While not the greatest California Syrah I’ve had, I would be comfortable putting this up with the greatest “natural” California Syrahs I’ve had. While not for everyone, I would suggest the explorers and Syrah lovers looking for something new give this a shot. Pair this with a good burger, herb-roasted lamb, or braised beef.