Terroir Driven Pinot From the Sta. Rita Hills

Today’s Story: Tyler Winery

Tyler Winery is a relatively small winery and estate established by Justin Tyler Willett in 2005. At the time, Justin was assistant winemaker at Arcadian Winery and honed his craft with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay while maintaining several barrels in the corner of the cellar that ultimately became Tyler. Tyler Winery sources all of their fruit from Santa Barbara County, with major emphasis in the Sta. Rita Hills and more recently the Santa Maria Valley as well. Within the Sta. Rita Hills, Justin sources from acclaimed sites including Bentrock, La Encantada, La Rinconada, Sanford & Benedict, and Zotovich Family. In the Santa Maria Valley, Justin sources from Dierberg and the highly-regarded Bien Nacido Vineyard. In the past few years, Justin and his wife Amanda also purchased their first estate vineyard, named Mae Estate Vineyard, in the Sta. Rita Hills. In 2017, they planted 28 acres to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah which were transplanted from vine materials sourced from trusting partners in 2015. The 2019 vintage marks the first from this estate site.

On the winemaking side, all vineyards practice organic viticulture and fruit is harvested by hand during the night. Hand-sorting occurs at the winery, then native yeast fermentation begins for both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in large oak vats. Wines are barreled down once dry, and new oak usage varies by variety, block, vine age, and vintage though the preference seems to go toward neutral oak. After a year or so in barrel, the wines are racked, blended, and returned to barrel for several more months. When ready, the wines are usually bottled unfined and unfiltered with the end result meant to showcase the unique terroir of each vineyard site or the appellation as a whole.

To learn or explore Tyler further, check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.2% ABV

The 2019 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color. I let this open up for 45 minutes to an hour in the glass and it really blossoms. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of black cherry, stemmy strawberry, licorice, new leather, game, gravel, damp earth, thyme, and some oaky spice. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity, incorporating notes of tart cherry, black raspberry, spiced plum, rose, sweet tobacco, cured meat, crushed rock, charred green herbs, and mild baking spice. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $38 from the winery (I found it for $34 retail). I find this to be a rather solid value for domestic Pinot Noir, especially if you can find it closer to the $30 mark which seems reasonable with some searching. The wine is a very good expression of the Sta. Rita Hills, with balance, length, intensity, and complexity to match (and at such a young age).

Young but Promising Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Liquid Farm

Liquid Farm is a Chardonnay-focused winery established in 2009 in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA of Santa Barbara County, California. Founded by Jeff and Nikki Nelson, Liquid Farm started with four barrels of wine and the dream to produce Old World style Chardonnay while supporting local viticulture. Two of these first four barrels showcased a more mineral-driven profile that reminded Jeff and Nikki of Chablis so they named it White Hill after the white chalky hills of Chablis. The other two barrels showcased warmer tones and fuller profiles reminiscent of Meursault, so they named that wine Golden Slope after the Côte d’Or. Though Liquid Farm expanded their portfolio over time, they still focus on four Chardonnay bottlings as well as a rosé and small amounts of Pinot Noir.

Sticking to their love of terroir-driven wines, the winemaking philosophy at Liquid Farm is rather hands-off. Under the guide of winemaker James Sparks, winemaking follows the path of minimal intervention from manual harvest through to native yeast fermentation and aging in neutral oak barrels. The team makes no machine adjustments or additions to the wine in order to preserve a sense of place and true-to-variety profile, ultimately even letting the wines go through malolactic fermentation naturally. Given the cool climate of Sta. Rita Hills, these wines are often bottled with higher natural acidity and lower alcohol which makes them perfect table wines for anyone who appreciates the style and an expression of terroir.

I previously reviewed the 2016 Golden Slope Chardonnay from Liquid Farm. You can also check out their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2019 SBC Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2019 SBC Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color. Due to the wine’s youth, I let this open up in the glass for about 45 minutes and it blossomed more and more as I drank it. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose displaying notes of ripe red cherry, raspberry jam, cranberry, leather, violet, cola, clove, and very faint cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium (+) intensity and the palate showcases notes of black raspberry, strawberry, cherry cola, sweet tobacco, clove, cracked pepper, and a touch of ground herbs. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. Fruit on this right now is gorgeous, though I’d recommend holding onto this for another year or two and I wager you’ll be rewarded as everything comes together.

Price: $45 (I found it for $40). I think this is pretty fairly-priced, particularly closer to the $40 level and with many stores selling this for $50. It’s a bit richer than I was expecting, though I think some of this can be attributed to youth and the wine should integrate well over the years to come. High quality is there, and this does a solid job of representing Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir.

Non-Vintage Grower Champagne with Remarkable Depth and Precision

Today’s Story: Champagne Agrapart & Fils

Champagne Agrapart & Fils is a grower Champagne house established by Arthur Agrapart in 1894. Situated in the village of Avize in the Côte de Blancs, the Agrapart holdings include 12 hectares (30 acres) of predominantly Chardonnay in mostly Grand Cru vineyards in Avize, Oger, Cramant, and Oiry. Today under the guide of fourth generation Pascal Agrapart (joined in 1984), the vineyards are farmed organically (and they have been for some time) while average vine age hovers around 40 years with many of the vines aged 70 years or older. Agrapart produces roughly 5,400 cases or less of Champagne each vintage, partially in an effort to maintain the highest quality standards both in the vineyards and in the cellar. At the end of the day these Champagnes are meant to show a true sense of place, so winemaking is rather hands-off including native yeast fermentation, long aging on the lees, and used-oak barrel aging. Come bottling, each wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Agrapart produces seven wines, beginning with the entry-level 7 Crus that I am reviewing today. The 7 Crus is a non-vintage bottling, made by blending two vintages together with fruit sourced from four Grand Cru vineyards and three 1er Cru vineyards. Next up is the non-vintage Terroirs bottling, which is a Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) sourced from only Grand Cru vineyards and made up of two vintages. To wrap up the non-vintage selections, the Complantée bottling is a field blend of today’s standard Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier Champagne varieties accompanied by “ancient” varieties of Arbane, Petit Meslier, and Pinot Blanc. It is also made exclusively with Grand Cru fruit.

The three main vintage wines of Agrapart include Minéral, Avizoise, and Vénus. All three of these are Blanc de Blancs made with only Grand Cru fruit, with the Minéral showcasing the precise and saline nature of the chalky soils. Meanwhile the Avizoise tends to be denser and richer thanks to deep, clay-rich topsoil and the Vénus is a single-vineyard expression of Avize. Last but not least, Agrapart produces very limited quantities of the Expérience bottling which is as natural as Champagne can get. This is a Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru and Brut Nature wine, made from old vines in Avize and produced without any external additives whatsoever. It’s also only made in select vintages, and is highly sought after.

Champagne Agrapart

Today’s Wine: NV ‘7 Crus’ Extra Brut

90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir; 12% ABV

The NV ‘7 Crus’ Extra Brut Champagne is medium to deep gold in color with gorgeous and delicate effervescence. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of green apple skins, ripe pear, lemon zest, white peach, honey, brioche toast, cheese rind, vanilla cream, crushed chalk, and wet limestone. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity with the palate displaying notes of peach, green apple, nectarine, quince, chamomile, honey, freshly-baked bread, oyster shell, sea salt, and crushed stone minerality. This dry Champagne is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $60. Though not inexpensive, I think this Champagne offers solid value as the intensity and complexity are profound. There is remarkable depth to this wine for an “entry level” bottling and the precision is laser-like. This drinks up there with Champagnes significantly more expensive.

Terroir-Driven Pinot Noir Born From an American and French Collaboration

Today’s Story: Racines Wine

Racines Wine is a collaboration between Santa Barbara winemaker Justin Willett (Tyler Winery and Lieu Dit) and French vignerons Étienne de Montille (Domaine de Montille in Burgundy) and Rodolphe Péters (Pierre Péters Champagne). In 2016, Étienne and his Chef de Cave, Brian Sieve, took an exploratory journey to California and Oregon in pursuit of their first winemaking venture outside of Burgundy, ultimately settling on the Sta. Rita Hills of California with Justin as their winemaker. A year later, Rodolphe joined the team to provide insight into Chardonnay and sparkling wine production, with the sparkling wine set for release in the near future.

As one might expect, the winemaking philosophy at Racines meshes well amongst all parties as they come from backgrounds of producing terroir-driven and elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. What’s more, they’re not trying to make something “Old World” or “Burgundian” per say, but rather simply showcasing the unique characteristics of the Sta. Rita Hills which has proven to be a rather high-quality AVA for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. All this being said, Racines’ Pinot Noir is fermented whole-cluster with pigéage throughout, while the Chardonnay production follows closely with the traditions of Burgundy and Champagne.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Sta. Rita Hills Cuvée Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Sta. Rita Hills Cuvée Pinot Noir is medium ruby in color. I poured my glass and forgot about it for an hour or so, which this wine needs at its youthful stage. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the rather complex nose showcasing notes of black cherry, red plum, muddled strawberry, leather, violet, pine, cola, cinnamon, chopped green herbs, and wet gravel. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of red cherry, black raspberry, strawberry, blood orange rind, sweet tobacco, licorice, violet, chalk, and crushed rock. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a long finish. Pretty well-balanced and I love the layers upon layers to this wine that surface over time.

Price: $60 (I paid $48). I don’t know if I can necessarily go as far as calling this a screaming value (because there are a plethora of Pinot Noir options for half the price that drink incredibly well), but there is no denying the intensity, complexity, and length to this wine are all worthy to note. This is a gorgeous wine now, though I’m excited to see what a few more years of bottle age will accomplish.

An Oregon Take on Burgundy’s “Secret” Value

Today’s Story: Evening Land Vineyards

Evening Land Vineyards is a producer of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay located in the Eola-Amity Hills of Oregon. Though the label was “officially” established in 2005, their historic and world-class Seven Springs Vineyard dates back to 1984 when it was planted by Al MacDonald. Though the winery has changed hands a number of times, labels have been updated, and fruit sources have changed, sommelier Rajat Parr and winemaker Sashi Moorman joined in 2014 and remain involved to this day. With their Seven Springs estate vineyard, which has been dry-farmed since inception and shifted to biodynamic viticulture in 2007, Parr and Moorman oversee significant Pinot Noir plantings followed by Chardonnay and then smaller amounts of Gamay. The Pinot clones include Calera, Pommard, Swan, and Mt. Eden, and they have produced some of the greatest wines in Oregon winemaking history with the vineyard in its earlier days a source for many highly-regarded wineries.

I previously wrote about the 2018 Seven Springs Pinot Noir from Evening Land.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Seven Springs Passetoutgrain

Co-ferment of Pinot Noir and Gamay; 12% ABV

The 2019 Seven Springs Passetoutgrain is deep purple in color with ruby hues. Given some time to open up in the glass, this blossoms into a rather complex wine for its youth. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of cherry, raspberry, mulberry compote, blueberry, rose petal, rosemary, pine, and finely crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of blackberry, cranberry, white cherry, mulberry, blueberry, savory garden herbs, black olive, and stony mineral. This dry red is light-bodied with high acidity, low tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. 595 cases produced.

Price: $35. I think this is pretty fairly priced given the balance, length, and complexity though there are probably better values if you look to Beaujolais for carbonic Gamay. I haven’t had any Bourgogne Passetoutgrain to compare this to, so I found my next tasting task.

Budget-Friendly Pinot Noir From Trader Joe’s

Today’s Story: Cotillion (Trader Joe’s)

Out of curiosity and at the urging of a friend, I decided to try a few wines from Trader Joe’s and this is one of them. It’s a light day background-wise, as this seems to be one of the many bottlings made for Trader Joe’s specifically and I cannot gather much information beyond the back label. The wine I’m reviewing today is a Pinot Noir vinted and bottled by Ashford Court in American Canyon within Napa County, though the fruit comes from Monterey County (56%), Sonoma County (33%), and Santa Barbara County (11%).

Today’s Wine: 2018 Cotillion Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.8% ABV (seems like it could be higher)

The 2018 Cotillion Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color and rather transparent. Given some time in the glass, the aromas blossom with medium (+) intensity and the nose showcases notes of black cherry, black raspberry, blood orange rind, leather, cola, baking spice, a hint of vanilla, and oak. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of strawberry, raspberry, red cherry, sweet tobacco, licorice, charred green herbs, and vanilla. Though the profile is exactly what I was expecting (fruity and with more oak influence than my personal preferred taste) this is better than I expected given the price. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a medium-length finish.

Price: $10. Though not a wine I’d personally buy again, I think this is actually quite good given the accessible price-point. It has broad consumer appeal and offers better complexity and balance than many wines in the same ballpark. It seems to be pretty good quality overall as well.

Young but Complex Oregon Pinot Noir From the Yamhill-Carlton AVA

Today’s Story: Big Table Farm

Big Table Farm is a relatively small winery and farm established in the Willamette Valley of Oregon in 2006 by winemaker Brian Marcy and artist/farmer Clare Carver. Brian worked with wine in Napa Valley prior to starting Big Table Farm, spending a decade with stints at heavyweights like Turley Wine Cellars, Neyers Vineyards, Blankiet Estate, and Marcassin to hone his craft. Meanwhile Clare is a gifted artist and designs wine labels, many of which have been awarded.

Dedicated to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and small amounts of Pinot Gris and Syrah, Big Table Farm commenced with only 150 cases of wine and has grown to a few thousand cases today. The wines are made in a minimal style, designed to showcase each unique source’s terroir and all wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. With a major emphasis on sustainability and Clare’s passion for farming, the duo’s 70 acre property also acts as a working farm where they produce seasonal vegetables and raise animals. A visit to the property will not only showcase the wines, but you will see hens, pigs, goats, draft horses, and cows wandering about with an area dedicated to bee hives as well.

I recently wrote about the 2020 Laughing Pig Rosé from Big Table Farm, though I previously reviewed the 2014 Willamette Valley Chardonnay and 2019 The Wild Bee Chardonnay as well.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.5% ABV

The 2018 Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir is pale ruby in color with purple hues. I let this open up in the glass for about 45 minutes and the wine needed every second given its youth. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blueberry, blackberry, spiced plum, black raspberry, violet, leather, black olive, pine, crushed rock, and cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate displays notes of raspberry, dried strawberry, black cherry, blueberry, blackberry, violet, dried tobacco, cola, and underbrush. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. 234 cases produced.

Price: $62. I think this is in the arena of very fairly priced to offering great value. I love the BTF Willamette Valley Pinot Noir at a lower price-point, but this Yamhill-Carlton bottling is certainly above and beyond. The intensity, complexity, and length in this Pinot are all profound and this is a bigger wine that certainly needs a few more years of age.

Fun Oregon Rosé That Differs From the Crisp Porch Pounders

Today’s Story: Big Table Farm

Big Table Farm is a relatively small winery and farm established in the Willamette Valley of Oregon in 2006 by winemaker Brian Marcy and artist/farmer Clare Carver. Brian worked with wine in Napa Valley prior to starting Big Table Farm, spending a decade with stints at heavyweights like Turley Wine Cellars, Neyers Vineyards, Blankiet Estate, and Marcassin to hone his craft. Meanwhile Clare is a gifted artist and designs wine labels, many of which have been awarded.

Dedicated to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and small amounts of Pinot Gris and Syrah, Big Table Farm commenced with only 150 cases of wine and has grown to a few thousand cases today. The wines are made in a minimal style, designed to showcase each unique source’s terroir and all wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered. With a major emphasis on sustainability and Clare’s passion for farming, the duo’s 70 acre property also acts as a working farm where they produce seasonal vegetables and raise animals. A visit to the property will not only showcase the wines, but you will see hens, pigs, goats, draft horses, and cows wandering about with an area dedicated to bee hives as well.

I previously wrote about the 2014 Willamette Valley Chardonnay and 2019 The Wild Bee Chardonnay from Big Table Farm.

Today’s Wine: 2020 Laughing Pig Rosé

100% Pinot Noir; 13.8% ABV

The 2020 Laughing Pig Rosé is deep salmon/pink in color. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of strawberry, raspberry, blood orange rind, rose petal, and dried green herbs. There’s some characteristic of meatiness there as well. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of tart red cherry, wild strawberry, pomegranate, raspberry, red rose, stony mineral, and mild white peppery spice. This dry rosé is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, very low tannins, medium (+) alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. 680 cases produced.

Price: $32. This is a fun and “different” rosé in that there’s more body here and it differs significantly from the crisp and light porch pounders we are typically used to. The wine is very well balanced, offers nice complexity, and is versatile which culminate into my opinion that this is certainly worth trying for the price. 

Great Value Pinot Noir to Stand Up to the Cult Wineries of the Russian River Valley

Today’s Story: Little Boat

Little Boat is a very small wine producer based out of Sonoma, California and it was established out of passion for wine and a father’s love for his son. I first learned of Little Boat when I met proprietor José Ignacio Cuenca at a Los Angeles restaurant, where we struck up a friendly conversation about family, wine, and other topics. I also had the pleasure of meeting his son Mateo, who created the artwork on the Little Boat labels. Little Boat is a group effort, and José works with Brad Alper, William Knuttel, Mike Miller, and the Treyzon family to craft these wines. They also receive help from sommeliers Harley Carbery, Phillip Dunn, Lucas Payá, and Robert Smith MS. Little Boat produces a range of wines including most notably a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and a Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. (I previously wrote about the Pinot and Cab). There is also a rosé, very limited quantities of a reserve Pinot Noir, and a Rioja! Placement of these wines is highly selective, and they are generally found in high-end hotels and restaurants or highly curated wine stores.

I previously wrote about the 2018 Little Boat Pinot Noir and 2016 Little Boat Cabernet Sauvignon, so I’m excited to review the 2018 Pinot Noir Reserve today.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Pinot Noir Reserve

100% Pinot Noir; 13.7% ABV

The 2018 Pinot Noir Reserve is pale ruby in color. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of black cherry, black raspberry, red plum, violet, leather, cracked pepper, and cedar. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity and the palate showcases notes of strawberry, red cherry, dried red licorice, tobacco, underbrush, charred green herbs, and mild baking spice. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This wine can stand up to any of the “big names” of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, and it’s certainly a treat to taste.

Price: $45. This offers considerable value for Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, particularly given its intensity, complexity, and balance at this young age. As I tasted this and the “cult” RRV winery names popped into my mind, I was truly impressed by this Little Boat bottling.

Fun Natural Red Blend From a Relatively New California Producer

Today’s Story: Lo-Fi Wines

Lo-Fi Wines was established in 2014 by lifelong friends Mike Roth and Craig Winchester. Centered in a belief wines should be honest and transparent representations of their vintage and variety, Lo-Fi wines are meant to be consumed as everyday drinkers to pair with a broad range of foods and not locked away in the cellar. Through minimal intervention winemaking, Lo-Fi wines ferment naturally with native yeasts and see minimal to zero sulfur additions and no pH adjustments. The wines age in neutral oak barrels and are mostly bottled unfiltered, with the final product an easy-drinking and low alcohol wine. A number of the wines also see whole cluster fermentation and carbonic maceration, including the wine I am reviewing today.

Today’s Wine: 2020 Gamay / Pinot Noir

72% Gamay, 28% Pinot Noir; 12% ABV

The 2020 Gamay / Pinot Noir is pale garnet in color and it almost has hues of deep salmon. This is unfiltered so there is some sediment as well. A bit funky right out of the bottle, I decided to let this open up in the glass for about 45 minutes and it was singing. The aromas are of medium intensity, though the nose is gorgeous with aromas of bright red cherry, strawberry, cranberry, gamey red meat, hibiscus, white pepper, and stony mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of cherry, wild raspberry, freshly picked strawberry, rose, violet, white pepper, and savory green herbs. This dry red blend is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, low tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium length finish. 710 cases produced.

Price: $22. I think this offers very solid value, particularly given its high quality, balance, and drinkability. While this could be more intense or longer on the finish, I don’t think that’s necessarily a focal point as these are meant to be consumed young and enjoyed by all.