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.

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.

A Refreshing and Minimal Intervention Chenin Blanc

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.

I previously reviewed the 2020 Gamay / Pinot Noir from Lo-Fi.

Today’s Wine: 2020 Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc

100% Chenin Blanc; 12.5% ABV

The 2020 Jurassic Park Vineyard Chenin Blanc is pale gold in color. Aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of yellow apple, pear skins, stone fruit, honey, white florals, and wet stone minerality. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of pear, yellow apple, lemon zest, peach, chamomile, honey, and saline. This dry white is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. Easy drinking though it’s slightly funky/reductive particularly on the nose. 195 cases produced.

Price: $26. I haven’t had a ton of Chenin Blanc yet and it’s a variety I’m trying to explore more, but for the price this is a solid and fun one to try. While not the most intense wine, this offers a good array of aromas and flavors wrapped into an easy-drinking and enjoyable bottle. Enjoyable on its own or paired with food.

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.

People-Pleasing but Complex Grenache From a Boutique Central Coast Winery

Today’s Story: Archium Cellars

Archium Cellars is a relatively young passion project of Ian Sergy and Zach Jarosz, established in 2011 with a focus on Rhône varieties in the Central Coast of California. Though both Ian and Zach have backgrounds in the entertainment industry, travels throughout California wine country and Europe opened their eyes to the world of wines and the complexities that Rhône varieties can provide. When they realized they didn’t need to own their own vines to craft quality wines, they ventured into the Central Coast to create Archium. Though nowadays Archium has a small estate vineyard in Ventura County, they source most of their fruit from the Santa Ynez Valley and produce their wines at facilities in Buellton. The Thompson Vineyard provides Grenache and Mourvèdre while the Shokrian Vineyard provides Syrah, with both vineyards organically and dry-farmed with low-yielding vines.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Haven Grenache

100% Grenache; 14.5% ABV

The 2014 Haven Grenache is translucent medium garnet in color. I decanted this for about 45 minutes to an hour, helping the wine blossom as it is still fairly youthful. The nose is of medium (+) intensity, showcasing aromas of strawberry jam, raspberry, red plum, licorice, rose, leather, dried herbs, rocky earth, clove, coffee grounds, and a hint of oak that eventually blows off. Meanwhile on the palate, which is of medium intensity, I get notes of red cherry, stemmy strawberry, red plum, blood orange, sweet tobacco, charred green herbs, clove, cola, and white pepper. This dry red is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, high alcohol, and a medium length finish. Typically 30 or fewer cases produced.

Price: $40 (2016 vintage on sale on winery website for $19). I think this is steep at the $40 level on a value perspective, perhaps why you can find the current vintage for about $19 on the winery website. It fits into the more people-pleasing camp for me in the ripeness of fruit, though it is surprisingly complex based on my expectations.

Fun Santa Barbara County Syrah

Today’s Story: Black Sheep Finds

Black Sheep Finds (Holus Bolus and The Joy Fantastic) is a family owned and operated winery established by husband and wife Peter Hunken and Amy Christine in 2003 in Lompoc, California. Peter began his winemaking career in 2001 with Stolpman Vineyards, and also co-founded Piedrasassi where he remained until shifting all his attention to Black Sheep Finds in 2008. Amy has an impressive wine resume as well, earning the Master of Wine designation in 2013 and working with Kermit Lynch in Southern California.

Until 2015, Peter and Amy sourced all fruit for their wines from organically farmed vineyards in Santa Barbara County. In 2016, however, they completed the first harvest in their own estate vineyard named The Joy Fantastic which they began developing in 2014. The Joy Fantastic Vineyard is certified organic (CCOF) and consists of 5 acres planted to Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, though Black Sheep Finds does continue to work with select vineyard partners as well. The partners include Bien Nacido Vineyard (where they source Roussanne), Presqu’ile Vineyard (where they source small amounts of Syrah), and John Sebastiano Vineyard (where they source Syrah for Holus Bolus).

Today’s Wine: 2017 Holus Bolus Franc de Pied Syrah

100% Syrah; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Franc de Pied Syrah is opaque medium to deep purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blueberry, black cherry, plum, violet, pine, pepper, underbrush, and light smoke. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, black plum, forest floor, purple florals, cracked pepper, and gravel. A delightful wine overall, this is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $28 (averages closer to $40). For $28 I paid, I think this is a great value. It’s no doubt a young wine, but is certainly approachable right now and honestly I don’t think this will be incredibly long-lived. Even if found closer to $40, I think this is worthy of try.

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.

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.

The Caymus of Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Belle Glos

Belle Glos was established in 2001 by Joe Wagner, a fifth generation Napa Valley winemaker who grew up in the vineyards and worked alongside his father at Caymus Vineyards. With great admiration for Lorna Belle Glos Wagner, his grandmother and co-founder of Caymus Vineyards, Joe named his new endeavor in her honor. Though his family previously produced Pinot Noir from Napa Valley fruit between 1972 and 1990, the wines did not display what they thought possible out of the variety and began searching for cooler coastal appellations suited for Pinot Noir. Joe soon thereafter produced his first vintage at Belle Glos from the Taylor Lane and Clark & Telephone Vineyards, the first of several vineyard-designated wines Belle Glos would create. By 2004, Belle Glos added the Las Alturas vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to their portfolio and 2011 marked the first vintage from the Dairyman Vineyard in the Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma County. Each year, Belle Glos releases the Clark & Telephone, Las Alturas, and Dairyman bottlings in accordance with their initial goal of producing single-vineyard Pinot Noir, however occasionally they offer limited release wines when vintage conditions allow.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 14.6% ABV

The 2017 Clark & Telephone is opaque and rather deep ruby in color, actually almost purple. Given 30 minutes or so to open up, the nose showcases aromas of black raspberry, cranberry, licorice, red and blue florals, leather, cedar, baking spice, and mild chocolate. There is also some heat thanks to the ABV that is unfortunately a bit off-putting. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of cherry, strawberry jam, blackberry, sweet tobacco, damp earth, white pepper, cinnamon, coconut, and vanilla. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium length finish. No doubt this needs a few more years of aging.

Price: $55. This is high for what it is, in my opinion, and seems too heavy-handed by the winemaker. While I’m sure this boozy fruit-bomb would have wide appeal (I nicknamed this the Caymus of Pinot Noir, which is funny because it’s also in the Wagner family), I would skip it for quality options in the $30-40 range. Pair this with grilled chicken, pork, or pasta.