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)

Exquisite Chardonnay From a Violent Terroir

Today’s Story: The Hilt

The Hilt is a small, relatively young winery located in the rough, rugged, and windswept Santa Rita Hills AVA about 13 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The Hilt is a sister winery to Jonata, whose wines I reviewed three times prior, and falls under support of Stan Kroenke who owns the LA Rams and Screaming Eagle. The Hilt shares an adept winemaker in Matt Dees with Jonata, and similarly provides him a vast and difficult terroir ranging in soil type, altitude, and microclimates to craft wine. The Hilt’s fruit, consisting only of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, comes from vines that are forced to dig deep for nutrients, face brutal maritime winds, and yield small numbers of concentrated grapes.

The Hilt consists of three vineyards named Bentrock, Radian, and Puerto del Mar. Bentrock is made up of long, rolling hills roughly 400-500 feet above sea level and totals roughly 92 acres of which just under 80 are planted to Pinot Noir and just over 13 are planted to Chardonnay. Radian differs greatly in that its terrain is rugged and steep where, at its highest point, grapes face fierce winds at 700 feet elevation. Consisting of just over 100 acres, Radian is planted to 95 acres of Pinot Noir and only 6.1 acres of Chardonnay. The Puerto del Mar vineyard sources much of the fruit for The Hilt’s Estate wines, and also houses the winery where Matt Dees goes to work in the cellars. Typically Bentrock fruit sits at the core of The Vanguard bottlings, Radian at the core of The Old Guard bottlings, and a blend at the core of the Estate bottlings.

You can read more about the winery and their offerings (including tech sheets) at the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Cuvée Fleur Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.2% ABV

The 2016 Cuvée Fleur is vibrant medium to deep gold in color. Once this opens up in the glass, the incredibly expressive nose showcases aromas of melon, yellow apple, jackfruit, white florals, vanilla, beeswax, exotic spice, and saline mineral. In the mouth, this beauty displays notes of lemon, pineapple, stone fruit, honeysuckle, almond, dill, flint, saline mineral, and mild oak. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity and a well-rounded, lengthy finish. This is a beautiful Burgundian-style Chardonnay made exclusively for Wally’s in Los Angeles and will only get better with a few more years of bottle age.

Price: $45. This is priced closely with the standard Hilt Chardonnay and delivers similarly great value, however it is more difficult to acquire since it appears Wally’s is the only carrier. Pair this with lobster, herb-roasted chicken, or halibut.