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).

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.

Expressive and Exciting Sta. Rita Hills 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).

I previously wrote about Black Sheep Finds when I reviewed their 2017 Holus Bolus Franc de Pied Syrah.

Today’s Wine: 2017 The Joy Fantastic Syrah

100% Syrah; 13% ABV

The 2017 Joy Fantastic Syrah is medium purple in color and opaque. I decanted this for 1.5 hours and drank it over the following hour or so. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing aromas of blueberry, blackberry, plum, violet, smoked meat, pine, black peppercorn, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity, and the palate displays notes of blueberry, red plum, sweet tobacco, charred green herbs, smoke, cracked black pepper, and bitter dark chocolate. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium but tightly-knit tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $45. I think this is pretty fairly priced, though there are better “values” out there in my opinion. What’s really impressive here though is how complex and expressive the wine is, particularly given the very young age of the Joy Fantastic estate vineyard. I’ll certainly be revisiting this wine over the years to come.

Terroir Lover’s Chardonnay From the Sta. Rita Hills

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 Old World wines, the winemaking philosophy at Liquid Farm is rather traditional. 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.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Golden Slope Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.5% ABV

The 2016 Golden Slope Chardonnay is medium gold in color. After about 45 minutes in the glass, this really opened up and showed nicely. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of crisp yellow apple, lemon zest, tropical citrus, honeysuckle, flint, wet river stone, almond, freshly-baked bread, and smoke. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of pear, quince, lemon and lime zest, dried pineapple, brioche, toasted almond, vanilla, and a hint of mineral. This dry white is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. This strikes a very solid balance between Old and New World, with an Old World tilt.

Price: $47. I think this fits somewhere between the fairly-priced and value distinctions, as it is certainly very high quality and offers great intensity and complexity. There’s just enough California fruit to this where I can’t quite equate it with white Burgundy, but it is pretty darn close which I enjoy with my domestic Chardonnay.

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.