Recently I had a great opportunity to visit the Santa Ynez Valley as part of the Mission Santa Barbara Wine Trade Association. The event featured 28 participating wineries with over 40 wine buyers and sommeliers from around the United States. Some participants came as far away as Connecticut, Louisiana and Mississippi and it was great to hear how well wines from the Santa Ynez Valley are received outside of California.
Of course, Long Beach locals are familiar with this area as a close wine weekend getaway, helping to fuel winery visits to Santa Barbara County that are estimated to be around 200 million and growing.
One of the great things about these kinds of trips are meeting the producers who get to explain their winemaking philosophies and how the vineyards they source from impact the wine they make. Two great producers who were there that won’t be a surprise to customers of The Wine Country were Chad Melville of Melville Wines and Brandon Sparks Gillis of Dragonette Cellars.
In previous years Chad was as far removed from being a vineyard farmer as you could be with a lucrative job as a stockbroker. The ability to work alongside his father and brother on their estate vineyards and create amazing wines ultimately convinced Chad to trade in his suit and tie for purple hands and no sleep at harvest time, something we here at The Wine Country along with the many wine club members of Melville are very grateful for.
If you want to experience the differences in soil and climate that are unique to the Santa Ynez Valley make sure to check out the single vineyard wines of Dragonette Cellars. Here you can find an assortment of Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Grenache and Pinot Noir made from the Vogelzang, Grimm’s Bluff, Radian and John Sebastiano vineyards. Winemaker Brandon Sparks Gillis deftly handles all the distinctive aspects of these sites to widespread applause, from the challenging serpentinite soils in Happy Canyon to the exposed ocean influenced Radian vineyard that is rich in the white chalky ancient fossilized algae soil known as diatomaceous earth.
Make sure to visit these great producers along with the terrific Stolpman Vineyards, Foxen, Brander, Pence Ranch and Folded Hills Winery on your next visit to the Santa Ynez Valley and make sure to tell them The Wine Country says hi!
MELVILLE 2015 ESTATE PINOT NOIR, STA. RITA HILLS
Winemaker Chad Melville continues to set a high standard for Pinot Noir in this cool climate region with another great vintage. In this Pinot rose petal aromas along with strawberry and raspberry jump aromatically with each swirl of the wine glass. The cool climate regions sense of place speaks loudly as citrus blood orange and orange peel provide a pithy balance to the ripe red fruits. The refinement and quality here are a testament to all the hard work done in the cellar and vineyard. 40% whole stem inclusion with neutral French oak barrel aging.
$32.99 per bottle
MELVILLE 2016 ESTATE SYRAH, STA. RITA HILLS
If you need a break from the some of the massive high alcohol fruit bombs that Syrah can be made into, make sure to pick up this cool climate wine full of varietal expression and character. Founded in 1989, Melville is family owned and operated, investing early in this region and helping to create the world class reputation that it now enjoys. Cool coastal winds breeze through this region, retaining natural acidity in the wines which transforms into an electric vibrancy in the glass. 40% of the fruit remained as whole cluster with aging in 20-year-old neutral French oak barrels. This elegant wine captures violet and lavender aromas but is not lacking in depth with riper blue fruit, black pepper and subtle savory prosciutto flavors.
$35.99 per bottle
DRAGONETTE CELLARS 2016 PINOT NOIR, STA. RITA HILLS
The western edge of the Santa Ynez Valley can be an inhospitable place for many grape varieties due to the excessive cold coastal temperatures along with blankets of fog and sharp winds. Luckily for us wine lovers Pinot Noir thrives in such marginal climates, allowing Dragonette Cellars to create a bright crisp red fruited wine full of complex spice and herb notes. Riper black cherry fruit flavor can also be found here to provide a rich depth. French oak barrels are used for 16 months aging with 10% new barrel. This allows spiced aromas found in the grape skins and stems to be more present and focused. This wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.
$39.99 per bottle
STOLPMAN 2017 SYRAH ESTATE, BALLARD CANYON, SANTA YNEZ VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
Stolpman Vineyards consistently produces some of the most concentrated Syrah from the Ballard Canyon. In the past that intensity came from extended macerations and large amounts of new oak but today, dry farming from fruit set to harvest, provides grapes full of vibrant red, blue and black fruit flavors. Plum, blueberry, cherry notes mix with savory smoke and leather aromas. Stolpman does excellent work at preserving fruit purity and avoiding flat overly jammy baked fruit that masks the true varietal character.
$29.99 per bottle