Ojai, Ventura Country
7 acres Planted on its own roots in 1995 by Larry Finkle and Martin Ramirez for the Roll family on their ranch in upper Ojai. It is comprised of 5 acres of Syrah (Estrella and Durrell clones) and 2 acres of Viognier. Most years 3 wines are made from the vineyard. A vineyard designated syrah (co-fermented with 2-3% viognier), a dry viognier and a viognier dessert wine (made ice wine style by taking ripe grapes to a commercial freezer and then pressing them at the winery while still frozen).
The soil is alluvial but nutrient poor, derived from the decomposition of the distinctive local mountain Topa Topa. This well drained soil is ideal for naturally vigorous syrah and viognier, as the lack of nutrients moderates the vines’ growth.
Although the ocean is only 15 miles away, Ojai is hot in the summer because ocean breezes are blocked by Red Mountain and Sulfur Mountain. Syrah in this climate is fruity and exuberant and less spicy and peppery.
What is unusual about Roll Ranch is that the grapes from this warm climate spot always have plenty of acidity, which is important for the balance of the wine. Most warm climate vineyards suffer from a lack of acidity and often taste flat and dull, but there is something special about the soil at Roll that allows the fruit to keep its freshness.
Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County
Kessler-Haak is a 29 acre vineyard located on Highway 246 in the cooler northwestern section of Sta. Rita Hills. It was planted in 2005, soils in the vineyard vary from sandy to sandy loam with patches of clay loam.
Their farming approach strives for balance, harmony and co-existence between the vines and plant, animal and insect populations.
We started purchasing pinot noir from Kessler-Haak in 2014, and because the vineyard’s tendency to produce fruit of high natural acidity we chose to make it using a high proportion of whole clusters, which helps moderate the pH. This gave us a wine that is boldly different, mouth filling, and just plain delicious!
Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara County
What is striking about McGinley Vineyard is the profound lack of vigor with which the typically energetic sauvignon blanc vines grow–a direct result of the poor soils there. Many sections have only a foot and a half of topsoil, beneath which is fractured shale, and in one block, serpentine rock. The wines from these poor soils are amazingly flavorful because the vine’s energy is concentrated on maturing its fruit, rather than on producing leaves.
Our vines are pruned in a completely different way from the rest of the sauvignon blanc planted at McGinley. When I started buying this fruit in 1998, I noticed that the shoots growing during the spring and summer were quite variable-some were vigorous and long and others stunted. This affected fruit quality, since one needs a certain number of leaves to properly ripen a cluster of grapes. The fruit on the short shoots wasn’t as flavorful, so we converted our vines from cane pruning to the cordon method, which helps concentrate the vine’s energy into producing shoots of more even length. Over time we have found this pruning change has given us a much smaller crop, and thus more expensive crop. But the benefit has been the quality we have been able to achieve in the wines. To test our hypothesis that less fruit grown on more even shoots makes higher quality wine, we purchased small quantities of fruit grown more conventionally in rows adjacent to ours. The fruit from those higher yielding vines produced a wine that was actually more immediately accessible–it was easy. But our carefully farmed vines produced a wine with greater personality and flavor intensity– clearly better even though it required longer bottle aging to fully reveal itself.
In an effort to further increase quality, in 2009 we began to farm our blocks organically. Doing so is a little more expensive, but I think it’s worth it for the peace of mind alone-it’s not nice to use poisons on our food. There are also practical reasons for following organic practices; for instance, natural fertilizers affect the vine slowly while chemical fertilizers charge up the vine, bringing too much leaf growth, which is bad for quality. And, although synthetic pesticides are handy if you are negligent and find yourself in trouble, the careful grower anticipates problems before they develop and can use milder organic compounds to avoid those problems. Paying close attention to the vine’s needs is essential for fine grape growing–so going organic dovetails well with the goals of the craft winemaker.
Los Alamos, Santa Barbara County
White Hawk is becoming a favorite of mine. The vineyard, planted on an ancient seabed, seems to grow magically—it doesn’t matter much what the grower does–the vines have their own rhythm. Early in the season the vines take off with a lot of vigor and I always worry that there is too large a crop, but by mid-July the basal leaves on the canes begin to yellow, the vines stop growing, and what seemed like an abundant crop ripens into a tiny harvest. This vineyards’ growing habit is directly attributable to porous sandy hillside soils that can’t hold on to moisture or nutrients. These growing conditions make a wine that is consistently rich and concentrated.
We produce two wines from White Hawk: Syrah (since 2001) and Sangiovese (since 2011).
Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County
John Sebastiano Vineyard was planted in 2007 and produced its first crop in 2010. It is located on the northeastern edge of the Santa Rita Hills appellation way up in the hills so it catches the ferocious winds that come in from the ocean at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The vineyard is predominantly inside the appellation and mostly planted to pinot noir, however there is some syrah and grenache planted just outside and that is where we get our fruit. The vines were planted on a steep southern slope and the soil has quite a bit of clay with some shale-y bits that pop through here and there. The vines struggle to develop a full canopy of leaves and the fruit ripens late in October or early November, but each year the wine possesses a knockout aroma of crushed raspberries with a solid structure of tannin and acidity.
Vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano pays attention to every detail, which is good because grenache is finicky. Assuming flowering goes well, grenache produces clusters that are so big that they need to be individually hand trimmed in order for the fruit to mature evenly. Also, the clusters become bleached if they receive too much sunlight, so Ruben trains the vines in a way to encourage just the right amount of shading. This extra effort really shows in the finished wine, as each year the color of the wine is dark and the flavors are impressive.
This vineyard has produced wines that are imbued with what can only be described as dramatic personalities. Planted on the climatic edge where the vines barely ripen their fruit, the structure of this grenache is different from what I have seen elsewhere in California, or for that matter from the southern Rhone or Spain. The wines are simply fresher and more alive.
Sta. Rita Hills Appellation – Santa Barbara County
Melville’s Santa Rita Hills vineyard site is situated in the cool Santa Rita Hills area, and the climate has a profound effect on the character of this wine. There are peppery, spicy and floral notes that you never see in syrahs from warmer vineyards. We use some of our edgiest winemaking techniques with this wine because the raw material demands it, and its potential would not be realized if we used more conventional methods. And, while we are big fans of low yields in the vineyard, in this case we have no choice because we couldn’t consistently ripen the syrah here unless we kept the crop small, as it is harvest rarely occurs before the last week of October.
Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County
Winemaker Rick Longoria lovingly farms this terrific site and generously allows us to purchase a small portion of his vineyard’s production. Rick and I agree that there is only a moment in time when the character of the vineyard fully expresses itself. Picked a couple of days too soon or too late and all is lost. The raw material here at Fe Ciega is so interesting–it has the acidity that is needed for good balance and it possesses a unique vineyard personality that is intriguing. While it is always fruit filled, deeply colored and dense, it is not particularly fruity—this is a wine that speaks of its earthy origins!
Much like its famous neighbor to the east, Sanford and Benedict, Fe Ciega is planted on light clay soil over a fractured shale base. This soil seems to give the grapes excellent acidity and a richness of flavor that is quite satisfying. Rick generously sells me a small amount of each of the three clones he has planted there: Pommard, Dijon 115 and Dijon 667.
Background: A few years ago, I was at Jim and Bob’s 50th birthday bash and met up with Rick Longoria. He told me the most amazing story of how, at a luncheon at Sweeney Canyon vineyard, near the western edge of the Santa Rita Hills appellation, he had looked at the lovely hills above and commented to the person sitting next to him that he could see a perfect vineyard site across the way. The fellow said he owned that property, and, not long after, he invited Rick to design, plant and grow a vineyard for him-with Rick the exclusive buyer. When Rick asked me if I would like to buy a small portion of the fruit, I hesitated (because we already make so many different wines) until I got my first glimpse at the site, which truly is fantastic. Rick is doing an excellent job farming the vineyard, and I am excited with my first endeavor with it. The vineyard name was originally called Blind Faith (from rock music fame), but because the name was already copyrighted, Rick chose the Spanish translation: Fe Ciega.
Sta Rita Hills Appellation – Santa Barbara County
La Cote vineyard, a new site on the far western edge of Santa Rita Hills that we are very excited to work with! Domaine de la Cote is a new venture of my first employee Sashi Moorman and the esteemed sommelier Rajat Parr near Lompoc. The Property consists of six vineyards planted on clay, diatomaceous earth and shale soils with vines spaced at a very tight five feet by three. Organically farmed from the start by the talented Chris King, this vineyard has produced extraordinarily unique wines, unlike anything else from the Sta Rita Hills appellation. Sashi and Raj offered me a small amount of the fruit from the interesting La Cote site in 2013 and I didn’t hesitate to take it, having driven by the vineyard numerous times on my way to Fe Ciega. The ideal aspect of the vineyard, the shale and clay soil, the smart farming and close planting of the vines informed me of the seriousness of intent here—I knew the wine made from these vines would be quirky and profound. And we produced a wine that is immensely aromatic and at the same time unusually delicate and fine.
Santa Ynez valley – Santa Barbara County
Puerta de Mar (literally: “Door to the Sea”) is an exciting new vineyard that was planted using California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) money. Not being a financial advisor, I will abstain from making any comments on the wisdom of the investment, but I can say that if I won the lottery this is the sort of vineyard I would plant. The vines are closely planted (5½ feet by 3 feet), have been trained to a narrow vertical trellis, and in every way the vineyard is well cared for.
Planted ½ mile east of highway 1 just outside of Lompoc, it trumps Kick On Ranch as our coolest vineyard site. It is located so far west that the original creators of the Santa Rita Hills appellation didn’t think it was possible to ripen grapes here, thus it wasn’t included within the growing region’s boundaries. Call it ignorance or the influence of global warming, they were clearly wrong! Admittedly pinot noir and chardonnay grapes grown here ripen late, but the wines are better for it and possess an admirable subtly that I attribute to the ocean’s ever-present influence.
Los Alamos Valley – Santa Barbara County
The Vineyard was planted in 1991 by Bob Stevens to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Some are on rootstock some on their own roots. Steve Lyons bought the vineyard in 2007 and expanded the acreage by one third to 108 acres. Now it has Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and a new planting of Gruner Veltliner.The ranch was used only for cattle grazing before being planted to vines
We make A single vineyard Pinot Noir and Riesling along with a Riesling dessert wine.
The soils of Kick On Vineyard are composed primarily of ocean floor sandy loams. Because it is the most westerly vineyard in the area, it is perhaps the most maritime of all vineyards in this growing region. With the Pacific coastline only miles away, a constant maritime influence results in wines of crisp acidity, bright fruit and an inherent balance.
Soils are marine-based, and can be variously described as sandy, sandy loams, clay loam, shaley loam, loam or shaley clay loam. Numerous series of soils exist, but the most common are the Chamise soils, which are, typically, well-drained and rest above deep gravelly beds of silt, clay and sand. The other soil series that is widely found is the Elder series. These originated from alluvium deposits derived from sandstone. The Elder series occurs on alluvial fans and in flood plains. Most of the soils in which vineyards are planted are considered to be of low or moderate vigor. They purposely stress the vines somewhat, resulting in grapes of greater flavor and concentration. While the yields tend to be low to moderate, the concentration and extraction of the grape materials tends to be intense and quality-driven.
In many ways the little Los Alamos valley is inhospitable for vines. Located between Point Sal and Point Conception, just before the California seashore takes a 90 degree turn to the east, this is one windy spot. For centuries mariners have been terrified by this stretch of the coast because of the funneling effect that the three river valleys (Santa Maria, Los Alamos and Santa Ynez) have on local meteorology. The same wind and fog that make ocean navigation difficult also makes it tough on vines. They struggle to grow in such cool conditions, the wind actually inhibiting vine vigor and messing with pollination. But what is bad for the vine is good for wine quality; cool conditions preserve the delicate fragrances that make pinot so special. And specifically here at Kick On the wine expresses its provenance with an earthiness and mineral quality that is beguiling.
Santa Ynez valley, Santa Barbara County
This vineyard was lovingly planted in 2001 by Doug Braun, a pioneer winemaker and vineyardist in the area. It recently changed hands and is now known as Duvarita. The farming is done by Jeff Newton’s Coastal Vineyard Care and the vines are impeccable cared for.
I find this vineyard compelling for a few reasons. First and foremost is the cool climate. Located west of the Santa Rita Hills appellation, this is one cool spot for syrah. The lack of heat preserves the distinct character of the grapes–their struggle to ripen at this windy site is essential for their unique personality. The vineyard is well situated on a gentle southerly slope, and the vines are planted close together in very poor sandy soil.
Santa Maria Valley appellation
I love the fine fruit and excellent balance this vineyard gives. Solomon Hills is on the western edge of the Santa Maria Valley Appellation, so it’s climatically very cool. It is Planted to the Dijon clones of chardonnay (76 & 95) Pinot Noir (667 and Pommard) and Syrah (Estrella).
The soils of Solomon Hills Vineyards are composed primarily of ocean floor sandy loams. Because it is the western most vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, it is perhaps the most maritime of all vineyards in this growing region. With the Pacific coastline only miles away, a constant maritime influence results in wines of crisp acidity, bright fruit and an inherent balance.
Since 2009 we have had our blocks farmed organically.
Santa Maria Valley appellation
Planted on a high hillside above the rest of Bien Nacido Vineyard, this block has always performed admirably. But there is always room for improvement, and, since Chris Hammell took over the farming at the vineyard in late 2000, there have been radical improvements in how this plot has been cared for. It took an amazing amount of attention to the details to get this vineyard looking the way it does today, and I think you can taste it in this wine. Bien Nacido is a very cool climate place–at the environmental extreme for this varietal-and it is always touch and go whether it will ripen fully. But by farming intelligently Chris has gotten the fruit to ripen earlier and more evenly than ever before.