California’s massive Central Coast region continues to be a treasure trove of incredible Rhône variety blends (aka the Rhône Rangers), Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and increasingly, Bordeaux blends. While the region could be thought of as a work in progress just under a decade ago, today you have an incredible number of talented winemakers – using Grand Cru level terroirs as well as older vines – to produce an enormous number of world-class wines.
While I normally break up the Central Coast coverage into multiple reports, I’ve opted to cover both Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles as well as a handful of producers from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Cruz Mountains in a single report.
The focus of this report is largely the 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages, all of which have produced a bevy of terrific wines.
The 2016 vintage was a beauty, featuring a long, even growing season, with all the varieties and regions excelling. This is clearly one of the standout vintages for the region, and these wines have put on weight and richness since bottling (and this is despite solid yields). The 2017 vintage is certainly more erratic and was more challenging, seeing cool, rainy weather during the winter and spring months, early season mildew pressure (which hurt yields), and a massive heatwave over Labor Day weekend. The heat was a larger issue for Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County – particularly in the warmer sites – but the Rhône varieties shrugged off the heatwave with few negative effects. It’s important for readers to understand that, by and large, the Labor Day heatwave was less an issue for the Central Coast than for Napa, Sonoma, and the North Coast. The 2018 vintage was another long, cool growing season that resulted in beautiful wines across the board. The majority of the top 2018s remain unbottled, but the wines are already a joy to taste and this is a special vintage. Yields are up, and while some wines can lack some mid-palate concentration, they’re largely in the style of the 2016s with their balanced, pure, classic characters.
My notes for these wines were created in July of this year during a two-week trip through the region as well as during numerous follow-up tastings at my office in Colorado.