Santa Ynez Valley
John Sebastiano Vineyard was planted in 2007 and had 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 breezes that come in from the ocean at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The vineyard is mostly inside the appellation and mostly planted to pinot noir, however there is some syrah and grenache planted just over the line 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 produce a full canopy 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 plentiful freshness.
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 received 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 shocked us with how much personality the wines from here have. Planted on the climatic edge where the vines barely are able to ripen their fruit, the structure of the wine is different than what I have seen in California, or for that matter from the southern Rhone and Spain. The piercing aromas are repeated in the flavor of the wine, and instead of having a syrupy richness that is typical from warmer sites, the palate is carried with sharp tannins and bright acidity, making it a fabulous food wine that works great even in warm weather.
Winemakers tend to be crazy about Grenache and they can wax poetic about its many virtues endlessly. On the other hand I find most regular consumers know very little about the varietal, which is a pity because it is so deserving of a place at the table. There are a number of reasons why Grenache is mostly unknown in California, the primary one being that it is not widely planted in the state. Another seems to be that grenache isn’t just one clear-cut wine like cabernet sauvignon tends to be—sometimes it’s as strong and powerful as syrah and sometimes it’s as delicate and nuanced as pinot noir—all depending on vineyard, climate and vintage. One unifying character in a great Grenache is its perfume. There is no red wine other than pinot that can express itself with so much fragrance. Another character is its unique tannins and texture; it is always chewy and savory in the most pleasant way.
My journey with Grenache began with Beckman Vineyard in 1998 and we made a Grenache, Mourvedre and syrah blend that we called Vin du Soleil—wine of the sun. These were interesting wines and many of them drink well today. But in 2003 I decided to focus more on grenache itself and started producing a wine labeled simple “Grenache”. Frankly, neither the Vin du Soleil nor the Grenache got the attention we thought they deserved, but we liked them.
And then in 2010 we started purchasing Grenache from John Sebastiano Vineyard, a new cool spot with close planted vines on steep hillsides near Santa Rita Hills in northern Santa Barbara County. This vineyard was a real revelation, we no longer had to search for an ethereal Grenache-ness, the fruit was so intense here it clobbered us on the head! Unlike other vineyards the fruit from Sebastiano bursts with freshness and acidity. And because it is planted in such a cool and windy spot the grenache doesn’t ripen until November, and that extra time on the vine gives us fruit with extraordinary color, aromatics and spice.
A concentrated raspberry aroma assaults the senses when you pour this 2012 in the glass. And beyond the fruit (which seems to evolve from the initial raspberry into Persian mulberry) there are layers of earthy, forest-y characters that bring complexity to this stunning wine. The flavors are bold, racy and tannic and at this point the wine matches best with rich fatty foods: standing rib roast, anyone?
Blend: 100% Grenache | Vineyard: John Sebastiano | AVA: Santa Ynez Valley | Alcohol: 13.5% | Vinification: 100% Neutral French Oak | Barrel Aging: 16 Months | Total Production: 209 Cases
Antonia Gallonis’s Vinous
“The 2012 Grenache John Sebastiano Vineyard bursts from the glass with racy dark red cherries. Sweet floral and spice notes appear later, but the 2012 is essentially a wine built on fruit. Dark red cherry, plum and menthol wrap around the succulent finish. This is a striking Grenache from Ojai.” – AG 93+ Points