SB Wine

2008 Wine Cask Santa Barbara County Wine review

By Doug Margerum. Consultant to The Wine Cask. Reproduced courtesy of The Wine Cask.

Wine Cask wine director Cheryl Stanley and Wine Cask consultant Doug Margerum spent the first two months of 2008 meeting with the top Santa Barbara County wine makers and tasting their fine wines from recent vintages. The goal is simple: find the best 100 (or so) wines produced in the county. While we always seek out new wines and new wine makers, we want to make sure we recommend wines and wineries with a proven track record. We balance the report with a variety of types of wines, wines that have reasons and seasons. There are wines for early consumption that we offer for day to day drinking. There are wines that are serious and age-worthy in the 3 to 5 year category and there are the legendary wines for collectors that will, can, and should age for ten years plus.

The tasting notes are for wines that are in three stages of development and we will strive to indicate at what stage we tasted them at in our notes. There are wines already bottled or just bottled, assembled tank samples just about to be bottled, and barrel samples which will be bottled in the next twelve months or so. Most of the 2007 wines had not been bottled at time we tasted them and some of the 2006 wines were just about to be bottled or were bottled. We have been doing this for a long time and we know the stages of a wine in its early life and we can evaluate and we know the characteristics of great wine at this stage.

We hope you enjoy these tasting notes and our observations. The tasting note authors are noted: DM means the notes were written by Doug Margerum and CS denotes they were written by Cheryl Stanly. Release dates are approximate.


Doug Margerum.

I love history. I love family history even more. Hearing Paul Wilkins describe how he and his friend/co-owner of Alta Maria, James Ontiveros, selected the name of Alta Maria gave me goose bumps. Nine generations ago (see Native9) the first Ontiveros family member Josef, came to Santa Barbara. His grandson Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros was moving cattle from the family's original land grant in Northern Orange County to property he had purchased, called Rancho Tepusquet, east of Santa Maria (now, Bien Nacido, Cambria, Byron). He arrived in Northern Santa Barbara County on the Catholic day of Saint Mary's Day. As he crossed the small river towards his property, he named it Santa Maria to commemorate his arrival. That is how the name started; that is the romanticized version. Paul, former assistant winemaker to John Alban, also described Alta Maria as: "Alta", meaning high/higher, and "Maria", after the Santa Maria Valley. Together Paul and James are elevating Santa Maria Valley vineyards by showcasing the great fruit that is grown here. -CS

2006 Grenache Santa Maria Valley
100 cases produced
This year's blend of the Grenache is: 77% Grenache, 10% Syrah, and 13% Mourvèdre. The fruit is sourced from the Nielson and Bien Nacido Vineyards. Paul was very lucky to get the new plantings of Grenache and Mourvèdre that have just come into line at Bien Nacido. This vintage is elegant like a ballerina on point as compared to the big, masculine style of the 2005. The Syrah adds to the mid-palate and the Mourvèdre imparts an earthy, gamey finish.
Release price $55 Scheduled release: Fall 2008

2007 was a very busy harvest for Joe Davis and his winemaking team at Arcadian. He relocated from Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria to Santa Rosa Road in Lompoc two days before his first grapes were harvested. Unfortunately this new facility did not have interior plumbing so Joe found a new skill; he installed two sinks and a shower inside the building in 2 days. With the size of this space, it was a monstrous task. Building projects aside, Joe is continuing his goal to make age worthy wines (not "fast food wines") which develop like an incredible Grand Cru Burgundy. Did you also know his Chardonnay is the house wine for all of Alain Ducasse's restaurants in Paris? That speaks for itself. -CS

2006 Pinot Noir "Dierberg Vineyard" Santa Maria Valley
550 cases produced
I love Joe's philosophy about wine. He equates his wines to the wines of Burgundy. He only sources from the best vineyards such as Dierberg, Fiddlestix, Pisoni and Stolpman. These make-up his Grand Crus. He also has his village wines, such as Santa Rita Hills, with declassified fruit from his "Grand Crus" - not inferior vineyards. The village-type wines offer an introduction to his style. This 2006 Dierberg has seen no racking and no blending with two years of barrel age. This is a blend of the Dijon Clones 667, 777, 115, 13 and Champagne Clone 31. The color is bright red lipstick on just kissed lips. This wine exudes bright red fruit character with allspice and cassis.
Release price $60 Scheduled release: Summer 2008

2006 Pinot Noir "Fiddlestix Vineyard" Sta. Rita Hills
500 cases produced
"Big Pinot" were the first words that I wrote regarding this wine. Even though this wine might appear to be bigger than the Dierberg, it has the elegance and beauty that is hard to put into words. This wine has more intense cinnamon toned spice with a floral component that reminds me of spring. The oak is very well integrated and adds just a hint of smokiness. It is just a gorgeous expression of Fiddlestix. I am speechless.
Release price $55 Scheduled release: Fall 2008

2006 Syrah "Stolpman Vineyard" Santa Ynez Valley
600 cases produced
This is one of Joe's great syrahs. It comes from the famed Stolpman Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley. It is a blend of the Estrella Clone in block 6 and Clone 7 in block 1. Joe shares block 6 with Manfred Krankel's Sine Qua Non and Adam Tolmach's The Ojai Vineyard. The Clone 7 is planted in solid limestone top soil which Joe loves. Intense huckleberry and other dark blue fruits escape the glass with a vapor of sweet vanilla. This wine is hearty like a warm lamb stew on a cold evening. Recommend food pairings: Roasted Venison with blackberry sauce. Yummy!
Release price $60 Scheduled release: Fall 2008

I really enjoy visiting Au Bon Climat and Qupé. There is always a sumptuous lunch, lively conservation and there are dozens of bottles of wine opened to sample and enjoy with Jim's delicious cuisine. It is a pleasant atmosphere, congenial, with intellectual dialog amongst long time wine professionals concerning the attributes of wine and the state of the industry.
Jim is a chef. He manages his winery like a kitchen and he knows where everything is, wastes nothing, looks for unique flavors and wine styles and is always inspiring his brigade. To his longtime team there is a merit based system under which he delegates responsibilities. After 17 years working together Jim Adelmen directs the wine making, Enrique organizes the cellar, Arturo executes the bottling and production, and Michael handles the finances. Consistently the top wines produced from this facility rate as some of the best wines produced in the world from young to mature. Granted Jim Clendenen has been a friend for many years but I taste wine, especially Pinot Noir, from every top producer in the world. Many of the fashionable wines produced today are over ripe, deficient in acidity and will simply not stand the test of time. The wines of Au Bon Climat will be judged favorably as the best of their era. Serious wine collectors and serious wine consumers know and enjoy the wine flavors (bouquet, texture, and complexity) that are enhanced as balanced wine matures. The lucky people who will have these wines in their cellars are the folks I get emails from five, ten years later telling me they just opened, for example, an ABC 1995 Isabelle Pinot Noir in magnum and it is so fantastic they just had to thank me for them about it. I am more than pleased than to receive a note like that but really, they should thank Jim and his crew – they made it. -DM

2006 Chardonnay "Sanford & Benedict ~ Historic Vineyard Collection" Santa Ynez Valley
180 cases produced
Well, this wine is really Burgundian. I know, if we hear one more reference to Burgundian we are all going to scream. But please, stick your nose in a glass of this and you will agree. Not only is it lower in alcohol than almost any Chardonnay produced in California it has those European nuances. I simply love the rich, complex, intense yet elegant essences that are in the nose of this wine. Like some of the greatest Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet with their wonderful combination of sumptuousness and mineral complexities, Sanford & Benedict has a soil and aspect that produces distinctive, extraordinary chardonnay. The penetrating nose of the wine reveals a cornucopia of flavor, great depth and a faint brioche/brie anise that is so common in Meursault. As the wine warms in the glass I detect a little caramel. The palate is polished smooth and gives a very impressive, slightly creamy length. It expands very nicely on the palate in a youthful and understated way. It kept going very, very long and finished with a little lime and chalk. This is simply a great wine right up there with a Grand Cru.
Release price $29.95, scheduled release: Fall 2008

2006 Pinot Noir "Nielson ~ Historic Vineyard Collection" Santa Maria Valley
150 cases produced
Nielson Vineyard is the oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County planted in 1964. Yields here are very low averaging one to two tons per acre. In 2006 the yields were even lower resulting in a very structured and complex creation. I like this wine. I can only describe it as delicious and downright flavorful. I found myself licking my lips like after having a great meal. This wine has Umami; which means "yummy" in Japanese. Umami is a taste that represents the elements of savory or deliciousness.
Release price $49.95, scheduled release: Fall 2008

2006 Pinot Noir Estate "Knox Alexander" Santa Maria Valley
500 cases produced
My notes say "now we're talking"! This is a big wine with lots of flavor, integrated tannins and an intense core of fruit. Like the rich and explosive '05, the '06 Knox is always among the highest scored wines at the ABC staff tastings. This is often the showiest of Jim's Pinots out of the gate from the stable of pinot noirs produced each year at Au Bon Climat. It is a combination of high elevation, north-facing fruit at Bien Nacido (for concentration and structure) and organically farmed hillside fruit at Le Bon Climat (for fruit and complexity). There is a delectable sumptuousness that bodes well for earlier drinking, but the Knox Alexander bottling always takes on a very complex minerality, with earth and flower notes (read: forbidden Burgundian character) with proper storage and reasonable cellar time.
Release price $44.95, $89.95/1.5L, scheduled release: Fall 2008

2006 Pinot Noir "Isabelle Morgan" California
400 cases produced
A blend of the best barrels from the best parcels produced at Au Bon Climat, Isabelle Morgan is a blend put together by the "Mind Behind", as Jim refers to himself and it continues to be a closely guarded secret as to what exactly it is. Jim likens this to his very successful 2005 wine. It is nicely extracted with rich layers of flavors that connect from the front of the palate to the back. Well incorporated acidity and balanced tannins. Tons of aromatics full of blue and black berry preserves, earth, mushrooms and a hint of dried flowers. There is clear vanillin oak notes which really add to the overall pleasurable aroma. Full bodied and concentrated fruit underscored by a hint of minerality. I don't think it is a wine that needs to age for a long time but it will be outstanding with another two years of bottle age. Let me assure you, there isn't an Isabelle Pinot Noir that has not shown deliciously and graciously with ten years in the bottle.
Release price $49.95, $99.95/1.5L, scheduled release: Fall 2008

2005 Pinot Noir "Larmes de Grappe", Santa Maria Valley
100 cases produced
This is the second ever Larmes de Grappe. The 2001 version is still on my top wines ever tasted list. Larmes de Grappe means "tears of the whole cluster" because the grapes were fermented as whole clusters, including the stems. This is exceptional wine making and it can only be done well in certain years where the cluster stems have fully lignified. Stem tannins are different from skin tannins; they impart a different sensory profile. Stem tannins are more astringent and harsher than skin tannins. However fully lignified (meaning brown not green) stems give an increased tannin intensity. So, we expect this wine to age. I would give it a minimum of ten years. Buy it for your children, special anniversaries, and to experience what a great wine can be. This rare wine has exceptional potential for development due to the extraordinary wine making. Add in low yields of about a half- ton per acre, the minerality of the soils at Sanford & Benedict and the fact it is from one of the greatest vintages for Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County ever! What more can you want? All in all this wine is an incredible experience. The nose is reminiscent of the best of Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru as it is extremely powerful and surprisingly elegant.
Release price $150, scheduled release: Spring 2008

I visited Bryan Babcock on a beautiful, sunny morning in January. The drive up was breathtaking and the conversation fascinating. Bryan described new vine spacing that he is working on to maximize the sun timing on the fruit or something like "plant geometry". He completed a new 5,000 square foot building last January that is allowing him to increase and play around with the wines that he makes. Bryan also completed his work on some farm equipment that he had been working on last year. It is a great tractor that was cut in half and put back together. Instead of going between the rows, it now straddles it. Just genius! -CS

2007 Pinot Gris "Naughty Little Hillsides" Sta. Rita Hills
200 cases produced
As you are approaching the Babcock Tasting room, you come across a small little knoll. Well this small rise is a "naughty little hillside". Bryan describes it as a temperamental child. It has never thrown a full crop and something always goes wrong. But you can't blame it for trying. The fruit that does come off it has verve and intensity. Bright, crisp green apple is greeted by juicy pears that flow into a shortbread crust on a fruit tart finish. This hillside is certainly giving it's all to the vines and I have to stand up and applaud it.
Release price $30 Scheduled release: Spring 2008

2006 Merlot/Petit Verdot "Fathom" Santa Ynez Valley
200 cases produced
Bryan has experimented with Bordeaux varietals for many years now. You might remember from our 2003 review we featured a Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon bottling under the same name. Well this is the Fathom's new life form and it blows the previous incarnations out of the sky. It 100% Estelle Vineyard fruit and is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Petit Verdot. Bryan feels that Petit Verdot is the next great Bordeaux varietal. Of course the farming is so important to all grapes but the concentration and character that the Petit Verdot gives to the blend is just unsurpassable. This wine has bright fruit, huge color extraction and a long finish. Chateau Palmer-esque. Velvety textures roll off the tongue and are greeted with aromas of violets and currants.
Release price $40 Scheduled release: Summer 2008

Steve Beckmen has been part of the review for 8 years now and he continues to out do himself each vintage taking his Syrah and Grenache to new heights. With the return of Mikael, Steve has been able to devote his time to his true love, his beautiful Purisima Mountain Vineyard. Steve has been farming Purisima Mountain biodynamically for 5 years now and the fruit is better than ever. Tasting the 2007 vintage proves this point with amazingly big and complex wines poised to be the vintage of the decade for this extraordinary vineyard. With fruit yields down 1/3 normal in 2007 the wines are intensely concentrated. -DM

2007 Grenache "Purisima Mountain Vineyard" Santa Ynez Valley
600 cases produced
This is a HUGE wine with layers of flavor and all sorts of personality and possible delusions. Deep beautiful baked raspberry nose with plenty of pomegranate, sandalwood herbs de Provence and black truffles. On the palate the wine delivers plush dense expressions of pomegranate, blackberry, dark chocolate and baker's spice. The co-fermentation with 10% Syrah has softened the tannins, creating a seamless wine with tons of character. Release price $44.95, scheduled
Release price TBD release: Summer 2009

2007 Syrah "Purisima Mountain Vineyard ~ Block Six" Santa Ynez Valley $28.95
600 cases produced
Block Six represents the essence of Syrah made with Syrah clones 383, 174 and Estrella grown on the highest point on Purisima Mountain. This wine is just an adjective festival. The nose: a magnificent nose that rocks with black fruit, Niman Ranch bacon, and pistol gun smoke. The mouth: mysterious, unctuous, but ultimately will be focused, with stratums of ripe fruits like plum, blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry. The finish to the wine runs the gauntlet with massive, gushing fruit, brown sugar, coffee, and bittersweet chocolate.
Release price $49.95 scheduled release: Summer 2009


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