Evolving the Central Coast: Santa Barbara County

 Source:  Wine Folly

Source: Wine Folly

In the early years of Advintage, Tiger wouldn’t shut up about Talley. It was an obsession. We didn’t represent Talley, so Henri challenged her to sign the winery. An honest and loyal farmer, Brian graciously declined proposal after proposal to represent his winery. His distributor at the time had done nothing wrong to warrant a move. We respected his decision and crossed fingers that something would change. It didn’t take long and in 2008, Advintage signed Talley for South Carolina; a bud break for a love affair. Little did we know what was brewing just a little farther south in Santa Barbara County. A new wave of winemaking was taking over, consumers couldn’t get enough big rich Chardonnay and farmers were experimenting with planting and international varietals.

Fast forward 10 years. Santa Barbara County is now on its third wave, and what a wave it is. The Sideways hangover seems to have passed and the current generation is focused and fresh. Timing couldn’t be more opportune. Unlike the growing regions that have had to pivot to maintain or regain relevance, the majority of the central coast has been working towards this moment since inception. This frosty Winkler I region, with its transverse mountain range and remarkably long growing season is ideally suited to yield perfectly ripened grapes with vibrant acidity. Not without its challenges, this geographic oddity is now also equipped with a band of highly talented and trained technicians, seasoned with the knowledge and experience of their mentors, to combat the difficulties and guide its terroir into the future. This is one of, if not the most exciting growing regions in our world today.

Quietly, Advintage has been growing its ensemble of brilliant producers from Santa Barbara County. From the pioneering Bien Nacido Vineyards to the new school leaders A Tribute to Grace, Habit, Lo-Fi, Chanin and Lutum, the wines demand attention and a place at every table.

Here is a selection of a few of our favorite wines we represent from our Santa Barbara County producers:

A TRIBUTE TO GRACE GRENACHE | Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard 2015
The Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard is situated 33 miles east of Santa Barbara, in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Sitting at 3200 feet elevation, the setting is home to sand, brush, exposed rock, and the odd dingo-type wild dog. And grapes. On my first visit to the vineyard (as pictured in this photo), my mother and I were driving the 33-highway route north from Ojai and were beginning to wonder if we had indeed entered the famed Ojai vortex, so foreign was the setting. We hadn’t seen a single soul in over an hour – in fact nothing living save the odd Matilija mountain Poppy. Upwards we continued to climb, until finally we rounded yet another hairpin-bend and both gasped. Nestled below, amidst a vast sea of sand, were row upon row of vibrant vines.
And so is the setting for this incredible vineyard. Arid and blazing hot in the summertime, snow-laden and sleepy in the wintertime. Not that the summer months see an influx of people, I believe the permanent population of Ventucopa is 59…
I have an ongoing lease of three rows in this remarkable vineyard. The entire vineyard is managed sustainably, and planted according to particular site-specificity. Although there are a total of 12 varieties planted, the Grenache plantings represent only 4% of the total vineyard – with five different Grenache clones planted. I am one of five winemakers currently producing wine from this block, and the difference in the wines we each produce speaks volumes as to the part man plays in winemaking. ~Angela Osborne

BIEN NACIDO ESTATE SYRAH 2014
Hand harvested at night, and fermented with native yeast, and malolactic fermentations. Aged for 18 months in French oak; 30% new. Exotic floral aromatics of violets, blue fruits, and sage draw you in, but it’s the rich entry on the peppery and precise palate that's a showcase of this vineyard. They complement the tightly wound but very long finish.   96% Syrah, and 4% Viognier | 13.3% abv | 318 cases produced
The history of Bien Nacido can be traced back to the year 1837, when a Spanish land grant of some two square leagues was secured by Tomas Olivera from Juan Bautista Alvarado, then Gobernador of Alta California.
This land grant stretched upward to the San Rafael Mountains from the Santa Maria Mesa, which bordered the Sisquoc and Cuyama Rivers. In 1855, Thomas Olivera sold Rancho Tepusquet to his son-in-law Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros. Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros started construction on an adobe in 1857 and moved to the ranch the following year. He and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep, several grain crops, and grapes for the production of wine. The historic Ontiveros Adobe still stands today, surrounded by vines at Bien Nacido Vineyards, and is a meaningful gathering place for the community of Santa Maria Valley winemakers and farmers.
In 1969, the Millers, a fifth-generation California farming family purchased a stretch of land in California’s then-nascent Santa Maria Valley wine country. By the early 1970’s, the Miller Family had planted the vineyard land, and christened it Bien Nacido Vineyards.
The terroir of Bien Nacido Vineyards is a combination of the rocky soils, cool climate and good people that work the vineyard on a daily basis. We would like to think that Bien Nacido Vineyards finds its true calling in the hands of those who farm and tend to it year round. It has something to say, and our winegrowing team has allowed it to find its voice through a mindful, dedicated and nearly obsessive commitment to excellence in farming.

CHANIN CHARDONNAY | Bien Nacido Vineyard 2015
This wine is pale straw in color with aromas of toasted hazelnuts, meyer lemon, and sea breeze. On the palate, there’s a striking acidity and crispness, laced with textural richness and a power that leads to a juicy finish.
The grapes were harvested on two separate days to achieve ideal ripeness—August 21, September 8th. Each lot was pressed and directly put into French oak barrels (10% new) to ferment. The wine stayed there for 15 months on its lees and was then racked and lightly fined before being bottled unfiltered in March 2017. 642 cases produced. 12.5% abv
[Adapted from WSJ]

BIEN NACIDO VINEYARD | Santa Barbara
At nearly 900 acres, Bien Nacido in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara is a great vineyard supersized. The cool, sprawling place features both hillsides and flatter ground and 15 different grape varieties, although its Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the most renowned.
The Miller family bought Bien Nacido in 1969, and the Millers have made improvements over the years. Its grapes are the basis of hundreds of notable wines, and a short list of their names reads like a roll call of Santa Barbara greats. Some 35 producers turn out vineyard-designate wines, but as Nicholas Miller noted, about two thirds of the grapes purchased do not go into a wine with the vineyard name. (Every Bien Nacido-designated wine is tasted by the Millers to make sure it meets their standards; occasionally they’ve had to tell a producer it couldn’t put the Bien Nacido name on its label.)
Gavin Chanin, of Chanin Wine Company, credited the vineyard’s management and viticulture. “Bien Nacido is at the forefront of farming in Santa Barbara,” he said.

HABIT CABERNET FRANC | Coquelicot Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley 2015
Certified CCOF Organic. 80% whole cluster fermentation with 20% crush, fermented in a tall steel open top fermenter,foot stomped, free run gravity fed daily, then gravity fed back over the top for a very long slow fermentation over three weeks. Aged in a large Puncheon on the lees until bottling.  This wine is a stunner! Bright fruit, earth and spice. 250 cases produced 12.5% abv

LO-FI CHENIN | Jurassic Park Vineyard 2016
Growing season: Typical Santa Barbara season outside of an early bloom and fruit set. The lingering draught has affected “normal” years in that regard. September typically being our warmest month, our grapes were not effected by late season heat due to the crop load and early harvest date. Total degree days just over 2000 and annual rainfall of 11.79”(77% of historical average).
Hand harvested and sustainably grown on own rooted vines; Whole cluster pressed to tank. Settled 48 hours prior to racking to barrel. Fermented on the native yeasts, followed by full malolactic by naturally occurring bacteria. No sulfur used at pressing.  Aged in neutral French oak barrels for 8 months. Racked once prior to hand bottling. Total of 41 ppm so2 added without filtration in keeping with our minimalist (lo-fi) philosophy.

LUTUM PINOT NOIR | Sanford and Benedict Vineyard
Sanford & Benedict Vineyard is one of the oldest vineyards in Santa Barbara County (planted in 1971), located in the famed Sta. Rita Hills. The grapes were harvested on August 15th, 19th. At the winery, the grapes were destemmed and underwent a four-day cold-soak prior to fermentation. The wine was then gently pressed and put into French oak barrels where it stayed for 18 months before being bottled in March 2017.
2015 Sanford & Benedict Pinot is a concentrated wine. As I sat down to write tasting notes about this wine I couldn’t decide whether the wine was powerful or elegant – and after a couple of glasses I think it’s a balance of both. The nose is bramble with raspberries and blackberries being most apparent. There are touches of rose and white pepper that give this wine stunning complexity and push it more towards old world complexities that I’m used to seeing in Burgundy. The same power and elegance is echoed on the palate with fine tannin and fantastic concentration. This wine is a perfect example of the complexities of old vines (planted 1971) from one of the best vineyard sites in Santa Barbara County.