In the pursuit of crafting wines intended as the ultimate reflection of place we cannot help but turn to the old world for inspiration. Within California Pinot Noir we've seen so many styles garner attention, whether they be wines of elegance and structure, or dark extraction and overt ripeness. Obviously, my sensibilities have gravitated toward the former. Finding wines that fully realize the potential of this more delicate approach is rare. Justin Willet at Tyler Winery in Santa Barbara is one of the few who's found it.And it's no surprise the Santa Barbara native's intimate knowledge of place is the reason why.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2016 Tyler Bien Nacido Vineyard - N Block Pinot Noir.
American Pinot Noir built upon nuance undoubtedly means turning to the variety's birthplace of Burgundy for many answers. However, in the end it's a connection to place here that will dictate the results. Justin Willet has a familiarity with these historic Pinot Noir vineyards in Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Rita Hills like few others do. He works with some of the very oldest parcels in the region, but one stands out from the pack.
Bien Nacido is one of California's most recognized vineyards and it's their N-Blockparcel that contains rare ungrafted vines planted in the early 70's. Justin began with this parcel when he first launched his winery in 2005, and today he controls all aspects of farming. Of the full range from Tyler N Block is produced in the smallest quantity, sometimes yielding only a single barrel. As you can imagine it's always the first to sell out.
Justin's relationships with the regions's growers over many years have afforded him opportunities that few have. Aside from gaining access to the most choice parcels he takes a hands-on approach within the vine rows, working with a very small crew who have strict instructions. Yields are kept low, but it's the flexibility to alter practices each unique growing season that really highlight Willet's familiarity with this special site.
The hallmark of the N Block is bright and lifted qualities with a reserved tension that finishes with supreme focus. The Heritage and Martini clones from the 1973-planting brings a pure and transparent character that meshes perfectly with the low-extraction and minimal oak protocol in the cellar. If Justin produces wines with Burgundian sensibilities then N Block is the special bottling that brings this comparison closer than any other.
"The results are aromatic, sapid reds that evoke the great wines of Burgundy but find a distinctive personality of their own...To my palate, Domaine de la Côte now numbers among the most exciting producers of Pinot Noir in California precisely because of that synergy between style and site." - William Kelley of The Wine Advocate (04/18)
It's not often I'll lead with a critic's take, but there's nobody writing on wine today as exceptionally well as William Kelley, The Wine Advocate's new proverbial breath of fresh air. As far as aligning palates go, Kelley seems to read things as I do. Although he reviews California's central coast, his home is also based in Burgundy where he covers that region as well.
Last week marked my fourth visit with Sashi Moorman and Raj Parr at their winery in Lompoc.
Today, I'm happy to offer an epic release I've been building for a while now, complete with an extremely rare vertical of DDLC's, La Côte.
Domaine de la Côte is the definitive example of what it means to walk the walk in California viticulture. The Pinot Noir grown on this extreme western portion of the Sta. Rita Hills is a testament to what's capable when the fickle grape is raised in conditions that approximate Burgundy's marginal setting. These are wines with intense concentration from small yields, due in part to pruning regimen and also to its extremely dense planting of 4,000-7,000 vines per acre. The soil is porous diatomaceous from a 25 million year old seabed that ultimately defines this wind-battered slope 7 miles off the Pacific. Driving up to the vineyard, the white soil exposed on the southwest face of the cliff elicits Champagne's Côte de Blancs. This is California, but we're in uncharted territory.
The inclination here is to drive home the point that Raj and Sashi are well versed on Burgundy domaines and sites like no other producers in America. And that they've intended from day one to produce wines they want to drink, those that harness the same traits that set their lust toward Burgundy long ago. Large percentage of whole clusters are used here for fermentation and extraction levels are moderate, only intended to give regal framing and backbone to wines still characterized by purity and transparency of site.
Another inclination is to portray this extreme western hill as the Côte de Nuits to the more Côte de Beaune traits we find in Santa Barbara's more inland terrain, where we see more red fruits and softer structure. Here, like in Gevrey Chambertin and Morey Saint Denis we have darker fruit expression, deeper structure, and to be blunt, a more fascinating depth and complexity than elsewhere in this zone. The juxtaposition between sweet and savory spices is just simply unique to this setting, and its black tea and citrus peel component are another obvious reminder to a Côte de Nuits kinship.
As with elite Burgundy, the DDLC top cuvées show a fine-ness of tannins and delicacy that belies their underlying construction, one capable of transforming them slowly over time. Tasting upon release and then four years later, a bottle of 2011 La Côtemirrored the evolutionary track I only find with Burgundian Pinot Noir.
La Côte is the most entrancing and refined of the domaine's single vineyards. It's been a favorite of mine since first pour many years ago. It hits a sweet spot where grace and intensity converge seamlessly.
Siren's Call is just a 1.5 acre parcel located above La Côte. Own-rooted on decomposed quartz soils and featuring the domaine's steepest grade. De-stemmed by hand. Under 900 bottles produced each vintage.
Burgundy is the backbone of our selection. When I trust emphatically to turn our supporters towards California, this is the first destination for top-grade, terroir-driven Pinot Noir.
2014 Domaine de la Côte Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
$44 per bottle.
2015 Domaine de la Côte La Côte Pinot Noir
$95 per bottle.
2014 Domaine de la Côte La Côte Pinot Noir
$95 per bottle.
2013 Domaine de la Côte La Côte Pinot Noir
$95 per bottle.
2012 Domaine de la Côte La Côte Pinot Noir
$95 per bottle.
Special E-mail "La Côte" Vertical 4-pack: $349 ($87.25/bottle)
One bottle of each: 2015, 2014, 2013, & 2012
2014 Domaine de la Côte Siren's Call Pinot Noir
$129 per bottle.
2013 Domaine de la Côte Siren's Call Pinot Noir
$129 per bottle.
Also available from the dynamic duo:
*2011 Sandhi Tempest Vineyard Pinot Noir
$99 per bottle.
Sourced from La Côte, specifically from what today is a special parcel to be released as, Sous le Chêne, located at the very top of La Côte.
2017 Evening Land Seven Springs Gamay Noir
$35 per bottle.
The last vintage ever sourcing the 1983-planted portion of this revered site.
2014 Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnay
$45 per bottle.
2014 Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard La Source Chardonnay
$79 per bottle.
2014 Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyard Anden Pinot Noir
$99 per bottle.
2015 Sandhi Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
$33 per bottle.
2015 Sandhi Bentrock Chardonnay
$48 per bottle.
Cooler climate Santa Barbara is becoming more and more of an obsession of mine. I find myself constantly reaching to drink wines from these rocky sites and marginal climates. The name most integral to this array of labels is Sashi Moorman. Although his Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay is among my favorites, it's his oldest home label, Piedrasassi, that offers the most downright delicious and complex reflection of Syrah.
Today, I'm very happy to offer three Syrahs from Piedrasassi that showcase precicely why cooler climate Santa Barbara is so exhilirating right now.
Piedrasassi's Syrahs follow a tightrope of harnessing savory, bright, and superior aromatics, while never shying away from the innate luscious qualities that California endows to the grape. Sashi follows surgical-like protocol to vinify and age as naturally as possible, excluding sulphur at fermentation and only utilizing native yeasts.
Whole cluster inclusion and aging in larger 500-liter barrels ensure the lively, crushed rock virtues that makes Northern Rhone Syrah so unique aren't lost here in Santa Barbara. When I pour Syrah I'm always open to new discoveries, but for some things I'm just not game. Candied fruit and milk chocolate tones that mar much of the California Syrah I taste is just a non-starter. What I love about Piedrasassi is each wine, regardless of price point, nails the roasted meat, violet, and black pepper trifecta I crave.
Sashi's single vineyard designate bottlings from Bien Nacido and Rim Rock are examples of how Syrah can continually develop in bottle over many years. And, the Santa Barbara County designate is pound-for-pound one of the great American wines to pop-n-pour tonight for every personal palate you know.
2016 Piedrasassi "PS" Santa Barbara County Syrah
$25 per bottle.
2014 Piedrasassi Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah
$39 per bottle.
2013 Piedrasassi Rim Rock Vineyard Syrah
$64 per bottle.
Special E-mail 3-Pack Pricing: $117 (Regularly $128)
(1 bottle of each Syrah)
My thirst for the balance, structure, and overall mystique of white Burgundy is no secret. While California and Oregon are crafting Chardonnay today that resemble more and more the qualities I love about its birthplace I still find myself getting greedy. Asking to push the envelope further, desiring more cut, more definition, more discipline. There've been so many wonderful surprises in just the last couple years, butnothing could prepare me for what happened from Sandhi in 2014 from the most marginal of vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills.
Sashi Moorman and Rajat Parr established two wineries here to tap the ultimate potential of these wind-swept vines next to the Pacific. They knew that in order to render the mineral-infused and nuanced qualities they craved so much in Burgundy they would need to work with sites not only influenced by moderating temperatures, but also from the most rocky and nutrient-deficient soils.
The north-facing Bentrock vineyard lies on shale and diatomaceous soils, the sort that call to mind the chalky limestone in Meursault's higher elevation sites. This poor soil in Bentrock naturally keeps yields low, in fact the lowest in their entire range of wines, giving unparalleled concentration of fruit. These nitrogen deficient soils have an interesting effect during fermentation, and without wandering too far down this path we can say that a lack of oxygen creates a reductive style of wine. In the most deft execution in Burgundy we may call this noble reduction.
Jean-Marc Roulot's work in this style is as prized as any in Meursault, and Sashi and Raj's annual visits with him for many years (in Burgundy and Sta. Rita Hills) have left an indelible mark. While the balancing act of reduction is tricky to say the least, 2014 Bentrock marks the official arrival of hitting the proverbial nail.
This is Chardonnay at it's most captivating, it's most brilliant. The interplay between ripe, concentrated fruit and the crushed rock, seashell, and rigid mineral core is a juxtaposition that's spellbinding for the senses. Like all great dishes, wines too seem to reach their greatest heights when this sort of dichotomy is front and center.
The duo knew that Bentrock was capable of this precision, and 2014 is the vintage where everything came together. For those that find themselves craving the wines of Roulot, PYCM, Coche, and Leflaive I cannot recommend enough becoming familiar with Sandhi's brand new release of Bentrock.
2014 Sandhi Bentrock Chardonnay
$90 per bottle.