Santa Barbara County is producing some of the most thought-provoking and impressive wines in the U.S. If a sense of place is what we're after, Angela Osborne's Grenache-focused label, A Tribute to Grace, is a great place for our exploration to start.
Working closely with Angela during my time at Failla Wines, in 2011, I remember the first time she poured the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard Grenache for our crew, and the enthusiasm that followed. With partial whole cluster fermentation and minimal new oak, the wines are light on their feet and showcase all of the delicacy that Grenache is capable of but rarely achieves in California.
Angela grew up in New Zealand, and upon tasting the greatest expression of Grenache in the world, Chateau Rayas, set out to find the perfect terroir to produce a Grenache-focused label. Angela's grandmother, named Grace, was an equally forceful inspiration toward her landing in California. As terrific as these wines are, knowing the kind person crafting them makes the appeal even greater.
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 2017 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-Block parcel that contains rare ungrafted vines planted in the early '70s. 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' 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 has 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 bring 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.