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 the 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.
Finding jaw-dropping hillside vineyards beyond each weave and turn of Napa Valley's roads is common. However, finding winemakers that live up to the landscape by pursuing graceful, nuanced, and site-specific wines is more of a challenge. Diana Snowden Seysess typifies this essence like few others in the valley do, and the winery's history explains why the personification of place is her ultimate intent.
Snowden eschews many winemaking practices that have become commonplace today. No cultured yeasts are employed, no enzymes to enhance color, no "bleeding" of the must for concentration, no fining, and no sterile filtration. Diana presses off the skins when they're dry rather than ongoing maceration to pick up more density and extraction. The wines never see more than 50% new French oak.
The Snowden Ranch began in 1878 after the Homestead Act encouraged the settlement of new agricultural lands in the valley. The Snowden family took control of these vineyards in 1955, planting different parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon. Through the 1980s, the family worked closely with Warren Winiarski of Stags Leap Cellars to improve their vineyards. Finally, Snowden Vineyards produced its first wines from the family estate in 1993.
Diana grew up in Napa Valley and graduated from the UC Davis Viticulture and Enology program. In 2003, she became the oenologist at Domaine Dujac and worked alongside her now-husband, Jeremy Seysses, crafting some of Burgundy's most celebrated wines. Her time between Napa and Burgundy brings extraordinary perspective. These wines re-shape how Napa Valley speaks to sense of place.
When I have the opportunity to prove that Chianti Classico can show grace and pristine fruit quality akin to Red Burgundy, I use Giovanna Morganti's Le Boncie as my first example. I implore you to trust this will be your moment of clarity for Sangiovese.
Importer Neal Rosenthal's Montevertine is a benchmark for the region, but his other discovery, Le Trame, better illustrates Sangiovese's sometimes elusive, fruit-forward profile and silken tannins. Also consider Chiesamonti, which comes from a one-hectare parcel in Castelnuovo Berardenga. The stonier soils here result in a wine with brighter red fruits and a long saline finish (Differing from Giovanna's other wines that exhibit more fleshy characteristics). These two Chiantis are all class.
Giovanna farms her five hectares using organic and biodynamic principles. I could go down the rabbit hole on farming, fermentation, and aging specifics, but I'd like to cut this one short and say: This is a profound wine that's a joy to drink. I've lost count of the number of times I've used this bottling to convince friends that Sangiovese can be fun, approachable, and deadly serious. Below is a photo from my 2017 visit and the gorgeous color of the Stockinger barrel sample that had me in love.