A trip to Santa Barbara must include a visit to one of the funk zone wineries. These wineries are part of the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. The Santa Barbara Funk Zone is located within a few blocks between State Street and Garden Street and Montecito Street to Cabrillo Boulevard. This industrial district was known for its maritime structures, industrial lots, and historical cottages, where fishing and lumber were some of the biggest industries. Today the area exudes an artsy flair and is filled with galleries, restaurants, and wine-tasting rooms. On a recent visit, I visited the wine-tasting room of J.Wilkes.
The story of J.Wilkes is about a passion for Central Coast wines and the love of the ocean. Jeff Wilkes, whose legacy lives on in J.Wilkes wines, was a vintner and grape grower who loved to sail on the ocean. He sold grapes for the Miller Family for 20 years. His first vintage under J.Wilkes occurred in 2001. Unfortunately, Jeff passed away, but his strong relationship with the Miller family inspired them to continue honoring his vision for crafting Central Coast wines by purchasing the brand. Today they produce wines that reflect the diversity of California’s Central Coast.
Winemaker Jonathan Nagy
I first met Jonathan Nagy when he was the winemaker at Byron. His expertise in crafting Pinot Noir is known throughout the industry. As a Santa Barbara native, Jonathan graduated from UC Davis and has forged his career at wineries such as Mondavi, Cambria, and Byron; his draw is the Central Coast. Besides making exceptional Pinot Noirs, Jonathan loves creating Pinot Blanc. At J.Wilkes, he produces varieties, including Lagrein.
Jonathan’s goal is to create wines that capture the essence of the Central Coast and showcases the terroir of its sub-AVAs, especially those in Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles. He accomplishes this and more with very drinkable wines.
J.Wilkes sources its grapes from four Central Coast regions; Santa Maria Valley, Paso Robles Highlands, Santa Rita Hills, and Ballard Canyon. All the regions have one thing in common, the ocean breezes off the Pacific Ocean; therefore, the theme of being inspired by the ocean connects Jeff Wilkes’s legacy to the wines.
J.Wilkes Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail & Funk Zone Tasting Room
Located one block from the ocean, yet another connection to the ocean theme, the J.Wilkes wine tasting room is located in the heart of the Santa Barbara Funk Zone and the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. Santa Barbara is known for its Spanish Mediterranean architecture, and the tasting room resides in a Spanish Colonial building making the atmosphere completely ensconced in the area’s local character.
The tasting room has a lovely outdoor patio to enjoy as well as indoor seating. We opted for outdoors to enjoy the beautiful day, watch passersby and allow our dog, Bree, to tag along to the tasting. J.Wilkes is pet-friendly.
J.Wilkes White and Rosé Wine
2020 Pinot Blanc Santa Maria Valley: I found a fresh and bright wine with flavors of stone fruit, hints of citrus, and a spicy finish.
2021 Viognier Paso Robles Highland District: The wine exhibits the classical qualities of Viognier, apricot, and honeysuckle on both the nose and the palate.
2021 Rose of Grenache Paso Robles: This Rosé displayed a lighter yet fresh, and bright demeanor. I found flavors of cherry and aromas of summer melons.
J.Wilkes Red Wine
2020 Pinot Noir Sta Rita Hills: The wine ages 15 months in neutral French Oak. I discovered a bright savory Pinot Noir with earthy tones.
2020 Zinfandel Paso Robles Highlands: The Zinfandel ages 11 months in French oak, of which 25 percent is new oak. Find a fresh lighter styled Zinfandel with red fruit and accented by white pepper.
2020 Syrah Ballard Canyon: Ballard Canyon is known for Syrah, and this one pleases with its floral aromas. The Syrah is bright with flavors of red fruit and pepper on the finish. This wine ages 15 months in French oak, 20 percent new Francois Freres barrels.
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Highlands: The Cabernet ages for 12 months in French Oak, of which 40 percent is new oak. The wine exhibits an earthy nose and, on the palate, flavors of dark fruit mixed with some mocha.
2020 Cabernet Franc Paso Robles Highlands: The wine showcases a lighter quality than most Cabernet Francs. Its bright demeanor of red fruits made for an enjoyable, drinkable wine. This wine ages for ten months in 40 percent new French oak.
2019 Lagrein Paso Robles: The J.Wilkes Lagrein came across as a bigger wine compared to most I have sampled in the past. Distinctive savory qualities accented the flavors of blueberries.
2020 Petite Sirah Santa Maria Valley: After aging for ten months in 40 percent new French oak, the wine displays dark fruit, blackberry, and sage.
I found every wine I sampled drinkable, making this Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail and Funk Zone tasting room an ideal stop. One will leave with pleasant thoughts of good wine, good company, and the presence of the ocean breezes all around. After immersion in Jeff Wilkes’s legacy through the location and the wines, one leaves extremely satisfied.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted wine tasting. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.