It is always a night to remember when you come out to enjoy the wines of Sta. Rita Hills. Set against the backdrop of the La Purisima Mission and the oak trees that surround the Mission’s courtyard, one cannot help but rejoice in the pleasures of the wine of this Santa Barbara County region and the grand tasting event, Wine and Fire that showcases them. The celebrities of the night were primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I found many standouts in the crowd.
Each year discovering new vintners to the region is one of the highlights of the Grand Tasting. There were quite a few that merit recognition. The first being Lutum Wines, whose goal is to focus on making wine from what owner Bill Price and winemaker Gavin Chanin consider small production single vineyards. In Latin, Lutum means soil, and it is the expression of the soil that defines Lutum wines. Both the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir were excellent. The 2012 Pinot Noir from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard was bright with floral aromas.
Paul Lato is not a newcomer to the wine business. Based out of Santa Maria, Paul Lato concentrates on small lot production primarily from vineyards in Santa Barbara County. There seems to be a movie theme to the wines. Each of the three wines sampled is named after the title of a movie. The first was the 2013 Seabiscuit Pinot Noir, Zotovich Vineyard. I found a very balanced wine with notes of cherry and raspberry. Equally good was the 2013 Contender, Drum Canyon Pinot Noir. Finishing off the trio was the 2009 Alegria, Hilliard Bruce Vineyard, which one might call a very subtle and soft Pinot Noir.
At Bratcher, the 201 3 Chardonnay Estilo Sin Roble was a grabber. An unoaked Chardonnay, revealing the wonderful acidity and refreshing crispness that is so prominent in the Sta. Rita Hills. In addition to the Chardonnay, the Bratcher 2012 Jane Madison Pinot Noir was also notable from this vintner. Aged in 40% new oak, this wine, named after the owner’s daughter, has more vibrancy and body than the other Pinots in the Bratcher portfolio.
Gainey’s 2012 Limited Selection Pinot Noir was the favorite from this well-established winery in Santa Ynez.
Crawford Family Wines
By far, the most outstanding wine of the evening was Crawford Family Wines Syrah. Talk about balance, this cool climate Syrah from Zotovich Vineyard has it all. This wine represents the winery’s first Syrah, and after being bottled several weeks ago, the wine is incredibly together. It is a testament to Mark Horvath, whose emphasis is a pursuit of balance and a hands-on approach. He may not be a member of the “In Pursuit of Balance” organization, but his wines exemplify this concept to the ultimate degree.
A barrel sampling of the Lindley 2013 Pinot Noir La Lomita Vineyard proved that this Pinot is going to be a winner when it is released. It is fruity but in a very subtle way. Stay tuned for its release in several months.
Looking for Rosé, do not miss out on Transcendence 2014 Rosé. For Joey Gummier, this is his most challenging wine to create. It is made of 100% Grenache from the Vogelzang Vineyard in Happy Canyon. Fermented in neutral oak and aged in stainless steel, this wine is bright with strawberry flavors and hints of spice on the finish.
Moving to a subtler, Rosé, and one that takes you back to Provence, you must not miss Liquid Farm’s 2014 Rosé. Known as “Pink Crack,” it is all that it is cracked up to be and more. The subtle nuances of this wine immediately take you to the Côte de Azur.
Montemar’s also featured a lovely Rosé along with three different Pinot Noirs. Although both the 2012 Pinot Noirs sampled were excellent, the one from Bentrock Vine
yard was so balanced and smooth that on this night, it showed the best.
Not only does Wine and Fire highlight the wines of the Sta. Rita Hills but also showcases the latest food purveyors in the area. New to Lompoc is Scratch Kitchen, and their offering at the tasting, a succulent swordfish sample showed that Lompoc is moving in the right direction when it comes to its restaurant scene. It is easy to say that the food is excellent after recently dined there.
Also new to Lompoc is Tollhouse Barbecue Catering. The ribs were fabulous, and the bacon-wrapped apples were a nice change to the typical bacon-wrapped dates.
Wine and Fire Finale
One must end any wine tasting on a sweet note, and Huber’s 2012 Hafen Dornfelder Dessert Wine was the perfect finale. Its deep purple color gives way to the rich flavor and texture that is permeated by black fruits and exuded a luscious conclusion to this tasting, making this wine the ideal ending to a beautiful evening of Wine and Fire.