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Vol. 14 No.1 - May '06

Sta. Rita Hills
...a 3-hour tour?

Santa Rita Hills - the wines:

Alma Rosa

Journal and tasting notes from visits to several California wineries. The final destination of the trip was the 2006 Hospice du Rhône, (Friday and Saturday May 12th and 13th in Paso Robles), and I'd left a few days early to make some winery visits along the way. Okay, so what about Thursday the 11th, you may ask - aren't there usually some winery visits on Thursday? Well, the short story is that I elected to cover the HdR Syrah Shootout held at Villa Creek on the day before HdR (Thursday), so unfortunately missed visiting both Adelaida and Tablas Creek, with a lunch stop at Hug. I was told, however, that those who did do the tour had a fantastic time.

A special thanks once again to Peter Cargasacchi and all of the other Santa Rita Hills winegrowers and vintners for inviting us to Melville Winery to taste their 2005 vintage.

Barrel Tasting: even though barrel tasting is one of the most instructive ways to sample wine, it is also something that causes more than a little angst among winemakers. The fact is that the wines being sampled from barrel haven't finished their infancy yet - they are still going through growth and development in the barrel, and haven't reached the point of bottling. Therefore, winemakers are often reluctant to expose their barrel samples to the public - concerned the wines may be misjudged or unappreciated by tasters during this growth stage. Since the tasting notes in this report contain many barrel samples, please note that my impressions relate only to the wine at its current stage of development.

Wednesday, May 10, 2005 - Santa Barbara County

Up early, I headed for Lompoc to start off our annual pre-HdR Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Rita Hills) tour. Once again, the Santa Rita Hills folks pulled out all the stops to welcome the many wine-geeks that gathered for what has become an annual pre-Hospice du Rhone sojourn.

It was still overcast, so I decided to take Santa Rosa Road - hoping to get some shots of vineyards shrouded in the famous SRH fog. Well, I turned one corner, and sure enough...there it was.

Many of us met for breakfast at a small cafe called Tom's, in Lompoc. From there, we headed over to the "Lompoc Wine Ghetto" to sample wines from several different producers, including Fiddlehead, Longoria, Alma Rosa, Ortman, Demetria, Foley, and Huber. Palmina, though not a Rhone producer, was hosting and opened their tasting room for us to enjoy the many Italian varietals they make.

Following a lunch break, we were off to Melville for a barrel tasting in their cellar of many of the same producers, plus Clos Pepe, Flying Goat, Hitching Post, Dierberg, and Pali. Had an excellent time!

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

Barrel room at Fiddlehead

Arriving at "the Ghetto," we parked and walked over to a sunshade-tent area that had been setup behind the Palmina winery as our lunch area. The wineries had set up separately in two barrel rooms, allowing for plenty of room.

We split off into two groups, one going across the alley to the Fiddlehead barrel room, and the other staying at the Palmina barrel room and tasting room (Palmina had graciously opened all of their own offerings of Italian varietals).

At Fiddlehead we were able to taste their Pinot, along with Pinots from Alma Rosa, Longoria, and Ampellos Cellars. Meanwhile, over at the Palmina facility, they were pouring Ortman, Demetria, Foley, and Huber - and, truth be told, we even tasted a couple of SRH Syrahs as well, as well as some (cough, sputter) Cabernet - plus of course the aforementioned Palmina Italian lineup. Well, what's that they say...'when in Rome....'

After about an hour, our respective groups merely switched locations and were able to try the other wines. Great concept. Meanwhile, Peter Cargasacchi and John Tomasso headed into Lompoc to pick up sandwiches and drinks for the group, and finally, after a couple hours of tasting, previously ordered boxed lunches were brought in. Wow, it's nice to be waited on!

Selected Tasting Notes:

2004 Longoria Cuvee Diana Chardonnay - SBC & Sweeney Vnyds . Lovely apple and smoked applewood nose. Smooth fruit-filled mouthfeel, with nice hit of espresso/coffee bean on the finish

2005 Ampellos Viognier - Quatro Viento Vnyd, Los Olivos. Pretty floral nose, with hints of white peach. Slightly soft in mouthfeel, but with amazing crispness.

2001 Fiddlehead Honeysuckle Sauvignon Blanc - SYV. Fascinating petrol quality to the otherwise toasty clover-scented fruit. Crisp, fleshy and delicious on the palate.

2005 Fiddlehead Pink Fiddle Rose of Pinot Noir - SRH. Quite light and airy in the nose, with obvious if lighter Pinot-based aromas. Light in mouthfeel, with good Pinot flavors on the back end.

2005 Ampellos Rose of Syrah - SRH. Spicy and fleshy throughout, with a very nice hint of citrus rind on the back end.

2002 Fiddlehead 728 Pinot Noir - SRH. Beautiful spicy and rich nose of black cherry and a hint of cola. Very fleshy mouthfeel, spicy and chewy on the palate, with just a hint of gaminess in flavor.

2004 Longoria Pinot Noir - Mt. Carmel, SRH. Fantastic nose of spicy, rich fruit. Somewhat more muted in mouthfeel, but excellent. (This will be the last Mt.Carmel for Rick Longoria, as the vineyard was purchased by Brewer-Clifton.)

2004 Longoria Pinot Noir - Fe Ciega, SRH. Slightly reduced in the nose, but the fruit here is beautiful. Lots of cherry and strawberry, with a nice spicy streak from mid to latter palate.

2004 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir - SRH. Nice spicy lighter red berry nose. Very nice flavors on the palate, and very long delicious finish. This is the "basic" Alma Rosa bottling. (screwcap)

2004 Alma Rosa Pinot Noir - La Encantada, SRH. More intense in both nose and mouth - bigger and blousier, with lovely balance and finish. (screwcap)

2004 Ampellos Syrah - Estate, SRH. Lots of black and red fruit, white pepper, and a nice spicy streak in the nose. Excellent structure, plenty of dark fruit. Nice!

2005 Palmina Traminer - Alisos, SRH. Huge nose of floral and spicy notes, yet subtle as well. Dances on the palate, with lively spiced fruit and terrific balance.

2005 Palmina Pinot Grigio - Honea, SYV. Nice green apple background aroma, crisp mouthfeel, beautiful balance and finish.

2005 Palmina Tocai Friulano - Honea, SYV. Bright crisp nose. Barest hint of sweetness to the mouthfeel - especially at the finish. Excellent balance, almost see-through texture. Very interesting - in a good way!

2005 Palmina Arneis - Honea, SYV. With a slightly stinky nose of smoke, mineral and a touch of vitamin, you know you're into something Italian (think white Barolo). Wow mouthfeel, with lots of chewy flavors, and touch of something nutty that continues through the long finish.

2005 Palmina Botasea Rosato - Honea, SYV. A blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Dolcetto that comes across something akin to a Rose of Syrah, but not as spicy. Flashy and a bit tart in mouthfeel, this ought to stand up to tomato-based dishes.

2004 Palmina Alisos - Alisos, SBC. The 75/25 blend of Sangiovese and Merlot creates a flavor profile that seem to be more than the sum of its parts. Lots of dark dried cherry, with a nice smoky aroma. Full and rich on the palate, with nice balance and structure, and spicy long finish.

2004 Palmina Undici - Eleven Oaks, SYV. Wow! 100% Sangiovese that's loaded with spicy dark cherry, with just a hint of chocolate on the back end. The Undici name (Italian for eleven) is a nod to the vnyd source for this wine.

2003 Palmina Nebbiolo - Honea, SYV. Dark cherry nose. Quite tannic on the palate, very nice balance and ripeness, with wonderfully long finish. Nice job!

2003 East Valley Vnyd Pinot Noir - Hamilton Vnyd, SBC. Floral-scented black cherry jumps from the glass. Seems a bit shy in mouthfeel, but nice balance, flavors and finish. Vnyd source here is from the Jalama Valley, quite near the coast.

2004 East Valley Vnyd Pinot Noir - Hamilton Vnyd, SBC. Similar to the '03, but somewhat bigger and the tiniest bit more ripe.

2002 East Valley Vnyd Cabernet Sauvignon - Estate, SYV. Fascinating light herb and dill, with a sweet rich mouthfeel, nice balance and long finish. 15% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot.

2003 East Valley Vnyd Cabernet Sauvignon - Estate, SYV. Nice ripe dark cherry-cassis, somewhat sweet-sour in mouthfeel, nice balance and finish. 20% Merlot.

2005 Ortman Rose of Syrah - SLO. Nice and fleshy nose, but less so in mouthfeel. Light and airy finish.

2005 Ortman Sangiovese - Paso Robles. Nose of nicely ripened dried cherry fruit, good balance, flavors and finish.

2005 Demetria Pinot Blanc - SBC. Moderately full-bodied, with hints of citrus and clover.

2005 Demetria Chardonnay - SBC. (barrel fermented) Lots of fruit apparentl in both nose and mouth. Nice apple-like flavors, moderate crispness, and long finish.

2005 Demetria Papou Viognier/Roussanne - SBC. (barrel fermented) 50/50 blend of Viognier and Roussannne. Lightly sweet and fairly waxy in both nose and mouthfeel, nice finish.

2005 Demetria Constantine Grenache/Mourvedre/Syrah - SBC. A blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah. Wow mouthfeel, with nice rich fruit, very good balance and long finish.

2005 Demetria Syrah - SBC. Very spicy dark berry nose. Huge mouthfeel, with lots of dark berry and smoky spice and espresso, and long tasty finish.

1998 Fiddlehead L'Orvert Sauvignon Blanc - SBC. Wow! Nose of apple, toast, walnut and petrol. Smooth toasty complex mouthfeel, nice balance and finish.

2005 Foley/Phillips Rose of Syrah - SBC. Nice fleshy nose. Lovely mouthfeel, with a nice crispness, plenty of fruit and long finish.

2001 Foley Syrah - SRH. Dark, gamey and a bit herbal, but this slight green edge certainly brings out the amimale in the wine.

2003 Foley Syrah - SRH. Bright aromas of dark fruit and rare meat. Nice chewy texture, touches of spice and pepper on the long finish.

2005 Huber Chardonnay - SRH. (stainless steel fermented) Nice crispness throughout, with a lovely apple aroma. Lots of fruit on the palate, with some nuttiness noted through the long finish.

2004 Huber Chardonnay - SRH. (20% new oak) Nose of citrus and green apple. Excellent balance, smoky and rich, with a touch of toast on the long finish

2005 Huber Pinot Noir - SRH. Ripe and spicy - more to the bing cherry side of things, with a slightly soft mouthfeel and long finish.

2004 Huber Dornfelder - SRH. Ah yes, the Grapeanator. Dark, dark, dark, this wine is like Petite Sirah meets Petite Verdot, and double their intensity. It's an experience!

Rick Longoria seems pretty happy with the '05 vintage.
Richard Sanford (l) talks with Peter Work from Ampellos (c), and Jeff B.
Peter Cargasacchi: "Okay, this should be enough to buy that vineyard I've always wanted. Hey, Anderson, did you pay me?"
Wes Hagen: "Let's see, how's that go...righties swirl counter-clockwise?"
Karen Steinwachs and Norman Huber : "stop and smell the Dornfelder."
Below: Demetria's Mike Roth wonders, "How long do I have to hold this pose?"

SRH Tasting - Melville Vineyards

I've written frequently about Melville Vineyards, but I can't say enough good things about the people and the wines - all of which are fabulous. With our lunch finished, we were able to get down to more serious tasting. Chad Melville had arranged for each winery to pour their SRH-grown wines, all from the 2005 vintage.

Selected Tasting Notes:

2005 Melville Pinot Noir - Clone 777, SRH. Floral and sappy cherry and pomegranate aromas - Yeah! Beautiful mouthfeel, smooth and silky, with a touch of heat on the lightly gripping finish.

2005 Melville Pinot Noir - Clone 828, SRH. Very restrained nose, but more focused in flavors on the palate. Lots of dark berry, with lovely balance and long delicious finish.

2005 Ojai Pinot Noir - Clos Pepe, SRH. Dense and dark, yet slightly restrained nose. Lots of dark cherry fruit on the palate, chewy mouthfeel, and delicious long finish.

2005 Hitching Post Pinot Noir - Bien Nacido, SMV. Gorgeous nose of strawberry and dark cherry, with a soft spicy quality in the nose. Rich and nicely textured, with bits of spice and toast throughout the long finish.

2005 Hitching Post Pinot Noir - Cargasacchi, SRH. Darker in tone and intensity than the B/N version, with a tightly-packed flavor profile, tons of chewy fruit and finish.

2005 Hitching Post Pinot Noir - Fiddlestix, SRH. Similar to the Cargasacchi, but with a meatier aroma and flavor. Also seems more accessible at present.

2005 Hitching Post Pinot Noir - Sanford & Benedict, SRH. Bit of sweetness to the fruit, with a hint of floral and talc notes. Softens a bit on back end and finish.

2005 Dierberg Pinot Noir - SMV. This seemed to have a somewhat darker fruit profile than most Santa Maria Pinots - more to the black cherry than cherry or strawberry. Nice.

2005 Flying Goat Pinot Noir - Rancho Santa Rosa, SRH. Nice floral quality to the fruit-filled nose. Drop-dead mouthfeel - rich, chewy filled with fruit and very drinkable.

2005 Pali Pinot Noir - Shea, OR. Nose of earthy cherry, and a bit of the mushroom quality. Nicely ripened flavors, big on structure, excellent balance with lots of acids and very ong finish.

2005 Huber Pinot Noir - Estate, SRH. Spicy and rich, with intriguing floral notes.

2005 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - Estate, SRH. 1st pick. Interesting assortment of wines, brought here by Wes Hagen. This wine, plus the folllowing two wines represent different passes for picking the vineyard. This was easily the highest in acids, and on its own seems a bit narrowly focused. 13.5 alcohol.

2005 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - Estate, SRH. 2nd pick. Okay, now we have a bit more succulent fruit. 14.5 alcohol.

2005 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - Estate, SRH. 3rd pick. No, we have lots of sweet fruit in nose and mouth, with the balance and finish starting to push the envelope at 15.5 alcohol.

2005 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir - Estate, SRH. Blend of the above three wines. the blend works to even out thing in both nose and mouth. Seems logical - and it is! Nice.

Chad Melville (l); Augie Hug (r)
Norm Yost (l)
Brian Loring: "My God! What is this, Syrah?"

Finally, about 4:00, we needed to get on the road to Paso Robles. I still had to get a few supplies for our big Friday BBQ, check in at the motel and freshen up for our offline at Villa Creek. What a week so far, and it was only going to get better.

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