2020 Fall Release
Happy Autumn everyone! As befitting the transition from Summer to Fall, the winery is buzzing. We have the last of the Pinot Noir and first of the Syrah lots coming off the vine and into the winery, several active fermenters of Pinot Noir bubbling away and getting ready for draining and pressing, and barrels stacked everywhere full of fermenting Chardonnay and Grenache rose. Meanwhile we are continuing to sample and plan for the next picks of Syrah. It is a real juggling act, particularly when you add in the fact that one or two of us is walking the rows tuning up the vineyard and then actually sorting with the picking crews at each pick. This quality control is in our opinion a most critical step, as only the best grapes make the best wine, and we toss away many, many clusters because of bird and bee damage, the occasional boytritis (rot), sunburn, raisining and under ripeness. Scant few wineries do this in the field, but we think it is vital that the fruit arrives at the winery in pristine shape.
We are able to manage all these overlapping tasks thanks in large part to Bryan Sparks, our all-star cellarmaster, who gets by with a little help from his friends on the Sales team and some very high-end coffee. Way to go, Bryan! Despite the craziness, it is the best time of the year for a winemaker. We have just enough time for hundreds of decisions (and for a hundred visions and revisions). If anyone gets that reference, email us within 12 hours and we will enter you in a drawing to win a bottle of Seven, no purchase necessary. We simply live for this time of year – Cheers!
Fall is also the perfect time to release fantastic new wines which have been slumbering in the cold cellar for the last six to nine months and are now ready to head out into the world. This release, we are turning to Syrah, the great, powerful yet balanced, meaty and spicy wine which is perfect for Fall feasts. This release includes the majestic 2018 John Sebastiano Vineyard (JSV) Syrah and the 2018 Seven, which blends Syrahs, from multiple fascinating, highly acclaimed vineyards in Ballard Canyon and the cool Sta. Rita Hills with a touch of Grenache and a splash of Viognier. Longtime fans recognize the aromatically complex Seven as one of the most versatile wines for food paring, while the JSV Syrah was acclaimed from barrel as “full of old world charm” and given a 93-95 point score.
Finally, we are also releasing the 2018 Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills, which has been dubbed “a textbook Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay” by Jeb Dunnuck, who further states: “Readers looking to learn what topflight Chardonnay from this region tastes like should latch onto bottles.” (JebDunnuck.com, August 2020). We agree with Jeb!
All these wines are made in very limited quantities, and you should act fast to request some before they are gone. Better yet, join the wine club and ensure access to both these very limited Syrahs, as well as other highly rated, extremely limited wines (such as the upcoming 98 point MJM).
Notes from Los Olivos
We would be remiss if we did not doff our hats in salute to Nick, Kristin, Kevin, Blake, and Kate (with the occasional pinch hitting from Megan) for handling the tasting room with aplomb during the craziness of 2020. Besides Covid, with moving tastings outside and all the sanitizing protocols, we have had two near-Biblical heat waves and then days of smoke from all the fires (now gone, thankfully). They have been troopers and have managed to give guests the usual top-flight tasting experience under all conditions. The same has been true of Megan (with pinch hitting from Kevin) with the winery tastings in Buellton. The team has been flexible, accommodating and dedicated to providing the best possible hospitality around. We know you agree; we see the sales and the tips.
As we ease into Fall, we are hopeful for the usual lovely Fall days, perfect for enjoying our wines outside in the gentle afternoon breezes. Make an appointment to come see us soon; we know you will enjoy tasting here in our beautiful Santa Barbara wine country!
2018 Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills
Ironically, when considering the grape’s historical dominance over the white wine scene in California, Chardonnay at Dragonette Cellars does not get the attention it deserves. Many of you might know that we helped launch the Liquid Farm Chardonnays in 2009, and that we have been making Chardonnay under our label for 7 years. With the success of our highly rated Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs, and with our very small production (less than 600 cases of 4 wines), Chardonnay seems to languish in relative obscurity. This is unfair both to the noble grape and to its particularly spectacular expression in the cool, marine-influenced Sta. Rita Hills. Luckily, once tasted, the wine shines and impresses as it is gorgeous, fantastically tasty, yet supremely balanced. Indeed, it has already been rated 93 points by Jeb Dunnuck who stated:
“The 2018 Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills reveals a medium gold hue as well as a textbook, classy bouquet of golden apples, citrus blossom, spice, and salty minerality. A textbook Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay, it’s medium-bodied and has a wonderful texture as well as a great finish. Readers looking to learn what topflight Chardonnay from this region tastes like should latch onto bottles.”
Grape sources for this wine are all organic or SIP certified sustainable and include Donnachadh (Clone 4)(50%), Spear (Wente)(30%) & Radian (548)(20%). The cool 2018 vintage saw extended hang time for Chardonnay as well as the other grapes, with pick dates in late September to mid-October at very reasonable sugar levels. The wine was fermented and aged in French oak barriques (10% new), with partial malolactic fermentation occurring spontaneously in barrel. The resulting wine is aged for 16 months on its lees without stirring, before selection, blending and bottling.
We love the complexity and energy of this wine, which represents a fascinating cross section of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Extremely limited. Only 240 cases produced.
2018 Syrah, John Sebastiano Vineyard (Sta. Rita Hills)
**Note to Wine Club Members – This wine will appear in your Fall 2020 Shipment (October 2020).
This dramatic hillside site lies on the eastern border of the Sta. Rita Hills and is one of the coolest sites planted to Rhone varietals in all of California. We pay extra to have our carefully selected hillside blocks farmed organically. Each block contains a different clone and rootstock combination (470 on 5BB, Estrella and 383 are own rooted). Soils range from clay-loam to almost pure sand. The cool wind and fog at this site provide for an extremely long season. These grapes produce a dark, intensely aromatic wine, with cool black and blue berry fruits, great freshness, mineral lift and solid structure for aging. We have made a single vineyard Syrah from this site since 2013, as the alluring aromas and flavors simply had to be showcased on their own.
The 2018 Vintage
2018 was the coolest vintage since 2011. Winter rains and a cool early spring helped delay budbreak, while providing for a good soil water profile. Weather was good during set, allowing for reasonable yields. A warm early summer promoted ripeness, but in late August the weather turned quite cool, with only moderate daytime highs, lots of clouds and cold nights. Indeed, the summer barely topped 85 degrees in Ballard Canyon and 75 in Sta Rita Hills. The Syrah hung for so many long cool days, very slowly adding layers of flavors while sugars barely inched forward. We picked Syrah in late October to early November. It was very late for us, but the fruit was worth the wait.
A blend of three separate blocks and clones (470, 383, Estrella), each of which was picked separately in multiple passes as ripeness developed. Each lot was processed separately (92% destemmed; 8% whole cluster) into 1.5-ton, open top fermenters and given a 2-4 day cold soak. Fermentation was spontaneous with native yeasts. At dryness, the wines were drained, pressed and transferred to French oak barrels (228L barriques and a few 400L barrels), 38 percent new, with various coopers (Sylvain, Ermitage, Seguin Moreau) and toast levels (M, ML, M+). The wine undergoes spontaneous malolactic fermentation in barrel and no additional sulfur is added (there is a small amount added to the juice the day of harvest/processing) until ML was complete in April, 2019. The wine was ultimately aged on its lees for 9 months before selection and blending, then the blended wine returned to barrel for an additional 9 months before bottling. The wine is fantastic in this cooler, more elegant year. Drinkable now, it will improve for 5-15 years or longer.
Jeb Dunnuck rated the 2018 from barrel giving it 93-95 Points and saying “The 2018 Syrah John Sebastiano is also terrific, with plenty of Old-World charm in its dark fruits, tapenade, gamey, salty, peppery aromas and flavors. It’s full-bodied and powerful yet has terrific tannins as well as balance.”
Extremely Limited. 300 cases produced.
2018 Seven (Syrah) (Santa Ynez Valley)
**Note to Wine Club Members – This wine will appear in your Spring 2021 Shipment (April 2021).
Seven is our Syrah-based blend, originally named for the seven exceptional cool climate vineyard sites from which it was comprised. Over the years we have refined our vineyard sources (dropping some, expanding into others), selecting precise blocks and clones to increase aromatic and flavor complexity. The 2018 Seven is comprised of 95% Syrah, 4% Grenache and 1% Viognier sourced from top-flight vineyards in Sta Rita Hills and Ballard Canyon: John Sebastiano (30%) Stolpman (25%), Spear (25%), Larner (10%) and Kimsey (10%). The wine was aged in French oak barriques, 400L, and 500L puncheons (10% new) for 18 months before blending and bottling.
The vintage and winemaking notes above for the JSV Syrah apply equally here.
We are thrilled with the performance of this wine, as it is already beginning to show off explosive, complex aromatics (red, blue and black fruits, spices and meats), a rich, yet lifted palate, smooth texture and a scintillatingly long finish for such a young wine. We expect this wine to continue to develop for 5-10 years and to last for well over a decade after that. Very Limited. Only 450 cases produced.
The 2017 version of this wine was rated 96 points by Jeb Dunnuck who called it more “Cote Rotie” to the JSV’s “Hermitage” with a “perfumed bouquet of black raspberries, spring flowers, bacon fat, smoked game with silky tannins, no hard edges, and a great finish.” We love the reference to the northern Rhone and the score and expect the 2018 to perform fantastically as well.
Thanks, as always, for your support.