Sunday, March 15, 2015

Santa Barbara Wine Country (Part 3/6) - Lompoc Wine Ghetto (CA)

OK, my next foray into the Santa Barbara Wine Country was the famed Lompoc Wine Ghetto. I virtually knew nothing about it other than: 1. One of my favorite producers, Fiddlehead Vineyards was located there. 2. People told me I had to go, it would be fun. OK, so I took the bit, climbed into my convertible, and drove up into them there hills. I set the GPS, and followed the instructions coming down onto 246. But so no Lompoc Wine Ghetto, even though the address is on this road. I drove up and down a few times. I became very frustrated. I believed the GPS must be broken...but it had gotten me this far. I was getting more and more frustrated.

Each time I followed the instructions it lead me to the Home Depot in Lompoc. WTF? So, frustrated, I called the tasting room at Fiddlehead.
"Hello, Fiddlehead Cellars. How can I help you?"
"I'm lost! I can't find you guys. My GPS is busted."
"OK, tell me where you are, and I'll talk you in.
"Thanks a lot! The damned thing keeps leading me to the wrong place."
"Where are you?"
"I'm at the Home Depot. It keeps taking me there."
"OK, then you're here."
"We're behind the Home Depot."
"You're kidding me, right?"
"Nope, just go around back. You'll see it."
I hung up astonished.

I drove around back. It was a disappointed to say the least. It was an industrial park. Hardly what thinks of when arriving at a winery. But the delights there in were amazing.

Lompoc's Wine Ghetto is an assemblage of small wine production and tasting facilities located in the Sobhani Industrial Park. The Lompoc Wine Trail and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto are connected as an organization, and both entities promote each other an the wineries in the region. At first glance, you might miss it, as it is simply a collection of steel industrial buildings - nothing fancy. Once you enter however, they have nineteen tasting rooms!!! Some really great ones too! Thankfully I had brought a large bottle of mineral water to accompany me.
Ampelos Cellars, Brewer-Clifton Wines, Clos Pepe Vineyards, Fiddlehead Cellars, Flying Goat Cellars, Jalama Wines, Longoria Wines, Loring Wine Company, Pali Wine Company, Taste of Sta. Rita Hills, Zotovich Family Vineyards.
I couldn't go to all of them, but three or four might be a good idea.
Fiddlehead Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs have long been at the top of my list. Nice, lean, mineral-y whites with lots of complexity, and wonderful, cool climate Pinot Noirs. Fantastic!

Kathy Joseph established Fiddlehead Cellars in 1989 to capture the pure essence of two distinguished grape varietals – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Kathy is considered a pioneer among women winemakers.  Fiddlehead annually produces approximately  5,000 cases of wine. The wines are made at the Lompoc “Wine Ghetto”, but Kathy lives in a little farm house on the Estate Vineyard, Fiddlestix. Fiddlehead maintains a business office in Davis, CA , Kathy’s administrative and marketing base, and home during non-farming activities. Fiddlehead makes wines sourced not only from their base vineyards, but others as well.

Fiddlehead Cellars Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc 2009 is sourced from a vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, so it's local fruit. Critic Stephen Tanzer has been a big fan of this winery, and Kathy's Sauvignon Blanc especially, and recently awarded the 2010 Happy Canyon a score of 91 points! AVA status was granted to Happy Canyon in 2009. It has some of the warmest climates in the region. This is one of the most highly sought wines from the region! Fiddlehead makes them lean but with little hints of cloves (according to Maya in Sideways!).

According to Kathy's notes this Loire-styled Sauvignon Blanc is "1/3 fermented in stainless steel for bright aromatics and zinginess, 1/3 fermented in new French oak barrels for layered textures and persistent flavors and the final third fermented in neutral French oak barrels to achieve marriage and grace." Who am I to argue? It's one of the prettiest Sauvignon Blancs I have ever tasted from anywhere in the world. Absolutely luxurious. The word silky definitely applies. But the bright aromatics and fabulous acidity make this wine an instant crowd pleaser, which can easily seduce by the glass or matches well with food. Fabulous! Just simply fabulous! 



Named after Oldsville Road in McMinnville, where Kathy made her first 15 vintages of Oregon Pinot Noir. I once heard Francis Ford Coppola talk about making a feminine wine. Something delicate and delightful. He must have had Kathy’s Pinot Noirs in mind. Luscious tart plums and ripe cherries, and a velvety finish of cedar and spices and black pepper. Fantastic!

Fiddlehead “seven twenty eight” Santa Rita Hills, Pinot Noir 2009. Located in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills on Santa Rosa Road, Fiddlestix Vineyard is the confluence of an exceptional growing environment that meets the finicky demands of Pinot Noir. 35 unique blocks of Pinot noir, across 100 acres first planted in 1998, are farmed sustainably. The result is one of the most sought after wines in the region.

This wine comes from “the heart of what achieved the AVA Sta. Rita Hills (in 2001), on Santa Rosa Road, at mile marker 7.28. That place is Fiddlestix Vineyard. This wine purposefully bears its place name, Seven Twenty Eight, to recognize its “roots”, and to give reason to its personality,” sates Kathy.

I have a total winegeek crush on her and this winery! Can you tell?

728 is a big shock of black cherry cola, plum, star anise and black pepper. Great acidity keeps the fruit alive a long, long time. And the soft tannins makes for a very easy to drink wine. Simply amazing!!!!!  

Fiddlehead increased it's absolute hold on me as a producer of fine, fine wines from one of the most interesting winemakers in the whole region.

Next up was Flying Goat Cellars, which was not too far away. A quick 20 or so steps! The specialize in sparkling wines and Pinot Noir. I was thrilled!

Flying Goat Cellars is owned by Norm Yost and Kate Griffith. Norm Yost graduated from the University of California, Davis with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies in 1981. During his 30+ vintages in the industry, Norm worked for diverse wineries in cool climate regions, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the Russian River in Sonoma County and finally Santa Barbara County. He was formerly a board member of Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance and Santa Barbara County Vintners Association and winemaking instructor at Allan Hancock College.
Kate Griffith graduated with master’s degrees from the University of California, San Diego and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. She has over thirty years of communications and marketing experience. In 2002, Kate relocated to work for the City of Lompoc and help grow the infant wine industry until 2009. In Lompoc she met the love of her life, married Norm Yost on 01/01/10 and began working for Flying Goat Cellars.

Hard not to like the vibe at Flying Goat. Easy, unpretentious, youthful, fun. Everything wine should be. No snobbiness here. Just easy-peasy and great wine. Just the name let's you know what the deal is -  Norm named the winery after his two pygmy goats named Never and Epernay, who were his pets and lawnmowers and came to be a source of entertainment and enjoyment. How can you not like this place?

On the other hand, like Fiddlehead, the reason I liked Flying Goat was that they are so wine geek! Hip and cool, yes. But geeky? Oh Yeah! Special clonal bottlings. Lots of small selections. I loved it.

I decided (why now, I cannot remember) that I would only try the four Pinot Noirs they were tasting that day. The first one I had was the Flying Goat Cellars Pinot Noir 2A Rio Vista Vineyard Santa Rita Hills 3008. The Rio Vista Vineyard, appropriately named as it overlooks the Santa Ynez River, is the eastern gateway to the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Clone 2A grapes were added to the Flying Goat Cellars portfolio from Rio Vista in 2004, and the first 2A“clonal” bottling debuted the following year. Clone 2A is one of the Wadenswil selection, a group of Pinot Noir clones imported from Switzerland in the 1950’s.

The grapes were hand harvested and delivered early in the day while still cool and firm. Gently de-stemmed and placed into small open top bins, the grapes were transformed to wine in about 15 days and then placed into a combination of 70% neutral and 30% new French Oak barrels.  They released this wine in early 2011.
A deep, translucent burgundy color explodes with violets and blueberries and cherries. Whisps of vanilla and black pepper power through. Soft tannins give way to a long lasting finish. Absolutely wonderful!

Next was Flying Goat Cellars Pinot Noir Solomon Hills, Santa Maria Valley 2008. Solomon Hills is a stunning vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, planted in 1999. It is one of the coolest vineyard sites in the area. The rows designated for Flying Goat are all Dijon clone 113. A translucent ruby colored wine which explodes with bing and black cherry notes as promised from the tasting notes. Also a nice big pop of strawberries and red currants as well. Nice spice and white pepper to finish. A lovely, lovely wine!!!

Next was the Flying Cellars Dierberg Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley 2007 was another stellar Pinot Noir. This was a meatier Pinot Noir. Dark garnet in color, with a nose of dark sour cherry and very, very spicy nose as well. Very big and impressive.

Flying Goat Pinot Noir Salisbury Vineyard San Luis Obispo County 2007 was last but not least. Nestled in the Avila Valley in San Luis Obispo County, the Salisbury Vineyard is located 2 miles from the Pacific and is a cool-climate home for this Pinot Noir. It’s made from clone 2A and indigo purple clone 115. According to the tasting notes, “The clusters were de-stemmed and then allowed a cold-soak in small open topped fermenters before being inoculated with cultured yeast. Punched down by hand each morning and evening to control fermentation temperature and to extract color, tannins and flavors from the skins, the new wine was then gently placed into French Oak barrels, 25% of which were new.” The wine was age for nine months in oak and then cellared another nine months in the bottle.  This is a dark, burnt orange/red in color. This wine has a lot of dust and spice, cherries blended with white pepper, and lots of spice and hints of vanilla, and a hint of floral notes, fallen leaves, and dried flowers.  Very pretty.


OK, so last one was a goof. I took a flyer on a winery I hadn't heard of before. Zotovich Cellars. I knew nothing about them and went in cold. What the heck? It was my sleeper pick of that trip and boy did it pay off. Zotovich Cellars is a boutique producer. A garagiste type place producing somewhere between 1500-200 cases, specializing in Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

Steve Zotovich is the owner of the vineyards and he is partners with his nephew Ryan in Zotovich Cellars. Ryan was raised in Los Osos, Ca. and grew up working on the family vineyard, where he cultivated an understanding of the Santa Rita Hills. He attended Cal Poly and earning a degree in Wine and Viticulture, Ryan was exposed to the importance of sound vineyard cultural practices and developed a passion for winemaking.  

According to his bio: Prior to his graduation, Ryan began working with Steve Clifton of Palmina and Brewer-Clifton as an apprentice, and was later granted the title of Assistant Winemaker.  A year later he began work as the Cellar Master at Sea Smoke Cellars under Victor Gallegos and Kris Curran.  At Palmina and Sea Smoke, Ryan was guided in framing a very specific goal: a true passion for superior product. Ryan continued working with Sea Smoke through June of 2010 when he and his uncle Steve decided to form Zotovich Cellars in partnership.

Again, another lovely cool climate white. Lean, with an explosion of apples, pears, and spice, as well as tropical fruits and a nice dollop of citrus, this was a lovely, lovely Chardonnay. Pretty, elegant, complex. Wow! 

Zotovich Family Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2009 was an explosion of bright cherries and red currants, with a lovely soft backdrop of just enough tannins to give this wine excellent balance. This is everything a coo climate Pinot Noir should be. This was a lovely, intoxicating wine, with great complexity and a lovely mouthfeel.

This was another lovely wine from this hidden gem of a winery the Zotovich Family Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Reserve 2009. Big cherry up front with dark raspberry thrown in. Spices. Dried cherries. A hint of dust. A beautiful elegant wine. I was floored!  

The final bomb of the tasting was the Zotovich Family Estate Syrah Santa Rita Hills 2009. This was a big purple/red wine with big notes of dark cherry, plum, and fig. Big and juicy up front. Jammy. with nice spices, more black pepper, and nice tannins. This was as lovely a Syrah from the region as you are going to find! Really fabulous! Zotovich instantly one of new favorites.

I couldn't visit all the wineries of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. I just didn't have enough time in the day, and there were other places I wanted to visit. But let me tell you, and adult playground for sure. Definitely want to go back!!!!! YOU MUST GO!