Saturday, August 30, 2014

Santa Maria Valley

This coming Friday between 5 and 8pm Scott Beauchamp of Eagle Rock Distributing will be pouring the wines of J. Wilkes Winery here at the store.  These are very impressive new wines to the Atlanta market that bowled me over a couple weeks ago when I tasted them.  One week ago something similar happened when we opened a 2008 Bianchi Winery Pinot Noir here.  The assembled group for that event collectively gushed with the first sip from that deep bowl of spiced mixed fruit.  Now thinking back, I remember a Kenneth Volk Pinot Noir that was, frankly, the best wine I tasted at a hotel ballroom trade show several years ago.  The common ingredient in all of these?  The source of the fruit, Santa Maria Valley, California.

Now, I'm no babe in the woods here with regard to either the California wine industry or the Pinot Noir grape.  With thirty-five years in the business, I have made my mind up as to who produces good wine and who, shall we say, makes what the public wants.  That sounds a little unfair but as a recovering francophile when it comes to Pinot Noir, I've got to admit California can turn out a pretty good product.

That Kenneth Volk wine from several years past was maybe the best California Pinot I have ever tasted, but it also came with a fifty dollar price tag and that may be pushing my value limit.  The Bianchi was one that select customers had been telling me was good before I finally broke down and tried it.  The 2008 vintage had just been closed-out by the distributor so the next day I ordered the last five cases they had!  The J. Wilkes wines number three; Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir; and I believe I actually preferred the whites to the Pinot but all three were exemplary and as good as any comparable wines in this little store.  To show you I'm human, the J. Wilkes label features a hand-drawn leaf on it that so entranced me it may have been part of the wine's appeal for me!

So is there magic in Santa Maria Valley?  Well yes, Virginia, there is.  It's called the transverse valley that runs east-west funneling cool maritime winds from the Pacific Ocean into the valley.  The Santa Maria Valley AVA is at the very northernmost part of Santa Barbara County including a little bit of San Luis Obispo and the E-W trough enables a longer cooler growing season there than anywhere else in southern California.  On the Winkler Scale or "heat summation method", Santa Maria Valley is a Region I (out of five) which is the coolest average grape growing region there is!  The valley also features the well-drained sandy, clayey loam soil grapevines love along with foothill vineyards at 200-800 foot elevations.  With a terroir like that Santa Maria Valley vineyards produce grapes which show great color and aromatics, lively complex fruit, and balanced acid.

Santa Maria Valley was first planted in grapes under Spanish rule in the 1830s.  In the 1960s it was discovered by commercial wine grape growers like the Miller family who in 2001 established the J. Wilkes Winery.  While there are thirty wineries in Santa Maria Valley, there are growers like the Millers who sell to the Bianchis and Volks and market their own production under several labels.  Please join us Friday for the tasting because, if you think about it, if they planted their vineyards in the 1960's and have been selling their grapes to others for decades, wouldn't they know just where to go for the fruit they want for their own label?

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