DeBORAH GROSSMAN iS A SAN FRANCiSCO BAy AReA JOURNALiS T WHO WRi TeS ABOUT PeOPLe, PLACeS AND PRODUCTS THAT iMPACT THe FOOD-AND-WiNe WORLD.
primarily French varietal, to the United States. Winemaker Clarissa Nagy is pleased to explore
all the options from the estate grapes.
At St. John’s Restaurant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Michelle Richards, wine director/manager,
is planning to pair 2013 Riverbench Estate chardonnay with a Maine lobster salad of string beans,
speckled beans, Chioggia beets, ham and carrot vinaigrette. “This wine has 11 months in 23% new
French oak, providing rich, buttery flavors that would pair with the lobster,” says Richards.
Most discussions of the Santa Maria Valley AVA lead to Bien Nacido Vineyards (BNV), the
planting of 250 acres begun in 1973 by the Miller family. BNV gained fame with wines that range
from Au Bon Climat to Qupé and Sine Qua Non. The soil contains shale, loam and diatomaceous
earth composed of decomposed shells and other oceanic decomposition. BNV is on the same latitude
as Morocco and Charlotte, North Carolina, but with hot weather tempered by the transverse valley’s
cooling ocean breezes.
The Miller family also owns several wine labels made entirely from their fruit. J. Wilkes
wines are crafted by Perez, who enjoys making wine over his former career managing vineyards.
“I now challenge myself to ‘grow wine’ from fermentation to bottling. This takes much longer
than growing grapes,” he says.
Because of his strong focus on the acid level of grapes at picking, his wines—fruity, unoaked
pinot blanc along with chardonnay and pinot noir—are well-balanced and food-friendly. The Millers
also own Bien Nacido Vineyards and Solomon Hills Vineyards labels made by Trey Fletcher. The
talented young winemaker crafts small lots of chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and some grenache that
BNV viticulturist Chris Hammell planted especially for the project.
Closer to the ocean and Highway 101 in Santa Maria Valley is Presqu’ile Winery. The sandy soils
of this former horse ranch yield fine chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. The name was chosen by the
owners, the Murphy family, to honor the family homestead Presqu’ile (Creole for “almost an island”),
located on a spit of land on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Winemaker Dieter Cronje manages the multilevel state-of-the-art winery. He uses a combination
of concrete eggs, stainless steel and neutral oak barrels for aging his wine. “I want people to know
they are uniquely drinking Presqu’ile wine,” he says.
McDaniel appreciates Cronje’s distinctive style. He serves Presqu’ile sauvignon blanc on the
wine lists at Henri, The Gage and Acanto. “This wine has elements of French style with a touch of
South African winemaking philosophy, which brings more jalapeño, green notes, minerality and
higher acidity than most Santa Barbara sauvignon blanc,” says McDaniel.
Wine directors are laser-focused on the output from Santa Barbara. Richards of St. John’s
Restaurant is attracted to the wines’ comparative affordability. She believes the region now rivals
Oregon for pinot noir and chardonnay.
McDaniel also sees value and quality as the key components of the region. “This region carries
independence of thought—winemakers are trying to break away from their Napa and Sonoma
brothers. They are more willing to experiment, try new varietals, new ideas, and attempt to make
their own mark on the wine world.”
SaNTa barbara’S urbaN
Whitcraft Winery may be located close
to the ocean in Santa Barbara, but it sits
on the corner of an industrial strip mall.
Doing things efficiently and carefully is
the style of owner Drake Whitcraft. His
parents launched the winery in 1985
without owning vineyards. Whitcraft
views this as a positive. “We pick
from the best blocks. My Dad bought
chardonnay from Bien Nacido Vineyards
Q block and helped put it on the map.”
The series of pinot noir from Pence
Vineyards in Santa Rita Hills manifests
Whitcraft’s meticulous style. Jared
Hooper, wine director at Faith & Flower
in Los Angeles, recently presented a
winemaker dinner with a horizontal
grouping of three Whitcraft’s 2013
pinot noirs from three different clones.
“It was interesting to see how different
clones of pinot noir from the same
vineyard, grown, picked and produced
in the same method, produced
wildly different wines,” Hooper says.
“Whitcraft’s wines reflect a subtle
grace over the brazen dark fruit of
the latest fads. The wines paired well
with Chef Hung’s duck liver mousse
crostini, confit duck potpie and pan-roasted duck breast.” Michael Hung is
executive chef at Faith & Flower.
Closer to the downtown destination for
dining and drinking known as the Funk
Zone, Municipal Winemakers offers a
retro tasting room with a wide variety of
well-crafted wines. Owner Dave Potter
grew up in Southern California, studied
winemaking in Australia and worked at
a Santa Ynez Valley winery. In 2011
he opened Municipal Winemakers on
Anacapa Street, the epicenter for the
25 Funk Zone wineries. His collection
includes Bright Red blend, a distinctive
counoise, which, he notes, has
aromas of the garrigue, a shrub of the
Languedoc wine region in France. His
syrah is peppery, and the unusual MCS,
a mourvedre/carignan/syrah blend, is
savory. Potter also operates a tasting
room in Los Alamos as well as the new
Riverbench Vineyards & Winery
has a tasting room nearby, off
Anacapa Street in the dining ghetto.
Specializing in the winery’s sparkling
wines, the tasting room also offers
flights of the winery’s signature
chardonnay and pinot noir wines.