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by Andrew Chalk

Where in California are the most interesting wine developments taking place? To many winegrowers the answer would be the central coast region. That is the unofficial title of the the area from Monterey County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south. Within the central coast, Santa Barbara County has already established itself as an area for distinctive pinot noir and covetable chardonnay wines.

Cue the timing then for a cross-producer tasting of these grapes from Santa Barbara for a comparison of styles. Jackson Family Wines (JFW) obliged with a tasting of six producers in their portfolio (three others, Byron, Diatom and Hartford Court, also qualify but were not at the event), with their respective winemakers, at a recent trade tasting in Dallas.

After tasting through the wines each winemaker commented on their own with reference to the special qualities endowed by Santa Barbara County. All the JFW wineries and vineyards are California Sustainable Winegrowing (CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE) and Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certified. Here is an abbreviated form of my notes on each one with reference to winemaker comments where applicable (prices are averages). They are listed in tasting order.

Cambria Estate Winery, 2016 Chardonnay, ‘Katherine’s Vineyard’, Santa Maria Valley ($20)

Winemaker: Jill Russell

Nose of ripe, tropical fruit (mango, pineapple).

Taste rich with those fruits. Slightly sweet.

Very much in the lush style of California chardonnay. A good example at a reasonable price.


Kendall-Jackson, 2017 Jackson Estate Chardonnay, ‘Camelot Highlands, Santa Maria Valley ($45).

Winemaker: Randy Ullom

Enticing nose of almonds, canteloup, and butterscotch.

In the mouth the above came through in the flavors. It displayed fairly ripe fruit.


Brewer-Clifton, 2016 Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills ($32)

Winemaker: Greg Brewer

100% estate vines from the 3D, Acin, and Machado vineyards. Whole cluster pressed. No malolactic fermentation. Aged in neutral Sirugue barrels 12-18 months.

As the contrarian enological methods might suggest this is not a simple, mainstream wine. In fact, it demands work to appreciate. However, the effort to fathom its subtle nose and oily finish is rewarded with a subtle food-copacetic, high acidity example of the chardonnay grape that will keep for many years.


Cambria Estate Winery, 2016 Pinot Noir, ‘Julia’s Vineyard’, Santa Maria Valley ($21)

Nose: Tomato, cherry.

Taste: A little tart, but think of that as a facet, not a flaw.

Medium finish.


Nielson, 2016 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($17).

Winemaker: Ryan Pace

Nose: A ball of ripe fruit (cherries).

Palate: Somewhat closed at the present time and recalcitrant about opening up in response to aeration. One to revisit.

Very good value for a wine that appears to show promise.




Siduri, 2017 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County ($27)

Winemaker: Adam Lee

Nose: Raspberry preserves.

Taste: Lush fruit flavors with a long finish.

Adam Lee has made pinot noir (he, and Siduri’s, obsession) from more areas in California (not to mention Oregon’s Willamette Valley) than just about anybody else. He is vocal exponent of the east-west topography of the three valleys in Santa Barbara County as a major source of the quality of pinot noir “Wind funneling into the area makes for smaller clusters, smaller berries and a higher skin-to-juice ratio. Which makes pinot noir that’s darker, heavier, and richer in fruit, with a touch of minerality and nicely balancing acidity.” he observes.

Brewer-Clifton, 2016 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills ($64)

Nose of tea, raspberry.

Palate of more marked tannins than the other pinot noir examples. Brewer puts that on the Sta. Rita Hills terroir. Like the chardonnay, this wine is 100% estate and from the same three named vineyards. Whole cluster fermentation is followed by ageing in neutral barrels.


Byron Winery, 2016 Pinot Noir, ‘Nielson Vineyard’, Santa Maria Valley ($20)

Winemaker: Jonathan Nagy

Open, aromatic nose of raspberry.

Palate of tart, forward fruit. Tomato and cinnamon flavors.


Randy Ullom. Winemaker Kendall-Jackson.
Randy Ullom. Winemaker Kendall-Jackson, but hugely influential throughout California winemaking



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