Farming Liquid Gold in the Sta. Rita Hills
Before Liquid Farm was a wine, it was an idea—a few words in Jeff Nelson’s head that evoked his connection to the grape, to the land, to the wines he loved. He’d been in the wine business for years, mostly on the Champagne side of things, and he knew what he liked to drink: high-acid, terroir-driven white Burgundies and Champagne. He also loved eating locally, but he was drinking French wines, coming up empty handed when he tried to find this style from wines made nearby.
He teamed up with Brandon Sparks-Gills from Dragonette Cellars and set about making the kind of wine that got him excited—namely, Chardonnay. He chose the Sta. Rita Hills appellation for its cool climate and amazing soils, even though, at the time, only 10 percent of Sta. Rita Hills was planted to Chardonnay (Pinot reigns to this day, which Nelson attributes to the Sideways effect). It’s way closer to the Equator than Burgundy or Champagne—should be too close for cool-climate varietals. But its unique east to west positioning in fact makes it much cooler than you’d expect: the Purisima hills to the north and Sta. Rita Hills to the south create a funnel for cool ocean air and fog from the Pacific to the vines. Plus, the hills have some of the world’s largest and purest deposits of diatomaceous soil--a chalky, fossilized hard-shelled algae, layered into the hillsides by earthquakes and volcanoes. It drains well. It’s the same stuff as in the white cliffs of Dover. It makes killer wines.
This was back in 2009, and he started with four barrels. Two of the barrels expressed a more Chablis style--this blend would become the White Hill bottling, a racy, lean wine with citrus-driven aromatics. The other two presented more of a Meursault style, and these became the Golden Slope blend. Golden Slope is a richer, fuller style with golden honey and beeswax tones. It’s sumptuous stuff, but still well structured and serious. According to Jeff, “Everyone said to put them together but I said to listen to the barrels.” Now, nearly ten years later, those two bottlings are still the foundation of Liquid Farm, though he’s added Mourvèdre-based rosé and two Pinot Noirs. But it’s still his Chardonnay that really defines the label. He’s had the same winemaker, Brandon’s brother-in-law James, since the beginning. They use a low-interventionist style, and don’t add sugar or acid. They pick early to maintain acidity. Together they’ve crafted a reputation for serious, nuanced wines.
After years in the biz, Nelson’s now kind of living the dream: he moved from Los Angeles to six acres in Santa Ynez, with rescue dogs and chickens and a tasting room in Lompoc with a ping pong table in his upstairs office. He has a good, small team. His wines are in 30 states and seven countries. He has a geeky website that shows how passionate he is about soils and somms and everything to do with wine. He has plans for the future that involve making wine in Champagne and possibly gin—but Chardonnay will always be the focus. They make about 5000 cases total, and that’s where they want to be, to keep the quality and the focus of the project. “We’re not trying to blow it up, just stay focused.”
We’re lucky enough to get a chance to meet Jeff and enjoy a lovely dinner at Barbrix paired up with his wines. Join us!
Thursday, June 28 7:00 PM
2442 Hyperion Avenue
Los Angeles 90027
$85 ALL INCLUSIVE
Featured wines include: 2017 "Vogelzang Vineyard" Happy Canyon Rose 2016 "La Hermana" Chardonnay 2016 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir PLUS a few surprises from the winemaker!
- Kate Soto