The Gloves Were Off in Yesterday’s Pinot Grudge Match


Yesterday we had a showdown in our Hollywood tasting bar. Domestic Buyer Kaj Stromer pitted Oregon Pinot vs. Santa Barbara Pinot for a Battle Royale. Who was the winner? We all were! The wines were awesome.

Some people off the bat thought that the Oregon wines were going to be more elegant, simply by nature of it being farther north. But the Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Barbara’s premiere Pinot region, has the advantage of being an east-west corridor, which channels cooling air from the Pacific, making it one of the coldest regions in the state. So, both regions firmly held their own. Each wine was different from the next, but in general, the Oregon wines were showing more berry fruit with finer tannins, while the Sta. Rita Hills wines were showing more savory aromas and firmer tannins. But that’s a generalization, and those never get us anywhere! Let’s dig in a bit more to the specifics.

Kaj Stromer was the man behind yesterday’s Pinotmania.

Kaj Stromer was the man behind yesterday’s Pinotmania.

Willamette Valley

Just south of Portland lies the Willamette Valley, 150 miles of rustic agricultural charm surrounded by the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges. From the time that Oregon’s first settlers discovered the fertile valley bisected by the Willamette River, it’s been dubbed the land of milk and honey. Largely influenced by the Pacific ocean, the climate is cool, and grapes have a long, luxurious hang time on the vine to develop deep and complex flavors. The Valley enjoys more daylight hours than the rest of the state, but cools down significantly at night, so grapes build up a crucial acidity for well-structured wines. The Valley also boasts layers of unique soils thanks to ancient volcanic activity and the Missoula floods, a period of intense flooding during the last ice age. Throw in a population of really passionate,quality oriented winemakers, and you have a thriving hotbed of world-class wine production.

2017 Averaen Willamette Valley $19.99

We started off with a bang! This is a tremendous value from the folks at Banshee Wines in Sonoma. They brought in Adam Smith as their winemaker (Banshee, Shea, Domaine Serene), whose connections in the Valley helped them source high-quality fruit at excellent prices. This is a sexy, silky little number from a vintage that’s been getting a lot of fanfare—it was much cooler than the previous three years and delivered great structured fruit. At this price, this wine is a no brainer!

2017 Arterberry-Maresh Dundee Hills $26.99

The Maresh family is deeply rooted in Dundee Hills and the winemaker is the third generation—no small accomplishment in a young New World region like Oregon! Firm tannins and ripe fruit make this an excellent, elegant food wine.

2014 Angela Estate “Angela Vineyard” Yamhill-Carlton $34.99

Angela Estate is a collaboration between Anthony Beck of Graham Beck winery in South Africa and veteran winemaker Ken Wright. This was grown in a warm vintage and the fruit shows that extra sunshine with more fruit preserve aromatics and notes of incense. This is deep and concentrated.

2016 Lingua Franca “AVNI” Eola-Amity Hills $34.95

Smoky notes give way to elegant raspberry and plum fruit with hints of lavender and spice. From accomplished somm Larry Stone and Burgundian winemaker Dominique Lafon.

2015 Soter Vineyards Reserve North Valley $44.99

Dark purple fruit and nice concentration, with confit plum fruit, baking spice, and vanilla. Sourced from sustainably farmed vineyards.

Sta. Rita Hills

Between Buelton and Lompoc in the northwestern part of Santa Barbara County, Sta. Rita Hills should be much too hot for cool-climate-loving Pinot. But its unique east-west orientation is the key. On the western end, Sta. Rita juts up to the ocean, and pulls in that delectable Pacific fog and breezes to create some of the coolest growing conditions in the state. In fact, the growing season is 35 to 40 days longer than most other California growing regions, so grapes have an extra-long hang time on the vine. The hills have some of the world’s largest and purest deposits of diatomaceous earth—a chalky substance consisting of fossilized hard-shelled algae, layered into the hillsides by earthquakes and volcanoes. In addition, the soils provide excellent drainage: in the north, there’s sand and clay; to the south, decomposed rock called Botella. With little rain and well-drained soils, the vines have to work hard to thrive, and the fruit develops an intense complexity.

2016 Sandhi Santa Barbara $24.99

This is a collaboration from rockstar somm Rajat Parr and rockstar winemaker Sashi Moorman, with balance being their expressed pursuit. I’d say they achieve it in spades. This is delicate but precise with higher acid and savory notes of sage and mushroom, and underlying deep black currant fruit. Firm tannins and a lot of complexity.

2016 Dragonette Sta. Rita Hills $39.99

Dragonette’s been going strong for about 15 years in Sta. Rita Hills, sourcing fantastic fruit from organic farms all over the region and making wines with a lot of heart. We recently visited these folks and got to tour an amazingly steep, cold, gorgeous vineyard (which you can read about here). This one has the texture of raw silk with bright notes of cranberry and eucalyptus, and a dry and firm finish.

2015 Whitcraft SBC Santa Barbara $39.99

Light and ethereal with high-toned fruit and sweet, fresh berries on the palate. The wines are never fined and very little sulfur is used.

2016 Peake Ranch Sta. Rita Hills $39.99

Peake Ranch is relatively new on the scene, but they’ve got some mighty talent on hand. This is a sexy wine! Notes of sandalwood and black fruit exude on the nose, with nice spice on palate and a great balance over all. It’s medium-to-fuller in texture but still maintains elegance. We also recently visited these guys, and you can read about it here.

2016 Liquid Farm Santa Barbara $32.99

This is deep and brooding with a dark color and black fruits leading to a fuller palate and a nice, bright finish. Jeff Nelson began Liquid Farm with a focus on Chardonnay and has only recently dabbled in Pinot, an experiment which is clearly paying off! Read more on Jeff here.

This was a great way to kick off the new year in the tasting bar. There’s nothing like going deep into a varietal or a region (or two) to educate your palate. We have a lot of good stuff coming up on the docket. Check our local event listings, and join us!

Give us all the Pinot.

Give us all the Pinot.

- Kate Soto