2015 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County
It is difficult to mention Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir without bringing up the Alexander Payne movie Sideways. The release of the movie could not have come at a better time. Prior to Sideways, Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir was on its way to stardom. A new generation of vineyard managers had come on the scene and many understood what needed to be done in the vineyard to improve Pinot Noir and winemakers were getting a better idea of how to deal with Pinot Noir in the winery. The convergence of better grapes, better winemaking and a very popular and entertaining movie, led to an explosion in the popularity of Pinot Noir and mainly Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. Even though the movie was a 2004 release, we still feel the effects over a decade later.
Au Bon Climat has been making Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County grapes since 1982, 23 years before Sideways. In the 1980s and 90s the product mix was at Au Bon Climat was 75% to 80% Chardonnay to 20% to 25% Pinot Noir. Chardonnay was king and people had not discovered the joys of Pinot Noir. All this began to change in the late 90s and now Au Bon Climat makes an equal amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Our 2015 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir is a blend of Pinot Noir from five vineyards: Bien Nacido, Rancho Vinedo, and Le Bon Climat, all which are in the Santa Maria Valley, and two vineyards in the Los Alamos Valley: Los Alamos Vineyard and Kick-On Vineyard. We were lucky enough to usually “be in the right place at the right time” and most lots of grapes were harvested just where we wanted them. After a nice long growing season, we handpicked in the morning to keep the grapes cool. Fermentation took place in five ton, open top tanks. Racking and blending were done the following spring. After a light egg white fining, to eliminate some of the green tannins, the wine was bottled in August after 10 months aging in neutral François Frères French oak barrels.
Our earliest harvest ever for Pinot Noir, the 2015 harvest began in July, with fruit coming from both Le Bon Climat and Bien Nacido Vineyards - and the grapes were ripe! We harvested earlier than ever, but the wines are rich, deep and complex. Pinot Noir is enigmatic and the wines from 2015 just add to the mystery and allure of Pinot Noir. To heighten the experience, we added 4 % Mondeuse produced from our estate planting at Bien Nacido Vineyards. This varietal yields a deeply colored red with high acidity, low ph, and excellent tannin. It enhances our Santa Barbara County Pinot on every level. The juicy, berry fruit and spice flavors make it an ideal partner. A small amount (1.3%) of Valdiguie from Shell Creek Vineyard was mixed with this wine for the first time. Valdiguie used to known as Napa Gamay. The Shell Creek Vineyard is a new vineyard for us, and the grape quality is outstanding. We are excited to be working with this vineyard and expect some great wines in the near future.
Strawberries and blackberries aromas slowly rise out of the glass. Overtime more of the anise and clove will mix with these other aromas. Currently the wine is young with mouth filling intensity and suppleness. Complexity will increase as the wine ages, but this wine should stay “fresh” for 6 or 7 years. Like all Au Bon Climat wines, this is a food wine. In its youth, match this wine with lamb or dried meats. After a few years as the flavors coalesce, it will pair better with salmon or mild red sauce with pasta. We have enjoyed this wine with many food choices from spicy Indian dishes to all-American sandwiches, and the wine worked well with most anything. The possible food pairings are almost endless.