story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/15/18
Forty-five years is a major milestone for any California winery, especially for one in a young viticultural area like Santa Barbara. Wine growing in this part of California dates back only to the late 1960s; local wines produced to compete on an international level didn’t really hit the marketplace until the mid- to late-1970s. So yes, Zaca Mesa’s 45th anniversary is a big deal.
|Zaca Mesa's Black Bear Block of original syrah vines|
Zaca Mesa became one of Santa Barbara County’s very first estate vineyards when a group of oil and land moguls, including John Cushman, established it in 1973. Real estate savviness, it turns out, paid off, since Zaca’s beautiful physical location – 25 miles from the Pacific, along the San Rafael Mountains, at an elevation of 1500 feet, blessed with complex soils and a temperate climate – is what’s driven its ability to generate distinctive wines. Mr. Cushman and his twin brother, Lou Cashman, gained sole ownership of Zaca Mesa in 1988, and the winery’s been family-owned ever since. (Zaca Mesa was put up for sale in 2015, and it remains on the market.)
|The wine we sipped when she said, Yes!|
Zaca Mesa’s prominence as a Rhone producer stretches back to 1978 when, under the direction of then-winemaker Ken Brown, it became the first vineyard in Santa Barbara to plant syrah. Ever since, the red grape has become its primary calling card: its 1993 Syrah, made by Daniel Gehrs, took the #6 spot in Wine Spectator Magazine’s Top 100, the first time a Central Coast wine ever appeared on that coveted list; the 2006 syrah, made by Clay Brock, also hit the list, taking the #29 spot. Zaca syrahs have consistently gained 90+ industry scores ever since.
President Ronald Reagan poured Zaca Mesa wine at his 80th birthday party. President Bill Clinton poured Zaca wine for French President Jacques Chirac during a White House visit in 1996. And, for what it’s worth, I proposed to my wife with Zaca Mesa’s 1999 Black Bear Block syrah; almost 15 years later, we’re still going strong, so that’s got to count for something!
Today, of the Zaca estate’s 750 acres, more than 90 are planted to syrah grapes, with smaller plantings dedicated to grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, viognier, roussanne and grenache blanc.
The caché of the fruit that Zaca produces has, over the decades, also extended to the people who’ve turned it into wine. The who’s-who list of winemakers who have Zaca Mesa on their resume -- Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Adam Tolmach, Chuck Carlson, Benjamin Silver – has led many insiders to refer to the trailblazing winery as Zaca University. Today, the world-class program is spearheaded by Director of Winemaking Eric Mohseni and winemaker Kristin Bryden.
“Zaca Mesa has been a notable presence in the Santa Ynez Valley, known for its dedication to Rhône grapes and for quality viticulture, and few places have the honor of having a presence for 45 years,” says John Cushman, who’s planning a party.
|Me w/Kristin Bryden & Eric Mohseni|
Zaca Mesa’s 45th Anniversary Celebration will take place on Saturday, March 24th, and the public is invited. The event, scheduled from noon to 3pm, will feature myriad tasting stations throughout the barrel room and across the winery, as well as several library and pre-release wines. The general public pays $15; wine club members party for free. Food will be available for purchase from BBQ in the Stix and live entertainment will be provided by Sean Wiggins. Reservations are not required by RSVPs to email@example.com are appreciated.
“On this landmark anniversary, we’re thrilled to celebrate this special place,” adds Mr. Cushman, “paying tribute to all the visitors and wine club members who have remained loyal to us over the years, and thankful to all who have worked so hard to nurture our vines and craft our wines.”
Zaca Mesa is part of the Foxen Wine Trail, located at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 4pm, and there’s a variety of tasting and touring options available. Find out more at zacamesa.com.