photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/29/18
The Rhone Rangers rode into Santa Barbara this week, and they came to impress.
The nonprofit group is on a mission to promote the diverse swath of grapes that are native to France’s Rhone region. Indeed, more than 20 grape varieties fall under its promotional umbrella, including reds like syrah and grenache and whites like viognier and roussanne. In the marketplace, these varieties are often in the shadows of industry darlings like pinot noir and cabernet. For those who’ve discovered these wines, however, and for the men and women who make them, they deliver the kind of complexity, food-friendliness and value that are downright remarkable.
The Rhone Rangers’ Santa Barbara chapter includes some of our favorite local labels, like Fess Parker, Margerum and Qupe. These producers have figured out that Santa Barbara County offers various special spots where Rhone grapes flourish. And the wines they produce consistently stand out as some of the region’s finest.
The latest tasting by this Santa Barbara team took place this past Tuesday – a trade and consumer event at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective in the Funk Zone that was intimate in its vibe and impressive in its scope. These three wines were real standouts for me.
|Lisa Morgan showed off the Kita wines|
Kita 2014 Spe’y“This is just a really good food wine,” Kita winery rep Lisa Morgan told me as she poured this wonderful blend of grenache, syrah and carignane. And she was right: this inky, medium-bodied wine delivers ripe berries and earthiness on the nose and mix of spice and floral notes on the palate, and the finish is surprisingly fresh. Winemaker Tara Gomez, a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, sources most all her fruit from the tribe’s Camp 4 Vineyard, where soil and weather combine for optimum growing conditions for Rhone grapes. Spe’y is the Samala word for “flower.” Kita production remains at just about 1500 cases a year, and its brand new Lompoc tasting room should start welcoming tasters later this year.
Zaca Mesa 2012 Mesa Reserve SyrahThis trailblazing winery is riding high this year, as Zaca Mesa celebrates 45 years. In a young wine region like Santa Barbara, that’s a milestone. The 2012 Mesa Reserve may have been the best syrah of the day: beautifully structured, dense yet lithe, and bursting with flavors of dark berries, chocolate and sweet earth. What I wrote in my notes: “Wow!” Winemaker Kristin Bryden, who’s been with Zaca for seven years, described it as a snapshot of the vineyard’s younger syrah blocks and “a blend of our very best barrels.” In the mood for a super syrah? This is it. The Estralla Syrah, which includes fruit from Zaca’s 1978 Black Bear Block (the first syrah vines ever planted in Santa Barbara County) was also a standout. Zaca’s whites – viognier and roussanne – and its Z Gris rosé are sure to be summertime sellouts.
Visit the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Rhone Rangers on Facebook. And, for more information on the Rhone Rangers and its member wineries throughout the country, check out rhonerangers.org.