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spacer.gif^ Livermore, CA | Paso Robles, CA | San Luis Obispo, CA | Santa Barbara, CA       >> Tasting Dispatches
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JULY 2010 – Lompoc, CA – We Re-visit the Wine Ghetto

lompocMain.jpgIt's been four years since my first foray to the tasting rooms in Lompoc. So long, in fact, that the town has created a wine trail and produced a nice little map for their vino ghetto, which is now in two different sections and gives winos nine tasting rooms to choose from. I have tried in vain to get back, but it's just far enough from Hwy 101 to discourage a quick jaunt while on our many travels further north to Paso Robles. With limited time, most of them are only open on weekends from 11-4, the pace was quick as I tried to hit everyone on my list. While the tasting rooms aren't fancy – in some cases you're drinking amongst the barrels – these wineries are sourcing from some of the best vineyards in the region (if they don't own them themselves) and are putting their money into creating a high quality product rather than a fancy building. Their efforts really show once you taste the wines. Visiting the ghetto showcases the production side of wine-making, bringing all the hard, never-ending work into focus as you sip. The winemakers who call the ghetto home are seriously committed to their craft, making very limited quantities, so if you want to try – and buy – these up-and-coming, cult wine stars, you're going to have to make the trip. Though known as Pinot Country, there is plenty of grape diversity with Rhone varietals, especially Syrah, getting almost equal billing. A wine community worth the extra few miles.

By the way, bring lots of cash if you're going to spend the day tasting here. These are small wineries and they can't afford to give wine away for free.

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AMPELOS CELLARS: Tasting Fee: $10
ampelosTR2.jpgI had heard a lot of positive things about Peter and Rebecca Work's wines from two sources: Twitter and our Danish friend Dan, who loves to promote his fellow countrymen. He also has a pretty good palate, so stopping here was a no-brainer. The Works whole operation, including their vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills AVA (which is planted to Viognier, Grenache, Syrah and Pinot Noir) is the first in Santa Barbara county to be certified organic, sustainable, and biodynamic. While being "green" is certainly helpful to the planet, it doesn't always translate into delicious wine in the bottle. Thankfully, that's not the case here. They take great care to let the fruit, and thus the vineyard, speak for itself, with minimal intervention on their parts. Their wines are intense and well-crafted and taste like the varietals should. You won't mistake their Pinot for a Syrah and vice-versa. They were both very knowledgable and rightly proud of their operation. I'm very picky about my Viogniers and Syrahs these days and just couldn't leave without a few bottles of theirs.
– For more information CLICK HERE. Twitter Handle: @ampeloscellars


FLYING GOAT CELLARS: Tasting Fee: $10
flyinggoatTR.jpgWe're not exactly Pinot Noir people, but when you hear enough praise about a winery sometimes you have to put your preferences aside and go see what all the fuss is about. Winermaker Norm Yost has been working in the business for over 25 years and decided, when he started his own winery in 2000, to focus his efforts on Pinot. He currently sources his grapes from seven different central coast vineyards, bottling them all separately to showcase what each one brings out in the various clones from each location. What's great about visiting his tasting room is that you get to try them side by side. While all were well-crafted and tasted like Pinot, we each preferred some over others, which always makes wine-tasting more interesting. My favs were the 06 Clone 2A from the Santa Rita Hills, the 06 Solomon Hills Vineyard and the 07 Dierberg Vineyard, which was extraordinary. I also really enjoyed the 08 Pinot Gris, but according to Lisa, our very helpful pourer, this is going to be the last bottling of that varietal. Bummer. Good PG is hard to find from CA. Even if you aren't a diehard Pinot fan, these are wines you have to taste for yourself. Complex, intense and worth every penny. They also have the largest and one of the nicest TRs in the Ghetto, if ambiance matters to you.
– For more information CLICK HERE.


PALI WINE COMPANY: Tasting Fee: $10 (refunded with purchase)
paliTR.jpgI had wanted to try their wines at Pinot Days this past January, but could never get close to their table, which is usually a very good sign. When I saw they were listed on the Lompoc map, I knew I had to stop in. Established in 2005, owners Tim Perr and Scott Knight are sourcing grapes from some of the best vineyards from Oregon and California to create both their Cuvee line (single varietal blends from specific regions named after neighborhoods where they grew up) and vineyard designate wines. They are producing mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with a few bottlings of other grapes to keep it interesting. We only got to try one of their high end Pinots, so I can't really speak of the overall QPR of those wines. I can say, however, that I was quite impressed with their value Pinots, especially the 08 Riviera (sourced from the Sonoma Coast) and the 08 Huntington (sourced from Santa Barbara County). You'll be hard-pressed to find more flavorful and well-crafted Pinots for under $20 than these.
– For more information CLICK HERE.


PALMINA: Tasting Fee: $10
palminaTR.jpgEver since my first visit, I've drunk or purchased Palmina wines wherever I could find them. Especially the whites which are some of the most well-crafted coming out of the area, Italian varietals or not. They recently expanded their tasting room, which threw me off because I didnt' remember it being that large. They now have two good size bars to accomodate guests along with a nice table in between if they run out of room at the bars. If you're unfamiliar with Italian varietals then you'll learn a lot about them tasting here. They are one of a handful of wineries producing Arneis or Tocai in the US. We got to try their 08 Traminer, 09 Malvasia Bianca, 09 Botasea Rosato (a blend of all their red grapes), the 07 Alisos (blend of Sangiovese and Merlot) and the 06 Barbera, which was my fav. Chrystal and Steve Clifton are crafting lovely and distinct wines that are trying to mimic their Italian counterparts, but reflect them via their own unique California terroir. Palmina produces well-crafted and very interesting wines that will help expand and please your palate. Twitter Handle: @palminawines
– For more information CLICK HERE.


SAMSARA: Tasting Fee: $10
SamsaraPic.jpgThough I don't really know Chad Melville, Samara's owner/winemaker very well, we do share a very important memory. I was picking grapes with him, for his family winery Melville, on the morning of 9/11. We were in the vineyard by 5am, so we had no idea what had happened in New York until we returned around 8am. It was surreal to say the least. I haven't really seen him since that day, so we had quite an interesting conversation when we stopped into his tasting room. What's weird is he was just talking about that morning with a friend and in walks one of the gals he was talking about. I know this has nothing to do with wine, but it is one of the reasons I wanted to visit as I still remember everything about that morning so vividly. Greg Brewer is the winemaker for Melville, so I also wanted to taste Chad's wines, many of them made from grapes sourced from Melville's vineyards, to see what his style brings to their grapes. Chad, and his wife Mary, are very particular in how they grow and vinify their grapes and this care shows through in the bottle. They use only native yeast fermentation and age their Pinots for 18 months and Syrah for 24 months in the barrel. These wines are deeply flavored and complex, each vineyard showing its terroir in the wine. They only make 75-100 cases of each wine, so they sell out pretty quickly. Their tasting room is the smallest of the lot and pretty bare bones, but the wines more than make up for the industrial atmosphere. Was blown away by both the Alder Springs and Ampelos Syrahs and the Melville Pinot Noir. These are wines not to be missed.
– For more information CLICK HERE.

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