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Building Brands for a Winery and Region Simultaneously - Goodland Wines
- Winery Profiles
- Written by Fred Swan
- Friday, 13 September 2013 07:51
Last week I wrote about brands, brand building and the difficulty of doing that in the wine business. One of the big challenges is that the very thing which makes wine so compelling—it’s complexity and variability from one place, vintage or winemaker to the next—disallows the consistency that many consumers need to develop brand affinity. A second issue is that “sub-brands,” such as varietal or regional designations, provide important information but can also detract from the strength of the main brand.
For example, a typical consumer may think all Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon are pretty much alike and purchase in that category based on price rather than winery brand. Or consumers may prefer to buy any New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, even if they’ve not tasted it, over any Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc regardless of winery name. The former has a powerful brand against which any Sauvignon Blanc must compete for attention no matter how different the style.
One way to eliminate these problematic comparisons is to avoid mention of the varietal. If you have a very good and unique Sauvignon Blanc from Happy Canyon, just call it a Happy Canyon White Wine. You still need to build your own brand, and that of Happy Canyon, but you won’t be doing it in the shadow of New Zealand. This is exactly the approach Goodland is taking in Santa Barbara County.
Goodland is a new producer in that region. It’s essentially a four-partner company. Matt Dees is best known as winemaker for Jonata but has also did work at Staglin and Craggy Range. Dave Potter makes wine and works the room for Municipal Wines in Santa Barbara. Ruben Solorzano, affectionately called “the grape whisperer,” is a very highly respected vineyard manager who tends many plots in Santa Barbara County. He lives in the middle of Stolpman Vineyard which he’s managed since 1994. Chris Snowden has worked in cellar management and sales at various wineries, including his family’s Snowden Vineyards in Napa Valley.
When I first heard about their project I was skeptical. Buyers of California wine are accustomed to buying on a varietal basis. Few of those buyers know much about California’s wine regions either, or even what an appellation is. Beyond Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, Paso Robles and two or three others, AVAs are a total mystery to the average wine drinker. Most will think of Santa Barbara County as the place where the town of Santa Barbara is, not a place that good wine comes from.
The idea of launching a wholly new wine brand in Santa Barbara County with labels that refer only to region, not varietal, seemed masochistic to me. I thought it more likely to confuse customers than help them. I anticipated a difficult sales job. But the more I consider the situation, the smarter it seems.
First, production quantities at Goodland are small. They are unlikely to get stuck with inventory. Goodland’s highest volume wine is just 81 cases.
Second, the pricing is moderate. Matt Dees and Ruben Solorzano told me they want to makes wine they and their friends can afford to buy. Bottles range from $15 to $40. That’s high enough to allay concerns that the somewhat generic names signal. On-premise prices can stay below $50 for whites and $100 for reds.
Third, they are avoiding those troublesome comparisons with other wine regions’ varietals. Goodland needn’t compete as directly against Russian River Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Napa Valley Cabernet. Nor do they have to deal with Syrah’s cursed brand.
For more detail, please watch this video interview I did with Matt Dees and Ruben Solorzano.
Tasting Notes for Goodland wines, tasted on August 12, 2013
2011 Goodland Sta. Rita Hills White Wine, $35
Chardonnay is far and away the most-planted white wine grape in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Matt Dees fermented this one in neutral barrels and allowed little to no malolactic fermentation. The lees were stirred every two or three days. The Goodland Sta. Rita Hills White is elegant and complex on nose and palate with ripe lemon-lime, dry grass, green apple skin, baking spice and accents of stone fruit. Medium-plus body and acidity, lengthy finish. Highly Recommended.
2011 Goodland Happy Canyon White, $25
Happy Canyon is, relative to Sta. Rita Hills, quite warm. It’s still a bit cooler than Oakville though. Hot days and radically cooler mights make it a happy canyon for Sauvignon Blanc. With stainless steel fermentation and no malolactic fermentation, this wine is a study in fresh citrus and acidity. The nose shows lime, grapefruit and mineral. The very fresh, medium-bodied palate has fine-grained texture and adds flavors of green apple and tart stone fruit to the persistent citrus and minerality. Lengthy finish. Highly Recommended.
2011 Sta. Rita Hills Red, $40
While not as dominant in the Sta. Rita Hills for red wines as Chardonnay is for white, Pinot Noir is still the AVA’s signature red grape. 2010 was arguably the coldest growing season that always cool appellation has seen. However, 2011 wasn’t much warmer and lacked the late season heat spike that provided a final push to ripeness in 2010. Goodland’s Pinot Noir comes is lithe and flavorful but just 12.2% alcohol. Earthy red fruit—especially cherry—brown spice, savory herb, cherry stem, smoke and dried orange zest. The palate is finely textured and sophisticated with medium body and medium-plus length. Highly Recommended.
2010 Santa Ynez Valley Red Wine, $25
This Syrah/Grenache blend was the first wine in the Goodland project. Dees said he was looking for a fruit-driven wine of density, not worrying about representing a single variety. It’s ripe and slightly earthy with plum and other black fruit, dark spice and partially dried herb. The palate adds elements of dark chocolate, smoke and old leather. The light-grained tannins and body are just short of medium-plus, the finish lengthy. Highly Recommended.
2011 Happy Canyon Red Wine, $40
While Goodland looks to build awareness for Santa Barbara County’s appellations and wine styles, they aren’t afraid to dance on the edge. When it comes to this Cabernet Sauvignon for example, they went old-school (late 70’s Napa) rather than building a fleshy, hedonistic wine. In Happy Canyon, that meant going high-elevation. There you have not only the big—up to 50 degrees—diurnal temperature shift but also howling winds that limit bunch count, berry size and ripening. Highly Recommended.
Dees told me the grapes for this wine were tiny and it took a couple days of foot stomping to get the juice out. In the glass, it’s what Dees called “dusty, herbal and angular in the best way possible.” I found plenty of fruit, but it’s not even in the same universe as jammy.
Dry forest floor and herb, spice, trail dust, dried flowers, red currant and cherry on the nose. Medium-plus body, acidity and tannins (fine-grained and powdery). Flavors match the aromas but add cocoa and black olive to the mix. The finish is quite long. Decanting will be beneficial as will extended cellar aging.
2011 Ballard Canyon Red Wine, $35
“Ballard Canyon is like [the porridge that’s just right in Goldilocks and] the Three Bears, not too cold and not too hot,” Dees says. “And it’s got that hint of corruption than makes Syrah so cool.” I was the one that came away corrupted though. The 2011 Ballard Canyon Red has a split personality but both are beguiling.
Aromatically, it is floral with high-toned spice and purple fruit, leading me to expect a slender palate framed by acid. But no, it’s a nearly full-bodied wine with moderate acidity but a wealth of fine-powdery and talc-like tannins. The flavors of mocha, leather and lush black fruit and just delicious. Very Highly Recommended.
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