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Winery Profiles

Lateral Moves North

Lateral, an established brand, is making a new start in Napa Valley. Lateral began as a label of the Kathryn Kennedy Winery in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. The line was created in 2003 by Marty Mathis. He is Kathryn Kennedy’s son, has been head winemaker at her eponymous winery since 1981 and is it’s owner as well.

Until recently, Lateral bottlings were labeled as “California wine.” Mathis tells me “multi-county sourcing offers an economic advantage.” Good fruit from Santa Clara Valley, or even Sonoma County, costs a lot less than that from Napa Valley. However, there’s a branding disadvantage with the relatively generic California designation. “It was fine when we were only selling in California, but having a Napa Valley label makes getting on out-of-state wine lists much easier.”

2010-LateralTo that end, Mathis is instituting a number of changes to make Lateral Napa Valley-specific. As of the 2010 vintage Lateral will offer just one wine, a red Bordeaux-variety blend made solely from Napa Valley fruit. The winemaking is being done in Napa Valley too. That’s being handled by Chris Condos who has worked on the wine for 15 years but lives in Napa Valley.

Other changes are in the works. More French oak is being used. The physical label has been gotten a facelift. Soon, Lateral will be a distinct company as well. Due to the higher price of Napa Valley grapes, the price has gone from $30 to $42. Mathis jokes that Lateral is “a rich man’s Tuesday night wine.”

Both Mathis and Condos have strong commitments to organic practices in the vineyard and winery. Fruit for the 2010 vintage was sourced from six different organic vineyards, such as Robert Sinskey and Pat Garvey. Each is vinified separately. The winery is certified organic so bottles can bear a “Made with Organic Grapes” logo.

Mathis has a longstanding preference for a traditional approach to red Bordeaux blends in California, balanced and age-worthy wines that don’t pursue power and ripeness at the expense of elegance. Mathis’ and Condos’ interests in organics and balance have come together beautifully in the 2010 Lateral Napa Valley.

The dark ruby Lateral offers plum, dark spice, blackberry, trail dust and wood on the nose. The flavors are much more red-fruit focused with a core of raspberry and red cherry accented by spice and oak. I find the tension in this wine compelling. There’s great freshness on the palate, accentuated by the raspberry note, which is deftly balanced by light-grained tannins and medium+ body. The finish is lengthy and centers on that tangy red fruit. The wine doesn’t offer a laundry list of flavors now, but the purity of fruit and palate dynamics are special and suggest good capadity for aging. Drink now through 2020+. Highly Recommended+.

2010 Lateral Red Wine Napa Valley

Rating: Highly Recommended+

Drink: now through 2020+
Closure: Cork
Production: 2,000 cases
Retail Price: $42.00

Winemaker: Chris Condos
Blend: 76% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Franc

Origin: certified organic grapes from Napa Valley vineyards including, Robert Sinskey, Yount Mill and Pat Garvey
Fermentation: multiple yeast strains, six different vineyards vinified separately
Aging: 22 months in French and American oak, 30% new
Alcohol: 14.4%

Service Recommendations

Decanting: optional

Temperature: 58º - 64º F

Interpreting my wine ratings


Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.

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This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

DUNSTAN Celebrates its First Release

Saturday I attended the release party for DUNSTAN Wines’ 2008 vintage. This is the first release for that brand which is owned by Ellie Phipps Price of Durell Vineyards. Founded in 1979 by Ed Durell and purchased in 1998 by the Price family, more than 20 wineries, including Chateau St. Jean, TOR, Pali Wine Co. Chasseur, Kistler, and Three Sticks source fruit from Durell. However, DUNSTAN takes its fruit solely from the Durell Vineyard’s Ranch House Block and nothing from that block is made available to other wineries.

The Durell Vineyard sits on roughly 400 acres of land tucked away in the Temelec hills of southern Sonoma County, due west from the town of Sonoma. A tad less than 200 acres are planted with grapes. Due to the Durell Vineyard’s unique location it actually has vines in three different AVAs: Carneros, Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley AVAs. It’s a relatively cool-climate location that yields wines which are complex and expressive of both terroir and vintage while still offering beautiful fruit.

The Ranch House Block is at the southern end of the Durell Vineyard and includes 5 acres of Pinot Noir and 3.5 acres of Chardonnay. DUNSTAN offers one wine from each as well as a rosé of Pinot Noir. While the Chardonnay is all Wente-clone, the Pinot Noir includes 115, 667, 828, Calera and Swan. The 2008 DUNSTAN Pinot Noir is a field-blend of four of those because the Swan grafted more recently and won’t be ready until the 2010 vintage.

While the DUNSTAN brand is new, it’s team has been making excellent wines together under the Sand Hill at Durell Vineyard label. Steve Hill has been managing the Durell Vineyard since 1980. Don van Staaveren, who was winemaker at Chateau St. Jean 1985 through 1997, had been making the Sand Hill wines from their inaugural 2002 vintage. According to Chris Towt, who runs sales and marketing for DUNSTAN, the goal with the new brand is to provide consumers with clear and vivid sense of place. By using grapes only from the small block surrounding the ranch house soil and climate are more consistent for all of the fruit. Extremely dense planting contributes concentrated flavors and guarantees that all vineyard work is done by hand. The vineyard is open by appointment for tours and tasting, giving people the opportunity to make the connection between land and wine first hand.

The name DUNSTAN and its horseshoe logo were also inspired by the vineyard. When planting the vines, an old and very large horseshoe was found. Ellie Phipps Price and Chris Towt share a great love of horses and were inspired by the find and it’s omen of good luck. So, they named the wine DUNSTAN after the blacksmith who, according to legend, forced the Devil to agree never to enter a home with a horseshoe hanging over the door.

I tasted all three of the DUNSTAN wines at the release event, along with 2004 - 2007 vintages of the Sand Hill Pinot Noir and the 2007 Sand Hill Chardonnay. I won’t comment on all of them here as I plan to do a feature on all of the Pinots in the near future. However, I will say that all of the wines are very, very good and, while they clearly show their common origin, are very distinct from each other because they also provide a clear window onto their respective vintages.

To provide a sense of the style of their wines though, I will offer a few words here about DUNSTAN’s 2008 Chardonnay. It offers many layers of flavor with the cool climate showing through in briny minerality, citrus and hints of herb. There are also riper fruit flavors including pear, peach and tropical notes. The barrel treatment is restrained but contributes accents of toast and dark caramel. The mouthfeel is rich but refreshing and not quite full-bodied. It’s a wine that rewards contemplation but is friendly enough not to demand it. Very Highly Recommended. ($40)

DUNSTAN wines are available through the DUNSTAN online shop. The 2006 Sand Hill Pinot Noir and the 2007 vintages of both both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are available from the Sand Hill at Durell Vineyard online shop. To make an appointment to visit DUNSTAN, call them at (707) 933-3839 or send them an email. For further information, visit the DUNSTAN Website or like DUNSTAN on Facebook.

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Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Building Brands for a Winery and Region Simultaneously - Goodland Wines

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.


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Finding Terroir in Lost Canyon

The concept of terroir is both straightforward and well-accepted. Wine grapes’ character does change depending on where they are grown. Those differences influence the wine. However, when tasting a wine, it is not always easy to separate the effects of terroir from those of winemaking decisions.

Winemakers make hundreds of decisions between crush and release. Many of those choices — fermentation vessel and temperature, yeast selection, oak treatment, additives, sur lie aging, etc. — reverberate in the appearance, aromas, tastes and textures of a wine. Some effects, such as the aroma of coconut coming from barrels, cannot be confused with terroir. However, they can mask genuine signatures of the site.

Lost Canyon Winery  aims to show how diverse the Russian River Valley AVA can be by exposing the unique terroir of high-quality vineyards — three planted to Pinot Noir and one each for Chardonnay and Syrah. To that end, winemaker Brad Longton vinifies the different batches of a single variety as similarly as possible. Grapes are picked at approximately the same brix levels. Only native yeasts are used. Details of whole cluster inclusion, cold soak, extended maceration and frequency of punchdowns are essentially identical. Oak treatment is also 90 - 95% the same. To highlight unique, single-vineyard terroir and maintain quality, volume is kept low. Total production for the five Lost Canyon wines is just 1,800 cases. 

The Lost Canyon Tasting Room in downtown Santa Rosa

The focus of Lost Canyon is clear and their methodology seems logical. But is it effective? Do the three Pinot Noir really demonstrate significant differences in terroir between their respective vineyards? I put together a blind tasting of those wines and other Russian River Pinot Noir for myself and a small panel of experienced tasters. I knew the Lost Canyon wines were in the mix, but not which wines they were. The panel knew only that they were tasting Pinot Noir from Northern California. Noe of us had tasted Lost Canyon wines previously. And, at the time of the tasting, I didn’t know anything about Lost Canyon’s goals or technique. In short, we were simply evaluating the wines for quality and what they expressed with no expectations whatsoever.

We found all three of the Lost Canyon Pinot Noir to be very good. The wines were also remarkably different from each other, to the extent that we were surprised they all came from the same winery. The wines are also different enough that people have clear favorites among them depending on their preference of Pinot Noir style.

Tasting Notes for 2009 Lost Canyon Pinot Noir

2009 Lost Canyon Pinot Noir Goff-Whitton Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $45
The nose is medium+ intensity with aromas of rich black cherry, caramel, cola, eucalyptus, and vanilla. The body is solidly medium+ with acidity that falls just short of medium+ and fully-integrated tannins. The creamy, boldly flavored Goff-Whitton tastes of wild cherry, sandalwood, spice and rhubarb. It will go well with light meat dishes on up to filet mignon. It is sufficiently smooth and engaging to drink on its own as well. 14.5% alcohol. Highly Recommended+

2009 Lost Canyon Pinot Noir Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $45
Medium intensity aromatically with a core of macerated red cherry plus notes of bubblegum, spice, vanilla, orange an earth. Taken as a whole, it's aroma reminds me somewhat of cherry-vanilla ice cream. In the mouth it is on the generous side of medium with acidity and smooth tannins to match. The flavors are pretty, but laid back, and show tart red cherry, vanilla, cedar and dry forest floor. 14.4% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2009 Lost Canyon Pinot Noir Morelli Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $45
Medium+ intensity on the nose with aromas of cedar, raspberry, caramel, mushroom, coffee grounds and spice. Medium-bodied with medium+ acidity and flavor intensity. I tasted cedar, game, spice, raspberry and earth. 14.1% alcohol. Highly Recommended+

The three 2009 Lost Canyon Pinot Noir are distinct from each other. They also reflect, at a minimum, the climatic differences between the three vineyards. Here is more detail on those sites:

  • Goff-Whitton Vineyard: This vineyard, established in 1999, includes 25 acres of Pinot Noir clones 115, Pommard, 113 and Beringer planted in Goldridge Loam. It’s a slightly undulating site in Graton, just west of Hwy 116. Partially lined with eucalyptus trees, it used to be an apple orchard.
  • Saralee’s Vineyard: A long-established vineyard in the northern part of the Russian River Valley. It’s also benchland but the soil is clay and the site is the warmest of the three and the first to shed its fog each morning. The clones are 115 and 777.
  • Morelli Lane Vineyard: This 25-year old vineyard is on Harrison Grade Road. It’s northwest of Occidental and on the backside of the hills that form Green Valley’s southwestern border. The terrain is fairly flat, but at 600 - 700 feet. The soil is Goldridge Loam and the clones 115 and Pommard.

It’s interesting to compare the wines from Goff-Whitton and Morelli Lane, since both are predominantly from 115 and Pommard clones in Goldridge Loam. The former is in a warm area, both lower in altitude and farther from the ocean than Morelli. The resulting wine is ripe and fleshy with a mouthful of black cherry. The eucalyptus trees next to the vineyard also make themselves known in the wine’s nose. In contrast, the Morelli Lane wine represents one of the very coolest parts of the Russian River Valley. It is a lean wine with zingy acidity and lighter, less ripe red fruit that lets subtle notes such as mushroom to show through.

About Lost Canyon Winery

Lost Canyon is, along with Fritz Underground Winery and Jenner Vineyards, under the proprietorship of Clayton Fritz. Whereas Lost Canyon is focused on single-vineyard Russian River Valley wines, Fritz makes appellation blends from Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley. Jenner offers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. All of the wines are made by Brad Longton and at the same facility.

The Lost Canyon brand used to be under different ownership. At that time, it had a tasting room in Oakland near Jack London Square. Fritz bought the company in 2008, because of it’s long-term contracts with prime Russian River Valley vineyards, but overhauled the winemaking. Lost Canyon now has a tasting room in downtown Santa Rosa. Most of their wine is sold direct to consumers.

Other Lost Canyon Wines

Lost Canyon makes a Trenton Station Syrah which I've not tasted. The Lost Canyon Chardonnay comes from the Ruxton Vineyard on Harrison Grade Road near Occidental and not far from Morelli Lane. Ruxton was a prune orchard until it's conversion to vineyard in the 1960's. The current vines are roughly 35 years old Wente clone Chardonnay. The soil is a very dusty, sandy Goldridge Loam over serpentine bedrock.

2010 Lost Canyon Chardonnay Ruxton Vineyard, Russian River Valley, $35
Lemon-green in color with aromas of warm butter, yellow apple, dusty oak, savory bread and spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla). The palate is medium+ weight with bracing acidity excellent length. The fruit is simultaneously ripe and tart with lemon, green and yellow apple and pear all showing. There are also feral and mineral notes. 14% alcohol. Highly Recommended.

Winemaker Brad Longton

Brad Longton is a native of Perth, Australia. But, while he worked one season in Margaret River and another at Brown Brothers in Victoria, the vast majority of his training came in the United States. He has lived here for 12 years. For seven years, he has been the Fritz winemaker. Prior to that he held positions at Heitz Cellars, Clos du Bois and Murphy-Goode.

Longton got his start in the industry as a salesman in wine shops. He took winery jobs and internships to learn more about wine so that he could better sell it. However, he quickly discovered that he enjoyed working on the production side much more than in sales.


The wines reviewed above were provided by the winery.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photo courtesy of Lost Canyon. All rights reserved.

Tasting the Wines of Rusack Vineyards in Ballard Canyon

Last week, I tasted through the line up of Santa Barbara County wines from Rusack Vineyards. Rusack is located in the pending Ballard Canyon AVA but makes wine from other areas as well. Those include the Sta Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley and even Santa Catalina Island.

The primary Rusack estate vineyard includes 16.5 planted acres straddling Ballard Canyon Road on the valley floor. Its varieties include Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc (including the Musqué clone) and Semillon. There is another small vineyard further north and uphill devoted to a new planting of Zinfandel.

Total production in a typical year, including wine made from non-estate grapes, is 8,000-10,000 cases. But typical has been hard to come by in California recently. Rusack made just 6,000 cases in chilly 2011 and 12,000 in bounteous 2012. All the wines are made on-site at the estate. The tasting room is there as well.

The tasting room at Rusack Vineyards on Ballard Canyon Road. Photo: Fred Swan

The patio at Rusack Vineyards looks inviting, even on a foggy summer morning. Photo: Fred Swan

My host for the tasting was Rusack Vineyards winemaker Steven Gerbac. He’s been at Rusack Vineyards for ten years and was very informative about the vineyards, vinification, etc. However, his ascent to head winemaker from assistant has just been in the last year or so. John Falcone, now at Gainey Vineyards, was head winemaker for the wines I tasted.

Rusack winemaker Steven Gerbac, August 12, 2013. Photo: Fred Swan

2012 Rusack Sauvignon Blanc Santa Barbara County, $17
Though simply labeled Santa Barbara County, this is more specifically a Santa Ynez Valley AVA blend. The estate vineyard provided 42% of the fruit, nearby Stolpman 35% and Valley View the balance. The grapes, clone 1 and Musqué clone, got a couple of hours skin contact before being pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks. There was no malolactic fermentation.

Ballard Canyon’s cool evenings and morning fog are evident in the cool-climate aromatics that rush from the glass: green apple, white flowers, limestone, lime pith, grapefruit and nearly-ripe stonefruit. Its fresh in the mouth and a generous medium body with citrus-focused flavors, principally lime, lime pith and grapefruit. There’s some herb and peppery spice as well. The finish is clean with a saline minerality. 13.6% alcohol. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Chardonnay Santa Catalina Vineyard California, $55
Santa Catalina Island is almost literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s only twenty-two miles south-southwest of Los Angeles, but that distance is all over water. That isolation, along with the island’s small size, low population and lack of cell towers promote what residents like to call “island time.” Grape harvests require a skilled labor and a sense of urgency though, so Rusack flies vineyard workers onto the island and flies the fruit back out.

Rusack's island vineyard is on the windward side. Even during the peak of summer it’s temperatures are moderated by miles of 70° water, cold ocean breezes and persistent fog. The result is Chardonnay with surprising body. That’s due not to high alcohol but the conversion of copious malic acid during ML. Lees stirring prevents buttery flavors from getting out of hand.

The nose is mildly buttery golden apple, yogurt and baking spice. Those flavors lead the palate as well but quickly transition to steely yogurt and, eventually, a taut, mineral finish. It’s a nearly full-bodied wine but there’s still acidity and a light talc-like texture. The Rusack Santa Catalina Island Chardonnay will be released around November of this year. Recommended+.

2011 Rusack Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley Reserve, $32
Gentle baking spice aromas mingle with baked yellow apple, green apple and a touch of pineapple in this Chardonnay made from an even split of Bien Nacido Vineyard and Sierra Madre Vineyard fruit. Full-bodied with a silky mouthfeel, the palate is fruit-focused but refined: pear, yellow apple, pineapple, peach and baking spice. Mouthwatering finish. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Pinot Noir Santa Catalina Island California,
Catalina’s uber-cool climate delivers an earth-forward Pinot here. Spice, sandalwood and dark flowers add interest. The fruit is dark red and earthy. The attack is creamy on the palate with medium-plus body and flavors of earth, brown spice, barrel char (40% new oak it turns out, with medium to medium-heavy toast), dark red fruit and caramel. Not yet released. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Pinot Sta. Rita Hills Reserve, $40
A cold year and Sta. Rita Hill’s wind-tunnel of a growing zone resulted in tiny little grapes and a deeply layered, savory and masculine wine. The tannins, moderate and fine, are more than matched by acidity. The nose offers tangy spice, tangerine peel, drying herb, dark spice, a grind of pepper and whiff of licorice. A sip brings long-lasting flavors of dark fruit, spice and licorice. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Pinot Noir, Solomon Hills Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, $45
Aromatic and bequiling, a perfume of brown and dark spice, rose petal, tea and clove precedes the blood orange core. The palate is elegant up front and boldly spicy on the finish. Light, fine-grained tannins accompany tangy spice and zesty dark fruit. Highly Recommended +.

2011 Rusack Sangiovese Estate, $32
California Sangiovese does not often resemble that of Tuscan producers. Our fruit is frequently too ripe, the body to heavy and the oak too obvious—though the latter is not uncommon in Italy either. Ballard Canyon’s mild climate is well-suited to making a more traditional Sangiovese and that’s what I found at Rusack. The nose and palate evince earthy, leathery cherry and plum accented by spice and dark flowers. The body is medium-plus and balanced by both acidity and grippy, light-grained tannins. Best from 2014 - 2018. Try it with a thin ribeye steak cooked directly on hot coals. Recommended +.

2011 Rusack Syrah Ballard Canyon Estate Santa Barbara County, $25
Syrah is the variety that put Ballard Canyon on the map. Rusack’s estate vineyard hold three clones: old-vine Estrella, 174 and 877. Petite Sirah, less than 10%, is added to the blend to bump up the fruit profile. The results are delicious. The wine is deeply-colored and highly aromatic with plum, leather, grilled meat, sweet and savory herb plus a scattering of black pepper. Nearly full-bodied in the mouth, there are fine-grained and powdery tannins. The flavor profile is predominantly savory with dark fruit, old leather, dark spice and earth. This is a great buy at $25. Drink now through 2018. Highly Recommended.

2011 Rusack Syrah Ballard Canyon Estate Reserve Santa Barbara County, $36
Dark and purplish this wine is a best barrel selection of Syrah intended to show a somewhat riper style while keeping plenty of savory flavors. Pardon the laundry list, but the nose is complex: dry earth and grass, grilled game, toast, white and black pepper, dark fruit and spice plus a little camphor. It starts creamy in the mouth, follows with very fine, chalky tannins and then finishes clean and juicy. Flavors are aligned with the nose: dark fruit and spice, licorice, game, savory herb and leather. Now through 2018. Very Highly Recommended.

Rusack Zinfandel
This is going to be an interesting project to watch. There’s an island called Santa Cruz, the largest off the coast of Santa Barbara. It's interior valley used to be home to a big winery. Long abandoned, some vines still grow there untended. Among them was a unique clone of Zinfandel that Rusack now calls the Santa Cruz Island clone. Rusack took 87 cuttings and has planted them on Catalina and in Ballard Canyon.

The propagated vines are still quite young. I’m looking forward to trying upcoming vintages when the vines are bit older, especially those from Ballard Canyon which I suspect should be a good area for complex and balanced Zinfandel.

2010 Rusack “Anacapa” Ballard Canyon Estate, Santa Barbara County, Sold Out
This is Rusack’s red Bordeaux-variety blend. It’s 46% Cabernet Franc with even doses of Merlot and Petit Verdot making up the balance. There are cherry, red currant, cocoa, sweet spice, drying leaves and coconut on the nose and palate. Body is medium-plus and the moderate tannins very fine-grained and a little chalky. Recommended.

2010 Rusack Late Harvest Semillon “Soul of the Vine,” Santa Ynez Valley (all Rusack Estate), $45
When I visited Santa Barbara County last week, a substantial portion of the vines were covered with bird netting. Starlings love ripening grapes. But Rusack had an even finer mesh over their Semillon. It's bee netting. Botrytis is encouraged to form by using gentle overhead sprinklers on warm days. The Noble Rot sticks its little fingers into the grapes, sucking out moisture and turning the grapes into super-sweet, flavorful bee bait. Hence the nets.

Juice from those concentrated grapes is fermented in stainless steel tanks (which I would not want to clean) and then aged in French oak for 14 months. The wine is a vivid lemon-gold in color, the scrumptious nose offers brown sugar, baked pineapple, tart apricot and baking spice. Sweet sips taste of pineapple upside-down cake. Generous acidity keeps Soul of the Vine from being cloying. Highly Recommended.


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Disclosures: The FTC has tightened its guidelines with respect to online ads, reviews, blogs, etc. in response to people who are passing paid ads off as personal recommendations or who accept samples of expensive hard goods in exchange for reviews. My lengthy disclosure here is meant to address those guidelines.

The review above reflects my personal experience with the product. It is not a paid ad, nor do I accept ads or compensation for reviews from wine producers. Reviews may cover products that I have purchased, received as samples, or tried under other circumstances I consider to be good tasting conditions. Receiving a product as a sample does not obligate me to review it positively (or at all) and I do not consider samples to be compensation or “free wine.” I have purchased plenty of wine over the years and have more of that than I can drink. Samples are opened for review purposes, not added to my personal cellar or taken to restaurants.