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Santa Barbara Winetasting Trip Day 1: Rusack, Cold Heaven and Palmina

August 12, 2010

SANTA BARBARA WINETASTING TRIP DAY 1: RUSACK, COLD HEAVEN AND PALMINA – Ballard Canyon, Buellton and Lompoc, Central Coast, California (8/7/2010)


Peter Cargasacchi, Steve Clifton and Adam Lee in kitchen at Palmina

I spent the past weekend visiting with friends from L.A. at a big, borrowed house on the beach in Santa Barbara. During the day, I got in some winetasting at selected places (and at night we barbecued and cooked multiple courses for dinner, sat on the beach, gazed at the stars and enjoyed more great wine). Saturday I visited Rusack, whose Pinots I’ve enjoyed in tastings at recent events; Cold Heaven, whose Viogniers I’ve been hearing about for years; Cargasacchi (which I’ll report on separately, as we enjoyed a good long visit with Peter); and, finally, Italian-themed Palmina, which was holding an open house for their remodeled and expanded Lompoc tasting room that day.

The highlight of the day for me (besides our visit with Peter Cargasacchi, which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post), was the excellent Viogniers at Cold Heaven, and seeing winemakers Peter, Adam and Steve all together at Palmina.

Rusack Tasting Room

view from Rusack tasting room in Ballard Canyon

Rusack was started in 1995 by Geoff Rusack and Alison Wrigley. Their winemaker and enologist are an accomplished couple from Napa, John and Helen Falcone. After the 2001 harvest, many of the original vines were pulled out and replanted under John Falcone’s guidance. Syrah, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc were planted, along with smaller lots of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot to be blended into their meritage, “Anacapa.” They make five different Pinot Noirs, with grapes they source from well established vineyards (e.g., Fiddlestix) in different growing regions in the Santa Barbara area. My favorite to date have been the ’07 Santa Maria Valley and ’07 non-Reserve Santa Rita Hills Pinots.

While the wines are all well made, this particular line up was not that exciting or memorable. The Pinot Noirs, and the Chardonnay, continue to impress me the most, as they did at Pinot Days in June. I think the other varietals, which mainly come from estate fruit, will continue to get better as the young vines mature.

  • 2008 Rusack Chardonnay – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light, slightly green tinged yellow color; green apple, lime, vanilla nose; complex, green apple, tart pear, lime palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (9 mos. in French oak, 48% new) (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Rusack Pinot Noir – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
    Medium dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; spicy, sandalwood, baked cherry, blueberry nose; tight, velvet textured, ripe, spicy cherry, brown sugar palate; medium-plus finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Rusack Pinot Noir Reserve – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Medium dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; oak, baked rhubarb, French vanilla, caramel nose; tight, velvety textured, black cherry, rhubarb, berry palate, needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Rusack Sangiovese – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Dark red violet color; berries, currant, graham cracker, raspberry, caramel nose; tight raspberry, black raspberry, graham cracker, raspberry syrup palate, needs three-plus years; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Rusack Anacapa – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Medium dark red violet color; tart red currant, cassis, ripe Cabernet Franc, French oak nose; tight, velvet textured, tart red currant, cassis, anise, red berry palate, needs 4 to 5 years; medium-plus finish (80% Cabernet Franc, 15% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot) (91 pts.)
  • 2007 Rusack Syrah Ballard Canyon – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Opaque red violet color; berry, cranberry, vanilla cappuccino nose; tight but plush, ripe berry, blackberry, vanilla palate, needs 3-plus years; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Cold Heaven Tasting Room

Morgan Clendenen produces the definitive California Viogniers, and has been working intensively with this grape since 1996. It was a pleasure to have a chance to taste her different Viogniers all side by side. The grapes for the Viogniers are harvested between 23 and 24 brix, a balanced ripeness level aimed at avoiding high alcohols. The grapes are gently pressed and left to settle for 24 to 48 hours to separate out solids. The juice is put into neutral, older French oak barrels for primary fermentation until malolactic fermentation is complete.

The Deux Mondes “Saints & Sinners” is a Viognier that Morgan makes from Sanford & Benedict grapes in collaboration with Condrieu’s Yves Cuilleron. It was the most complex and appealing of the line up for me, closely followed by the Le Bon Climat bottling. Morgan’s own Sanford & Benedict bottling was my third favorite, with the Vogelzang Vineyard placing last for me. It just lacked the complexity of the other bottlings, but still had great acidity and balance. Less successful for me was the one red they were pouring, an ’04 Syrah, which is rather disjointed at this stage. It may come together with more bottle age.

  • 2008 Cold Heaven Sauvignon Blanc Strangelove – USA, California, Central Coast
    Very light yellow color; lime, chalk, green apple, floral nose; lime, citrus, chalk palate with good acidity; medium finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2008 Cold Heaven Viognier Le Bon Climat Santa Barbara County – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Very light yellow color; tart peach, honeysuckle, straw, guava nose; lovely, honeysuckle, tart white peach, mineral, cottage cheese, lemon curd palate with good balance; medium finish 92+ pts. (92 pts.)
  • 2008 Cold Heaven Viognier Vogelzang Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very light yellow color; nice peach, white flower, star jasmine, chalk nose; tasty, ripe peach, white flower, golden delicious apple palate with good balance, but not as complex as the Le Bon Climat bottling; medium finish 91+ pts. (91 pts.)
  • 2008 Cold Heaven Viognier Sanford & Benedict – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Pale yellow color; straw, green apple, green fruit nose; tasty, tart green apple, white flower, kiwi palate; medium finish (bottled 2 mos. earlier) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Cold Heaven Viognier Deux Mondes Saints & Sinners Sanford & Benedict – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light yellow color; lovely floral, mineral, tart white peach, chalk, green apple nose; tasty, rich, lime, green apple, cream, white peach, straw palate; medium-plus finish (93 pts.)
  • 2003 Cold Heaven Viognier Late Harvest Sanford & Benedict – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    From 375 ml – medium golden yellow color with slight green tinge; baked apple, baked pear, golden raisins nose; rich, tangy, syrupy, peach, lime, cream, green apple, pear palate; medium-plus finish 90+ pts. (90 pts.)
  • 2004 Cold Heaven Syrah Second Sin Santa Barbara County – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Dark cherry red color with pale meniscus; green herb, camphor nose; tart plum, green herb, green peppercorn palate that doesn’t quite hang together, could use another three-plus years; medium-plus finish (88 pts.)

Palmina Open House

Palmina was holding a grand reopening for its tasting room, so we ended our tasting day here, where we got to see Peter Cargasacchi again, along with Siduri’s Adam Lee (who was down for the day checking on the status of all of the vineyards in that area he sources from) and, of course, Palmina’s Steve Clifton, who turns out to be an impressive chef. He was making, on the spot, many of the tasty edibles being sampled at the open house.

Steve Clifton started Palmina in 1995 with the aim of producing a full range of wines crafted from Italian varietals grown in Santa Barbara County. Per their website statement, he is “not trying to emulate the Italian versions of those grapes, but rather interpret the styles to the growing conditions and vineyard sites of the very unique characteristics of Santa Barbara County.” The guiding philosophy is “to provide wines that can be enjoyed everyday, and that complement and enhance a wide range of food styles.” Steve’s passion for things Italian is clear from the food he makes (including a wonderful herb flavored bread he’s shown making below), the design of the tasting room and enoteca, and the wines he crafts from nine different Italian varietals. Most of the whites are made in stainless steel with no malolactic fermentation, to ensure good aromatics and strong acidities. The reds “range in style from an everyday drinking red wine like Dolcetto, which is made in a fresh style of neutral oak and stainless steel and released in the summer within a year of harvesting, to Nebbiolo which is a full-bodied wine full of tannins . . . [that] takes four years to produce, aging slowly in large upright and puncheon barrels while slowly gaining earthiness and roundness.”

These are food friendly wines, priced quite reasonably, and the whites have a lot of character. The reds left me less excited, but I missed out on some older samples they were pouring that ran out by the time we got to the tasting. My favorites were all whites: the ’06 Arneis Honea, ’09 Pinot Grigio, and very flavorful ’09 Malvasia Bianca Larner. My favorite of the reds also happens to be their highest priced wine, the ’05 Savoia, a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Syrah.

  • 2005 Palmina Arneis Honea Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Light straw yellow color; wheat, straw, citrus nose; oxidized,oily textured, straw palate; medium finish (82 pts.)
  • 2006 Palmina Arneis Honea Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    From magnum – oily, citrus, straw nose; oily textured, pear, mineral, apple palate; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2007 Palmina Arneis Honea Bianco Honea Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    From magnum – pear, apple nose; mature, wheat, pear palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2008 Palmina Arneis Honea Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very light yellow color; straw, tart apple nose; tart apple, straw, white fruit, mineral palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Palmina Pinot Grigio – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Apple, peach nose; peach, apple palate with juice and depth; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Palmina Traminer Alisos Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Pale yellow color; floral, gardenia, old roses nose; tasty, light oily texture, tart citrus, mineral, tart apple palate; medium finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Palmina Tocai Friulano Honea Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Very light yellow color; delicate pear, white flower nose; floral, pear, peach palate; medium finish (89 pts.)
  • 2009 Palmina Malvasia Bianca Larner Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills – Sta. Rita Hills
    Light canary yellow color; very floral, honeydew, honeysuckle nose; tasty, rich, honeysuckle, pear palate with good acidity; medium finish (90 pts.)
  • 2009 Palmina Pinot Grigio Ramato Alisos Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Light medium orange pink color; big, peach, pink grapefruit nose; tasty, lightly oily textured, peach, pink grapefruit palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Palmina Botasea Rosato di Palmina – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Orange pink color; weedy, herbaceous, tart red fruit nose; tasty, balanced, tart red fruit, herbaceous palate; medium finish (blend of Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo) (88 pts.)
  • 2009 Palmina Dolcetto – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Tart cherry, cranberry, herbal nose; tight, tart cherry, red fruit palate; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2008 Palmina Barbera – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Earthy, dried red fruit, herbal nose; earthy, dried red fruit, herbal, pin palate; medium finish 86+ pts. (86 pts.)
  • 2006 Palmina Nebbiolo – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Spicy red fruit, cherry, soapstone nose; spicy red fruit, cherry, soapstone, tangy palate with grip; medium-plus finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Palmina Alisos – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Baked cherry, rhubarb, raspberry nose; baked cherry, rhubarb, raspberry palate with depth; medium-plus finish 88+ pts. (88 pts.)
  • 2007 Palmina Sangiovese Undici – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
    Deep cherry, baked cherry, baked berry nose; deep cherry, baked cherry, baked berry palate; medium finish (87 pts.)
  • 2005 Palmina Savoia – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
    Dark red violet color; baked cherry, black cherry, berry nose; baked cherry, black cherry, berry palate; medium-plus finish (blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Syrah) (89 pts.)

ocean view from the beach house we stayed at

our home for the weekend

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