This weekend Zaca Mesa Winery will celebrate it’s 40th birthday. This winery has quite a bit of history. The property was purchased by a group of friends in 1972 and the vineyard was planted in 1973 and they have been sustainably growing grapes in Santa Barbara ever since. The winery itself was built in 1978 and expanded in 1981. By the early 90’s they had determined that Rhone Varieties grew best on the property. They were the first Central Coast winery to appear in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 back in 1995. They are down to the last of their original owners and have been family owned for about 25 years.
Their first winemaker was Ken Brown who has since gone on to start the very successful Byron in Santa Maria. The rest of the list of previous winemakers continues to look like a who’s who of Santa Barbara & Paso winemakers including: Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Daniel Gehrs of Daniel Gehrs Wines, Clay Brock of Wild Horse, Chuck Carlson of Curtis and Benjamin Silver of Silver Wines.
Their current winemaker is Eric Mohseni. He started his career in wine retail then worked at Edna Valley Vineyards in 1997. It was there that he got hooked on winemaking. He started at Zaca Mesa in 2001 as the enologist worked up to Assistant Winemaker, then Associate Winemaker and finally took the reins in July of 2008.
All the wines here are estate bottled and grown. They don’t buy or sell grapes. They have about 750 acres of which 244 are planted with grapes. 20 acres are newly planted with Syrah. They sit about 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Northern portion of the Santa Ynez AVA. Soils here are mostly Chamise loam over gravelly beds of silk and clay so the soil is well drained. Many of their vineyards are up on a high mesa at 1500 feet. This gives them lower high and higher low temperatures. The more consistent temps allow for slow consistent ripening. The height also causes higher UV radiation, which makes the grapes smaller, and thicker-skinned giving them increased color and phenolic compounds, which can provide more flavor to the wine.
As to “sustainable” there is a “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing” developed by the California Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. It spells out “practices that are sensitive to the environment, responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large, and economically feasible to implement and maintain.” Zaca Mesa is sustainable using organic products, conserving energy and working efficiently to reduce waste. They farm only one-third of the acreage leaving open space for wildlife and preserving ground water.
Zaca Mesa was the third stop in a little trilogy we were doing in Santa Barbara, the day before we had tasted at both Au Bon Climat and Qupe. We rolled in early on a Friday morning and watched the coastal fog roll through the valley coming in from the North. The property is beautiful with huge trees greeting you as you walk from the parking area to the tasting room.
It was the beginning of a busy weekend for them as they had their wine club pickup party happening the next day. We rolled up and were the first guests in the tasting room.
Now onto the tasting!
- 2010 Estate Viognier. This wine received 91 Points and was the Editor’s Choice in Wine Enthusiast Magazine in the Feb 2013 issue. The nose is very Viognier but on the palate it is dryer than expected and has lots of lemon lime. It has the body of a Viognier but is crisper and brighter on the palate with a bit of minerality. This wine starts out in stainless steel and then transfers to new oak after about 3 months. $16
- Z Blanc. This wine was not on the tasting menu but we managed a taste. It is a blend of Grenache, Roussanne and a little Viognier. The grapes for this were hand harvested, fermented and barrel aged for 10 months. This had minerality and a little oak and would go great with shellfish. This has great layer of flavor.
- 2009 Estate Roussanne: Michael does not normally like Roussanne. There is some flavor in there that he usually finds off-putting. This Roussanne has great weight and viscosity in your mouth. It is aged sur lee so it is mellower. Michael didn’t mind this Roussanne. Wine Enthusiast liked it and gave it 93 point in the February 2013 issue. $25.
- 2009 Estate Grenache Blanc: A little brighter than the Z Blanc Blend with a bit more mineral, but less depth then the blend (obviously). $25
- 2010 Estate Mourvedre: This was smoky with a beautiful nose. First I got smoke then blueberry. It was cool on the palate and had a long finish. I could have kept my nose in this glass all day. $35.
- 2008 Estate Z Cuvee: This GSM Blend is mostly Grenache (68%) with 18% Mourvedre and 14% Syrah. Lots of blackberry with big fruit on the nose. This will cellar for another 7 years. $20.
- 2008 Estate Z-Three: Another GSM with 51% Syrah, 37% Mourvedre and 12% Grenache. This was a really wonderful blend (my favorite here) Loads of blackberry with a little blueberry from the Mourvedre and then a touch of raspberry from the Grenache. This again will cellar for 5 or so more years. Wine Enthusiast gave this 89 points in their February issue. $42.
- 2009 Estate Syrah: I got blackberry, smoke, salted meat and a little bit of dried herbs. Bigger tannins that lightly coat your palate and the roof of your mouth but not your teeth. Warm on the back of the palate without being hot. Yeah, this would be perfect with rack of lamp in rosemary and garlic. This is great now and can cellar for up to 10 years, if you can keep from drinking it before then. $25.
After our tasting we wandered up on the hill to where they have a small picnic area overlooking the winery and vineyards. I could have strolled the grounds all day and maybe gotten Michael to play me a game of chess on the oversized chess board outside the tasting room, but….we had to press on to our next tasting! (Coming up next…Talley!)