Barrel Tasting: Preview of the 2018 Vintage

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Barrel Tasting Intro
by Matt Brady, Winemaker, SAMsARA Wine Co.

I had the pleasure of tasting some 2018 barrel samples recently with a great group of SAMsARA club members.  Barrel tasting is always an educational exercise, even for the winemaker!  In addition to new personal insights and a better understanding of how the wines develop and evolve in barrel, it’s also instructive and interesting to gauge people’s reactions to different wine styles as we taste through the different micro-lots in our cellar.

Whole-cluster versus de-stemmed grapes, new oak versus neutral oak, free run wine versus pressed wine…. these are just a few examples of interesting comparisons to be made while tasting through different barrel components.  I’m looking forward to hosting our first annual wine club member barrel tasting seminar at our Goleta winery this summer and sharing both the educational elements and the delicious ‘fruits of our labor’ from the 2018 harvest.  2018 was such an exceptional vintage, it will be really exciting to taste everything with our club members and their guests on June 8th!  The group will be limited to 50, so reserve your spot early!  Can’t wait!  

Barrel Tasting Notes
by Bethanie Butcher, Club Member, SAMsARA Wine Co.

On a cool sunny day in early February 2019, I had the pleasure of enjoying a very special tasting experience at one of my favorite wineries, SAMsARA Wine Co., at their brand-new winery and tasting room facility in Goleta, CA.  Located 10 miles North of Santa Barbara, the new SAMsARA tasting room is bright and modern with cool industrial fixtures and warm, sunny pictures of the vineyards where the winery sources its fruit.  

Upon arrival, we knew we were in for a treat when winemaker, Matt Brady, announced that he’d be leading our group through fifteen different barrel samples of wines from the 2018 vintage.   

While we knew that the 2018 vintage is regarded in Santa Barbara County as one of the best in recent years because of the increased rainfall and longer, cooler growing season, the SAMsARA wines themselves put any debate about it to bed; this is one amazing vintage.  

We started our tasting experience with a new offering from SAMsARA; the Bentrock Vineyard Chardonnay.  This wine was fermented in barrel (100% neutral French oak) and left on the gross lees giving it a fine juxtaposition of body and acid.  A truly refreshing way to start the tasting and a wine I’m anxious to see released for purchase.  This is only the second year SAMsARA has made a Chardonnay and my new go-to white wine!  

Next we moved on to the Rosé, which is 60% Mourvedre and 40% Grenache.  This wine had a delicate, pale salmon color that wouldn’t have been out of place amongst the best Rosé’s from the Provence region of France.  It had notes of fresh ripe strawberries married with something earthier that gave this rosé more depth than your typical pool-side refresher.

Next came the heart of the SAMsARA wines; the Pinot Noirs.  Pinot Noir is a notoriously tricky grape to grow well, particularly in California.  The grape has its home in Burgundy, France where the climate is cooler, rainier, and far less predictable.  This produces wines that are a balance of fresh red fruit and deep earth flavors. Too often in California the sun and heat overwhelm Pinot Noir and you’re left with wines that are unbalanced, with too high alcohol and overwhelming jammy fruit flavors.  It’s here, Matt has shown his skill with wine; producing a range of Pinot Noirs that showcase the unique California terroir without overwhelming the delicate nature of the grape. While still only using fruit from single vineyards, Matt is making several different barrels of wine with differing levels of whole cluster fermentation to produce wines that will later be used to create single vineyard “blends” that are complex and interesting.  

A major decision when producing red wines is whether and how much to de-stem; that is do you ferment the wines with the grapes still on the stems (whole cluster) or do you remove the stems prior to fermentation.  This decision depends a lot on the quality of the vintage. If the stems are green or unripe they will make a wine bitter and astringent, while if the stems are ripe they will add structure, tannin, and unique aromas that will add complexity to the wine.  We tasted through six different pinot noirs all with different levels of stem inclusion. This side by side comparison of the wines and different levels of whole cluster was a fascinating exercise and truly showed how much the winemaker’s hand contributes to the final product that nature started.  All the Pinots; Rancho La Vina, Las Hermanas, John Sebastiano Vineyard, Radian, Rio Vista, and Kessler Haak showed great intensity of fruit balanced by vibrant acidity and a firm tannin backbone. The barrels with more whole cluster fermentation showed an even stronger tannin profile, which will bring greater complexity and flavor to a final blend.  Matt, Dave, and Joan will spend hours creating the final blends to produce wines that are approachable yet complex. I don’t envy the task.

The tasting proceeded with two Grenache wines; one from the Larner Vineyard in Ballard Canyon and the other from Colson Canyon.  These wines both showed rich concentration of bright strawberry fruit coupled with notes of pepper and a savory balsamic finish. Grenache is a grape that loves the California sun and can sometimes generate too much sugar which in turn produces a highly alcoholic wine.  Although these wines were the last fruit to come into the winery (picked on November 14), their alcohol levels are moderate and well-integrated. These wines were two of my surprise favorites from the tasting and will likely become a staple in my house.

The final wines of the day were three Syrahs; Zotovich, Colson Canyon, and John Sebastiano Vineyard.  The Zotovich has always been my favorite wine of the entire SAMsARA portfolio and the 2018 does not disappoint; with big bold flavors of dark red fruits and warming spices.  The Colson Canyon, a new addition, is a close runner up with the same bold profile on the nose, but with a gentler more refreshing mouth feel. These are the same vineyards used by Tensley for their flagship Syrah, but SAMsARA picks earlier giving the wines more acidity and freshness.   These are wines that will stand up to big bold flavors; we enjoyed a bottle of the 2014 Zotovich Syrah with Lasagna the night before, and can be drunk now or aged for a more savory earthy profile down the road.

After a hard morning of tasting, we all sat down to a hearty lunch paired with their current release of Zotovich Chardonnay from 2017.  Joan, Dave, and Matt are creating a new style of wine in the Santa Barbara area; one where hand chosen plots of grapes are the stars. The breadth of grapes they have to work with and the creativity Matt shows in winemaking ensures we have years of beautiful wines to look forward to.


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