Santa Barbara County has made its most indelible mark on the wine industry with beautiful examples of cool-climate Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay, but that’s certainly not where the story ends. With an insanely long growing season, a variety of cool climate AVAs and sub-AVAs, and well draining, ancient marine soils, Santa Barbara is a winegrowing wonderland for more than just the “big three”. The depth and breadth of favorable conditions in our corner of the world makes our winemaking team eager to explore and innovate with lesser known varietals that can also communicate a sense of this special place.
Since we have historically focused on cool-climate expressions of Burgundian and Rhône varieties, specifically Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grenache and Syrah, we recently began to branch out and experimenting with other grapes from these and other proximate French regions. By working with less commonly farmed grapes, we get to look through a different lens on how microclimate, soil composition and geographic orientation play together in finished wines that are still distinctly “Santa Barbara”.
In 2019, we launched our “experimentals” program by producing a Carbonic Syrah and Viognier, both grapes originally from the Rhône Valley. Both varietals were sourced from Jorian Hill Vineyard, an organically farmed vineyard in the coolest reaches of Ballard Canyon.
If you’re not familiar with carbonic fermentation, it is a method that involves an anaerobic fermentation (without oxygen) completed by enzymes rather than yeasts in a sealed vessel and produces tutti-fruity, bubble-gummy, funky fruit aromas and flavors.
In 2020, we further expanded our program with Gamay fruit from Shokrian Vineyard and Clairette Blanche from Watch Hill Vineyard. Gamay is the grape of Beaujolais (to the South of Burgundy) but used to be widely planted in Burgundy.
Shokrian is a beautiful, organically farmed vineyard in Cat Canyon (formerly owned by the Melville Family and named Verna’s Vineyard) and was both a source of fruit for early Samsara wines and fruit Matt worked with at Jaffers from 2003-2012.
While planted largely to Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, the portion of the vineyard planted to Rhone varietals is increasing. The East/West orientation of Cat Canyon is similar to that of Santa Rita Hills to the South, with strong maritime influence and super sandy soils, perfect for farming of Rhone varietals and particularly Gamay.
Our 2020 Gamay was made using 20% whole cluster fruit at the bottom of the bin and 80% destemmed fruit on top with the intention of producing an exquisite balance between funky fruit and savory flavors. Using a bit less whole cluster fruit than is typical for SAMsARA wines, we took particular care to not over extract this wine. We did not do any pump overs or punchdows for 2 weeks then pressed the fruit and put the wine in the barrels. The resulting Gamay wine is delightfully flavorful, and full of character and complexity yet very light on its feet.
We are so excited about this Gamay that, before we even sold a single bottle, we decided we will absolutely make it again in 2021.
A relatively obscure varietal to most North American wine drinkers, Clairette Blanche is the second most important grape in Chateauneuf-du-Pape whites, bringing elevated acid and minerality even in warm climates.
The source of our Clairette Blanche fruit is the organically farmed Watch Hill Vineyard in the newly formed Alisos Canyon AVA. A stunning, relatively cool site close to the Hwy 101 with classic Santa Barbara soil composition, sand, loam, a little clay. The 2020 fruit sailed through the high heat events of the late Summer without breaking a sweat. Harvested early at 19 brix to preserve acidity, the fruit was a mesmerizing swirl of reddish, yellow, gold colors and a real pleasure to work with. Made just like SAMsARA Chardonnay, on the lees, in all neutral oak, and bottled unfiltered. We are so pleased with this experiment with Clairette Blanch, this is another wine we will absolutely make again next year.
Less well known varieties can also provide great value, as grapes are generally less expensive than more sought-after and delicate varieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Even being farmed to the highest standard, through these varietals we are able to provide SAMsARA wine lovers with fantastic value and interesting, diversified wine enjoyment experiences.
We are thrilled to introduce you to these new wines, made in very limited quantities so it’s a great time to try them and let us know what you think!