Think back to 2017 . . . Trump took office, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got engaged, and Bruno Mars took the Grammy awards by storm. But what was going on in the vineyards of Santa Barbara County? Miles and Matt sat down to discuss how a typical growing season zigged and then zagged across the finish line . . . .
Miles: Hi Matt. The 2017 wines are really coming into their own, all of which are now comfortably in the drinking window (See Vintage Chart). As these wines mature and we’re able to explore them more deeply, can you give us a bit of context as to what was going on in the vineyard during the 2017 growing season and harvest?
Matt: In 2017, right up until the Labor Day, it was the classic Santa Barbara growing season where we had a cooler summer, moderate temperatures, and balanced yield. It really was shaping up to be a classic vintage, and then we got to Labor Day and had a heatwave. These days you could argue Labor Day heat is part of the classic vintage because it happens more years than not. However, we also received a heathy dose of tropical moisture that came up from Baja, California, which is unusual.
The result was a crazy microburst storm event in Santa Barbara where we had hurricane conditions for a very brief period of time with tons of rain, tons of wind, trees being uprooted, etc. Those extreme conditions didn’t really impact the vineyards, but all that tropical moisture was very unsettling for the humans in the winery and in the field. Let’s just say . . . it was weird series of events.
Altogether, the conditions accelerated our harvest plan. In retrospect it was a very similar vintage to the 2022 harvest that came in two distinct phases. Chardonnay came in completely unscathed, just before the heatwave, making it an excellent vintage for chardonnay. Pinot Noir we got right as the heatwave was starting, which was the result of good planning and great vineyard partner relationships. And the Rhône varietals were unaffected, really slow and steady, with the last Rhône varietal picks coming in really late in the season. I’d have to look and see when we picked those, but I wanna say it was some of the latest picks that we’ve ever had, well into November.
Miles: Wow. It sounds like the winemaking team really threaded the needle there, considering what could have gone wrong!
Matt: Absolutely, the 2017 wines are really elegant and close to the old world style that inspires a lot of our winemaking. Savory, spicy, complex aromatics. Not herbal, but terroir-driven. An elegant and restrained vintage. Not over-extracted or powerfully fruity, or heavy. It’s one of the more balanced vintages that we’ve produced at SAMsARA.
That being said, the 2017 Pinot Noirs definitely have a core of fruit thanks to that little kiss of heat we got right at harvest.
For me, 2017 Rhône wines are real standouts. The Syrahs are super classic in style for us, very cool climate: spicy, savory, complex. Moderate alcohols and good acidity thanks to the cool growing season that we had, and then at the end of the season, we got really cold nighttime temperatures. Specifically, I remember we picked the 2017 Larner Vineyard Grenache pretty late in the season, and at the vineyard, the morning of the pick, the temperature was 36 degrees. Dave helped foot stomp the Larner fruit, smashing 36 degree grape clusters with his bare feet It was a unique experience for Dave and a fun memory for everyone watching his facial expressions!