The 2021 Vintage Growing Season – A Santa Barbara County Retrospective

The anticipation for the release of our 2021 wines is palpable. Head Winemaker Matt Brady shares insights into the unique growing season that shaped the vintage. The 2021 season was characterized by a cool and dry climate, resulting in a delayed bud break and a subsequently late harvest. Despite the challenges, we’re excited about the magical quality of the vintage.

Our discussion delves into the distinctive characteristics of key wines from the 2021 vintage, including the Radian Chardonnay, the Rancho La Viña Noir, the Spear Grenache, and Syrah from the John Sebastiano Vineyards. Brady emphasizes the benefits of the cool climate in Santa Rita Hills, providing extended hang time and promoting physiological ripeness. He details the unique attributes of each wine, highlighting flavors, structures, and the overall food-friendly nature of the 2021 collection.

INTERVIEW:

Miles Cotton: Hey Matt, it’s great to have you here to look at some of the complexities behind the 2021 vintage and growing season, anticipating the release of the first 2021 SAMsARA wines. Can you share some insights into what was happening in the vineyards?

Matt Brady: Sure, Miles. The 2021 vintage is particularly special to me, it had this magical essence throughout the growing season. It was a cool and dry year, with minimal rainfall—only five or six inches during winter and between 20 and 21 inches in the rainy season.

Matt Brady: Bud break was slightly delayed, influencing the ultimate timing of harvest. A late bud break typically translates to a delayed harvest, and in 2021, everything was a touch behind schedule. The summer, typically marked by an extreme Labor Day Heat Wave, took on a more moderate tone in 21. We experienced a civilized harvest, a winemaker’s dream, with the benefit of extended hang time—a characteristic of Santa Rita Hills’ cool climate and maritime influence.

Matt Brady: Not only does Santa Rita typically have a long growing season for Pinot and Chardonnay, but in 2021, the extra-long hang time allowed for exceptional physiological ripeness. This resulted in moderate sugar levels, big flavors, and high acidity—a perfect combination that excites any winemaker.

Miles Cotton: It sounds like everything fell into place seamlessly. Now, as we approach the release of the 2021 vintage wines, can you provide some highlights for key offerings like the Radian Chardonnay, the Rancho La Viña Pinot Noir, the Spear Grenache, and Syrah from the John Sebastiano Vineyards?

Matt Brady: The 2021 Radian Chardonnay stands out for its complexity. Being from an extremely cool climate vineyard, it poses challenges in farming but rewards us with low yields, big flavors, and distinctive character.

Matt Brady: Now, the Rancho La Viña Noir steals the spotlight as the showstopper of the vintage. With its weight, significant flavors, and extra concentration and depth this year, it remains remarkably elegant and bright. Moving on to the Spear Grenache, it’s an interesting wine pushing the limits in a cool climate region dominated by varietals like Pinot and Chardonnay. The 2021 Spear Grenache, organically farmed, offers a super elegant expression.

Matt Brady: Lastly, the John Sebastiano Syrah is noteworthy for their structure and focus, built for age-ability, showcasing the characteristics of the cool vintage. All these 2021 wines boast food-friendly acidity, a fundamental theme given the nature of the vintage.

Miles Cotton: Fascinating! Did you encounter any operational challenges during this cool vintage?

Matt Brady: We did, while the cool vintage brought the advantage of extra hang time, it also posed operational challenges. Lower yields, while beneficial for flavor concentration, brought about a simultaneous ripening of all fruits, presenting a bit of a logistical challenge during harvest.

Matt Brady: Interestingly, the slightly below-average yields, initially disappointing, turned out to be a blessing. With a heavier crop load, the challenge of ripening all the fruit simultaneously might have been more pronounced. As the weeks passed, we appreciated the balance, ensuring the fruit got ripe at the right time.

Matt Brady: Additionally, we introduced some new vineyards, working with Our Lady of Guadalupe for Pinot Noir, adding another layer of excitement to our 2021 offerings.

Miles Cotton: That’s intriguing. Is Dave Phinney, the owner of Our Lady of Guadalupe, actively involved?

Matt Brady: While I haven’t personally met Dave, I understand he occasionally visits the vineyard. The full-time vineyard manager, Amy, (a Gaucho like me) oversees day-to-day operations. Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its biodynamic practices and unique qualities, contributes to the richness and diversity of our 2021 wines.


Miles Cotton: Thanks for sharing these insights, Matt. It’s evident that the 2021 vintage has its unique story, making the anticipation for these wines even more exciting!