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WINE

A Tour of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto
updated: Mar 19, 2011, 9:30 AM

By Marc Liberts

Having grown up around Philadelphia and Los Angeles, when I hear the word ‘ghetto' I think of places where drive-by shootings happen and gangs roam. Luckily, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is no such place. Situated where Highway 1 meets Highway 246, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is a cluster of nondescript buildings arranged in a typical industrial park. A number of great local producers have been opening up tasting rooms there in earnest for the past few years, and my assistant mentor and I decided to take a drive out there to visit some of the new ones, and re-visit some of our past favorites. We left Santa Barbara on Highway 101, headed towards Santa Maria. After Gaviota, you'll see a sign for Highway 1 towards Lompoc. Highway 1 is a pretty and scenic drive that takes you about 20 miles straight into Lompoc. Once you hit Highway 246, you are basically there.

New Vineland Tasting Room

At the recommendation of my assistant mentor, we headed for the New Vineland Tasting Room. This spot features the wines of New Vineland and Piedrasassi. Wine tasting is $10.00 and includes 5 wines.

We started with the New Vineland Viognier 2008. It has a pleasant creamy nose with a very nice, soft mouth-feel, featuring tropical fruits. A nice local wine that I rated 88 points.

Next, we tried the New Vineland Syrah 2006. This Syrah is a blend of grapes from about 6 local vineyards. It has a quiet nose, and is soft, fruity and has a pleasant finish. I liked it, and rated it 87 points.

After that, we had the Piedrasassi 2005 California Syrah. This wine is a premium version of the previous wine. I found the nose to have very seductive berries present, and on the palate this wine has more finesse and traction than its cousin we tried before. It has a strong berry finish which I enjoyed, and rated it 89 points.

After that we tried the Piedrasassi 2007 "Rim Rock" Syrah, which is a small vineyard located outside of Nipomo. The "Rim Rock" has a very nice berry infused nose, with an unusual and interesting hit of black olives and spices on the palate. It is also produced from 100% whole clusters, which I usually like. I found the wine interesting and well made and rated it 90 points.

The last wine we tried was the Piedrasassi 2007 "Mr. Smith", which is 100% Syrah from the now-famous James Berry Vineyard in Paso Robles. "Mr. Smith" has a nose that is heavily perfumed with black cherries. On the palate, it is lush, delicious, and virtually exceptional. I loved this wine and rated it 93 points. I purchased it with the intention of sharing it with my friends at an up-coming Syrah dinner at Spiritland Bistro in Santa Barbara. I highly recommend this wine.

Overall, I enjoyed this stop very much, and recommend it as a stop in the Ghetto. I would recommend this as a conclusion to your wine tasting in this area, because the Syrah here is strong and persistent. Most of the other producers in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto specialize in Pinot Noir, which is lighter than Syrah.

Loring Wine Company

Our second stop was at one our favorites, Loring Wine Company. The standard tasting at Loring is $10.00 and includes 8 wines (2 Chardonnay and 6 Pinot Noirs).

We did the standard tasting and started with the 2009 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay - Santa Lucia Highlands. An oaked Chardonnay, this wine starts out with a soft fruity nose, and has pleasant oak and toasty fruit on the palate. I liked it, and rated it 88 points.

The second wine we tasted was the 2009 Keefer Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay. The Keefer Chardonnay is more acidic than the Sierra Mar, but has nice notes of orange peel and soft acorns. Another nice wine that I liked, and rated 89 points.

The third wine was the 2009 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir. It starts with a nose of big dried fruit, and the big fruit follows through to the palate. A little stemmy, we liked it and I rated it 88 points.

After that, we had the 2009 Keefer Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir - Russian River Valley. The Keefer has a nice nose with pretty perfume and sweet red fruits. On the palate, the red fruits shine through in a very nice and balanced way. A very pretty wine that we both enjoyed and I rated 92 points.

Next, we tried the 2009 Aubaine Vineyard Pinot Noir - San Luis Obispo County Pinot Noir. The Aubaine has a quiet and closed nose with juicy fruit like flavors on the palate. A fun wine that I rated 89 points.

After that, we tried the 2009 Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot Noir - Sta. Rita Hills. This wine has crushed rocks and saline on the nose, with nice fruit and bigger acid than the previous wines. A well balanced wine that we both enjoyed which I rated 91 points.

Next up was the 2009 Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir - Sta. Rita Hills. The Clos Pepe has an interesting nose, featuring pine needles and forest earth. On the palate it is very balanced with pretty strawberry and raspberry flavors. Ending with a strong finish, I liked it very much and rated it 92 points.

Finally, we ended with the 2009 Ranch La Vina Vineyard Pinot Noir - Sta. Rita Hills. Unlike the previous wines, this wine has caramel and jammy fruit on the nose. The jammy fruit flavors continue onto the palate with really nice balance and finesse. I enjoyed it and rated it 90 points. Overall, we liked all the Loring wines.

This is an excellent place to try 6 different, distinct, interesting, very well made Pinot Noirs and is a must stop if you visit the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.

Evening Land Vineyards

After Loring, we walked over to the Evening Land Vineyards tasting room. Hidden in the back of the Ghetto, this tasting room is not easy to find. However, my assistant mentor and I really wanted to try it because one of their wines, which we both tried and really liked, cracked the Wine Spectator top 100 last year. At Evening Land, the tasting fee is $10.00 and includes 5 wines - 2 Chardonnays and 3 Pinot Noirs. Evening Land has a subsidiary in France, as well as Oregon, so you get a nice world tour of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay growing regions.

We started with the 2009 Chardonnay - Bourgogne Blanc - Blue Label. This wine comes from the Burgundy region of France. It greets you with a very pretty nose that you would expect from Burgundy. On the palate it is slightly toasty and has a nice saline component to balance the pleasant fruit. I've had great wines from Burgundy that are slightly more enjoyable than this wine at 4-10 times the price. The wine is light in alcohol, would pair smartly with food, and I rated it 90 points.

The next wine we tried was their 2009 Chardonnay - Arroyo Grande Valley - Blue Label. This one has a typical oak and fruit nose and has a nice beam of bright fruit on the palate. Fruitier and less interesting than the previous wine, we liked it and rated it 88 points.

After that, we were a wine off the tasting list that was the 2009 Evening Land Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir - Oregon. It starts with a stemmy and fruity nose. On the palate, I got nice red fruits that were well balanced with the acid. A strong example of Oregon Pinot, I rated it 89 points.

Next up was the 2009 California Pinot Noir - Edna Valley/Sta. Rita Hills - Blue Label. This wine has an interesting dirty and cement dusty nose with nice fruit. On the palate, it is nicely balanced and fun to drink. I liked the blending of the plush fruit from Edna Valley with the acidity and salinity from the Sta. Rita Hills. A really nice Pinot Noir for $25.00, that I rated 90 points.

Next up was the 2008 Occidental Coast Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast - Silver Label. This wine has a pine needle and forest nose. On the palate, I got nice spice along with the pretty red fruits. This wine has great balance and is extremely interesting. We both loved it and I rated it 93 points. This is a serious Pinot Noir that you should try and buy if you like it.

Last, we tried the 2008 Sorcerer - California Red Wine. The Sorcerer is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Syrah, 10% Grenache, and 5% Petit Verdot. This wine starts with a dried cherry nose. It is interesting tasting and reminds me of some Rhone Valley wines I've had recently. For me, I found it too busy and hard to understand, and rated it 86 points. I will add that it is well made and nicely balanced. It is just too busy for me.

I really liked Evening Lands' wines and recommend this as a stop if you visit the Ghetto.

Zotovich Cellars

Our next stop was at Zotovich Cellars, which is a 4-minute walk through the industrial park parking area. Their wine tasting is $10.00 and includes a Chardonnay, Viognier, 2 Pinot Noirs, and one Syrah.

The first wine we had was the 2010 Zotovich Family Vineyards Viognier Estate - Sta. Rita Hills. This wine has a nice nose featuring tropical fruits. On the palate, it is soft and a bit flabby. I rated it 85 points.

The next wine we had was the 2007 Zotovich Family Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir Estate Sta. Rita Hills. It starts with a pleasant aroma of charcoal and oak along with pretty red fruit. On the palate, it is highly acidic and fruity. Overall, a nice wine that I rated 89 points.

After that we tried the 2008 Zotovich Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Sta. Rita Hills. The 2008 has a nice limestone and wet cement nose. On the palate, the wine is lush with sharp fruit flavors and a nice zing of acid. I thought it had better balance than the previous wine and rated it 90 points.

Next, we tried the 2008 Zotovich Family Vineyards Chardonnay Estate Sta. Rita Hills. This wine has nice fruit and saline on the nose. On the palate, it is also strongly acidic, but the nice salinity balances it all out. A nice wine that I rated 90 points.

The last wine we had was the 2008 Zotovich Family Vineyards Syrah Estate Sta. Rita Hills. This wine also has a fruity and wet cement nose to start. On the palate, it is also very acidic, but well balanced and elegant. A good wine that I liked and rated 88 points.

Zotovich does a very good job of expressing the terroir of the Sta. Rita Hills in that their wines accurately express the soil and growing conditions of the region. This tasting room is worth a visit to see what highly terroir driven wines from the Sta. Rita Hills taste like.

Samsara

Upon the recommendations of a number of the tasting room staff we talked to, our next stop was Samsara's tasting room. My assistant mentor had heard good things about Samsara as well, and he was looking forward to trying their wines.

We started with the 2010 Rose of Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills. I usually don't care for Rose, but I enjoyed this one very much. It was plush and not flabby. I rated it 88 points and can say it is one of my favorite Rose's that I've had in a year or two.

The next was the 2009 Samsara Pinot Noir - Sta. Rita Hills. The wine has a quiet nose. On the palate it is acidic and slightly saline. A nice wine overall that I rated 88 points.

Next was the 2007 Pinot Noir - Ampelos Vineyard. On the nose, I got something between sulfur, and spoiled hard-boiled eggs. I was hoping that this wouldn't follow through to the flavor profile, but unfortunately it did. I'm guessing that we had a bad bottle because this wine was solidly reviewed by a number of the best wine critics around. No rating.

After that, we tried the 2006 Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah - Mendocino County. This wine has a pleasant fruity nose, with decent fruit and balance on the palate. A nice wine that I rated 88 points.

Next, we tried the 2007 Syrah - Ampelos Vineyard - Sta. Rita Hills. On the nose, I got dark fruits and a bit of oak. On the palate, this wine has nice grip with powerful tannins. This wine was one of the strongest we had all day. I rated it 87 points.

Finally, we tried the 2008 Syrah - Melville Vineyard - Sta. Rita Hills. Unfortunately, the egg-y smell was present again in the nose. On the palate, the wine has nice spice, but I couldn't get past the egg-y aroma. No rating. Again, in its defense, this wine was very well rated by at least 3 major wine critics in the past. If you believe the critics like I do, you should be drawn to Samsara. However, based on the 2 flawed egg-y wines, I'm not so sure. Hopefully, we just hit a few bad bottles.

Palmina

Our last stop of the afternoon was at Palmina. Palmina is a favorite of many wine lovers in Santa Barbara, and I was looking forward to trying their wines. Their standard tasting fee is $10.00 and includes 2 whites and 3 reds.

Our first wine was off the list - the 2010 Tocai Friulano, Honea Vineyard. A light, refreshing, and acidic wine that would do nicely on a hot summer day or paired with food. I rated it 89 points.

Our second wine was also a treat from off the list - the 2010 Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County. It has a bright and fruity nose with plush fruit and good balance on the palate. I liked it and rated it 90 points.

After that, we ventured onto the standard list. Our third wine was the 2009 Tocai Friulano, Honea Vineyard. It has a faint citrus nose and that citrus follows through onto the palate. I thought it was just ok and rated it 85 points.

After that, we tried the 2009 Arneis, Honea Vineyard. I again got pleasant citrus on the nose. On the palate, there is citrus and some minerality. Overall, not a favorite of mine, and I rated it 86 points.

Next we tried the 2009 Dolcetto, Santa Barbara County. On the nose, I got some decent stone fruit aromas. On the palate, I found it to be light and pleasant, but not terribly interesting. I think it would pair well with pizza and any pasta with red sauce, I rated it 86 points.

After that, we tried the 2006 Nebbiolo, Santa Barbara County. It has a decent berry nose to start. On the palate, I found it somewhat flabby and boring. This is another wine that would pair well with red-sauced Italian foods. I rated it 84 points.

Next, we tried the 2008 Lagrein, Honea Vineyard. It has an interesting nose featuring complex aromas of petroleum and dark chocolate. On the palate, it has nice grip and good strength. An interesting wine overall, I rated it 87 points.

Last, we were treated to the 2005 Nebbiolo, Sisquoc Vineyard. It also has an interesting and complex nose featuring fruit and limestone. Far more complex and better balanced than the previous wine, I liked it very much and rated it 90 points.

Overall, Palmina's wines are all well made. If you want to venture off the beaten path and try some Italian varietals that are food friendly, this is a good stop. Plus, the tasting room is nice and the staff was friendly and fun.

FIRST PLACE OVERALL AND FAVORITE WINE OF THE DAY:

Piedrasassi 2007 "Mr. Smith", which is 100% Syrah from the now famous James Berry Vineyard in Paso Robles. "Mr. Smith" has a nose that is heavily perfumed with black cherries. On the palate, it is lush, delicious, and virtually exceptional. I loved this wine and rated it 93 points.

SECOND PLACE OVERALL AND HONORABLE MENTION:

2008 Evening Land Occidental Coast Pinot Noir - Sonoma Coast - Silver Label. This wine has a pine needle and forest nose. On the palate, I got nice spice along with the pretty red fruits. This wine has great balance and is extremely interesting. We both loved it and I rated it 93 points.

THIRD PLACE OVERALL AND WELL WORTH OWNING:

2009 Loring Wine Company Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot Noir - Sta. Rita Hills. The Clos Pepe has an interesting nose featuring pine needles and forest earth. On the palate it is very balanced with pretty strawberry and raspberry flavors. Ending with a strong finish, I liked it very much and rated it 92 points.

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