I’ve already written up the Grenache based wines I tasted during my time in Santa Barbara, they can be found here: Grenache - The Next Pinot Noir?  so today I am focusing on most of the remaining wines that I tasted while in the region. I’ll save the few Pinots I Tasted for a Pinot round-up, which might surprise some folks. You see I went to Santa Barbara not to seek out their Pinots, but rather to take a look at what’s going on with the Rhone varieties in the region. I get to taste plenty of Pinot, but finding out what’s happening with some other less sought after, and thus less promoted wines can be a challenge; as can just finding some of the wines from small and/or up and coming producers.

Well, I’m glad I made the effort, seeing as I found great wines from producers familiar and new. It was a short list of visits but with a fantastic variety of styles, philosophies, and expressions of Santa Barbara fruit coming from:
Tercero Wines
Qupe Wines
Harrison Clarke
Zaca Mesa
Martian Ranch
Stolpman Vineyards
Before we dive right into the wines and wineries it’s worth spending a moment talking about Santa Barbara in more general terms. This is a fascinating region that really is just begin to find it’s footing. With a tremendous variety of soils , expositions, and altitudes working in their favor, the winemakers here have been able to produce some very impressive wines that range from Nebbiolo to Pinot Noir, the Rhone varieties to Chardonnay. I believe that the region will eventually be known mostly for the Rhone varieties, not because their Pinots don’t measure up, but rather because I’m not sure there are many better places to grow Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre in California than in the eastern portions of the county, regions like Ballard Canyon and the Santa Ynez Valley.
Of course there are obstacles in the way, chief among them may be water which could stop any agricultural industry dead in its tracks; and to be sure water looms as a big problem in the region, but assuming the best the wines of the region are poised to become more widely distributed and that can only be good for consumers. Granted the sample size of wineries visited during my time in the region is modest, but I tried to select a representative selection that included the old guard as well as the new school. I believe to a large extent I succeeded on that front. The mere ability to find such a broad cross section of winemaking styles in such a small and modest region is heartening in and of itself. This is a wine region that has yet to completely find itself, yet to stake out it’s turf, and yet to take itself too seriously. In short it’s a fun and exciting region to visit.
And about visiting, they could use a few more restaurants perhaps, or I just missed the good ones, and the same may hold for accommodations, though on that account I am fairly easy to satisfy, but what they do seem to have is spectacular weather and beautiful scenery. It’s absolutely worth visiting the region. The wineries all seem genuinely happy to see visitors, you are uniformly greeted with a smile, and the weather is as ideal for vacationing as it is for growing grapes! I visited in late July and enjoyed brisk evening temperatures and daytime highs in the low 80s, which I have been told is pretty typical though it gets notably cooler as you make your way to the coast.

Now on to the wineries!


I met with Larry Schaffer in his Los Olivos tasting room, though we certainly knew about each other through various social media channels and wine boards that we’ve both participated in over the years. Larry is an east coast transplant, living the dream in Santa Barbara, producing wines since the 2006 vintage. Larry’s dream, as it so happens is to produce “Artistic Rhône Red & White Wines” as he states on his website, and as we all known artists tend to be a funny crowd.

With six vintages under his belt Larry is beginning to find his groove, though the continued experimentation going on at Tercero certainly is evidence that the artist here is still in residence. The wines I tasted here were uniformly quite good, yet often in a different mold than one typically encounters in the region and with a bit less consistency from vintage to vintage as Larry continues to make adjustments for vintage variation and to really hone in on his style. I believe the next several vintages will prove pivotal for tercero wines and we’ll see some truly great if unusual wines coming out of the cellars here. I think the 2012 Dry Gewurztraminer might be a harbinger of things to come!

2011 Tercero Grenache Blanc 13.5%


Dusty fruit cores, a little lanolin, lovely spice notes, and a little almond come together on the nose. In the mouth this is very clean and fresh with an edge of roundness up front, followed by nice acidity supporting  green pear on the mid palate followed by a  bit of citrus pith. Very nice clean and refreshing in the mouth and showing good length with just a suggestion of sweetness to the fruit, very drinkable, little bitter apple cor notes on the finish. Shows just a hint of cheesiness on the nose 88pts

2010 Tercero Viognier 14.1%

White hawk 100% sand, half in Stainless, half in neutral wood

First viognier

Stemmy on the nose and  lightly smoky with notes of  roasted coffee beans, a dusty floral tone, a hint of almost tomato leaf. This shows a very bright entry with nice mid palate richness but this remains bright and fresh with flavors that hint at quince, floral, and Iightly at honeycomb. The long finish shows a bit of white tea, steeped tea character, and has just a bit of polyphenolic bitterness. Pretty elegant viognier. 89pts

2012 Tercero The Outlier Dry Gewurztraminer 12.5%



Lovely nose with  aromatics firmly in the floral, woodsy vein, with deep apricot and honeysuckle base notes with a fine lemon blossom top note. Slippery in the mouth, nice acids, juicy and fine with a lovely bright, crisp character, this has wonderful depth, super fine balance, and a lovely hint of underlying bitterness adding to the depth on the palate. 90pts

2012 Tercero Mourvedre Rose 13.5%


A little leather, floral, red flowers, meaty, raw meat, bright and raw, nice edge of leading sweetness with a bit of a caroby/date sweetness to the lightly spicy red fruit, clean, bright high acid mouthfeel with some subtlty on the palate a nice dusty finish, tart red fruit finish. 87pts

2009 Tercero Cuvée Christine 14.5%

In neutral oak for 42 months

65% Grenache, 15% mourvedre, 10% syrah, 10% petite sirah

Spicy, tarry and deep on the nose with a black cherry component, a little camphor, mineral and smoky limestone notes. In the mouth this is  relatively light bodied, showing lovely freshness and depth of clear fruit shows nice complexity with sour cherry, wild strawberry and mineral notes, framing notes shows a hint of spice, dried rose petal and herb stem. There’s nice tannin structure on the finish that is supportive but integrated adding a nice tea aspect with spicy mineral notes on the fairly long finish which does show a suggestion of heat 89pts

2009 Tercero Syrah Thompson 14.5%

100% whole cluster, aged in 30 months in neutral

Smoky and gamy on the nose with a charcoal mineral aspect and lots of lovely herbal top notes. This is quite clear texturally with a base layer of tannins under bright wild blackberry fruit and  black plum skins though big tannins do build on the finish. Tough and tightly knit, smells like Santa Cruz, a bit earthy, deep and complex. The finish is long as this sort of clings to the mouth with chewy little tannins anchoring savory  but not sweet fruit. A lot of wine showing freshness and complexity, it will be interesting to see where this goes. 90pts

2010 Tercero Mourvedre 14.5%

Half Camp Four half Learner

30 months in neutral wood, bottled in April

Lightly leathery on the nose then smoky meaty and  high toned with herb stems camphor, and a hint of fennel, licorice. A touch lighter than expected on entry with a nice texture that brings together fine grained, ripe tannins and  good acids. There’s some vivid red fruit here and  a bit of dried herb, dried tarragon with plenty of acid on the long finish which has a bit of a chocolaty aspect to it. 91pts


I only tasted the Verdad Rose in the Qupe Los Olivos tasting room but it is worth including here seeing as (a) I tasted it and (b) it comes from the Sawyer Lindquist vineyard, which supplies Qupe with additional excellent raw materials, and (c) Louisa Sawyer Lindquist and Bob Lindquist share more than a tasting room.

Qupe was one of my earliest introductions to Santa Barbara Syrah, with their 1990 Bien Nacido Vineyard. It was a bit of a game changer back in the day, at least for me, but as so often happens the pioneers of a region tend to receive less attention as that region devops. Sometimes it’s because the wineries get lazy and the wine’s quality is not maintained but more often than not the wine media, ever in search of a story, simply moves on. I mean how many years in a row do you want to hear about the same pioneer?

I do remember being somewhat underwhelmed with some Qupe wines in the mid 1990s as the winery underwent some growing pains, but the selection of wines I tasted on this visit, which were focused in the value range of under $35, displayed a lovely diversity of expression that certainly helps to promote and showcase the diversity of terroir Qupe draws from. It’s a broad range of wines and as one might expect there were highs and lows but the 2012 Qupe Viognier Sawyer Lindquist and the 2010 Qupe Syrah Alisos Vineyard were as convincing as anything I tried on this trip.

2012 Verdad Rose of Grenache $18


Very fruity nose with strawberries and cherries, bright acids and a little bit bit sweet on the palate with lots of lively strawberry fruit, long bright finish, very refreshing with a sweetness to the fruit, zesty. 87pts

2012  Qupe Bien Nacido Cuvée $20

67% viognier, 33% Chardonnay

Big floral nose, spicy polleny , mandarin orange, and just a hint of dusty gravel with a promise of polyphenols on the palate, A little bit of sweetness adds some roundness and reinforces the slIghtly oily texture here, a bit chewy on the midpalate with rich  floral and honeycomb flavors and nice minerality emerging on the finish along with a lingering note of bitterness and hints of smoked almond. 88pts

2012 Qupe Viognier Sawyer Lindquist  $35


Toasty oats and heathery on the nose with fine lime and kumquat notes topped with honeysuckle and mineral notes. Rather light and fresh on entry with a nice  bit of richness to the midpalate which shows a lovely hint of grippy astringency along with  apricot and honey/lime flavors that turn a bit more minerally and more citrusy on the long finish. This really shows nice poise and focus, in a slightly slightly smaller scale than one typically finds with Viognier. 91pts

2011 Qupe Maxtap Cuvée $25

64% syrah, 18% Grenache, 15% tempranillo, 3% mourvedre


Lightly aromatic, with a bit of cracked pepper and lingonberry over astringent red fruit on the nose with a bit of strawberry ice cream and a hint of mint as a top note. A bit loosely knit and fruit forward in a round yet transparent style that shows lots of wild berry, gamy fruit with a hint of dark plum and  hoisin on the backend. The finish is a bit short and a touch sweet fruity though with some refreshing acids and some dull little tannins that are both ultimately over-run by the sweet fruit. Simple and a bit fruit bomby. 84pts

2010 Qupe Maxtap Cuvée $25

72% syrah, 14% Grenache, 13% tempranillo, 1% mourvedre

Smoky,  earthy, and sort of ashy aromas top roast meaty fruits. Opening with some bright acids this has a nice lively feel and lacks some of the sweet candied fruit of the 2011. There’s a nice gamy edge to the harder, drier blackberry fruit candy on the palate with fairly nice cut and mineral notes on the tobacco laced finish that shows nice tangy syrah fruit with fine grained dry tannins. 87pts

2010 Qupe Los Olivos Cuvée $25


47% syrah, 29% mourvedre, 24% Grenache

Rather herb driven and meaty with grilled beef aromas topped by gentle floral notes, cracked pepper, and wild strawberry fruit on the nose.  Smooth and fairly polished In a medium bodied easy to drink style, the Maxtap is a bit rustic in comparison. There’s a big core of juicy red fruit very strawberry toned then backed up with flashes of almost bitter black fruit. With good length on the finish this is very easy to drink with some subtle complexity and a lovely core of wild cherry fruit on the midpalate that segues into something a bit more chocolaty on the moderately long finish. 88pts

2010 Qupe Syrah Sawyer Lindquist Edna Valley $35



A bit ashy and rich with cool climate smoky, bacon and black olivey aromatics on the nose with lots of dried herb nuance over jammy plum and blueberry fruit. Round on the palate yet a touch thin up front turning aromatic and a bit fleshy in the mouth with lots of blueberry, boysenberry and clear lingonberry fruit that shows a hint of white pepper, finishing with a bit of sticky weight and some nice roof of the mouth tannins, this is nicely structured and decidedly varietal. 89pts

2010 Qupe Syrah Bien Nacido $25


Lovely nose, faintly animal, olive, gamy, leathery, and spicy with hints of green peppercorn on the nose.  Somewhat light and elegant up front then picking up a faint edge of sweetness with just a hint of ashiness. This has a lovely texture with fine grained tannins, poppy seed accents to the slightly gamy bright red raspberry and loganberry fruit,and a very clean and fresh finish with small angular tannins. This is a lovely bistro styled syrah, it's just a little short at this point, but offers a superb blend of drinkability, variety character and subtle complexity in this style. 88pts

2010 Qupe Syrah Purisima Mountain $35


Dark oily spice aromas on the nose with some light smoky undertones and fine black fruit that shows some blueberry tones all come together nicely if a bit mysteriously. Showing nice tension on entry this delivers rather precise if rather ripe red and black fruit flavors with a nice salty tone and a clay mineral element on the palate. The dark fruit builds on the moderately long finish which shows a hint of caramel and vanilla sweetness. This is earthy and somewhat muscular but the finish leaves just a little to be desired. 89pts

2010 Qupe Syrah Alisos Vineyard $35


Gorgeous nose is narrow and focused with some dried meat, spiced cherries, raw beef, fine herbal notes that recall bitter greens with an underlying wood sweetness, and a hint of black olive. Polished yet transparent with a fair amount of powdery tannins and solid acidity supporting nicely red fruit flavors on the midpalate and really nice mineral base notes. The finish is pretty short, but this has everything in balance to improve, peppery tones grace the finish, young but with promise. 91pts

Harrison Clarke

Harrison Clarke is a tiny operation high up in Ballard canyon. With just a few acres of vineyards overlooking Beckman's Purisima mountain estate they are well positioned to be producing some compelling, handcrafted wines. Add in the fact that the vineyard sits on a limestone outcropping and the big picture gets even more compelling.

Another youngster, producing wines only for a decade and specializing in estate grown Grenache and Syrah, with some Viognier and Mourvedre thrown in for good measure, this was my first tasting with winemaker Hilarie Clark and her Husband Roger. It’s a visit worth making, both to see the wonderfully positioned vineyard and it’s interesting geology as well as to meet with Hilarie who is happy to discuss the developments at Harrison Clarke be they natural yeast fermentations, stem inclusion, or any of the details that is making their wines so unique and compelling.

I really found these wines to be very attractive, finely blending the ripeness one will get in sunny California with some of the nervus energy and savory complexity one sees in the Northern Rhone. As with many producers in the region it seems as though the wines are improving vintage to vintage and Harrison Clarke is no exception. Tasting Syrah from barrel I was really struck by the beauty of these two wines: the 2012 Whole Cluster Syrah offers up ripe fruit without sweetness, precise and super fresh it just lacks some length today. The 2012 Syrah is just incredibly pure, ripe fruit, too young to see where this goes but it could be a wow wine. The 2011 Syrah is rather mineral and very spicy with great balance in the mouth and length on the palate. A winery to watch!

2010 Harrison Clarke Cuvée Charlotte Syrah $55


Wow nose with simply huge aromatics of dry dusty soil, blackberries, raspberries and a lovely framing note of baking spice. This lacks some of the savory notes I’m looking for but is a  big and a bit chewy mouthful of Syrah with gorgeous happy fruit. I’d like to see this in another year. 93pts

2009 Harrison Clarke Syrah Estate 13.6% $32


Mean and assertive on the nose with layers of black pepper,  grilled meats, roasted herbs, soil and mineral notes. In the mouth this is tight, rich and powerful but not weighty with juicy acids and really fine grained tannins supporting savory framed dark berry and plum fruit framed with spicy black pepper and herbs on the backend leading to a moderately long, tangy slightly jammy blackberry rich finish. With fine mineral cut on the midpalate, a lovely inner mouth perfume of violets, and salted plum fruit on the finale this is an engaging wine. 92pts

2009 Harrison Clarke Cuvée Charlotte 15.2% $55


In barrel 23 months

This offers up a simply classic syrah nose rich with  inky black pepper, leather, teriyaki, black plum, and lightly minty aromas. On entry theres a tight mineral note followed by a rich, round wine with angular tannins filling out the palate. The wine pops with lovely inner mouth perfumes, blackberrying pie filling, a bit creamy, baking spices and cracked black pepper all come together in a balanced and layered way on the palate leading to a long elegant finish. For a big wine, this has fabulous clarity, freshness and depth on the palate. 93pts

Zaca Mesa

The first Santa Barbara wine I can recall trying was the 1979 Zaca Mesa Pinot Noir, which was good enough for me to repurchase and in fact I probably have one very tired bottle of this wine left in my cellar. Since those days Zaca Mesa has refocused on Rhone varietals, and in fact has the oldest Syrah vineyard in the county at their Black Bear site. 3 1/2 acres of own-rooted Syrah planted in 1978, making it also the first Syrah vineyard in the county.

Their refocusing might account for some of the momentum Zaca Mesa may have lost in the media over the years but one thing always strikes me when I try their wines; they are always good. In fact they have always been good, and affordable, and I don’t understand why we don’t see more of them. These tend not to be fancy wines, but rather wines for wine drinkers and at that they succeed very well. There are a few higher priced wines for the geeks out there, like the high end Syrahs, which with the Reserve and Black Bear bottlings can pretty much compete with any examples at their price points. But Zaca Mesa is not really about the high end, they remain a great winery catering to the wine loving community in general and have a beautiful facility that welcomes all visitors.

Looking back through my notes as I write this I am struck by the high quality of these wines all across the board. Bravo Zaca Mesa!

2012 Zaca Mesa Estate Z  Gris 13.5% $16


All SS

At most 2% previous vintage mourvedre

A little spicy and floral on the nose with cherry, strawberry and a touch of rhubarb aromas and something bit flinty dusty. Fairly bright on the palate with just a suggestion of creaminess to the strawberry and guava flavors that show a hint of spice, some fine powdery tannins, and a hint of lemon pith and passion fruit on the backend and through the moderately long finish. Just enough sugar to show but with fine acid balance. Juicy, fresh and fun. 89pts

2010 Zaca Mesa Estate Viognier 14.5% $16


Three months in neutral wood, began in SS, no ml,

Huge exotic lychee and mango nose with some dusty base notes and peach pit aromas. Big and rather mouth filling with fine supporting acids, this delivers rather rich, luscious apricot and melon flavors that are powerful and surprisingly bright, then finishes with great clarity on the palate and fantastic tangerine laced peach pit, mineral and melon flavors. Lovely viognier that avoids the pitfalls of many. 91pts

2010 Zaca Mesa Chardonnay Estate 13.5% $16


Rather ripe and with barrel fermenty sweetness with white floral leesy notes a hint of flint over apple, mango and pear fruit. With a nice little mineral note early on the palate then this opens up nicely, broad yet transparent with integrated acidity, fairly tense but not bright, finishing with a gently rolling bit of soft wood influence over tart apple and slightly mango fruit. The finish has cleansing energy, oak on the nose is present but very subtle and integrated in the mouth. A bit tropical but nicely proportioned. 88pts

2009 Zaca Mesa Grenache Blanc Estate 14.5% $25


Earthy and perfumed with lots of floral, balsamic aromas on the  oily nose which shows raw wood terpene notes.Rich,  powerful, tight and youthful in the mouth showing early notes of raw nut meats, butchers wax and a little lemon and peach fruit with a hint of vanilla. This is powerful yet focused, tight long and mineral with acid, a hint of vanilla cream on the midpalate, with lots of pear fruit from the midpalate on through the moderately long finish. 91pts

2010 Zaca Mesa Z Blanc 14.5% $20

47% roussanne, 47% grenache blanc, 6% viognier

Barrel aged separately, the blended and aged 7 months

A beautiful nose that is floral, lightly smoky, and rich with the aromas of nut meats, apricot, mango, and melon. Bright and clear on entry with a lovely texture that shows a nuanced richness surrounding vibrant fresh fruit that's light and precise. This gains some depth and oaky complexity on the backend, finishing with fine minerality and impressive length. Super fun and delicious. 90pts

2009 Zaca Mesa Roussanne 14.5% $25


Smoky oak laced nose with a smoked meat, prosciutto aroma over dark, slightly dried tart, astringent fruit. While a bit soft on entry, this turns broad and round in the mouth with a creamy if clear midpalate. The oak adds plenty of spice to the midpalate and the backend, which is a little short with a hint of burnt orange rind. This is  soft, creamy and accessible. 85pts

2010 Zaca Mesa Mourvedre 13% $35

18 months in oak, 25% new

Rather oaky and noticeably raw at that with light toast, vanilla laced black currant and tarry dried meat aromas. Bright and crisp on entry, this is thoroughly medium bodied  with lovely, lively, meaty, berry flavors that show a touch of tar and dried plum fruits. Cool, crisp and lightly mineral on the palate this turns dusty and chalky on the long finish that ends with a blip of raspberry juice. Elegant and nuanced Mourvedre with very fine tannins and great acidity. 91pts

2009 Zaca Mesa Z Cuvée 14.5% $ 20

53% Grenache, 39% Mourvedre, 8% Syrah

A bit of raw oak marks this smoky and slightly balsamic nose with a bit of mourvedre beef jerky and dried beef, lots of violet, lots of wild blackberry and a hint of plum fruit. Bright yet powerful on entry with mouthwatering acidity and a nice base of supple if dry tannins, give clarity to the peach, raspberry, and wild cherry fruit on the midpalate with just a hint of strawberry. This shows hints of a little finesse and elegance, in a lovely red fruited blend. 87pts

2008 Zaca Mesa Z Three 14.5% $42

51% syrah, 37% mourvedre, 12% Grenache

Toasted nut, present but well balanced oak, hints of black olives and black pepper framing smoky dried meat and wild black plum and berry fruit flood the nose. This is aromatic. . Smooth, rich and powerful on entry, with a mouthfeel supported by fine grained if slightly dry and wood derived tannins and integrated acids. This  retains good clarity on the palate, a nice spicy tone on entry then fine wild cherry fruit with raspberry and plum accents. With a bit of air this develops tons of beef jerky on the nose and develops a long finish laced with sweet spices and palate cleansing astringency. Complex and deep. 91pts

2009 Zaca Mesa Syrah Estate 14.5% $25

40% new oak, 18 months

1% viognier cofermented

Rather ripe on the nose, then smoky and dark with some caramel notes framing a bit of honeysuckle While not as powerful on entry as the nose suggest, this is rich and  rather well balanced with decisive cut to the palate’s wild cherry, black pepper, dried meat and bergamot tea flavors. There is a fine blend of tension and intensity here with lots of fruit on the long finish. This is really nicely done, balanced, nuanced with gentle stemmy spice notes, and hints of tar and spice. 89pts

2010 Zaca Mesa Eight Barrel Syrah 14.5% $42


Tight on the nose nose with a funky blend of soil, oak, and savory Syrah fruit rich in white pepper, dark fruit, and hints of truffle and pencil lead. Elegant if just a bit on the soft side in the mouth with lots of fine grained sweet tannins supporting a big gamy midpalate that shows hints of pepper and spice in a rather integrated and supple style. There’s lots of  red fruit here, especially on the backend which shows currant and cranberry flavors leading to the long finish with plenty of fine grained fruit tannin. This offers up a super blend of power and richness, though it is a touch soft. 89pts

2009 Zaca Mesa Syrah Mesa Reserve 14.5% $44

21 months 80% new

Dark with nutty oak top notes and bitter chocolate shavings framed wild blackberry and grilled meaty fruits on the nose. Texturally this is worlds above the Eight Barrel with  superb clarity on the palate with just a hint of either youthful or wood induced sweetness. Layers of slightly gamy blackberry and black plum fruits with a real freshness to them cover oak notes that are superbly well integrated showing up on the backend with pencil shavings and rich black pepper notes leading to a long powerful, wild raspberry and peach skin rich finish. The tannins are finely ripe but build nicely on the finish. 92pts

2009 Zaca Mesa Syrah Black Bear Vineyard 14.5% $60


Funky and rich on the nose, gamier and more savory than the Mesa Reserva Syrah with a nice black olive aspect and fine briar and smoky overlay. In the mouth this shows impeccable balance, super clarity, and excellent ripeness of fruit. Earthy, gamy and deep with a soft truffle and black pepper overlay to the black cherry and wild raspberry fruit, the tannins here are fine grained and tightly packed adding some volume to the elegant mouthfeel and leading to a clear if very slightly earthy, bitter chocolate and thyme laced finish which is long and clear. This has a great sense of ripeness without a hint of over ripeness. 94pts

Martian Ranch Winery and Vineyards

And now for something completely different. I did not expect this: Martian Ranch Winery and Vineyards certain live up to their billing. You have to expect the unexpected when visiting, and what refreshing unexpected it was. This is a winery producing wines for wine drinkers and very much in the European model.  After arriving woefully late winemaker Michael Roth was kind enough to spend hours with me going through their fancifully named portfolio, and tasting all sorts of wines from cask.

This is the land of biodynamics, natural yeast fermentations, foudres, neutral wood, stem inclusion, experiments with carbonic maceration and unsulfured bottlings. Did I miss anything? I don’t think I did but that should be enough to give you the big picture, oh and the wines are pretty much line-priced with the whites selling for $22 a bottle and the reds for $24. What? Who does that? Strange people making offbeat wines, that’s who.

Now let me tell you I wasn’t impressed with the power, extraction, or richness of any of these wines, and that’s where wine criticism can fall down these days. That’s what earns the high scores, so wines like these, subtle, fresh, and above all begging to be drunk tend to be overlooked. I thought this was the most interesting portfolio I tried while in the region, and I wasn’t really able to take notes on all the barrel samples Mike shared with me but the bottom line here is that Mike and Martian Wines are not producing cookie cutter wines, are not afraid of making, and sharing their mistakes, and are succeeding in making wines far more influenced by Europe’s artisanal winemakers than anything one typical sees on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps the closest parallel stateside is New York’s Channing Daughters winery, whose wines I also admire and enjoy. keep it up guys, you’re doing something special!

2012 Martian Ranch Albarino Uforic $22


Foudre  some neutral

Big apricot note on the nose with mineral spice and white floral aromas adding complexity. This is bright on entry with big mineral notes lending a dusty and spicy early impression that morphs into something more fruit driven and attractively sweet/tart on the palate. There’s vibrancy and plenty of ripe fruit here but it does relent to the mineral base note which drives the moderately long finish. 87pts


2012 Martian Ranch Mother Ship Grenache Blanc 13% $22


All done in foudre

A little neutral on the nose with some white almond and green orange peel aromas. Perhaps a little unctuous in the mouth, with air this does show a  really lovely texture that blends richness and minerality with lots of tactile length. here, Youthful and nervous this shows a bit of concentration to the  core of citrus edged green apple fruit which drives through the lively finish. Perhaps a touch simple, this is fun to drink. 88pts

2012 Martian Ranch Viognier 13.4% $22

100% malo

Fresh and bright on the nose with honeysuckle and green lime marmalade aromas. While very supple feeling this remains bright with good acidity lending some detail to the  round and opulent mouthfeel. Orange fruit with peach skin flavors dominate the palate picking up just a touch of bitterness on the long finish. This is just lovely, fresh and precise in the mouth. 89pts

2011 Martian Ranch Mothership Grenache Blanc 13.6% $22


Big almond and lemon verbena aromas greet the nose with hints of lemongrass and quartz adding complexity.  This opens with fine acidity supporting flavors that have a subtle meaty edge to them little. Texturally this is bright, clear and moderately tense with a hint of white peach accenting the core of orange toned fruit. While I may prefer this to drink today the 2012 probably has better potential. 88pts

2012 Martian Ranch Down to Earth Rose 13%

59% Grenache, 41% Tempranillo, full malo, 2.5 rs

Under flor rose

Nutty, waxy, and sweet with a gummy yellow cherry tone and a little play doh on the nose.  Polished on entry and surprisingly not fruity but rather quite nutty and savory with a fine base of, earthy and just a fine gloss of fruit that is subtle and with a lovely raspberry spice tone which drive the long finish. Definitely not what you might be expecting from a rose but a lovely, complex example. 90pts

2011 Martian Ranch Parallax Mourvedre Unsulfured 12.9% $24


A bit sweetly fruited on the nose with lots of licorice, dried meat, with a fine herbal background note. Bright and vivid in the mouth with terrific purity of fruit. The flavors of dark plums and blueberries are really fresh with a nice leather base note and a wonderful faint candied edge to the whole thing. This is supremely fresh and pure and lively with tremendous length, an exciting wine to drink, really alive in the mouth. 91pts

2011 Martian Ranch Red Shift Syrah $24

4.5% viognier

Spicy and red fruited nose with nuances of cinnamon, a fresh herbal stemmy underlay, and some deep olive juice aromatics, green olives at that. On entry this is very light with very ripe tannins lending a softness here. The palate shows attractive flavors of olives, a little meatiness, and some dark berry fruit with a long mineral laced finish. A bit of air coaxes out surprisingly vivid inner mouth perfumes and helps to bring the fruit into focus lending a deep black cherry tone to the  finish. A love the savory qualities here and this should really come into balance with a year in bottle. 89pts

2011 Martian Ranch Dark Matter Syrah 13.9% $24

100% stems

Olives, stems, smoke,leather, grilled meats, and cracked pepper all come together on a beautiful nose that also has a certain quality that recalls used car parts, or the storage corner of a car shop. It’s weird but attractive in a savory, tough way. A bit weighty on the palate with more richness than the other Martian Ranch red wines though this remains lovely with fruit that is a bit chunky but spicy, light and clear with a moderately long, bracing finish that offers up tart fruit topped with that lovely savory aromatic display. Too young and without a track record it’s tough to see where this goes but my gut says someplace I want to be. 91pts

2011 Martian Ranch Gravitas Tempranillo 14.1% $24

25% new, then second, third and fourth passage barrels.

A bit smoky on the nose with nuanced tobacco notes accenting a core of licorice topped blackberry fruit all framed by toasty wood spice. Rather, big and spicy in the mouth, this shows lovely ripe, sweet, black fruit, bright and tense, and rather transparent picking up a bit of root beer and brambly spice on the long and perhaps slightly extracted finish.  88pts


If you want a contrast to Martian Wines Stolpman would be it. Pioneers in the region who planted the second vineyard in Ballard Canyon, from which they source all their fruit, and first producing wine in 1994, Stolpman sort of created the rich, dense powerful style that the region was originally known for. Surprisingly there are some similarities between Stolpman and Martian Ranch; there is an effort here to farm organically, though not biodynamically, puncheons are replacing barriques lessening the influence of wood on the wines, and fermentations are almost all native yeast at this point, but the results could not be more different.

These are wines that remain rich and powerful, and that might be due in some part to the vineyard which is planted in clay/shale topsoil that rests above heavy sandstone and limestone that sits some three feet under the surface. Add in the fact that the older vines here are not irrigated and you can see how one might end up with some small berried, concentrated fruit, which in turn provides the concentration and power that Stolpman is known for.

Having said all that, the wines here at Stolpman are certainly impressive, with lots of power and richness and chewy, but they are also well balanced and supple. They are made in a style that has an avid audience, and for the most part they exhibit well judged use of wood and are well structured given their weight. These are not wines that will appeal to all palates, but that is in part the beauty of what’s going on in Santa Barbara. There is diversity, allowing myriad wines styles to flourish. I hope Stolpman doesn’t change too much, they have wines deeply rooted in the history of the region and show the potential of Ballard Canyon’s fruit in a distinct and attractive style.

2012 Stolpman Rose, 13%


second or third time doing it, 2012 was a high yielding vintage, 60 Grenache, 40% Sangiovese, three day carbonic then whole cluster,

Spicy on the nose with lime and herbs and a hint of camphor. This is fruity on the front end, then mineral, dry and really crisp with superb acids. It’s light bodied yet nicely firm with fine strawberry fruit with a stony, raspberry finish. A zesty, nervous rose. 88pts

2012 Stolpman Viognier 13.5%


No malo all SS

Same as rose big crop gave them fruit to work with,

Jasmine and mineral laced on the nose which picks up minty, spicy, peach tinged fruit. On entry this is a little soft, rich and broad in a ripe but still vibrant style. In the mouth it’s aromatic with a bit of a balsamic edge, and soft with faintly honied juicy, apricot notes on the back end which shows some nice green tea notes before finishing with a hint of sweetness. 87pts

2011 Stolpman Golden Point 14.1%

82% Roussanne, 7% Chardonnay, 7% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Viognier

Roussanne 50% new, sauv in SS, other in neutral oak

Big aromatics on the nose, a bit smoky and nutty with jammy white raspberry, and exotic mango and guava notes. Bright on entry with almost salty minerality then the smoky oak creeps in along with deep nut framed orange marmalade and white cherry flavors. There’s fine length and power on the finish which shows a nice blend of herbs and toast with a hint of orange marmalade. 89pts

2010 Stolpman l'Avion 14.3%

Full malo 100% new oak, 100% Roussanne fermented in new wood

Sort of tropical on the nose with a bit of guava floating around here which is joined by smoky oak, polleny floral notes, with hints of tobacco and deep ripe pineapple base note. Weighty and deep on the palate, this retains fine acid balance, turning deep and nutty with ripe quince jelly flavors of the midpalate leading to a long spiced finish that shows fine minerality. Silky, smooth, and oily through the backend this ends with a moderately long finish cut with attractive minerality. Probably will improve in the bottle. 90pts

2011 Stolpman la Cuadrilla  14.5% $22

Profit shared with their vineyard crew,  named after the vineyard crew, the self named vineyard crew,

62% Syrah, 30% Sangiovese, 8% Grenache

Only neutral oak, no whole cluster, different label artwork each year

Dark and a bit tight, meaty, and tarry on the nose with some mintiness, black currant and a little spicy black fruit with a nice hint of wood spice adding some detail, and a hint of pepperiness. Bright and juicy upfront, this shows fine red fruits on the palate that are all about tart raspberry and strawberry fruit. there’s a fine astringent note to the tannins, and while this is big it’s  fairly light on its feet with a real mouth cleansing freshness and astringent red fruit on the backend.  A fun if rambunctious wine. 89pts

2009 Stolpman Sangiovese 14.5%

30 to 32 months in barrel, trying for a Brunello style

All neutral puncheons,

Dark and a bit tarry with lots of stewy herbal notes  and dried tart cherry fruit framed with hints of leather. Smooth and fairly deep in the mouth with fine grained tannins supporting a core of earthy, leather framed sweet cherry fruit that really pops on the backend and leads to a finish that is structured and long with a fine savory, leathery edge to the fruit.  A little chewy, but long and deep, this is youthful but already showing some nice development. 90pts

2011 Stolpman Estate Syrah 14.9%

5 to 10% new oak, 2% Roussanne, 2% Grenache, 1% Viognier

Intense on the  nose and full of stemmy roses, grilled meats, violets, old woodsy aromas, roasted nut meat, and cracked pepper. Fairly lean and fresh on entry with lovely acidity providing real fine cut to the dark berry, blueberry fruit that’s supported by soft tannins. There’s a deep savory edge to the fruit and while this is quite powerful it’s also fairly but elegant with a long pure finish that shows  real fine persistence to the fruit and lovely vibrancy. 91pts

2011 Stolpman Syrah Originals 14.5% $38


Oldest blocks on sandstone, all the American clones of syrah, co-fermented 2% to 3% viognier, brief time in barrel, about a year, maybe 5% to 10% whole cluster

Smoky, wiry, and gamy on the nose with precise cracked pepper and camphor notes adding complexity to the core of cherry toned fruit. Fairly powerful upfront then turning broad and a little loose on the palate with deep, dry stemmy tannins emerging to add a rudder. The acidity here is fine if not pronounced driving the meaty, earthy tobacco and almost black currant toned fruit flavors that show a bit of minty spice on the backend before returning to a tannin driven finish with nice mint and cocoa laced notes on the finish. This is pretty chewy. 92pts

2010 Stolpman Syrah Hilltops 14.9%


Dark earthy notes on the nose with a base of woodspice and toast supporting big dark fruit, blackberry and vanilla laced, jellied plum fruit. Big and powerful in the mouth, this is rich, chewy wine filled with vanilla and spice notes early on the palate with hazelnut and  nutella flavors joining deep boysenberry and blackberry fruit on the palate. There’s a peppery backbone here and the depth of flavor persists on the finish though the wood tannins seem to be winning that battle at the moment. There’s a lot of spicy oak on the finish and this shows a hint of heat as well. 90pts

2011 Stolpman Angeli Syrah 14.5%


Best four or five barrels of the year, less oaky than previous vintages

Tight and  finely focused nose with a mouth watering blend of wild berry fruit, smoke, used wood notes, chocolate and mineral. On entry this brings the power of the Stolpman wines to the table but in a much more elegant and refined way. With exceptional balance layers of  cut plums dry blueberries, and boysenberry fruit open on the palate supported by lovely tannins that are refined yet angular and dry,  Fairly transparent for such a powerful wine, this really shows a different style with a sense of refinement and finishes with great length and vibrancy. So young but super balance. 94pts