Jeb Dunnuck – August 2020

Jeb Dunnuck

August 2020

I continue to love the wines from Adam Tolmach and Fabien Castel. These lean firmly toward the fresher, elegant end of the spectrum, yet I always find the wines to have wonderful depth of fruit, terrific balance, and singular characters.


2018 Chardonnay – Solomon Hills

My favorite of the trio, the 2018 Chardonnay Solomon Hills Vineyard comes from a great site located just to the west of Bien Nacido and was raised mostly in neutral barrels. Richer orchard fruits, orange blossom, spice, crushed rocks, and brioche notes define the bouquet of this classic Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay, which offers bright acidity and good concentration. It’s certainly the richest of the three Chardonnays and is going to evolve for at least 7-8 years. 96 Points

2018 Roussanne – Bien Nacido

I was blown away by the 2018 Roussanne Bien Nacido, and I think it’s even better than the stunning 2016. Coming from a great, cool site outside the town of Santa Maria, its medium gold color is followed by killer notes of ripe lemons, quince, white flowers, and salty, marine-like nuances. With medium-bodied richness, a fresh, focused texture, stunning balance, and a great finish, it’s going to drink beautifully for 4-6 years, if not longer. This is one of the finest examples of Roussanne coming out of California. 95 Points

2018 Pinot Noir – Puerta Del Mar

One of the standouts, the 2018 Pinot Noir Puerta Del Mar Vineyard comes from a cool, westerly site and there are a tiny 273 cases produced. Gorgeous raspberry and strawberry fruits as well as loads of floral nuances define the bouquet and it’s an incredibly perfumed, complex, yet pretty and nuanced Pinot Noir. With medium-bodied richness, flawless tannins, and an elegant texture, it’s certainly not a blockbuster but just perfectly put together. It’s going to benefit from a year or two of bottle age and cruise for a decade in cold cellars. 95 Points

2018 Pinot Noir – Kessler Haak

I also loved the 2018 Pinot Noir Kessler Haak Vineyard, which has a more exotic, gamey, nutty character that fleshes out with air, showing beautiful red and black fruits, medium to full-bodied richness, a layered mouthfeel, and a great finish. This cuvée sees a touch more stems (50%) and it shows, so give bottles 2-3 years in the cellar. It’s a gorgeous, complex Pinot Noir that will evolve for 10-15 years. 95 Points

2017 Syrah – Bien Nacido

My favorite Syrah in the lineup (although I’d be hard pressed to pick between this and the Solomon Hills bottling), the 2017 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard has cool-climate notes of bloody dark fruits, cracked pepper, iron, and earth. Medium-bodied and nicely concentrated, with good acidity and a backward, focused texture, it needs 2-4 years of bottle age and will evolve for a decade. 95+ Points

2017 Syrah – Solomon Hills Special Bottling

All destemmed and brought up all in neutral oak, the 2017 Syrah Solomon Hills Vineyard Special Bottling is a Pinot Noir-like expression of Syrah that offers lively red fruits, flowery incense, and earthy forest and spicy aromas and flavors. I love its balance, it’s medium-bodied, and delivers seamless tannins as well as a great finish. There are only 46 cases made, but it’s a brilliant wine that builds with time in the glass. Drink it any time over the coming 15 years. 95 Points

2018 Chardonnay – Puerta Del Mar

Lemon curd, golden apple, white flowers, ground spices, and bright citrus all emerge from the 2018 Chardonnay Puerta Del Mar Vineyard, another medium-bodied, silky, beautifully pure Chardonnay with loads of character. There are 442 cases made and, as with all the Chardonnay here, it was raised mostly in neutral oak. 94 Points

2018 Pinot Noir – Fe Ciega

The 2018 Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard is another Burgundian-styled beauty that has a touch of reduction in its violets, crushed stone, black cherry, and raspberry aromas and flavors. As with all of Adam’s wines, it’s beautiful on the palate and has a seamless, elegant texture, light tannins, good acidity, and the balance to keep for 10-12 years or more. 94+ Points
2017 Syrah – John Sebastiano

Moving to the single vineyard Syrahs, the 2017 Syrah John Sebastiano Vineyard got a big “wow” in the notes and is a just a gorgeous Syrah from this team. Ripe blackberries, smoked game, ground pepper, and violets notes all emerge from this medium-bodied, elegant, floral Syrah that has terrific balance, light tannins, and a great finish. It’s fully in the Ojai style of freshness and elegance yet has terrific fruit. Drink it over the coming decade. 94 Points

2018 Chardonnay – Bien Nacido

Leading off the three single vineyard Chardonnays, the 2018 Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard is a larger production cuvée by this estate’s standards and there are 877 cases produced. Ojai has worked with Bien Nacido for years and pulls from some top sections of this vineyard, and the wine is aged in roughly 10% new French oak. Notes of tart apple, toasted bread, and salty, marine-influenced minerality all give way to an elegant, medium-bodied, beautifully balanced Chardonnay. It’s a prettier, more elegant example of Chardonnay from this vineyard (which normally produces a more burly style of wine), yet it has the classic salinity of this cooler site. Drink it any time over the coming decade. 93 Points

2018 Pinot Noir – Bien Nacido

More Pommard-like with its crunchy cherry and darker berry fruits as well as herbs, forest, and pine-laced aromas and flavors, the 2018 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard is medium-bodied, elegant, and nearly seamless on the palate. It has a touch more oomph compared to the Santa Barbara County release and I’m sure it will evolve for a decade. 93 Points

2017 Syrah – Duvarita

Also beautiful, the 2017 Syrah Duvarita Vineyard comes from a site just outside the western border of the Sta. Rita Hills. There are 165 cases made and it has pure red, blue, and black fruits, lots of peppery herbs and meaty notes, medium-bodied richness, and a rounded, layered texture. It reminds me of a top Saint-Joseph. Drink it over the coming decade. 93+ Points

2017 Syrah – Roll Ranch

Based on Syrah blended with a splash of Viognier, the 2017 Syrah Roll Ranch Vineyard has more red and blue fruits as well as some stemmy, violet, and peppery nuances, medium body, a terrific sense of elegance and purity, light tannins, and a great finish. It’s another elegant, layered, just straight-up pretty wine from this estate that’s a joy to drink. It’s going to evolve for 10-15 years with no issues. 93 Points

2018 Sauvignon Blanc – McGinley

Moving to the two Sauvignon Blanc releases, the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc McGinley is a larger production release (574 cases) and offers beautiful floral, citrus, and grapefruit notes as well as a medium-bodied, fresh, yet nicely textured and concentrated style on the palate. It’s a terrific Sauvignon to enjoy over the coming 2-3 years, although I suspect it will keep even longer. 92 Points

2019 Rose

Orange blossom, spice, white flowers, and a touch of salinity all emerge from the 2019 Rose. This beautiful, elegant, dry rosé is going to shine on the dinner table. 91 Points

2018 Sauvignon Blanc – Portico Hills

More exotic tropical hints, lemon, pineapple, and tart grapefruit notes emerge from the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Portico Hills. Fresh and lively on the palate, with a focused, straight, chiseled style, it’s a more steely effort that will benefit from a year or so in bottle. There are a scant 68 cases produced. 91 Points

2018 Riesling – Kick On

Notes of green herbs, lychee nut, citrus, and sappy flowers emerge from the 2018 Riesling Kick On, which is another medium-bodied white from this estate offering bright, clean acidity, good concentration, and a balanced, elegant style that’s a joy to drink. 91 Points

2018 Grenache – John Sebastiano

The Pinot Noir-like 2018 Grenache John Sebastiano Vineyard comes from a great site on the eastern end of the Sta. Rita Hills and was two-thirds destemmed and brought up in mostly neutral oak. This medium-bodied, elegant, downright pretty Grenache has lots of red fruits (strawberries, raspberries), a touch of peppery stems, medium body, and a great finish. It’s a Grenache for the cool-climate and Pinot Noir lovers out there. 91 Points

2018 Sans Soufre Ajoute – John Sebastiano

An even split of Grenache and Syrah that was bottled with no added SO2, the 2018 Ajoute John Sebastiano Vineyard Sans Soufre has that more rounded, supple style that’s common in Sans Soufre wines as well as plenty of plummy, red, and black fruits, violets, and ground pepper notes. It shows more meaty Syrah character on the palate and has light tannins, good complexity, and outstanding length. I’m always leery of aging these wines, yet I’m confident this will evolve for at least 2-4 years. 91 Points

2013 Apricots

A blend of Sangiovese and Grenache, the 2013 Apricots was held back after bottling and this is the current release. Lots of bright cherry and raspberry fruits as well as a touch of violets and floral notes emerge from the glass of this medium-bodied red, which has bright yet integrated acidity and a balanced, resolved feel. It’s drinking nicely today, yet I have no doubt it will continue evolving nicely for a decade on its acidity. 91 Points

2019 Riesling Dessert Wine – Kick On Ranch

A dessert wine based on 100% Riesling, the 2019 Riesling Kick On Dessert Wine has a ripe, upfront, medium-bodied style that offers lots of sweet apricot, honeysuckle, and floral notes. With terrific balance in its acidity and sugar, it’s going to shine with any number of fruit desserts. I’m sure it will age, but there’s no need to delay gratification. 91 Points

2018 Viognier – Roll Ranch

I always love the Viognier from this team. The 2019 Viognier Roll Ranch offers salivating aromas and flavors of salted citrus, lemon zest, and flowers, with a touch of chalky minerality. Elegant and medium-bodied, it has bright acidity and a clean, dry finish that’s going to be versatile on the dinner table. 90 Points

2018 Pinot Noir – Santa Barbara County

Leading off the Pinot Noirs, the 2018 Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County has a pretty, pure, medium-bodied, almost understated style that carries classy cherry and strawberry fruits, a touch of stemmy herbs and spice, light tannins, and beautiful overall balance. It’s a classic, elegant Pinot Noir to enjoy over the coming 4-6 years.

2017 Barbera – Rich

The 2017 Barbera Rich Vineyard has a touch more depth and richness, yet still plays in the medium-bodied, balanced, lively style of this estate. Lots of exotic berry fruits, blueberries, and violets define the bouquet, and it has juicy acidity, good balance, and outstanding length. 90 Points

2018 Syrah – Santa Barbara County

Always terrific, especially at the price, the 2018 Syrah Santa Barbara County is ideal for those who love cool-climate Syrah with a kiss of California fruit. Pretty blackberry, strawberry, peppery, and bay leaf/foresty notes all emerge from the glass of this medium-bodied red, which has a classy, balanced texture, a kiss of salinity, and outstanding length. 90 Points