Puerta del Mar is our coldest vineyard. It’s a small and relatively new planting that’s way out by Lompoc—a stone’s throw east of Highway 1—actually West of the already chilly Sta. Rita Hills. There are six level acres, evenly split between Dijon clones of pinot noir and chardonnay. And If I were to win the lottery and plant a vineyard myself again, this is exactly how it would be: densely planted (3 by 5.5 feet) vines trained to a narrow vertical trellis, in a site scoured by cool ocean air.
It was planted in 2007 as an investment property by CalPERS, the state employee retirement system. I’m not sure I’d have made the investment, seeing as when the boundaries of SRH were agreed on it was thought that land this far west would be too cold to ripen grapes. But call it ignorance or a changing climate—the nay-sayers were wrong, because the wine has proved it was a fabulous good gamble! Today the site is owned by the folks at Jonata, but we’re still the only winery that gets this fruit. And it’s well farmed thanks to Ruben Solorzano, who farms our John Sebastiano Vineyard fruit and many other top Santa Barbara County sites, and consistently produces exceptional results.
One might look at a map and guess this spot to be freakishly coastal, the kind of place from which only a quirky and sinewy wine might be possible. But the vineyard also sits within a bowl-shaped depression, a little dimple of the earth that opens toward the final meandering S-bends of the Santa Ynez River. This protects the vines from what would be a relentless attack of cold westerly winds, and allows for some exuberance to develop in the fruit. Still, it’s our coolest vineyard. On a day that’s warm in almost every other vineyard in Santa Barbara County, Puerta del Mar is temperate and breezy. The soils reflect the site’s placement between the Santa Ynez River and Salsipuedes Creek: some clay with lots of rocky alluvial river wash and chunky bits of white shale.
We’ve released five vintages from Puerta del Mar now, and each has a strikingly different profile. Part of why I love cool-climate sites is the vivid expression of vintage that comes with them. What’s consistent year to year is an enticing and exotic spiciness lurking in both the pinot and chardonnay—discrete puffs of crushed cardamom pop up among other layers. There’s also a consistent fineness and subtlety to these wines, which I attribute to the ocean’s ever-present influence.