Women Who Wine for Women’s History Month: Kimberly Smith, La Montagne

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March is Women’s History Month in the United States, and yesterday, Tuesday March 8 was International Women’s Day,

front…so we thought March would be an appropriate time to take notice of not only some of the women wine makers we admire but also a few wine bloggers as well.

Starting with Kimberly Smith, wine maker at La Montagne, who says,
“May each sip bring your joy!”

We first tasted Kimberly’s wines as part of the February #WineStudio event “Santa Barbara Love,” hosted by Protocol Wine.

“Food was my first mistress,” says Kimberly, a gourmet cook who loves feeding family, friends, and her husband’s employees. Now, she says passionately,

“Pinot is my mistress. I just love her!”

During #WineStudio, we fell in love with Kimberley’s delicate yet vibrant style in her La Montagne wines as well as her online sparkly persona. Since we live 75 minutes away, Que Syrah Sue and I knew we had to go meet her, taste more of her wines, and bring some home to drink another day!

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La Montagne is a small award-winning family winery located in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto using grapes that are mostly grown nearby in the cool climate Sta. Rita Hills AVA with a fondness for the Kessler-Haak vineyards; her 2013 “Theron” Pinot Noir from that vineyard won Double Gold and a Wall Street Journal award.

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By small, we mean under 1000 cases that she makes in 2-4 barrel lots that, if no one else likes, she will happily drink herself, thank you! She makes acidity driven, complex wines meant for a serious food and wine lover — basically she is making wines for herself.

Referring to the wine grapes, Kimberly says that “Like art, everybody has a canvas, none are the same.”

Kimberly makes no bones about the fact that these wines are her children, her family, and once you drink her juice, you are family forever.

La Montagne means “the mountain” and “appropriately describes our quest to produce wines of exceptional quality that represent the vintage and the place in which they were grown.”

But the name La Montagne references her husband’s mother’s maiden name; she was Lucy La Montagne. So for a Women’s History and International Women’s Day post, this goes deep.

While the winery has an extensive list of wines produced, however, all are small batch, single varietal or single clone wines, from a single vineyard– she even differentiates between rows.

Single everything  is what La Montagne boasts. She’s a purist in style to allow the consumer to experience the purity of the grape.

“If the grapes are not lovely out of the vineyard, they won’t be lovely out of the wine,” said Kimberly.

During the Wine Studio event February 17, we tasted two of her wines, and then in the winery, we tasted even more… many, many more! Kimberly was very lively, gracious, fun and full of stories.

“I’m lucky to be alive,” says Kimberly. She lives in the now and finds every day as a blessing. Every day is a gift to this survivor.

Kimberly’s story includes surviving death several times. Sickly as a child, as an adult, the doctors repeatedly missed a tumor in her tummy that finally weighed 70 pounds which incapacitated her for many months! When it was removed she “died” three times on the operating table. That was about 12 years ago. Today she is a mom with children ranging in age from 35-8 (those two  8-year-old daughters were adopted), a grandmother, and happily married for 35 years to Theron has supported her in this endeavor; now, Kimberly says proudly, the winery is self-supporting.

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But how exactly did she go from being a foodie and wine lover into a winemaker? According to the La Montagne website, in 2006, with a new lease on life,  Kimberly decided to take college courses to understand “her love of Pinot Noir and why she regularly spent $50 a bottle on what she loves.” When she met guest speaker Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe fame, she knew she wanted him to teach her how to make Pinot Noir –and, on his invitation, she was in the winery at 8am the next morning to study with him.

As befitting her angelic good luck and drive to be the best, we found each wine we tasted simply divine.

La Montagne 2011 Pinot Blanc, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, $34 48 cases 2 barrels 12.9 alc $34

Lively on the palate. Light crisp citrus. Vibrant and intense acidity and minerality. Not wishy-washy. Classic oyster wine. A beautiful representation of this grape that is not commonly found solo. This wine is almost sold out so check out the 2012 Pinot Blanc, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley, $34, 72 cases.

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La Montagne  2014 Malvasia – Marshall vineyard – $30 – 12.9%

Earned the 2016 Double – gold – San Francisco chronicle. This is a lovely wine, so crisp, it awakens the palate with its complexity. Has a cloudiness to the color – not super crystal clear – gently filtered for a delicate touch – super pale yellow in color, nearly white. On the nose – floral, honeysuckle or jasmine. On the palate – minerals and white nectarine. What a tasty wine; prosciutto wrapped asparagus brings out the floral and fruit notes in the wine. compliments the acidity of the wine, creamy cheeses compliment the minerality of the wine. the purple haze cheese has a pungency that went well with the Malvasia but not so much with the Pinot. I bought one of these! Gotta love the Marshall name, too. Sample for review purposes and participation in Wine Studio. 2014 Malvasia, Marshall Vineyard, $30, 100 cases 2016 Double-Gold San Francisco Chronicle. Also available: 2013 Malvasia, Marshall Vineyard, $30, 100 cases made.

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La Montagne 2014 Chardonnay, Kessler-HaakVineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, $50 75 cases 

Great minerality, great flavor, Wente clone. Incredible nose– so much perfume, white flowers especially gardenia, tuberose, white oleander suggested Chad the tasting room assistant who took over when Kimberly left for the Lompoc Rotary tasting down the street. Sue bought this wine and I regret that I did not– and she better share it with me!

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La Montagne 2015 Rose’ Of Pinot Noir, Quinta Del Mar Vineyard, San Luis County, $36  barrel sample $36 

We tasted a barrel sample of this wine that she had for the Rotary tasting and we loved it so much we can’t wait for it. It has a lovely color and generous soft perfume. We thought it would pair with our post tasting picnic and Kimberly gave us a generous pour so we could test out hypothesis. If you can get a bottle, hint hint hint, this would make a wonderful Mother’s Day treat for brunch, picnic, or dinner. It would also pair well with Easter dinner’s ham. Also available: 2015 Rose’ Of Pinot Noir, Kessler-Haak Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, Clone 4a, $36

La Montagne 2013 Pinot Noir, Buona Terra Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, Clone 777, $55 100 cases 

Kimberly described this wine as having some “baby fat” still but obviously she is proud of this wine; it is delightful today or could be cellared for 10 or more years. Kimberly has eight different Pinot Noir all from Sta. Rita Hills available in  the tasting room including the 2012 Pinot Noir, John Sebastiono, Sta. Rita Hills, $55 90 cases which earned a Gold Medal at SFC.

La Montagne 2012 Pinot Noir, Buona Terra, Sta. Rita Hills, Clone 777 $55 90 cases. 

This elegant wine went home with us; we could not say no to its earthy, classic Pinot character. Just the right amount of red fruit. Kimberly offers a small plate of charcuterie  to help consumers appreciate how the wine would be with food and it was the pairing of this wine with the prosciutto that sold us.

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La Montagne 2013 Pinot Noir, Kessler-Haak, Sta. Rita Hills, Clone 4a, ‘THERON’ $65 75 cases Gold Medal SFC 13.5% alcohol

Only 75 cases were produced of this $65.00 double Gold Medal San Francisco Chronicle award winner, plus it was named by the Wall Street Journal. Pretty color, on the nose, earth and mineralogy. On the palate – strawberry, watermelon, even watermelon rind. Pair with creamy truffle brie, salmon on the grill.  She thinks this is at least as good if not better, and expects it to be achieve similar accolades. Sample. Sample for review purposes and participation in Wine Studio.

La Montagne – 2012 – Pinot Noir – Santa Rita Hills – Kessler-Haak clone 4A “Theron” 13.5% alcohol

96 points and many accolades. My notes have two stars–one for tasting it and the other because it made me see stars. This is easily one of the best Pinot noir we’ve ever tasted. Two of the elements that make it so distinct is complexity in the nose and the lingering finish which trails on and on and seduces you to both play with this wine as long as possible and consume it also. She almost didn’t open this wine for us, but when she saw how we much appreciated her “children” she slipped away and returned to open a bottle of this remarkable wine… which she set aside probably to drink herself later!

La Montagne 2013 Syrah, Rancho Ysidro, Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County, $50, 90 cases

The first syrah she’s made, this wine is not yet released; four  barrels. The fruit and the acid are very integrated –we can’t talk about just one. Signature syrah nose with fruit and pepper and muskiness.  Eucalyptus and mint, wild sagey musky. Kimberly said she planned to make a classic GSM with this fruit but it came in so beautifully she decided to keep them separate so she also has a 2013 Mourvedre’, San Miguel District, Paso Robles, $48, 48 cases and 2013 Grenache, Ralph Vineyard, Paso Robles, $48 , 48 cases. Que Syrah Sue took a bottle of this one home!

La Montagne 2012 Tempranillo, Bella Collina Vineyard, Estrella District $48 100 cases 

We’d love to see how this wine develops — the finish lingers and leaves you satisfied. Signature spicy nose of tempranillo nicely balanced as temps can be so tannic; Hungarian oak tempers the tempranillo. Impressive.

Kimberly is passionate craft versus vineyard –your craft in your own way, your own expression.

Santa Barbara has some amazing wines and we are so lucky to live in and experience this region of wines. We loved all of these wines so much.

Food is larger than life, says Kimberly, and too often the wines didn’t pair well for her: the wines fell flat when paired with the meal. She wanted more acidity driven wines that could stand up to the foods she prepared and she has accomplished it by making her own to please her palate.

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At this winery, it’s all about the food with the wine. Find out for yourself by visiting the tasting room

La Montagne Tasting Room
1509 Chestnut Ave.
Lompoc, CA. 93436

or by ordering her wines or attending her August 20 Pinot and pork event or the January Pinot and Paella.

PS Thanks again to #WineStudio for introducing us to Kimberly. See what’s on the calendar for Tuesdays from 6-7pm or check twitter hashtag #winestudio.

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