Celebrating Organic Pinot Noir from Sta Rita Hills: Au Bon Climat, J. Dirt, The Ojai Vineyard, Sea Smoke

3 Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir paired with smoked chicken, roasted vegetables, salad

In Sideways, Miles famously celebrates Santa Barbara County’s Pinot Noir. Like Miles, I’m a fan of the region’s Pinot Noir, and I find the wines from the Sta Rita Hills exceptionally fabulous. Since I’m writing about several organic Pinot Noir for the next edition of Slow Wine Guide,

Santa Barbara County AVAs with Sta Rita Hills at the far west

I thought I’d offer a quick shout out to four from the Sta Rita Hills for Pinot Noir Day today. And remind you to pick up the current edition of Slow Wine Guide to find more organically grown  Pinot Noir!

Sue Hill, Gwendolyn Alley at Sea Smoke in the Sta Rita Hills AVA

Santa Barbara County wines are special because of an anomaly in geography: while most mountains run north south like caterpillars inching their way to the artic, central California’s Transverse range runs East West which allows the cold Pacific fog and breezes to race in each afternoon and cool off the area starting with the Sta Rita Hills located west of the 101. That actually makes this part of Santa Barbara County a “cool climate” perfect for growing picky Pinot Noir that can become a world class wine.

Sea Smoke

Only about 10 square mile area, the Sta. Rita Hills appellation includes about 1700 planted acres between the towns of Buellton and Lompoc with the La Purisima Hills to the north and the Santa Rosa Hills to the south, and bisected by the Santa Ynez River

The Ojai Vineyards map of SB County vineyards; enlarge to see the location of Duvarita and Fe Ciega

Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir and Vineyards 

  • 2019 AuBon Climat  Pinot Noir Sandford & Benedict Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard is one of the original vineyards in the AVA. Botanist Michael Benedict and his friend Richard Sanford set out to find a cool climate place to plant wine grapes in warm Santa Barbara County, which they did in 1971.  This Pinot Noir made by one of the OG winemaking pioneers of the region, Jim Clendenon who died in 2021. From our viewpoint the south facing slopes at Sea Smoke we could see across the valley to the Sanford tasting room at the end of Santa Rosa Road. Likewise, if you are at the Sanford tasting room, you can see the vast vineyards of Pinot Noir at Sea Smoke. Read more about Sanford, LaFond, Kessler-Haak, Melville, and Alma Rosa from a visit to the AVA here.

Gwendolyn Alley taking photos of versaison at Sanford in a photo by George Rose

  • 2019 Sea Smoke “Southing” Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills 

With its cult following and mailing list with 20k people hoping to purchase wine and another 10k people on the waiting list, all wines sell out almost immediately in the spring and get shipped in the fall. Less than 20% are available at restaurants and at retail outlets. And all the do really is pinot pinot pinot! They do grow a little chardonnay which they mostly sell and they do make a sparkling wine. But really, what they do and grow and specialize in is Pinot Noir. Each barrel is tasted blind and sorted to go into the “Ten” or the “Southing”. The name “Southing” reflects their south facing slopes. 

  • 2019 J. Dirt Pinot Noir, Duvarita, Santa Barbara County

Duvarita is barely west of the Sta Rita Hills AVA– where it was thought wine grapes would never ripe. But surprise surprise– they do! Being just outside the AVA made the vineyards more affordable. 

  • 2020 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Fe Ciega, Sta Rita Hills 

The Ojai Vineyard has long made wines from this small vineyard. In 2021, the Tolmachs purchased Fe Ciega vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills AVA. The 2020 organically farmed Pinot Noir was released in July, and it will be featured in the Slow Wine Guide.

2019 AuBon Climat  Pinot Noir Sandford & Benedict Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley

2019 Au Bon Climat  Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley

Color:  Pale, translucent, raspberry, cranberry, dusty rose rim

Aroma:  Raspberry, wild strawberry, lush fruit, cherry cola, sandalwood, woodsy notes,

Palate: Bright tart fruit, cranberry, oak, tannic, finish has a bitterness from the oak treatment, this is a young pup and really needs to lay down a bit longer. 

2019 J. Dirt Pinot Noir, Duvarita, Santa Barbara County

2019 J. Dirt Pinot Noir, Duvarita, Santa Barbara County

82 cases 
SRP $60

Biodynamically grown grapes and made into a biodynamicly made wine. Vinification includes native yeast and 17 months in neutral French oak.

Color: Medium density, a bit cloudy, raspberry, mauve rim

Aroma: Very heady, so much perfume, exotic, big juicy fruit, raspberry, sandalwood, insence, minerals, pepper spice, black pepper, red pepper, pink peppercorns, 

Palate: Lush mouthfeel, juicy, mouthwatering, lush rich fruit, dry chalky minerals, and a bit of orange oil on the finish.

Pairing: This wine wowed with the smoked chicken in a lemony pollo asado style marinated then smoked chicken one night and then the next night fantastic with fresh wild grilled salmon.

2019 Sea Smoke “Southing” Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills

2019 Sea Smoke “Southing” Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills 

ABV 14.5%

SRP $95 

We paired this organically grown wine with smoked chicken with strawberry rosemary glaze, a zucchini tart, and a green salad with St Augur over figs with a balsamic drizzle.

Color Somewhat translucent, pomegranate, fades gently to a dusty rose rim. 

Aroma Very Pinotesque, there is no doubting that this is a Pinot, very clean, fruit forward, wild strawberry, chaparral garigue, rose, rose hip, Cecil Brunner roses, aromas are dependent on where your nose is in the glass, which is why a pinot glass is important to enjoy this wine in. Pure and clean with so much complexity. 

Palate Tart bright fruit that preforms throughout the palate and changes as the wine moves from the beginning to the middle to the end. Up front bright tart cherry moving to raspberry mid palate, and wild strawberry on the finish.  Minerality stands out, kind of chalky on the finish, deeply satisfying wine. Lots that goes on to engage your interest, or you can kick back and enjoy this wine. 

Pairing The strawberry rosemary glaze works so nice with the strawberry chaparral elements in the wine. The fig was fantastic with the wine: it loved the fresh fig flavors and the salty blue cheese. The zucchini tart was okay with the wine, but thyme was not as lovely with the wine as rosemary was. Mushroom risotto was a suggested pairing, but I didn’t get a chance to make it. I felt that Chicken marsala would be great with the wine. 

2016 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Fe Ciega, Sta Rita Hills can lay down and deliver

2020 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Fe Ciega, Sta Rita Hills 

Aroma: Red fruit, rose, violets, and sandalwood.

Palate: The wine delivers raspberry, strawberry, fresh herbs, and violets with a lengthy finish of fresh raspberry.

Pairing: Try this wine with a pork roast, salmon, or duck with an elderberry sauce– and smoked or grilled chicken!

We wrote about the 2016 here.

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