Thursday, February 2, 2012

Palmina Winery: Santa Barbara County Winery Visit

Ghetto and wine aren’t typically a great pairing. In fact when I heard about the Wine Ghetto in Lompoc, CA, I decided that was one place we could avoid during our California swing. After all, we prefer the grand winery buildings and scenic rolling hills of vines.

Luckily reason prevailed, or maybe our thirst for really good wine. Adam Mahler of Ampelography suggested I should seek out the Ghetto for some of the top boutique wines in Santa Barbara County.

The Wine Ghetto is located in an industrial park in Lompoc behind a Home Depot. Quite a contrast to our visit to Gainey Vineyard the day before. Gainey Ranch has 1,800 acres including Arabian horses.

The buildings look like warehouse space, but serve as  very functional wine-production areas for more than a half dozen top wineries.

We had no high expectations standing outside the door to our first stop: Palmina. It had been a dreary, raining drive from Solvang and it looked like we were pulling up outside a tire store.

Once we walked inside Palmina, it was a very different story!
The tasting room was inviting and contemporary, finished with warm Tuscan colors that befitted the winery’s focus on Italian varietals.

The winery was founded by Steve Clifton in 1995 and the focus is producing a full line of wines crafted from Italian grapes grown locally. The goal is not to emulate the Italian wines, but interpret the styles to the growing conditions and vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

They do a darn good job.

Our tasting began with a 2010 Arneis, Honea Vineyard. Interestingly, I had never had this grape in my life until just a few days before when I had selected it as the white wine for a board meeting dinner. Arneis is a rich and aromatic grape. This vino had a nuance of nuts with white flowers. Good but not up to the standard of the Italian Arneis.

The 2010 Malvasia Bianca, Larner Vineyard, was more to my liking.This is a floral wine with a creamy mouthfeel. It's a summery wine with citrus balanced with a rich body.

Our tasting team dubbed the 2010 Dolcetto a “drinking all day” wine – one that is smooth and balanced. It has bright flavor notes of blackberries on a sunny hillside with a lingering finish tickled by soft tannins.

The 2009 Alisos, Alisos Vineyard, is considered to be a “multi-dimensional work of art.” This is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot. The grapes are barreled separately and a portion of the Sangiovese grapes are dried into raisins over a period of 100 days in the appassiemento style. The grapes are then rehydrated and fermented until dry, yielding a nectar that is barrel aged for six months. Then the three components are blended together in a barrel to age.

This awesome wine was Green Dragon’s favorite. It rocked with flavors of dried raspberries and orange zest over black cherry and earth. It is a mere $30 for this special bottle.

Next up was the 2007 Nebbiolo, Santa Barbara County. This was simply superb and my favorite up to this point. Grapes from three outstanding vineyards (Sisquoc, Honea and Stolpman) are blended together to showcase the region. The bouquet gushed forth from this wine with earth, spice and plum. On the palate there was black cherry, a bit of tea and minerality. A cool wine that would pair well with a variety of meals.

Our server then offered us a taste of the 2008 Undici Sangiovese, Santa Ynez Valley. This is winemaking at its best! The passion of the winemaker comes though in an intriguing wine that ripples with dark chocolate, black cherry and blackberries. A third of the wine is co-fermented with Malvasia Bianca and the wine is aged for 30 months in a combination of Gamba barrels and neutral French oak. Has tons of dark fruit flavor and tannins that support, but don’t kill the delicate fruit flavors. I had to have a bottle of this!

Although it was rainy outside, my saying of “It’s always sunny in the tasting room” was certainly true at Palmina. We also had a chance to sample their “wine on tap.” One red and one white wine (selected by the winemaker but undisclosed) is available in “growler” jugs. The wine is very good and priced absurdly low. However, we had to pass on this as it didn’t look like it would transport back to the Midwest very well.

Palmina is making some amazingly good wines – in the Ghetto!
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