Friday, November 5, 2010

Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards - where experience matters

Zaca Mesa Winery is one of the pioneer wineries in Santa Barbara County.  It was the first California Central Coast winery to appear in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 back in 1995.  Their wines cross all lines, being served in the Clinton White House and at President Reagan’s 80th Birthday party.  Many major winemakers in Santa Barbara County got their start at Zaca Mesa.  And Zaca Mesa was the first winery in the county to plant Syrah and many other Rhone varietals.  At Zaca Mesa experience matters, and this experience has lead them to be one of the champions of Santa Barbara County.

Zaca Mesa got started by a group of friends in 1972 who came together to plant their vineyard.  They tried several varietals but by the early 90’s they determined that the rolling hills on the Zaca Mesa property were best suited for Rhone varietals including Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and Roussanne. 

The vineyards are located in the northern most section of Santa Ynez Valley AVA.  As an east-west oriented valley, the vines are greatly influenced by the Pacific Ocean with its cooling morning fog and afternoon breezes.  The sandy loam soils are remnants of pre-historic sand dunes that now lay 1500 feet above sea level.  This higher elevation offers lower temperatures overall and greater variance of daily temperatures resulting in grapes that mature slowly and develop and abundance of flavors.

To protect this site, Zaca Mesa embraces sustainable winegrowing techniques.  This reporter has visited the vineyards of Zaca Mesa hugging the mountain tops overlooking the valley.  Each vineyard is surrounded by open space for wildlife while providing a buffer to their neighbors and preserving the natural ground water.

Viognier is representative of the vast experience at Zaca Mesa.  The 2009 Viognier is the eighteenth vintage of this aromatic white wine.  Zaca Mesa has 37 acres of Viognier, representing 16% of Santa Barbara County’s total Viognier plantings.  With intense aromas of white peach, honeysuckle and floral, this wine will invite you to taste its flavors of apricot, lychee, melon, space and a touch of citrus.  It has minerality reminding you of old world wines, but the fruity flavors found in new world wines.  “Viognier is such an elegant, outgoing varietal,” says Zaca Mesa winemaker Eric Mohseni.  “It’s hard not to be taken in by its exotic aromas, if it’s done right.”   And all of this for only $20.  Try it with Thai foods or oysters.
Syrah is engrained in the history and experience of Zaca Mesa, being the first Syrah plantings in the county.  The vineyards contain over 90 acres of Syrah.  

The 2006 Syrah was aged in 30% new French oak for 16 months.  You will enjoy the deep rich color with the aromas and flavors of blackberry, coffee, boysenberry, sage and clove.  The slight smokiness is prevalent on the nose.  The wine is well balanced mixing the acidity, tannins and flavors into a great food friendly wine.  This is the wine to share with friends over a meal of grilled meats or rack of lamb with rosemary.  Winemaker Eric Mohseni states, “The ’06 Syrah is lithe and food-friendly like it’s always been, never over the top – that’s just not what our estate fruit calls for.”  The price is only $25.

For more information, visit the Zaca Mesa website and you will learn why visitors rave about the wines from Zaca Mesa.  Or, better yet, visit their tasting room along Foxen Canyon Road in the Sana Ynez Valley region of Santa Barbara County.  They are just north of Los Olivos.

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