Why was I so excited about James being here & doing a tasting with him?
First of all, James works for several top caliber sites in the Central Coast of California….such as Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, & French Camp vineyards, as well as overseeing his very own vineyard—Rancho Ontiveros. He is therefore a wealth of knowledge on what’s happening in vineyards & with clones & farming.
Secondly, James & his winemaking partner, Paul Wilkins, have THREE top caliber wine labels together….Alta Maria, Native9 & Autonom. Each is some of the very best out of California today.
Alta Maria currently offers a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay & a Pinot Noir, each a blend of grapes from some very special sites.
Native9 is currently one Pinot Noir produced from Rancho Ontiveros fruit exclusively done 100% whole berry, more new oak, all in a more “Grand Cru” style of California Pinot.
Autonom is a label for their Grenache & Syrah based red wines. Given that Winemaking Partner Paul Wilkins formerly worked at Alban Vineyards for 7 or so years, it makes sense that there were be some Rhone Varietal reds somewhere in their portfolio. For the 2005 & 2006 these wines were labeled as Alta Maria. Beginning with the 2007 vintage the wines are now labeled as Autonom.
I have been a HUGE fan since day 1, but at the same time believe this dynamic duo is just hitting their stride as we speak. Oh my goodness!!!!!!
Here are the wines we tasted with James & some of our VINO regulars.
The 2008 was a blend of 3 SENSATIONAL Santa Maria Valley vineyards—Bien Nacido (the highly revered, old vine W Block clone 4), Solomon Hills (clones 76, 95 & 96) & Rancho Ontiveros (Wente clone)….& saw roughly 40% new oak. We love how layered, seamless & balanced it really is.
Because James Ontiveros is a vineyard-ist, they keep tweeking the grape sources for this wine every year, in an effort to get a more diversified & interesting grapes mix. The core for the 2010, for instance, is 39 year old Pommard from Q & G Blocks; with some 17 year old vine Dijon clones (115 & 777) from N & U Blocks. We love how pretty, ethereal, stylish & well textured these wines typically are.
Rancho Ontiveros is James’ own vineyard across the river closer to the ocean from Bien Nacido.. The 2009 is comprised of the following clones–80% Joseph Swan; 10% each of Sanford & Benedict & Dijon 114. The wine saw 100% whole cluster & 70% new French oak. This is a much more masculine, showier style of Pinot, which is at the same time surprisingly light on its feet because of the sandy soils & brisk ocean winds which pound this site. I think to get the point of this wine across better, this would be their Grand Cru bottling. I have heard more than one insider note this bottling also has a humus/musky/earthy characteristic reminiscent of Burgundy, which I think is a huge compliment.
2007 Autonom Syrah “Law of Proportions”
James’ winemaking partner is Paul Wilkins (go to chuckfuruya.com—Autonom for more info), who worked at Alban Vineyards (a very highly accolade Rhone varietal specialist) for quite some time. It is therefore no surprise that this dynamic duo would also produce some Rhone varietal wines….now under the Autonom label. This one is 100% Syrah (75% Laetitia vineyard & 25% from Hampton Vineyard)….saw 80% new oak & NO stems……75 case production. The 2007 is a very masculine, sinister, dark side beast…..mega-intense, dramatic, provocative & sultry without any sense of heaviness or gaudiness.
At a previous tasting, we also tasted the 2010 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc. Here are the notes, as a reminder–
2010 Alta Maria Sauvignon Blanc–another really eye opening Santa Barbara born white!!!!! I always am challenged to find really interesting, worldly white wines like this from the New World. The 2010 is roughly 80% from a vineyard in the cooler side of Solvang, 4 miles east of the Santa Rita Hills, which is own rooted, planted in 1972 with clone 1. The other vineyard , which consists of the other 30% is White Hills located in Los Alamos, planted in 1986 & is also own rooted. The juice is whole cluster pressed, aged in 70% in stainless & 30% in old oak & only partial ML. We are REALLY impressed with this VERY limited wine, especially for the price.