This week our West Coast Wednesday series brings us back to California Wine Country. Located in the unique climate of Santa Barbara County, Westerly Wines is a small-production winery in pursuit of crafting the best possible wines from the best possible fruit in the region. Learn about the terroir of Santa Barbara County, as well as the winemaking, viticulture and the wines of Westerly.
Santa Barbara County.
One of the most diverse grape growing regions in the country, Santa Barbara County is unique in that it offers a wide variety of micro-climates and terrains. Although the western portion is located along the Pacific Ocean, the region stretches from east to west and north to south extending from the coastal Santa Ynez ranges to the interior San Rafael mountain ranges. While the vineyards located along the Pacific experience cooler and more mild climates, the valleys along the coastline run east and west, ushering the ocean breezes through the region and helping to cool the vineyards that lie to the east after their prolonged warm daytime temperatures. In addition to the unique climate and temperatures spanning the region, a variety of soil types are found in Santa Barbara County, lending to the vast differences in the varietals of wine produced.
There are currently six federally-sanctioned American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within Santa Barbara County: Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Ynez Valley which is then broken down into four sub-AVAs (West to East): Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. Westerly is based in the Happy Canyon of the Santa Barbara AVA, but also focuses on creating wines grown in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.
Happy Canyon AVA:
Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara is the easternmost growing region in Santa Barbara County. Designated as an official AVA in 2009, the Happy Canyon is home to only eight vineyards and three wineries. With the warmest micro-climate in the Santa Ynez Valley and soils made up of a mixture of loam and clay loam with red and yellow chert and serpentine cobbles, Happy Canyon is widely recognized for its ability to produce top Bordeaux varietals.
Legend has it that during Prohibition, a “California Moonshine” was produced in the nearby foothills of the Los Padres mountains. Folks are rumored to have “taken a trip up Happy Canyon” to purchase the infamous beverage and the name stuck.
Sta. Rita Hills AVA:
Sta. Rita Hills is a relatively small appellation uniquely situated to receive the maritime influences that contribute to the flavor, intensity and complexity of the wines. The cooler climate is great for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although challenging as sometimes the cooler weather, fog and wind can limit the crop yield.
The People of Westerly.
In 2012 Roger Bower opened Crown Point Vineyards in the Happy Canyon of the Santa Barbara AVA. Bower recognized that the terroir of this region was especially well-suited for Bordeaux varietals.
Bower hired winemaker Adam Henkel, who had spend time perfecting his winemaking in Napa Valley working at both Swanson Vineyards and Harlan Estate. Henkel draws on this knowledge and experience and capitalizes on the diverse climate of Santa Barbara to bring forth a wide array of varietals and blends.
Vineyard Manager, Juve Buenrostro joined the team to oversee many of the vineyards from which Westerly sources its fruit. His vineyard management philosophy is that behind every great wine is a great vineyard. To that end, the utmost attention must be given to the terroir, root stalk, clonal selection and the process throughout the growth season and harvest. Buenrostro’s expertise in all aspects of vineyard management and grape growth make him an incredible asset to Westerly’s portfolio.
The Wines of Westerly.
Although Westerly is a small-production winery currently without an official tasting room, their wines are of high-quality and reflect the high standards of the Westerly team. Focusing on two AVAs within the Santa Barbara region, Westerly produces both warmer climate Bordeaux varietals and blends as well as cooler climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Westerly generously provided us with five of their wines– three sourced with fruit from the Happy Canyon AVA, one from Sta. Rita Hills AVA, and one composed of fruit from three different vineyards in Santa Barbara County.
- 2011 Westerly Fletcher’s Red
- Comprised of 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Malbec, 19% Merlot, 11% Petit Verdot
- Fruit sourced from Happy Canyon AVA
- Aged 100% in French Oak, 85% new barrels and 15% new for 20 months
- Malalactic fermentation took place in the barrel
- Winemaker notes: The blend for Fletcher’s Red changes every year, and the 2011 introduces Malbec into the varietal mix for the first time. Crafted in a modern, opulent style, this wine is nuanced and character driven, highlighted by the bright acid of the early-ripening Malbec, and the complex minerality of the Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and round, the 2011 Fletcher’s will impress now but will drink at it’s peak from 2016 to 2021.
- 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
- 88% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Cabernet Franc
- Fruit sourced from three clones of Cabernet Sauvignon in Happy Canyon, along with a generous dose of Cabernet Franc
- Aged in small French Oak barrels for a total of 18 months
- Winemaker notes: This wine displays a deep garnet color and aromas of asian plum, raspberry, Bing cherry, and hints of wild thyme. Medium to full-bodied, tight-knit and very fine in the mouth, with broad, polished tannins and bright notes. This is classically structured Cabernet Sauvignon that drinks well now but will continue to positively evolve for the next decade.
- 2012 Pinot Noir
- 100% Pinot Noir
- Fruit sourced from Sta. Rita Hills AVA
- Harvested in mid-September the fruit was hand-sorted, de-stemmed and cold-soaked at 45 degrees for 4 days
- Whole berry fermentation took place in small, open-top stainless steel fermentors
- The must was drained and pressed after 21 days on the skins, and the wine was transferred into French Oak barrels, 60% new, for 18 months
- Winemaker notes: Deep ruby-purple colored, the 2012 Westerly Pinot Noir displays subtle aromas of ripe raspberry and crushed red cherries with underlying notes of violets, lavender, and cinnamon stick. Medium-bodied, it is very well balanced with crisp acid, a low to medium level of fine grain tannins, and satisfying berry and spice flavor layers that linger long into the finish. Drink now through 2020.
- 92 points from Wine Enthusiast
- 2014 Westerly Fletcher’s White
- 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Viognier
- Sourced from Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier in Happy Canyon
- Fruit harvested by hand, whole cluster pressed and fermented in small French Oak barrels, 50% new
- Aged for 6 months prior to being bottled
- Winemaker notes: Fletcher’s White is scented of lemon-peel, stone fruits, and lanolin with a hint of crushed stones. While the palate is ripe and round there is a balanced acid structure punctuated with a focused core of melon and white nectarine notes. The finish is long and bright with a persistent juiciness.
- 2014 Westerly Chardonnay
- 100% Chardonnay
- Sourced from three vineyards in Santa Barbara County along highway 246 corridor
- Fruit harvested by hand, whole cluster pressed and fermented of a combination of small French Oak barrels, concrete eggs and stainless steel
- Final cuvée was aged in barrels for 10 months prior to being bottled
- Winemaker notes: The 2014 Chardonnay reveals subtle notes of orange marmalade, white peach, along with notions of toasty oak and honeysuckle characteristics. Balanced and soft, this wine drinks beautifully now and will continue to positively evolved over the next 3-4 years.
We truly believe that all of Westerly’s wines are top-notch, made with the highest quality and care. If you would like to experience a taste of Santa Barbara and the diversity of the region, we recommend trying a bottle or two. Oh heck, make it a case. Westerly has a great wine club with several options and ships to many locations across the country.