Plain and simple– if this is where California Chardonnay is going, book me a ticket now.
The days of ye olde oak and butter explosions in a bottle fortunately are evaporating to make way for a new crop that burst with citrus fruit, balance the oak often with neutral oak aging, and reflect the mineral and nutrient rich soil so abundant in the Golden State.
Santa Barbara County and its Santa Rita Hills near the Pacific, north of the city of Santa Barbara and west of the famed “Sideways” town of Los Olivos with many of the area’s tasting rooms, have long been known as coveted Pinot Noir terroir. Move over Pinot. It’s now Chardonnay territory, led by the powerhouse new label now on its third vintage, Sandhi Wines.
Of the three Chardonnays currently offered at Sandhi’s brand new tasting room in Los Olivos, this 2010 Rita’s Crown is the runaway beauty, exuding a gravitas of the Princess at the ball. Thoroughly well-rounded, plush with tropical fruits, notably hints of passion fruit and guava, the Rita’s Hills is captivating and refined, with plenty of edge to keep matters exciting.Projects with star wattage power seem to be a bit in vogue these days in the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay New World. Earlier, we chronicled the sterling work on display from Evening Land, an Oregon, Sonoma Coast, and Santa Rita Hills based label that also is one of the rare American labels that own vineyards in coveted Burgundy thanks to consulting winemaker Dominique Lafon. Film producer Mark Tarlov created the concept, with help from famed sommelier Larry Stone, formerly of San Francisco’s Rubicon and Chicago’s Charlie Trotter. Evening Land only crafts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The same two varietals run the show at Sandhi, except this label grows grapes exclusively in the Santa Barbara County-Santa Rita Hills area. The trio behind Sandhi is master sommelier Rajat Parr (of the Michael Mina Restaurant Group), highly-regarded winemaker Sashi Moorman, and investor Charles Banks (formerly of Screaming Eagle in Napa County). Knowing Parr’s adoration for Burgundy wines, Sandhi may follow Evening Land’s path to buying land in Burgundy. You never know…
But we do know one thing for sure, Sandhi certainly is at the forefront of Santa Barbara Chardonnay currently. The 2011 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay, a blend of three different appellations, is thinner and softer than the Rita’s Hill, still showing great strength and is bright with persimmon and kiwi. More traditional is the 2010 Chardonnay from the famed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, where ash and morning dew notes lead to a stone finish. It’s much more of the classic Chardonnay style, perfect to lend a hand with Copper River salmon or Santa Barbara sea urchin.
Speaking of the relationship between Evening Land and Sandhi, 2010 Sandhi’s Pinot Noir comes from the Evening Land Tempest Vineyard. At the very western edge of the Santa Rita Hills, the relentless daily fog made it so only two days total reached 80 degrees there in the 2011 growing season Sandhi reported to me. Only 85 cases were made for this young, aggressive Pinot Noir, bursting with plum skin and redwood. It’s too young at the moment, still awaiting more character and fortitude from this highly coveted block of land.
But back to the, excuse the pun, the crown jewel for Sandhi, from Rita’s Crown. The vineyard sits high atop the Santa Rita Hills between 500 and 1,000 feet, receiving far more sunshine than the Evening Land Vineyard. The diatomaceous soil consists of fossilized seashells, an example of how coastlines erode over time. It’s also a vital reason to understand the superlative minerality in this Chardonnay. Sandhi reports that this soil also leads to pressure on the grapes, leading the grapes to exude even more robust fruit flavors, hence the distinct tropical notes. It’s a fun wine, worth celebrating with. It’s not subtle and nuanced, but still worth examining and savoring for its vibrant notes.
Hurry now for a bottle from one of the 374 precious cases.
Sandhi also just opened a tasting room at The Watering Hole in Los Olivos, a multi- use tasting room-restaurant complex near the main stretch of cafes and tasting rooms in town. Once everything there opens in the next few weeks, expect it to become the essential stop of a Santa Barbara County tasting experience. There you can also taste some of the wines from around the world, including South Africa, by wineries also owned by Terroir Selections (the owner of Sandhi). And do note the gorgeous almost linear glassware for these beautiful wines at the tasting room.
And…what is “Sandhi” exactly? Why, it means “collaboration” in Sanskrit. That is exactly what inspires Sandhi the winery’s trio of talent. As a result of this collaboration, California has a new Chardonnay crown jewel.