Finishing off our trip to Lompoc we had our last two tasting appointments, to Ampelos Cellars and to Zotovich Vineyards.
Due to Covid-19 both wineries are open for outdoor tastings. Just call or email ahead of time as we know that things can change from one day to the next.
Starting with Ampelos we met with Matt, a “cellar rat” at the winery and tasting room staffer. We went through their current lineup of wines to taste, but only after first noting the unique tasting notes done by their marketing director. Instead of the usual aromas and flavors, these tasting notes also called up more memories, or visions, of where each wine could take you. For example, the 2019 Santa Barbara County Viognier was described as, “The click clack of rails, puffs of jasmine glinted steam, the sneaky smile of a Mandarin orange sun. Teak wood bar, juicy pineapple rings, shaved coconut flesh, the sway of palm trees passing quickly by. A new day swaggers through the lounge car with unlimited possibilities while I ride alongside ‘phi’ the ‘golden girl’ of my dreams.” These kind of tasting notes, albeit not for everyone, makes the writer in me want to strive much harder. It’s boring to read, “jasmine, orange, teak, pineapple” alone. Now, moving on and back to the tasting, and my tasting notes, I found the fruit in the Viognier to be fresh with a lovely mouthfeel. A great start to our tasting.
Next was their 2017 “Garcia” Albarino that spent 50% in neutral oak and 50% in stainless steel tanks. It was quite nice, with mild fruit notes. A 2016 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir “Lambda” had both good fruit and balance, and was awarded 90 points by Wine Enthusiast. Next to try was 2015 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir “Rho” barrel select, made for their best 12 barrels and spent six to eight months longer in barrel. It was very yummy, with rich velvety fruit and oak notes. The Rho got 90 points from both Wine & Spirits magazine and Wine Enthusiast.
The next wine, a 2015 Sta. Rita Hills Grenache “Delta”, had lovely layers of red fruit, spice and earth. The 2016 Sta. Rita Hills “Syrache”, a wine I had been told by a wine pal not to miss, is a Syrah Grenache blend. This vintage was 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache. It proved to be my favorite in the tasting. Wine & Spirits gave it 91 points and Wine Enthusiast awarded it 90 points. Our final wine, the 2016 Syrah had lovely peppery notes I won’t soon forget.
When our Contributing Editor Michael Perlis checked over this article he reminded me that he had covered Ampelos after tasting them at Wine in the Pines in 2015. At that time he shared, “A fortunate cancelation of a meeting at the World Trade Center led to Peter Work missing the 9/11 tragedy. Rethinking their lives, he and wife Rebecca plunged full-time into their Ampelos vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills, which they had acquired in 1999. My favorites were the “Syrache” [blend of Syrah and Grenache] as well as the standalone Syrah.”
ampelos has been a family endeavor from the start! Initially “corporate folk”, we enjoyed getting away to the Sta. Rita hills on weekends and dreamt of one day planting our own vineyards and making wines. A cancelled meeting on the morning of September11, 2001 helped us to realize that someday was TODAY! Our son, Don, came out to help get the vineyard underway and soon our dreams became reality. We are driven by a deep love and passion for viticulture. We are very proud to be one of the first wineries to be CERTIFIED sustainable, organic, and biodynamic. As a small boutique winery we produce 3500 cases and are meticulous about being as gentle as possible with all of our farming and winemaking practices. The best part about being winemakers is the opportunity to meet and share our wine with others. Come see us…
Ampelos Cellars, 312 North 9th St. Lompoc. 805-736-9957.
Now, onto Zotovich! In the blue building, shared with other winery tasting rooms on the corner of Highway 1 and 246, we rediscovered Zotovich Estate Vineyards and Winery with sales rep Jason Carter. We quickly learned that they sell their wine via wine club, as well as in some restaurants and stores. We tasted about 10 wines, will share the notes for some from the current vintage – which should be available on their website.
We began with the 2018 “Zoto” Chardonnay that Jason said had “marginally less oak” than their Estate Chardonnay. I found it slightly acidic, akin to a Sauvignon Blanc, with both tart and buttery notes. Then we tried three more Chards, all very good. We preferred the 2017 Estate Chardonnay for its notes of Meyer lemon, white peach, pear and a hint of strawberry in a delicate balance, for only $28 a bottle. We liked the 2017 Reserve Chardonnay, from the 809 clone, and 50% new French oak, with tropical fruit including pineapple, papaya and a floral nose. The last white we tried was the 2018 Estate Viognier. The wine called up memories of lemon-lime soda, stone fruit, wet stones with a nice low acidity.
Next up came the reds, beginning with the 2017 Estate Pinot Noir. Notes included concentrated fruit – especially crushed raspberries, white pepper and a richer quality in comparison to a 2019 newly released Pinot served just before. The website said this is the 17th vintage of their flagship Pinot. Oher reds we tried that I didn’t find on the website included their 2017 Grenache, 2016 Syrah Grenache Blend and a 2017 Syrah. Of these three I enjoyed the blend the most, but get over to the tasting room soon if you want to taste these wines!
A little research of my own and I found what I had to say about Zotovich in a Henry Wine Group tasting circa 2012, “This was my actual favorite winery of the day and I think it may have been the 10th wine (translates to pretty early in the tasting) I had tried. The three the winemaker brought included an ‘09 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay that I found refreshing and steely, the ‘09 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir for its traditional cherry and stem flavors without a ton of alcohol or tannin (things I don’t like that some seem to be reaching for in Pinots) and the ‘09 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah that was both soft and then sturdy on the back palate. Want more.”
A small, family-owned and operated winery located on the Central Coast of California, Zotovich Vineyards handcrafts exceptional wine from small, closely monitored lots of grapes. Zotovich Vineyards & Winery proudly produces Estate Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Grenache. Our philosophy is simple: We believe great wine is established in the vineyard. We meticulously farm our estate Zotovich Family Vineyard grapes, and strive to make the best wine possible vintage to vintage.
Zotovich Vineyards, 300 N 12 St, Ste D, 805-736-1600.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.