In 1978, it was the first winery in Santa Barbara County to plant Syrah.
The winery’s 240 acres of estate fruit offers a genuine craftsmanship quality and while its pretty, tropical Chardonnay continues to be a sought after commodity (the ’04 releases this month) it’s the Rhone reds and whites that remain true blue to this 24-year-old winery.
“Revenue and foot traffic are up 40 percent,” stated Brook Williams, president of Zaca Mesa Winery. He attributes the increase to the movie phenomenon, but also because of the tremendous on-going, positive press for the Santa Ynez Valley wines.
Zaca Mesa didn’t begin its history with Rhone varieties. “I think we used the shotgun approach at first,” pointed out Winemaker Clay Brock. “Our approach towards these grapes evolved as we figured out what worked best in our soils.”
With the afternoon “mistral” winds and natural acidity in the fruit, Brock explained that they actually block the secondary malolactic fermentation process in order to achieve a “natural balance” with their rootstock and clone combinations. “The acidity is not too low and not too high; it’s perfect just where it is.”
At Pinot Bistro in Studio City, (left to right) Patterson’s Meridith May with Pinot Bistro G.M. Alyssa McDiarmid, Zaca Mesa President Brook Williams and Winemaker Clay Brock
Hand picked fruit, gentle pressing and free run fruit are part of the winemaking picture that claims the Mantra of balance, balance, balance in the wines of family-owned Zaca Mesa.
As one of the pioneers in Santa Barbara County, Zaca Mesa was a training ground for some of the winemaking legends of its region. Ken Brown was the first winemaker, who later would turn Byron into a well respected producer of Burgundian wines in Santa Maria and now creates his own eponymous label. Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist worked at Zaca Mesa before they were the superstars of Santa Ynez labels Au Bon Climat and Qupé.
Similar to the Rhone, the Syrah vineyards at Zaca Mesa are planted on steep or rugged terrain. That, and the combination of near-perfect temperature and soil conditions create a wonderful environment and an accent on French: for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Viognier, Roussanne and Cinsaut to grow in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Zaca Mesa Winemaker Clay Brock
The Wines of Zaca Mesa
Zaca Mesa 2004 Viognier
Spending five months in neutral French oak and an alcohol volume of 14.4% is fact. But both fact and fancy merge when this lovely floral and sweet-peach white caresses the tongue. For those used to the over-the-top unctuous and alcohol-ridden California Viognier, surprise! This isn’t one of them, you’ll notice, as apricots melt in your mouth. Yes, it’s creamy; but the oak influence is merely textural pleasure.
Zaca Mesa Viognier label
Zaca Mesa 2004 Roussanne
“Roussanne is literally a beautiful grape to look at,” says Winemaker Clay Brock. “It’s an odd sort of varietal that keeps you waiting for its flavors to develop. But it never does – in its grape form. Green and golden berries interplay, and finally, it is during fermentation that the character shines.” The delicate minerality coincides with a Riesling-like petrol – cloves and almond marzipan soften in its oily richness.
Z Cuveé 2002
This is a wine with range: from its base notes to its high pitched striking acidity, Z Cuveé is a full frequency red. Round and lush, the blend of 45% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 16% Syrah and 9% Cinsaut is inspired by wines of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape. From its plush raspberry to its dusty tannins, this is a wine that begs for food. SRP $15
Zaca Mesa 2002 Syrah
Our Editor’s Pick: a Syrah with grip and plenty of concentrated pleasure. Meaty – not the little fruit bomb here – satin textured, much like a Gigondas. “We don’t set out to make big wines,” says Winemaker Clay Brock, “but we do aim for elegance.”
Z Three 2003
In its debut for the wholesale market, Zaca Mesa’s “Z Three” is a blend of 52% Syrah, 46% Mourvedre and 2% Grenache. The Mourvedre is minimal on the “animale” – more blueberry that bitter black tea – and certainly soft on the palate. SRP $40
Zaca Mesa is distributed by the Henry Wine Group