The beautifully balanced 2014 pinot noir from our recent tasting would pair beautifully with grilled salmon.  (photo by Renee Wilmeth for Wine and Whiskey Globe)

Early in the lockdown, I heard from some old friends who wanted to catch up over a video happy hour—Dave and Joan Szkutak. The Szkutaks both built their careers as executives in Cincinnati, but they’re the kind of retirees—worldwide travelers, and longtime wine collectors—always looking at what’s next. Dave, a former CEO, recently earned his WSET diploma. Joan is an expert on sales, trends, and market projections. 

Over the years, we three have spent time tasting in a number of wine regions from Oregon to Sonoma, and I was fortunate to be with them on my first trip to Santa Barbara, when it’s safe to say we all fell in love with the rich pinot noirs and ethereal whites from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. They must have fallen really hard: In 2017, they announced their purchase of SAMsARA Wine Co. from the well-respected Chad Melville, who had been making outstanding pinot noir, syrah, grenache, and chardonnay from micro-sites within the area’s numerous vineyards. They brought winemaker Matt Brady on board shortly thereafter.

We invited some folks to join us via video and all liberated bottles of SAMsARA from our cellars to share with Dave and Joan. Their ongoing passion for the wines came through loud and clear, even over broadband. We each opened our treasures and shared our impressions—and our tasting notes were more about the stories that went with each bottle, how it was made, and why it was special to us.   

Syrah OM 2014

An infant wine with a drinking window that doesn’t open until 2022, only 40 cases of this monster, rated 95 points by Wine Advocate, were made. It’s packed with everything you want in a cool-climate syrah. The label was created by well-known Florida artist Gina Torkos.   

Zotovich Chardonnay 2015

If you’re not familiar with these Sta. Rita Hills chardonnays, think of them more like their French counterparts. They’re lighter, more complex, higher in acidity, and less heavy than most of their California cousins. Chardonnays here benefit from the mountains and the cool ocean air, which produces light, briny chardonnays that still bring a fruity richness. The Zotavich vineyard is located in the hills between Buellton and Lompoc. Vinous gave the 2017 Zotavich 93 points.  

Turner Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014

While these Sta. Rita Hills pinots are rich, they’re less extracted than those from further north, which makes them more balanced and enjoyable. With nice acidity, dark fruit, pepper, and clove, this wine could easily age another 5 years. Lighter than a Sonoma pinot, but not as light as a Burgundy, this wine would pair well with dishes like salmon or pork. Jeb Dunnuck gave the 2015 Turner Pinot Noir 92 points.

 Bentrock Chardonnay 2018

Only Dave and Joan had this one at hand; they had a few early preview bottles (owners’ privilege) even though most of their newest wines aren’t yet bottled due to the lockdowns.

“I hate to call it Chablis-like,” Dave said, “because that means so many different things to different people.” Instead, he describes it as similar to the Zotavich, noting weight on the mid-palate, with neutral oak. Fermented with natural yeast, these wines are beautiful on their own or with food.

Ballard Canyon Viognier 2019

This 2019 pre-release features fruit from the legendary Jorian Hill vineyard. Lighter than some of the heavier, floral California versions, this viognier shows lots of finesse, with some fruit and minerality on the palate that’s a characteristic of this particular vineyard.

These are beautiful wines from a beautiful part of the world. Right now, the winery is offering 1 cent shipping on orders of 6 bottles or more placed via their online wine store, by phone, or email.