Sonja Magdevski, founder of Santa Barbara’s Casa Dumetz. (photo courtesy of the winery)

A journalist by training and a winemaker by passion, Sonja Magdevski founded Casa Dumetz with a goal to create vibrant, balanced, and pleasurable wines using the basic ingredients of premium Santa Barbara County fruit. She has more than succeeded. An umbrella for her two additional labels (Clementine Carter, with Rhône varietals, and The Feminist Party, with multi-varietal blends), Casa Dumetz produces one stellar Pinot Noir every vintage from a different site in the Sta. Rita Hills. Magdevski’s dedication to Pinot is derived from her joy in working with the varietal. “It is consistent,” says the Fulbright Scholar and University of Michigan grad. “It is giving when handled well, and the dramatic aromatic changes that occur throughout the fermentation process are intoxicating, without even having to taste a drop. That care and beauty directly translate into the bottle.”

What are the characteristics of a Santa Barbara County Pinot—and more specifically, a Sta. Rita Hills pinot?

It is complicated to ‘define’ what a Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir represents, compared to our other primary Pinot Noir growing regions of the Los Alamos Valley and the Santa Maria Valley. So I will explain why I choose to work with Sta. Rita Hills fruit: For its elegance and honest embrace. Lightness of being. Fierce character. Fruit intensity. Extreme pleasure. It is an intimate place. Smaller geography coupled with vast dreams. It is both very simple and incredibly complex. It always leaves you wanting more, that is for certain.

What geographical characteristics contribute to the AVA’s stellar Pinots?

Everything we do here in Santa Barbara wine country is influenced by the Pacific Ocean. We have three primary valleys that run east-west in their orientation and open directly onto the Pacific. Sta. Rita/Santa Ynez Valley, the Los Alamos Valley, and the Santa Maria Valley. Every day we engage in this gorgeous dance—picture a very sexy tango to a stunning visceral beat.

In the early morning our valleys swallow the cool ocean air and every early afternoon they exhale it back out, allowing warm inland pressure to tenderly caress the cool air back out. The bright sun and its accompanying breeze dries up any moisture left from this morning ritual. The closer a vineyard site is to the ocean, such as in the Sta. Rita Hills, the cooler the temperatures overall. The morning warms up later and the afternoons cool down earlier. In some vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, the conditions can be quite fierce because of the prevailing winds and climate. Smaller berries, intense fruit, lower yields.

Our growing season in Santa Barbara County is also incredibly consistent. Our weather is perfect. We could use more rain, of course, though we never have to harvest or make premature decisions based on rain or hail, which makes farming, management, strategy and logistics easier. And it creates a very calm environment in which to assess goals and priorities. It is a joy to work here.  

How does a Casa Dumetz Pinot stand out from crowd?

I adhere to a philosophy of purity of place. Each vintage I choose to work with a different vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills, the better to  experience the AVA and better understand the area. From soil type to vine age to clone to grower, the exploration is thankfully endless.  

I always employ a healthy dose of whole cluster into wine processing, coupled with a long, gentle, cool fermentation strategy. All of this results in an aromatic wine with a bright fruit pop and incredible texture.