After spending the first nine days of our Central Coast wine adventure traveling up Pasos Robles way, we made our initial expedition south from Nipomo to cooler climes.
Our destination: Sea Smoke Cellars. What a special place. Owner Bob Davids purchased the land that became Sea Smoke Estate in 1999. It is located along the north hillsides of Santa Rita Hills, made famous not too much earlier for the quality of the Pinot Noir that it produces.
Those of us who are Pinot fanatics (I count myself among the numbers) loved it when good quality Pinot Noir started to be produced around various cool climate areas of California. Before the 1990s, most Pinot Noir bottlings in California were herbaceous, if not outright vegetal. Through better clone selection, canopy management and other viticultural techniques, the quality of Pinot Noir advanced dramatically.
The rush to find the perfect microclimates was on. Early success was found in Carneros and the Russian River Valley. Then came Edna Valley, Arroyo Grande and the Santa Maria benchland. Finally, the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County and Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County made their mark.
Davids and his core of six full-time employees started harvesting their grapes and making wine in a co-op facility in Lompoc (don’t listen to W.C. Fields — it’s pronounced lahm-POKE). From the beginning, accolades rolled in for the three renditions of Pinot Noir made by Sea Smoke. By 2009, a separate winery facility was built in downtown Lompoc. It is not open to the public, and much of the wine (they make 10,000 to 13,000 cases a year) is sold to mailing list customers. The rest goes to high-end restaurants around the United States, and a trickle makes it to the finest wine shop retailers. By any definition, these are cult wines, highly sought after.
We were lucky enough to be hosted by General Manager and Director of Winemaking Victor Gallegos today at the winery. Despite the cult status, the winery itself is no-nonsense and all about functionality. As Gallegos put it, “Our mission is to produce the best Pinot Noir in the United States. If there is something we can do to move in that direction, cost is not a problem. Each year, our goal is to make a better wine than we did the year before. The one thing we are careful not to succumb to is hubris — getting too full of ourselves.”
After tasting through their current offerings, it is clear that they are laser-sharp and spot-on as they pursue Pinot Noir perfection. Oh, and the Chardonnay was pretty tasty as well!
If you are interested in more information about Sea Smoke, visit their website at: