New 90+ Reviews From Antonio Galloni

Zaca Mesa is proud to announce the new Antonio Galloni Scores:  

2017 Z Gris Rosé - 90 points

“The 2017 Grenache Estate Vineyard Z Gris is gorgeous. Far from an easygoing wine, the 2017 possesses terrific depth and textural richness, not to mention considerable personality in its varietally expressive fruit. The 2017 is very nicely done and also a fine choice for the dinner table. "


2016 Pinot Noir - 93 points

“The 2016 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard is pliant, supple and racy, all of which make it irresistibly beautiful, even in the early going. Rose petal, lavender and spice notes add lift. Zaca Mesa seems to be going for an especially fruit-driven style with their Bien Nacido Pinot. That seems to work quite well here."


2015 Amphora Syrah - 93+ points

“The 2015 Syrah Estate Vineyard Amphora is a blend of three clones and is aged in terracotta amphora. Explosive on the palate, the 2015 offers tremendous depth and texture in its ripe dark fruit. Time in the glass will bring out considerable character. There is real potential for the future as these young vines planted in 2012 gets older."


2015 Estrella Syrah - 92 points

“The 2015 Syrah Estate Vineyard Estrella is endowed with tons of depth and textural richness. At their best, Santa Ynez Syrahs are both dense and also aromatically expressive. That is exactly what comes through in the 2015. Scorched earth, leather, smoke, tobacco and a host of savory notes lend complexity to a core of super-ripe dark red cherry and pomegranate fruit. This is an absolutely impeccable Syrah from Zaca Mesa."



2015 Eight Barrel Syrah - 94 points

“The 2015 Syrah Estate Vineyard Eight Barrel is the wine that best encapsulates the Zaca Mesa style. Powerful and explosive, but with terrific aromatic freshness and nuance, the 2015 has a lot to offer. The balance of aromatics, fruit, and structure is compelling. Like all of the 2015s here, the Eight Barrel is intense and yet also preserves a good bit of freshness."


2014 Mesa Reserve Syrah - 93 points

“The 2014 Syrah Estate Vineyard Mesa Reserve is bold, pungent and racy while retaining quite a bit of vibrancy. A rush of dark cherry jam, pomegranate, spice, menthol, and licorice add aromatic lift to balance the natural richness of the fruit."


Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine

Zaca Mesa is proud to announce the Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine scores for March 2018: 

2014 Eight Barrel Syrah

“From its highly extracted, almost brooding aromas to its dense and generously stuffed flavors, this assertively varietal offering conveys lots of incisive Syrah spice seamlessly joined to plentiful, ripe berry fruit.  It is big, but it is exceptionally well-balanced with tannin and acidity very capably buffered by concentrated, very long-lasting fruit, and, while showing a bit of youthful raggedness at the last minute, the only sin it commits is that of extreme youth. Its glimmers of polish are the signs of a very bright future, and pouring it before another five years have passed will be pouring it much too soon.”

-93 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to CA Wines, March 2018 Issue 


2014 Black Bear Block Syrah

“Intense, freshly cracked black-pepper smells merge with elements of dusty rose, caramelized meats, leather and fresh earth in the distinctive, moderately fruity aromas of this expressive Syrah, and the spicy complexities of the nose are fully replayed in the slightly juicier-than-expected flavors that ensue.  No simple wine this, and one that is weighty without once seeming heavy, the latest Black Bear Block bottling is a substantial yet nicely balanced look at the grape that is underpinned by plenty of firm, slightly grippy, young tannins.  If not overly tough, it is far from being ready to drink, and it is best to allow a minimum of three or four years to pass before pulling its cork.” -91 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to CA Wines, March 2018 Issue


2014 Estrella Syrah

“This small-lot offering made exclusively from the Estrella Syrah clone is very much a wine for the future, and, although it exhibits plenty of fine, well-focused fruit and conveys no small degree of richness and depth, it is structured along the tighter lines of one that will need a good five years before hitting its stride.  Its sense of fruity purity, its energy and persistence indelibly mark it as a guaranteed winner with age, and we would not be surprised in the least if it were to continue to evolve gracefully for a full decade or more.  Be in no hurry here.” – 91 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to CA Wines, March 2018 Issue


2014 Mesa Reserve Syrah

“Suggesting a good bit of extract from the outset and very explicit in its spicy, indelibly varietal, blackberry fruit, the Mesa Reserve is a well-muscled Syrah that exhibits fine density and depth.  It is moderately tannic without being abrasive, and its hard-to-miss acidity imparts a certain sinewy firmness, yet, while it is definitely closed-in relative to what it will be further along in its life, it offers a very clear and continuous look at solid, well-formed fruit and shows richness enough to make a half-dozen years of keeping and entirely risk-free bet.” -90 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to CA Wines, March 2018 Issue



2014 Syrah

“Smelling of briary spice, black tea and roasted meats with a solid backing of well-ripened fruits always in evidence, Zaca Mesa’s least expensive Syrah does a good job at hitting the right varietal marks, and, even if its flavors are presently cramped by a bit of slightly too-pushy acidity, they exhibit reasonable fruity depth and accurately reiterate the varietal spice of the nose.  The wine’s tendency to tartness may be appreciated by those who cannot get enough acid, but, as we see it, two or three years of softening will make for a better wine yet.” -87 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to CA Wines, March 2018 Issue


2016 Viognier

“Fresh and lively and very well-focused if not among the flashier, more lavish Viogniers, this carefully crafted offering is charged with lots of keen and continuous, white peach fruit with a subtle, yet insistent flowery presence.  It is a lovely, beautifully balanced, medium-full-bodied look at the grape whose vital flavors are as refreshing as they are varietally on point, and its notably modest price makes it all the easier to like.” -90 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to CA Wines, March 2018 Issue


2014 Z Cuvée

“We like this wine’s moderately complex aromas of berries, creamy oak, dried herbs and minerals, and we like its similarly-minded flavors, yet, while it hints at refinement to come, it is still on the youthfully coarse side and gets ever-so-slightly abrasive in the latter going.  It will handily turn the trick as a partner to a simply grilled rib-eye steak in the short term, but another couple of years in the cellar are sure to make it more likeable yet.” -88 points, Connoisseurs’ Guide to CA Wines, March 2018 Issue

Cocktail Corner: Experiencing the Vineyard at Zaca Mesa

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg

Venturing into Santa Barbara County wine country is always a treat, but if you want something extra special, the Vineyard Experience at Zaca Mesa is a must-see. My husband and I recently took the tour and had such a lovely day. 

First of all, the sustainable estate winery and vineyard is gorgeous, with sweeping views as far as the eye can see. In his air-conditioned vehicle, Garrett Black, who is the company’s Brand Ambassador | Special Events, as well as a Certified Sommelier, CMS, took us through the history of the renowned 750-acre property, which was planted in 1973 and only the third winery in Santa Barbara County at that time.

As an added and very clever part of the tour, as we stopped at various points in the vineyard and tasted wines among the very vines that they came from. Believe me when I say that Zaca Mesa’s famous Black Bear Block Syrah—the oldest Syrah block in the Central Coast—is even more delicious when you’re sipping among the vines! 

Zaca Mesa served as the training ground for many great winemakers. Ken Brown was Zaca Mesa’s first winemaker (he later started Byron in Santa Maria Valley). Adam Tolmach, Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist worked at Zaca Mesa before venturing out on their own to start Ojai Vineyard, Au Bon Climat and Qupé, respectively. The current team produces excellent Syrah, Viognier, and other Rhône varieties and includes Director of Vineyard and Winery Operations Eric Mohseni and Winemaker Kristin Bryden.

Our experience (2+ hours) included an in-depth tour of the vineyard and production facility, personalized tours of the crush pad, tank rooms and barrel rooms, and a delicious wine country picnic lunch (ours was delicious and from Industrial Eats) with a guided tasting of current releases.

It was so much fun. The Vineyard Experience is $100 per person, and is available only to groups of 4-13 people. If that’s not quite in your budget, or time constraints, Zaca Mesa also offers a Winery Tour & Tasting, where guests can enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at the winery and production facility in an hour-long experience that spotlights Zaca Mesa’s history and the winery’s annual journey from vine to bottle. The Winery Tour & Tasting is $30 per person and includes a sampling of current releases.  



A Chat With Kristin Bryden

Talk about a storied history. Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards has that in spades.

The first vines at Zaca Mesa were planted in 1973. It was only the third winery in Santa Barbara County at that time. In 1978, the first Syrah in the county was planted at Zaca Mesa. The Black Bear Block is still there today. You can buy a block specific bottle of that Syrah, in fact.

The Zaca Mesa story doesn't end at the vines. Let's talk about the talent that has come through that cellar. Winemakers Ken Brown, Adam Tolmach, Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Daniel Gehrs, Eric Mohseni, and others made their impact at Zaca Mesa, before venturing on to individual projects. The legacies of those alumni spurred the creation of Zaca University, which hosts events that educate attendees on vineyard and winemaking techniques.

You might think that a young winemaker coming into an environment like Zaca Mesa's would be a bit intimidated. You would think wrong. Kristin Bryden has embraced that tradition with enthusiasm and a desire to put her own stamp on the venerable winery. Let's get to know her a bit better: 

The Wine Write: Were you aware of Zaca Mesa's storied history when you came on board?

Kristin: I knew of the winery. My initial connection with Zaca Mesa was their Roussanne. That one always stuck out for me. But I didn't know the whole history. I actually was pretty unfamiliar with the area then. I'm still learning a lot about it. It wasn't until I started working at Zaca Mesa that I was wowed by its history. That's when I realized how lucky I was!

The Wine Write: How do you like working with an estate vineyard?

Kristin: It's great. You're able to gain a better understanding of where the wine is going if you know what's happening in the vineyard. It takes a long time to learn a vineyard. Once you have that connection, you can really help guide the wine in the direction the vineyard wants it to go. You can also do things in the vineyard to improve wine quality. It really helps to be in the vineyard all the time.

The Wine Write: Did you have a viticulture background?

Kristin: No, my wine experience has been in production. I've learned what I know about vines from people teaching me and having the opportunity to walk the vines with other winemakers and vineyard managers.

The Wine Write: Did your college education help prepare you for the wine world?

Kristin: My degree from Cal Poly was in Food Science. That learning of chemistry and microbiology really helped me understand some aspects of winemaking. Even from an operations standpoint, my study of food processing plants gave me some appreciation for logistics. That plays into wine. Everything has to happen in a certain timeframe in the winery.

The Wine Write: How did you get your start in wine?

Kristin: When I graduated, I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do. A friend of mine had just gotten a job at Wild Horse Winery for harvest. She told me that they were hiring. We could work for three or four months and pay our rent. That sounded great. It really only took me a few days for my eyes to get big and realize how exciting the work was. It all grew from there.

The Wine Write: How did you make your way to Lockwood?

Kristin: Someone I had worked for at Wild Horse had taken a job at Lockwood and offered me a position. It was a great opportunity for me to work with a large estate vineyard. I learned a lot there about production and operations, too. It was a great growing experience for me.

The Wine Write: How involved are you with the vineyard at Zaca Mesa?

Kristin: We have Coastal Vineyard Care Associates to oversee the vineyard. We also have a Vineyard Manager, Ruben Camacho, who has been here for over thirty-five years. He is definitely in tune with the vines! Honestly, I am really learning a lot from those guys. I sit back and listen. My focus is on wine quality. When they're talking about decisions in the vineyard, my input comes in from that perspective. It's a big learning curve, but I'm being educated by the best people.

The Wine Write: I think many people don't appreciate the fact that the vineyard itself is a living, changing organism.

Kristin: Absolutely. You're working with vines that are aging. Different parts of the vineyard have different requirements. We may be planting new clones or using new rootstocks. Some of that is trial and error. It may take a long time to figure everything out. But it's fun.

The Wine Write: I know the estate property now focuses on growing Rhone varieties, but you also make Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet wines from outside vineyard sources. Talk to me about the Homage Collection.

Kristin: Zaca Mesa was the third winery established in Santa Barbara County. When the owners originally planted, they really had no idea what might grow best. Initially, varieties that grew well in other places were planted here. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chenin Blanc were all planted here then. Eventually, viticulture advanced and people figured out that our climate and soils grew Rhone grape varieties best. A transition was made. To pay tribute to our beginnings, we decided to make some of those original varietal wines, but from other fruit sources. As a winemaker, any time you get to work with fruit from an amazing vineyard, you jump at the opportunity. You learn that way. That's how the Homage program started. We pay tribute to our past, but also recognize that these varieties grow better in other places.

The Wine Write: Talk about some of those sources.

Kristin: We're sourcing Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc from Bien Nacido Vineyard. We work with three different vineyards in Happy Canyon for Cabernet Sauvignon. 

The Wine Write: How much fun is that?

Kristin: It's challenging. You're working with different grape varieties and different locations. You're not there every day, like you are for estate fruit. It's fun. Anytime you get to learn something new it's good.

The Wine Write: For lack of a better word, is there a Zaca Mesa style?

Kristin: Our vineyard is a really special site for Rhone grapes. We can develop tannins and maintain acidity. It's important for the wines to reflect that ability. I want to make a wine that has tannin and natural acidity. I want a wine that can age. I want them to balance well with food. It's really important to me to not take those characteristics of the vineyard away. I don't want the sugars to get too high. It's important to show those tannins and the balance in the wines.

The Wine Write: Do you taste with other people in the industry? What do you gain from doing that?

Kristin: I do taste with a small group of women. They're friends of mine. We've been doing that for about three years. It's great to taste all sorts of wines from all over. Anytime you can do that, it helps your palate. We always joke about getting a "house palate". That comes from tasting your own wines so frequently. Having a tasting group takes you out of that comfort zone. You get exposed to other regions and varieties. As a winemaker, it can also be inspirational. I may taste an amazing wine and wonder, "Wow...what are they doing?"

The Wine Write: Anything coming up at Zaca Mesa that you're especially excited about?

Kristin: We're getting ready to bottle a project that we started in 2016. We did a trial where we made a Grenache/Mourvedre co-fermented blend in three different aging vessels: one in neutral oak, one in amphora, and one in concrete. It's a nice experiment to see how those containers impact the wine. It's been an awesome project. Those different vessels are like more tools in the cellar. We tasted those wines blind about every three months. The evolution of the wines was amazing. It was really interesting to see how the wines developed and how our preferences changed along the way. That's definitely something worth looking toward. We'll market that as a three-pack. It will likely be available for purchase in the first quarter of 2019.

The Wine Write: Any aspirations to make wine on your own?

Kristin: I'm pretty content wearing my Zaca Mesa hat! I've played a bit with things here and there. I enjoy making wine and the production side of the business. Selling wine is a little harder. I'm going to stick to what I love! It's pretty easy to love Zaca Mesa. We were blown away by a tour of the property back in March. The tradition is obvious. It's also apparent that Kristin and her Zaca Mesa teammates have no intention whatsoever of resting on their laurels.

Want to learn more about Kristin and Zaca Mesa? The website is linked below. You might want to pop in the online shop and grab a bottle or three to taste the latest vintages from an iconic winery.

Santa Barbara’s Zaca Mesa Winery Celebrates 45 Years


by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/15/18

Forty-five years is a major milestone for any California winery, especially for one in a young viticultural area like Santa Barbara. Wine growing in this part of California dates back only to the late 1960s; local wines produced to compete on an international level didn’t really hit the marketplace until the mid- to late-1970s. So yes, Zaca Mesa’s 45th anniversary is a big deal.
Zaca Mesa's Black Bear Block of original syrah vines
Zaca Mesa became one of Santa Barbara County’s very first estate vineyards when a group of oil and land moguls, including John Cushman, established it in 1973. Real estate savviness, it turns out, paid off, since Zaca’s beautiful physical location – 25 miles from the Pacific, along the San Rafael Mountains, at an elevation of 1500 feet, blessed with complex soils and a temperate climate – is what’s driven its ability to generate distinctive wines.  Mr. Cushman and his twin brother, Lou Cashman, gained sole ownership of Zaca Mesa in 1988, and the winery’s been family-owned ever since. (Zaca Mesa was put up for sale in 2015, and it remains on the market.)
The wine we sipped when she said, Yes!
Zaca Mesa’s prominence as a Rhone producer stretches back to 1978 when, under the direction of then-winemaker Ken Brown, it became the first vineyard in Santa Barbara to plant syrah. Ever since, the red grape has become its primary calling card: its 1993 Syrah, made by Daniel Gehrs, took the #6 spot in Wine Spectator Magazine’s Top 100, the first time a Central Coast wine ever appeared on that coveted list; the 2006 syrah, made by Clay Brock, also hit the list, taking the #29 spot. Zaca syrahs have consistently gained 90+ industry scores ever since.
President Ronald Reagan poured Zaca Mesa wine at his 80thbirthday party.  President Bill Clinton poured Zaca wine for French President Jacques Chirac during a White House visit in 1996. And, for what it’s worth, I proposed to my wife with Zaca Mesa’s 1999 Black Bear Block syrah; almost 15 years later, we’re still going strong, so that’s got to count for something!
Today, of the Zaca estate’s 750 acres, more than 90 are planted to syrah grapes, with smaller plantings dedicated to grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, viognier, roussanne and grenache blanc.
The caché of the fruit that Zaca produces has, over the decades, also extended to the people who’ve turned it into wine. The who’s-who list of winemakers who have Zaca Mesa on their resume -- Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Adam Tolmach, Chuck Carlson, Benjamin Silver – has led many insiders to refer to the trailblazing winery as Zaca University. Today, the world-class program is spearheaded by Director of Winemaking Eric Mohseni and winemaker Kristin Bryden.
“Zaca Mesa has been a notable presence in the Santa Ynez Valley, known for its dedication to Rhône grapes and for quality viticulture, and few places have the honor of having a presence for 45 years,” says John Cushman, who’s planning a party.
Me w/Kristin Bryden & Eric Mohseni
Zaca Mesa’s 45th Anniversary Celebration will take place on Saturday, March 24th, and the public is invited. The event, scheduled from noon to 3pm, will feature myriad tasting stations throughout the barrel room and across the winery, as well as several library and pre-release wines. The general public pays $15; wine club members party for free. Food will be available for purchase from BBQ in the Stix and live entertainment will be provided by Sean Wiggins. Reservations are not required by RSVPs to kelsey@zacamesa.comare appreciated.
On this landmark anniversary, we’re thrilled to celebrate this special place,” adds Mr. Cushman, “paying tribute to all the visitors and wine club members who have remained loyal to us over the years, and thankful to all who have worked so hard to nurture our vines and craft our wines.”
Zaca Mesa is part of the Foxen Wine Trail, located at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 4pm, and there’s a variety of tasting and touring options available. Find out more at