Vertical tasting – Five vintages of Zaca Mesa Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir

Vertical tasting – Five vintages of Zaca Mesa Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir was part of the original 1973 planting at Zaca Mesa and was grown in the vineyard until the early 90’s. While not without its highlights, including the 1988 vintage being served at the 80th birthday celebration for President Ronald Reagan in 1990, ultimately Syrah and other Rhône varieties best thrived on our mesas and became the basis of our estate program. 

In 2013, we were compelled to pay homage to varieties once produced here at Zaca Mesa through the Homage Collection – a series of four wines, most notably cool climate Pinot Noir. As part of our inaugural 2013 Homage Series vintage, we began working with Pinot Noir from the iconic Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley. The cool coastal valleys of Santa Barbara County hold an abundance of riches for the grape, with Santa Maria Valley being noteworthy for the floral-perfumed elegance in its expressions. Ultimately Zaca Mesa Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir has become a linchpin in our lineup, with recent vintages receiving acclaim such as 2015’s 95-point rating from Wine Enthusiast, and 2016’s pair of 93-point ratings from Antonio Galloni and Wine Enthusiast.

As with Zaca Mesa, Bien Nacido Vineyard was planted in 1973. Part of the original 1837 Rancho Tepusquet Spanish land grant covering large swaths of the Santa Maria Valley, the vineyard was planted and is still owned by the Miller family. The site sits at the northeastern opening of a transverse coastal mountain range, with expansive benchlands and steep upper slopes benefitting from the opening of the San Rafael mountains. That opening funnels coastal marine air to create one of the coolest growing regions in California, while the southwest exposure of the vineyard provides ideal sunlight. Zaca Mesa’s Pinot Noir comes from two vineyard blocks. Block 45 is a hillside block, and quality here thrives in higher elevation and nutrient-poor gravelly loam soils. The Pinot Noir clone planted here is Swan Clone, a domestic cultivation from Joseph Swan that originated in Pommard and is known for elegance and complexity. N-2 is on a sloped bench and is planted to Dijon Clone 115, known for its roundness, tannin structure, and complex aromatic profile of fruit. Our winemaker Kristin Bryden ferments the clones separately – destemming the fruit and aging in a combination of François Frères and Sirugue French oak barrels for 10 months. Depending on the vintage, there is sometimes a small percentage of whole cluster fermentation. 

Recently, Kristin and I sat down for a vertical tasting of the five vintages of our Homage Series Pinot Noir. Kristin noted a common thread of silkiness and elegance throughout, owing to the complexity of soils at Bien Nacido. I was impressed by the vibrancy of the earlier releases, as well as the complex layers of the more recent vintages. Below are notes on each of the wines:

Zaca Mesa 2013 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard – Displaying ruby color with clarity. Aromatics of apple skin and dusty berry fruit, with allspice and clove, pressed hibiscus and hints of earth. Lush red fruit on the palate, with emerging secondary spices and sandalwood. It shows an elegant texture, with nice mid-palate density, lithe tannins and good overall length.

Zaca Mesa 2014 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard – Light garnet in color. Darker aromatically with aromas of dried fig and pomegranate, brambly soil and allspice. Crisp fruit and mineral notes greet the palate with layered secondary depth developing. Beautiful density – layered and impactful, well-structured. Vibrant integrated acidity, with fine tannins and lingering spice on the finish. 

Zaca Mesa 2015 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard – Garnet in color with clarity. Alluring aromatics of pomegranate and fig, allspice, hibiscus and soil minerality. Nicely layered palate of fig fruit, vanilla bean and clove spices, sandalwood, cedar and pressed flowers – a lot going on. Broad and finely elegant structure, with well-integrated acid, fine tannins and good overall length.

Zaca Mesa 2016 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard – Darker ruby color with clarity. Aromas of black cherry fruit, crushed stone, smoked paprika, allspice and lavender. Beautifully layered palate with sumptuous red fruit, Asian spices, forest floor, mineral and cedar – crisp and vibrant, elegant and impactful, with excellent presence throughout. Finely structured, with good length and a spice-driven finish. Current release. 

Zaca Mesa 2017 Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard – Dark ruby color with clarity. Complex and brooding aromatics of pomegranate fruit, iron and earth, Asian spices and dried florals. Darker fruit on the palate – braised dates and Damson plum, spices, crushed stone and lavender. Well-layered flavors with an alluring tension, nicely integrated acid, smooth broad tannins and good depth and length. Wine club release. 

Five vintages of Zaca Mesa Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir show a style combining richness and elegance with tension, subtle complexities and fine structure. The fruit and texture are offset by bright acidity, and the natural elegance of Pinot Noir shines. We believe it occupies a special place at Zaca Mesa and is a distinctive and compelling representation of Bien Nacido Vineyard and Santa Maria Valley. 

-- Matt Mauldin | WSET Advanced | Wholesale Sales Manager