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May 02, 2019
Varner shows all there is to love about the Santa Barbara AVA
Varner Wine has been a fixture in the Central California wine game since the 1980s, producing some of the best handcrafted, cool-climate Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays this side of the Atlantic. The winery is owned by identical twins Bob and Jim, the former being the sole winemaker while overseeing farming, with the latter running sales and marketing. Having grown up in the Midwest, the brothers made their way west to attend UC Davis during the 70’s. After graduating with a degree in oenology, Bob wasted no time in his quest to make superb California wines on par with the minerally white and red Burgundys he had studied in school.
Working his way through Napa Valley, but with his sights still set on cool climate wines, Jim eventually made his way north to the Santa Cruz Mountains. In 1980, Bob left his Ph.D program in genetics to help his brother plant the vineyards, together focusing their energies on cultivating pristine fruit for local wineries, including the likes of Thomas Fogarty. Even in their initial years, the brothers were on the forefront of sustainable winemaking, with some of their earliest vineyards in Santa Cruz having been dry-farmed, organically farmed and manually harvested from the start.
In 2014, Jim and Bob made the bitter-sweet decision to leave the Santa Cruz Mountains and head south, to their new project in Santa Barbara. New soil, new vineyards, but with the same exceptional level of quality - the Varner’s experiment in Santa Barbara is another success.
Varner 2015 Chardonnay, El Camino Vineyard, Santa Barbara
The brother’s inaugural Santa Barbara Chardonnay was met with great praise, and their 2015 vintage is another winner. The fruit for this Chardonnay comes from the twins’ El Camino Vineyard, rooted in sandy loam 600 feet from sea level. On the nose, this one sings of honey comb, lemon confit and fresh apricot. On the palate, bright acidity and citrus, reminiscent of Varner’s Santa Cruz past, is balanced by notes of tropical fruit and peaches that are distinctly of a warmer terroir. To boot, New French oak has given this Chardonnay just enough subtle savory notes to balance out all the fruit. This is a delicious but serious Chardonnay, bright and clean, with enough weight and texture to hold its own to any audience (Chardonnay skeptics included).
Varner 2015 Pinot Noir, Los Alamos Vineyard, Santa Barbara
Los Alamos Vineyard, which provides the fruit for this 100% Pinot Noir, has long been a staple in Santa Barbara wine country. In recent years, Los Alamos has been farmed with progressive sustainable practices; the vineyard is dry farmed, cane-pruned and head-trained. Before seeing oak, Bob Varner lets his 100% destemmed Pinot Noir fruit spend time in tank, resulting in more expressive fruit with tension and energy.
Through careful site selection and non-interventionist practices in both the cellar and the field, the Varner brothers have created an excellent, terroir driven Pinot Noir in all its Santa Barbara AVA glory. In the glass, shades of ruby and dark magenta give a first look into the ripe red fruit and dark berry aromas to come. The palate is smooth and juicy, soft and bright in all the right places, with a splash of minerality to boot. Unreal finesse. If you were looking for a versatile, crowd pleasing Pinot Noirs for your summer dinner parties, you can stop right here.