About 400 miles south of Napa Valley, sits a quieter wine land that has a 200-year old history of wine making. The quaint coastal town of Santa Barbara is the portal to a land bursting with rocky mountains, lush vibrant valleys and a wine county with more than 200 wineries that grow more than 50 different types of grape varieties. The area’s modern history of winemaking began in the 60s while its American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) weren’t created until the 80s. Within Santa Barbara County there are six: Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Happy Canyon and Los Olivos, which was most recently recognized in 2015.
From Class Room to Tasting Room
Four decades after the first wineries in the region were created, a young Michigan-native was living in Malibu working at a local flower shop while she finished her graduate thesis. A political science and journalism student, she had spent years studying, reading, writing and learning. She never thought her life’s path would lead from the classroom to create her own wine tasting room one day.
In 2003, with her dad visiting from Michigan, she drove about an hour and a half north of Malibu to Santa Barbara and then an extra 40 minutes into the mountains towards Santa Ynez Valley where they both discovered and fell in love with a wine territory that was much closer to home than Napa Valley.
A year later, Sonja was experimenting with wine making in a garage until 2008 when she began her commercial production of Casa Dumetz Wines.
Creating Pleasure One Drop at a Time
Santa Barbara’s land at the base of the ocean has created a cool and sunny environment that’s perfect for vineyards. Sonja has fostered longstanding and loving relationships with a variety of vineyards from around the region to harvest the grapes she uses for each of her wines.
Each of the three wine labels that Sonja produces is silky, inviting and downright tasty. Casa Dumetz is a pinot noir from a Sta. Rita Hills vineyard that changes every year while Clementine Carter and The Feminist Party are Rhône varietals with a focus on grenache and her GSM (grenache, syrah, mourvèdre) blend. She used to produce a single varietal syrah, but 2014 was the last year she did due to the low yields.
Sonja’s pinot noir with its ruby color and berry nose is fruit forward and silky. For something a bit more spicy but still balanced and approachable, her grenache is the way to go.
The grenache grape is today mainly found in a few European countries like France’s Rhône wine region that extends from the country’s center to the sea, the northeast region of Spain (think Calatayud and Priorat), southern Italy (Sicily and Calabria) and then followed by the U.S. coming in fourth place. It’s fruit focused, aged in oak with a medium acidity. Its spicy notes make it a perfect pairing for roasted meats and vegetables.
If you’re a pinot noir fan that is looking for an interesting alternative, Sonja’s central coast grenache will not disappoint. Light enough in color and body to feel like a traditional claret, it boasts a slightly peppery yet soft finish. Grenache traditionally can be viewed as dry, but this central coast wine has an elegant and notable finish.
Don’t overlook some of the more eclectic wine varietals she is making as well. The 100% mourvèdre and graciano wines are unique and very distinctive. Mourvèdre is generally considered a blending grape but this wine has a unique jaminess to it that makes it ideal for a lighter red that can pair with fowl very well. Think of it as a Sunday roast wine for the drinker that does not like the big bold grape varietals. Graciano may be the central coast’s best mistake. Graciano had been confused for mourvèdre and subsequently planted throughout many wineries in the area. While some makers have torn it up and replaced it, Sonja has embraced its character and makes a 100% varietal. It’s a unique wine that is truly worth a try, especially now during Thanksgiving.
Next time you find yourself in the Santa Rita Hills (or online) and buying some Casa Dumetz from the winery or your favorite wine shop, make sure you've signed up for Grand Reserve Rewards—you'll earn rewards points on every purchase.