The Wines of Santa Barbara

Discovering the potential of Santa Barbara in just three days!


I met with Larry Schaffer in his Los Olivos tasting room, though we certainly knew about each other through various social media channels and wine boards that we’ve both participated in over the years. Larry is an east coast transplant, living the dream in Santa Barbara, producing wines since the 2006 vintage. Larry’s dream, as it so happens is to produce “Artistic Rhône Red & White Wines” as he states on his website, and as we all known artists tend to be a funny crowd.

With six vintages under his belt Larry is beginning to find his groove, though the continued experimentation going on at Tercero certainly is evidence that the artist here is still in residence. The wines I tasted here were uniformly quite good, yet often in a different mold than one typically encounters in the region and with a bit less consistency from vintage to vintage as Larry continues to make adjustments for vintage variation and to really hone in on his style. I believe the next several vintages will prove pivotal for tercero wines and we’ll see some truly great if unusual wines coming out of the cellars here. I think the 2012 Dry Gewurztraminer might be a harbinger of things to come!

2011 Tercero Grenache Blanc 13.5%


Dusty fruit cores, a little lanolin, lovely spice notes, and a little almond come together on the nose. In the mouth this is very clean and fresh with an edge of roundness up front, followed by nice acidity supporting  green pear on the mid palate followed by a  bit of citrus pith. Very nice clean and refreshing in the mouth and showing good length with just a suggestion of sweetness to the fruit, very drinkable, little bitter apple cor notes on the finish. Shows just a hint of cheesiness on the nose 88pts

2010 Tercero Viognier 14.1%

White hawk 100% sand, half in Stainless, half in neutral wood

First viognier

Stemmy on the nose and  lightly smoky with notes of  roasted coffee beans, a dusty floral tone, a hint of almost tomato leaf. This shows a very bright entry with nice mid palate richness but this remains bright and fresh with flavors that hint at quince, floral, and Iightly at honeycomb. The long finish shows a bit of white tea, steeped tea character, and has just a bit of polyphenolic bitterness. Pretty elegant viognier. 89pts

2012 Tercero The Outlier Dry Gewurztraminer 12.5%



Lovely nose with  aromatics firmly in the floral, woodsy vein, with deep apricot and honeysuckle base notes with a fine lemon blossom top note. Slippery in the mouth, nice acids, juicy and fine with a lovely bright, crisp character, this has wonderful depth, super fine balance, and a lovely hint of underlying bitterness adding to the depth on the palate. 90pts

2012 Tercero Mourvedre Rose 13.5%


A little leather, floral, red flowers, meaty, raw meat, bright and raw, nice edge of leading sweetness with a bit of a caroby/date sweetness to the lightly spicy red fruit, clean, bright high acid mouthfeel with some subtlty on the palate a nice dusty finish, tart red fruit finish. 87pts

2009 Tercero Cuvée Christine 14.5%

In neutral oak for 42 months

65% Grenache, 15% mourvedre, 10% syrah, 10% petite sirah

Spicy, tarry and deep on the nose with a black cherry component, a little camphor, mineral and smoky limestone notes. In the mouth this is  relatively light bodied, showing lovely freshness and depth of clear fruit shows nice complexity with sour cherry, wild strawberry and mineral notes, framing notes shows a hint of spice, dried rose petal and herb stem. There’s nice tannin structure on the finish that is supportive but integrated adding a nice tea aspect with spicy mineral notes on the fairly long finish which does show a suggestion of heat 89pts

2009 Tercero Syrah Thompson 14.5%

100% whole cluster, aged in 30 months in neutral

Smoky and gamy on the nose with a charcoal mineral aspect and lots of lovely herbal top notes. This is quite clear texturally with a base layer of tannins under bright wild blackberry fruit and  black plum skins though big tannins do build on the finish. Tough and tightly knit, smells like Santa Cruz, a bit earthy, deep and complex. The finish is long as this sort of clings to the mouth with chewy little tannins anchoring savory  but not sweet fruit. A lot of wine showing freshness and complexity, it will be interesting to see where this goes. 90pts

2010 Tercero Mourvedre 14.5%

Half Camp Four half Learner

30 months in neutral wood, bottled in April

Lightly leathery on the nose then smoky meaty and  high toned with herb stems camphor, and a hint of fennel, licorice. A touch lighter than expected on entry with a nice texture that brings together fine grained, ripe tannins and  good acids. There’s some vivid red fruit here and  a bit of dried herb, dried tarragon with plenty of acid on the long finish which has a bit of a chocolaty aspect to it. 91pts

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  • Snooth User: LisaTillis
    221025 13

    Greg - If you did not sample the wines of winemakers, Joey and Jennifer Tensley, then you need to make a return trip. They are making some really exceptional Syrahs from the Colson Canyon Vineyards and Thompson Vineyards. Tensley wines are consistently rated at 93 points or more and have become our go to favorite. Absolutely outstanding! - Lisa Tillis, North Carolina

    Sep 19, 2013 at 1:21 PM

  • Snooth User: snoman
    229582 201

    Ditto for Jaffurs.....

    Sep 19, 2013 at 3:18 PM

  • Snooth User: johnmmoore
    170772 16

    Glad to see the Rhones being showcased. I cut my teeth on Rhones in Santa Barbara county. Tensley and Jaffurs were early favorites of mine for sure. Jaffurs does a whole lineup of Syrahs, and my first experience with cool climate Syrah was a Jaffurs Ampelos Syrah (Ampelos is a Pinot producer in Santa Rita Hills that also grows Syrah and other Rhones). The lesson I learned there was to look for Syrahs grown where Pinots are grown, and it's paid off. Evans Ranch, the premium label from Gainey Vineyards in Santa Ynez, produces all their wines out of Santa Rita - two Chards, two Pinots, and two Syrahs - I love them all. And Melville produces some nice Syrahs as well - their Vernas is not only cheap but very tasty (not from Santa Rita but close by). Really too many good Rhones in the region to mention. It's wine heaven, and anyone searching for wines that will inspire simply must visit. Having Santa Barbara and the beaches just over the hill is simply a bonus.

    One note - I've learned that where the grapes are from is paramount. Yes, technique and style are important, but knowing where the fruit is from goes a long way to predicting what a wine will taste like. I eschew notes of strawberry, tar, etc and cut right to the chase - where are the grapes from? AVA is important, and vineyard if you know the region. I know a Tondre Pinot when I taste it - same goes for a Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay. And for a cool climate Rhone lover, location is key. It's literally teaching someone to fish rather than giving them the fish. Santa Barbara county is a terrific place to hunt down some amazing cool climate Rhones.

    Sep 19, 2013 at 5:26 PM

  • After reading this I can't wait to get back out there to taste at Stopman and Martian Ranch! Zaca Mesa and Qupe are already favorites. I look forward to your Pinot wrap up and hope it will include Longoria, Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce! And have you tried the amazing Sav Blancs out of Santa Ynez?

    Sep 19, 2013 at 11:08 PM

  • Snooth User: eastwoods
    982332 1

    Interesting reading, but most of these are out of my $$$ range, with the exception of Zaca Mesa Chardonnay (it's at the top of my price point). Make note to self to try it.

    Sep 20, 2013 at 1:12 PM

  • Lisa is right Tensley is fantastic the colson canyon is amazing and so is their Grenache. Also Blair Fox down the street is amazing too. Loved their Grenache blanc

    Sep 20, 2013 at 1:54 PM

  • Snooth User: searchub
    1370139 20

    What about those who don't live in Santa Barbara. Maybe I need give a visit!

    Sep 23, 2013 at 11:01 AM

  • Greg, thanks for the update, definitely some interesting wines to explore. FYI, Stolpman winemaker Sashi Moorman is also doing great things at Sandhi Vineyards with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

    Sep 25, 2013 at 8:50 AM

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