The Wines of Santa Barbara

Discovering the potential of Santa Barbara in just three days!


If you want a contrast to Martian Wines Stolpman would be it. Pioneers in the region who planted the second vineyard in Ballard Canyon, from which they source all their fruit, and first producing wine in 1994, Stolpman sort of created the rich, dense powerful style that the region was originally known for. Surprisingly there are some similarities between Stolpman and Martian Ranch; there is an effort here to farm organically, though not biodynamically, puncheons are replacing barriques lessening the influence of wood on the wines, and fermentations are almost all native yeast at this point, but the results could not be more different.

These are wines that remain rich and powerful, and that might be due in some part to the vineyard which is planted in clay/shale topsoil that rests above heavy sandstone and limestone that sits some three feet under the surface. Add in the fact that the older vines here are not irrigated and you can see how one might end up with some small berried, concentrated fruit, which in turn provides the concentration and power that Stolpman is known for.

Having said all that, the wines here at Stolpman are certainly impressive, with lots of power and richness and chewy, but they are also well balanced and supple. They are made in a style that has an avid audience, and for the most part they exhibit well judged use of wood and are well structured given their weight. These are not wines that will appeal to all palates, but that is in part the beauty of what’s going on in Santa Barbara. There is diversity, allowing myriad wines styles to flourish. I hope Stolpman doesn’t change too much, they have wines deeply rooted in the history of the region and show the potential of Ballard Canyon’s fruit in a distinct and attractive style.

2012 Stolpman Rose, 13%


second or third time doing it, 2012 was a high yielding vintage, 60 Grenache, 40% Sangiovese, three day carbonic then whole cluster,

Spicy on the nose with lime and herbs and a hint of camphor. This is fruity on the front end, then mineral, dry and really crisp with superb acids. It’s light bodied yet nicely firm with fine strawberry fruit with a stony, raspberry finish. A zesty, nervous rose. 88pts

2012 Stolpman Viognier 13.5%


No malo all SS

Same as rose big crop gave them fruit to work with,

Jasmine and mineral laced on the nose which picks up minty, spicy, peach tinged fruit. On entry this is a little soft, rich and broad in a ripe but still vibrant style. In the mouth it’s aromatic with a bit of a balsamic edge, and soft with faintly honied juicy, apricot notes on the back end which shows some nice green tea notes before finishing with a hint of sweetness. 87pts

2011 Stolpman Golden Point 14.1%

82% Roussanne, 7% Chardonnay, 7% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Viognier

Roussanne 50% new, sauv in SS, other in neutral oak

Big aromatics on the nose, a bit smoky and nutty with jammy white raspberry, and exotic mango and guava notes. Bright on entry with almost salty minerality then the smoky oak creeps in along with deep nut framed orange marmalade and white cherry flavors. There’s fine length and power on the finish which shows a nice blend of herbs and toast with a hint of orange marmalade. 89pts

2010 Stolpman l'Avion 14.3%

Full malo 100% new oak, 100% Roussanne fermented in new wood

Sort of tropical on the nose with a bit of guava floating around here which is joined by smoky oak, polleny floral notes, with hints of tobacco and deep ripe pineapple base note. Weighty and deep on the palate, this retains fine acid balance, turning deep and nutty with ripe quince jelly flavors of the midpalate leading to a long spiced finish that shows fine minerality. Silky, smooth, and oily through the backend this ends with a moderately long finish cut with attractive minerality. Probably will improve in the bottle. 90pts

2011 Stolpman la Cuadrilla  14.5% $22

Profit shared with their vineyard crew,  named after the vineyard crew, the self named vineyard crew,

62% Syrah, 30% Sangiovese, 8% Grenache

Only neutral oak, no whole cluster, different label artwork each year

Dark and a bit tight, meaty, and tarry on the nose with some mintiness, black currant and a little spicy black fruit with a nice hint of wood spice adding some detail, and a hint of pepperiness. Bright and juicy upfront, this shows fine red fruits on the palate that are all about tart raspberry and strawberry fruit. there’s a fine astringent note to the tannins, and while this is big it’s  fairly light on its feet with a real mouth cleansing freshness and astringent red fruit on the backend.  A fun if rambunctious wine. 89pts

2009 Stolpman Sangiovese 14.5%

30 to 32 months in barrel, trying for a Brunello style

All neutral puncheons,

Dark and a bit tarry with lots of stewy herbal notes  and dried tart cherry fruit framed with hints of leather. Smooth and fairly deep in the mouth with fine grained tannins supporting a core of earthy, leather framed sweet cherry fruit that really pops on the backend and leads to a finish that is structured and long with a fine savory, leathery edge to the fruit.  A little chewy, but long and deep, this is youthful but already showing some nice development. 90pts

2011 Stolpman Estate Syrah 14.9%

5 to 10% new oak, 2% Roussanne, 2% Grenache, 1% Viognier

Intense on the  nose and full of stemmy roses, grilled meats, violets, old woodsy aromas, roasted nut meat, and cracked pepper. Fairly lean and fresh on entry with lovely acidity providing real fine cut to the dark berry, blueberry fruit that’s supported by soft tannins. There’s a deep savory edge to the fruit and while this is quite powerful it’s also fairly but elegant with a long pure finish that shows  real fine persistence to the fruit and lovely vibrancy. 91pts

2011 Stolpman Syrah Originals 14.5% $38


Oldest blocks on sandstone, all the American clones of syrah, co-fermented 2% to 3% viognier, brief time in barrel, about a year, maybe 5% to 10% whole cluster

Smoky, wiry, and gamy on the nose with precise cracked pepper and camphor notes adding complexity to the core of cherry toned fruit. Fairly powerful upfront then turning broad and a little loose on the palate with deep, dry stemmy tannins emerging to add a rudder. The acidity here is fine if not pronounced driving the meaty, earthy tobacco and almost black currant toned fruit flavors that show a bit of minty spice on the backend before returning to a tannin driven finish with nice mint and cocoa laced notes on the finish. This is pretty chewy. 92pts

2010 Stolpman Syrah Hilltops 14.9%


Dark earthy notes on the nose with a base of woodspice and toast supporting big dark fruit, blackberry and vanilla laced, jellied plum fruit. Big and powerful in the mouth, this is rich, chewy wine filled with vanilla and spice notes early on the palate with hazelnut and  nutella flavors joining deep boysenberry and blackberry fruit on the palate. There’s a peppery backbone here and the depth of flavor persists on the finish though the wood tannins seem to be winning that battle at the moment. There’s a lot of spicy oak on the finish and this shows a hint of heat as well. 90pts

2011 Stolpman Angeli Syrah 14.5%


Best four or five barrels of the year, less oaky than previous vintages

Tight and  finely focused nose with a mouth watering blend of wild berry fruit, smoke, used wood notes, chocolate and mineral. On entry this brings the power of the Stolpman wines to the table but in a much more elegant and refined way. With exceptional balance layers of  cut plums dry blueberries, and boysenberry fruit open on the palate supported by lovely tannins that are refined yet angular and dry,  Fairly transparent for such a powerful wine, this really shows a different style with a sense of refinement and finishes with great length and vibrancy. So young but super balance. 94pts


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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 202

    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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