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Uncorked: Lompoc Wine Ghetto a collection of talent

Published: Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

Industrial blue tin roofed buildings have been the business neighborhood for Santa Barbara winemaker Rick Longoria for 16 years. 

A pioneer in the Santa Barbara County wine industry, Longoria watched as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto blossomed over the years. But the desire to own a facility tailored for winemaking with sloped floors and drains that run the length of the floor will be huge assets come harvest time. A historic building for a tasting room presented a great opportunity. 

Only nine blocks away from his current Lompoc site, Longoria will have a new production facility, tasting room, office, kitchen and private room to host events. The free-standing building on D Street is two blocks from the Brewer-Clifton and Transcendence tasting rooms on F Street.  

“It’s one of those things where you have to have a little vision to see something work,” Longoria said. “The company that owned it used it as a gathering hall. They also started to let employees use it for birthdays, graduations or wedding receptions. Long-time Lompoc residents are all very familiar with the building.”

With the tasting room expected to come online in July, in time for the 2014 harvest, Longoria will begin to carve his niche into an already well-known location. 

Winemaker spotlight 

Turntables in a dimly lit corner pumped out 1980s rock music at the La Vie tasting room. 

At Jalama it was a shaggy carpet, mirror ball and seldom-seen 1950s surfer movies that played over subtle beats as darkness and a winter chill began to settle into the night air at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto in California.

Both tasting rooms are within shouting distance of Longoria’s tasting room. It’s a spectacular collection of talented winemakers. While their wines share some similarities, like the differences in tasting room decor, the deft touch each winemaker has chosen and the variance in site-specific terroir means each wine is a unique creation.

A 30-minute drive north of Santa Barbara, a visit to the Wine Ghetto can be an all-day affair where it’s easy to walk from tasting room to tasting room.

What to buy

Jalama, LaPresa Vineyard Syrah, 2009 ($36)

From an isolated vineyard on a hillside so steep it can be accessed only by a small staircase comes one of the most impressive Syrah’s I encountered on my trip through Santa Barbara County. 

Twenty percent whole cluster fermentation and 36 months in the barrel provide a powerful structure yet a delicate, silky beautiful mouth feel. Mocha, vanilla and black berry flavors elegantly unfurl through the extended finish. 

The Jalama Pinot Noir lineup impresses as well. 

La Vie, Ballard Canyon Syrah, NV ($35)

A blend of fruit from the 2009 and 2010 harvest was aged for 30 months in neutral oak. The unique nose provides hints of nuttiness and blackberry jam. There’s great dark fruit, beef and even petrol flavors.  

Longoria, Lovely Rita Pinot Noir, 2011 ($32)

Lighter color, very special, pretty fruit provide a nice burst of cherry. This wine has hints of tea and a charming nose. Two years ago I tasted it after it had been in the barrel for only five months and thought it was spectacular. The revisited finished product was like a warm, friendly visit with an old friend. 

Longoria said it is a “feminine version” of his Fe Ciega Pinot Noir.  

Longoria, Fe Ciega Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2010 ($48)

This is a deep examination of Pinot Noir with tea spices and clove. There’s bigger cherry and dark cherry flavors present than Lovely Rita. A hint of zesty white pepper livens up the mid palate and a long finish ties things together nicely. 

Longoria, Rita’s Crown Chardonnay, 2011 ($55)

This wine has an exquisite balance and a richness of fruit. Melon, peaches and stunning acidity come in a small quantities. Longoria made only 47 cases, two barrels worth of this world-class Chardonnay.  

Wine 101

AVA maps seem to be framed in every tasting room. 

I’ve noticed people walk right past them on their way to sample their wines. My advice is to stop. Examine where the fruit from the wine you are drinking is grown. At most small operations, you can find the winemaker manning the tasting room. Ask them about the elevation, the soil, the oceanic influence and what the harvest was like. 

It’s an education, a glimpse into what you are drinking and a great way to further define what style of wine you’d  enjoy most.   

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at news@daily-chronicle.com.

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