Under cloudy skies and a light rain one May day, a group of wine writers, winemakers and sommeliers met at Duvarita Vineyard, west of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA on La Purisima Road outside of Lompoc.
Brook Williams, who purchased the vineyard with his siblings in 2012, walked us through some chardonnay vines that grow on the base of the upper slope.
The vineyard, planted in 2000 by former Presidio Winery owner Doug Braun and his partners, comprises about 27 acres planted for syrah (four acres), pinot noir (16 acres) and chardonnay (seven), and about one acre of pinot gris and viognier (the latter allows winemakers who source Duvarita to co-ferment it with syrah).
The name Duvarita combines the Williams siblings’ parents’ first names and the former Santa Rita land grant, on which the vineyard sits.
Williams has filled various roles in the regional wine industry, having worked in marketing and brand management, and just before buying Duvarita, was the CEO of Zaca Mesa Winery. He and his siblings also own Edna Valley’s Slide Hill Vineyard (formerly Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard). Both Duvarita and Slide Hill have been certified biodynamic for several years.
A third family vineyard, Christy N. Wise, is newer to the ‘hood and planted to 37 acres with syrah, grenache, pinot noir, viognier and chardonnay, Williams said.
Duvarita includes two south-facing slopes (one of which is visible along La Purisima Road), and its elevation ranges from 180 to 370 feet above sea level.
The vines were planted close and low to the ground as protection from persistent ocean winds and for heat retention from the soil. Like other vineyards planted east along Highway 246 from Lompoc, Duvarita comprises the Arnold series soil — deep, well-drained soil formed from weathered sandstone.
The vineyard’s history dates back to the era of land grants. It was part of the original Rancho Santa Rita land grant that was given in 1845 by Gov. Pio Pico to José Ramón Malo, according to DuvaritaVineyard.com.
Malo was one of the members of the first Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors in 1854, but he died in 1859 before the U.S. Public Land Commission confirmed his ownership in the Rancho is 1875.
Braun and Presidio purchased the property in 1999, and it was planted in 2000. Until it closed in the mid-1990s, the property was home to the Lompoc Sportsmen’s Club.
Pouring various vintages of Duvarita-sourced wines that May day were Adam Tolmach (The Ojai Vineyard), John Dragonette (Dragonette Cellars), Ernst Storm (Storm Wines), Eric Carucci (Carucci Wines), Matt McKinney (McKinney Family Wines), Jessica Gasca (Story of Soil Wines), Steven Searle (Jaffurs Wine Cellars and Leitmotif) and Dana Volk (Dana V. Wines). Williams said that Duvarita grapes are sold to an average of 15 winemakers per vintage.
We tasted 21 wines made from Duvarita-grown grapes, ranging from a viognier and syrah from Williams’ own label, J. Dirt — “My daughter’s ‘street name’ for me is James, which turned into J. Dirt” — to a cross-section of the various winemakers’ wines, including a 2008 syrah from Tolmach that still offered balance with solid tannins and a 2009 Presidio pinot noir from Braun that also stood the test of time.
Tolmach said he has sourced grapes from Duvarita since 2005 and is “completely taken by” the quality of the colder climate syrah.
Most of the winemakers, among them Storm, Gasca (who organized the tasting and lunch) and Carucci, noted characteristics common to Duvarita: world-class cool-climate syrah; grapes that ripen earlier than average; pinot noirs and syrahs that showcase, respectively, “pine” and “perfume” on the nose and stems that encourage producers to utilize some percentage of whole cluster fermentation.
Following are notes on some of the other wines I sipped:
» McKinney Family Wines’ 2017 Pinot Noir, aged with 15 percent new French oak, “bright”
» Another 2017, this one from Dana V., who used clone 777, 30 percent whole cluster in 30 percent new French oak, “big and lush”
» The 2016 Storm Pinot Noir, with clones 113, 115 and 667, “earth and funk”
» The 2014 Dragonette Cellars Pinot Noir, clones 113, 115 and 777, no whole cluster, 22 percent new French oak, “super nice”
My belief is that Duvarita, with vines planted in sand and whipped by the winds, is a testament to the Williams’ family farming prowess and the winemakers’ expertise handling cool-climate grape varietals.