Not much has changed in the town of Los Olivos since I visited in the summer of 2009. The charming town in California’s Santa Ynez Valley is just as picturesque as I remember it.
Strolling along Grand Avenue, popping into the boutiques and enjoying delicious wines at some of the numerous tasting rooms continues to combine for a wonderful afternoon. People are still referencing the movie Sideways (although not as frequently as before), and the Los Olivos Cafe is still an excellent spot for lunch or dinner (I recommend the lamb).
One felicitous change to the Los Olivos scene was the addition of new tasting rooms. My favorite was Dragonette Cellars.
Dragonette wasn’t just a highlight of my afternoon in Los Olivos; it was a highlight of my two weeks in southern and central California.
On a sunny and mild Saturday in February, my husband and I made Dragonette’s tasting room our first stop in Los Olivos. Owner John Dragonette greeted us and told us about the winery as he poured us a taste of the wines.
The realization of a long-held dream to make quality wines, Dragonette Cellars was founded by John, his brother Steve Dragonette and their close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis. John is a lawyer in Los Angeles (although recently more of a winemaker by day and lawyer by night, as he put it), who spent years honing his winemaking knowledge and skills at some of the top wineries in the region.
Dragonette Cellars’ goal is to produce wines of balance and complexity from grapes that have been minimally manipulated, with controlled yields that provide maximum flavor and concentration in the wine.
From the vineyard to the bottling, John, Steve and Brandon are involved in every step of the winemaking process. Looking through a photo album in the tasting room, my husband and I saw pictures of the three men and their families working in the vineyards. The tender loving care put into each bottle of Dragonette’s wine comes through in the taste.
We started the tasting with two Sauvignon Blancs: the 2009 Santa Ynez Valley and the 2009 Vogelzang Vineyard. I preferred the first, which was made with grapes from three vineyards (Vogelzang and Grassini Family Vineyard in Happy Canyon, and Refugio Ranch on the northern slopes of the Santa Ynez Mountains). The grapes were pressed and separately fermented in a mix of stainless steel and 5% new French oak barrels. The wine was aged on its lees for 11 months prior to bottling.
The 2009 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc was fresh and aromatic with notes of peach, apricot and ripe mango. It was just a touch creamy but still upbeat, clean and light, with nice minerality and a hint of what Dragonette describes as a “salty sea-air freshness.” I wanted to take my glass outside and enjoy the wine in the sun. Even my husband, who recently has been anti-Sauvignon Blanc, was a big fan.
Then it was time for Pinot Noir, a grape grown throughout the Central Coast with varying degrees of success. John poured us two wines, the 2009 Santa Rita Hills and the 2009 Hilliard Bruce Vineyard.
Fellow chocolate fans, you know that feeling of satisfaction you get when you take that first bite of a rich chocolate dessert? You close your eyes, smile and say “mmm”. That’s the reaction I had to sipping Dragonette’s Pinot Noir.
Elegant, luscious, layered, yummy — I could go on and on about both Pinots.
The 2009 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir was made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes from four vineyards. The wine was aged for 15 months in 33% new French oak. Medium to full in body with jammy flavors of black cherry, plum and blueberry, the wine was enhanced by subtle notes of cardamom, nutmeg and vanilla. Well balanced acidity and gentle tannins combined for a silky mouthfeel, with a lingering dark fruit finish.
The second Pinot Noir was made entirely from grapes grown at Hilliard Bruce Vineyard, a new Pinot Noir project at the far western edge of the Santa Rita Hills appellation. The wine was aged for 15 months in 25% new French oak. Full bodied and lively, the wine had ripe flavors of black cherry, boysenberry and red currants complemented by cola, cinnamon and sandalwood. Good acidity, soft tannins and a long silky finish made this Pinot Noir a real pleasure to sip. I enjoyed the 2009 Hilliard Bruce Vineyard so much that I couldn’t help but ask for an extra pour at the end of our tasting.
We concluded with another outstanding wine, the 2008 Syrah. It was made with grapes from three cooler climate vineyards (Watch Hill and Los Tres Burros in Los Alamos Valley and Shadow Canyon Vineyard in York Mountain, west of Paso Robles). The wine was aged on its lees for 22 months in primarily French oak, 33% new. Deep dark purple in color, the Syrah had bold notes of blackberries, black currant and blueberries with layers of cedar, cigar box and dried meat. The firm tannins were balanced out by the acidity and the wine culminated in a long, full finish.
A little bit tight in flavor in part due to its youth, this wine unfolded with time in the glass and will continue to develop in the bottle. If you have the self-control to buy a few bottles to store, the wine will be even better in a year or two.
Excellent wines, a great vineyard story and a friendly and knowledgeable owner/winemaker — a visit to a tasting room doesn’t get much better.
For more information on Dragonette Cellars visit dragonettecellars.com.
The tasting room for Dragonette Cellars is located at 2445 Alamo Pintado Avenue in Los Olivos, California. Open Thursday through Monday from 11am to 5pm, or by appointment.