Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards Estate Visit
Our travel through the Santa Maria Valley Foxen Canyon wine trail lead us to Zaca Mesa Winery and Vineyards. What a pleasant surprise and delightful encounter. At the winery, they have an extensive hospitality center with tasting room patio and deck, one overlooking the vineyards and mountain ranges in the distance.
The Zaca Mesa vineyards sit at the highest elevation on the Foxen Canyon Road
wine trail. The native Chumash
revered this site, naming it “Zaca,” meaning “restful place,” sitting in the valley framed by the majestic San Rafael Mountains.
While vines were planted in the area in the earliest days as early as the 1800's only to be wiped out by prohibition, there were but a few vineyards planted by 1970. The early- to mid-1970s saw a planting boom in the county, including Zaca Mesa.
Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards was founded in 1973 by John Cushman and five friends, who purchased the property the year prior. It was the third winery established in Santa Barbara County and in those early days there was much experimentation in determining the most appropriate grape varietals optimal for the property with the first vines planted in 1973. Several different varieties were planted to see which grapes would be the best suited to the estate’s unique terroir.
Interestingly, in 1971 the most widely-planted red grape variety in Santa Maria Valley – by a wide margin – was Cabernet Sauvignon, while Riesling was followed closely by Chardonnay among white varieties. As elsewhere in California, it took time for appropriate varieties to be planted in the right areas, and most of those early Cabernet plantings were at sites too cool to ripen properly. Those that remain today are inland and in sites more protected from the cooling ocean breezes.
The Santa Maria Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) was the second AVA to be established in California, behind Napa Valley, the historic Santa Maria Valley AVA became official in 1981. It is recognized for its cool, coastal influence and sandy soils filled with ancient marine deposits. The unprotected valley with its transverse mountain range is cooled by the marine weather that comes ashore from the Pacific Ocean. The effect of the cool ocean air is one of the longest growing seasons in California resulting in an extra hang time and wines with complex flavor & balance.
Zaca Mesa produced the first Central Coast wine to achieve a Wine Spectator Top Ten at #6, the 1993 Zaca Mesa Syrah, created by Winemaker Daniel Gehrs. It became the wine of choice at the White House in February, 1996 for an official state dinner hosting then French President Jacques Chirac.
Today, Zaca Mesa Vineyards produce a broad portfolio of more than two dozen Rhône varietal and style wines with distinctive personalities that reflect the unique terror of the site. They have consistently received high marks for their wines with many 90+ rated wines and vintage labels.
Recently Zaca Mesa have also released a new brand, TREAD, featuring ultra-premium, site-driven wines dedicated to showcasing the diversity of Santa Barbara County focusing on the traditional Burgundian varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
We tasted a flight of their estate, Reserve and Library wines. Our tasting flight:
- Zaca Mesa Z Cuvée 2016
- Clydesdale Syrah 2016
- Eight Barrel Syrah 2017
- Estrella Santa Ynez Valley Syrah 2017
- Black Bear Block Santa Ynez Valley Syrah 2014 and 2017
- Santa Barbara County Petit Sirah 2018
- Tread Sierra Madre Chardonnay 2019
- Tread Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2019
We were sufficiently impressed with Zaca Mesa wines, notably their line of Syrah's, that we joined their wine club to ensure receiving allocation releases we tasted today and going forward.Zaca Mesa Z Cuvée 2016
Winemaker Notes: "We have been producing this classic Rhône-style blend since 1992. Inspired by the food-friendly and exquisitely layered wines of the Southern Rhône Valley, the Z Cuvée exemplifies the delicate unity between the savory elegance and fruit-driven nature of these blends.'
"Our 2016 Z Cuvée is a beautiful reflection of the harmony created when blending our favorite red Rhône varietals: Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah. Each varietal is perfectly interwoven, revealing a dynamic bouquet of red and black fruits, potpourri, and dried herbs. The soft and seductive tannins are energized by flavors of tart spiced plum and cocoa dusted black cherries."
Inky, dark, red-purple. full body, rich, dense black and dark red fruits accented by pepper, earthy notes of asphalt, leather and graphite with grippy tannins on a lively finish.
"Aromas of cured meats, ripe black cherry and potpourri spice leap out of the glass, leading way to red fruit driven flavors. Persistent notes of black raspberry and tart plum are complimented by sweet baking spices introduced by aging in new French oak. Our 2017 Black Bear Block Syrah is approachable in its youth with signature fine-grained tannins, balanced by a graceful finish on the palate."
This was rated 94 points by Antonio Galloni and 93 points by Jeb Dunnuck.
Winemaker Notes: "As a family-owned winery with a rich history in Santa Barbara County, as well as historical roots that date back to America’s early days, family and history have remained integral parts of Zaca Mesa’s story. Honoring our past inspired us to create Clydesdale, a 100% Syrah paying homage to the Cushman family’s historical middle name, Clydesdale, which traces back generations.'
"The 2016 Clydesdale is a superb expression of Syrah from our estate vineyard. The core of black fruits are intertwined with notes of violet, tobacco, and leather. The voluminous texture cascades along your palate, carrying flavors of red plum, blackberry, and hints of toasted spice. This wine is impressive with depth and character, perfectly suited to age in your wine cellar for many years to come, or enjoy upon release."
Tread Santa Maria Valley, Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay 2019
This was awarded 94 points by Wine Enthusiast, Editors’ Choice, 91 points by Wine & Spirits, and 90 points by Wine Spectator.
Winemaker Notes: "The 2019 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay is remarkably complex with powerful layers of Braeburn apple, pear, lemon cream, and guava. The fruit characteristics are balanced by notes of flint in this intricate bouquet. The creamy texture carries juicy flavors of pineapple and ripe nectarine in a silky finish that is kept taut by refreshing acidity and nimble citrus flavors."
This was awarded 92 points by Wine Enthusiast, Editors’ Choice, and 91 points by Wine & Spirits.