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California Wine: Goodland, Better Wines

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Supergroups rarely add up to more than the sum of the parts; let's face it, Blind Faith is probably better known at this point for its shocking album cover than its music. But maybe supergroups are better with grapes than guitars. Such is the case with one of Santa Barbara's newest ventures, Goodland Wines, which just started releasing its small lots (no more than 82 cases of any wine; current prices range from $15 to $40 a bottle) this March.

Goodland brings together the talents of Matt Dees (Jonata Wines), Dave Potter (Municipal Winemakers), Chris Snowden (his family owns Snowden Vineyards in Napa), and the man people reverentially and not in the least jokingly call The Grape Whisperer, Ruben Solarzano (Stolpman Vineyards).

"Goodland is our attempt to find the best wine expression of the different AVAs of Santa Barbara County -- the best combinations of site, soil, climate, grape variety, viticultural management, and winemaking techniques," Potter writes in a recent email interview. "That's not to say these are the 'best' wines around, more that they are our best guess."

Potter is being a bit too modest, for the wines sampled so far have all been brilliant expressions of what Santa Barbara County has to offer, even if Goodland labels the wine by AVA/location and not grape. "The project is very much about the region, and not the grape," Dees said at that tasting. "It's a great way to respect Santa Barbara County and move the wine along." That means a 2011 Sta. Rita Hills White is, not surprisingly, Chardonnay (as Burgundy varietals do best in the region due to its unique climate), and completely delicious, full without being over-ripe and bright with citrus notes. Like all Goodland wines, it manages a perfect balance between fruit and acidity, and wants to be part of your meal.

In the region people refer to the town of Goleta as the Goodland, but Potter notes, "Outside of the county we thought that the word Goodland was a great nod to Santa Barbara. We wanted a name that spoke to what we were trying to convey with the project. The driving force behind our name and labeling is the expression of the microclimates and AVAs of Santa Barbara County. The idea is more 'Old World.' It is an idea that is based firmly in place, and these wines represent what we think is the best example of that interplay between soil, climate, grape variety, viticulture, and winemaking."

While Potter and Snowden had been college roommates in Isla Vista, the foursome came together because, Potter claims, "We have similar taste in style, and thought it would be fun to develop a project together to take a stab at making the best we can from the most special few rows of grapes in our pretty corner of the world." That will mean choosing different rows from vintage to vintage; Potter explains, "We are not married to specific vineyards or blocks. The idea is to tweak and tune and play. For example we have a different Pinot Noir source for our 2012 Sta. Rita Hills red wine than we did in 2011, but both wines are great expressions of Pinot Noir in Santa Rita Hills. Because we make so little wine, we get a chance to pull a tiny bit of fruit out of some really exceptional places."

(caption: It's all about the sites and vines, and Goodland Wines likes to stylize that, even in pictures. Courtesy photo, credit: Chris Snowden)

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