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In The Ghetto with Lompoc Wines and Moretti

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It's not every day the word "ghetto" gets used affectionately, but the wines that come from Lompoc in Santa Barbara County are far from ordinary too. As the closest town to the famed growing area of the Sta. Rita Hills, Lompoc has the honor of being the site of numerous winemaking facilities hidden away in affordable warehouses. Hence, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.

One of the Ghetto's biggest boosters is Moretti Wines, run by Jeni and Antonio Moretti. In fact it was Jeni's "dumb or bright idea," as she calls it, "to start an association that was long overdue. We just added a new winery so are up to 31."

The area is throwing a "coming out party" from September 26-27 with Harvest in the Ghetto, a festival of tasting room open houses, grape stomp, a book signing featuring Michael Mina Group wine director, Pursuit of Balance provocateur Rajat Parr, and more.

Moving to the region from Los Angeles in 2008, the Morettis, according to Antonio, were "looking for something with character, hoping to open a store where I could show unique things. Los Olivos was crowded by too many tasting rooms and too many tourists that didn't care enough about what the wine was like."

Lompoc, which at that time had few tasting rooms amidst the production facilities (Palmina was the first in 2005), attracted the couple. "This was a niche, unique area with serious people like Flying Goat, Samsara, Fiddlehead. It wasn't fancy-schmancy, just a bunch of industrial buildings," he says. "They didn't worry about how the outside looked, but worried about what's inside the bottle."

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Not surprisingly since Antonio comes from Italy south of Venice, Moretti Wines features several Italian varietals. Their first release in 2009 was a white blend called Bianchetto, which in more recent vintages combines Arneis, Tocai Friulano, and Malvasia Bianca for a taste as mellifluous as those words that make it up. It's just one of the 12 wines Moretti currently offers, from pinot noir to vermentino, for a quite tiny 500 cases a year total. Antonio says, "My philosophy is that a wine is supposed to taste like the grape it comes from."

The Morettis have brilliant help in this endeavor, as Steve Clifton from Palmina and Brewer-Clifton is their winemaker. That not only helps as he's familiar with Italian varietals at Palmina, but he's familiar with what Antonio calls "an Old World style palate...with a little more balance, a little more acidity. Not only is Steve so versatile, but he can keep the soul of the varietal."

It's striking, for instance, that if you go to the Moretti Wines website one of the first large images isn't of a bottle or grapes but scallops. "We're very much about pairing wines with food," Antonio says. "It's one of the main reasons we produce the wine the way we do."

He describes the slowly yielding wine world paradigm of "bigger is better," especially in Napa cabernets, and says, "Little by little people began to realize those wines wear out the palate. After two glasses, first of all you're drunk, and second, your palate is sticky. What kind of food can you eat with that?"

Meanwhile with Moretti, you can pair food with the wine with ease, especially when they give you recipes for fall Tuscan bean and vegetable soup to pair with their Rosso Mio blend of Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo and for herb-crusted rack of lamb with pinot noir.

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