At Parker Sanpei & Associates, we tend to be partial to Rhone-varietal wines; Give us a good Syrah, Grenache or Viognier and we’re good to go. But recently, we had the opportunity to taste through a few bottles of Pinot Noir at Tantara Winery in the Santa Maria Valley, and it reminded us why there are so many Pinot maniacs in the world: When done right, Pinot Noir is perfection. Period.
Tantara leads a charmed existence in myriad ways. The winery sits nestled in one of the most picturesque and storied vineyards on the Central Coast, Bien Nacido Vineyard. According to Wikipedia, Bien Nacido traces its roots back to the days when California was property of Mexico. In 1837, Tomas Olivera received a 9,000-acre Mexican land grant which was later sold to his son-in-law, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros. Twenty years later, Ontiveros would construct an adobe (still standing) and raise horses, cattle, sheep, several grain crops, and grapes for the production of wine on the land. Today, grapes are still grown there, and in 2010, Bien Nacido Vineyard was named “Vineyard of the Year” by the California State Fair.
Aside from its idyllic location, Tantara is also blessed with an extremely gifted winemaker who lives and breathes Pinot Noir. Vintner Jeff Fink brings his rich past to the art of winemaking as a man of many pursuits. As Tantara’s winemaker and co-founder, his attention to detail and obsession with Pinot Noir are the natural extension of previous lives in professional music, sailing, and architecture. With a slight drawl that belies a Virginia upbringing, Fink weaves stories of adventures on stage as a guitarist with funk bands, of navigating treacherous reefs in the Virgin Islands, and of renovating the mid-century homes of famed architect Rudolf Shindler in Southern California with the bottles that have made him the winemaker he is today, from Burgundy to Brosseau.
We sat down with Jeff to talk winemaking over a bottle of Tantara’s gorgeous 2007 Solomon Hills Pinot Noir. Though Tantara started in 1997, Fink’s passion for Pinot began long before. As a winemaker, he has specialized in single-vineyard Pinots from the Central Coast’s best vineyards, including Bien Nacido, Dierberg, Solomon Hills, Sanford & Benedict, Rio Vista, Talley Rincon, La Colline (Laetitia), Silacci, Pisoni, Garys’, and Brosseau. Fink tastes through each of his barrels and takes only the absolute best for his finished wines, sometimes cutting up to 85% of his production to ensure quality. In this day and age of cookie-cutter wines and bang-for-your-buck winemakers, it is heartening to see a winemaker sacrifice so much for the sake of a wine’s soul and quality.
All of that attention translates to some of the most complex and deliciously earthy Pinots we’ve ever tasted, and we’re not alone! You can find Tantara Winery in the finest restaurants from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville to Alain Ducasse in New York City. Sipping through barrel samples at a rustic picnic table overlooking Bien Nacido, we became big fans. You too can check out Tantara’s wonderful repertoire of vineyard-select Pinots by making an appointment to sit and talk to Jeff. Make an afternoon of it and bring cheese and crackers (with enough for the winemaker, of course!). Call 805-938-5051 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to set up your private tasting.