The Pence Winery is set on 200 acres in the Santa Rita Hills. A tiny artisanal winery, it is part of a working ranch and farm owned and operated by Blair Pence, a California realtor with a passion for wine stemming from his extensive travels across the wine world and especially to Burgundy. The ranch and vineyards are 100% organically farmed. A strong believer in sustainability, Blair Pence raises cattle and cultivates walnut and olive trees. Horses are also bred and trained on the property. We recently had the opportunity to taste through the Pence portfolio.
The cool, coastal climate of the Santa Rita hills provides the perfect environment for producing top quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Blair Pence was fortunate in obtaining vineyard management support from Francisco Ramirez, an outstanding viticulturalist who developed the vineyards at Melville and Brewer-Clifton. The vineyards at Pence consist of a unique variety of soils and exposures that contribute to his extraordinary wines.
Winemaking at Pence is under the direction of Sashi Moorman, one of Santa Barbara’s finest winemakers. Sashi follows a non-interventionist approach to winemaking, letting the vineyard define the unique character of the wines. The winemaking team also aims at crafting elegant and refined wines that suggest their diverse terroir and cool climate origins. Pence currently produces 2000 cases of first class, premium wine.
Pence 2016 Estate Pinot Noir Sta Rita Hills ($40) 91 This bottling is a blend of the nine blocks of Pinot Noir grown on the estate. It’s fermented with native yeast in open top concrete with 20% whole clusters and aged 14 months in 20% new French oak. The wine is medium ruby in color and offers aromas of ripe dark red berry fruit with hints of earth, toasted oak and spice. A fruit forward California-style Pinot Noir.
Pence 2017 Unun Pinot Noir. Sta Rita Hills ($60) 94 Burgundian in character, this lovely Pinot Noiris sourced from the estate’s oldest, south facing vineyard block of Dijon clone 667 planted in 2005. Medium ruby in color, it offers attractive red berry fruit and includes 20-25% whole clusters. A pretty wine with concentrated rich flavors and a persistent finish. A step up from the Estate Pinot Noir.
Pence 2016 Sebastiano Syrah Sta Rita Hills ($56) 93 This Syrah is sourced from the highly elevated Sebastiano Vineyard, planted on clay and limestone with a south-facing orientation and subject to high, cold ocean winds. A delicious wine, it is fermented in 4-ton concrete fermenters and aged almost two years in foudre. Northern Rhone in character, it is perfumed and flavorful, offering rich blue and black briary fruit aromas and flavors. A magnificent wine for red meat. Pence is planning to release Syrah from the estate vineyard beginning the 2017 vintage.
Pence 2016 Estate Chardonnay Sta Rita Hills ($40) 93 The Estate Chardonnay is a field blend of six different clonal selections grown in a mixture of sedimentary ocean soils. It is a lovely, elegant wine richly flavored with citrus and stone fruit. Barrel fermented and aged in 25% new French oak puncheons, it is rich and full in the mouth, displaying a creamy mouth feel with excellent acidity and balance and a long lovely finish.
Pence 2016 Rosa Chardonnay Sta Rita Hills ($54) 94 The 2016 Rosa Chardonnay offers aromas and flavors of citrus, stone fruit and brioche. Yellow gold in color, it is fermented and aged in 100% new French foundre for 16 months. A flamboyant wine, beautifully crafted with a creamy mouth feel, high acidity and a persistent finish. Sourced from a 2.8 acre vineyard block and only 392 cases produced.
*This article is the one in a series of reviews of Santa Barbara winemakers and wines being prepared by IWR for a new and expanded report on the Wines of Santa Barbara. The IWR’s first report was issued in May 2013 and is available on www.i-winereview.com Plans are being made for the preparation of a new, expanded and updated report in early 2020.