Paul Lato is one of Santa Barbara’s finest artisanal winemakers. Since 2002, he has been crafting outstanding wines from grapes sourced from some of the finest vineyards in Santa Barbara County. To his good fortune, Paul was discovered early in his career by none other than the wine critic Robert Parker, who liked his wines and rated them highly. With Parker’s encouragement and other reviews, Paul has gone on to craft wines that are today highly sought after by knowledgeable consumers and critics alike. Because of their limited production Paul Lato wines are relatively pricey and mainly sold to a mailing list, although some wines can be found at retail outlets and online.
Having tasted Paul’s wines for our report Sta. Rita Hills: A New Look, we decided to examine his winemaking more closely. To this end, we had extensive discussions with him and conducted additional tastings of a selection of his wines that included Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, Grenaches, and Syrahs. These wines are reviewed below.
Paul Lato’s winemaking is influenced by his European roots. Born and raised in Poland and not formally trained as a winemaker, it is not surprising that from his earliest involvement with wine he gained a deep appreciation for the artisanal skills of European winemakers. “I am proud to make wine like a shoemaker,” he mentioned in one of our conversations. In his Pinot Noir winemaking he has been greatly influenced by Henri Jayer of Vosne Romanée whose motto was “quality before everything else.” Jayer’s wines were brilliantly made, expensive, and difficult to find. In his Grenache and Syrah, Paul has looked to the great Rhone winemaker, Chave.
Notwithstanding his admiration for European winemaking. Paul Lato is passionate about California, and his first love is Santa Barbara. Not having the funds to purchase his own estate, Paul has sought out the best vineyards for grapes such as: Bien Nacido, Gold Coast, Solomon Hills, Fiddlestix, Sierra Madre, Zotovich, John Sebastiano Pisoni in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Hyde in Los Carneros. Moreover, he has been successful in renting the best parcels by acre and with terms that give him control as to what goes on. In this regard, he draws upon the advice of a first class viticultural consultant, Mike Anderson, retired from UC Davis, who also consults at Peake Ranch. Paul travels with him to John Sebastiano and Sierra Madre to get his inputs on irrigation, leaf pulling, dropping fruit and other inputs needed to achieve a high level performance in the vineyard.
What is Paul’s winemaking philosophy? He said in our conversations, “I don’t want to make pretentious Burgundy wines in California.” Nor does he want to make lean wines. He believes the best wines of Europe are ripe and that balance is achieved slowly. He is not a fan of lower alcohol and less ripeness in his wines if it means sacrificing balance and flavor. Nor is he in favor of excessive alcohol and excessive acidity. Like Henri Jayer he has used few whole clusters in his wine but is reconsidering it, although he doesn’t believe Pinot Noir needs stems.
Paul generally ages his wines for a minimum of 18 months and uses a high percentage of new oak with an average of 60%. The amount of new oak used for aging depends on the grapes. Wines sourced from Bien Nacido could go as high as 80-90%. In our review of his wines, we were impressed with how beautifully integrated oak is in his wines, while achieving desirable leesy qualities.
We tasted two vintages of Paul’s Grenache from two different vineyards. One bottling was from the current 2018 vintage, the other from 2013. The goals were to evaluate his single varietal Grenaches and to assess their ageability. As readers will observe in our tasting notes below, we were impressed with the purity and overall quality of the wines, both in the current vintage and the older one. It certainly showed that talented winemakers like Paul Lato can make first class Grenaches in Santa Barbara.
Paul’s wines are magnificent examples of how talented winemakers who give serious attention to vineyard management can produce stunning wines that reflect their terroir and are exemplary of artisanal winemaking. Paul is still a young man at the high of his creative powers, and we look forward to many exciting wines in the years to come.
Paul Lato 2018 Chardonnay Goldenberg Variations Hyde Vineyard Los Carneros ($80) 95 The 2018 Chardonnay “Goldenberg Variations” Hyde Vineyard displays a subtle perfume of chalky minerals and white flowers. It is bright and crisp on entry and has an elegant and refined palate of leesy stone fruit. Made with full malolactic fermentation and aged 18 months in 70% new French oak, it is richly textured and layered, yet understated with flavors reminiscent of Chablis and has a long rich finish.
Paul Lato 2018 Chardonnay Souvenir Sierra Madre Vineyard Santa Maria Valley($75) 96 The 2018 Chardonnay “Le Souvenir” Sierra Madre Vineyard offers a fruit forward nose of ripe orchard and citrus. It is soft and creamy on the attack with spice and hints of toast. A delicious traditional California Chardonnay with ripe flavors and hints of vanilla oak and honeysuckle. A lovely wine from a superb vineyard.
Paul Lato 2013 Grenache Lumiere Larner Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley ($75) 92 The 2013 Grenache “Lumiere” displays a medium ruby red color with a nose of plum and herbs. On the palate it reveals flavors of light red berries with hints of toasted oak. While fading somewhat in flavor, it still has firm tannins with a finish of medium length.
Paul Lato 2018 Grenache Lumiere Larner Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley ($75) 95 Medium ruby, the 2018 Grenache “Lumiere” offers light strawberry fruit and is silky smooth on the palate. It is mouth filling with excellent concentration of red berry fruit and toast. Aged 22 months in 30% new French oak, it appears somewhat less concentrated on the palate than the 2018 Ora et Labora but richer in flavor.
Paul Lato 2013 Grenache Ora et Labora Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria ($75) 95 The 2013 Grenache “Ora et Labora” is a bit lighter than the 2018 and turning garnet on the rim. It is showing remarkably well for its age with a more red berry like character than the 2018. It displays an elegant, silky texture and incredible refinement and balance. Similar in complexity to the 2018 with mostly red fruit accompanied by light herbal notes, all integrated and balanced.
Paul Lato 2018 Grenache Ora et Labora Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley ($75) 95 This lovely fresh and youthful tasting Grenache is sourced from one of Santa Barbara County’s finest vineyards. Medium ruby red in color, it displays red berry and plum fruit on the nose and excellent concentration and balance on the palate. Aged 22 months in 33% new French oak, it is layered with spice and light earth notes.
Paul Lato 2018 Pinot Noir Santa Maria ($80) 95 This is an elegant and complex ruby-colored wine exhibiting a spicy, cedary nose of red cherry. A bit more structured and not as forward as the Duende, there’s a layered character to the silky palate. It also shows concentrated, savory red fruit—more cranberry and pomegranate than cherry—with excellent depth and richness on the palate and a long concentrated finish.
Paul Lato 2019 Pinot Noir Duende Gold Coast Vineyard Santa Maria ($70) 94 The 2019 Pinot Noir “Duende” is a wine of noteworthy purity and exuberance. It offers red berry fruit on the nose and palate and is silky smooth and round and full in the mouth with leesy richness. Aged 15 months in 50% new French oak.
Paul Lato 2018 Pinot Noir Victor Francis Peake Ranch Vineyard Santa Rita Hills ($75) 94 The Pinot Noir “Victor Francis” is a delicious wine sourced from the eastern end of the Sta. Rita Hills. It displays a complex nose, of dark red berry fruit, meat and smoke. Round and flavorful on the palate, it reveals dried cherry, minerals and herbs. Firmly structured with considerable depth, it finishes with excellent extract.
Paul Lato 2018 Pinot Noir Magic Moments Hyde Vineyard Los Carneros ($90) 95 Earthy, spicy nose and floral notes on the palate and light red cherry with lovely freshness and bright acidity on the palate. Excellent balance and refinement with outstanding concentration of fruit and silky tannins. Long, very rich savory finish.
Paul Lato 2009 Syrah “Cinematique” Larner Vineyard Ballard Canyon ($85) 93 This 2009 semi-opaque Syrah is surprisingly youthful for its age. It displays a meaty, savory, herbal nose with hints of black pepper. It is round and full on the attack and reveals a multifaceted silky palate with dominant earthy mushroom and underbrush notes and rich concentrated black fruit, dark cassis and blackberry. A very concentrated wine, well balanced and persistent on the finish.
Paul Lato 2011 Syrah “El Padrino” Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria ($90) 94 The 2011 Syrah “El Padrino” sourced from the Bien Nacido Vineyard displays aromas of tobacco, underbrush and a hint of forest floor on the nose. It is savory and earthy on the palate revealing fresh acidity and very good balance. Silky smooth and firmly mineral and somewhat tannic at this stage of development. Fresher and richer than the Syrah “Ciinematique”.