Liquid Farm: In Search of Burgundy in the Sta Rita Hills

The Sta Rita Hills is a collegial place where vineyards share fruit and winemakers share their knowledge and experience. Inspired by the wines of Burgundy, Jeff Nelson started Liquid Farm in 2009 with assistance from Brandon Sparks-Gillis, winemaker at Dragonette. Jeff has two decades’ experience in the wine trade, principally with Veuve-Cliquout and Champagne Henriot.

Jeff’s approach to Chardonnay winemaking is unique in the Sta Rita Hills; he sources fruit from the best vineyards but then blends selected barrels to achieve different wine styles. His approach is perhaps influenced by his experience with Champagne, where base wines are typically blended to attain a consistent House style.  Jeff looks to Burgundy for the kind of wines he wants to craft yet his goal is to capture an expression of Sta Rita Hills in his wines. We’re impressed with the results as can be seen in our reviews below.

Winemaker James Sparks and Jeff Nelson

Liquid Farm sources grapes from top vineyards in the Sta Rita Hills.  Clos Pepe, located on the northern, Hwy 246 corridor, is an important source of Chardonnay grapes. It’s a vineyard we know well, since the owner hosted us during our field work for our report on our first Santa Barbara report.  Other important sources of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are Spear and Kessler-Haak, also on Hwy 246, and several vineyards on the southern Santa Rosa Rd corridor—Bentrock, La Rinconada, Rita’s Crown, and Sanford & Benedict.

James Sparks joined Liquid Farm as winemaker in 2013.  He was previously assistant winemaker at Dragonette.  He also has a personal wine project called Kings Carey where the emphasis is Grenache.

We earlier tasted a selection of the Liquid Farm portfolio for our report Sta Rita Hills: A New Look published in 2020.  For this new review, we were fortunate to taste a more complete array of wines from the 2018 and 2019 vintages.  We were blown away by the very high quality of these wines.  They are clearly Burgundian in style but reveal the special features of top quality Sta Rita Hills wines.

The Wines

Liquid Farm 2019 White Hill Chardonnay Sta Rita Hills ($45) 93 The White Hill blend is Liquid Farm’s homage to Chablis.  The name references the white, diatomaceous soils unique to the Sta Rita Hills. The nose is bright and fresh with scents of wet stones, citrus, and a hint of spice. Outstanding light creamy mouth feel with gorgeous balance, a firm mineral spine, and long, flavorful finish. A blend of 49% Clos Pepe, 33% Kessler-Haak, and 18% La Rinconada fermented with native yeast in barrel and lees stirred up to malo; matured 10 months in 90% neutral oak, 10% stainless steel. 13% alc.

Liquid Farm 2018 Golden Slope Chardonnay Sta Rita Hills ($54) 94  The inspiration for Golden Slope is Burgundy’s Côte d’Or. Medium yellow gold in color, it repeals rich pit fruit, citrus, minerals and spice on the nose. Mouthfilling with excellent depth of flavor on a firmly backboned palate with rich breadth of texture. There’s a hint of toasty oak, but it’s not an overt element.  Exceptionally persistent finish enlivened by late arriving acidity. A blend of 50% Clos Pepe, 18% Bentrock, 14% Spear, 4% Kessler-Haak, 4% La Rinconada, and 4% Rita’s Crown. Aged 15 months in 15% new French oak with full malo. 13% alc.

Liquid Farm 2018 Four Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills ($74) 95  Medium yellow gold. The Four is the richest, densest, and most firmly structured of the Liquid Farm Chardonnays.  Vibrant complex bouquet revealing yellow stone fruit, honeysuckle, ginger and exotic spices. Admirably concentrated and deeply flavored, it offers a silky-smooth texture and perfect balance with excellent underlying acidity.  Finishes long with rich extract. A selection of the four best barrels of Chardonnay from the 2018 vintage: 38% Rita’s Crown, 25% La Rinconada, 25% Spear, and 12% Bentrock matured 17 months in 25% new oak, some 500L puncheons.

Liquid Farm 2019 SBC Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County ($45) 92  Medium ruby red with an appealing, extroverted nose of spicy dark cherry and red berries. Offers a silky attack with bright acidity, good freshness and optimally ripened red and black fruit on the palate. A fruit forward, friend Pinot Noir aged in neutral barrel for about 11 months.  Sees 10% stem inclusion. A blend of 50% Spear, 15% La Rinconada, 15% Solomon Hills, 13% Sanford & Benedict, and 7% Radian, all Sta Rita Hills vineyards except for Solomon Hills, which is in the Santa Maria Valley.  13% alc.

Liquid Farm 2019 Pinot Noir Spear Vineyard ($74) 93  Light red color. The Spear Vineyard Pinot is unusually perfumed and floral for the Sta Rita Hills showing rose petals, red cherry skin, and a hint of pomegranate on the nose. Almost delicate on a crisp, fresh palate but with good breadth and depth and finesse, finishing with fine round tannins. All Pommard clone sourced from the Spear Vineyard (located near Clos Pepe); matured in 20% new French oak for 15 months.

Liquid Farm 2019 Pinot Noir Radian Vineyard Sta Rita Hills ($74) 94  Medium red color with a perfume-like bouquet of darker cherry with pomegranate and raspberry. The elegant, silky palate reveals excellent depth and richness of flavor with a nice savory note that runs throughout the wine. Finishes with firm but very accessible tannins on a clean, richly concentrated finish. Fermented with 15% stem inclusion and matured 15 months in 15% new French oak.







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