Tyler Winery: Growing Fast in the Sta Rita Hills

Justin Tyler Willett began the Tyler Winery in 2005 at age 24 after working with winemaker Joe Davis at Arcadian.  His wine trajectory since that time has been steep.  In 2011 He established the Lieu Dit label with sommelier Eric Railsback to focus on varietals of the Loire Valley grown in Santa Barbara County.  He later purchased a site on Hwy 246 in the Sta Rita Hills and began planting 28 acres of mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the newly named Mae Vineyard. And  last year he purchased Fiddlestix, 100 acres of mostly Pinot Noir planted by Kathy Joseph in 1998 near Santa Rosa Rd in the Sta Rita Hills.  In addition, he has several other projects in the works, including with French winemakers Etienne De Montille and Rodolphe Péters.  We recently visited the Tyler estate on Hwy 46 and tasted the 2019 releases from the Mae Vineyard as well as wines from such classic vineyards as Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada.  We reviewed the 2017 vintage Tyler wines in last year’s report  Sta. Rita Hills: A New Look.

The Wines

Justin Tyler Willett

Tyler 2019 Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Sta Rita Hills ($70) 94 From the original 1973 self-rooted, California sprawl plantings on sandy topsoil. Waxy orchard fruit and notes of starfruit, minerals and a hint of toast are complemented by good acidity and maturation in about 25% new, 500L puncheons. Old vine fruit lends a complexity and rich texture to this exceptional Chardonnay from one of California’s classic vineyards.  VIN 94

Tyler 2019 Mae Estate Chardonnay Sta Rita Hills ($70) 94  Sourced from the sandier part of the vineyard, the Mae Estate Chardonnay begins with coaxing aromas of yellow apple, citrus zest and beeswax. Tangy acidity shows on the attack with a bright, juicy and superbly balanced palate and a firm, rich backbone. Settled for 48 hours then racked to 500L puncheons (15-20% new oak) where it goes through primary and malo.

Tyler 2019 Mae Estate Pinot Noir Sta Rita Hills ($75) 92 Opens with scents of red cherries and berries, dried herbs, and hints of sandalwood and soil that are mirrored on the medium weight palate. Good acidity and a lovely, lingering rich and crisp finish. Fermented with 15% whole cluster and matured in 15% new oak. Smooth, elegant texture.

Tyler 2019 Mae Estate CP Pinot Noir Sta Rita Hills ($110) 95 A barrel selection from the most clay rich part of the vineyard, the Mae Estate CP Pinot Noir is a step up from the regular bottling. Sumptuous, perfumed bouquet of pomegranate, wild cherry, and a light spicy oak note. Elegantly and luxuriously textured with very pretty, concentrated and pure fruit. A gorgeous wine. Fermented 40-50% whole cluster with 40-50% new oak.

Tyler 2019 Pinot Noir Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Sta Rita Hills ($90) 94 Sourced from the original, 1973 self-rooted plantings of the Mt Eden clone. An elegant, delicate wine showing wild herbs, light red cherry and berry fruit, and a touch of oak spice. Excellent concentration, bright acidity, silky texture. Fermented 45% whole cluster and 50% new oak.

Tyler 2019 Pinot Noir La Rinconada Vineyard Sta Rita Hills ($60) 94 Planted in 1997-8, La Rinconada has more clay in the soil compared to Sanford & Benedict, and its wine is darker and richer although still relatively soft and pretty. Pomegranate, cherry and spice aromas and flavors combine with excellent freshness and a firm backbone to give a beautifully balanced and delicious wine. Fermented 1/3 whole cluster and 1/3 new French oak.












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