I have had the pleasure of writing about wine for a long time now, and over the years, I have met a lot of people in the industry who have become friends. But it is really a special treat for me when I have friends who end up making wine.
Especially when they are making really good wine.
Such is the case with Blair Pence, owner of Pence Ranch Vineyards in Santa Barbara. Blair and I grew up together in Central California and became great friends in high school. There’s a lot of history between us, most of it not fit for a prime time publication, so you’ll just have to listen to The Vine Guy podcast when Blair’s episode airs. But suffice it to say, neither one of us pictured us in our respective wine roles.
That’s why it is all the more enjoyable to explore Blair’s wines, because they are an unexpected treat. And it thrills me to no end that a good friend is making great wines.
Blair entered the wine business in a rather oblique fashion. Originally a real estate developer in Los Angeles, Blair caught the wine bug after traveling to Europe where he was exposed to Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. It did not take long for him to get hooked. However, even though his new found passion led to collecting wine, he still did not imagine he’d be making it.
That’s when a trip to Santa Barbara to buy a horse ranch led to a series of fortunate events.
As I mentioned, we grew up in Central California, so Blair and I were no strangers to riding horses (my first “paying” job was mucking out stalls at a trail riding barn). The goal was to find a place where he could raise a few horses, maybe some cattle, and occasionally escape the hustle and bustle of LA traffic.
Well, one ranch turned into four, and before you knew it, one of them looked like a decent piece of land to grow grapes. Better still, it turned out to be an amazing place to grow grapes. So Blair started from scratch with a 200 acre cattle ranch in the western end of Santa Barbara County within the Santa Rita Hills wine appellation.
Emulating the vineyard blocks he discovered on his multiple trips to Burgundy, France, Blair built a patchwork of irregularly shaped blocks of varying size and orientation with root stock that was grafted with personally selected clones of chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Each block has a unique prescription for soil preparation where the vines can produce optimal flavor profiles and deliver a sense of terroir in every bottle.
Today, my friend and his lovely wife, Diane, produce chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rose and Syrah, and I am genuinely happy for both of them and thrilled that the wines are terrific.
Blair’s 2018 Pence Ranch Rosé, made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes, has a beautiful pink, salmon color with pretty white floral and fresh red fruit aromatics. On the palate it has surprising weight particularly since the aromas are so delicate. It is produced using the saignée method of bleeding the juice off the grape skins, and then fermented in neutral oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. The fresh flavors of strawberry, raspberry and bright citrus notes are fresh and crisp in the mouth. Made to be enjoyed with lighter fare, such as salads or salmon, I’d be happy enjoying it alone in a hammock. $25
From a tiny block on the ranch, Blair produces a chardonnay that is both vibrant and lively. The 2017 Pence Vineyard “Rosa” chardonnay offers up scents of green apple, lemon/lime citrus, and a touch of buttered toast on the nose. Flavors of grapefruit, orange blossom and tropical fruit are bright and attractive on the crisp palate. It has a lovely, textured finish featuring tart nectarines and wet stone minerality. $50
The first time I tasted the 2017 Pence Vineyard “Unum” Pinot Noir, I immediately thought I was back in France. You can literally taste Blair’s passion for Burgundy in this wine. Full of fresh crushed red berries, raspberry, red cherry and minerals on the front of the palate, this wine seems to jump out of the glass and onto the tongue. Notes of velvety red plum file in on the soft, round finish. $55
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