I have to admit, I find it easy to be mesmerized by Santa Barbara wine country and that’s not just because I enjoyed my time in Santa Barbara, the warmer weather and views make it one of the most appealing wine destinations in America.
Of course, Ampelos Cellars and their owners share some of those same thoughts which helps to explain how they ended up retiring onto 80+ acres in the Sta. Rita Hills all the while creating a new business for themselves.
I think the background of Ampelos is interesting, the winery is named after a Greek word for wine, largely taken because the proprietors have owned a bed and breakfast on a small Greek island for some time. For many, retiring to that small Greek island would have been a happy enough end don’t you think?
For Rebecca and Peter Work, having one incredible retirement opportunity simply wasn’t enough, it seems they wanted both the beachside bed and breakfast as well as the winery.
Of course, most people don’t end up owning a vineyard without some type of connection to the wine industry and for the Work’s, their connection is among the clearest possible. Their son Don Work is the current winemaker at Sea Smoke. It bears a quick mention that neither the quality of the grapes in the Sta Rita Hills need a long mention in this space, but neither does the quality of the wines being produced at Sea Smoke. It’s said that California lacks the Grand Cru classification system that has served Bordeaux well for about 150 years, but we’ve heard from respected sources like Wine Spectator that the vineyards owned by Sea Smoke would certainly be included, or at least seriously considered among the five best in the state, or the equivilant to our Grand Cru. Additionally, Sea Smoke works solely off a mailing list these days, making the wines as successful with consumers as they are with critics. We’ve heard they’re the Studio 54 of wineries, it’s hard to get in, but once you do, you never want to leave.
Ok, so what do you have here at Ampelos? To start, you have a winemaker who currently holds the same title at a winery that makes wines you simply can’t buy , they’re too sought after and the mailing list attached to them reportedly is about a decade long. You also have a vineyard purchased in an earlier era of Santa Barbara wine, before Sideways and the hype which has ensued. Has Ampelos enjoyed the critical acclaim that Sea Smoke has? Certainly not and before Don Work ascended at Sea Smoke, Ampelos would have been simply one of about a dozen wineries in the Santa Lucia Highlands that we thought was ready to take the next step to making world renowned wine. Now, that connection is more clear that many realize and we think, the time is right to enjoy an Ampelos wine, after all a long mailing list is likely in their future as well.
Here’s what to taste from Ampelos:
Pinot Noir. Let’s not get too complicated here, any Pinot made here is going to be among the best in California in a given vintage.
Grenache: I personally think it’s the next big thing from the Santa Lucia Highlands as the wine comes off these cooler vineyard sites with an incredible depth of flavors and spices. It seems as an industry we’re constantly looking for the next big thing when it comes to cool weather grapes, perhaps we’re just making things too complicated.
Late Harvest Viognier: Despite my Studio 54 reference earlier, I’m still a Millennial. Yeah, I know. In any case we’re reaching an age where a greater percentage of people have grown up drinking sweeter beverages than ever before from juice to soda. All that means is that there’s going to be an ever increasing market and market demand for sweet dessert wines. You don’t see ice wine’s or Port’s you’d actually want to drink at this $25 price point often.