A Dramatic Transformation For One California Winery



A look at the Zaca Mesa Winery.


By Louis Marmon


Gazette Newspapers  May 5, 2010


Zaca Mesa WineryOnce known only for characterless, cheap and cheerful quaffs, the Zaca Mesa Winery now produces incredibly flavorful wines from varietals like Syrah, Roussanne and Viognier.


Located in California’s Santa Barbara County, specifically the Santa Ynez Valley, Zaca Mesa planted its first vines — a mishmash of varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Merlot and Zinfandel — in 1978. In the ensuing years, the number of original investors dwindled, leaving the Cushman family in charge since 1988. With the realization that the location is best suited for the classic “Rhone” varietals — Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsaut, Roussanne and Viognier, new vines and a new winemaking team — the quality of the Zaca Mesa wines has increased significantly.


Brook Williams, Zaca Mesa’s President and CEO since 2003, has overseen most of these changes, including a new label.


“We redesigned the face of the wine bottle to illustrate the improvements within,” he explains. “The winery has matured and it is reflected in our wines.” The focus is “on elegance” and “reveal[ing] the character of our estate’s varietals.”


Roussanne is a finicky and disease-prone grape planted on less than 200 acres in California, so New World winemaking experience with this varietal is minimal. Clearly Clay Brock and his winemaking team at Zaca Mesa know how to handle Roussanne. The delightful Zaca Mesa Roussanne 2006 ($25) is an intensely aromatic wine with apricots, apple and honey aromas that lead into complex spicy orange, peach and pear flavors.


Viognier is known for its floral aromas and intense flavors, and the Zaca Mesa Viognier 2008 ($20) doesn’t disappoint. It has a honeysuckle scent and rich peach and pear flavors with well-balanced citrus acidity in its lengthy finish.


Zaca Mesa was the first to plant Syrah in Santa Barbara County and an understanding of the location shows in its reds. In contrast to its muscular Australian cousins, the Zaca Mesa Syrah 2006 ($22) displays a noteworthy elegance. Hand-harvested and aged in French oak for 16 months, this beauty has floral, spicy aromas that meld into chocolate, blackberry, coffee and smoky plum notes with minerals and sage in the long, well-balanced finish. It is as delicious as Syrahs that cost three times as much.


Restraint is the hallmark of the medium-bodied Zaca Mesa Z Three 2005 ($42). Comprised of 46 percent Syrah, 40 percent Mourvedre and 14 percent Grenache, it has a refined stylishness, its spicy blackberry frame wrapped with blueberries, supple oak, minerals and raspberries.


Bigger is the Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block Syrah 2006 ($60), a powerhouse of a Syrah. Hand-harvested from a vineyard named for the numerous black bears that roam nearby and aged in French oak for 21 months, this superbly smooth full-bodied wine begins with earthy sage and berry aromas that flow easily into complex, spicy and mineral-infused black cherry, cedar and licorice notes.



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