It pays to have faith. Just ask Rick Longoria, who found the site for his Fe Ciega Vineyard-Spanish for “blind faith”-through a chance meeting at a barbeque. In 1998, he planted eight acres of pinot noir on a south-facing slope at the western end of the Sta. Rita Hills. Cut to 2008, the 10th anniversary of the vineyard, and it’s clear that Fe Ciega has developed into something special. In fact, having tasted the wines repeatedly, I have come to the conclusion that it is clearly one of the best pinot vineyards in the county, if not the state. So what makes the wines special? In a word: personality. Even though two winemakers use the fruit-Longoria sells some to Ojai Vineyard’s Adam Tolmach, who has his own interpretation-Fe Ciega’s crop has a distinctive identity that shines through in the finished wines.
I visited the vineyard with Longoria recently. We walked through the sections planted with three different clones (667, 115, and Pommard for those who are interested), discussed the silty Botella soil, canopy management strategies, and other aspects of farming as well as ripeness levels and harvesting decisions. Certainly all of these factors play a significant role in fruit quality. Does any one variable set it apart? “It’s puzzling,” he said. “This vineyard always seems to be about two weeks ahead of its neighbors, but it’s hard to say why that is or how that might affect the fruit quality.”
We may not be able to point out exactly how it happens, but Longoria does agree that Fe Ciega fruit seems to have a unique flavor profile. There is, of course, plenty of concentration, as this fruit makes large framed wines. But weaving through the succulent berry character is a slightly herbal, saline note-a hint of iodine as if from seaweed and a wisp of sage-that serves as subtle savory counterpoint to the sweetness of the fruit. This seems to be a defining character, noticeable in every wine bearing the Fe Ciega name.
After the vineyard tour, we returned to Longoria Winery to taste through several vintages. As a special treat, Longoria also opened a 375-ml bottle of the very first vintage produced, the 2000, which was not released commercially. Each swirl and sniff confirmed our impressions of a prevailing vineyard character, yet each wine also bears the unique imprint of its particular vintage.
As for the 2000, the vines were just starting to bear fruit. Common wisdom holds that young vines do not generally produce great wines. This is a point for much lively debate, especially since this particular wine clearly serves as evidence to the contrary. The first sniff revealed rich notes of coffee and cocoa over still bright and lively berry fruit. As the wine opened in the glass, those defining notes of seaweed and sage began to emerge. There was impressive freshness and a beautifully silky texture. Alas, this one is not for sale, but, happily, Longoria has small quantities of each vintage, from ‘01-‘06 available.
He’s also put together a vertical selection, beautifully packaged in a wooden box, available for winery direct purchase ($400).
Bottom line: If you love S.B. County pinot, get to know Fe Ciega.
Check out longoriawine.com, call 688-0305, or visit the tasting room at 2395 Grand Avenue in Los Olivos.