A Missouri boy raised on Bud Light, Jake Lindley never tasted fine wine until he started dating Frankie, the woman who’d become his wife. They met at a Venice Beach dive bar on the first night of Lindley’s first ever visit to California, and frequent trips to Napa ensued, which led Lindley to his “lightning-strike bottle” of Miner Family Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. “I’m an atheist, but that made me question whether there is a God,” recalled Jake. “It shook me hard.”
Thanks to Cathy Pepe of Clos Pepe Vineyards, who’d been Frankie’s lawyer during her years as a financial whiz in Hollywood, they soon realized that the Sta. Rita Hills was much closer than NorCal. “When we found out there was a place two hours from our house where we could take all three of my big dogs to the tasting rooms and no one is snooty or snobby or stuck-up, and most of the producers are very, very focused on building up the area and don’t consider it a competition and everyone grows pinot that’s delicious and amazing, we fell in love with it,” said Lindley, and the two soon started wondering whether they could make wine themselves.
In 2008, they purchased a 10-acre horse pasture near Lompoc on Sweeney Road at the westernmost tip of the appellation and, in 2011, planted six acres of pinot and a half-acre of chardonnay, which is tended to by Jeff Newton of Coastal Vineyard Care. Lindley moved permanently to town and started working in the vineyard and winery for winemaker Wes Hagen at Clos Pepe, where he is now the official cellar master. “Wes Hagen taught me how to make wine with my mouth and my nose and my eyeballs,” said Lindley, who also went back to school to learn the science side.
That year, he also scored pinot noir grapes from the one-acre “La Lomita” backyard vineyard that’s meticulously tended by the dentist who owns it. “When the fruit shows up on the dock, it is so spectacularly gorgeous and healthy and phenologically mature,” said Lindley, who made 96 cases of wine from that vineyard in 2011 and 140 cases in both 2012 and 2013. “It makes it very, very easy to not screw it up. I will make that wine ’til I die, I hope.”
The Lindleys’ first harvest of their own estate was in 2013, and they’re set on making “food versatile” wines, more lean than meaty. “I have zero interest in making a high-alcohol pinot that you stick your nose into and smell burned fruit characters or prunes or jamminess,” said Jake. “I’ll drink syrah if I want that.” Most critically, the Lindleys’ small production, which they make in the Clos Pepe’s facility, allows them to intimately monitor their wines. “I stick my nose in every barrel every two weeks, so I’m gonna catch problems really fast,” he said. “That attention to detail is worthy of what we charge.”
You can try the wines, too, by appointment, but don’t expect a stuffy setting. “I’m completely reverent about the wine, but I’m completely irreverent with wine culture,” he said. “I like to roll up the doors, blast the stereo, and barrel taste.”
While Frankie Lindley now also works at Sanford Winery, Jake Lindley makes furniture out of old wine barrels on the side, including quite a few stools and chairs now in the tasting rooms of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto and Los Alamos. But their wine is about to become even more all-consuming, as they’re planning to jump up to 940 cases of wine in 2014, with an end goal of 2,200 total, while also selling some extra fruit to Adam Lee, who will make a vineyard designate bottling for the next three years under his popular Siduri brand.
“I’m the new kid, and I’m really excited about what we’re doing,” said Lindley. “It’s about to get real.”
The Sta. Rita Hills Wine & Fire Weekend includes various tastings and events August 15 to 17. See staritahills.com.