The last wine visit my wife and I did while on vacation in August 2014 was to Arcadian Winery in Lompoc, California. Lompoc is a small valley town in the southern central coast. It’s become a central hub for winemakers looking for inexpensive real estate to make wine from purchased fruit or leased vineyards. There is a small industrial park on the edge of town has been dubbed the “Lompoc Wine Ghetto” due to the prevalence of these small projects.
If you follow anything I write, you know I’m a fan of traditional winemaking valuing subtlety, balance, complexity, aromatics and finesse rather than power. Arcadian was brought to my attention by a few people online and in person as a producer I should seek out. While I had some hesitation as I had never actually tried anything from Arcadian before I decided to carve out a few hours on our journey down the coast, and I’m glad I did.
I made arrangements to visit Joe Davis at their facility in Lompoc. When I arrived he was just on his way back from the vineyard with picked grape clusters in buckets to test. He was debating whether to harvest and was comparing the berry and cluster size among two different clones.
Joe is a jovial, outgoing guy who really knows his stuff. He has been in the industry for 30 years and has trained at the likes of Dujac in burgundy. Needless to say he is not interested in making typical American fruit-bomb wines. Without much fanfare we dove into the geekery of the wine. Joe is experimenting with extended barrel aging, particularly with his Chardonnays, in some cases putting them in oak (mostly older oak) for over 30 months. While you get some slightly richer, oxidative and nutty/oaky notes, I wouldn’t say these are over-oaked. Another signature of his that I noticed was the very lean, almost green tinged chardonnay fruit. There wasn’t anything tropical about the chards I tasted. All were solidly in the orchard, stone fruit and citrus spectrums, with very high acid.
Joe makes lovely Pinot Noir. He often will include a high proportion of whole clusters which is a huge plus for me. He also uses a good whack of new oak (in some cases 50% new, give or take), which I was fearful of, but none of his Pinots felt oaky at all. I did like some bottlings more than others. In my pinot I prefer that the fruit is all or mostly all red, as opposed to syrah purple as many are these days. I did find that the fiddlesticks bottlings were a bit darker than I usually prefer, however the Santa Lucia Highlands and Sleepy Hollow were right in my sweet spot. Based on my preferences Joe recommended I try a bottle of the Gold Coast which I bought and brought home with me.
The Syrahs were very pleasant and well made, but were all darker than I prefer and didn’t have the non-fruit, Northern Rhone character I love in Syrah (olive, pepper, bacon, etc). Maybe they just needed a bit more age to round out. I’m willing to give them another shot, but for now I’m enamored with Joe’s Pinot Noir.
Thanks again to Joe for taking time from his busy schedule during harvest to spend a couple of hours with me and open a few bottles.
- 2009 Arcadian Chardonnay Sierra Madre Sierra Madre Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Maria Valley
Off the bat this features a good whack of oak, which probably still needs a bit of time to integrate. Nose is of cashew, pear, wood lacquer, toast, white peach, lemon curd and kiwi. The palate is very tart with elevated acid. Medium plus finish with hints of vanilla and tart orchard and stone fruit. Evidently lean on the ripeness but a fair bit of oak. A high quality, restrained style. (90 points)
- 2008 Arcadian Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
Another wine in the lean style, which I do appreciate. Nothing tropical at all in the flavour spectrum. Nose of kiwi, apple, pear, perfume, soapy florals and hints of caramel and butter scotch. Palate is again very tart with high acid. The barrel notes do poke though, though slightly less so than the previous. (90 points)
- 2007 Arcadian Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
Another wine that follows this “house style” which is tart and lower ripeness, though it does pour a bit darker than the previous two. Nose of kiwi, lemon curd, underripe peach, florals, green grapeskins and green plum. Acid is high, with a medium plus finish of perfume, tart stonefruit and some mineral notes. Oak is heading toward a nice level of integration and is becoming a part of the complete package. (91 points)
- 2005 Arcadian Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
A strong, singular, high-toned note of cinnamon immediately leaps from the glass. Backing that up is earth, soil, decomposing leaves, red plum, red hots candy, red cherry, twizzlers, and licorice. This borders on just a touch too candied for me, but rides that side of the line better than the 2006 IMO. There is a pleasant brightness to the aromatics. Despite using a high proportion of whole clusters this doesn’t have the usual descriptors that I would associate with WC (grapefruit, ash, incense, smoke). On the plus side the mouthfeel is quite silky with soft dusty tannin, decent acid and a long finish built on cinnamon, potting soil and licorice. A little more time couldn’t hurt to round this out a bit more. Admittedly this could just be in a difficult spot for my palate. (90 points)
- 2006 Arcadian Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Sta. Rita Hills
The high-toned nose on this wine shows vanilla, nutmeg, dusty road, purple licorice, cassis, grape candy, and purple flowers. Colour is just a bit on the darker side. Still quite young and dense, but there’s something just a bit modern feeling about this wine. Not the aromatics I usually associate with Pinot Noir. The palate is quite primary with firm tannin and a purple licorice edge to it. Some pleasant mineral notes repeat on the palate post-consumption which is pleasant. Finish is medium in length. Overall, not particularly a style I typically favour but well constructed nonetheless. (89 points)
- 2008 Arcadian Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
This wine really demonstrates the glorious aromatics that Whole Cluster can produce. The nose is loaded with all kinds of spice: blood orange, grapefruit, exotic spice, baking spice, mixed florals, crunchy cranberry and raspberry. Still quite a bit of tannin on this young wine. The wonderful red fruit plays off well against the refreshing high acid. Medium plus finish. I really like this. All I expect from great, restrained, California Pinot Noir and scary good for $40. (92 points)
- 2001 Arcadian Pinot Noir Sleepy Hollow Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
I found this wine to be absolutely spectacular. The intoxicating nose is wildly complex of baking spice, ash, tar, blood orange, strawberry, soil, sawdust, nutmeg, soy sauce, beef broth, undergrowth, anise and incense. At a beautiful stage of maturity today, the elements of whole cluster have almost completely integrated. Palate is pure silk, very low tannin, with wonderful red fruit. Finish is long. A wine that you can smell and taste for hours, and is burned into your brain for months. I figured I would be way out in left field with this score, but I always strive to call them like I see them. While not many are quite as high as me, it is comforting to see Keith Levenberg even higher at 97. Looks like we’re on the same page here. A stunning wine and my highest rating ever for a California Pinot Noir. A wonderfully savoury, old world styled Pinot Noir. (95 points)
- 2001 Arcadian Syrah Garys’ Vineyard – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands
This wine pours still quite inky and dark considering the age. The nose is ripe, dense and licorice laden with hints of green peppercorn, soil, dark chocolate, meat, tar and crushed dark berry seeds. The palate shows loads of dark dense fruit. Still quite a lot of tannin. Finishes on tar and dense dark berry/licorice fruit. While some secondary notes were just poking through this was still quite dark and primary considering the age. While I found Arcadian’s Chards and Pinots very restrained this Syrah is quite full bore. May round out and resolve with further age. (90 points)
- 2006 Arcadian Syrah Hommage à Max – USA, California, Central Coast, Santa Ynez Valley
This is a bit more complex though still super dark, dense and predominantly primary. The nose is of blackberry, dark macerated berry seeds, blueberry, licorice, tar, paraffin wax and machine oil. Palate is very tannic and tart. Finish is medium in length carried on berries and tar. Another one that lacks some elegance and charm for me, at least today, though I suppose age could and should help. Alcohol is noted on the nose and palate (14.5% listed on the bottle). (91 points)