Making red wine is a test of patience and ingenuity. Red wine is not just magically pressed from red grapes. The color and flavors that are essential to these wines need to be gently extracted from the skins, seeds and stems over time. Winemakers will use different tactics in the cellar based on the types of red grapes processed and the desired style of the finished wine. Over the weekend we caught up with Tyler Thomas, the new winemaker at Dierberg and Star Lane, to ask him more about Pinot Noir and why he and his family moved to Santa Barbara County from Sonoma County. You can follow Tyler's new harvest adventures on Instagram at @Dierberg_Starlane. Don't forget the entire Santa Barbara County harvest can be found using #sbcharvest on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Many people associate grape stomping with the famous I Love Lucy episode. Who is in this picture and what are they doing? Tell us more.
This is our Enologist Christina Hall stomping some cold Pinot Noir from our Drum Canyon Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills. I have a lot of experience with stem inclusion and enjoy the spice flavor and textural component it adds to wine. We tread the grapes to crush the fruit prior to loading it into the fermenter because I prefer less than 100% whole berry when it comes to stem inclusion.
You recently started as the new winemaker for Dierberg and Star Lane. Where did you move from? Why did you come to Santa Barbara County? How do you think the style of wines at Dierberg/Starlane will evolve under your leadership?
Great questions! Our family of five moved from Sonoma County. I was working for a small boutique winery called Donelan Wines. 11 years ago when I completed my first full harvest in Lompoc with Fiddlehead Cellars I always thought this would be a great place to live and work. Additionally, my experience has been principally with producers interested in evoking great wines from great sites, working to understand what the vines want to produce. Star Lane passed the terroir eye ball test. The opportunity afforded to me by the Dierberg family to bring a voice to their terroir was too good to pass up. I believe great wine must be discovered and the new playground of Star Lane, Dierberg Vineyard, and Drum Canyon vineyard are thrilling opportunities.
It is difficult to point to how the wines might change as I work to truly understand what the wines want to be. I know that sounds vague and mystical, but I truly believe it. I will say that I work to capture and understand the variation that exists within each site so that there is no lost opportunity in learning and subsequently to crafting a truly fine wine: one that brings pleasure, has a unique voice, and whose architecture is structured with energy and litheness.
Successful winemaking requires a committed team. Who else is on your winemaking team and what tactics do you use to keep everyone focused during the grueling harvest season?
After 11 years in the business I have become convinced that great wine is made by having great fruit and great people. Our team is excelling right now led by local product Jeff Connick who worked with Rick Longoria for a number of years. Our Cellar Master Mario Garcia is the longest tenured cellar employee and
brings an enthusiasm for learning and for cracking the whip when necessary. Christina Hall runs our lab ensuring that we carefully monitor our efforts to push risk and quality. That is our core leadership which is complimented by a few permanent cellar rats and excellent interns. I would be remiss not to also mention our vineyard manager Julian Malone of Coastal Vineyard Care who has led the vineyard crews in tending our vines to prepare them for this wonderful time of year.
I keep the team fresh by keeping them in the loop of our progress, helping them understand how their work contributes to making our wines great, providing them homemade bread and enjoying great wine.
How is your harvest going so far?
Quite excellently. Thanks to the team we have in place I can honestly say as a newcomer to the valley that I feel a vintage ahead toward understanding the nuances of the valley. The weather has been so
cooperative. We all have been skipping with excitement as the wines begin to ferment.
As a new member of the Santa Barbara County wine community, where do you recommend to go for a pint of local beer?
Well I have had the good fortune of being able to stay on the Star Lane ranch since I moved to the valley and embarrassingly I have not been in town too much. I did enjoy an evening at Mattei’s Tavern just recently and am excited to find my favorite watering hole. Mostly I’ve been sipping pints on the deck of our cottage overlooking the breathtaking Star Lane Vineyards!