Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2011
In 1996, with forty years of winemaking experience, Jim and Mary Dierberg’s dream of producing wines worthy of their 250 year plan became a reality. After a long search through France and Napa, while learning the craft and making wine in the mid-west, they discovered the potential of Santa Barbara’s cool coastal valleys. The family planted two estates -first their namesake Dierberg Vineyard and later Drum Canyon Vineyard – both under their DIERBERG label. These estates, along with the family’s iconic warm climate site Star Lane Vineyard, culminated in a trio of peerless properties in Santa Barbara County.
Jim and Mary are no newcomers to wine. Since 1974, they’ve owned the Hermannhof Winery in Hermann, Missouri, which was one of the United States’ most significant wine-growing regions prior to Prohibition. Located about an hour’s drive west of St. Louis, Hermannhof is one of America’s oldest wineries. The Dierbergs have dedicated the past 40 years to renovating the property and raising its reputation as a place for education and entertainment. While the town’s history and charm brought the Dierbergs to Hermann, the region’s Midwestern climate cannot support the traditional European varietals that Jim and Mary have become fans of over the years. In the 1980s, the Dierbergs began looking outside of Missouri for a place to plant that passion. After realizing that properties in Bordeaux and Napa Valley weren’t suitable for their desires, they chanced upon the Santa Barbara area in 1996.
Today, the entire operation is one big family affair, with the Dierbergs’ grown children and their spouses intimately involved in the day-to-day operations of the vineyard and winery.
Esteemed winemaker, Tyler Thomas started with Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyards in the Summer of 2013. His affinity with the Central Coast started early, with his first full-time harvest job, at Fiddlehead Cellars. Though his career later steered him up to Sonoma, his recent return has been welcomed. “The entire valley made its imprint on me then as I sampled vineyards in both Happy Canyon and Sta. Rita Hills. To be returning now after 10 years to make site driven estate wines is thrilling.”
Thomas has desired to produce wines of special character consistently and efficiently each vintage. “My goal is to make wines that please by their compelling nature. That is you find yourself both hedonistically and intellectually compelled to go back to the wine over and over again. Many wines can draw your first glance, but I want one that can sustain your desire.” Thomas believes that to do this we must cultivate not only vineyards and wine, but people. “I believe the greatest wines are not made but discovered by quality oriented individuals.” Many say that great wine starts in the vineyard (and it does), but Tyler’s goal will be to distill what truly makes an impact to the governing components of why a wine tastes the way it tastes and focus on those things. These vineyards offer an incredible viticulture wonderland for continuing to discover the compelling nature of their terroirs.
Thomas is responsible for the day-to-day details of winemaking, from harvest to the final blending of the wines. He completed his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Botany at Colorado State University, and received a masters in Viticulture and Enology at U.C. Davis.
A lesser-known but elite AVA within the larger Santa Barbara district, the Santa Maria Valley AVA runs precisely west to east starting near the coast. The valley funnels cool, Pacific Ocean air to the vineyards more inland, allowing grapes a longer hang time to ripen evenly and achieve their full potential by harvest time. Combined with minimal rainfall, consistent warm sunshine, and well-drained soils, it is an ideal environment for grape growing.
Many of the wineries here are small and highly respected, having established a reputation in the 1970s and 80s for producing excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. More recently, Syrah has also proven quite successful in the region. Many vineyards are owned by growers who sell their grapes to other wineries, so it is common to see the same vineyard name on bottlings from different wineries. Bien Nacido Vineyard is perhaps the best-known and most prestigious.
Thin-skinned, finicky and temperamental, Pinot Noir is also one of the most rewarding grapes to grow and remains a labor of love for some of the greatest vignerons in Burgundy. Fairly adaptable but highly reflective of the environment in which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate and requires low yields to achieve high quality. Outside of France, outstanding examples come from in Oregon, California and throughout specific locations in wine-producing world. Somm Secret—André Tchelistcheff, California’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker decidedly stayed away from the grape, claiming “God made Cabernet. The Devil made Pinot Noir.”