I recently tasted newly released wines from The Ojai Vineyard and the visited the winery to taste more wines from barrel and bottle. These include wines from the 2010, 2011, and 2012 vintages. Several of the 2010s I reviewed from barrel after my last visit. Now bottled, these wines have evolved beautifully. There are many impressive wines to consider and my tasting notes follow this introduction. The introduction below is taken from my first article on The Ojai Vineyard (to read the entire article click here )
The Ojai Vineyard was started in 1983 by Adam Tolmach along with his wife Helen. Adam had been a partner with Jim Clendenen in starting Au Bon Climat in 1982. Prior to that time, he was the enologist at Zaca Mesa winery which was one of the early pioneer wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley. It was there that he met Jim Clendenen. He remained a partner of Au Bon Climat until 1991 as he continued to develop his winery.
In his first year he made a small amount of Syrah at Au Bon Climat. In 1984 he built a winery on property in Oak View, California left to him by his grandfather. (Oak View is a small hamlet situated between Ojai and Ventura and not far from where I spent the first 18 years or so of my life on Ventura Avenue. So it is fair to say that I was surprised to learn years ago that there was a winery in Oak View. In my youth, a lot of this area had been home to apple and peach orchards. During the growing season we would often visit to buy fruit and apple cider at Rancho Arnaz. It was an apple orchard – over 40 different varieties of apples were grown – and packing house from the 1930s until probably sometime in the 1980s when the ownership changed and the orchards were removed.) Although there were some vines planted on the family property, Adam began by sourcing his grapes from other growers. This has continued to this day. Adam looks for cool climate vineyards in Santa Barbara County (Roll Ranch Vineyard in Ojai – Ventura County – is the sole exception) and buys the fruit by the acre. This gives him the ability to control the yields and pick the grapes at a degree of ripeness that allows him to make wines that are balanced and food friendly. Currently he works with about a dozen different growers. The production of each wine is quite small and most of the wines are vineyard designated. The total wine production has remained around 6,000 cases per year for nearly 20 years. About 20 different wines are made each year.
Adam is a quiet person with a stealth sense of humor. He is humble and down to earth. His old partner, Jim Clendenen, is a bit different being more gregarious and outgoing. But, even as their personalities may not be exactly the same, the style of wine produced by both is very similar. In fact, it seems fair to say that The Ojai Vineyard is very much related to what I have called the Holy Trinity of Winemaking (Au Bon Climat, Qupe, and Chanin). (Click here  to read that article). And, to carry it a step further, Ojai Vineyards may represent the fourth leg, albeit detached, on the stool! All four of these wineries are dedicated to making wine in a classic style with finesse and flavor, but not overly alcoholic or over the top. Interestingly, the publicity shy Adam got embroiled in a controversy with a big numbers critic and a newspaper over comments he allegedly made about alcohol levels in wine. But, the fact is that he believes that there is room in the world for all types of wines. It’s just that he wants to make wines that are balanced, food friendly, and age well…
As mentioned earlier, the average annual production of The Ojai Vineyard wines is around 6,000 cases, but it can vary from year to year. In 2011 yields were low and the production was 4800 cases. In 2012 the yields were up a bit and production totaled 7,500 cases. But, the production of each wine often is quite low. For instance, the production of the 2012 vineyard designated Pinot Noirs will average around 150-200 cases each. And, Adam is always experimenting with new things. In fact, he likes to call himself the “king of small lots” and takes great pride in making unique, handcrafted wines in very small quantities. The latest example is the new Syrah from the Sebastiano Vineyard. This wine and was made 3 different ways and each lot was bottled separately with a total production of 150 cases (notes on each bottling are included in the notes below).
2012, 2011, AND 2010 WINE NOTES
These vintages were quite different for most Central Coast Vineyards. Adam loves the challenge of the “difficult” vintages and both 2010 and 2011 presented challenges. The 2012 vintage was different with warmer weather and less problems during the growing season. But, suffice to say there are wines that are different in all 3 vintages, but there are really fine wines in all 3 vintages as well. This is a great tribute to this winery that has been producing gorgeous and amazingly consistent wines for nearly 30 years.
Following are my tasting notes on recently released wines and wines tasted from barrel and bottle during a recent visit with Adam and his assistant winemaker, Fabien Castel, at the winery. If you are not yet familiar with The Ojai Vineyard wines now is the perfect chance for you to become acquainted. These are wines you can buy with confidence and cellar for an extended period as the wines age beautifully and gain increasing complexity with time.
Recently Released Wines Tasted From Bottle
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Barbara County.
This is a very well crafted and elegant Chardonnay that is refined, flavorful, and balanced. It is light yellow gold in color and has a lovely floral perfume with a tinge of citrus and minerality and a very faint tinge of spice. On the palate, there is lovely floral tinged fruit that shows hints of spice and mint and a nice underlying crispness – Highly Recommended Plus. $26 
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc McGinley Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley.
Tasted over a period of a week this wine continued to come together and gain complexity. It would benefit from decanting and hour or two before serving. Light yellow in color the wine has a lovely floral, melon perfume with tinges of citrus and a faint herbal note. With very pure fruit it is elegant and finesseful and shows floral and melon, nuances and just a touch of citrus. A nice underlying crispness adds to the appeal making this wine a great match for a wide variety of lighter foods – Highly Recommended. 
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard Santa Rita Hills.
This is simply a gorgeous Pinot Noir that has complexity and balance with lots of flavor. It has a deep color and a gorgeous floral perfume with a faint exotic tinge and spice tinged cherry fruit accented by a very faint whiff of smokiness. The flavors are very harmonious and integrated showing cherry and berry fruit with just a faint exotic tinge and a kiss of spice. This is a wonderfully elegant Pinot Noir with a lot of appeal. It should age beautifully for an extended period. This is one to buy – Outstanding Plus. $49 
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley.
The Ojai Vineyard has been making wine from this same parcel since 1991. The vines are now over 35 years old. Tasted over a period of a week, this is a gorgeous Pinot Noir that really benefits from air. If consumed now, it should be decanted for an hour or two before serving. The wine has a deep color and a lovely floral perfume showing berry and cherry fruit with a tinge of spice and green olive. It is balanced and very flavorful and harmonious with lots of floral spice tinged fruit and has a long finish with a nice underlying crispness – Outstanding. $44 
2011 The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Santa Barbara County.
This is a lovely balanced Syrah that has depth and richness with lots of fruit. It has a dark color and a lovely perfume with hints of plum, smoke, and spice. On the palate, the wine is rounded and very tasty with blackberry and plum fruit accented by a touch of spice. Delicious to drink now, the wine benefits from some air, and should drink beautifully for many years – Highly Recommended. $30 
2011 The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Rita Hills “No S”.
Sebastiano Vineyard Syrah is made from young 7 year old vines. 2011 is the first vintage for this wine and as an experiment the wine was made 3 ways. One was made and bottled several months ago with no sulphur added. This wine is the one reviewed below and bears the handwritten note “No S” on the label. The production of this wine was just over 30 cases. Another bottling was done with the same wine a little later and sulphur was added. The production of this wine was about 40 cases. Finally there is a lot that is still in the barrel. It will be bottled soon and the production will be about 80 cases. The 3 wines should make an interesting comparison as the wines age. For now, the wine below is delicious and its evolution over time should be fascinating to follow.
Dark in color this Syrah has an absolutely stunning perfume showing cassis and plum fruit with floral, smoky, and faintly exotic nuances. It is loaded with fruit and is lush and rounded with great depth and richness. A myriad of black fruit flavors are intermingled with faintly spicy, exotic, smoky nuances and there is an underlying floral quality that adds to the complexity. This is balanced and pure wine with lots of appeal. Dare I say that it is a Côte Rotie style new world Syrah? No matter, this is a really gorgeous wine. Bravo! Despite the miniscule production, if you like balanced and pure Syrah that is not extracted and over the top, this is a wine to buy – Outstanding Plus. $44 
Wines Tasted At The Winery
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Young Vines.
Light yellow in color with a nice floral perfume this is a nice Chardonnay with lots of fruit and very nice underlying crispness – Very Good Potential. 
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc McGinley Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley.
True to form this Sauvignon Blanc has a light yellow color and a lovely floral herbal perfume with hints of citrus. It has lots of citrus tinged fruit and is very tasty and crisp – Very Good Potential. 
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Riesling Kick On Vineyard Los Alamos.
Again this vintage shows the consistency of Riesling made from this cool climate vineyard. The wine is light yellow in color and it has a gorgeous floral perfume accented by a faint tropical quality. Bright and crisp with lovely pure fruit the wine is balanced with a lot of charm – Very Good Potential. 
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Rosé.
This wine was in tank and ready to be bottled at the time of my visit. It is a blend of mostly Syrah and Grenache with a very small amount of Viognier, Riesling, and Chardonnay added. It is a bright crisp rosé with a light salmon pink color showing a faint golden hue. The flavors are subtle and refined with hints of citrus and peach. With very nice balance, the wine is tasty with a citrus berry tinge on the finish – Very Good Potential. 
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley.
With a deep color this wine has a lovely floral cherry perfume with a hint of green olive. It has lovely berry fruit with floral notes and a faint hint of spice and green olive – Very Good Potential Plus. 
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard Santa Rita Hills.
This Pinot Noir exhibits a great intensity of fruit with a nice underlying structure. It has a deep color and a lovely floral berry perfume with very pure floral tinged berry fruit. It is balanced and very flavorful with a faint tinge of spiciness – Outstanding Potential. 
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Q Block Old Vines Santa Maria Valley.
With a deep color this Pinot Noir has balance and a lot of fruit and flavor. It exhibits a lovely perfume of plum and blackberry with a faint hint of spice and green olive. The wine has structure and intensity with an abundance of fruit – Outstanding Potential. 
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Puerta Del Mar Vineyard Santa Barbara County.
This is the second year for this wine. It has a deep color and a lovely floral perfume with hints of berries and spice. It is supple and rounded and loaded with fruit. Spicy floral accents add to the appeal. This should be really lovely – Outstanding Potential. 
2012 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Kick On Vineyard Los Alamos.
With a deep color this wine has a lovely floral perfume with tinges of green olive and spice. It has lovely spice tinged fruit and is balanced and flavorful. This should make a really nice bottle – Very Good Potential Plus. 
2011 The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Sebastiano Vineyard Santa Rita Hills.
This is the third lot of this wine which was still in barrel at the time of my visit. At that time it was scheduled to be bottled in April. Dark in color the wine has a deep perfume of blackberry and spice with a faint smokiness. With impressive fruit and richness the wine is balanced and shows a faint spicy nuance. How it will compare with the other 2 lots after bottling will be most interesting – Outstanding Potential. 
2011 The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley.
Dark in color this wine has a stunning perfume of boysenberry fruit with smoky spice tinge nuances. It has great fruit and is full and rich with balance and intensity – Outstanding Potential. 
2011 The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Roll Ranch Vineyard California.
There is a bit of Viognier in this wine. It is dark in color with a deep floral berry perfume and a touch of smokiness. The wine has lots of fruit and is very flavorful with balanced tannin, good backbone, and a long finish – Outstanding Potential. 
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Riesling Kick On Vineyard Los Alamos.
Light yellow in color this wine has a lovely floral mineral tinged perfume. It has lovely floral tinged fruit with hints of pear and citrus. This is a distinctive Riesling that is very pure and very crisp and racy with a lot of zip. The crispness makes it an ideal accompaniment with a wide variety of foods from sushi and sashimi to spicy Asian foods – Highly Recommended. $26 
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Kick On Vineyard Los Alamos.
This is a lovely Pinot Noir that shows a lot of finesse. It should evolve beautifully with additional bottle age. The wine has a deep color and a lovely floral berry perfume with hints of green olive. The berry fruit is very pure and crisp and is accented by faint spicy, smoky nuances – Highly Recommended. $44 
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard Santa Maria Valley.
First tasted from barrel this wine has lived up to its early promise. It has a deep color and a lovely floral perfume with hints of blackberry and spice. The wine has lots of floral spice tinged fruit and is well structured with depth and richness. It will benefit from additional bottle age and should evolve beautifully – Outstanding. $44 
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Melville Vineyard Santa Rita Hills.
This is the last vintage of The Ojai Vineyard Melville Vineyard Syrah which is made from grapes that were picked earlier than normal for this vineyard. This is a wine that fully reflects The Ojai Vineyard style of restraint and balance, yet with lots of flavor. Dark in color, the wine has a deep perfume of berry fruit with a faint underlying smokiness. It is full and rounded with very pure fruit showing a tinge of spice and smokiness and is beautifully balanced. This is a Syrah that can be enjoyed now or kept for an extended period – Highly Recommended Plus. $44 
2010 The Ojai Vineyard Syrah Special Bottling Solomon Hills Santa Maria Valley.
This is a gorgeous Syrah made from grapes grown in a cool area. It has 12.6% alcohol as compared with other Syrahs which can tip the scales with alcohols in the high teens. This results in wine that has lots of flavor, but also is balanced and harmonious. Dark in color the wine has a lovely perfume with floral cherry nuances accented by an underlying spicy smoky quality. The fruit is very pure and shows a complexity of red and black fruits with tinges of spice and a faint hint of smokiness. Delicious now, yet this wine will undoubtedly age effortlessly for a very long time – Outstanding. $61 
The Ojai Vineyard wines speak for themselves. They reflect a style of wine that has finesse and balance. Like his old partner at Au Bon Climat, Jim Clendenen, Adam’s taste was refined in the 1970s by his admiration for the wines of Burgundy and the Rhone Valley. And, like Jim, he has always strived for balance in his wines. In fact, when some of his Pinot Noirs got too big for his taste, he countered by picking the grapes less ripe to maintain the balance and finesse. As Adam has said, he makes wines to suit his taste and the tastes of his customers and not to please the big numbers wine critics. I say “Amen” to that! Adam is a cult figure and a pioneer. But, he is also very serious and dedicated to his craft and is always looking for ways to improve. In fact, he has been quoted as saying that “When you get too old to learn, it’s time to put the nails in your coffin.” Thankfully, for Adam and wine lovers everywhere, that day does not seem to be coming anytime soon! The wines of The Ojai Vineyard are wines to seek out. They can be found in small quantities in wine stores across the country. (To visit the winery website and find out more about Ojai Vineyards and where to buy Ojai wines in your area as well as join the join the wine club with discounts up to 20% click here ) .