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  justin willett [1]

I first became acquainted with this new winery just over 2 years ago. I was very impressed with the wines and the dedication and talent of owner/winemaker, Justin Willett. Here is what I had to say:

Owner and winemaker Justin Willett started Tyler winery in 2005. Previously he had worked in vineyard management as well as assistant to winemaker Joe Davis at Arcadian. In a very short time he has established himself as a leader in the movement to make balanced, harmonious wines. He is a very serious and talented young man dedicated to making the Burgundian style of wine that many of us love. Justin makes only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and has a great respect for the wines of Burgundy. Careful viniculture and low impact winemaking are guiding principles. Three basic truths are followed. First, older vines are preferred over younger vines as these vines produce wines of more character and depth. Second, picking grapes early allows the production of wines with lower alcohol and more fruit and finesse. And, third, only a modest amount of new wood (20% for Chardonnay and 20-30% for Pinot Noir) allows the fruit and transparency to come through in the wines.

tyler winery map [2]

The grapes for Tyler wines are sourced from what Justin believes to be some of the finest plots of selected vineyards in Santa Barbara County. As new sources have been added, production has increased steadily from under 200 cases in 2005 to over 1600 cases in 2010, 2100 cases in 2011, and about 3000 cases in 2012.

In addition to Tyler winery, more recently Justin has expanded into other endeavors. Taken from the Tyler website, here is the background:

In addition to being the owner and winemaker of Tyler Winery, Justin is now the consulting winemaker for a dynamic new planting of pinot noir and chardonnay in the Santa Rita Hills between the Seasmoke and Mount Carmel vineyards called Wenzlau Vineyard. Also, Justin’s perspective and craftsmanship have landed him partnerships with a few well-known sommeliers.

With sommelier Eric Railsback (formerly of RN74 in San Francisco, now owner of Caveau in Santa Barbara) he produces approximately 2000 cases of wine focused specificially on the varietals of the Loire Valley in France, grown here in Santa Barbara County, under the Lieu Dit label. Another partnership with Master Sommelier Dustin Wilson of Eleven Madison Park in New York City and Master Sommelier Brian McClintock of Caveau in Santa Barbara, called Vallin, focuses on the varietals of the Northern Rhone Valley.

Sice the very beginning the wines from Tyler have been most impressive and very conistent. I recently visited Justin at his new winery facility in Lompoc and tasted the Tyler 2011 Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from barrel as well as a few 2012 Pinot Noirs. Those notes and observations appear below. Previously I tasted the 2009s and 2010s (to see that article click here [3]).

Wines Tasted From Barrel

Justin really likes his 2011s. The cool growing season produced a small crop with the resulting wines showing a refined elegance with beautiful balance. Justin believes that 2011 is his most elegant vintage and the wines are showing beautifully. This vintage really showcases the Tyler style. The wines are really lovely and they are wines to buy.


At the time of my tasting the 2011 Chardonnays were in stainless steel tanks and soon to be bottled. There is a very fresh bright crispness to all of the 2011 Chardonnays. Some even a bit racy. They are very expressive examples of the 2011 vintage. This is a style of wine that matches wonderfully with food and I believe will also age and evolve over an extended period of time.

2011 Tyler Chardonnay Santa Barbara County.
This wine is a blend of mostly grapes from the Bien Nacido and Sierra Madre vineyards. There were 500 cases of this wine produced.   Light yellow in color with a gorgeous perfume tinged with spice and citrus and a faint underlying minerality, this wine has a nice crispness with great elegance and lovely fruit. It shows a lot of finesse and is very expressive – Very Good Potential Plus.    1n-half-barrels [4]

2011 Tyler Chardonnay Zotovich Family Vineyard Santa Rita Hills.  
There were 150 cases of this wine produced. Very stylistic, this Chardonnay is light yellow in color and has a gorgeous floral, citrus tinge perfume with a kiss of spice and a nice underlying minerality. Rounded yet with a nice underlying crispness the wine has lovely fruit and flavor and is beautifully balanced. This is a Chardonnay with a lot of finesse and charm – Outstanding Potential.     2-barrels [5]

2011 Tyler Chardonnay Dierberg Vineyard Santa Maria Valley
This vintage produced only 75 cases. The wine is light yellow in color and has a lovely floral perfume with hints of citrus and a kiss of spice. With gorgeous supple fruit this Chardonnay has lots of  flavor and is refined and stylistic with bright underlying acidity – Outstanding Potential.     2-barrels [5]

2011 Tyler Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Old Vines Santa Maria Valley.  
There were 150 cases of this wine produced. The vines here were planted in 1973. This is a simply gorgeous Chardonnay. It is light yellow in color and has a deep floral perfume with faint hints of citrus and peach and a tinge of spice. With great fruit and flavor backed by a firm underlying crispness, this wine is structured to age and evolve beautifully over a period of many years – Outstanding Plus Potential.     2n-half-barrels [6]

2011 Tyler Chardonnay Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Old Vines Santa Rita Hills
This vintage produced 175 cases. The vines here were planted in 1971.This is a Chardonnay of great elegance and style. It is light yellow in color and  has a lovely floral citrus tinged perfume. The fruit is very refined and pure and the wine has intensity and flavor while managing a great amount of elegance and finesse. This wine is beautifully balanced and has great structure and a long crisp finish. The is another Charadonnay that should develop and evolve over an extended period – Outstanding Plus Potential.      2n-half-barrels [6]

Pinot Noir

Before tasting the 2011 Pinot Noirs I also tasted 5 different 2012 Pinot Noirs The weather was warmer in 2012 than the previous 2 years and the crop was larger. At the time of the tasting the 2012s had been in barrel only a few months so they were not evolved to the point where I can make comments on individual wines. Later, I will taste them again. But, for now, what I can say is that the wines are beautifully balanced and very pure and are loaded with fruit. This should mean that there will be some really gorgeous Pinot Noirs again in 2012. Reviews of the 2012 Pinot Noirs will follow later this year after the next tasting along with reviews of the 2012 Chardonnays. The 2011 Pinot Noirs share the style of the Chardonnays. They are wines of refinement and elegance with very pure fruit and show real varietal character.

2011 Tyler Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County.
There were 400 cases of this wine produced. It has a very nice color and a lovely floral perfume. Elegant, balanced and supple with lovely fruit this is a very nice Pinot Noir – Very Good Potential.   1-barrel [7]

2011 Tyler Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley.
There were 150 cases of this wine produced. The wine was made from grapes coming from a selection of old and young vine vineyard parcels within the Bien Nacido vineyard. These included some wine made from grapes grown on the old vine G block and grapes grown on younger vines planted in the mid-90s from the Q and N blocks.
With a deep color this Pinot Noir this wine has a great perfume showing floral berry fruit with just a touch of spice. It is very elegant and flavorful with lots of fruit and beautiful balance. This is a wine that should drink well early on and keep for an extended period – Outstanding Potential.   2-barrels [5]

2011 Tyler Pinot Noir Dierberg Vineyard Santa Maria Valley.  
This vintage produced 125 barrels. The wine has a deep color and a subtle perfume with hints of berry fruit and a floral spice nuance. Balanced with lovely refined fruit this is a Pinot Noir with great elegance and style. Just now a bit closed, over time I would expect it to open and be even more expressive – Very Good Plus Potential.     1n-half-barrels [4]

2011 Tyler Pinot Noir Bentrock Santa Rita Hills.
This wine is made from young vines planted in 2007. There were only 75 cases produced. This wine has a deep color and a lovely spice tinged berry perfume. Supple and rounded with a good underlying backbone this is a Pinot Noir of elegance and charm. Over time, it should blossom and show more complexity and depth – Very Good Plus Potential. 1n-half-barrels [4]

2011 Tyler Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyards Santa Rita Hills.
There were 150 cases of this wine produced. With a deep color this Pinot Noir has a gorgeous floral perfume with hints of spice and berry fruit. It is very flavorful with very pure fruit and is beautifully balanced with impressive length – Outstanding Potential.   2-barrels [5]

2011 Tyler Pinot Noir Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Old Vines Santa Rita Hills.
This vintage produced 150 cases. This is a Pinot Noir of great style and finesse with balance and elegance. It has a very nice color and a lovely restrained floral perfume with just a hint of cherries and spice.  The flavors show very pure fruit with floral notes and a kiss of spice. I would expect this wine to evolve and add complexity over time. Burgundian to be sure, this is a lovely wine – Outstanding Potential.   2-barrels [5]

2011 Tyler Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard Old Vines Santa Maria Valley.
There were 4 barrels of old vine wines that went into this bottling. There were 2 from Q block and 2 from N block. Both of these blocks were planted in 1973. At the time of my tasting the wines had not been blended. But, they were very similar and Justin later decided to blend them before bottling. The combined production is 100 cases.
Both wines exhibited a deep color and a great floral perfume. The fruit was very pure and the wines had richness and finesse. The Q block wine seemed to have a bit more acidity and the N block displayed a bit more richness. The blended wine should make a really gorgeous Pinot Noir with very pure fruit, richness, and  great structure.

The first of the 2011s are just now being offered for sale including 3 Chardonnays and 4 Pinot Noirs. The other 5 2011s, including 2 Chardonnays and 3 Pinot Noirs, will be released this fall. The limited production Tyler wines can be purchased directly from the winery and through their wine club (To visit the Tyler website click here [8]). Most of the small production is sold direct and to restaurants. About 10% is sold to retail wine stores. The wines can be found in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York. And, you can email them at the above address to learn where to find the wines in your area. If you have not yet tried the Tyler Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs you really owe it to yourself to do so!

Tyler-Front-image (1) [9]