When I ask my wine snob friends about wines in Santa Barbara county, they usually tell me that Burgundy is better than our Pinot Noir, Rhone valley is better than our Syrah and France, Spain and Italy in general are just better than anything we create. Ok, Europe is the master of wine, but I also know that Santa Barbara county has some real gems in Pinot Noir, Syrah, even Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé. When I argue this point, they all seem to name one winery they have all resigned to love in Santa Barbara: Palmina.
Palmina Winery is in the Santa Maria Valley appelation, with its tasting room in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, a name created to give this dry business park behind Home Depot some charm. But all this spot really needs to charm me are the great Italian varietals from Palmina (and the Goat Bubbles and sporadic appearances by Wes Hagen don’t hurt).
Palmina is the love child of Steve Clifton (of Brewer-Clifton fame) and wife Chrystal, resulting from a deep connection and profound appreciation for northern Italy. They focus on terroir, as little intervention from the new technology, man-made wine techniques as possible, and low-alcohol, graceful wines. And they succeed.
The Nebbiolo is something worthy to age, and the other Nebbiolo is drinkable now. The Arneis rounds out the cast and I’m reminded of Barolos (red and white) and Barbaresco. Other varietals that shine are Pinot Grigio and Barbera.
But my favorite thing about Palmina Winery is their wine on tap. Steve creates the Tavola Bianca and Tavola Rossa from any of the winery’s varietals, and constantly changes the secret blend in each barrel. It’s also the greenest and most authentic way to buy wine: customers buy glass bottles in two sizes (a half-gallon growler or a basic 750 ml), fill them from the taps, then bring the empty bottles back to refill for a fraction of the price. Just like it’s been done for centuries in Europe. It’s the everyday wine the whole community drinks, and it’s locally sourced. It’s extremely food-friendly, and really shines at meals with multiple dishes or courses and multiple layers of flavors.
Can you really find old world winemaking, low-alcohol wine complex enough to age and Italian-style fresh wine from a tap in Santa Barbara county? At Palmina, all you need is a growler of each. And maybe a few bottles of Nebbiolo to age.