Earlier last month, Santa Barbara played host to its second “Key to Wine Country” weekend, a now semiannual event that includes a number of opportunities to “unlock” Santa Barbara wine country through vineyard walks and barrel samples with winemakers to sit down blending seminars and food and wine pairings. Yet despite the many offerings, the highlight of the weekend was by far the vineyard tour and tasting of Westerly Wines, a small production winery based out of the recently founded Happy Canyon AVA.
Dedicated to crafting exceptional, site specific wines Westerly Wines was founded with the mission of creating a portfolio of wines sourced from premier vineyards throughout Santa Barbara’s five AVA’s. Purchased in 2012 by Roger Bower, Westerly Wines was thus joined with Bower’s Crown Point Vineyard, a 106 acre ranch uniquely suited to Bordeaux varieties.
With the acquisition of the Westerly label, Bower brought on Napa Valley’s Adam Henkel to oversee the winemaking for both the Westerly Wines and the soon to be released Crown Point label. With two vintages under his belt, Henkel, who has worked with the likes of Harlan Estates and Swanson Vineyards, brings a breath of fresh air to the project. Having planted eight acres of vines and ripped out six, Henkel’s hope is to eventually grow the ranch to 42 acres of planted vineyards.
During the time of the Key to Wine Country weekend, Henkel had just seeded all the vineyards for cover crop and hoped the recent rains would help to get these plantings going. He was also currently working on further vineyard development and had just uprooted some old Semillon and Sangiovese vines and was preparing to plant Happy Canyon’s first Petite Sirah vines.
Equating his winemaking style to sculpting, Henkel explains that to create the best wine, you take away everything you don’t want and are left with the purity of the site and the vine. Utilizing a combination of traditional and innovative winemaking methods, Henkel employs a rigorous approach to winemaking and utilizes a number of elements in his pursuit of crafting unique and individualistic wines.
Concrete tanks are employed for many of the reds, adding structure to the wines and allowing them to breathe without adding flavor. The tanks also help with tannin development during fermentation. For the Chardonnay, eggs are employed as the restricted head space allows for less oxidation. Yet most important to Henkel are the winery’s barrels. Loving to blend different flavors together, Henkel takes a spice rack approach to barrel flavoring and works with a number of different forests, styles, toasts and cooperages.
“My favorite thing to do here is sit down with 60 different components and make one, complete wine,” states Henkel.
With the Westerly portfolio, Henkel and Bower plan to transition the entire portfolio to focus on the five sub AVA’s of Santa Barbara and the duo have plans to eventually open a tasting room for the winery as well.
“The beauty of the Westerly portfolio,” Henkel explained, “is that I can make wines from the different AVA’s within the county that are reflective of each’s sense of place.”
And with such a plethora of quality vineyards to source from, Westerly Wines are an exceptional showcase of the best Santa Barbara has to offer.