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The Ojai Vineyard

Zaca Mesa Winery, which opened in the mid 1970s, spawned a multitude of prominent Central Coast winemakers including Ken Brown, Jim Clendenen, Daniel Gehrs, Bob Lindquist, Rick Longoria, Lane Tanner, and Adam Tolmach. Tolmach trained at University California Davis and was the enologist at Zaca Mesa. Jim Clendenen and Adam Tolmach left Zaca Mesa Winery in 1982 and became partners in Au Bon Climat which was begun very modestly in a small dairy barn in Los Alamos. By 1986 Clendenen and Tolmach added Bob Lindquist and Ken Margerum as partners and eventually their winery became established in a warehouse on the grounds of the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley.

Adam Tolmach founded his own label, Ojai Vineyard in 1983, along with his wife Helen, but continued as a partner in Au Bon Climat until 1991. Tolmach’s initial vintage consisted of a small amount of Syrah produced at Au Bon Climat. The next year he built a winery in Oak View, near the town of Ojai in Ventura County on land that was left to him by his grandfather. All production has originated here since 1984. Pinot Noir was added to the lineup in the early 1990s, initially sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard. Through the years, Ojai Vineyard has acquired a cult winery status do its small production and exclusivity. Most of the Ojai Vineyard wines are vineyard-designated originating from Tolmach’s long term relationships in which fruit is bought by the acre.

Ojai Vineyard wines have been known for their bold and ripe flavors. In an article in the Los Angeles Times (January 9, 2008, written by Corie Brown), Tolmach said that he has shifted course and now espouses earlier harvesting of his grapes, lower alcohols and more finesse. He said, “We got the scores we wanted, but we went away from what I personally like. We lost our rudder when we went for bolder, riper flavors.” He admitted that he had stopped drinking his own wines and had decided to ignore the future opinions of wine critics. He stated, “My goal is to produce 14% alcohol wines with nuance.” He now is committed to picking earlier than many winemakers.

I recently tasted a few Pinot Noirs from Ojai Vineyard from the 2004 and 2005 vintage and I am glad Tolmach has changed direction. These wines were big-fruited and well oaked tannic brutes that lacked elegance. They were highly structured in the mold of Syrah and lacked the charm associated with Pinot Noir. I look forward to sampling the Ojai Vineyard Pinot Noirs from the upcoming 2007 and 2008 vintages.

2005 The Ojai Vineyard Solomon Hills Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $40. · Complex assortment of aromas including Satsuma plum, spearmint, pepper, stem and oak. Fruit-driven with prodigious linear black cherry and plum flavors with delicate oak and citrus in the background playing off the fruit.

2005 The Ojai Vineyard Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $50. The grapes come from Block Q widely planted to UCD 13 clone. · Focused scents of ripe and dark red berries, wood and spice. Powerful core of dark berries and cherries with a tug of earthiness and thick oak. The tannins are well-corralled, the mouth feel is soft and the finish has both an appealing tang and unappealing touch of astringency.

2005 The Ojai Vineyard Clos Pepe Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $50. · The nose is pure oak with a hint of alcohol. Robust and extracted dark stone fruits complimented by earth, tar, mushu plum sauce and oak. A faint citrus note lingers in the background and on the finish. The dry tannins are still forbidding.

2004 The Ojai Vineyard Fe Ciega Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $50. · Aromas of sweet berry jam, leaves, oak and a question of Brett. A dark and dense wine featuring blackberries, plum, prune, grilled meat, animale and slight oak char framed by supple tannins and offering a smooth texture.

Ojai Vineyard wines are sold primarily through a mailing list with limited retail distribution. About 6,000 cases are produced each year, divided among fifteen bottlings, including Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. No tours or tasting. The website is and the phone is 805-649-1674.

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