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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.
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, all sourced from Santa Barbara County. A tasting room in a charmingly restored former firehouse opened in July, 2010 in downtown Ojai, at 109 South Montgomery Street (Thursday through Sunday). The phone is 805-649-1674.
2018 The Ojai Vineyard Fe Ciega Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
12.5% alc., $53. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Engaging aromas of black cherry, rose petal and herb cupboard. Exuberant flavors of cherry, strawberry and cherry with a bit of spice and dried herbs in a middleweight fashion. The aromas and flavors pick up interest over time in the glass and reach a peak the following day from a previously opened bottle. The svelte tannins and long finish complete the grand impression. Score: 94. Reviewed September 19, 2021 ARTICLE »
2010 The Ojai Vineyards Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
13.8% alc., $29. · Moderate reddish-purple color in the glass. Aromas and flavors of black cherry cola and black raspberry in a mid weight format. Noticeable toasty oak and a green herbal undertone are evident. Surprisingly mundane considering the source. Decent. Reviewed June 23, 2013 ARTICLE »
2007 The Ojai Vineyard Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $37.40. · Really lovely dark garnet color in the glass. Very pleasing scents of spiced berries and cherries, with some brier patch, herb garden and subtle oak char. A middle weight offering purple fruits with hints of loamy earth, savory herbs and white pepper in the background. A bit linear but has plenty to recommend including a good spark of acidity on the moderately persistent finish. If you haven’t tried Ojai Vineyard wines lately, you should. A few years back, the Pinot Noirs were styled in a high alcohol, high extraction, Syrah-like fashion but winemaker Adam Tolmach has scaled everything back emphasizing the nuances of Pinot Noir that come with restraint and moderation. Very good. Reviewed February 15, 2010 ARTICLE »
2007 The Ojai Vineyard Clos Pepe Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., $37.40. 100% Pommard clone. Beginning with the 2009 vintage, Ojai will be replaced by Arcadian. · A delicate style which is immensely pleasing. Flavorful red strawberries and raspberries framed by bright acidity and gossamer tannins. Minerality is prevalent throughout. Reviewed March 11, 2010 ARTICLE »
2006 The Ojai Vineyard Clos Pepe Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay
14.0% alc., $35. From renowned winemaker Adam Tolmach. Clone 76. · Straw yellow color in the glass. The aromas are dominated by oak-derived notes of toast and vanilla which tend to blow off over time exposing the mineral-imbued citrus fruits. Delicious on the palate, soft and smooth, with pleasing flavors of white peaches, lemons and pink grapefruit, leaving a lasting impression on the persistent and high-spirited finish. A high-class wine singing in perfect harmony. Very good. Reviewed August 24, 2010 ARTICLE »
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. Reviewed January 1, 2009 ARTICLE »
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. Reviewed January 1, 2009 ARTICLE »
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. Reviewed January 1, 2009 ARTICLE »
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. Reviewed January 1, 2009 ARTICLE »