24 Jun Please The Palate Pick of the Week: A Visit to Melville Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Ynez Valley
Just a two-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles, Santa Ynez is a regular destination for me, especially of late. As a contributor to the Slow Wine Guide, I have been meeting with winemakers over the past weeks to interview them for the guide. One of the wineries I visited this past week was Melville Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills. Melville was one of the first wineries I was introduced to when I first started learning about wine more than 20 years ago. But, during my visit this past week, I realized that I had not visited Melville in close to a decade. I could not believe it had been that long. But as I drove up the long driveway off of Hwy 246 in Lompoc, it was immediately familiar. Melville’s Tuscan Villa is surrounded by a large lawn that looks out at the vineyards. It is from these estate vines that all of the Melville wines are made. My visit to Melville Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills is the Please The Plate pick of the week and should be on everyone’s list when visiting the Santa Ynez Valley.
There are more than 275 wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley today. Many of the wineries have tasting rooms in Los Olivos, Solvang, or downtown Santa Barbara and there are many wineries that do not have tasting rooms. The large estate wineries, common in Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma, and Temecula, exist in Santa Ynez but some are not open to the public. But Melville is one of the wineries that has an estate property that is open to the public.
The Melville family is part of the first wave of wineries that came to Santa Ynez in the 1990s. Ron Melville purchased 40 acres in 1996 and started planting vines in 1997. He bought another 40 acres in 1997 which he planted in 1998. Five acres were added in 2006 and then another 40 acres in 2008. Melville added another 24 acres from an existing vineyard that was planted in 1985 so that has a total of 144 acres of grapes, all on neighboring properties. With all of these acres of grapes, Melville is 100% estate and does not buy any grapes.
Chad Meville is the second generation at Melville Winery. He makes the wines but he called himself a winegrower. This is because to him and his family, farming is the most important part of the whole process. In addition, the magic is what happens in the vineyard. Farming for health and growth, Melville converted to organic farming in the mid-2000s. Their reason was their respect for mother nature. Chad and the team work hard to get healthy vines in an environment that can be stressful thanks to wind and lack of rain.
Melville produces 11,000 cases of wine annually, all from their estate. While Melville is medium-sized compared to most in Santa Ynez, the wine is made in micro lots. They produce small amounts of certain blocks and clones of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. And the bulk of their production is the Estate Pinot Noir, following by the Estate Chardonnay, and Estate Syrah. These Estate wines are an amazing value. Everything is done by hand with minimal intervention and the Estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay retail for $44 and the Syrah for $40. That is quite a value for the quality.
The 2022 Melville Estate Chardonnay is elegant with a beautiful acid backbone. It has aromas of white fleshy fruit, green apple, citrus, and a touch of minerality. It is a wine that offers lots of acidity and the ripe fruit notes wrap about the acid for an incredible texture and mouthwatering finish.
The 2021 Melville Estate Pinot Noir is made from all 17 Pinot Noir clones on the property and 40% of the grapes are fermented whole cluster. The result is a wine with notes of red crunchy fruit, pomegranate, dried herbs, and salinity. On the palate the wine is bright, fresh, and savory. It is elegant and graceful with power. That is quite a Pinot Noir for $44.
The 2019 Melville Estate Syrah is a beautiful expression of a cool climate Syrah. It has aromas of violets, red fruits, and white pepper, and notes of olive tapenade and cured meat. It is savory and elegant with a graceful fresh lift on the palate.
Melville has moved their tasting area to the outdoors. There are two gazebos, tables with umbrellas, and large Adirondack chairs. No matter where you are sitting, you will enjoy views of the vineyards while smelling the lavender growing nearby. In the morning hours, you will see the fog as it rolls across the valley from the Pacific Ocean to the west and in the afternoon there is a cool breeze that blows through the air, cooling the sunshine.
When heading to Santa Ynez, be sure to spend some time at Melville, enjoying scenery while sipping beautifully textured wines, as I did.