1. J. Wilkes Pinot Blanc - $14.99 - In the spring the dramatic hills of Santa Maria, California are lush and green. Soon summer will find the region's grass-covered knolls bleached to a pale brown the texture of hay, tinder for the wild fires the region has witnessed just last year.
Vineyards carve their way up the mountains and down, receding gently into the horizon, where the ocean merges with the sky in a smudgy watercolor. Jefferson Wilkes fell in love with this swath of land along California's coast. For him it represented everything that was pure and wild about the west and the Pacific, the mythology come to life. He was a winegrower and grape salesman in Santa Maria and Paso Robles for twenty years, before starting J. Wilkes winery in 2001. His fierce dedication and hard work firmly established Bien Nacido Vineyard, Solomon Hills and the Santa Maria Valley as the center of quality wine for Santa Barbara County. J. Wilkes focused on Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay made from Santa Maria fruit. Jeff passed away suddenly in 2010, only nine years after starting the winery. The company relaunched after his death, focusing at first on the Santa Maria valley, then expanding to the Central Valley AVAs to showcase fruit from each of those areas.
Wes Hagen is the winemaker now, and brings his own distinct personality and passion to the wines. Wes looks like a hippie wine professor, with glasses and flowing grey hair. He is an accomplished wine writer, researcher and lecturer, and worked as Vineyard Manager and Winemaker at Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines in the Santa Rita Hills for twenty-one years. He served for more than a decade on the Board of Directors for both Santa Barbara County Vintners and Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance.
Wes wrote a personal note of thanks when he heard we were using his wines for the wine club.
"I love Chattanooga and Imbibe! I’ve spent more time in the Chattanooga market than any other outside California and Misouri. I’ve done events at the White House, Easy Bistro, and of course at Imbibe.
Our J. Wilkes Pinot Blanc will be a delicious and refreshing Summer sipper for you and your friends and family, and the Pinot can be drunk on a warm evening with a slight chill to make it the perfect hot weather red! Thanks to Imbibe and the great city of Chattanooga for always making J. Wilkes (and me!) feel so welcome, happy and well fed. As the Grateful Dead said about Tennessee: ‘There ain’t no place I’d rather be!”
He suggests his Pinot Blanc be served with a grilled peach half with burrata cheese and sliced almonds, or with buttered popcorn or any potato chips. It's a crisp, fleshy wine that is juicy with white peach, nectarine, and white floral notes, but with beautiful balancing acidity and a crisp, lingering finish. Drink it and be transported to the hot, dry days of Santa Maria and the cool nights with a hint of salty sea breeze. Wes also strongly recommends drinking it with oysters, and is a self-professed oyster addict. Try it with fresh oysters on the half shell or a a fried oyster New Orleans-style po' boy.
2. J. Wilkes Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir - $21.99 - Of his silky, fruity Pinot Noir Wes says, "The Pinot Noir matches beautifully with almost all foods, but I love it with a burger, duck, mushrooms, or my fave: a grilled pork loin with mustard and garlic crust." He describes it as having "ripe red berry fruits, cherry pie, Kola nut, white pepper, clove and an intense earthy/ spicy/ savory/meaty complexity that reminds me of great, young Burgundy wine."
For me it is unmistakably California. Burgundy will always be there, and it has worked its influence all the way to the golden coast of California, but California has its own terroir and style, and here that's evidenced as lush fruit, silky and ripe in your mouth like summertime.
Aubrey Stout, Imbibe Wine & Spirits