The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2018

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Page 48 of 132

48  /  the tasting panel  /  august 2018 VINEYARD PERSPECTIVE A s a native of Santa Barbara County, I can say without exaggera- tion that the wines of Rick Longoria made up a prominent portion of my early tutelage. I once worked at a cozy, white-tablecloth restaurant he and his wife, Diana, would often frequent. They would also host winemaker dinners there, and luckily for us, he was a bit of a hoarder: I tasted dozens of his older bottlings spanning four decades. Longoria's deft hand in the cellar and his experience in this region have never ceased to impress me, so when the opportunity arose to attend a retrospective tasting of the first six vintages from his estate vineyard, Fe Ciega, I needed no convincing. Longoria was among this region's first wave of local producers. In 1982, he launched his namesake label, initially with a focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and has contracted with dozens of vineyards while consulting on new plantings for decades. In the 1980s, he also began purchasing fruit from Sweeney Canyon Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. "There was this really beautiful mesa roughly 200 feet above Sweeney, and I thought, 'This is just dying to be planted,'" he recalls. More than a decade later, Longoria was finally introduced to its owners during a barbeque on the property. "I immediately blurted out, 'Would you like to plant a vineyard up there?'" he admits. Just one year later in 1998, Longoria began planting his first and only estate vineyard; focused on Pinot Noir, he chose a blend of Pommard and Dijon clones, 667 and 115, which were new to California yet assumed to be "all the rage." "I wanted a mix, having learned that components blended together create something more complex and interesting," he says. "It was a gamble, especially with the Dijon clones, since no one had any history with them." Longoria chose to name the vineyard Fe Ciega: The Spanish term for "blind faith," it echoed his sentiments at the time while also serving as a nod to one of his favorite rock groups. A decade later, he added an additional 1.25 acres of Mount Eden clone Pinot Noir, sourced from the historic Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, to a steeper portion of the property along with a small amount of Chardonnay. Since 2001, Fe Ciega has continued to produce exceptional Pinot Noir, selling just a small portion of fruit to Longoria's longtime friends Bill Wathen of Foxen Winery and Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard. The First Six Years The aforementioned intimate tasting of Fe Ciega's first six vintages included a few of Longoria's club members who'd been with him on this winemaking journey since the 1980s. A certain consistency existed among the wines, which often showed floral and blue-fruit characteristics with tight structure and elegance. We engaged in spirited discussion as we reflected on each vintage's crop loads and climatic conditions. "It's funny; the wines don't really change for me. It's sort of like looking at your adult child—you still see the baby," Longoria said with a smile. "It's the same with the wines. To me, they've kind of grown up, but I still remember them exactly as they were when I first made them. So, in a way, they haven't changed." 2001: Sensual and savory with aromas of duck broth and, remarkably, no oxidation. Cranberry and subtle cedar plank with nice acidity on the mid-palate. 2002: Brambly, dark-red fruit; chewy texture and deep concentration. 2003: Blonde tobacco and chaparral with plummy persistence; hibiscus and black- plum-skin tannins. 2004: Showing some oxidation reflective of this hot, opulent (and high-scoring) vintage. Notes of burnt orange, bruised peach, and sweet coffee bean. 2005: Classically balanced with less concen- tration in comparison, yet holding well. 2006: Extremely floral and uncharacteristi- cally young with notes of tuberoses, gener- ous blue fruit, and beautiful acidity. The 40-acre ranch surrounding Fe Ciega sits on a south-facing mesa overlooking the fog bank in the southwest canyon of the Sta. Rita Hills. It's surrounded by prestigious neighbors, including Sea Smoke next door and Sanford & Benedict across the river. The first six vintages from Rick Longoria's estate vineyard, Fe Ciega, in Santa Barbara County. The Pride of Fe Ciega A RETROSPECTIVE TASTING OF RICK LONGORIA'S FIRST SIX ESTATE VINTAGES by Michelle Ball / photos by Jeremy Ball

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