Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyards
Jim and Mary Dierberg spent years searching for the perfect vineyards across Napa and Europe. It was in 1996 in the eastern end of Santa Barbara that they came across Star Lane Ranch. Immediately they fell in love and bought the property on the spot. Later on the Dierbergs went on to purchase two cooler sites within the Santa Barbara AVA. The Dierbergs believed in the greatness of the land and set out to produce wines that expressed a pure sense of site and place. The Dierberg and Star Lane properties are unique, much of what makes the place so special are the mountains, the soils and a range of microclimates which produce a diversity of wines.
For the last two decades the Dierbergs have been farming three distinctive vineyards located in three different Santa Barbara AVA’s. They have invested in the land and winery and have been making world class estate wines, growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals. The 200 acre Star Lane Vineyard is in Happy Canyon and produces all five Bordeaux varietals. Star Lane is at an elevation of 750 to 1550 feet above sea level. Happy Canyon is the new frontier for Cabernet growers, where the land, soil and proximity to the ocean creates a terroir that is ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is produced under the Dierberg Vineyard label. There are two distinctive properties, one site in Santa Maria Valley and one in Santa Rita Drum Canyon. The Santa Maria Valley site is planted to 12 Pinot Noir clones that trace back to Burgundy. The Chardonnay grown on steep hillside slopes are derived from Wente clones. Cool Pacific Ocean fog and breeze keep the sites cool, allowing for slow ripening which results in fresh fruit and nice acidity. The terroir allows for a Burgundian style of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Dierbergs own one of the oldest wineries in the United States, Hermannhof Vineyards. In 1971 the Dierbergs visited Hermann Missouri(55 miles west of Saint Louis). They fell in love with the history and heritage of Hermann, MO. Jim went on to purchase Hermann’s bank, and later went on to purchase 35 historic buildings and Hermannhof Winery. Hermannhof is the nation’s oldest winery dating back to 1852. The Dierbergs spent years restoring and preserving the winery and went on to open a boutique hotel, The Inn at Hermannhof. The Dierbergs have also restored the Hermann Farm to preserve the agricultural and social history of Hermann, Missouri. Jim and Mary wanted to offer visitors a glimpse into how the first German immigrants lived and farmed when they first arrived in 1837.
The Dierbergs spent years restoring Hermannhof Vineyards which made them realize their passion and love for wine, which lead to the purchase of Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards.
Jim and Mary appreciated the greatness of their vineyards in Santa Barbara, and over time developed a 250 year plan for their winery. The Dierbergs not only wanted to build a esteemed brand but wanted to create a benchmark for Santa Barbara wines for generations to come.
In December I had the opportunity to have lunch with Tyler Thomas in New York City. Tyler is the winemaker for Dierberg and Star Lane Vineyards. I had read about Tyler being a winemaker and philosopher and I immediately understood why. Tyler poured two Chardonnays from two different vintages and asked for our feedback. Tyler felt the wines would speak to us and after a few sips I too recognized a sense of place and uniqueness in the wines. After giving him our thoughts on the wines he said, “My goal is to make wines that reflect the land.” Tyler said to understand the site, you adjust your techniques so you see how it affects the wine. When you adjust your technique you can tell something about your land and about the fruit. His approach to winemaking is not prescriptive, adjusting his techniques from vintage to vintage. Tyler’s wines evoke site specific qualities, an approach that has become his trademark.
Tyler’s grandmother was from France, so food was a big part of his upbringing, and wine was served with every meal. Tyler attributes his love of wine and his desire to pursue winemaking to his grandmother. Tyler studied Botany at Colorado State University, which helped form his foundation for making wine. Shortly after completing his Masters degree, Tyler and his wife traveled around the world, where he serendipitously met winemakers throughout his journey. Inspired by his travels and encounters, Tyler returned to the US to learn winemaking at U.C. Davis and got a degree in Viticulture and Enology.
Upon graduation Tyler went to work for Hyde de Villaine(HdV), most noted for making Burgundian style Chardonnays in Napa. He then went on to work with Donelan Wines, where he transitioned the winery to a more vineyard driven style. Tyler brought to Donelan his philosophy that less is more when it comes to winemaking. The wines were big in style but exhibited very site specific qualities.
In 2013 he met the Dierbergs. In his initial conversations with Jim Dierberg, Tyler wanted to understand the Dierberg’s 30 year plan. Jim Dierberg replied he did not have a 30 year plan, but instead he had a 250 year plan. This multi generational business model and the Dierbergs commitment to Missouri drew Tyler to join Dierberg & Star Lane. Tyler’s admiration for the Dierbergs was apparent in our conversations. Tyler wanted to be a part of something bigger, something beyond his lifetime. He wanted to work with great wines and with great people. The Dierbergs gave Tyler the flexibility and freedom to make great wines, allowing Tyler to let the vineyard drive what he does in the cellar. He said winemaking for the Dierbergs is not just about creating great wines, but to create a national brand. Tyler’s philosophy to winemaking is to acknowledge that the land transcends the winemakers and his role is to allow the site to define the wine.
2014 Dierberg Vineyard Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley ($32)
The wine speaks to its site with beautiful fruit and structure. This 100% Chardonnay was aged 14 months in 15% new French Oak 400L casks. There are lovely aromas of lemon, lime and tropical fruits. A wonderful lush feeling on the palate which Tyler says brings forth the identity of the place. The palate bursts with lemon, lime, apricot and spice. Since 2014 was a warm vintage, no malolactic fermentation was done, thus maintaining the freshness and acidity. This wine finishes with a rich, full mouthfeel and wonderful minerality.
2015 Dierberg Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley ($35)
The wine is clean and fresh on the nose and into the palate. Early ripening in 2015 allowed for natural zesty acidity, This 100% Chardonnay spent 14 months in new French oak 400L casks with 70% malolactic fermentation. The palate was enlivened with lemon, peach and apple notes with hints of vanilla and nutmeg. There is a persistent lift and finish to the wine with distinct minerality.
2014 Dierberg Pinot Noir, Drum Canyon Vineyard ($52)
This is a beautiful classic California Pinot Noir with a deep rich garnet color. There are perfumed aromas of cherries, raspberries, violets and spice. On the nose you expect the wine to be a big rich fruity Pinot Noir, but on the palate it surprises you with grace, elegance and refinement. There is brilliant acidity that remains through the finish.
2014 Dierberg Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley ($45)
This Pinot Noir from Santa Maria was a nice side by side comparison with the Drum Canyon Pinot Noir. Tyler made this wine with 25% stem inclusion and less new oak, resulting in a wine that exhibits rich dark cherries for which the site is most notable for.
Star Lane Vineyards
2015 Star Lane Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara ($50)
This wine is made with all five Bordeaux varietals, with 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot, and 1% Malbec. The wine has a rich dense ruby color. On the palate the wine opened to reveal blackberry, dark fruit and floral notes. The wine has a graceful, elegant mouthfeel. Firm tannins and texture that lingers in the mouth for a long lasting finish.
2013 Star Lane “Star” Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara ($200)
A beautiful bottle with a Star on the label, we were honored to be the first to taste this vintage. Embossed with CCL on the top of the bottle to represent the Dierberg’s 250 plan. This is a single block 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, which Tyler says is not replicable by any other wines, this wine is truly representative of its block. The wine is not a Bordeaux nor a Napa Cabernet, and nor does it try to be. It is a wine that stands on its own, with its own sense of place. With grapes from their steepest slopes, this wine has spent 34 months in 100% new French Oak. Mother Nature was kind during the 2013 vintage and thus the wine has great freshness and purity. This Star Cabernet is layered with cherries, cassis, violets, and cardamom on the palate. The wine is bold and impressive with its full body, yet there is finesse and complexity. There are firm tannins that have a long lingering finish. This stunning Cabernet will only get more seductive with time.