Sometimes to go forward we have to look backward. Progress isn't always linear, a fact that really seems to be true when it comes to food and food production. There's a strong back-to-the-land movement going on in some places, a shift away from big farms growing one thing and back toward the idea of having farms that supply a wider variety of nature's bounty.
Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez, California is a grand example of this. The heart of the winery business is Gainey Ranch, a 2,000-acre swath of land tucked into California's fruitful Santa Barbara County. The property enjoys an enviable bunch of microclimates, with both flat and hilly areas. The weather is mild but very changeable.
This land doesn't just produce Chardonnay and Merlot but because of its wide variety of temperatures and growing conditions it also provides the right climate for Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and other varietals. But the Gainey story isn't just a wine story, it's a land story.
The main ranch is around 2,000 acres and half of that is given over to contented cows who graze and grow on the grasses, lazing in the shade of the wide-branched trees. Another 600 acres is farmland, some of it leased out to local young farmers who are growing truly phenomenal produce. These crops are sold at farmers' markets as well as to local restaurants including the very well-regarded Ballard Inn & Restaurant where Chef Budi Kazali turns the local produce into truly magical meals.
And then of course, there are the vineyards. Father and son, Daniel C. and Daniel J. Gainey purchased the property in 1962, the same year the latter son, Daniel H., or Dan, was born. Daniel C. Gainey, turned Jostens, Inc., makers of class rings and other items, into a Fortune 500 company. In 1939, a gift of an Arabian colt led to a passion that eventually had him opening up a Jostens plant in Summerland, California and purchasing 1,800 acres with a vision to create an agricultural future for their family.
Three generations of Gaineys have shaped the ranch into a thriving estate that still preserves the region's heritage. In the 1980s, the Gaineys were among the first to plant vines and build a winery in the area. Later, they were the first to have vineyard holdings in both the warmer eastern Santa Ynez Valley and the cooler western Santa Rita Hills appellation.
The Gainey's Home Ranch Vineyard was first cultivated in 1983 and remains planted predominantly to Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc while the 120-acre Evan's Ranch was planted in 1997 with 50 acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. In 2008, the Gaineys added Rancho Esperanza, a 50-acre vineyard west of Evan's Ranch.
Gainey Vineyard is committed to farming its vineyards in a safe and sustainable way. Dan Gainey, vineyard manager Jeff Newton, winemaker Jeff LeBard and consulting winemakers Kirby Anderson and Jon Engelskirger work together to make sure that quality takes priority over farming economics, tending vines that produce small yields and fruit with great concentration and complexity. This attention to detail shows through in the wines.
The Gainey Vineyard 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Santa Ynez Valley ($14) has classic minerality with pineapple and citrus notes. The 2009 Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills ($23) shows why the Santa Rita Hills deserve their own appellation (officially known as the Sta. Rita Hills AVA). This area has rapidly become one of the world's best regions to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Those hyper-golden, super buttery Chardonnays aren't in play here.
The Gainey Vineyard winemakers use oak deftly, as a spice rather than the main flavor. This wine is a mixture of stainless steel tank as well as barrel fermented wines. The barrel fermentation is done partly in new oak with all its rich oaky flavors and neutral oak which has been used before and has lost its oaky overtones.
Also from the same area is the 2008 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills ($30), a big fruity wine with cherry and blackberry notes and just a hint of white pepper to add interest. It's a wine that seems natural to pair with anything from grilled chicken or fish to a crusty wood-fired pizza. The Gainey 2008 Limited Selection Pinot Noir ($48) is a more complex and complicated wine, coming through with similar lush fruit but also adding another layer of subtle flavor, a touch of spice, a touch of oak, a resonant softness almost like sandalwood.
In general, the Gainey Limited Selection wines are more special occasion wines. They have higher price points, many are available only through their wine club (a three-bottle shipment generally costs between $85 and $95). The wines are more nuanced and meant to be savored. According to the winemakers, what is made limited selection is often a decision made as the wines mature, the best of the best is held aside for this particular honor.
The winery itself is worth a visit because of the scenic location. It's no surprise that this is a popular destination for weddings. The combination of vineyards and farmland make for some beautiful views, a return to the abundant prosperity that brought people to this region in the first place. There is a lovely picnic area, making this a great place to while away an afternoon in the beautiful Santa Ynez area. More info at GaineyVineyard.com.