Quite by happenstance, the highlight of my recent wine trek to Sta. Rita Hills AVA was discovering Spear Vineyards & Winery off Highway 246 in Lompoc. While tasting at a neighboring winery, it was suggested that I make an appointment at Spear for “a true vineyard tasting experience.”
Much to my delight, I was welcomed to the newly opened tasting room for a private seated tasting. Unobstructed views of the vibrant Chardonnay vineyard surround the eclectic tasting room, formerly a 1920’s dairy barn and creamery, complete with towering silo. Needless to say, the views were nothing less than spectacular.
Even more of a surprise, was meeting the young and upcoming Winemaker, Kat Gaffney. Instantly, Kat’s laid-back, unpretentious manner put me at ease and led to many questions about her burgeoning wine path.
Kat started as a harvest intern in 2011 in San Luis Obispo, later working as a “flying winemaker.” Chasing harvests from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere led her to cellar ventures in New Zealand, Oregon and Santa Barbara County.
Ego aside, Kat’s elegant Old World-style winemaking philosophy is simply to allow the pure expression of the fruit to present itself, with minimal intervention. The small lot wines are artfully handcrafted using small cluster fermentation. Grapes are carefully processed via gravity flow rather than traditional mechanical pumps, which can damage and bruise the fruit. Wines are then aged in neutral French oak barrels to retain the varietal characteristics.
Family owned and farmed, owner and Vigneron, Ofer Shepherd, is very hands on, both in the field and in the production of the estate wines. Spear‘s vineyards are certified organic and sustainable and employ “green pruning” throughout the growing season in order to concentrate the flavors.
Planted in 2014, the 34-acre vineyards soar to 900 feet above sea level, one of the appellation’s highest elevations. Five different varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache Noir and Grüner Veltliner) grace the rolling hills, with the majority planted to the Burgundian varietals.
To appreciate the significance of this wine region, it’s helpful to understand the geography. Sta. Rita Hills AVA is part of the larger Santa Ynez AVA located between the towns of Lompoc and Buellton with the Purisma Hills on the north and the Santa Rosa Hills on the south. This wine region is unique in that the hills run east to west, which allows the fog and cool ocean breezes to enter the valley, creating a cool micro-climate, ideal for Pinot Noir.