I think if I lived closer to the University of California, Davis, (UC Davis) I’d really enjoy quenching my thirst, pun intended, taking “history of winemaking” courses.
UC Davis, with its world-renowned Viticulture & Enology department, has provided preeminent research and teaching for more than 100 years. Alas, the commute at more than 400 miles north of Los Angeles is prohibitive, so self-study is the best I can do at this time. That’s probably good. I tend to hop all over the vineyards, and I’m sure my ability to keep up with the required college level science would quickly become stressful.
I’m learning as I go, however, and this week’s questioning suggested I may not always use terms correctly.
In case we’re ever asked on Jeopardy, let me clarify.
Viticulture: The cultivation and culture of grapes
Enology: A science that deals with wine and wine making
In my previous post I shared some background on the family and story behind Mosby Winery & Vineyards in Buellton, California. And just a short ten miles from Mosby is another Santa Barbara County family owned operation, Melville Winery and Vineyards.
Searching for the stories behind the labels, Ron Melville and his family did not disappoint.
As a young college student Melville was an enthusiastic gardener and collector of fine wines, which perhaps offered him an interest in viticulture–OR enology, but his career took other profitable turns, and Ron entered a 30-year financial career as a member of the Pacific Stock Exchange.
My favorite people stories include tales with examples of resilience and creative reinvention or opportunity that comes in tandem with a life detour.
Ron Melville entered the winemaking business through a shift in fortune. In the 1987 economic crash he lost 40% of his holdings, and following the imperative to diversify his portfolio, he then purchased a 153-acre ranch near Calistoga, and began planting Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay grapes.
For probably 40 years, if not more, any reference to California wine country to most people, including Californians, only referred to the more than 400 wineries in Napa/Sonoma, a lovely region north of San Francisco. Calistoga is part of that region. But California is a very large state.
And discovering his love of Pinot Noir, once again Melville considered diversification, but also realized Calistoga was too hot for growing the moisture sensitive Pinot grapes, so in 1996, with his sons Brent and Chad, decided to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at their new site in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation in the western Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.
I’ve previously mentioned how this appellation’s microclimate of cool temperatures with coastal wind and foggy mornings is well suited to growing grape varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Northern Rhone Syrah.
But I recently found a reference to soil in this area called “Lompoc dune sand,” and that really caught my attention because of an observation I made at our Lompoc lodgings.
The home was perched high in the hills, well above the fertile valley, yet there was so much sand! This so surprised me that I took photos and hoped to find out more about the soil’s composition.
At such a high elevation all this sand was a surprise, but the Lompoc dune sand, a natural feature of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, seems to impress the grapes. I guess that’s what matters most–I’d still like to know more about where all this sand comes from. I have more questions than time.
Melville Vineyards currently hosts 139 acres planted with 255,000 vines of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and two Rhone varietals, Syrah and Viognier between the Sta. Rita Hills location and Verna’s Vineyard in Los Alamos.
The lovely Mediterranean style wine tasting room with beautiful picnic grounds makes it a natural tourist stop, or place for a local to just meet with a few friends and enjoy the beautiful vistas. We enjoyed an outstanding glass of Chardonnay and have every intention of seeking out this label when we can find it locally.
If you ever have the opportunity to visit this area, I would recommend a stop at this particularly inviting location and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
And do remember…if you’re a Scrabble player, plan to hold on to the word enology. It could come in handy.
Melville Vineyards and Winery 5185 East Hwy 246, Lompoc, CA