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2003 Jaffurs Viognier, Santa Barbara

I find myself drinking a lot of wines from Santa Barbara these days, partially because they're new to me, and also partially because they are affordable. But perhaps most of all, it seems that many of these winemakers are small, family operations that are guided by their own principles and vision for winemaking and are not simply making what has come to be stereotypical California wine.

Jaffurs Wine Cellars is a classic example of these principles at work. Owner/Winemaker Craig Jaffurs started his operation in 1994 with a singular purpose, to take what he saw as a particular microclimate (Santa Barbara and surrounding areas) and make the wines best suited to that climate, which were, in his opinion, wines in the classic Rhone style.

Craig is one of those guys that seems to have a substantial amount of natural talent in the winemaking department. A few years as a cellar rat and a couple of classes on oenology and right out of the gate, his first vintages received 90 plus points from the critics. All the more surprising given that Craig bought his grapes on the market.

Craig still buys grapes rather than grow them himself, but now its through contracts with several of Santa Barbara's best vineyards: Thompson (Syrah, Petit Sirah), Bien Nacido (Viognier, Syrah), Stolpman Family (Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, and Roussanne) and The Melville Vineyard (Viognier and Syrah).

This recently released 2003 Viognier surprised me right off the bat by having the most sediment I've seen in a white wine, pretty much ever. I could care less about it, but I predict that this will make it a tough sell for a lot of consumers, which is a shame given that it is a solid wine. The sediment is there, of course, because Craig hasn't filtered and fined his wine to death, leaving it instead to express its full personality without the intervention of chemicals and harsh treatments. The wine completed fermentation in the barrel on its lees (all the seeds and skins and other gunk left over from winemaking) and was aged in neutral French oak barrels (the French way). The result is a wine that expresses itself without a jacket of oak that normally accompanies such wines in California. 460 cases produced.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is the color of light straw in the glass, with a thick white sediment that flakes off the bottom of the bottle. The nose has glorious citrus aromas of kumquat and lime. In the mouth it has a little spritz, again a sign of non-interventionalist winemaking, and strong almost sweet flavors of orange blossoms, golden delicious apples and peaches. The aromas are so powerful and sweet that the wine tastes like it might have residual sugar, but it does not. The finish is excellent and clean with a little minerality to it that tempers the heady sweet floral and fruit flavors.

Food Pairing:
This wine will go best with light fare especially seafood appetizers. The winemaker recommends crab cakes in particular.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $20

This wine may be available through the vineyard's online partner, but can also be found at various Internet retailers. Try Wine Searcher.

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