Winemaker Highlight: Wes Hagen

After spending time with Will Costello, MS and Brand Ambassador for Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills, the bar for Central Coast wines was set very high. Outstanding! Truly Burgundian inspired! And while these wines represent the best that the Santa Maria Hills has to offer, there is much, much more to the Central Coast.

All of that becomes apparent when you happen along Wes Hagen…

Let’s learn about Wes: Consulting Winemaker and Brand Ambassador for J. Wilkes Wines in the Santa Maria Valley, California. Named one of the 100 Most Influential Winemakers in the United States (#68). Vineyard Manager and Winemaker at Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines in the Sta Rita Hills for 21 years. A leader in Santa Barbara Wine: serving more than a decade on the Board of Directors for both Santa Barbara County Vintners and Santa Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. An accomplished wine writer, researcher, and lecturer, he wrote and had approved the last three AVA’s in Santa Barbara County: Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon and Ballard Canyon. He has written for the L.A Times Magazine, Sommelier Journal, Burgundy Report and has appeared and been featured/ quoted numerous times in the Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, and Wine Enthusiast. Wes taught the Food and Wine Pairing program at Allan Hancock College for four years and has lectured on the History of Wine and Santa Barbara Wine at Cornell University, CalTech and many other prestigious institutions.

This is the short list of accomplishments.

If you spend a day with Wes, you will find he is a savant-like, mad-genius. A passionate, Encyclopedia of knowledge, and personable human being.  And all of these qualities are reflected in the wines he makes.

A brief history of the Central Coast: 31 different AVA’s ranging from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. The term Central Coast loses a bit of meaning, a history that dates back to the 1830’s and a climate and Terroir as diverse as the producers themselves, think Masson to Grahm.

Our focus today is on the southern region of the central coast. Quickly becoming known as one of the best areas in the world, outside of Burgundy, for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well as Paso Robles which some consider the Napa of the south.

The unique, transverse nature of the valleys of Santa Barbara Wine Country provides a patchwork of micro-climates and terrains resulting in one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the world. The valleys in the Pacific coastline actually run east-west rather than north-south, and both the coastal Santa Ynez Mountain range and the more interior San Rafael range are transverse as well. Because of this geologic oddity, the ocean breezes sweep eastward, channeled by the hills and mountains that ring the region. Heading east into the foothills, the temperatures are warm during the day and very cool during the night, whereas the vineyards that lie westward toward the ocean enjoy a mild and moderate climate. The average temperature stays constant and is cooler than that of Oregon. Now couple that with soils that run the gamut from ancient beach and diatomaceous earth, to chert and limestone, it becomes a near-perfect place for a wide variety of wine grape varieties.

Back to Wes and the wines of J. Wilkes. Stunning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria and Santa Rita Hills, high toned, lots of energy and verve, beautiful fruit and minerality. The Paso Cabernet Sauvignon shows a wonderful balance of red fruit, acidity and well-integrated tannins for such a young wine.

The wines just like Wes are complex and approachable, intriguing and humble, yet a bit beguiling in that you get so much more than you bargained for with each encounter.

The Central Coast is a diverse place and should no longer be taken for granted.

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