Behind The Smoke: 5 Questions with Victor Gallegos of Sea Smoke Cellars

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Last week I shared my praise for the 2004 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir, calling it my "Wine of the Year". Today, we've got an interview with Sea Smoke's General Manager and Director of Winemaking Victor Gallegos.

I found an excellent 10-question interview Victor did for another online publication a few years back. To get to know Victor and Sea Smoke a little better, and to build a foundation for these remaining questions I'd recommend reading that first and then continuing with the interview below. Click HERE to open that other interview in a new window. Go ahead- I'll wait for you.

Okay, on with the show...

Q: What characteristics of Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir differentiate it from Pinot Noirs from Northern California or Oregon?

Victor Gallegos: The character of Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA depends quite a bit on location, soil type and winemaking style, but as a generalization…we find a dusty, dark fruit character in many of the wines.

Q: How do you differentiate your 3 Pinot Noirs (Botella, Southing, and Ten) stylistically?

Victor: Our three Pinot Noir bottlings are not from specific locations in the vineyard, but are distinct styles or expressions of Pinot Noir. Botella is light bodied, fruit forward and immediately drinkable. The style objective for Southing is complexity with elegance. Ten is a richer expression of Pinot Noir….big and brooding. Both Southing and Ten have the tannin structure and acidity necessary for them to age well.

Q: How has the economic downturn affected sales at Sea Smoke? Is the wait to get wines via your mailing list a little shorter than it may have been in the past?

Victor: We have been very fortunate and are thankful every day for having such amazingly loyal List members. The economic downturn has in some ways been a positive for Sea Smoke, as those accounts and List members who did not buy their full allocations in 2009 allowed us to offer allocations to folks who had been patiently biding their time on our waitlist (which is still about 3 years). As a result, in 2009, our direct-to-consumer sales increased from 52% to 76% of total sales.

Q: A bottle of Sea Smoke Botella appears in the movie “Sideways”. Given how successful and influential that movie has been, I’d love to hear the story of how your wine wound up in the movie. Would you mind sharing?

Victor: The director of Sideways – Alexander Payne – had been a Sea Smoke List member for a couple of years, when we received a phonecall from a production assistant saying that Mr. Payne wanted to use Sea Smoke in an upcoming movie and hopefully to shoot some scenes in our estate vineyard. Filming in the vineyard was not going to work out, as their timing was too close to harvest….so we sent them a couple of bottles of Sea Smoke Botella with an apology…..and then with the need to focus on harvest, sort of forgot about the whole thing. Who knew!?

Q: Any tips for someone wanting to try your wines who can’t find them locally and is waiting to receive an allocation on your mailing list?

Victor: Unfortunately, we are not able to match production to the demand for our wines: we do not buy grapes, we always farm meticulously for vine balance, and there is no more plantable land at Sea Smoke. So the supply is not likely to change except in years when mother nature is kind to us (like 2009)…..and even then, not very much. That said, our wines are in many restaurants and fine wines shops just after general market release each year in October, so are easier to find around that time. We also do our best to get an allocation to some of our waitlist each year…..and in the meantime, we offer thanks to everyone for being so patient.

I'd like to thank Victor for taking the time to share this insight with us.

Further Reading:
Looking to buy some Sea Smoke Pinot Noir in the Boston, Massachusetts area? Try Upper Falls Liquors in Newton. I hear they may have some in stock:

Upper Falls Liquors
150 Needham Street
Newton, MA 02464-1506
(617) 969-9200

Question of the Day: Any questions for Victor about Sea Smoke?


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