Visiting Dragonette Cellars

Saturday, August 7, 2021

2019 Dragonette Cellars Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir
We're just back from a road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping in Big Sur and Santa Barbara along the way. Although I've had the pleasure of visiting Napa and Sonoma quite a bit, this was my first opportunity to taste Santa Barbara Country Pinot Noir on-site and in person.

The one tasting appointment I made was at Dragonette Cellars.

I'm not quite sure why it took me so long to discover Dragonette. Wine Spectator has been consistently scoring their wines 90+ for some time.

Tasting in Santa Barbara County
The wine tasting scene in Santa Barbara County is a bit different than what I'm familiar with in Napa and Sonoma. Some of the best producers, Dragonette included, have tasting rooms co-located in one area (the charming town of Los Olivos) rather than spread about at their respective estate vineyards.

This is undeniably Sideways (2004) country, but I get a sense the region is trying to move on from the notoriety attained by association with the greatest wine movie of all time. Still, I couldn't help but drive past the Hitching Post, The Windmill (now the Sideways Inn), Solvang, and the Los Olivos Cafe & Wine Merchant - sites that were notable in the movie.

A follow-up viewing of the movie is rewarded shortly before or after a visit for sure.

But to get to know Dragonette better, we visited their production facility in Buellton. Located in an industrial area with auto repair shops (their resources are focused on the wine rather than a lavish estate) we met with Director of Hospitality Stephen Graham and Co-Proprietor and Winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis.
Dragonette Director of Hospitality Stephen Graham

About Dragonette Cellars
The Dragonette logo hints at the letters DC (Dragonette Cellars) with a nod to alchemy.
Dragonette Cellars was founded in 2005 by brothers John and Steve Dragonette along with Master of Wine candidate Brandon Sparks-Gillis.

John Dragonette practiced law before meeting Brandon while working at well-regarded wine retailer Wally's in LA. Brandon brings his background in geology to bear on the winemaking process. John's brother Steve Dragonette, with a computer/tech background, joined them as they collectively explored their passion for Santa Barbara County wine. All three work at Dragonette full time along with seven other full-time employees.

Since their founding, they've remained true to their vision of enabling the grapes to represent their authentic terroir with minimal intervention.

All of their grapes come through long-term contracts tied to specific blocks of specific vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

I became familiar with Dragonette through Wine Access. Regular Wine Access customers will recognize Vanessa Conlin (MW) so it was great to hear from Brandon how real that connection is: It's not some random puffery they make up about a connections to the wines they sell.

Dragonette now produces around 6,000 cases a year selling around 80% direct to consumer with the remainder split between retail and restaurant. It's very hard to find Dragonette in the wild, especially on the east coast, so definitely buy a bottle if you spot one.

Tasting Dragonette
2018 Sauvignon Blanc $50

It's quite unusual to see a California Sauvignon Blanc release 3 years post-vintage. They're aiming for a White Bordeaux style here, far more than a daily drinker and the price point shows how earnestly they persue this varietal.

The Vogelzang is seriously powerful with intense depth of flavor. Spun gold in color, it sees 89% French Oak, 35% of it new, 18 months (!) in barrel. Mango and pineapple aromas, minerality on the backend. The Grimm's Bluff Sauvignon Blanc takes things in a paler, lighter direction.

I always associate Sauvignon Blanc with wine tasting, and this was a very good start.

2018 Chardonnay Duvarita $65

Behind the Pinots, this was my favorite wine of the tasting. Lemon curd and gorgeous florals on the nose. This reminded me a bit of Kosta Browne's outstanding One Sixteen Chardonnay in a very good way. 100% French Oak, 33% new. Outstanding.

2019 Pinot Noir Radian $75

The 2018 version of this is what turned me on to them, and the moment I tasted this 2019 I was immediately reminded what I like so much about their Pinots. Absolutely stunning on the nose and lusciously satisfying on the palate. To me it's like, "This is what wine should be." Absolutely gorgeous.

2019 Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills $50

Having only tasted a single vineyard Pinot of theirs (Radian) previously, I was looking forward to seeing what they do with an appellation wine. Starts off with a gregarious sweet perfume nose, then silky and delicious on the palate. This is a fantastic California Pinot Noir.

2018 Pinot Noir Black Label $95

Aromatically gorgeous with a kiss of oak that balances beautifully with the intensity of the fruit, backed by ample acidity. Comprised of grapes from Radian (62%), Fiddlestix (20%) and Bentrock (18%). 66% new French Oak, 19 months in barrel. This is a special wine: Enjoy on a special occassion with a good meal.

I budgeted space for two bottles in my luggage and opted to take home a Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir and a Black Label Pinot Noir. I would have gone for a Radian Pinot Noir, but I have a couple of those back home from Wine Access already.
Dragonette production facility in Buellton
Tasting Room Options

If you're headed to Santa Barbara County wine country, there are three Dragonette Cellars tasting experiences to consider:
  • Tasting Room in Los Olivos
  • Sit Down Tasting at The Study in Los Olivos
  • Private Winery Tour/Tasting in Buellton (what we did)
Dragonette tasting room in Los Olivos

Los Olivos is a charming little town with tasting rooms from:
  • Brewer-Clifton
  • Liquid Farm
  • Tensley
  • Stolpman
  • ...and more
See also the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe where Miles told Jack he wasn't going to be drinking any Merlot. We had lunch there. It's pretty good, but the interior looks nothing like it did in the movie. Check out Panino if you're just looking for a [very good] sandwich or salad.

Bottom Line

Visiting Dragonette Cellars at their production facility in Buellton was a great experience anyone can do. Highly recommended if you're in the area.

Consider joining their wine club if you can't make it out there.

Wine Access still has the 2018 Dragonette Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir [affiliate link] for sale.
Get free shipping on $120+ and $50 off your first $150 order through referral.


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