Domaine de la Côte is a stunning winery in California, specifically on the furthest western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. Here, under the cool coastal breezes coming off the Pacific Ocean, Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman have six vineyards planted with pinot noir - each producing a unique wine, drawing out different elements from the grape thanks to each vineyard’s distinctive geology, aspect, elevation and microclimate.
Such diversity and expression of site, within a mere 40 acres, is unparalleled in California, making this site an incredible case study for the effects of terroir. And it’s not just DrinkUp that thinks so. The team have had a flood of praise from international wine critics and have had lengthy articles attesting to their brilliance in the New York Times, who notably picked up on the terroir's diversity, saying "the various Domaine de la Côte releases, each from grapes grown in a different vineyard, struck me as so diverse that I never would have known they were made by the same winery." The estate has even had this piece of praise penned by famed wine writer Jon Bonné; “even in its first vintage [this is] a hallmark of California’s achievements with this grape. Layer upon layer unfold: intense white-stone minerality, a subtle peppercorn-like spice, bergamot, wintergreen, plum and watermelon. Astonishing energy in this rare bottling.”
With such critical acclaim to a new world terroir, Domaine de la Côte is pionerring the way for Californian wines. We managed to get hold of owner Rajat Parr for a conversation about his land, grapes and wine.
DU: Before we start to talk about your individual vineyards can we ask your thoughts on whether you consider terroir to be the individual flavours imparted from the soil or do you mean the climate, sun exposure and water bed as well?
RP: It’s everything, the soil, the drainage and I definitely put the hand of the person creating the wine in there as well. Everyone makes wine with an idea in their head and that idea if part of the terroir. I don’t believe that wine makes itself, humans have a role and make some of those decisions.
DU: When did you first realise that the land you were working with had such diverse terroir?
RP: We started working with the land back in 2006 and could tell it was special but you never know the extent until you make the wine. We first planted in 06/07 but didn’t completely get it until 2013. It was at that point, while producing the exact same wines across our vineyards – we make completely natural wine so there was nothing being added or taken away – that we realised the different flavours coming from individual vineyards.
DU: How extreme is the difference in soil between vineyards?
RP: We have three distinct soils, one is pure clay, another has more loam (a fertile soil of clay and sand containing humus) which is a finer grain and then our coastal vineyard has more shale which is softer. The soils look different and feel different but we are young and still trying to figure it out. Some areas are very unique in that it looks like limestone and even acts like it but it has more sedimentary soils and minerals. I’ve actually brought a few Europeans over to compare with the old world vineyards and analyse the soils.
When it comes to the wines and the terroir, I find our pinot from Bloom’s Field (7.5 acre vineyard) with more clay on the top has more heavy, masculine palate while the wine from La Côte (9.5 acre vineyard) is more perfumed, exotic and fine and feminine. They’re both grown with the same root stock and it’s made naturally so we’ve taken away every variable.
DU: Did you have an idea of what wines you and Sashi wanted to grow?
RP: I had a concept of how we’d grow it, vinify it, but I never had the wine in my head, I always knew it will be what it will be. Even then those ideas were only ever an inspiration to how we’d do it. You focus on what you can get from the soil.
We also wanted to look to the old world. In California, and even across the rest of new world wine, people want to make wines which are always pleasing, rather than focusing on what it could be in time. Luckily, considering the unusual climate here – which isn’t as sunny and warm as the rest of state – we can make our wines echo those from Europe as our grapes aren’t so rapidly ripened by the hot sun. In the height of summer it won’t rise about 24 degrees and it drops to 11 at night. Thanks to our proximity to the ocean the wines also have a distinct saltiness and acidity.
Domaine de la Côte’s wines
The Blend: ESTATE STA. RITA HILLS PINOT NOIR 2013
A pinot noir blend of all the estate’s vineyards, it’s 50% whole bunches with 0% new oak used in the élevage. This wine has a pale red color with perfumed flavors of cherry, all spice and leather. The wine is soft textured and finishes with silky tannins. 12.5% alcohol.
Single Vineyard: MEMORIOUS PINOT NOIR 2013
An inaugural bottling from the vineyard Memorious, the wine is fermented with 50% whole bunches in large concrete tanks. The high-toned red fruit aromas counter-balance the spicy and earthy texture. The wine has a suave texture and is the earthiest of their wines for 2013. 13% alcohol.
Single Vineyard: BLOOM’S FIELD PINOT NOIR 2013
The 2013 single vineyard Bloom’s Field is from a 7 ½ acre parcel of iron-laden clay loam over shale that lies on the western edge of Domaine. The environmental pressures have a profound impact on the growth of the vines, the morphology of the clusters and the textures, flavors and aromas of the wine. These unusually small clusters and berries produce a Pinot Noir of concentration and depth of flavor while the constant cooling winds preserve high levels of natural acidity that give the wines their great energy. Aromas of fresh crushed raspberry, geraniums and undersbrush are matched with flavors of cracked peppercorns and hints of salt and nori. Bloom’s Field is always 100% whole bunches and aged for 20 months in 20% new Ermitage barrels. 12.5% alcohol.
Single Vineyard: LA CÔTE PINOT NOIR 2013
La Cote lies behind a massive cliff of diatomaceous earth and is protected from the direct influence of the cold marine air from the pacific ocean. The wine seems to have dark fruits on the nose with aromas of black cherry, sandalwood cola and sage. Like Bloom’s Field, La Cote is fermented with 100% whole bunches and aged for 20 months in 20% new Ermitage barrels. 12% alcohol.