Three hours north of Los Angeles in bucolic Lompoc, obscured by a Home Depot and suburban housing, resides one of the finest garage projects you've never heard of. It is Samsara, the smallest of small wineries, producing a scant 900 cases annually and distinctively highlighting terroir. These wines are challenging the notion of what it means to be a California pinot noir or syrah today.
Owner and winemaker Chad Melville is a man fueled by the appetite to perfect grapes in wine form. And the last name, Melville, should ring a bell: he's a partner and vineyard manager at Melville Vineyard and Winery. Following years as the assistant there, he decided that “it was time to not be a sous-chef anymore.”
Melville's longtime friend and supporter, Caroline Styne, who is also the sommelier and partner at Lucques, Hungry Cat, A.O.C. and Tavern, believes that his philosophy — to create a wine with as little intervention as possible, allowing the vineyard to speak — is represented by “his embrace of the cool-climate.” Cool-climate grapes are rare in sun-soaked California, especially syrah (aka shiraz), which typically finds itself in dramatic temperatures due to its thick skin. The benefit of cool-climate syrah and pinot is reflected in a longer growing season, which allows grapes more time to develop in complexity.
Melville purchases pinot and syrah only from the surrounding coolest areas, using the same 5 or 6 rows per contracted vineyard each year. The resulting pinot noir tastes bright, with red fruit notes and a distinctive earthiness. His syrahs have a gamey quality, with deep olive and black pepper tones.
Styne, who carries Samsara at Lucques, says that Melville's wines, “have amazing acidity and balance. They are different from others in the region in that they are not overly concentrated. Elegant and complex, they express the nature of the varieties themselves.”
At The Winehouse, Jim Knight extended their Samsara Futures pricing for another month with six more wines available for pickup including Parker's favorite, an enigmatic 2008 syrah from Melville Vineyard.