Few of California’s young winemakers possess the regional mastery that is illustrated by the work of Justin Willett, of Tyler winery. A son of Santa Barbara, Justin began Tyler in 2005 with eight barrels tucked away in the corner of Arcadian Winery, where he honed his approach to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as assistant winemaker. Justin – a champion of old vines – has since engaged the famed historic vineyards of Santa Barbara, including the region-defining Sanford & Benedict, in the Sta. Rita Hills, and more recently, Bien Nacido, in the Santa Maria Valley. He is looking forward, too: just last year, Justin began planting a Sta. Rita Hills estate vineyard – a forty-five acre property, with some twenty-six acres of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Here, in a winegrowing region defined by its transverse ranges and valleys, where hills glitter with marine sediment and harbor the ocean’s winds, Justin makes wines of clarity and poise. His wines lead with structure and persistence; they evoke confidence, focus, and vibrancy. Justin is the first to tell you that these are virtues of terroir: they are not created in the cellar, but delicately drawn forth.
All grapes – both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – are handpicked at night, before being further sorted by hand at the winery. Pinot Noir is evaluated for stem-inclusion, and then the cold fruit is soaked for three to five days, until a native yeast fermentation begins. Both punch-downs and pump-overs are implemented; maceration often lasts some two weeks before the wine is pressed to tank and then barrel for elevage. The use of new oak varies by vineyard, vine age, and vintage, however most barrels used are neutral. After a year in barrel, the wine is racked, blended, and returned to barrel before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.
These 45-year-old vines from W Block, planted at the extreme eastern edge on the most shale laden gravel soils of the Bien Nacido Vineyard, produce a powerful chardonnay each year with a distinctive textural presence. These well drained, mineral soils always produce the most powerful bottling of chardonnay in the range. The wine is juicy with stone fruit and Meyer lemon characteristics with notes of green tea and spice. The finish is powerful and long providing great balance with its mouthwatering acidity. An impressively complete and enjoyable chardonnay.