Paul Lato STA. Rita Hills Pinot Noir Zotovich Vineyard SeaBiscuit – Mostly oRGANIC practices
Paul Lato’s winemaking is influenced by his European roots. Born and raised in Poland and not formally trained as a winemaker, it is not surprising that from his earliest involvement with wine he gained a deep appreciation for the artisanal skills of European winemakers. “I am proud to make wine like a shoemaker,” he mentioned in one of our conversations. In his Pinot Noir winemaking he has been greatly influenced by Henri Jayer of Vosne Romanée whose motto was “quality before everything else.” Jayer’s wines were brilliantly made, expensive, and difficult to find. In his Grenache and Syrah, Paul has looked to the great Rhone winemaker, Chave.
Notwithstanding his admiration for European winemaking. Paul Lato is passionate about California, and his first love is Santa Barbara. Not having the funds to purchase his own estate, Paul has sought out the best vineyards for grapes such as: Bien Nacido, Gold Coast, Solomon Hills, Fiddlestix, Sierra Madre, Zotovich, John Sebastiano Pisoni in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and Hyde in Los Carneros. Moreover, he has been successful in renting the best parcels by acre and with terms that give him control as to what goes on. In this regard, he draws upon the advice of a first class viticultural consultant, Mike Anderson, retired from UC Davis, who also consults at Peake Ranch. Paul travels with him to John Sebastiano and Sierra Madre to get his inputs on irrigation, leaf pulling, dropping fruit, and other inputs needed to achieve a high-level performance in the vineyard.
What is Paul’s winemaking philosophy? “I don’t want to make pretentious Burgundy wines in California.” Nor does he want to make lean wines. He believes the best wines of Europe are ripe and that balance is achieved slowly. He is not a fan of lower alcohol and less ripeness in his wines if it means sacrificing balance and flavor. Nor is he in favor of excessive alcohol and excessive acidity. Like Henri Jayer he has used few whole clusters in his wine but is reconsidering it, although he doesn’t believe Pinot Noir needs stems.
Located in the heart of Sta. Rita Hills off Highway 246 on a very gentle, even slope with northern exposure, this vineyard is capable of making extraordinary wine. Originally established by a different set of owners, this vineyard is going through a revival under the new ownership of the Zotovich family to achieve its intended greatness. Lato’s coolaboration with Steve Zotovich and his family along with the vineyard manager, Ben Merz, has produced wines of the highest caliber. Using Dijon clones 113 and 115, the Pinot Noir is full-bodied and muscular yet harmonious and graceful. It possesses exuberant aromatics with a blueberry core and underlying mineral and forest floor nuances reminiscent of great red Burgundies.
96 points Jeb Dunnuck: The 2019 Pinot Noir Seabiscuit Zotovich Vineyard comes from the Sta. Rita Hills and was brought up in 65% new French oak. It shows the spicy, savory, salty style of the appellation, yet all with restraint, and it’s the purity of fruit that leads, with gorgeous ripe raspberries, cherries, and mulberries all front and center. More medium-bodied, elegant, and impeccably balanced, it’s already impossible to resist yet has a good 7-8 years of prime drinking ahead of it.
93 points Vinous: The 2019 Pinot Noir Zotovich Vineyard Seabiscuit is gracious and beautifully lifted. Crushed rose petal, mint, spice, raspberry, and mint lend presence to this effusive, alluring Pinot. Sandy soils at Zotovich always yield Pinots of aromatic presence. Paul Lato’s 2019 is an especially sophisticated, silky Pinot from this site.