Scar of the Sea Pinot Noir

One of the things I love about wine is the vast diversity of flavors, aromas, and textures inside each bottle. Did you know there are over 10,000 different grape varieties in the world - each with their unique profiles, countries of origin, and temperamental tendencies to be understood in the vineyard? And if we take a single grape variety, like Pinot Noir, and we look at how it changes all over the world, we see how each grape can adapt to suit the unique climate and geology of a region like the cool Alsatian mountains of France or the warm Russian River Valley of California. In each setting, it can be balanced and beautiful but pour two regions next to each other, and you might be hard pressed to believe you have the same grape in your glass. And to show you just what I mean, here we have a delicious representation of coastal Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara. Fresh as the ocean spray on the surf, ripe like the sun warming your face through the cool coastal breeze, and light in texture like the sandy soils of dunes that predate us all.

Inspired and influenced by the sea in every way, this wine feels fresh and alive. Its texture is surprisingly both crunchy and juicy, with fresh savory, saline, and spicy tones that show this is no one-note wonder, but rather, a lighter style red with incredible depth. Planted on sandy soils near the coastline by two winemaking surf buddies, this wine is bright and fun, but made in the most dedicated way. It takes more discipline than you can imagine to produce a beautifully balanced wine with minimal interventions (meaning no tricks or chemicals in the winery), but Mikey and Michael of Scar of the Sea have certainly done it here. And can you believe, this is only their entry-level Pinot Noir?

One of the simplest and most delicious ways to pair this wine is with locally made Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam brie and a fresh baguette. If you’re looking for something a bit more substantial, then I would suggest seeing how it sings with a little spice, like a curry or tacos.. Spicy foods tend to bring forward the fruit and body in a wine, making it feel more complex, more luscious, and arguably, even more satisfying while maintaining its overall balance. A bigger, bolder style of wine can get a bit out of whack with too much heat on your plate, but this style is just perfect for your upcoming Cinco de Mayo party.

Curious to learn more?

Mikey Giugni and Michael Brughelli are two friends who love beaches, oceans, and of course, wine. Back in 2012 these two co-workers and surf pals decided to create a new label - one that would focus on both wine and hard cider. And the name for it? Well, that’s a funny story…

Mikey had recently spent time making cider in Tasmania and stumbled upon a captivating run-down church on the beach that said “Scar of the Sea” on the stain glass window above the door. The image wouldn’t leave his mind so he proposed the idea of naming their new label after it as a way of bringing their two passions of ocean and wine together. The green sea-glass inspired bottles were selected and the fish hook labels were created by a friend because every single detail was important to them. It turns out that one small detail slipped through the cracks though - or perhaps it’s just that Old English can be pretty challenging to decipher - but either way, the two later learned that the church window actually said “Star of the Sea.” No problem though, the original name still felt right, and with it came a good laugh and a fun origin story for their new project together.

From the start, Mikey and Michael set out to create wines from vineyards with high oceanic influence (in terms of maritime soils and climates) as a way of honoring where they were from, the Central Coast of California. They source fruit from environmentally sustainable growers at some of the best vineyard sites in the country - sites like Bien Nacido and Presqu’ile in Santa Barbara County.

In the winery, the goal is “minimal intervention” - meaning don’t mess up a naturally great thing by changing or adding anything! But, as I’ve pointed out many times before, that doesn’t make for easy winemaking. It means that every decision from pruning, to picking, to fermentation has to be done perfectly because there’s no option for tinkering or masking a bad decision in this winery.

I asked Mikey how he came to the perspective of “terroir over technique,” meaning that he makes wines that represent what’s naturally in the grape, the soil, and the air, rather than creating a wine he’s tasted somewhere else or had in mind. To Mikey, the reflection of land and climate is simply the most important thing about wine. He wants to taste the place and vintage, then the winemaker, and perhaps finally, the techniques. He views techniques as a steward toward terroir - techniques of cleanliness and timing, for example, enable terroir to shine through. That’s quite different from the techniques of adding in color, acid, or oak flavoring (as some other winemakers tend to do) to give the sensation of something that was never really there. He explained that there’s a misconception about minimal intervention and laziness, “It takes a lot of f-ing work to make minimal intervention wines!”

“It all comes down to farming and place. If you can get good grapes and not mess it up in the vineyard, there’s little to do. (As a winemaker) you need to understand oxidation and reduction, aging, vessels, and so forth, but the best wines are the ones where the consumer doesn’t think about that stuff. The consumer shouldn’t be dissecting a wine when they taste it - they should just drink and eat and have fun.”

Perhaps my favorite moment in my conversation with Mikey was the way he talked about the similarities between surfing and wine. He laments that there are similar things to hate in the two cultures (like snobbery and localism) but it’s the other aspects he loves that keep him coming back, like the aspect of being entirely consumed and nearly lost in the action for both winemaking and surfing. When you’re riding a wave, you’re completely lost in the moment, a thousand miles away from the pile of work on your desk. And similarly, when he’s in the midst of harvest you’re on an all-consuming rush.

“It’s such a crazy thing - it’s so consuming in a great way. You are focused on each person, hour after hour, you have to be in the moment. Good winemaking is about being prepared and about being present.”

As he pointed out, for both passions, he’s constantly watching the weather and accepting that whatever storm rolls in tomorrow is entirely out of his hands.

“You can’t control the swell of the ocean or the wind, and it’s the very same thing for harvest.”

Perhaps that’s what drew me to Mikey’s wines at our first tasting together. There’s a zen-like quality about his winemaking and lifestyle that accepts and celebrates the forces of nature around him. There’s no urge to control, just the desire to catch the perfect ride. And with each harvest, it seems he’s managed to do just that - to catch the perfect ride of every vintage. And in doing so, he brings us along with him. We get to feel that ocean spray on our faces, the cool air balanced by warm California sun, and the comforting feeling of making and sharing something beautiful with a great friend beside you.

        * Photos of the winemakers and vineyards are courtesy of Mikey