Rachel Martin, who co-founded Oceano Wines in San Luis Obispo, can truly be described as bicoastal.
Before Oceano, she established Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Virginia with her stepfather, John Kent Cooke, and spearheaded an arduous effort to establish the certified appellation there.
After completing a fine arts degree, Martin became determined to pursue her passion for wine and completed a degree in viticulture from Napa Valley College before attending the esteemed Sensory Evaluation program at the University of Bordeaux School of Enology. It positioned her to help lead the emergence of the Virginia winery that focused on Bordeaux varietals.
She met her future husband Kurt Deutsch at the Middleburg Film Festival where they were seated across from each other at a dinner prior to the screening of one of his movie productions, “The Last Five Years” with Anna Kendrick.
Deutsch had established his career by starting two record companies seeking to broaden the audience for original Broadway cast performers. Their releases have won four Grammy Awards with recordings that include “The Book of Mormon” and “Beautiful, The Carole King Musical.”
A few years after marrying Deutsch, Martin was introduced to his father’s neighbor, Henry Warshaw who owns the 96-acre Spanish Springs Vineyard near the coast in San Luis Obispo. That is when, despite her East Coast roots, she felt the calling to become a California winemaker. In 2016, the couple, who still reside in New York City, secured access to great chardonnay and pinot noir grapes and co-founded Oceano Wines.
Spanish Springs, a true coastal SIP certified (Sustainability in Practice) vineyard, is the sole source of fruit for Oceano’s chardonnay (10 tons) and pinot noir (6 tons) releases. It is located less than two miles from the beach and has the combination of cool, foggy mornings, warm afternoons and evenings with cooling coastal breezes — perfect climate for chardonnay and pinot noir.
For years, unique vineyards in this region have fallen under the expansive Central Coast appellation. Today, with the full intent of creating a new SLO Coast Wine appellation, local wineries have banded together in a strong marketing effort to increase consumer awareness. Martin and the Spanish Springs Vineyards are a major part of that process.
Oceano added the experience and expertise of California winemaker Marbue Marke to mentor the team. Martin admits that Marke often tempers her enthusiasm with a dose of reality that ultimately helps to achieve the goal of making wines that she enjoys drinking. Marke, a native of Sierra Leone in West Africa, abandoned plans for medical school to pursue an enology degree from the University of California, Davis. After graduation, he added a MBA from Sonoma State University and before joining the Oceano team, developed an impressive resume at several wineries in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
Carrying on the complex operations, Martin travels from New York to oversee the night harvest of the coastal San Luis Obispo grapes that are, in turn, transported in refrigerated trucks to the Napa Valley and vinified by Marke at a custom crush facility. Their current limited production totals 630 cases of chardonnay and 230 cases of pinot noir.
Barrel-fermented in all French oak, 33 percent new, the 2016 Oceano Chardonnay ($38) displays an aromatic bouquet dominated by citrus and orange peel notes. On the palate, the wine has a complex and flinty flavor profile of stone fruits, melon and grapefruit. While tasting, additional hints of white flowers and ginger are identified.
Composed of Swan and 115 clones, the 2018 Oceano Pinot Noir ($45) has a savory quality with salty characteristics that add to the forward flavors of cherry, raspberry and cranberry. Martin seeks a tension in the wine that exposes its origin as ocean fruit. In a crowded market of California pinot noir, this wine, at its current retail price, is a good value.
Most of the Oceano Wines are currently distributed in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Michigan. They plan to expand production to 11,000 cases in 2019 and 15,000 cases by 2020 that will increase supply in California. In addition, their first albariño release is expected in 2021.
I enjoy chardonnay and pinot noir and have sampled many California and Oregon releases. Oceano Wines have the unique qualities and flavor profile to earn a spot on my table.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email email@example.com