Pali Wine Co. began life in 2005 as a partnership between two lifelong Pacific Palisades residents, Tim Perr and Scott Knight. After making wine in a garage (they could be termed one of the original local garagiste wineries!), they went whole hog and built a custom winery facility in Lompoc. Many of their diverse portfolio of wines bear the names of their Pacific Palisades neighborhoods (Huntington, Riviera, Bluffs) and streets (Charm Acres). As production has grown to upward of 25,000 cases, they have focused their Pali label on chardonnay and pinot noir, not only from Santa Barbara County but also from Sonoma County and Willamette Valley in Oregon; their Tower 15 label, named after a lifeguard station on their nearby Will Rogers State Beach, is devoted to everything else, from grapes mostly sourced in Santa Barbara County but also from farther up the Central Coast.
Concurrent with the expansion in production was the idea to open multiple tasting rooms. You can, of course, taste at the winery in Lompoc, but that’s a day trip for some. So they opened up a tasting room in the Funk Zone to make their wines more accessible to Santa Barbara residents (and visitors as well). Then they expanded their tasting room concept to storefronts in San Diego, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Another innovation is that they have a keg wine program, so all the tasting rooms can deliver a fresh glass to a taster without any loss of quality or waste. That’s something that’s really taken off because you can take home a growler of wine (just like at a brewery) to enjoy later. With so many outlets, Pali sells a ton of wine direct to the consumer, which makes them less reliant on the traditional three-tiered distribution model.
So while the Pali guys seem to be great business operators, the real question is: Do they make good wine? Winemaker Aaron Walker has been with Pali since 2007 and was made a general partner in 2010. He’s gotten to know and interpret his vineyard sources well. As he says on the Pali website, “I want my wines to taste true to their character and source — not just covered up with too much oak or improper blending. Everything needs to be in balance.”
I’ve chosen to highlight their bottlings sourced from local grapes, mostly from their Santa Rita Hills home base — wines that I think you will find very true to their origins.
• Pali RosÄ of Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, Pali Vineyard 2018 ($30): Pali has several different iterations of rosÄ but this one is entirely made of pinot noir from their own estate vineyards off Gypsy Canyon Road. On the nose, it shows strawberry and cherry aromatics. Restrained (as your might expect from pinot noir) in the mouth rather than flamboyant. The same flavors follow in the mouth, with more maraschino cherry in the forefront, while there is a delicious spiciness (from neutral French oak?) underlying the fruit. With repeated sips, strawberry and a bit of unintrusive rhubarb adds to the flavor profile on the finish.
• Pali Chardonnay, Highlands, Santa Rita Hills 2016 ($29): Lemony citrus and honeysuckle on the nose. While barrel fermented and barrel aged for 15 months in French oak (20 percent new), it is not the buttery and blowsy chardonnay you might expect. The oak is not intrusive and it seems more Chablis-like in the mouth. Flavors of citrus and green apple are accented by roasted nuts and gunpowder. The finish is crisp, clean and without affectation.
• Tower 15 The White Cap, Central Coast 2017 ($20): And now for something completely different: a Rhone-style blend of grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne and viognier. Ripe yellow apple, green pear, lemon peel and florals on the nose of this white blend. Immediately delicious in the mouth with a good edge of texture as well as a swirling complexity of flavor. Pear, apple and citrus are augmented by a touch of clove, lavender and vanilla. Not incredibly demonstrative like a well-oaked chardonnay (perhaps the antithesis of such) but intriguing for its subtlety and evenhandedness. The bright acidity is integrated throughout, particularly on the upbeat finish.
• Pali Pinot Noir, Summit, Santa Rita Hills 2016 ($31): This blend, from several top-notch Santa Rita Hills vineyards, is dark and brooding in the glass. With dark cherry, damson plum and raspberry on the nose, it promises you that this is going to be something quite tasty. Cherry, boysenberry, raspberry and blackberry fruit on the palate — it’s all there — plus clove, Asian spices, licorice, lavender and a bit of cola. Over a year aging in French oak (30 percent new) is a bonus that adds texture and depth. Without question, a best buy.
• Pali Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, John Sebastiano Vineyard 2016 ($60): Now here is the piÅce de rÄsistance: Sourced from the amazing John Sebastiano Vineyard in northeastern Santa Rita Hills, this pinot has some real mojo. Dark and deep black cherry and boysenberry on the nose with candied violets and warm brown spices. Big and rich in the mouth but not overpowering; balance is the key. Both red and dark cherry flavors along with boysenberry, raspberry, olallieberry and red rope licorice, with undertones of clove, vanilla and milk chocolate. It’s truly a great expression of Pali’s winemaking approach.