Santa Ynez Valley’s Jonata (‘Honata’) Winery is the cousin of Screaming Eagle, a cult wine from the Napa Valley. These two ultra premium Bordeaux-style wine producers in California are owned by Stanley Kroenke, owner of the Colorado Avalanche hockey team and husband of Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke. He became sole owner of both properties in 2009 after buying out Charles Banks, an investment manager for high profile athletes. Banks started Jonata in 2000 with film producer Arnon Milchan and former CEO of Time Warner, Gerald Levin. When Milchan and Levin left Jonata, Banks recruited Kroenke. The two of them made headlines in 2006 when they bought the Screaming Eagle property in 2006 for a whopping price tag rumoured to be over $30 million.
In contrast to the limestone soils in the surrounding vineyards of Santa Ynez which have been particularly conducive to Syrah wines, Jonata suffered from a heavy sand covering, short on nutrients and water. Of the 600 acres originally purchased, only five were rated suitable for producing top tier Bordeaux wines by Chateau Latour consultant Feredic Engerer.
Undeterred, the owners experimented by planting 80 acres with ten different Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. They decided not to pull any of them, but to skip a vintage if a varietal does not show well. They realize that monoculture on sand is dangerous and therefore grow olive and fruit trees and have a barnyard full of sheep, goats and chickens as a supplemental source of income. As a result, the sand has gained nutrients over the years and changed from white to a darker colour in the process. This evolution creates different challenges every vintage, particularly given their low yield at 2 tons/acre.
They recruited Ruben Solozano as vineyard manager in 2003, Matt Dees as winemaker from Napa’s Staglin Vineyard in 2006, and Armand de Maigret as General Manager. The highly talented Matt vinifies each varietal separately and then consults famed wine guru Michel Rolland before bottling.
They have learned to deal with a challenging terroir through meticulous attention to vineyard management and a commitment to quality, making Jonata one of the top rated wineries in the Santa Barbara County. Understandably Jonata has a high price point of $50-$150 per bottle, but has yet to breakeven. It is still cheaper than Screaming Eagle, which is out of reach for most wine lovers at over $500 per bottle. Even if you could afford it, it has an extremely exclusive distribution list. Look for Jonata’s second label, Paring, introduced as a more affordable alternative aimed at restaurants. Jonata’s first vintage was 2004, which was released in 2007. Maigret conducted a tasting recently at the RCYC with agent Woodman Wines & Spirits Inc.
Jonata La Tierra 2008 (V221150;14.6%,$89) This cherry purple wine is a Tuscan blend of 94% Sangiovese and 6% Syrah that was aged in 500-600 litre barrels. Full bodied with a red fruit driven palate, its rustic tannins make it a good choice for pairing with hearty fare.
Jonata El Alma 2008 (V218925;14.4%;$149) Alma means “soul of the devil” and is a Cabernet Franc (75%) dominated blend, with 10% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (for structure) plus 5% Petit Verdot. Inky in colour, this full fruity wine offers aromas of dried herbs reminiscent of Herbs de Provence, with subtle chocolate and mint notes.
Jonata El Desafio 2007 (V218993;14.9%;$145) The Desafio name means “defiance. It has more Cabernet Sauvignon (95%) and Merlot (4%) and less Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This dense and richly textured wine has a dark berry palate of cassis, raspberry, with chocolate and tobacco undertones.
Jonata El Desafio 2008 (V218933;14.4%;$145) is a blend of the same varietals as the 2007 vintage, but with less Cabernet Sauvignon (84%) and Merlot (2%) and more Petit Verdot (10%) and Cabernet Franc (4%). Intensely aromatic with round tannins, it delivers sweet red berry flavours with spice and cedar accents.
Jonata Todos 2008 (V218941;14.7%;$59.95) is their answer to Chateauneuf-du-Pape because this is a field blend of all of their 10 varietals and aptly named Todos (“everything”). This 8th vintage is dominated by 67% Syrah and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. Inky coloured, it shows good complexity of aromas and flavours, with sweet cherries, ripe red berries, spices, cedar and a touch of brett on the finish.
Jonata Sangre 2008 (V220517;14.9%;$150)”) is a blend of 98% Syrah and 2% Viognier. They named it Sangre (“blood”) because of the dry meat and bacon characteristics, which are the telltale signs of the Syrah varietal. Sumptuous on the palate, this dark coloured wine delivers flavours of black plums and cherries with layers of vanilla, mocha and coffee and appealing animal notes.
Jonata Fenix 2007 (V2532337;14.7%;$95) is their first vintage of a Right Bank Bordeaux-style blend, because it is dominated by Merlot (84%), with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot. They named it Fenix (“finish”) because they thought they were eliminating Merlot and pulled half an acre of this varietal, switching it to cabernet franc. However, this proved not to be their last vintage, but they do not make it every year. This opaque wine is well balanced, with an appealing nose of sweet biscuits, and a full palate of plums, cherries and ripe fruit accented with sweet cedar notes.
Jonata La Fuerza 2006 (V221168;15.2%;$89) is their single varietal Petit Verdot wine. Unctuous with great structure and ripe dark fruit flavours, it offers appealing apple pie and baking spice notes with hints of coffee.
All scores out of five apples.
Barbara D. Ritchie is a wine writer, lecturer and internationally accredited wine judge, who has travelled extensively throughout the main wine growing regions of the world. Her working knowledge of French, Italian, Spanish and German facilitates her in-depth winery profiles. A distinctive aspect to writing is her suggestions for food and wine pairings.