Schaefer on Wine: Sonja Rules at Casa Dumetz (Santa Barbara News Press 8/8/13)

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara News Press on Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Dennis Schaefer

August 8, 2013 12:42 AM

I really hadn’t intended on stopping in at the Casa Dumetz tasting room in Los Alamos on my last trip to the Valley, but my car veered to the right at the southbound exit on Highway 101. And even if I did, I figured there was no way winemaker Sonja Magdevski would be behind the bar. Wrong on both counts. The tasting room turned out to be a salon of sorts, with spirited talk about fashion, automobiles and, of course, wine.


Ms. Magdevski, along with her fiancé, actor Emilio Estevez, planted their backyard in Malibu to pinot noir vines and thus her wine saga began. Their pinot noir production is very small but Ms. Magdevski also sources grapes locally from the Santa Ynez Valley, which is what she offers at her tasting room, open Thursday through Sunday, at 448 Bell St., Suite B.


Beautiful enough to be an actress (she’s not) and smart enough to be a journalist (she is), winemaking has become Ms. Magdevski’s passion. If she’s pouring at the tasting room on your visit, then you’re in for a treat. She commands the room but makes you feel like a guest in her home. Some thoughts on the wines:


• Casa Dumetz Clementina Viognier, Santa Ynez Valley, Tierra Alta Vineyard 2012 ($28): Tropical fruit notes come through on the nose but not as excessive as you might find in some viogniers. Pineapple and mango are in the forefront with a sense of musk melon (yes!) in the mix. On the palate, it beckons with an incredible lightness of being, showcasing plenty of citrus with the tropical fruit from the nose moving in, adding some complexity while a surprising streak of key lime pie appears near the finish. This is a viognier with substance, balance and great acidity; perfect for food.


• Casa Dumetz Syrah Rosé, Santa Ynez Valley, Tierra Alta Vineyard 2012 ($28): To get this darker hued rosé, Ms. Magdevski chose syrah in the first place and then let it set and macerate on the skins for 24 hours to get color extraction. The aromatics are exotic for a rosé: apricot, nectarine, rose petal and almond paste. It has a lovely mouth entry with flavors of strawberry, red raspberry, vanilla, vanilla cream and an intriguing sense of raw (not toasted) almond. This rosé seems slight at first but it builds up a cumulative flavor weight as you sip and reinforces it with every taste.


• Casa Dumetz Gewürztraminer, Santa Ynez Valley, Rancho de Vina de Santa Ynez Vineyard 2012 ($28): The fine art of making gewürztraminer seems to be dying out but it won’t happen on Ms. Magdevski’s watch. Gewürztraminer is supposed to be one of the great and classic aromatic white wines in the world and she has fully realized that in this vintage. The aromas burst out of the glass; they cannot be contained. Literally, you can smell it from across the room. Mandarin orange (like orange muscat or malvasia Bianca), baby powder, St. Joseph baby aspirin, grapefruit and vanilla extract combine to make a powerful impression on the nose. The flavors are just as diverse: rose petal, Meyer lemon, lichee, grapefruit and mandarin orange (that is, fresh satsuma) while flavor offshoots like orange blossom highlight the finish. This is, flat-out, the best California gewürztraminer I’ve tasted in years; truly a revelation.


• Casa Dumetz Roussanne, Santa Ynez Valley, La Pressa Vineyard 2012 ($32): The nose on this wine is considerably lighter than the other Casa Dumetz wines, though you can detect florals, wildflowers and a little bit of Creamsicle (yes!). The wine seems subdued, so if you serve it too cold, it will take a while to coax more aromatics out of the glass, ones that also include honey, LePage’s glue (a good thing!) and laid-back citrus. With some time in the glass, the flavors of light clover honey, orange blossom and orange pekoe-brewed tea linger long on the palate. Again, it shows exceptional balance and the finish just fades away and melts in your mouth in the best sort of Creamsicle redux way.


• Casa Dumetz Babi’s Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley 2010 ($30): Of all the grapes varieties, grenache is the one Ms. Magdevski finds most interesting. This vintage is blended with one-fifth syrah to add structure and richness. Red fruit pops immediately on the nose with cranberry first, followed by blackberry and red licorice. Flavors follow the nose with more cranberry, blackberry and black cherry as well as a certain loamy earthiness and a welcome grinding of fresh black pepper. Light and bright enough for summer drinking yet bold enough to stand up to anything off the grill.


• Casa Dumetz Francisco’s Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley, Tierra Alta Vineyard 2011 ($29): A darkly colored syrah, it shows black cherry, blackberry and pomegranate on the nose, along with some warm supporting spice. On the palate, it displays flavors of red plum, raspberry and a hint of strawberry and linalool, with both black and white pepper coming into play as well. It has good weight in the mouth. It shows that it’s something of substance but never goes overboard with the fruit concentration; instead, it displays an evenhanded balance of all the elements. It has good structure, and the tannins are so finely grained that it’s one smooth and easy-drinking syrah, finishing upbeat and on a high note.


Wine expert Dennis Schaefer’s column appears every other week in the Food section. Email him at