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May 2021

Satellite Wine Club, May 2021

Sparky Sparks, The King of Carey

Kings Carey - Semillon - Giff’s Vineyard - Santa Barbara County, CA - 2019 

$32 Retail, $308/Case ($25.60)

Kings Carey - Rosé of Grenache - Dogged Vineyard - Santa Barbara County, CA - 2020

$32 Retail, $308/Case ($25.60)

Kings Carey - Grenache - ‘To Market’ - Spear Vineyard - Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, CA - 2018

$41 Retail, $394/Case ($32.80)


May flowers are blooming and, yes, my allergies are peaking! I welcome my annual sinus irritants with open nostrils and Zyrtec allergy medication… served up like Tic Tacs. I am thriving!

As the jacarandas bloom, so do glasses of rosé, crispy white wines, chilly & eminently quaffable reds. It’s the season of reopening, demasking, hug-re-learning, and bottle chugging!

To celebrate this great unmasking of a nation I decided to load up this month and do something a little different! This glorious May we’re focusing on a single winemaker who’s doing some truly spectacular things in Santa Barbara County; almost entirely under the radar. 

James Sparks is wonderful. He’s a bashful and modest man whose story in the wine world is anything to be timid about! James was born into a Mormon family in the tiny town of Carey in the Idaho countryside… about as far from the wine world as one could begin. There he took to baking, the family business, becoming more intimately familiar with the magic of yeast and all its properties. 

By 2009 James was living in Los Angeles pursuing music when his new brother-in-law, Brandon Gillis of Dragonette Wine, brought him up to his winery and changed his life. James started helping in the cellar immediately, quickly moving up full-time and, after a few years of on-the-job-training, he was promoted to assistant winemaker. James had found his knack!

By 2013 James was fully trained and a force on his own. Not only was he making the wines for Dragonette, but helping Brandon with a new project called Liquid Farm, founded by my friend Jeff Nelson. Jeff and James connected and as his project grew he decided to ask James to come on full-time as the lead winemaker. 

Wild to think a Mormon from rural Idaho, who first tried alcohol at 28, was now the head winemaker at one of the most exciting boutique wineries in Santa Barbara County. 

There, at Liquid Farm, James focuses on pumping out seriously high quality Pinot, Chardonnay, and a delicious Rosé of Mourvedre that I cannot recommend highly enough! The wines are serious, wide open and high energy, with a real sense of the central coast woven in expertly. If you’re into points… well they have those in spades. The wines here are generally blends from multiple vineyards, designed to flesh out the gaps and manifest an idea of what they should taste like - and that’s where our story really begins. 

Since entering the wine world James wanted to build his own label, exploring his own idea of wine and using it as a platform to implement less work. That’s the idea with King’s Carey - where his other gigs have traditionally tried to make a wine with a specific result in-mind, Kings Carey wines are quite the opposite: Single vineyard, organically farmed wines, made with minimal manipulation, and with no specific end in mind. The journey is the project here. James sets the general rules and the grapes do most of the winemaking. 

Where Liquid Farm hones in their exact style via blending, and various fermentation vessels, James’ departure from that style couldn’t be more clear. His wines are single vineyard, single fermentation, identical vessels (if more than one… which isn’t the rule at.all.) - He’s exploring our beautiful county and particularly focusing on young, exciting, organic vineyards. Places like Spear and Dogged vineyards are finding their purest expression through James’ delicate touch. Rad. 

So I know you’re going to want to dive in on these three special treats, but let me first expound a bit on the name and the label because I think it’s darling.

You might have noted above that James was born in a town called Carey, well his wife comes from Kings Point, NY… when they were coming up with names they just liked the way they sounded together! Letting it all just… happen! 

For the unique artwork they turned to illustrator Hawk Krall who’s whimsical, detail packed cartoons are a feast for the eyes. His art on their bottles is like an adult-access-only Where’s Waldo of cartoonish urban signage. Distinct. Distinct. Distinct. And freakin’ cool… especially the grenache label! The art is a perfect fit with the wines. 

So here we are. These wines look awesome. But how do they taste? Well, winestronaut, it’s time to pull some corks and discover what we’ve all been missing out on. It’s juice from our very own backyard, from the sweetest man in the valley, and hey, I’ve got a good feeling about it!


Kings Carey - Semillon - Giff’s Vineyard - Santa Barbara County, CA - 2019 

$32 Retail, $308/Case ($25.60)


Bordeaux Baby! (oh, and so much more!)

Semillon is a grape we don’t think about too much these days. Living in the shadow of Sauvignon Blanc, this more subtle, perhaps lower volume but higher frequency, white grape is something we should re-engage with frequently because it’s quite simply incredible. 

This tiny vineyard in the Los Olivos District is quiet, producing a mixed bag of organically grown grapes for many of the cooler wines in the county that might, or might not label in deference to this lesser known vineyard. Most importantly though, this is the first vineyard planted in the Santa Ynez Valley (1969!). 

It’s awesome, and in its further eastern location in the valley the vineyard gets plenty of warm, dry days and frigid nights promoting a balance of tropical bright fruit and shrieking acidity… the kind of structure we might find on an excellent Bordeaux vineyard focusing entirely on Semillon. 

This site, this harvest, this approach. It’s awesome. 

James bought only a small amount of Semillon for the 2019 Vintage, roughly 6 tons of fruit (or enough for roughly 140 cases). Picked and delivered quickly to the winery, it undergoes immediate foot-stompage (Yes, that’s a technical term 😉) and the whole, busted-up clusters spend about 12 hours in direct contact with the juice. After imparting a bit of structure and complexity, a swift press frees up all the good juice and a natural fermentation begins in 6 old, neutral oak barrels. The wine sits, slowly fermenting, then aging on the spent yeast (lees) for 6 months. Over the course of relaxing in barrel the wine becomes clear, dropping out most of the suspended particles, and gaining stability. Contact with the lees give this wine important reductivity or that flinty, matchstick, mineral note. In the right balance - like in this wine! - it extends ageability, tension in the wine, and generally piques my interest! I love this kind of reduction (not the other… more stinky kind) and it is a sign of real mastery and confidence from the winery. Hell ya. Let’s embark into flavor country! 

First things first: remember kids, semillon is a grape of subtlety! On the nose it is coy, hinting at, but not giving away, the whole cacophony of bright elements below. It hits all the marks for semillon: Crunchy Yellow Apples, Chamomile, Lemon Juice, and a little bees wax to hold it together… oh wait - is that a big mound of sour peach rings?!? I’m in love!

On the palate it’s all there, with a salty backbone and a water-light body that keeps this feeling fresh. That peach ring, snappy appley, beeswax, tea party is all topped off with lemons and salt. **SAY IT WITH ME: BREAKFAST WINE** 

At a low 11% alcohol, it definitely fits the breakfast vibe! 

I want this wine on hot days at the beach or in the park, I want it with waffles, strawberries & cream, garden salads, goat cheese, and most importantly, with friends. 

I’m amazed by the length of finish on this ultra-light weight wine too. It stays, not cloying, but persistent and clean. To say it’s a toothpaste kind-of clean would be wrong… but maybe if your toothpaste tastes like the salty-apple-lemon-peach-tea described above? Look for that flavor in next month’s wine club! 

I’m off to finish this bottle!

Kings Carey - Rosé of Grenache - Dogged Vineyard - Santa Barbara County, CA - 2020

$32 Retail, $308/Case ($25.60)

Rosé - here today - gone by summer! At least with this one! Just a few bottles left here in the shop, a case or two at the winery, and none in distribution! Get it while it’s hot (actually I prefer it ice cold)! 

This amazing, grapefruit-flesh colored wine is absolutely bangin’. Grown at the organically farmed Dogged Vineyard. It’s under the radar. It’s well farmed. It’s in the Los Olivos AVA and we’re seeing tons of exciting wines (like this one) coming from it all the time! One of the hallmarks of this vineyard is that it sits on a huge mass of Serpentinite - the state rock of California and a de-vigorating and hard-to-live-in mineral for vines… and basically anything other than grass. The result is smaller, tougher little vines, more fruit intensity, and better wines. I think you’ll agree when you taste this little beauty. 

Let me hit a quick refresher on rosé for you: red wine made like white wine. That’s it! Okay - so there’s more but not much! This wine was made very simply: whole clusters of grenache were foot stomped gently and allowed to luxuriate in the juice for 24 hours. The juice was lightly pressed off the skins and left to ferment to dryness in steel. After fermentation the wine was racked to old neutral barrels and allowed to sit undisturbed for 5 months before bottling. Just like a white wine and almost identical to the semillon above :)

In the bottle this wine calls to me. The clear glass and grapefruit color says “drink me right now - but first find a pool”. On the nose it’s just as inviting: filled with fruit punch - strawberry and orange peel, pomegranate and salt air. This is classic. Like Provençal rosé but with a little SB kick! 

On the palate all the hits are played over with a bit more volume. The word is refreshing. Like taking a whole strawberry, top included… maybe while having a picnic in an orange grove? It’s all balance and brilliant brightness, mouthwatering acidity on a cooling herbal backdrop.

This is simplicity. This is perfection in pink. Now seriously, get an ice bucket, some spf, and a body of water ASAP!

Kings Carey - Grenache - ‘To Market’ - Spear Vineyard - Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara County, CA - 2018

$41 Retail, $394/Case ($32.80)

Now for something with a bit of oomph!

Grenache is one of those few grapes that can adapt to any climate. From the insanely hot dry region of Priorat where 16% abv inky black wines are the norm, to the very coolest parts of our own fog-layered coastal Santa Rita Hills, where it’s all spice on silk:  Grenache does it all. I am particularly excited about this one. 

James buys all of the fruit for this treat from the CCOF organic certified Spear Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. Some call it a great vineyard, I call it a gift from the good people at Life Alert®. Not. Kidding. 

For the uninitiated: Spear Vineyard is literally the vineyard that Life Alert® built! Spear was founded by the same Ofer Shepher who started the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” grandma-rescue-solutions company that I and so many other children of the 80’s and 90’s will remember fondly. In this strange timeline in which we reside, not only will he send the fire department to save Grandma, but he’ll also grow some of the most exciting fruit in the county! 

Planted in 2014, this relatively new vineyard is coming online in a big way. It comprises 34 acres of organic certified fruit, up to 900’ elevation, and it’s been immaculately cared for since the beginning. This is cold climate Santa Barbara fruit at its purest. 

The grenache vineyard is exceptionally limited, with only 4 acres under vine. It’s also one of the coolest grenache sites in the country, with a morning fog layer that lingers over the sandy soil. The afternoons are intensely windy as the warm inland air beats back the fog to the coast. That wind and massive swings in temperature benefit the fruit, allowing for simpler pest management, higher acidity retention, and a long growing season in which to develop incredible complexity. And here’s proof: 

This wine is red hot fire. And that’s on *Periodt*. Pour it up, winestronaut! 

This beautiful grenache is so special. It’s funny to me, but I’m also thankful that James held this release back until he believed it was ready. Thanks James! Harvested in 2018 this wine has a history. After fermentation it spent two and a half years in massive puncheon barrels, undisturbed, sitting on the lees… Time did this wine well. Economical to make? Absolutely not! Are you and I the beneficiaries of this ridiculously long winemaking process. YES! <3

I really have to take a moment to remark on the patience that James has as a winemaker. It is not common to see a casual, chillable grenache that’s also this serious. Like.. what?

Let’s let the juice do the talking: 

First of all, the whole package shines. The crazy art, the clear bottle, the deep but glowing ruby-juice inside. This beckons one’s mouth. 

On the nose it’s like WOAH - the aromatics of this wine are profound: It’s strawberries, oranges (that’s grenache, amigo), salted foggy air, smashed rocks, coastal sage. *Ahhhhh* I really am enjoying this. 

The palate is everything above and more. This is jazzercise for the tongue. It’s so juicy yet deeply structured, with so much fruit layed up on the backbone of tannic structure and crisp acid, just a hair below making me gleek across the room. It’s electric throughout. The clarity of the wine in the glass belies all the depth and intensity on the palate. It’s wines like this that keep me coming back to grenache. 

The fruit profile on this wine is actually nutty. Over-achieving! Ripe strawberries again - think Harry’s Berries from the farmers market - INTENSE! I get a load of orange peel, black cherry, some cracked pepper, and shrubby herbs. It’s salty and savory, with all that ripe fruit. Woah! This is a wine for drinking!

The proof is really in the pudding with this wine and the last two. There’s a reason I decided to bring on all three this month: the wines are good and so is the guy. James Sparks of Kings Carey is a local treasure and I want to shine a big ol’ spotlight on what he’s creating.

The ethos of James’ wine is clear: he helps the region tell its story, helps the grapes fulfill their destiny. It’s on the back label. It’s clear in the glass. He’s only just begun! 

🍾🍾🍾 Triplets! This is May at Satellite. 

 ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡

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