One of Jess Jackson’s purchases, occurring in 1986, was about 700 acres of the Tepusquet vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. The estate was the site of a Mexican land grant in 1838. Vines were planted here in 1970 and ’71 by the Lucas brothers, who sold to Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke after financial reverses. In 1989, Jackson built a large winery at Tepusquet and named it Cambria. The vineyard, as in most of the rest of Santa Maria Valley, was planted primarily to chardonnay and pinot noir. The wines were issued as “Katherine’s Vineyard” for chardonnay and “Julia’s Vineyard” for pinot noir, though the roster has expanded tremendously in the past few years. The website for the winery — the estate is run by Barbara Banke, Jess Jackson’s widow, and daughters Katie and Julia Jackson — lists five chardonnays and 11 pinot noirs for 2014 and ’15, as well as pinot gris, viognier, syrah and a rosé.

Today, we look at two pairs of wines, chardonnays and pinot noirs from designated areas of the Cambria estate. Winemaker for these wines was Denise Shurtleff. She remains as Cambria’s general manager, as Jill Delariva Russell takes the reins as winemaker. As you will see in the notes below, I was impressed by the pinot noirs and absolutely put off by the chardonnays. Why even go to the trouble to make limited edition wines when they turn out, like these chardonnays, to be not only similar in character but packed with qualities that strenuously detract from the nature of the grape?

These wines were samples for review.
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O.K., let’s get the chardonnays out of the way, because, frankly, I cared for them not one whit. The Cambria Fog Tide Chardonnay 2015 and Cambria West Point Chardonnay 2015, both Santa Maria Valley AVA, represented every aspect that I believe is wrong-headed about chardonnay in California. Though the oak regimen was mild and new oak was kept to a minimum, I found these wines unreasonably tropical and cloying with sweet ripeness and elements of buttery caramel and toffee, all smoky and toasty and unbalanced. Each costs $38 but I don’t recommend them.
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We’re on steadier ground with the pinot noirs, fashioned in a big-hearted, full-throated style that touches on many aspects of the grape. The Cambria “Element” Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, aged 11 months in French oak, 39 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby shading to a transparent magenta rim; it starts with notes of iodine and iron, spiced and macerated black cherries and raspberries, with hints of cranberry, pomegranate and sassafras; it emphasizes the dark, earthy and loamy character of the grape, though also its potential for a satiny, supple texture and succulent fruit; this is very dry, quite lively and spicy, and a few moments in the glass bring in touches of raspberry with slightly raspy and astringent raspberry skin and stem. 13.6 percent alcohol. Very pleasing in depth and complexity, for drinking through 2021 or ’22. Excellent. About $45.
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The Cambria “Mesa Terrace” Pinot Noir 2015, Santa Maria Valley, aged in a different direction, 10 months in French oak but with 62 percent new barrels. The color is a similar dark ruby shading to an invisible rim, but the focus here is on red fruit — cherries and currants — and a fuller exploitation of spice in the form of sandalwood, cloves and sassafras, with a smoky-beetroot background; it’s a dense and chewy pinot noir, not just satiny and succulent but close to opulent on the palate, though balanced by keen acidity and a scintillating flinty quality; the finish adds loam and forest floor. 14.2 percent alcohol. Again, a pinot noir that’s impressive for its detail and dimension. Now through 2021 to ’23. Excellent. About $45.
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