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Santa Barbara News Press

SCHAEFER ON WINE: The pause that refreshes: White wines from Palmina

These are exciting times for California wines made from traditional Italian grapes. Somewhere back in the last century, "Cal-Italians" was the collective name given to traditional Italian grapes grown in California. It was going to be the next big wine thing. Actually, no it wasn't.

Most of those vintners had an improper understanding of Italian varietals and how they translated to California. Vintner Steve Clifton of Palmina does not. He's trying to take those Italian grapes and reinterpret them, given the growing conditions and appropriate vineyard sites of Santa Barbara County. Actually, it's a California celebration of the wonderful lifestyle and attitude toward food, wine, friends and family that exist in Italy. You know, that la dolce vita.

It's been more than five years since I last visited him in his Lompoc ghetto facility, and the place was buzzing on a busy Friday afternoon. If anything, Mr. Clifton's wines are more finely focused on their respective flavors and textures now; he's excelled by honing in on just what these wines should taste like in California, while still coupled to their Italian origins. This week I survey the whites; next time, the reds....Read the entire article.

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Steve Clifton is highly regarded for his ability to turn out a wide range of excellent and true-to-type Italian varietal and blended wines from the New World, and this year's set of releases more than keeps up the pace. Clifton described his approach at Palmina as "one foot in Italy and the other in California, and an attempt to bring Italian understatement and balance to the powerful fruit that grows here." Large oak casks, most of them neutral, play a huge part in his winemaking routine. In addition to not imparting overt oakiness to the wines, the big barrels allow for slower fermentation and aging, with attendant later bottling, which he says means that "more complexity can be built into the wines."
Josh Raynolds, Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar - read the full article

Now that I have tasted the 2011s in all of California’s major appellations, it is looking increasingly likely Santa Barbara County will turn out to be the most successful region within the state in this much misunderstood and wrongly maligned vintage. Once again, I was deeply impressed and frankly inspired by the risk taking, entrepreneurial spirit of the younger generation of winemakers who are driving so many of the new projects that are taking off in Santa Barbara and the Central Coast as a whole.
Antonio Galloni, Vinous - read the full article

In discussing his pioneering role in working with Italian varieties, Steve Clifton says that he often feels like he's truly on his own. "If we have questions about pinot and chardonnay [in the case of Brewer-Clifton], there are dozens of colleagues we can turn to. With this set of varieties, I have to call Italy." Clifton told me that he also figured out a while ago that you can only go so far farming by the book, or by the numbers. "You ultimately have to work with what the vineyard is saying to you and that takes a lot of time."
Josh Raynolds, Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar - read the full article

Interestingly, Steve Clifton takes an entirely different approach with Palmina than he does at Brewer‐Clifton. Whereas the Brewer‐Clifton wines are much more technical and controlled in their precision, at Palmina, Clifton favors natural yeasts and follows a more hands‐off approach. Clifton is equally adept with both styles, something that says a lot about his natural talent. Nebbiolo is one the Palmina specialties.
Antonio Galloni, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate #202, August 2012 - read the full article

This pinot grigio is fuller-bodied than what might come from northeast Italy, but it’s lively, vivacious, balanced and properly refreshing.
12 Great American Wines, Wall Street Journal, August 2012 - read the full article

Tocai Friulano: It’s lean and bright, thanks to stainless steel fermentation, but gets added richness and texture from stirring the lees, or dead yeast cells. The Cliftons appreciates that it pairs well with artichokes and asparagus: Two foods that are notoriously unfriendly to wine. Palmina also make a skin-fermented version from the same grapes — a tradition in Friuli — called Subida, which is deeper, nuttier and more complex (they recommend pairing it with fish stew).
Courtney Humiston, 7x7.com, august 2012 - read the full article

The Wall Street Journal takes a trip to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto and the Palmina Tasting Room

Palmina makes incredible wines, probably the best in the world with Italian varieties outside Italy.
Christopher Miller, beverage director, Spago
Wine Spectator, December 2011 - read the full article

I can’t think of anyone who has done more to promote Italian varieties in California than Steve Clifton with his Palmina label. I admit I was intrigued with these offerings, and came away deeply impressed with most of what I tasted.
Antonio Galloni, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, August 2011 - read the full article

The Power of Palmina: Steve and Chrystal Clifton Make Italy Out of California
Chelsey Steinman, The Santa Barbara Independent, June 2011 - read the full article

one of the best, if not the best, sources for Italianate wines in the U.S.
Josh Raynolds, Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar - read the full article

Giving Pinot Grigio Another Go
Jay MacInerney , Wall Street Journal, August 2010 - read the full article

...no one in California (and probably in the New World) is doing what Steve Clifton has managed to do working with Italian varietals
Robert Parker, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, August 2010 - read the full article

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