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A fine vintage for Costa de Oro

Winemaker Gary Burk justifiably raves about his 2008 results

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HEAVEN BY THE GLASS :  The Costa de Oro tasting room pours samples only by the glass, which really is a bargain on Fridays when great musicians appear at no cover charge. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • HEAVEN BY THE GLASS : The Costa de Oro tasting room pours samples only by the glass, which really is a bargain on Fridays when great musicians appear at no cover charge.
Winemaker Gary Burk recently told me his 2008 vintage wines are the best line-up of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs he’s made since he founded Costa de Oro in 1994. “The 2008 vintage is dynamite, one of the best years, across the board, that we’ve ever made,” Burk said proudly. That’s all it took to capture my attention. I met him at his Santa Maria tasting room to taste through his six new releases, and was quite impressed by the delicious line-up of 2008s, and ’09 Rosé. There’s something affordable here for every budget. 

We started the tasting with the Costa de Oro 2009 Pinot Noir Rosé, $17.99. It’s quite expressive with delicious strawberry, rose-petal, and citrusy flavors with nuances of watermelon. “We bring our Pinot Noir in multiple lots, and bleed off some juice from each fermenter within 24 hours,” Burk explained. “We use neutral barrels to ferment it, not allowing malolactic fermentation, to keep it citrusy. The barrel fermentation makes it a more serious wine.” Next was his delightful 2008 Estate Chardonnay, $25, aged in 25-percent new French Francois Frères barrels. “The idea is to have a marriage between the oak and the tropical fruit flavors of pineapple, lemon, lime, pear, apple, and dried pineapple,” Burk said. “It’s rich and round, ending on a lifted note of citrus.” Repeating that this is a dynamite Chardonnay vintage in Santa Maria Valley, Burk explained: “The long, cool, growing season allowed excellent ripeness and balance.” He makes the 2008 Chardonnay Reserva, $32, in a richer style with more depth, aging it in 50-percent new French oak. “The difference isn’t the vineyard, it’s the same Chardonnay. The reserva is aged in barrel longer, 16 months, which gives it the ultimate richness and tremendous length.”

Hardly surprising, the great growing season was excellent for Pinot Noir. “From day one the ‘08 estate Pinot, [$32], had lovely balance with layers of fruit and spice, all the components were there,” Burk recalled. “The 2008 Pinots are as good as anything we’ve ever done.” Over a two-and-a-half week period in September, he harvested 10 lots of Pinot, each destemmed, fermented, and aged separately so the individual components could be evaluated. Burk said if he loves lot two, it becomes part of the reserva.

“Pinot Noir is all about aromatics and texture. I’m trying to accomplish something stylistically, making a wine that’s sexy and pulls you in. Every glass will bring out more nuances and delicate layers, and have a completeness all the way through.” Like the Chards, the reserva Pinot, $50, spends more time aging in French oak, which provides greater aging potential.

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
I’ve enjoyed Burk’s wines since I first met him at Au Bon Climat/Qupe in Santa Maria Valley, at his first job in a winery. He started making Costa de Oro there in 1994. With his production increasing he left in 2002 to make his wines at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria. A Cal Poly graduate, Burk moved to Los Angeles, where he was a musician. His father, Ron Burk, is a commercial farmer in Santa Maria. He and his partner Bob Espinola founded Gold Coast Farms in 1978. In 1989, the partners decided the bluff, where soils were poor for growing vegetables, would be ideal for growing wine grapes. Purchasing grapevine cuttings from the highly regarded Sierra Madre Vineyard, they planted 12.5 acres each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Today, Gold Coast Vineyard has 10 acres of Chardonnay and 20 acres of Pinot Noir. Gary makes the most of his wines from the family vineyard, but purchases grapes from other quality growers. “We sell about one-and-a-half tons from Gold Coast Vineyard to Paul Lato and Bonaccorsi,” Burk explained, “but we need more fruit than we grow to make 6,500 cases annually.” 

In 2002, they grafted 2.5 acres of Chardonnay to Dijon Pinot Noir clones 115 and 777 in Gold Coast Vineyard. It’s a reserve level wine that Burk labels “Dijon Selection.” During a futures tasting in 2009 at the Wine Cask restaurant Santa Barbara, Wine Spectator critic James Laube rated it 91 – 94 points, citing its “wonderful freshness and purity of flavor.” Burk’s reservas are classic Burgundian in style; he describes the Dijon Pinot Noir, $60, as a modern style of California Pinot. Voluptuous and rich, this fabulous wine offers upfront, fresh fruit flavors of tangy cherries, plums, and fresh blackberries. It’s layered in flavors and spices that linger long on the palate. “All of our reservas and the Dijon Selection bottlings are hand-dipped in wax (sealing the cork),” Burk noted. “The idea is to say it’s an artisanal, hand-crafted wine. The other thing it says is that you’re going to pay a little more for this wine.”

- FIND IT HERE:  Costa de Oro - 1331 S. Nicholson - Santa Maria, 922-1468 - Open daily, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. -
  • FIND IT HERE: Costa de Oro
    1331 S. Nicholson
    Santa Maria, 922-1468
    Open daily, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The Costa de Oro tasting room is one of the few Central Coast wineries that is within full view of Highway 101, across the freeway from Costco off Stowell Road in Santa Maria. I told Burk I preferred meeting on a Friday because that’s when he brings in great local musicians. Not only that, there’s no cover charge. They offer wine strictly by the glass or the bottle, not by the taste, charging $7 for estate wines and $10 for the reservas. Those are bargain prices for the opportunity to hear the bands, which the multi-talented Burk often accompanies on his guitar, while tasting these excellent wines. Costa de Oro tasting room features live music every Friday evening from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.  There’s seating inside and outside within the covered patio that can accommodate large groups.

When you consider the prices of Pinot Noirs from Napa Valley or France, it makes you appreciate the fact local wineries are making ultra-premium wines without jacking up prices. Burk remembered what’s important about drinking wine: “At Au Bon Climat/Qupe, Jim (Clendenen) and Bob (Lindquist) would always take time at lunch to sit down with the staff and share a meal with wine. That’s really what it’s all about, sharing wine with other people.”

You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com

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