When you pick up a bottle of Gaeta Santa Barbara Vin Gris—a high-end rosé bearing the name of a prominent Boston sommelier — you might assume that it comes with a lofty backstory. But its origins are refreshingly down to earth. The wine was dreamed up over beer and Fenway Franks.
“I became enamored of the wines of Santa Barbara years ago, when I was a young sommelier,” says Charlie Gaeta, beverage director at Tiffani Faison’s Big Heart Hospitality. After working the 2016 harvest at Domaine de la Côte, a collection of prestigious vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, Gaeta was positively smitten. “I saw the amazing potential — and the amazing people — of [the Santa Barbara] region to grow so many different varieties at a really high level,” he recalls. The idea of a gastronomic style of wine, inspired by Provence’s Bandol appellation, began to take shape. Still, the Lynn native wondered whether an eponymous label would ever come to fruition.
Then last summer, Gaeta welcomed to town Eric Railsback of Railsback Frères, based in northern Santa Barbara County. The winemaker had come to Boston to serve as guest sommelier at one of the Big Heart Hospitality restaurants. Later that week, in the stands of Fenway Park at a Red Sox game, the two decided to collaborate on a new wine label. Soon after, Eric’s brother, Lyle, an accomplished artist as well as winemaker, painted a piece for the inaugural bottle, inspired by a favorite artist, Cy Twombly. The American abstract expressionist, it so happens, had lived and worked for a time in Gaeta, Italy. So that label art does double duty: it celebrates the trio’s budding collaboration as well as the beverage director’s ancestral roots.
Sourcing organically grown mourvedre, grenache noir, and cinsault for the Vin Gris was straightforward, given the brothers’ connections. “Eric and Lyle have some really great roots in Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez,” Gaeta explains. “They’ve pinpointed over the years the best growers as far as farming practices.”
The term “vin gris” usually indicates a pink wine that is taken through more steps than your garden variety rosé. That’s true for this wine. Grapes are picked on the early side, pressed directly, and the juice spends no time macerating with grape skins. Malolactic fermentation influences texture, and brief time in barrel promotes age-worthiness. Only about 4,000 bottles were crafted in total, so it’s small-batch in the truest sense.
Gaeta seems rather incredulous that his wine is out in the world. He kept one of the bottles that contained a barrel sample from an early stage of the winemaking process. The pandemic prevented him from flying to California to taste the developing wine in person; so samples — carefully shipped across the miles — proved to be essential.
Also essential is his boss’s blessing. “I have to give all of the thanks — so much gratitude — to chef Tiffani,” he says, delighted that Faison gave him the green light to pursue his own project. “It’s something we’ve agreed would be good for everyone.”
Gaeta Santa Barbara Vin Gris 2021 This subtly hued wine possesses true gravitas. It’s reserved at first on the nose, then blooms to express waterfall-on-rocks freshness and just-ripe red berries. On the palate, refined acidity carries the flavors of peach skin tinged with salt. 11.9 percent ABV. Distributed by M.S. Walker / Boston Wine Co. Available by the glass at the following Big Heart Hospitality restaurants: Bubble Bath and Dive Bar (both at High Street Place Food Hall) as well as Sweet Cheeks Q and Fool’s Errand (both near Fenway Park). Also available retail for around $30 at The Wine Press, Fenway, 857-233-4872, and Lucille Wine Shop & Tasting Room, Lynn, 781-584-4695.
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