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Allison Levine, Please The Palate: Oceano Wines – Making a Splash on the SLO Coast

Rachel Martin, owner and vintner, Oceano Wines.

The San Luis Obispo coast sits south of Paso Robles and north of Santa Barbara. This pending AVA was first established in the 1870s, and today there are 30 member wineries who all average five miles from the coast. There is a total of 5,000 vineyard acres planted and 20 grape varieties grown, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir taking the lead.

Oceano Wines is the winery closest to the Pacific Ocean. Founded by Rachel Martin and her husband, Kurt Deutsch, in 2016, Oceano Wines is one of the newest wineries in the region. While they may be new to the West Coast, Martin has been in the wine industry for 15 years. She co-founded her family’s winery Boxwood in Middleburg, Virginia. After finding the 26-acre property in 2002, they planted vineyards in 2004, built a winery in 2005 and released their first vintage in 2006. Today, Boxwood Winery is a well-regarding Virginia winery producing 5,000 cases annually.

As the Boxwood Winery was being build, Martin prepared to run the family winery by studying enology at the University of Bordeaux and at Napa Valley College. In 2005, she became executive vice president of Boxwood Winery. She was also responsible for writing the Middleburg, Virginia AVA, which went into effect in 2012.

Martin always knew that she wanted to start her own business as she wanted to be able to create a brand from scratch and do it the way she wanted to do it. Being based on the East Coast, she had considered sourcing fruit from New York. But a happenstance introduction to the Spanish Springs Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County changed that.

Martin met her husband, a Grammy award-winning music and theater producer, in 2014. He told her about his dad’s friend who owned a vineyard, but she did not give this much thought because he knew nothing about wine at that time. But, in 2016, Henry Warshaw, the owner of Spanish Springs Vineyard, invited Marin to come to San Luis Obispo to see the vineyard. In April 2016, she flew to California and knew it was THE place when she saw it.

San Luis Obispo Coast is home to the longest growing season and the coldest growing region in California. Spanish Springs Vineyards, planted in 2007 and located just outside Pismo Beach, is arguably the closest vineyard to the ocean in the state. The vineyard is 1 1/2 miles from the Pacific Ocean and sits at an elevation of 200-400 feet above sea level. Sitting just below the fog line, a small mountain range separates this vineyard from the ocean. The soils of the vineyard consist of marine shale, limestone, sandstone and fossilized shells.

The proximity to the ocean, the soil combinations and the cool climate attracted Martin, and she knew that she could make the wine she dreamed of making, a wine with flavor, acidity and salinity.

In 2016, Martin contracted six tons of Chardonnay and hired Napa-based winemaker Marbue Marke to consult on the wines. They picked the grapes at 3:30 a.m. and trucked them in a refrigerated truck to Italic Wine Growers in Coombsville in Napa Valley where they custom crush the wine.

The couple got married in 2018, the same year they released their first wine, the Oceano Wines 2016 Chardonnay. There were 350 cases made that first year and 600 cases were made in 2017. In 2018, they added 230 cases of Pinot Noir and in 2019, they will produce 1,250 cases, their largest production so far.

Martin is focused on making wines that reflect the personality of the vineyard. The ocean breeze and sunshine definitely come through the wines, which exhibit brightness, freshness and elegance.

Oceano 2017 Chardonnay, Spanish Springs Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County ($38) – The Chardonnay is fermented in 100 percent French oak, 30 percent of which is new oak. The wine does not go through malolactic fermentation and spends 11 months in barrel. Aromas of green apple, melon, tangerine, lemon curd, honeysuckle and the ocean air jump out of the glass. On the palate, the wine is delicate with a saline finish.

Oceano 2018 Pinot Noir, Spanish Springs Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County ($45) – The Pinot Noir is fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak and puncheons for 9 months. Notes of bright red cherry, raspberry, red currant, pomegranate, rose petal and tobacco are matched with elegant tannins on the finish.

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Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA. Contact her at allison@pleasethepalate.com.

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