Exploring Palmina Winery in the Wine Ghetto of Lompoc California

In my travels I have often found that some of the best places were the hardest to find. Some of my favorite experiences turned up unexpectedly. And some of my favorite moments have happened serendipitously. That adage holds true in the case of Palmina Winery in tiny Lompoc, California. When I saw “Wine Ghetto” on the local winery map, I decided this I must see. After all, who would advertise a Wine Ghetto? In fact, what exactly is a Wine Ghetto?

Lompoc, located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Southern California, just north of Santa Barbara, is the westernmost town in a cluster of villages with names like Los Olivos and Solvang. The rolling Santa Rita Hills are surrounded by horse farms, majestic California Live Oak trees and enjoy a gentle Pacific Ocean breeze that grapes love.

I checked the map and headed west. Passing newly built wineries designed to emulate Tuscan castles. Passing newly planted vineyards. Passing the town’s Home Depot. Lost, I gave up and called the winery for directions. “Do you see the Home Depot?” the voice on the phone asked. “Look behind it and you’ll see a blue dumpster, then some warehouses. That’s where we are.” Really? There it was, just non-descript industrial buildings. Not a castle, nor a Tuscan villa. No 30-foot ceilings, no regal fireplace, no 40-foot mural painted by a famous artist, just an inviting tasting room with a rustic table covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth and filled with cheeses and salami. This unassuming winery is able to produce excellent Italian wines for half the price of the larger wineries by staying in an industrial setting. “95 cents a square foot,” the winery manager told me. Their wine is anything but industrial. It is creative, tasty, full flavored and rich. You can taste the winemaker’s passion.

I sat down and enjoyed their wines while learning about the owners Steve and Chrystal Clifton. Their focus is to craft Italian varietals expressly made to complement and enhance food, especially local foods. Their philosophy is that wines should be an extension of the plate. Palmina currently features Pinot Grigio, Tocai Friulano, Malvasia Bianca, Arneis, Traminer in their white wines. Their red wines are: Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Alisos, Savoia.

Tocai Friulano hails from the Friuli region of Italy. A relative of the Sauvignon Blanc, this grape has astounding aromas, beautiful balance and an elegant fruit profile. The description alone makes you want to taste it! “A subtle bouquet of almond blossom, delicate, fresh and inviting with hints of Fuji apple, spicy tangs of fennel and French tarragon and a ripe d’anjou pear.” This white wine pairs nicely with spicy, hearty or savory foods.

Arneis translates to “whimsical, rascally or a little bit crazy”. An ancient grape hailing from the Roero Hills of Italy’s Piemonte, it yields a robust wine full of flavor with an alluring floral bouquet and layers of flavor and texture. Good as an aperitif, but with enough body and personality to hold its own with a wide variety of food.

Dolcetto is what they call an easy-going table friendly, “pull the cork and have a glass of wine” red wine. What we would call approachable. Translating to “little sweet one”, the Clifton’s say this wine perhaps came by its Italian name originally due to the sweetness in this easy-drinking wine. The California version of this varietal is dry and bursting with flavor.

Savoia is a red wine that came into fruition as a result of a challenge from the Clifton’s Italian relatives. They were challenged with blending three varietals to create a wine that blended red and dark fruit flavors, acids and tannins from each grape into a complex and multi-layered wine. This Nebbiolo, Barbera and Syrah blend does not disappoint.

It’s fun to learn about Italian varietals from this winery. Italian wines are very approachable. Cabernet Sauvignons, and Zinfandels they’re not. Once we learn their names and enjoy their flavors, they become our friends. Here’s to good friends!