Mail Road Wines: Mt. Carmel Vineyard’s Contribution to the Thriving Santa Barbara Wine Scene

By Published On: January 29, 2023

The Santa Barbara Wine Scene is thriving, with Mail Road Wines at the forefront. The project began as a phone call between winemaker friends Matt Dees and Michael Palmer discussing the idea of making wine from Mt. Carmel Vineyard.

Mt. Carmel Vineyard. Credit: Mail Road Wines

Michael approached Ron Piazza, who hand-planted the vineyard in 1988, and received his endorsement. The project offers Matt the opportunity to craft high-quality wines reminiscent of the early days of Babcock and Brewer-Clifton, some of the best wines produced in the region to date.

Located in the epicenter of the Sta. Rita Hills, Mt. Carmel Vineyard is distinct from other sites due to its southern aspect that allows it to soak up the sun all year round, resulting in wines with profound and pure fruit at the forefront.  Additionally, the vineyard’s diatomaceous earth-based soils that drain well but offer a meager existence for the vines, contribute to the intensity and concentration of the wines.  Mail Road Wine’s success is attributed to the vision and dedication of the Piazza’s approach to farming the vineyard organically as well as the keen attention to detail.

Matt, a native of Kansas City, Missouri discovered his true calling as a winemaker through an unexpected journey.  As a soil science major, he planted a vineyard on the shores of Lake Champlain, igniting a passion for the nuances of tannin, acid, balance, structure and texture. This led him on a journey to learn from the best in the industry, traveling from New Zealand to the Napa Valley.

At Mail Road Wines, the winemaking process and philosophy is centered around showcasing the unique characteristics of the Mt. Carmel Vineyard. “From day one, we’ve approached the property as great listeners,” said Matt. “We’re not trying to emulate another wine from another region. We are trying to make a wine that properly showcases and sincerely communicates all of the details that make Mt. Carmel– such a unique spot on earth.”

The clonal material chosen for the vineyard, including a Wente clone of Chardonnay and the Sanford & Benedict selection of Pinot Noir, also play a unique role in the character of the wines.  Their Pinot Noir stands out for its seamless and silky black fruit and its elevated mouthwatering acidity. From a cellar perspective, they tend to destem most of the Pinot Noir and ferment at cooler temperatures with very few punchdowns for about 12-14 days. The wine is then aged in French oak barrels for 12 months and bottled early to capture that vibrancy.

Winemaker Matt Dees. Credit: Mail Road Wines

The Chardonnay produced by Mail Road Wines is truly a unique and special wine– a chameleon changing from the aromas to the palate to the finish. Despite its tremendous fruit definition, the wine is ultimately driven by a chalky electricity, giving it a lifted and alive quality that seems to vibrate in the glass. The clone, with its loose clusters, late ripening, and beautiful discrepancies as well as irregularities, plays a big part in the unique character of the wine– a true representation of Mt. Carmel Vineyard and its terroir.    

Food pairings are an integral part of Mail Road Wines. “I love trying to match local ingredients with our local wines– seems like they should go hand in hand,” said Matt.  He specifically focuses on pairing his Pinot Noir bottlings with local wild mushrooms or a risotto. For Chardonnay, he suggests salads with some bite, and seafood such as rock crab or oysters. The slight bitterness of the greens brings out different notes in the Chardonnay.

Santa Barbara Wine Country is thriving, with an abundance of top-notch producers and vineyards that are reaching their full potential. As the vineyards mature and winemakers continue to perfect their craft, the wines produced in the region will only get better.  The unique combination of southern California sunshine and the cool Pacific Ocean creates a distinct “refrigerated sunshine” flavor that can be found in all of the AVAs in the county. “I’m honored to be a part of this exciting and dedicated industry. My only wish for the future is that we see a little more Chardonnay in the mix,” said Matt.

The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives were provided for inclusion in the story. As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative and unbiased reporting.

Wine Recommendations

Mt. Carmel Vineyard. Credit: Mail Road Wines

2018 Mt. Carmel Vineyard Pinot Noir- a seductive wine that exudes profound violet aromas, alongside a harmonious interplay of raspberry and bright cherry flavors, with subtle hints of pepper. The wine boasts a complex structure, with a velvety texture, and a smooth lingering finish. A truly exceptional offering.

2019 Mt. Carmel Vineyard Chardonnay- a harmonious blend of apple, honey, and lemon on the palate, with impeccable acidity and fruit balance. The touch of earth on the finish is a testament to the wine’s sense of place.

2018 Mt. Carmel Vineyard ‘The Sparkler’- a true embodiment of sparkling wine elegance, with its delicate bouquet of light floral aromatics, coupled with a harmonious balance of citrus flavors on the palate, culminating in a refreshing minerality and bright acidity that make for a truly refined and sophisticated drinking experience.


About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : .