Rachel Martin, who co-founded Oceano Wine in San Luis Obispo with her husband, Kurt Deutsch, can truly be described as bi-coastal. Before Oceano, she worked with her step-father, John Kent Cooke to establish Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, VA and also spearheaded an arduous effort to establish the certified Middleburg Virginia appellation.
After completing a fine arts degree, Rachel became determined to professionally pursue her passion for wine and completed another degree in viticulture from Napa Valley College before attending the esteemed Sensory Evaluation program at the University of Bordeaux School of Enology. It positioned her to help lead the emergence, with her family, of the Virginia winery that focused on Bordeaux varietals.
Oceano co-founder Kurt Deutsch, seeking to broaden the audience for Original Broadway cast performers, established his career by starting two record companies. Their releases have won four Grammy Awards with recordings that include The Book of Mormon, In the Heights and Beautiful, the Carole King musical. Rachel and Kurt actually met at the Middleburg Film Festival after they were seated across from each other at a dinner prior to the screening of one of his movie productions, “The Last Five Years” with Anna Kendrick. The chance meeting became a romance and they were later married.
Fast forward a few years when Rachel was introduced to Henry Warshaw, a neighbor of Kurt’s father who happens to own the 96-acre Spanish Springs Vineyard near the coast in San Luis Obispo. In spite of her East Coast roots, the calling to become a California winemaker surfaced and began to unfold. In 2016, the couple, who still reside in New York City, secured access to great chardonnay and pinot noir grapes and Oceano Wines was established.
Spanish Springs, a true coastal SIP certified (Sustainability in Practice) vineyard, is the sole source of fruit for Oceano’s chardonnay (10 tons) and pinot noir (6 tons) releases. It is located less than two miles from the beach and has the combination of cool, foggy mornings, warm afternoons and evenings with cooling coastal breezes, perfect climate for chardonnay and pinot noir.
For years, unique vineyards in this region have fallen under the expansive Central Coast appellation. Today, with the full intent of creating a new SLO Coast Wine appellation, local wineries have banded together in a strong marketing effort to increase consumer awareness. Rachel Martin and the Spanish Springs Vineyards are a major part of that process.
Oceano added the experience and expertise of California winemaker Marbue Marke to mentor the team. Rachels admits that he often tempers her enthusiasm with a dose of reality that ultimately helps to achieve the goal of making wines that she enjoys drinking. Mr. Marke, a native of Sierra-Leone in West Africa, abandoned plans for medical school to pursue an enology degree from the University of California, Davis. After graduation, he added a MBA from Sonoma State University and before joining the Oceano team, developed an impressive resume at several wineries in the Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
Carrying on the complex operations, Rachel travels from New York to oversee the night harvest of the coastal San Luis Obispo grapes that are, in turn, transported in refrigerated trucks to the Napa Valley and vinified by Marbue at a custom crush facility. Their current limited production totals 630 cases of chardonnay and 230 cases of pinot noir.
Barrel-fermented in all French oak, 33% new, the unique 2016 Oceano Chardonnay ($38) displays an aromatic bouquet dominated by citrus and orange peel notes. On the palate, the wine has a complex and flinty flavor profile of stone fruits, melon and grapefruit. While tasting together, Rachel identified additional hints of white flowers and ginger.
Composed of Swan and 115 clones, the 2018 Oceano Pinot Noir ($45) has a savory quality with salty characteristics that add to the forward flavors of cherry, raspberry and cranberry. Rachels seeks a tension in the wine that exposes its origin as ocean fruit. In a crowded market of California pinot noir, this wine, at its current retail price, is a good value.
Ironically, most of the Oceano Wines are distributed in New York, New Jersey, Florida and Michigan. They plan to expand production to 11,000 cases in 2019 and 15,000 cases by 2020 that will increase supply in California. In addition, their first albariño release is expected in 2021.
I enjoy chardonnay and pinot noir and have sampled many California and Oregon releases. Oceano Wines have the unique qualities and flavor profile to earn a spot on my table.