To understand the wines made by The Hilt, one might need to come visit the hard and harsh conditions under which they are born. The unobstructed, ocean facing east-west valley known as Sta. Rita Hills Valley is a complex AVA. One could divide it into four quadrants: northern-facing, southern-facing, close to the ocean, and further inland from the ocean. With such a frame, The Hilt’s favorite vineyards are in the northern-facing, closest to the ocean, windswept quadrant. These sites are the worst place for a grape grower, but the best ones for a winemaker.
Rancho Salsipuedes, where The Hilt wines make their home, provides vineyards planted on land nearly 13 unobstructed miles from the ocean on the west. This unique, large and sprawling property offers a range of altitudes, aspects, soil types, and microclimates, giving winemaker Matt Dees a patchwork of vineyard parcels from which to select grapes and create wines with distinctive styles.
Diverse though it may be, Salsipuedes possesses some aspects that remain consistent: the land has poor soils that force vines to dig deep; there are powerful, whipping winds and a cold maritime climate that allow grapes on the property to ripen slowly and retain acidity despite the warm daytime sun; and the vines on the property are low in vigor, allowing them to produce low yields of concentrated, complex grapes. It is with these three important components – poor soils, whipping winds and a cool maritime climate along with low vigor vines – that Salsipuedes defines itself in the Sta. Rita Hills.
There are three things critical to the understanding of transparent varieties such as chardonnay and pinot noir: an understanding of terroir (dirt/climate foremost among them), an attuned sense of stylistic intention and deft touch in the cellar.
Armed with a degree in Soil Science from the University of Vermont, The Hilt's winemaker, Matt Dees' approach is grounded in the vineyard first and foremost. His attention to the subtle differences found between chardonnay and pinot noir due to clonal selections and site informs the sides of The Hilt's philosophy. And last but not least, Matt's fine hand with the wines in the cellar allows the precise expression of both Old Guard characteristics and Vanguard elements to emerge.
When Matt's not exploring this duality in chardonnay and pinot noir, he can be found making the wines for its sister winery—Jonata.