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Flying Goat Cellars

Santa Ynez Valley AVA

This whimsically-named Santa Ynez Valley winery is famous for their Pinot Noirs that have set hard-to-match standards for the past twenty years.

Yes, you read correctly, this month’s Pinot Noir Wine Club selection is from none other than Flying Goat Cellars. Let’s get to the name first, certainly a highlight name in any arena, anywhere.

First of all, the goats actually existed, named Never and Epernay. They were pygmy goats, bought by owner Norm Yost to help control his backyard blackberry vines and mow his lawn. They were the perpetrators of unrestrained spiral loops, flipper turns and straight-legged leaps that brought endless entertainment and enjoyment to anyone around. When it came time for Yost to name his new wine venture in 2000, the name Flying Goat Cellars seemed a perfect choice. Sadly, the goats passed away several years ago but were replaced by a chocolate lab named Cooper (named for the barrel makers in wine).

Flying Goat Cellars released its first Pinot Noirs in 2002 and was immediately heralded by numerous sources as seriously good. A bevy of accolades followed, and Flying Goat Cellars was suddenly a real player on the then-expanding Pinot Noir stage.

Winery owner and winemaker, Norm Yost puts it like this. “Pinot Noir is all about ‘place’. When grown with care and patience and treated well when it arrives at the winery, this grape will express a vineyard and region like no other varietal.”

Today, Flying Goat Cellars produces around 2500 cases that includes seven different Pinot Noirs. “We source from the finest vineyards in Santa Barbara County, informed Yost. “There are differences in the fruit from all the AVA’s in the county and I’m all about establishing the transparencies that make the terroirs so unique. It’s a challenging job, but it certainly has its rewards.”

Have Pinot Noirs changed during the past decade?

“Yes, probably so. For a while, everyone was interested in making the big, expressive, fruit forward wines that the general public seemed to enjoy. I think that has changed over the past five or six years. The Pinot Noir community has backed off a bit. Now, it seems we are looking for more refinement and style in our wines. There is less alcohol apparent in the newer releases. These changes allow us to explore the subtle differences available within the AVA’s themselves. Remember, I said the Pinot Noir is the most expressive varietal when it comes to terroir and this change in style proves my point,” concluded the veteran winemaker.

What about the general public’s appreciation of Pinot Noirs?

Yost responded, “I am of the opinion that the general public is still learning about Pinots. It’s all about subtlety, and that’s not so easy to define. The Pinotfiles of the world are still absorbing what they can about this grape and they have different ideas about what they feel and taste. When you throw in the different AVA’s and their divergent soils, you get a plethora of opinions and attitudes. I think it’s great for both the consumers and the vintners that the numbers (of Pinotfiles) appear to be growing.”

Almost 1,000 cases of sparkling Rosé (Yost calls these wines Goat Bubbles) are an integral part of the Flying Goat Cellars’ portfolio. “It looks like we will have to expand our production of the Rosé,” added Yost. “I can’t seem to make enough of it to meet the demand and that’s not a bad position to be in. It might be difficult to cut back on the Pinot Noir production, but we are still a small winery so I will wait and see what happens.”

Flying Goat Cellars is also part of the Lompoc Ghetto facility in Lompoc where it operates a tasting room along with several other wineries. This cumulative operation has been quite successful in its own right according to Norm Yost. All the winemaking chores are handled by Yost, a UC Davis graduate in Environmental Studies way back in 1981. Yost was also a college football player who worked in numerous capacities in both Napa Valley and Sonoma County as well as Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Western Australia’s Margaret River. He also taught winemaking at Allan Hancock College in nearby Santa Maria, California.

Flying Goat Cellars recently celebrated the completion of its twentieth harvest and Norm Yost put everything in prospective. “After all is said and done, it’s nice to be able to have a glass of fine wine with friends and family in much the same manner that it has been done for hundreds of years.”

It is with great pleasure we reintroduce our Pinot Noir Wine Club members to another marvelous release from Flying Goat Cellars. Please celebrate this enticing wine in the genial manner it was produced. Enjoy!

Map of the area

Never & Epernay - Original Flying Goats

Picture of Never & Epernay - Original Flying Goats

The two pygmy goats, Never and Epernay who inspired the winery name.

Norm Yost - Owner & Winemaker

Picture of Norm Yost - Owner & Winemaker

Winemaker Norm Yost graduated from UC Davis with a bachelors degree in environmental studies in 1981 and found his way into the wine industry somewhat by accident. Out of college, he took a temporary construction job at Napa's famed Silver Oak Winery, and he became fascinated by the wine scene. Not long after, Norm took an assistant winemaking position at Monticello Vineyards and began taking enology extension courses at UC Davis.

He then moved around to the Russian River Valley, and even moved to Australia for a harvest, before spending time in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. After a decade up north, Norm moved to Santa Barbara County, where he settled and became fixated on discovering the potential of the region. Now the being the owner, Norm enjoys the freedom to focus on his passion for making vineyard designated Pinot Noir and sparkling wine.