Winemaker James Sparks, one of 10 children raised in a Mormon household in Idaho, radiates kindness and humor, making him very easy to like.
His Kings Carey wines — two grenaches and a rosé — display a similar grace and spirit and are luminescent on the palate.
I first met Sparks in Los Olivos when we worked next door to one another in Los Olivos — he at Dragonette Cellars’ tasting room, and I at Tercero Wines.
After a fashion, Sparks shifted from sales to the cellar, and it was during harvest 2013 that he became winemaker for Jeff and Nikki Nelson’s Liquid Farm, which at the time shared space with Dragonette in Buellton.
Since Liquid Farm is predominately chardonnay (only recently did it release two pinot noirs), Sparks knew the focus of his own label would need to be different, and he chose grenache.
“My focus is a single varietal, small production and wine that is expressive of a particular vineyard,” he said.
Grenache has rocketed to prominence from the “G” in GSM blends to a standout red reknowned for its essence of fresh strawberry and watermelon on the palate and food-friendly structure.
Sparks noted that his preference is grenache that is “both light and heavier” on the finish, as well as “a combination of both.”
He and his wife, wine and food publicist Anna Ferguson-Sparks, christened Kings Carey in honor of their hometowns: Carey, Idaho, for Sparks, and Kings Point, New York, for Sparks-Ferguson.
The first Kings Carey’s vintage was that of 2014, but the couple held off releasing both it and the 2015 until last spring so that Sparks could focus on Liquid Farm production and the relocation of that label from Buellton to Lompoc.
Both vintages spent about 16 months in barrel, Sparks said, and while the 2015 is very light, the 2014 is bigger, a “more typical” grenache. The grapes for both vintages hail from John Sebastiano Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills.
The grenaches retail for $29 each, and the rosé for $20, Sparks said. “I wanted to make wine that I could afford to drink myself,” he quipped.
Kings Carey’s case production is small and will remain so, since it’s only Sparks at the helm and Liquid Farm is still his day job.
The total number of cases of his 2016 Kings Carey Rosé was well under 100, he said. Therein lies the fine line small producers walk; a first vintage must be small enough to sell out yet large enough to fund the business and grow the name.
In order to make their label stand out, he and Sparks-Ferguson enlisted Hawk Krall, a Philadelphia-based illustrator and artist well respected for his food illustration. The artist’s work has been showcased in street murals, in clients’ homes and businesses, on posters and menus, and on packaging, according to the Kings Carey website.
During the harvest just past, Sparks broadened his scope to include Semillon grapes, which he brought in from Happy Canyon’s Vogelzang Vineyard. That wine will be released in 2018.
Sparks and Sparks-Ferguson reside in Solvang with their daughter, Bea, 2.
Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com