Day 9 of the 12 Days of Wine with Beckham Estate AD “Creta” Pinot Noir & bacon wrapped dates

Chehalem Mountains AVA from Beckham Vineyards

Andrew Beckham has merged his two loves, ceramics and wine.  The bottle for this wine lists it as “Creta A.D. Beckham MMXVI Amphora Pinot Noir”.  This wine was made in a terra cotta vessel.  A vessel made right here in his studio on the vineyard. 

There is a long story to go with this.  A beautiful and very real story, patiently told to me by Andrew’s wife Annedria, when we visited them at the Beckham Estate Vineyard this summer.  That story will have to wait for another day.  Soon, I promise.  Today,  we are going to talk about this wine.

A.D. Beckham 2016 “Creta” Amphora Pinot Noir

Ad Beckham 2016 Amphora Pinot Noir
A.D. Beckham 2016 “Creta” Amphora Pinot Noir

“Creta”  is latin for clay and this wine was fermented and aged in terra cotta and bottled un-fined, un-filtered.

From Beckham Estate Vineyard http://beckhamestatevineyard.orderport.net/product-details/0076/2016-AD-Beckham-Creta-Pinot-Noir
Beckham Vineyard the view from the tasting room
Beckham Vineyard the view from the tasting room

The vineyard and winery sit in the Chehalem Mountain AVA on Parrett Mountain, where the vineyard elevation lands at 412 to 568 feet.  Soils here are Jory and Saum. This wine, of which there were only 100 cases made, is unfined and unfiltered, and if you want to get all geeky, the Pinot clones are Pommard, Wädenswil, and Dijon 115 and 777.  This is 30% whole cluster.

Beckham Vineyard, The view West
Beckham Vineyard, The view West from Parrett Mountain

What to pair?

Annedria Beckham got back to me with a beautiful recipe that she had just paired with the Creta Amphora Pinot Noir.

Hello Robin,

As we just had our 3 pigs butchered we have a wealth of pork in our freezer. I made this recipe the other evening and it went beautifully with the AD Beckham Creta Pinot noir’s  bright cherry and cranberry notes. You could substitute duck breast for the pork for an equally delicious meal.
 
Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Cherry-Thyme Pan Sauce
modified from Epicurious
INGREDIENTS
·         1 teaspoon ground coriander
·         Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
·         2 pork tenderloins (about 2 pounds total)
·         2 tablespoons olive oil
·         1 large shallot, thinly sliced 1/4 cup
·         10 sprigs thyme
·         1 1/4 cups dry red wine
·         1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
·         1 tablespoon sugar
·         1 (10-ounce) package frozen dark sweet cherries, thawed, halved (about 2 cups)
·         1-2 tablespoon cold unsalted butter 
PREPARATION
1.       Combine coriander, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a small bowl. Rub pork with spice mixture.
2.       Heat oil in a 12″ heavy skillet over medium-high until hot but not smoking. Reduce heat to medium and cook pork, turning occasionally, until meat is browned on all sides and an instant-read thermometer inserted diagonally into the center of each tenderloin registers 145°F, 20–25 minutes. Transfer pork with tongs to a cutting board (do not wipe out skillet) and let stand 10 minutes.
3.       Meanwhile, cook shallot and thyme in skillet, stirring, until softened and lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add wine, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to simmer and cook, scraping up any browned bits and stirring frequently, until liquid is reduced by about half and shallots are tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in cherries, any accumulated juices, and 3/4 tsp. salt and cook 1 minute. Remove from heat, add butter, and swirl skillet to combine. Pluck out thyme sprigs,  taste, then season with salt and pepper as needed. Slice pork and serve with sauce.
Cheers!

Annedria Beckham of Beckham Estate Vineyard

This recipe had my mouth watering. Sadly, this was a late night pairing and the recipe arrived too late for us to gather all the ingredients.  I look forward to them releasing the 2017 Creta Pinot, so I can get a bottle and try it with this amazing recipe. The cherries, the balsamic, the thyme, the pork…all would be perfect with this wine. And actually, Annedria’s suggestion of duck, is really what I may try! But for tonight, we will have to do without.

Michael made do with gourmet sliders and bacon wrapped dates waiting to pair with this wine.  Michael wrapped the dates in a maple bacon, so we had that sweet and savory combo and found that it went brilliantly with the wine.  With the sliders, I have to admit, I slathered one bun with lobster pate and the other with tomato marmalade, the sweet, the savory, the rich…all played perfectly against this wine

Beckham 2016 Creta Amphora Pinot Noir
Beckham 2016 Creta Amphora Pinot Noir

The Wine

So what does it mean to the wine to have the wine fermented and aged in clay rather than wood? 

Maybe it was just my brain making the association, but I felt like I could smell the clay on this wine.  On the nose, it starts with baking spices and deep red fruit (that is the cherry and cranberry Annedria mentioned).  It is medium bodied, but flavorful, so it feels bigger in your mouth.  The tannins are smooth, but lively and long lasting.  As it opened up I got more mocha/cocoa on the nose, and it felt darker in my mouth and more savory.  Later as I tasted I got wilted rose petals and a little salinity.  Going back to the clay, the nose always hit me as very fine particles (like clay and cocoa powder), which gave the wine a smoothness that I found really appealing.

I was really enchanted by this wine.

Need some?

I will apologize for taunting you with this beautiful wine.  This vintage is sold out.  But…new vintages lay ahead ( I think they are bottling the 2017 Estate Pinot Noirs currently) and you can purchase their wines from their site.

Want to Visit?

The entrance to Beckham Vineyards from SW Heater Road
The entrance to Beckham Vineyards from SW Heater Road

They are typically open Fridays and Saturdays from 11-5. They are closed from December 17th, 2018 -February 1st, 2019 except by appointment. (So schedule an appointment or plan your trip after Feb 1st)

To schedule an appointment email them at [email protected]

Want more?  Click through to all of our 12 Days of Wine posts!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.


Deven Morganstern is making a Joyful Noise

Joyfull Noise

Joyful Noise…it’s the sound of family and friends coming to table, chairs being pulled up or maybe milk crates, scuffling with a cacaphony of conversation, squeels of children being hoisted up onto seats, clanking of dishes as they are passed, the clinking of glasses and laughter.  That is the inspiration for the name of this winery.

“Deven grew up in a large family in one of those places that there was always another chair, whether it was an upside down milk carton type of thing or something they always figured out another chair at the table and it’s that happy chaos Joyful Noise.”  Calli

We had the opportunity to meet Deven & Calli of Joyful Noise at the Uncommon Wine Festival held at Vista Hill Vineyards in July. This great festival features smaller wine producers and is the place to catch up and coming labels in Oregon.

 

Deven & Calli with Joyful Noise

Deven & Calli with Joyful Noise

The Journey to Wine Making

Deven says he lucked into wine when he went to school in Eugene and started tasting wines at King Estate.

“right around harvest in 2011 I was looking for something new to do, and everyone I asked for a list of who I should go talk to and who should I try to go work for Rob & Maria Stuart were always on that list.  So I was lucky enough to hop in for harvest worked a couple weeks and decided that’s what I wanted to be.  Got to bounce around a little bit and see some other styles, but as soon as a job at R. Stuarts came back open, I went straight there.” Deven

A Joyful Noise

A Joyfull Noise

2015 Joyful Noise Lazy River Pinot Noir

Joyful Noise currently makes just one wine and the 2015 Lazy River Pinot Noir that we were tasting was their second vintage.  They make one ton of Pinot Noir from Lazy River vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA.  The Vineyard is owned by Ned and Kirsten Lumpkin. (These look like really fun folks, go ahead, visit their website, https://lazyrivervineyard.com/about-us/)

The part of the vineyard that these grapes are growing in is between 450 and 500 feet in elevation.

“This happens to be 100% Wadenswil on 101/14, high elevation of Lazy River, so it’s kind of right at the crest of the hill.  A little band of Jory soil actually goes through vineyard, so not common for Yamhill but part of the makeup.  So really shallow soil, really really dark dark fruit, coming out of the press it almost looks like Syrah it is almost black.  So big big tannins, we try to soften those up a little bit, so de-stemmed into a 1 ton fermenter and punch down a couple times a day.  Wild yeast starts so we make Pied de Cuve* (see explanation at the bottom) at the beginning of the year from vineyard samples.  If we like the fermentation and how it is starting we will pitch that into the fermenter and let it go with that.” Deven

Deven spends his days working for Rob & Maria Stuart of R. Stuart & Co. in McMinnville, and he makes this wine there.  In addition to the Pied de Cuve they also have a cultured yeast strain from R. Stuart & Co.  Four or 5 years ago, they had a wild fermentation that they really liked.  They send it out to a lab in Hood River who broke down the yeast strains into the 3 dominant ones and now yearly cultivate this yeast for them.

“Part way through the fermentation we will délestage the wine so it’s kind of like a rack and return to get some of the seeds out.  We like the tannin but we want the skin tannin more than the seed tannin.  So about 7 brix those seeds start falling out to the bottom so we can basically use like a 3 inch hose almost like a vacuum to pull them off the bottom of the fermenter take the juice away let the juice cool down and put it back.  And then it ages in two neutral French oak barrels and one new French oak barrel.  So 33% new.” Deven

When it comes to barrels, Deven is pretty specific on what he ages his wine in.  The barrels are from Tonnellerie Claude Gillet.  These barrels have a softer tone, so instead of vanilla and bourbon you get more cinnamon and baking spice.  Plus it’s a small family cooper, with people he really likes.  You can see their process on their site at tonnellerie-gillet.com http://www.tonnellerie-gillet.com/our-tradition/index.html

The Lumpkins at Lazy River are getting ready to plant Chardonnay up behind the block of Pinot that Devon pulls from and have pulled out the fir trees that were there last year.   So future vintages will be influenced by a little more breeze and a little more warmth.  It will be interesting to see how the effects on the wine.

When asked what the most important thing about his wine is to him..

“That people have fun and enjoy it. It’s supposed to be drank with friends, have it on the table somewhere, have a dinner party, If it needs to be the excuse for fun and people over than that’s what it should be”

 

Pied de Cuve* (the explanation)

“Basically we take Vineyard samples (clusters of grapes used to test sugar and acid prior to picking) keep them outside the Winery, and allow them to start fermenting.  If we like what we see, that is what gets pitched into the destemmed fruit to start the fermentation.”

Where can you find Joyful Noise?

You can find their wine online on their website https://www.joyfulnoisewine.com/ and they also have a mailing list.

If you happen into Tina’s in Dundee, you will find it on the bottle list.

Michael and Dawn Stiller and Dwight and Karen McFaddin own and run this classic Dundee restaurant that opened as the first fine dining in the area in 1991. We ate here with friends on our first trip to the area.

And then the Valley Commissary carries two kegs of this wine on tap each year.

Jesse Kincheloe is the chef/owner of Valley Commissary, which is a little lunch and catering spot right in the middle of the granary district parking lot in McMinnville. He grew up in Healdsburg in Sonoma.  They serve Lunch and Brunch leaving nights free for time with family.

And you can follow them on facebook, twitter and instagram.

You can also read our piece on the Uncommon Wine Festival, with our interview with Dave Pettersen the Winemaker and CEO of Vista Hills who founded the event, and check out other interviews we did at the festival with Ryan Pickens of Esther Glen Farm and Winery , Ariel Eberle of A Cheerful Note Cellars , Jim Fischer and Jenny Mosbacher of Fossil & Fawn, and Alex Neely of Libertine Wines  We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with all of the winemakers from this event, as well as details and visits with wineries in each of the Willamette Valley AVAs.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And if you want to dive into details on the Willamette Valley, you can read our recent post Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer

 

Jim & Jenny – Fossil and Fawn at Uncommon Wine Festival

Fossil & Farm Jim & Jenny

Jim Fischer II and Jenny Mosbacher of Fossil & Fawn

These two…they finish each others sentences.  Case in point

Jim & Jenny

This is our 2017 White wine blend (they say in almost stereo)

Jenny

our field blend of 6 different grapes from 3 different vineyards

Patron

Wow that was really in sync!

Jim

I’m like, wait, do we really both need to say this in stereo, it’s too weird.

Jenny

Ummm..

Jim

You go, you go

Jenny

No you

Jim

No, no no

Jenny

No you

Patron

It would be better if you went back and forth

Jim

Oh my gosh

Jenny

Well that’s kinda how it goes

Jim

You take the first line of the script…

LOL!  They are a team and they bounce comments and ideas off each other in rapid fire.  As entertaining as they are…they also are making some “stand up and take notice” wines.  Wine Enthusiast just put them in the 40 Under 40 lineup.  Check out their photo from the Wine Enthusiast Photo Shoot, it really sums them up.

Fossil & Fawn – the origin story

A little background on Fossil & Fawn.  Jim grew up on a vineyard in the Eola Hills, that would be the vineyard he and his father manage together to this day, Silvershot Vineyard.  Jim’s father, Jim Fischer Sr. and his brother Bill started a nursery in 1999 with cuttings from neighboring vineyards, they planted in 2000.  They originally named the vineyard Crowley Station Vineyards for the historic railroad station at the foot of Holmes Hill, but renamed in 2016 for the family horse who had roamed the vineyard before the vines were planted.  The vineyard soil, is old ocean floor littered with fossils which is the “Fossil” part of the name.  The fawn part comes from the deer who roam the oak savanna that surround the property.

Jim speaks of his father as always needing a project. When Jim was a child it was roses.

“in the summertime it was my job to take care of the roses.  He had 100 rose plants.  And so I’d have to go outside and dead head 100 different rose bushes all summer long, so if I never have a rose again I’m happy, it’s okay with me.”

“That being said, now we just replaced 100 roses with 1000 grape vines.  So it’s a different thing.”

They started making wine in 2011.  The idea was a vineyard specific wine from the family vineyard, to show to potential fruit buyers. Soon they figured they might as well make it an official label and then it had a life of it’s own.  They culture yeast from the vineyard and make wines with as little input as possible.  This is not to make a big stand for natural wines, it’s just because this makes wines they like to drink.

The Wines

So with a table lined with people bearing empty glasses at the Uncommon Wine Festival held at Vista Hills Vineyard back in July, they began to pour and dive into their “Uncommon Wines”.

Kooky Varieties

Kooky Varieties

Fossil and Fawn 2017 White Wine Blend

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon White WIne (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon White WIne (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

The first wine was their 2017 White Wine Blend.  As Jenny mentioned above, it is a field blend of 6 different grapes from 3 different vineyards.  Jim calls it their nod to a style of wine from Austria, specifically Vienna called Germischter Satz.

Jim

So this is predominantly from one vineyard here where they have what I would call a bunch of kooky varieties, very uncommon white wine varieties, for example…

Jenny

A very technical term…(Kooky)

Jim

For example, in the Willamette Valley to my knowledge there are 14 plants of Kerner, which is a German grape and that makes up 3% of that wine.  All 14 plants of Kerner are in there.  And so there is a collection of unusual things, Also a collection of not so unusual things. 50% is Riesling which is fermented in an egg shape vessel.  And the next is 20% Savagnin Rose, which is a relative to Gewürztraminer.

Jenny

Which is also in there

Jim

Which, Gewürztraminer is in there at 15%.  It is 6% Fruilano, 6% Melon de Bourgogne and 3% Kerner, those 14 plants.  So the Riesling as I mentioned is fermented in egg the other 50% was fermented on it’s skins for about 4 days and we pressed off and then it went into a mix of Acacia wood barrels and French oak barrels, totally unfiltered native yeast fermented, we use that yeast that exists naturally on the skins of the grapes to carry out the fermentation.  We wanted to make something that was dry but rich and textural but aromatic, something kind of fun, food friendly, very summery.

This wine on their website, they give they name “aka Gewürvigtocloninger”.  It comes from 3 vineyards, from 3 different areas of the Willamette Valley.  This was the first wine that they sourced from outside their home vineyard at Silvershot. On a map these three vineyards form a triangle of sorts with 30 to 40 mile drives between them, so they span a pretty large area. Beckenridge Vineyard is located just outside Dallas, Hanson is east of Gervais and Omero is outside Newburg in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Beckenridge is probably best known for Weddings. In fact when you visit their site, that is all that you find.  But…that beautiful venue is surrounded by vines and they do actually produce grapes, which would be the Gewürztraminer in this blend.  At Hanson they are cultivating an eccentric bunch of grapes.  In addition to Pinots Noir, Gris and Blanc, they have Gamay, Auxerrois, Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, yeah, yeah you say, so exotic, but wait there’s more, they are also cultivating Marechal Foch, Leon Millot and Golubok!  10 points for any of those varieties you are familiar with!  They provide the Riesling for the blend.  The Omero vineyard in Ribbon Ridge provides the remaining oddities, the Savagnin Rose, Fruilano, Melon de Bourgogne and Kerner.

They produced 110 cases of the White Blend and the suggested retail price is $20.  Yep, you read that right…$20.  I happily own a bottle.  Some day later this year you will get a pairing note.  I will say that his description is on the nose, summery is the perfect description.

2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon Rose (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Oregon Rose (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

The Rosé is 1005 Pinot Noir and comes from a small portion of the vineyard that was planted in 2003.

” It specifically comes from one small portion of the vineyard that my friend Greg helped us plant back in 2003.  Greg loved cats.  He unfortunately passed away a few years ago, so it’s a bit of a tip of the hat to Greg being that this is the first wine that came from just that one portion of the vineyard.  We put some kitties on the label as a little thank you for Greg for helping us out with it. And like the white wine, native yeast fermented in barrel.  This is a very different style of rosé than others that you might try.  This a little bit richer a little bit fuller. There’s this little kind of very very slight bit of effervescence to it.  It is very rocky and chalky and mineraly, that I attribute to growing into this very very harsh material.”

These vines are own rooted Pommard and Dijon 777.  On their site they talk about picking the fruit on a perfect autumn day — cool and damp in the morning with sun slowly burning off the clouds. ”  (how glorious is that)? They destemmed and soaked the grapes on skins for 24 hours then gently pressed, racked into neutral oak and fermented with native yeast.  Malolactic fermentation completed in the barrel, so this wine has a richer mouth feel.  They just made 89 cases of the Rosé.  And again…it retails at $20.  You can watch for a future pairing with this wine also.

 

2017 Do Nothing

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Do Nothing Mondeuse Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Fossil & Fawn 2017 Do Nothing Mondeuse Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

Do Nothing started in 2016, the idea being that they would be as hands off as possible.  The 2017 is 100% Mondeuse Noir from the Omero Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA.

“I mentioned native yeast and lack of filtration? This is the apex of that very hands off approach.

This is a nod to the very traditional way wine has been made for eons, specifically in places like Georgia.  The country, not the state.”

They believe this is the first time Mondeuse has been released as a single variety in the Willamette Valley.  The grape itself is native to the Savoie in France.

“we call this “Do Nothing” because the fruit we pick full cluster stem on the whole bunch, throw it into a bin, seal it, put on the lid, seal it, and then walk away.  We don’t do any punch downs we don’t even check on the fruit, we don’t look at it for 3 weeks.  At the end of 3 weeks we take off the lid dig out the fruit with a shovel into the press and then squeeze it.  The juice comes out, we take that juice, it goes into mix of older Oregon and French oak barrels where it ferments very slowly.  So at that point our cellar is probably the high 40’s temperature wise, so it ferments over the next 5 months, in our very cool cellar.  And then we bottle it without any filtration or fining and this is designed to answer that riddle of “what do you do when it’s warm out and you want a chilled red wine?  Well this is a red wine that is designed to be chilled.  So very low alcohol it’s 11% alcohol, it’s tannic so it has some nice structure to it, it’s a great food wine it’s just really something super totally different.”

So that 3 weeks that it sits on the skins is called “carbonic maceration”.  You might have heard of this with the wines of Beaujolais.  This kind of fermentation starts without the yeast, inside each grape, then the grapes burst and they yeast takes over for the remaining fermentation.  Now typically the maceration process short, this is an extended maceration…I’m getting really geeky…if you are interested in this fascinating subject there is a great article on VinePair you should check out.

The Do Nothing they kindly made a bit more of, with 215 cases.  It’s still incredibly $20 a bottle, that is, while it lasts.

 

2017 Pinot Noir

2016 Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

2016 Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir (photo courtesy of Fossil & Fawn)

 

This is their flagship wine.  In 2011 they produced just 2 barrels and now 8 years in they make 191 cases.  The wine comes from Silvershot Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, the vineyard that Jim grew up on.  This is own-rooted Pommard, Dijon 114 & 115, Espiguette 374 as well as some mystery clones.  This is a mix of their Pinot parcels.  70% of the fruit is destemmed and then fermented in open top fermenters.  The rest is whole cluster fermented.  They ferment with the pied-du-cuve of wild yeast from the vineyard.  Since they do not yet have their own winery, they make their wine at a shared facility in a tricked out 100 year old barn.  This wine does contain a little Chardonnay from 30 plants that were mistakenly planted in with the Pinot.  They co-ferment, and did some foot stomping until fermentation was complete. They barreled in neutral French Oak for 9 months.  It is unfiltered and unfined.

This wine was made to honor the work that Jim’s dad does in the vineyard.  This was the start.

They made 191 cases their Pinot Noir this year and it will set you back $30 a bottle.

They also do a Pinot Gris that is from Silvershot.  Sadly they were not tasting it on this day.  That wine is an orange wine, (a white wine made in the style of a red wine).  Follow the link and read about it.  I would be tempted to order a bottle, but…they do not, as yet, sell online.  But you can find them locally in Oregon! And there are a few distributors carrying them in their portfolios.  If you are going to get some, I suggest you do it fast.  I expect that they will be selling out quickly.

You can also read our piece on the Uncommon Wine Festival, with our interview with Dave Pettersen the Winemaker and CEO of Vista Hills who founded the event, and check out other interviews we did at the festival with Ryan Pickens of Esther Glen Farm and Winery and Ariel Eberle of A Cheerful Note Cellars. We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with all of the winemakers from this event, as well as details and visits with wineries in each of the Willamette Valley AVAs.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And if you want to dive into details on the Willamette Valley, you can read our recent post Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer

 

Esther Glen Farm and Winery with Ryan Pickens

Vista Hills Uncommon Wine Festival Ryan Pickens

We met Ryan Pickens of Esther Glen Farm and Winery at the Uncommon Wine Festival at Vista Hills Vineyard, and had a chance to taste his wines.  The Uncommon Wine Festival gave us an “uncommon” occasion to meet and speak with several newer winemakers, who have smaller labels.  It was an opportunity to taste many interesting wines and hear the stories first hand of how they were conceived and made.  This was the 9th Annual event, but it was Ryan’s first time at the festival.

A little bit on Esther Glen

The name comes from Esther and Glen who came to the Dundee Hills in the 1960’s to start their holistic farm and be self-sustaining.  In 1970 Craig Rathkey came to Esther Glen. He was farming with a 1950 Vintage Formal Cub tractor and a 1948 John Deer “M” tractor.  He restores old tractors, as well as antique clocks.  In 2015 Ryan Pickens met Craig Rathkey and now Ryan makes wine with the sustainably farmed grapes grown on the vineyard.  The Estate is 15 acres located on the Willamette Valley Floor across the street from Sokol Blosser.

Ryan Pickens, the winemaker

Esther Glenn Winemaker, Ryan Pickens

Esther Glenn Winemaker, Ryan Pickens

Ryan put his Marketing degree to use working for the Benzinger Family in Sonoma, CA selling wine.  It was there that he learned about sustainable and biodynamic farming.  Talking with the Benzingers, he got the itch to work on the other side of wine, in production. He started with a harvest internship and was hooked.

“That was in 2012 and I haven’t looked back since.  I went to New Zealand, Germany, Australia, during that time also, trying to find which wine I wanted to make for the rest of my life, and Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are those three and Oregon is that place, that I’ve really found my heart, so I moved here in 2015.”

He does still work full time making wine for somebody else, so this is a side project.

“Yeah so this is just so fun, and I feel so blessed to be able to do this. I never thought that I would actually be able to start my own label.”

We tasted the two wines that Ryan was pouring, the 2017 Pinot Gris and the 2016 Pinot Noir.  Both are own rooted.

Esther Glen_Wine Bottles

Esther Glen_Wine Bottles

2017 Esther Glen Pinot Gris

This is the 2nd vintage of Pinot Gris for them, they are just getting started.  The 2016 is sold out, so not so bad for their first vintage.

The nose is bright with meyer lemon and the then a little softer on the palate. This wine retails for $18.00

2016 Esther Glen Pinot Noir

This is the first vintage of Pinot Noir for them.  It is a mix of Pommard, 777, 115 and 667.  It is aged in 20% new oak.

 “(I was).. Trying to capture, so when I moved here this forest floor, this mushroom characteristic, that everyone was talking about, and happy to see that this is starting to blossom out like that .”

There was definitely forest floor on this wine as well as leather and cola on the palate.  This wine retails for $28.00

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On Sustainability and holistic farming

Coming from Benzinger where they farm biodynamically and then at Esther Glen where that was the original idea of Esther and Glen, the grapes here are farmed sustainably.  Certification will come eventually, but it is a process and a cost and the vineyard and winery are young.  Regardless the idea of holistic farming is important to Ryan.

“Yeah, so you want to give back to the land you know, who knows if we are going to be there for 10 or 20 years, but we want to make sure that that land is ready for the next person coming around.  So really you’re just taking care of it for the next generation.

Esther Glen does tastings by appointment only and you can reach them by phone at (503)583-0970 or email them at [email protected]

You can also find them online at EstherGlen.com

And on social media on Facebook  and Instagram

You can also read our piece on the Uncommon Wine Festival, with our interview with Dave Pettersen the Winemaker and CEO of Vista Hills who founded the event. We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with all of the winemakers from this event, as well as details and visits with wineries in each of the Willamette Valley AVAs.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And if you want to dive into details on the Willamette Valley, you can read our recent post Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer

Balletto Vineyards in the Russian River Valley

I had a plan, well sort of. It was Day 3 of our Flash tour and Flash tours are pretty busy! We had spent a day in Sonoma and this day was to start in Napa and end up in the Livermore Valley. That’s a lot of ground to cover. I had a plan to start the day and to end the day, but the middle was a bit mushy. There was much driving to be done, so the wine needed to wait until later in the day and I had not done enough research to find a proper stop. Michael dove online and saved the day. A mid afternoon stop that could be our final Sonoma destination that had a patio for a picnic lunch and a hike! Balletto it was! Since then I have had multiple people tell me how much they like this winery, but at the time…I knew nothing about them.

Balletto Vineyards

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Balletto Vineyards is located in Sonoma, with their winery just a little bit off the 12 on Occidental Road.  The address says Santa Rosa, but they are closer to Sebastopol.  They were farmers first, with John Balletto starting the business running the family’s 5 acre farm growing vegetables in 1977.  John’s father had passed away and to care for his family, he gave up college athletic scholarships to start the business.  They expanded the property they owned and grew more and more produce.  In 1995 they had 700 acres and grew 70 different varieties of produce and were one of the largest vegetable farms in Northern California.  Multiple El Ninos in 1998 wiped out much of their crops and as they looked at potential future water crisis’ they determined to turn their properties to wine grapes.  They began with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and sold fruit to Sonoma Wine Producers.  In 2001 they created Balletto Vineyards, keeping 10% of their fruit from their Russian River Valley Vineyards for themselves.  Their produce packaging and shipping center, became the winery.

#VineyardAdventures

In the tasting room you can ask about the self guided tour and they will give you a laminated map to guide you.  These are done in conjunction with Sonoma.com and on their site you can find details on multiple Free Vineyard Walking Tours.

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

We started out with the hike, it was a beautiful day and getting to see the soil and the vines and a little of the story of this place seemed to be a good way to set the mood for the wines we would taste later.  The tour had 7 stops, each telling you a bit of behind the scenes information on things Balletto Vineyards is doing to be sustainable, to care for the land and the people on it.  Because after all…that really does make for better wine.

Preservation of Habitat

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Located in the Russian River Valley the vineyard and winery sit next to the Laguna de Santa Rosa which is a major tributary of the Russian River. This part of the Russian River Valley is flat and open and the Laguna de Santa Rosa is a wetland habitat where you can see a variety of birds, including osprey, pelicans and Great Blue Herons.  Diversity in species and landscape are vital to keeping environments healthy.

Water Conservation

When Balletto began as a vineyard, they already understood the importance of water conservation.  Here next to the winery they have 3 holding ponds where they reused water from the winery.  The water is specially routed to the ponds from the winery where it is treated.  It is then reused for irrigation and in the spring for frost protection.  In addition they have mobile fans for the vineyard. Frost protection can be quite the water guzzler, so the fans allow them to use less water.  They also utilize recycled water from the City of Santa Rosa’s Laguna treatment plant.

Trellising

While water can be in short supply, the morning fog brings lots of moisture to the vines.  When you get close to harvest, this can be detrimental as it can increase the chance of fungal diseases.  To mitigate this, vineyards use trellising.  The Chardonnay vines at Balletto are trellised to keep the clusters of grapes even along the vine, allowing for more air circulation among the leaves and clusters and decreasing the chance of mold and fungus growing.

Grapes

We walked along the vines and were drawn to the beautiful clusters which were going through veraison, turning those beautiful shades of deep purple, bronze, or silvery gray.  Balletto grows 9 varieties of Pinot Noir and one Pinot Gris (known as Pinot Grigio in Italy).  Pinot Gris is Pinot Noir’s lighter dryer cousin.  These grapes thrive in the Russian River Valley’s cool coastal climate.  There is Chardonnay here also, so the colors of the berries in the blocks varied from the bright greens of the still ripening Chardonnay to the dusty grey bronze of the Pinot Gris to the deepening purple of the Pinot Noir.  Here for your viewing pleasure, a selection of grape glamour shots.

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Soils

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour

Terroir is the idea of the essence of a place.  This begins with the soil.  The vineyards of Balletto encompass 5 different soil types with the two primary types being Wright Loam and Blucher Fine Sandy Loam.  North of the winery near Oxnard road you find Clear Lake Clay.  The differences in soil, site and climate are what make vineyards unique.  Mind you, we were just standing on one of the Balletto Vineyards, they own 16 estate vineyards in the Russian River Valley AVA from the Santa Rosa Plains to the Sebastapol Hills area and Petaluma Gap.  From these vineyards Balletto creates 8 vineyard designate wines, allowing you to taste the difference in terroir.

Pomace for Fertilizer

Pomace is the seeds, stems, skin and sometimes pulp, left over after the grapes are crushed for their juice.  Named for the Goddess of Fruit “Pomona”  this leftover from the wine making process can be used for fertilizer.  It tends to be a little smelly, as any good fertilizer is.  Here at Balletto they create piles of pomace after harvest and let them dry for 16 to 18 months, then they use them as fertilizer between the rows.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…there you go.

Field of Dreams

There is more to wine than the soil and the grapes, the people who make the wine are part of this story.  It’s their hard work you taste in the glass.  Protecting the land and conserving it’s resources, is good for grapes, but it’s also, more importantly, good for people.  A sense of community is important.  Here is one story from Balletto on building community.

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour field of dreams

Balletto Vineyard, Vineyard tour, field of dreams

Next to the winery, it is impossible to miss the “Field of Dreams”.  Instead of being in the middle of a cornfield, this field sits on 4 acres in the middle of the Balletto vineyard.  In 2004 the Balletto vineyard crew asked John Balletto if the winery would sponsor their league baseball team.  John Balletto took it a step further and took 4 acres next to the winery and donated all the materials to build a regulation baseball field.  The vineyard crew built the field and now in the Spring and Summer the league plays games here on Sundays. Blocks in the vineyard now sport names like  “First Baseline Chardonnay” or “Field/Dream (west) Pinot Gris”.  (scroll to the bottom to see the field in our video of our walk)

On to the Wines

Balletto has an extensive tasting list ranging from Sparkling wines (which makes perfect sense since they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), to Pinot Gris, Sav Blanc, Chardonnay and a Gewurtztraminer. They produce a lovely Rosé of Pinot Noir and a Vin de Paille dessert wine from their Pinot Gris.  Their Reds are dominated by Pinot Noir (no surprise there), with several vineyard designates.  They also have a Zin and a Syrah.

Balletto Vineyard, Tasting Menu

Balletto Vineyard, Tasting Menu

2013 Brut Rosé 2013 $42

This wine spends 3 years in the bottle. In June of 2017 it was given 90 points by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay this Sparkling wine is made the the Methode Traditionelle.  It is dry and refreshing with balanced acids and a little mineral note.  Stacy at Briscoe Bites did a great review on this wine http://briscoebites.com/balletto-brut-rose/

2016 Savignon Blanc $19

This wine comes from the Balletto Estate Vineyard on Hall Road, where they have two blocks that balance each other. The South block fruit is 80% of this wine with bright fruit and high acidity while the fruit from the north block adds a rich and savory note to balance the wine. My note on this was “Bright without being abrasive”. They note that the wine is pressed lightly in whole clusters and fermented in neutral oak for 5 months on the lees. 20% of this goes through malolactic fermentation. They produce 1200 cases of this wine.

2016 Teresa’s Unoaked Chardonnay $20

The grapes for this wine come from the west end of the vineyard around the winery which has sandy soil and they are a Robert Young clone.  The grapes are harvested early, whole cluster pressed and given a long cool fermentation.  This is 100% stainless steel, no lees stirring and no Malolactic fermentation.  What you get is vibrant with great acidity, but also with a great texture.  They made 3,260 cases of this wine.

2014 Cider Ridge Chardonnay $38

This wine comes from their new Cedar Ridge Vineyard which sits just 10 miles from the Pacific.  It is cold and foggy and windy, but the vines are on slopes that face west, get amazing sun and sit at an elevation of 950 feet.  This wine has tropical notes and well as subtle nut tones and a little minerality. The grapes are whole cluster pressed and then barrel fermented, so it is a great contrast to Teresa’s Unoaked.

2016 Gewütztraminer $19

This Gewürztraminer is from their Piner Road Vineyard where they have 2 blocks of Gewürztraminer totaling less than 5 acres on the 58 acre vineyard.  With a nose ripe with lychee, beeswax, honey and white flowers, this wine steps away from the traditional Burgundian wines this winery is known for.

2016 Rosé of Pinot Noir $18

Rosé has come back full force and drinking pink is finally fashionable again.  This particular Rosé is of Pinot Noir.  They specifically farm blocks of Pinot Noir at Balletto for their Rosé, the idea is to have brightness and soft tannins to give the wine structure.  This rosé is light in color because they limit skin contact.  They do 80% whole cluster pressing and 20% is sanguine (or the bleed off from their regular Pinot Noir fermentation).  This gives the wine depth.  Luckily they make 4,840 cases of this wine, but you should still plan to get the 2017 as soon as it comes out, and stock up.  Our friend Sarah did a review that I will share with you.

Sonoma Magazine – “22 Best Sonoma Rose Wines to Drink All Summer,” June 2017
“A perennial favorite, we loved the easy drinkability of Balletto’s Rosé. The classic strawberry notes are complemented by herbaceous green tea, Kefir lime, candied apple and a bit of minerality. At under $20 a bottle, easily findable at the grocery or liquor store across the country, and family owned and operated, it’s an easy pick for the ice bucket when company comes over.”- Sarah Stierch

2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $29

This Balletto Pinot Noir is a blend from 7 of their estate vineyards.  Because the vineyards are diverse and range from warmer to cooler areas and open flat areas like the estate vineyard at the winery to vineyards that are steeper hillside vineyards, these grapes blend to create a wine with depth and complexity.  This wine and all of their Pinot Noirs are fermented with native yeast.  They ferment in 6 ton open top fermenters and then age in mostly neutral French Oak.

2014 Cider Ridge Pinot Noir $42

This Pinot is from the new Cedar Ridge Vineyard.  Balletto has 14 acres of Pinot Noir planted here and this is the first release of Pinot Noir from this site.  The Cider Ridge we found to be bigger on the palate than on the nose.

2015 BCD Pinot Noir $44

This wine is a vineyard designate from their BCD Vineyard.  This wine had more tannins than the other two Pinot Noirs that we tasted, but was still mellow and very nice.

2014 Zinfandel $28

The Zin had a classic Zinfandel nose, but was lighter on the palate due to the cooler climate.  It has spice and a bit of vanilla and is bright on the palate, with a long finish. Their Zinfandel comes from the BCD Vineyard where they have about a 6.5 acre block.

2014 Syrah $28

We are finding that there are quite a few cooler climate vineyards that started out exclusively growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, that are starting to grow Syrah and finding that it thrives and creates a lovely elegant expression of this grape.  This wine comes from the BCD Vineyard which is a rolling vineyard with sandy soils.  These are typically the last grapes picked by Balletto each season and they get maximum skin contact with lots of gentle pump overs.  To soften the tannins the wine is aged in French Oak for  22 months.  This was indeed a lovely Syrah, with cocoa, coffee and smoke on the nose and smooth tannins, but quite honestly it could not outshine the Pinots on this list.

We will leave you with a virtual tour of our afternoon at Balletto!  But a virtual tour is only so good.  Get out to Sonoma and visit Balletto for yourself.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Wine with friends – A California tasting & pairing

After our trip to the Central Coast, my friend RuBen asked if we wanted to do a wine & cheese party with him at his house.  Well of course!  RuBen is the hostess with the mostest and has a beautiful backyard.  He also knows wonderful people, who are always a joy to talk to.  So….RuBen planned the decor, the people and the over-all menu and I planned the wines and pairings.  I spent several days going through and picking wines from our cellar and then finding interesting facts about each and pairing ideas.  Here’s what I settled on…

Laetitia Brut Cuvee

We needed to start with something bubbly, so we pulled out a bottle of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery Brut Cuvee.  The winery is in the Arroyo Grande AVA which is just south of San Luis Obispo. We had recently done an Interview on their beautiful property  with Heather Muran of the SLO Wine Association.  Starting with bubbles is always a great celebratory way to start any event and it’s a great palate cleanser.  This wine is made in the Champenoise method and the winemaker says his favorite pairing with this is potato chips!  So…that’s what we paired it with.  It was fun to talk to people about this wine and have people share with me their knowledge of sparkling wines.

Tablas Creek 2014 Vermentino

Next we moved onto a white wine, but I didn’t want to do a typical Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  Instead we did a Vermentino from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles.  This winery is known for their Rhone Varieties, and while Vermentino is a little out of the Rhone (although it is grown there under the name Rolle) it is a variety of grape that thrives in the soils and climates you find at Tablas Creek.  It is bright and minerally and we put a jar of wet stones next to it for people to smell.  It was amazing to see people dip their nose into the glass then into the jar and watch the look of realization and surprise come across their faces.  People always think that tasting notes sound so snooty with the wild things sommeliers say they can smell in a wine.  Having it right there and smelling it opened their noses to trying to smell other things in the wines!  Vermentino pairs great with many things, but unlike so many other wines, it is great with green vegetables, so we paired this with a pesto.

Margerum 2014 Riviera Rosé

Onward now to a Rosé.  Rosés are coming back into vogue and you find them popping up everywhere.  While you can find rosés made from Pinot, Zinfandel,  and even Merlot…I love a Rhone or Grenache Rosé best, with a little watermelon and strawberry on the nose, but dry.  That is what we got with the Margerum Wine Company 2014 Riviera Rosé. This Rosé is Grenache with a little Counoise and Cinsault.  The Grenache for the most part is done in the saignee method, then a bit of Counoise and Cinsault are added as well as a little barrel aged Grenache.  As Rosés notoriously go well with anything pink, we paired it with a prosciutto.

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

It was time now to go a little darker.  We pulled out a 2012 Pinot Noir from Carhartt in Santa Barbara. The Carhartt’s are the same Carhartt’s you think of with work clothes. The family owned a ranch in Santa Barbara where they raised cattle for years.  Mike Carhartt and his wife Brooke planted grapes on the land and now it is a family affair with son Chase studying wine making and assisting in the process. This particular wine is not grown on their estate but comes from Riverbench Vineyard up in the Santa Maria Valley where they grow some amazing Pinot Noir.  We paired this with cheeses; goat cheese, gouda and baked brie!

Carhartt 2012 Sangiovese

We continued with a little more robust red with a Carhartt Sangiovese.  This wine was estate grown and smells of cherry, fig, cola, all spice, sweet oak and rose petal.  I had a fresh burrata from the Downtown Summerlin Farmers Market that paired perfectly with this!

Tobin James 2009 Fat Boy Zin

I must admit that we don’t drink alot of big reds these days.  Most are just a bit too big to pair with a meal.  At one time we were members of the Tobin James wine club and we have a bunch of great big fat Zins from them, that I have not yet opened.  So…here was an opportunity to open one and see how it was.  Did it mellow with age or would it have gone flat and passed it’s peak?  We opened a 2009 Tobin James Fat Boy Zin.  It is an over the top Zin that Tobin says is “like the best friend you had as a kid; big brash and maybe slightly obnoxious, but always loved!”.  This is definitely big with the alcohol level sitting at 15.8%.  But indeed, this big boy was loved by many at the party.  We paired this with Smoked Gouda, but truly this big Jammy Zin would go best with bold bold BBQ.

Carol Shelton 2008 Black Magic

We ended the eveningstepping a little further north, with a late harvest Zin by Carol Shelton her 2008 Black Magic from Sonoma County.  Late harvest wines are those that are left on the vine to let their sugars develop and often they will leave them to raisin on the vine concentrating the sugars even further.  This dessert wine screams for chocolate and indeed we paired it with that, but also with a lovely Stilton. The sweet wine and the savory cheese are a perfect combination for finishing an evening.

This was an amazing evening with around 20 people just mingling talking about the wines and whatever else came up and meandering around RuBen’s beautiful backyard with little seating areas tucked here and there.  We enjoyed the wine, the company and conversation as the sun set and the stars came out.  Yep, wine with friends…what could be better?

Wine Party with Friends

Wine Party with Friends

Cold Heaven Cellars – Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Cold Heaven Rhone Scentual Experience

Founded in 1996 by winemaker Morgan Cledenen, Cold Heaven Cellars creates cool climate Viognier. Her Viogniers exhibit balance, finesse and bright acid.

In addition to her Viogniers, Pinot Noir and Syrahs, she also produces “Domaine de Deux Mondes”.  This is a wine made from Santa Barbara grapes but done in the style of Yves Cuilleron from Condrieu. These wines are a completely different style from the Cold Heaven wines. The Domaine de Deux Mondes is oaky and riper than the Cold Heaven wines showing the versatility of this grape and Morgan’s winemaking skills.

One of the greatest things about the Cold Heaven Wines is that the wines have great depth and dimension, which….made them perfect for the Rhone Scent-ual event planned in her tasting room for the Santa Barbara Vintners Key to Wine Country Weekend event.

Aroma Wheel, Key to WIne Event

Kara and Liz had the Barrel room set with two tables one set for white wines and one for reds. Each had aroma wheels, a sheet for notes and lots of little blue mason jars filled with wonderfully scented stuff.

We began with the 2012 Le Bon Climat Vineyard Viognier.  This wine has peaches on the nose and a background of white flowers, you also get an earthy minerality which you could match with the diatomaceous earth that Kara and Liz had set on the table.

It was amazing all the fragrances that you could find in the wine. It soon became a little bit of a frenzy with all of us reaching for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with everyone else. It was a sensory awakening. I think many people are intimidated by tasting notes, thinking that sommeliers just make up all those aromas they say they get on the wine. When you actually have those scents right there to compare, it’s amazing. And then you are adding to your scent memory catalogue for future experiences.

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

We moved on to the 2011 Sanford and Benedict Viognier, coming from Sta. Rita Hills this wine comes from Western most AVA in the country and one of the coolest growing regions.  There is more spice on this wine, and our noses got stuck in the ginger jar, there was also white pepper and grapefruit peel in there.

The third wine was the 2009 Saints and Sinners Viognier.  These grapes are also from Sanford and Benedict, but this wine is made in the Yves Cuilleron style.  The 30% new oak adds a warmth to this wine.  It’s like peach or apricot cobbler with baking spices and toasted nuts.

Red Wine at Cold Heaven

When we got to the red wine table we smelled the 2008 Domaine de Deux Mondes Syrah and right off the bat I got olives on the nose and I could pick up the jar of olives and confirm this. There were jars with leather, with spices and peppers with red and black berries, cinnamon, chocolate and even habanero sauce (which would burn your nose hairs if you stuck your nose in too far!).  You get woods and twigs on this wine, “Sous la Foret” which is under the forest floor in French, that bit of rich decaying leaves.  There were dark berries, and cinnamon, and coffee, but the olives were the most surprising.  The olive scent comes from stem inclusion.  This wine was done in a full cluster press, which means the grapes did not go through a destemmer before pressing.  Often this will give you a green pepper note, if the stems are not ripened.  When the stems are ripe, you get a wonderful black olive aroma.

Kara and Liz were there all along the way to answer questions and point you in directions you might not have thought about. This was an interactive event that broke down barriers. People got involved and excited and will walk away with a new understanding of these wines, of tasting notes and of their own senses. Thanks to everyone at Cold Heaven Cellars for a great event and some great wines!  If you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to nerd out on wines…this is the tasting room to come to!

Cold Heaven Tasting Room

Cold Heaven Cellars

92 2nd Street, Buellton (behind Andersons Pea Soup)

805-686-1343

The tasting room is open Friday to Monday from 12-5 (until 4:30 in the winter)

You can find them online at

http://www.coldheavencellars.com

Presqu’ile Winery – Taste through the vineyard

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley


Starting the day driving north on the 101 to the Santa Maria Valley is never a bad thing. This section of roadway is lined with vineyards. Before you get to Santa Maria you take a right and drive out to the gates of Presqu’ile. Through the gate you see the expanse of rolling vineyards, you pass the Italian Villa of the vineyard next door and come up to the top of the hill where you find the elegant and modern Presqu’ile Winery and tasting room. Chances are you will be greeted by the winery dog as you walk in through the parking lot. Outside there are terraces overlooking a small amphitheatre, all set with comfortable seating perfect to curl up in with a glass of wine. The tasting room has a glass wall that slides open to make it open air during the day and as you look out when it’s clear you can see the ocean in the distance. The Tasting bar is spacious and dotted with bowls of seasoned pecans that came, like the owners the Murphy Family, from Mississippi.

“Presqu’ile” is the Creole word for “almost an island”. The Murphy family retreat on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi held the same name. Yes “held”, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to this place where the family had gathered for generations. So the family headed west to find a 200 acres of property in the Santa Maria Valley. Two generations of Murphy’s are now here and this new Presqu’ile has become the new gathering place for the family.

Tasting Room at Presqu'ile

Tasting Room at Presqu’ile

After we gathered in the tasting room, our group was escorted to the Key to Wine country weekend event, “Taste Through the Vineyard:  Explore Wines Sourced from Presqu’ile Vineyards Produced by Different Winemakers”. We were led back through the barrel tunnel. Cut into the side of the mountain this barrel lined tunnel is climate controlled (mostly naturally) and makes for a memorable entrance to the winery. We got into a shiny stainless steel elevator. I felt a little like I was going to a secret base in a James Bond film, but rather than heading to an underground laboratory, we headed up. The doors opened and we entered the sunlit crush pad. Glasses twinkled in the sunlight on sleek modern metal tables, set at the center with a thick wooden block abundantly piled with delicious charcuterie. At the front, just before the railing down to the tanks in this gravity flow winery, there were four smaller tables, each again bedecked with glasses and wines and behind them sat our four winemakers.

Key Weekend Glass Setting

Our host Matt Murphy stepped up to welcome us. He is genuine, warm, well spoken and his inherent sense of southern hospitality melded with the relaxed nature of the California that he and his family now call home. He set the stage for a wonderful conversation with these winemakers.
So we are in California in a winery owned by a Mississippi family…are you ready for it to get a little more exotic?
Our winemakers hailed from South Africa, New Zealand and the US. Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and Storm winemaker Ernst Storm are both from South Africa, Ariki Hill of Labyrinth is from New Zealand and Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce was exotic in that he was the only one without an accent.

Presqu'ile Wine Event

Presqu’ile Wine Event

We settled in, Matt handed things over to the winemakers and we did side by side tastings of wines from the Presqu’ile vineyards made by these different winemakers with different styles. I’ve spent some time as of late reading and listening to winemakers speak about growing grapes and making wine, but even the conversation here had an accent. There were terms that I knew well, but the direction that they brought to winemaking was fresh to me.
We spent the next couple of hours listening with rapt attention as these winemakers discussed their wines, their winemaking styles and the soils here at Presqu’ile Vineyards. Ernst Storm discussed his use of Acacia barrels, Dieter spoke to how he incorporates the concrete egg, we tasted with Kevin through his 2011 Pinot Noir to his 2012, two very different vintages and Ariki spoke about spoke of his love for one specific Cooper…I was so engrossed in the conversation that I almost completely missed the incredible charcuterie platter.
We drove back out through the rolling vineyards, feeling like we had not had enough time. I could have stayed all day talking with the winemakers, enjoying the wine and relaxing on this beautiful property. It’s okay…we’ll be back.

You can get an idea of what our day was like from the video here.  But…if you want to hear the full discussion, we will have it broken into 3 or 4 episodes and available in our “Dirt to Glass” series.

We also have  a great recipe for a Strawberry, citrus and avocado salad inspired by Ryan in the Presqu’ile Tasting room.  It is a great summertime pairing to go with their Rose of Pinot Noir .

Presqu’ile’s Winery, Vineyards and tasting room are located in the Santa Maria Valley at 5391 Presqu’ile Drive, 93455. You can reach them at 805-937-8110.

For more information on the entire Santa Barbara Wine Region visit the Santa Barbara Vintners.

Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, a Vineyard tour

Riverbench Vineyard


Michael and I started our Key to Wine Country Weekend with a Vineyard Tour at Riverbench Vineyards with the Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck. We arrived way early (I read 10 am and it was actually 11!) and actually beat Laura, the tasting room manager in. Really it was a happy accident though, Michael had time to take some great morning shots around the tasting room and vineyard and we relaxed in the garden listening to the birds. The birdsong was really amazing.

 

Riverbench Winery Patio

Riverbench Winery Patio

 

Riverbench is located in the Santa Maria Valley on Foxen Canyon Road. The vineyard established in 1973 planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and made a name for themselves as growers of these varieties. In 2004 the property was purchased by a group of local families, who shortly thereafter began producing their own wine. In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they now grow Savignon Blanc and Albarino. The majority of the fruit they grow is still for other wineries and winemakers. The Albarino is for Kenneth Volk who is just a stone’s throw away.

Rawley just took over for long time Vineyard Manager Jim Stollberg this year, but he’s part of the family (he’s the son of owner Randy Hermreck) and he has extensive farming experience and a degree in viticulture from Cal Poly, and from our walk with him, you can tell he has a great love for these vineyards.

Vintage 2014 Grapes

Vintage 2014 Grapes

 

Rawley started by walking us out to the Chardonnay block out front. Block 37 was one of the original blocks and these vines are indeed 41 years old. The style of trellising here is known as California sprawl. This is a Simple Curtain two-wire vertical trellis and is typically used when the anticipated vine vigor is moderate to high. There is a wire for the cordon and a higher wire that is for the foliage support. The rows here are at 12’ spacing. They do a beautiful Blanc de blanc sparkling wine from some of this Chardonnay.

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

We headed across the driveway to the back of block 38 to look at some of the Pinot Noir planted there. Here the trellises are Vertical-shoot positioned and Rawley showed us how the upper wires could be repositioned. We talked about frost protection. They did a little frost protection this year as a preventative measure, but luckily did not have any frost. They use oils and mixed chemistry to keep mold and mildew down and luckily this area never gets warm enough to have to worry much about mites. They do have gopher issues and have Owl Boxes and Raptor Perches. Owls make for great rodent control. You put up the boxes and the owls fly in. 1 owl will catch 1 gopher per night which really helps keep the gopher population down. Owls are not territorial like raptors, so you can put up multiple owl boxes without a worry.

We talked a little about handpicking as opposed to machine picking. Labor is becoming very hard to come by but the machines require a certain amount of space between the rows and they run a quarter million each. The machines are usable year round with attachments for picking, disking, spraying, mowing, and pre-pruning. Rawley watches the machines all the time over on the other side of the river up on the bench at Kendall-Jackson. As for how they harvest: they basically shake the berries off of the stems, so this doesn’t work for winemakers who want whole cluster presses or stem inclusion. The berries are shaken onto conveyor belts and then into baskets.

9000 plus plants

9000 plus plants

The front area of the block by Foxen Canyon road had been pulled out and was scheduled to be replanted the following morning. Rawley took us around back to show us the 9000 (yes 9000) baby vines that were waiting to be planted. I have seen dormant vines before waiting to be planted, grafted onto their rootstock, but this was new to see green potted vines. They all had green wax around their centers to protect the graft. Rawley’s nursery guy had designed a new kind of pot for the baby vines and convinced Rawley to try some in these new containers. Rather than being the short square pot like the kind you get on your vegetables at the nursery, these new pots were tall and thinner. They had holes on the sides, which kept the roots from growing out through air exposure. These new pots allow the tap root more room to avoid “j-root” (when the root reaches the bottom of the pot and turns back up). Rawley will see how they do compared to the other pots! We actually stopped by the next morning to watch as they were planting these vines.

Hand dip Pinot Bottle in wax

Hand dipping Pinot Bottle in wax

At this point it was time to grab Sadie, Rawley’s black Labrador and head into the back garden to put wax seals on some Pinot bottles. This evidently is Rawley’s job. Each bottle of Pinot from Riverbench has a wax top and is hand-dipped. It’s a simple but focused process and Rawley demonstrated before he let me have a go. You begin with what looks like a crock pot filled with the melted wax. Hold the bottle with your thumb over the center of the label and dip the bottle into the wax at a 45 degree angle. Make sure to allow the wax to reach the point on the neck of the bottle where the wine would come to when the bottle is standing upright. When you pull the bottle out, begin spinning the bottle and the excess wax will start to drip back into the crock pot. As you continue turning you gradually get the bottle to completely vertical. When it is done dripping you plunge it into a bucket of water to cool it and seal it. It was pretty fascinating and concentrating work, and I decided that Laura would have to put this bottle aside for me to purchase after lunch.

Picnic and Tasting

Picnic and Tasting

Laura then brought out lunch for us to enjoy with Rawley & Sadie on the back patio. We started our tasting with lunch with the Blanc de Blanc which is a lovely dry sparkling wine and was refreshing after our walk. We enjoyed the 2013 Rosé, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay and 2011 Estate Pinot Noir and finished with the 2013 Reisling. Paired with the salad & sandwiches as we listened to the birds and talked Rodeo with Rawley it made for the perfect lunch.

Riverbench historic overview

Riverbench historic overview

 

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery

6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria

805-937-8340

Open Daily 10-4

 

They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara

137 Anacapa St. Suite C

Open Daily 11-6

www.riverbench.com

Watch for the next Key Weekend event coming up in December as well as other great events at the Santa Barbara Vintners site.  sbcountywines.com

A REALLY Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend

SB Vintners Spring Weekend

Santa Barbara Celebrated the Vintners Spring Weekend in April and the crowning event for the weekend was the Grand Tasting held at Riverview Park in Buellton.

Presqu'ile at Grand Tasting

Presqu’ile at Grand Tasting

What I love most about Santa Barbara County is that the wines are amazing and the people are laid back and approachable. The Grand Tasting had something for everyone. For a start, this area because of it’s climate, is home to so many varieties. Sta. Rita Hills and parts of the Santa Maria Valley bring Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the central part of the Santa Ynez Valley is perfect for growing all the Rhone Varieties and further inland in Happy Canyon, the weather is warm enough to grow Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc.  That doesn’t even touch on the Italian and other lesser known varieties that are being grown. So a wine lover can taste the spectrum at the Grand Tasting.

Christine Bruce, of Hilliard Bruce

Christine Bruce, of Hilliard Bruce

When you taste, chances are the person pouring the wine is the winemaker, and you can ask them about the vineyard and their winemaking techniques first hand. I was lucky enough to chat with Michael Larner of Larner Wines, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa, Christine Bruce of Hilliard Bruce and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena. They were all more than willing to take some time and answer all my questions as I tasted their wines.

There was plenty of great food to be enjoyed also!  Each of the tents filled with wineries also had at least one restaurant booth. Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley were serving up sliders from The Hitching Post II in Buellton, Trattoria Grappolo of Santa Ynez had meatballs, Babé Farms had fresh green salads, Avant Tapas and Wine Bar had a beautiful hummus, there was Prime rib at The Starting Gate, The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café had some amazing seasoned potatos…and that was just the few we had a chance to taste.

los-olivos-wine-merchantLive music filled the air from the stage at the far end of the tasting, inspiring many to kick off their shoes and dance. There were plenty of tables and grass areas to relax in, as well as an art walk. I bought an artwork by Christina LoCascio that was a painting of Viognier ripening on the vine, painted in Syrah.

The Alan Hancock College was also on hand with viticultural knowledge and free grapevine cuttings. If you got tired, there was a massage station, if you needed to tweet, there was a social media tent. They also had a silent auction to benefit the Alan Hancock College.

This year for the first time the wineries could sell wine at the event. There was a tent set up near the entrance where you could pick up your wine purchase on your way out.

The event was well thought out with water available everywhere to keep you hydrated. They also had a designated drivers tent with beverages for those who chose to not imbibe and there was a special ticket price for those folks. A bus service to and from the event available from local hotels for a fee and Uber the online driving service was available. This mobile app connects you with a driver and had just launched in the Santa Ynez Valley so there were lots of options for safe transportation.

The day was beautiful the wine was flowing and people were enjoying themselves all around. If you didn’t make it…don’t worry, you don’t have to wait an entire year. The Santa Barbara Celebration of Harvest will be happening October 10-13th. Visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site for details! http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/event-schedule.html

Watch for more Video’s on SB Vintners Spring Weekend in the coming Weeks, with some features on the Wine and Wine Makers and so much more.

Santé

The 2014 Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend – My highlight reel.

Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner

Our trip to the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend was absolutly amazing.  The weekend was filled with events to suit any wine lover, and while there was no way that we could attend everything, I’ll give you the quick run down on the amazing events we did attend. This is just the quick version; you can look forward to more detailed posts on each of our adventures as well as photos and video.

Industrial Eats in Buellton CA

Industrial Eats in Buellton CA

Our weekend began Thursday night with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner & Wine Pairing.  This event was held at the new Industrial Eats restaurant in Buellton. The dinner included hors d’oeuvres, 3 courses plus dessert, and included 10 wines. On hand to explain and discuss the wines and pairings were Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Jeff Connick Assistant Winemaker at Dierberg Star Lane and Laura Roach, Enologist at Sanford. The evening was filled with great food, great wine, great people and great conversation.  For a brief view of our evening, check out the video here.

Friday morning we took a drive out Santa Rosa Road to explore the vineyards in this part of the Sta. Rita Hills. The drive begins just south of Buellton of the west side of the 101.  You pass Mosby where they primarily do Italian varieties and then come to Richard and Thekla Sanford’s Alma Rosa.

Alma Rosa sign

Alma Rosa in the Spring

It was picturesque with the sign and the orange poppies blooming all around.  Unfortunately the tasting room is currently closed as they do some expansion work.  But never fear they have a temporary tasting room open in Buellton on Industrial Way.  Past Alma Rosa you come to Lafond, and then finally to Sanford.

Sanford Winery

The Beautiful Sanford Tasting Room

The property here is stunning and the tasting room made of reclaimed wood from a Washington sawmill and adobe bricks made on premise is beautiful, yet understated. After a tasting here we headed back to do the vineyard hike at the Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard.

Beckmen Hike at Purisma Mountain

Hiking to the top of Purisima Mountain with Steve Beckmen

The Purisima Mountain Vineyard is located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA.  This area lies along the winding Ballard Canyon road. This vineyard is not located with the Beckmen Winery, which is one canyon over, but is their larger vineyard with 125 planted acres of world class Rhone varieties.  The vineyard reaches 1250 feet at the top of Purisima Mountain and that is where we were headed.  With Steve Beckmen as our guide we walked the vineyards, learned about the soil, the grapes, the viticulture…it was fascinating.  We did make a few stops along the way, two for food and wine and one for the view (that was from the top).  Steve was an unending resource of information and it made for a spectacular day.  I will share more of the wonderful insights I gleaned from him in another post, but for now, you can enjoy some of our hike here.

Following our hike we headed back to do one more tasting in Los Olivos.

Sandhi Wines at the Watering Hole at Matteis Tavern

Sandhi Wines at the Watering Hole at Matteis Tavern

Located in The Watering Hole at the historic Matteis Tavern, is Sandhi Wines tasting room. You will find it next to the tavern, over the lawn, under the water tank and in this lovely little cottage.  Rajat Parr, Charles Banks and winemaker Sashi Moorman founded Sandhi in 2010.  They wanted to produce wines of balance and the wines here are stunning with brilliant and elegant character.  And…the fact that they are served in the exquisite Zalto glasses doesn’t hurt a bit!  Sarah was a wealth of knowledge and was kind enough to stay late to answer all of our questions.  Be aware, they will be moving into the old Epiphany tasting room around the corner soon.  While they are moving (beginning May 1st) they will be available by appointment only.  Visit their website for Sarah’s contact information to set up an appointment to taste these amazing wines.

Now what we needed was big and easy food and we found Chomp in Solvang.  This place is diner style with burgers, fries and shakes.  They do serve local wines and have some good beers on tap, but we opted for a shake to split.  The place is comfortable and modern and was bustling when we got there.  Aaron the owner found us a seat at the bar, which was perfect. The food was outstanding, the service really good.

Panorama Carhartt Grand Tasting

Panorama of the Grand Tasting at River View Park in Buellton

Saturday was the day for the Grand Tasting located at the River View Park in Buellton. The tastings were set up around multiple tents with all the wineries conveniently in alphabetical order so you could easily find the wineries you were looking for.  Interspersed among the wineries in each tent you would find a restaurant station where you could grab a bite.  They also had Artists Alley where you could find wine inspired artwork, a massage station, a silent auction tent and Alan Hancock College had a space where they had information on viticulture and they were giving out wine grape cuttings. This year you could purchase wine at the festival and at the entrance was a large tent where wines could be picked up as you left.  The event was a wonderful opportunity to try some amazing wines from this area and to speak with many of the winemakers themselves. It was a very enjoyable day spent with lots of other wine lovers!

For dinner Michael was inspired by some delicious meatballs he had at the festival and we drove to Santa Ynez to have dinner at Trattoria Grappolo.  It was busy but they found us a spot at the pizza bar.  Dinner was delicious and watching the incredible staff work together seamlessly and so fluidly to create these beautiful plates of food was truly inspirational.  If you are in the area, go…and request a seat at the pizza bar!

abc-patio-open-house

Relaxing at the Au Bon Climat & Qupe Open House

Sunday was all about Open Houses.  I believe there were 61 different winery events happening in the valley.  We headed to the twice annual Au Bon Climat and Qupe Open House, which was way north in the Santa Maria Valley at their winery which is tucked way back down some back roads. If you want to find their tasting room…Au Bon Climat is in downtown Santa Barbara and Qupe is in Los Olivos.  Cheese, crackers and olives and the lunch table filled with home cooked food and Barbeque done by Jim Clendenen himself were found in the front room by their offices.  The barrel room was dotted with tasting stations for the 8 or so labels that Jim Clendenen and Bob Linquist have between them.  There was plenty to taste and it was all available for purchase on site, at least until it sold out.  After a bit we took our glasses and some cheese and headed out to the dock area outside and sat down at a barrel to enjoy the atmosphere and the view.

But of course, there was another open house to get to and it was in Lompoc!

Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Wes Hagen pulling Chardonnay from a barrel for the Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Clos Pepe has its winemaking facility in Lompoc outside the Wine Ghetto.  We made the trek from Santa Maria for their open house and for a barrel tasting.  Wes Hagen, as always, was full of fascinating information and was pouring delicious wine.  We had the lovely Sparkling Pinot and tasted through some Chardonnays, Pinots and his Rhone blend.  Then came the barrel tastings, with Wes coming around and filling glasses and explaining each wine and where it was in its journey.  Watch for another detailed blog post and movie on this.  Really, someone should just follow Wes around recording him, he is an encyclopedia of wine knowledge and he imparts his knowledge in the most entertaining way.

Fiddlehead Winery in Lompoc

Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc

After the Barrel Tasting we headed to the Ghetto for some corned beef sliders.  Oh…and some amazing wine and more inspiring wine knowledge from Fiddlehead’s owner and winemaker Kathy Josephs.  Fiddlehead does Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Noir. She had two stations set up in the winery and got you moving back and forth between the two.  They were of course pouring 728, their Pinot from the Fiddlestix vineyard, which is at mile marker 7/28 on the Santa Rosa Road and the Doyle, which is their reserve Pinot that they do not make every year.  The wines were fantastic, we met great people there, and…yes we closed the place.  We were there to watch Kathy turn up the music and start dancing as cleanup began.

Matteis Tavern

The historic Matteis Tavern

So our tastings for the day were done, now it was time to enjoy our last dinner of the trip, so we headed to the newly renovated Matteis Tavern.  We had eaten at this historic venue a couple years ago and had a great meal.  It had since closed and then reopened in July of last year. The Tavern itself has been around since 1886 and is a historic Stagecoach stop.  Our dinner here was spectacular.  The food, service and surroundings all made for the perfect end to a day.  We will entice you with a photo here, but watch for a full blog post on this historic location.

salmon-and-corn

Red Trout and Creme Corn Brûlée

 

 

Presquille Vineyard

Presqu’ile Vineyard Tasting Room

 

Persquille view

The View from Presqu’ile

Our last day was just a partial day and we had a couple places we wanted to get to.  We began with a drive north headed to Presqu’ile North in the Santa Maria Valley. I often speak of beautiful properties, but…you know when you go to a parade of homes and get to the most beautiful house…well Presqu’ile is the winery equivalent.  “Presqu’ile” means “almost an island” in French and was the name of the Murphy Family property in Mississippi that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  The family looked for a place to rebuild their family gathering spot and came upon this property in Santa Maria.

 

The wines are unique and delightful and the place…well, let the pictures speak.

Our last tasting in Santa Barbara was at the tiny Larner Tasting room in Los Olivos.  They are located in the Los Olivos General Store (you will see the old gas pump out front).

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room in Los Olivos

The Larner Vineyards are in the new Ballard Canyon AVA and Michael Larner was the person who got the ball in motion to create the AVA.  We spoke with Michael at the Grand Tasting and did some tasting there, but wanted to see the tasting room and pick up some wines to take home.  Their entire selection is exceptional and the people are genuine and wonderful. This is their inaugural year of Larner Wines  being produced, they grow Rhone varieties: Viognier, Grenache, Mouvedre & Syrah as well as Malvasia Bianca. We will post our full discussion with Michael Larner in another post shortly.

With our tasting done, it was time to have some lunch before the drive home.  We had spoken earlier about trying the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café.  (photo of the restaurant) As Michael said, the patio is always full and that must be a good sign! Emily from Larner had recommended the Beets and Burrata appetizer and the Mykonos Pizza (with pesto, oven dried tomato, tapenade, feta, cucumber & four cheeses).  This 12” pizza was more than enough for the two of us.  The menu here is local, delicious and a little unexpected.  This is definitely a place that we will return to.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

So…that was our weekend and it doesn’t even begin to cover all the events that were happening with the Vintners Spring Weekend!  This area is producing astoundingly good wines and the fact that they are so laid back and you have so many opportunities to speak with winemakers makes it a truly exceptional place to visit if you are a wine lover.  Clear your calendars for October 10-13 and head up for the Celebration of Harvest Weekend!  Or visit anytime!  You can find information on the entire Santa Barbara region at the Santa Barbara Vintners website.

Sta. Rita Hills, the Burgundy of Santa Barbara

Hilliard Bruce Canopy Management
Vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills as viewed from Hilliard Bruce

Vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills as viewed from Hilliard Bruce

The Sta. Rita Hills AVA lies on the west side of the Santa Ynez Valley closest to the ocean.  The Marine layer and ocean breezes coming through the transverse valley make it the perfect growing region for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Here between the Purisima Hills and the Santa Rosa Hills the growing season is long and cool with heat spikes typically in late September and October. A typical day here sees early morning fog that disappates around 9:30 am, things warm up and then the wind comes up at 12:30 or 1:00 allowing the grapes to be left exposed without frying them.

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

20 million years ago this land was under the ocean.  The techtonic plates moved and the mountains were shoved up out of the ocean in a North South direction causing the Mountain ranges we are familiar with in California.  Over the next 12 millions years the mountains in the Santa Barbara area broke away from the plate and began their gradual clockwise turn bringing the mountain ranges here to an East West orientation.  They are continuing their move today. You can check out some cool animated footage of this 12 million year move on the Sta. Rita Hills website at:

http://www.staritahills.com/appellation/ to get a better picture.

The first vineyard was planted in the Sta. Rita Hills in 1971, by Richard Sanford. Richard Sanford was a Navy officer who was on a destroyer during the Vietnam War.  On his way home from the war he went to Nepal and began a spiritual quest.  Coming home to California he sailed competitively for a bit and this allowed him to meet people who were interested in a vineyard.

He studied Burgundy and it’s weather reports and began driving California with a thermometer looking for property with a similar climate.  He noticed that the area between Buellton & Lompoc rose by a degree for every mile inland you drove and the possibilities were wide ranging.

He teamed up with Michael Benedict, who was a botanist and they purchased 473 acres in Rancho Santa Rosa.  In 1971 they planted the now famous 120 acre Sanford & Benedict Vineyard on Santa Rosa Road.  They planted Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir & Riesling. They had open top fermenters, that Gary Gordon, a hot tub pioneer in Santa Barbara, helped them construct.  Their first vintage was 1976.

Today Richard Sanford and his wife Thekla own and operate Alma Rosa.

Richard Sanford got this all started and soon others followed, like Rick Longoria, Adam Tolmach and Jim Clendenen.  In the 1990’s Clos Pepe, Fiddlestix, Melville,    Fe Ciega and other vineyards were planted with Pinot and Chardonnay.

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

Balance here is easier.  The soil and climate combine to give you fruit that has lower sugars when fully ripe.  That gives you great acidity and lower alcohol.

The Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance was formed in 1997, when the area was simply known as Western Santa Ynez Valley.  Wes Hagen and friends spend time gathering soil samples and checking elevation levels and temperatures.  Richard Sanford, Bryan Babcock, Rick Longoria and others spent time studying maps, gathering data and then discussing boundries. AVA status was achieved in 2001.  Sta. Rita Hills AVA has a total of 30,720 acres with over 59 vineyards with 2,700 acres planted.

Now about that name, “Sta. Rita Hills”.  Well this story will tell you quite a bit about the area and it’s winemakers.  The original name was Santa Rita Hills AVA.  A very large Chilean wine producer “Vina Santa Rita” was concerned about this AVA name diluting its brand value.  Richard Sanford and his wife, Thekla,  were at the London Wine Trade Fair and marched right over to the Vina Santa Rita booth.  Here Sanford’s spiritual journey is shown in action.  He simply suggested that they talk about the problems and try to find a solution.  So he flew to Santiago, spoke with the owners and the Vina Santa Rita folks flew out to Santa Barbara for a visit and they ultimately decided that the AVA would use the common abbreviation for “Santa” which is Sta.

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

Michael and I had a wonderful opportunity last year to be part of the top of harvest at Clos Pepe.  Check out our great harvest video here.  The grapes we picked, early in the season were for a sparkling wine to be made by Norm Yost at Flying Goat Cellars.  I am very excited to get back out for the Vintner’s Spring Weekend and pick up a few bottles of that!  We also had a wonderful tour of the Hilliard Bruce Vineyard with John Hilliard and Christine Bruce.  You can see our video of their gorgeous property here.  I am looking forward to seeing their new winery that they have been building on the property.

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

To really enjoy the area, drive the 34 mile loop that links Santa Rosa Road and State Route 246.  I would suggest taking the curvy mountain road first.  Head south on the 101 from Buellton and turn west onto Santa Rosa Road.  The first stop is Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards tasting room, located on their El Jabali Ranch.  Here you will get the history of wine in this area.  This winery is organic and sustainable.  Being good to the planet is important here.  Further on you will come to Lafond.  You can also taste their wines at the Wine Bistro in Santa Barbara.  As you continue on you will come to Sanford Winery.  Now owned by Terlato Famiy Vineyards, this was the original vineyard planted by Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict.  The stunning winery here was the vision and dream of Richard Sanford.  The winery is a beautiful stone and adobe design and the views of the vineyard are amazing.

The vineyards here are noteworthy names that you will see as vineyard designates on fine bottles of wine from this area.  From the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard if you look north across Santa Rosa Road you will see Fiddlestix.  Slightly east of of there is Sea Smoke, to your west is La Rincontada and Northwest lies the tiny Fe Ciega Vineyard.

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Continue down to Lompoc and visit the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Here you will find a gathering of many of the Sta. Rita Hills winemakers, including: Fiddlehead Cellars, Flying Goat Cellars, Jalama, Longoria, Morretti Wine Co., Pali Wine Co., and Zotovich.  Outside the Ghetto don’t miss Brewer-Clifton and Transcendence Wines.

Now you can head back into the Sta. Rita Hills via 246.  Plan ahead and call and schedule tastings at Hilliard Bruce and Clos Pepe.  They are appointment only, but well worth the visit.  Melville where Greg Brewer is the winemaker is just a little further east, along with Babcock and Huber.  Closer to Buellton Dierberg Starlane Vineyard will have tastings of their wines, both from the Santa Rita Hills and Happy Canyon.  Back in Buellton stop by and try the Viogniers at Cold Heaven.  Do check with the wineries, many are only open for tastings on Weekends.  Visit the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance for a list of the wineries with links to their sites.

I’ll say it again…the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend is right around the corner on April 10th-13th and is a great opportunity to taste wines from all of these vineyards and wineries.

In addition to the Grand Tasting, there is the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner & Wine Pairing on Thursday night.  There will be a Vineyard Hike with Wine at Hilliard Bruce on Friday.  Flying Goat, Clos Pepe, Brewer-Clifton, Zoltovich and Fiddlehead Cellars will be represented at the Wine Education Seminar Series at the Hotel Corque in Solvang on Saturday. Brewer-Clifton, Longoria, Pali and Zotovich will be pouring at the 90+ Points Wine & Dine Event on Saturday night.

Brewer Clifton is having a Wine and Cheese Pairing Seminar on Friday and Flying Goat will hold their Winemaker Dinner at La Purisima Mission.

On Saturday Night Diergberg Estate, Fiddlehead Cellars and Sea Smoke will be pouring at the Grassini Family Vineyards Dinner Event.

Longoria will be tasting their New Releases and Library wines on Saturday, and Sunday and then they have their Annual Winemakers Dinner Saturday night at the Ballard Inn.

On Sunday Brewer Clifton has a Vineyard Tour an Picnic at Machado Vineyard as well as a Winery Open house that day.  Lafond will be having an open house also.

Flying Goat Cellars has a Open house & Vintage 2014 Multimedia Installation happening on Sunday.

Visit http://www.sbvintnersweekend.com  for all the Spring Weekend Events or http://www.sbcountywines.com for anything you want to know about the Santa Barbara County vineyards or wineries.