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

Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer

Vista Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA

Oregon’s Willamette Valley …You picture green hills, rain and beards, don’t you? Well as we visited in July, we found lots of the first, very little of the second and enough of the third to keep the myth alive.

After flying into Portland, we made the relatively quick drive, over one of the many bridges across the Willamette River and into the Willamette Valley. Our goal with this trip was to visit each of the AVA’s (American Viticulture Areas) and most of the Proposed AVA’s and learn a little about them to give us a better overall understanding of the area. We managed to visit all but one of the Proposed AVA’s. We did not have the time to make the drive to the proposed Lower Long Tom AVA, which is much closer to Eugene than to Portland.

I did a bit of research to prepare for the trip and thought I would share some of that, in case you are not familiar with the region.

Oregon

Everyone we met told us how young the area is as far as vineyards and wine. They just passed 50 years. Humility is a virtue in Oregon. The grapes began in the Willamette Valley, but today you will find 2 other regions, the Columbia Gorge and Southern Oregon, where vineyards and wineries have a definite foothold. The state has 18 AVAs with the new Van Duzer Corridor within the Willamette Valley the possible 19th. Here are a few stats from the Oregon Wine Board. https://industry.oregonwine.org.

72 Grape varieties – 725 Wineries – 30,435 planted vineyard acres

But there is more to it. 47% of the vineyards in Oregon are certified sustainable. And while they only tap into a 1% share of the US wine market, they held 20% of the Wine Spectator 90+ scores in 2015 & 2016. Quality is something they take great pride in.

Willamette Valley

This trip was focused on the Willamette Valley and the Willamette Valley Wineries Association has a gorgeous map of the Valley.

Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association

Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association Map data by everyvine.com, design by John Fisher, geologic cross section by Timothy A. Cross, special thanks to Patrick Reuter.”

This map shows the current AVAs, soils and even the vineyard blocks. We thank the Willamette Valley Wineries Association for allowing us to use it and pass along their acknowledgements “Map data by everyvine.com, design by John Fisher, geologic cross section by Timothy A. Cross, special thanks to Patrick Reuter.”

The Willamette Valley is 60 miles wide at it’s widest (east to west), but is over 100 miles long (north to south), so you will note that the map is flipped so that as you look at it North is to the left, East is up, South is to the right and West (where you will find the Pacific Ocean over the Coast Range) is down.

The overall valley is the Willamette Valley AVA and within it there are currently 6 sub-appellations.

Willamette Valley AVA

The overall AVA spans the area from the Portland in the North to Eugene Oregon in the South and sits between the Coastal and Cascade Ranges. Plantings began in 1966 and the AVA itself was established in 1983. The base of the valley itself is fertile and great for agriculture, except of course for grapes. Grapes need the struggle to be tasty enough to make wine. As a result, most of the vineyards will be between 200 and 1000 feet in elevation.

Within this large AVA you will find the 6 sub-appellations, one of which is nested inside another. We will work our way from North to South (left to right on the map as you look at it)

Chehalem Mountains AVA

Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association

Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge AVAs (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

Furthest north and to the east side of the valley, you will find the Chehalem (Sha-HAY-lum) Mountains AVA. The Chehalem Mountain Range is 20 miles long and 5 miles wide and was established in 2006. Within the Range you will find Ribbon Ridge (which is its own AVA) and Parrett Mountain. The area is home to around 150 small vineyards, most average around 12.5 acres and are family owned.

Chehalem Mountains AVA from Beckham Vineyards

Chehalem Mountains AVA from Beckham Vineyards

Soils here vary. This was after-all an uplift that created the range and you find sedimentary seabed, red soils from lava flows, and glacial sediment. So you find variety in soils and within the AVA there will be both similarities and contrasts. This would be part of the reason for the nested Ribbon Ridge AVA and the proposed nested Laurelwood AVA. http://www.chehalemmountains.org/home

Yamhill-Carlton AVA

Yamhill-Carlton AVA Map

Yamhill-Carlton AVA Map (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

West of the Chehalem Mountains and North of McMinnville you will find the Yamhill-Carlton AVA established in 2005. The AVA was named for the two hamlets, Yamhill and Carlton nestled in the center of the horseshoe shaped ridges in the foothills of the Coast Range. The Coast range provides a rain shadow (an area where the rain typically does not fall) over the whole area.

View of Yamhill-Carlton from Fairsing vineyard

View of Yamhill-Carlton from Fairsing vineyard

The soils here are the oldest of the marine sedimentary soils in the overall Willamette Valley. The soils are coarse-grained and drain easily, which is great for making the vines struggle. https://yamhillcarlton.org/

Ribbon Ridge AVA

Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association

Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge AVAs (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

This AVA sits within the Chehalem Mountains AVA and was established in 2005. Ribbon Ridge is a spur of ocean sediment uplift that is contained within 5.25 square miles on the northwest end of the Chehalem Mountains.

Trisaetum Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA

Trisaetum Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA

The uniform soils of ocean sediment that is high-quartz sandstone and weathered bedrock set this area of the Chehalem Mountains apart. http://ribbonridgeava.org/

Dundee Hills AVA

Dundee Hills AVA

Dundee Hills AVA (Willamette Valley Map Courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

Here is the place where the first of the grapes in the Willamette Valley were planted. It remains densely planted with around 50 vineyards in one of the busiest areas in the Willamette Valley.

This was the start of Pinot Noir in Oregon. The first Pinot vine was planted here. When we speak about the area being in it’s 50 year of growing grapes, we are talking about this place, the Dundee Hills. Eyrie, Sokol Blosser, Erath…if you know Oregon wine, you know those revered names. It was here that David Lett, Dick Erath and the Sokol Blossers took a chance and planted those first vineyards.

Vista Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA

Vista Hills Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA

The Dundee Hills AVA was established in 2005. The soils here are almost all basaltic (volcanic) soil deposited by a lava flow 15 million years ago. https://dundeehills.org/about/

McMinnville AVA

McMinnville AVA

McMinnville AVA (Willamette Valley Map Courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

Also established in 2005, the McMinnville AVA takes it’s name from the city of McMinnville which sits just east of the AVA.

McMinnville AVA

Vineyards in the McMinnville AVA

The vineyards sit on the east and southeast slopes of the Coast Range where the soils are uplifted marine sedimentary over basalt. The soils here are shallow and the Coast Range protects the area from rain. https://mcminnvilleava.org/

Eola-Amity Hills AVA

Eola-Amity Hills AVA

Eola-Amity Hills AVA Map (Willamette Valley Map Courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

This AVA sits in the Eola Hill’s along the Willamette River and straddles the 45th parallel (just as Burgundy does) and reaches north to the Amity Hills.

Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA

Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA

Soils here are shallow and mostly volcanic basalt with with marine sedimentary rocks. It’s shallow and rocky (that tends to make small concentrated berries). The Van Duzer corridor causes summer afternoon temps to drop, which is especially helpful in late summer as the grapes are ripening, to keep the acids firm. https://eolaamityhills.com/

Proposed AVAs

There are 5 AVAs that are proposed and in process. While the Van Duzer Corridor AVA is likely to be the next approved, we are going to go North to South again so that you have a better geographical idea of where these AVAs sit. Keep in mind that we are showing you maps of the general area, the boundries are actually much more detailed. We will dive into that as we explore each of these proposed AVAs in a future post.

Tualatin Hills AVA

General Area of the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA

General Area of the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

This area sits North of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and West of Chehalem Mountains AVA. This AVA is horse shoe shaped and it’s southern edge butts up to the northern edge of Yamhill-Carlton. From there it stretches north following the edge of the Willamette Valley AVA and then takes a right turn East toward Portland. It shares a little bit of a border with the Chehalem Mountains AVA on it’s south east side and well as a tiny bit with the proposed Laurelwood AVA.

Montinore Vineyards in the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA

Montinore Vineyards in the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA

The soils here are Laurelwood. Not to be confused with the proposed AVA, this soil series is volcanic basalt and loess (windblown silt). In addition the reddish soils here have pisolites (tiny balls of iron manganese).

Being due east of the Coast Range also allows them a rain shadow, so conditions here are dryer and allow for diurnal temperature shifts (day to night temperatures).

Laurelwood AVA

General Area of the proposed Laurelwood AVA

General Area of the proposed Laurelwood AVA (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

This area is nested within the Chehalem Mountains AVA. This proposed AVA encompasses the Northern facing slopes of the Chehalem Mountains, honing in on the Laurelwood soils.

Ponzi Vineyard in the proposed Laurelwood AVA

Ponzi Vineyard in the proposed Laurelwood AVA

These Laurelwood soils are Ice Age Loess (windblown silt), contained within the Northern slopes. The southern and western facing slopes in the Chehalem Mountains are primarily Columbia River Basalt and Marine Sediment.

Van Duzer Corridor AVA

General Area of the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA

General Area of the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

On the west side of the Eola Hills you will find the Van Duzer Corridor AVA.

Johan Vineyards in the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA

Johan Vineyards in the proposed Van Duzer Corridor AVA

Soils here are basalt and marine sedimentary over siltstone bedrock. The winds here are key. Eola-Amity brags about the Van Duzer Corridor winds, but here, on this side, the strong winds cause the grapes to thicken their skins.

Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA

General Area of the proposed Mount Pisgah AVA

General Area of the proposed Mount Pisgah AVA (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

South of McMinnville and West of the Eola-Amity Hills, kind of out on it’s own you will find the proposed Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA. West of Salem Oregon, there are just 10 vineyards and 2 wineries in this area.

Illahe Vineyard in the proposed Mount Pisgah/Polk County AVA

Illahe Vineyard in the proposed Mount Pisgah/Polk County AVA

Here the base is some of the oldest rocks in the Valley, Siletz River volcanics, and it is covered in a shallow layer of marine sedimentary soils.

Elevations here are higher and the vineyards on Mt. Pisgah are protected from extreme temperatures and wind.

Lower Long Tom AVA

General Area of the proposed Lower Long Tom AVA

General Area of the proposed Lower Long Tom AVA (Willamette Valley Map courtesy of Willamette Valley Wine Association)

Far south between Corvalis and Eugene you find the proposed Lower Long Tom AVA. This region is south of Corvalis, north of Eugene and sits on the western border of the Willamette Valley AVA. Soils here are marine sedimentary soil in the Prairie Mountain and Bellpine series.

Temps here are higher with Prairie Mountain diverting winds North and South around the area.

Next, the details….

That’s just our overview. We visited all but one of these areas and we look forward to deeper dives into each AVA, with more geeky details about climate and soil and what that means for the wines. In the meantime, if you are looking for further information, you can visit Willamette Valley Wine, Oregon Wine, or check out this great article in the Oregon Wine Press.

And if you are as in love with this beautiful map as I am, you can get one of your own at Willamette Valley Wine

Watch here as we delve deeper into Oregon Wines. We have multiple interviews with fascinating wine makers to share with you, including a morning spent with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate, who is instrumental in the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA.

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. So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . And don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The 9th Annual Uncommon Wine Festival at Vista Hills

While we are visiting the Willamette Valley we will be attending the Uncommon Wine Festival at Vista Hills Vineyard.  Vista Hills Winemaker and GM, Dave Petterson took a little time out of a busy day in the cellar to talk with me about the origins of the event.

John and Nancy McClintock, the owners of Vista Hills started planting grapes in 1997. They started as many vineyard owners do, simply as growers. Around 2006 they started thinking about making wine and building their own label and tasting room. They brought on Dave Petterson as their GM and Winemaker to do just that in 2007.

Dave has been part of the Oregon Wine community for 20 years and he has always seen it as a supportive community. As a small winery, they were constantly looking at ways to get their wines out there and with the tight wine community that the Willamette Valley was at the time (and still is),they knew lots of people who were looking for the same thing.

In 2000 there were 139 Wineries in Oregon, in 2007 about 350 and today 725.

(Information from Oregon Wine Industry Statistics from the Oregon Wine Board)

In 2010 Vista Hills started the “Uncommon Wine Festival” to give themselves and other small producers they knew, a venue to get their wines tasted and seen.

This is a supportive wine community. Producers are generally smaller, in fact 70% of all Oregon Wineries produce 5,000 cases or less annually.

(A little perspective…there are producers in California who make more wine annually than the entire state of Oregon)

Quality has always been really important here. You will notice this in the labeling. Federal Regulations through the TTB allow for a bottle to be labeled from a place if 75% comes from that place. In Oregon, if it says Oregon on the label 100% of those grapes must be from Oregon. With specific AVA listing on a label, the Federal Government says 85% while Oregon says 95%. Same with Varietal labeling. Over most of the world the standard is 75% of a variety in a wine and you can call it by that name. In Oregon, they upped that to 90%. In Oregon, quality matters. 

(Information from Oregon Wine Industry Statistics from the Oregon Wine Board)

The winemakers who participate in the event come from all over the Willamette Valley. Most, but not all, are sourcing fruit. I have to admit that I love this. This gives you the opportunity to try different wines that may come from the same vineyard and see a different interpretation of that fruit by another winemaker.

Dave will be pouring what he calls his “backwards” wines at the event, his orange wine and his white pinot noir. His orange wine he has a love/hate relationship with (orange wines can be notoriously difficult). It is a white wine made in a red style, while the white pinot noir is a red wine made in a white style. He didn’t think he would continue making the orange wine after the first year, but the response from their club to both of these wines has been terrific. I love hearing that there is an interest in these more adventurous wines.

The festival last year was so large and busy, that they expanded it to 2 days this year, running Saturday July 7th and Sunday July 8th.

 

**Just released!  The list of Winemakers for the event include:

A Cheerful Note Cellars, Fossil & Fawn, Leah Jorgensen Cellars, Esther Glen Farm & Winery, Joyful Noise, Maloof, and Libertine!  (Expect to hear all about all of these winemakers when we return!  I’m off now to visit their sites and learn all I can about them!)

Here’s a little from their press release:

“UWF has become a Treehouse Tasting Room tradition and one of the most anticipated events we host all year,” said Dave Petterson, winemaker and general manager at Vista Hills Vineyard. “As a small producer in a big industry, we understand the importance of deserved exposure and creating wines that truly stand out. The UWF excels on both accounts.”

While Pinot Noir will make a prominent showing at the UWF, other varietals like Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Gewürztraminer will make appearances, often crafted in experimental fashions. Guests can sample wines and purchase bottles to take home. Accompanying the wine will be bento from Phat Cart PDX. Vista Hills will be pouring some of its own micro-production offerings as well, including two vintages of its signature Pinot Gris Rosé Orange wine and the Fool’s Gold Blanc de Pinot Noir.

The Uncommon Wine Festival is a launch pad of sorts, having featured many labels on the cusp of success and expansion. Past featured labels include Teutonic Wine Company, Fausse Piste, Love & Squalor, Jackalope Wine Cellars, Guillen Family Wines, Johan Vineyards and many more.

You can visit the Vista Hills site for information on this and all of their events.  But for the quick details the event runs from 11-4 both days and the $35 tasting fee covers samples sips from several wines from each of the producers.  Come early, cause wines may run out!  Also Phat Cart Asian Fusion will have short ribs and bento bowls for sale when you get hungry!

Sunday July 8th will also be the Wine Country ½ Marathon starting and ending at Stoller in the Dundee Hills. They will be pouring at that event also and look to see many of the participants at the Uncommon Wine Event later that day! So it will be a full day of great events in Oregon Wine Country!

 

***So we attended the event and it was spectacular!  Watch for a post detailing the event and for some in depth interviews with the amazing winemakers who where there!

We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with some of the winemakers from this event.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Bella Conchi Spanish Brut Rose (Cava)

Brut Rose

This post is a throwback.  It was an evening off alone, and I pampered myself with a little Cava and pairings.  It’s kinda making me crave some bubbles now…

 

So Michael is working tonight and he doesn’t typically like sparkling wines, so…Tonight we dive into the Spanish Cava.

About the Cava

Spanish Brut Rose

Bella Conchi Spanish Brut Rose

This Cava is a Bella Conchi Brut Rose.  It is 70% Trepat and 30% Garnacha.

So lets break it down (this is the geeky wine stuff, feel free to scroll past if you just want to get to the pairings)

Cava is predominately made in Catalonia in Spain and may be white or rose. (We went with the Rosé).  And if it says “Cava” on the label, then it must be made in the traditional Champenoise method.

The word “Cava” means cave or cellar, which were originally used for aging.

This particular Cava is  a blend of Trepat & Garnacha.

On a side note: The name “Bella Conchi” is in honor of Javier Galarreta’s mother who loved Champagne and passed away before her son had produced this lovely Cava.

Trepat

If you are like me, you have not heard of this grape before. Although it has gone by many names: Trapat, Traput and Trepan are all easy variations, but it has also been known as Bonicaire, Parrel and Embolicaire.  This is a red Spanish grape that is primarily used for rose.  You will find it grown in Catalonia in the Conca de Barbera and Costers del Segre DO’s (Denominacion de Origen).  This is the Northeast part of Spain (think the Barcelona area).

The wines from this grapes are typically light to medium bodied.  You will get strawberry, raspberry and rose petal on the nose.  It tends to be very fresh and have bright acidity.  While mostly used for Cava, there are also some high quality red wines made with Trepat.

It likes sandy soil and as such you find it near growing near the coast.  It buds early and is typically resistant to fungal diseases, but is susceptible to frost.

Garnacha

Garnacha is Grenache, just grown in Spain where it originated.  This grape is more often thought of as a Rhone, the G in GSM.  This grape hails from the Aragon region of Northern Spain.  From here it spead to Catalonia, Sardinia and Roussillon in Southern France.

This grape likes hot dry soils and is great with wind tolerance (this would be the reason Steve Beckman told me he plants it on the top of Purisima Mountain!)

It is thin skinned and low in tannins and brings the fruit to a GSM blend.

The Pairings

So as I mentioned, Michael wasn’t home, so this was all about me.  I picked up the recommended cheeses, Mahon and Garrotxa from the cheese counter.  I grabbed some Marcona Almonds too, as they are fried in oil and salty, which is always a good pairing with sparking wine.  The guide suggested pairing with salads, grilled seafood, barbequed pork spareribs or spicy curly fries.  I must admit, I wasn’t really hungry.  I had just finished a great Yoga class and kinda just wanted to snack.  So, I picked up strawberries (pink with pink), blackberries (with thoughts of dropping them in my glass), Salt & Pepper popcorn (another great sparkling pairing) and a small jar of caviar.  I mean if you are going to do a pairing that gets you both ends of the budget spectrum to go with a sparkling wine.  Really though, this was grocery store shelf stable caviar so not so fancy at just $5.99.

Brut Rose

Bella Conchi Spanish Brut Rose Pairings

So how did the Pairings go?

I started with the Marcona Almonds which were fried in olive oil.  (details on Marcona Almonds).  This pairing was nice the rich oily, salty almonds and then a splash of the Cava to clean the palate.  Same for the Salt & Pepper popcorn.  I had been turned onto the popcorn sparkling pairing back when we visited Laetitia, a winery in SLO Wine Country that produces sparkling wines.  Their winemaker sites popcorn as his favorite pairing with sparkling wine.  Potato chips are also a great go to with the oil and salt.  The pepper on the popcorn was made a tad spicier with the Cava.

After that spice I needed to cool my palate down a bit, so I dove into the black berries.  They were lovely and sweet and picked up the fruit in the wine, as did the strawberries.  The fact that this was relatively dry allowed the berries to taste even sweeter.

The caviar I picked up was a Vodka Lumpfish caviar and was super salty.  I did not pick up creme fraiche, so it was just a little caviar on a cracker.  The popping caviar with the bubbles in the sparkling was lovely.  I just finished it off with a berry to clean my palate of the residual salt.

The brilliant thing about bubbles is that they clean your palate after every bite, so each bite is as fresh as the first.

Cheeses

Now the cheeses.  The guide recommended a Garraotxa and a Mahon.  Two cheeses I was not familiar with.  Time for some geeky cheese research.

Garrotxa

The guide classified it as a moist cakey semi-firm cheese.  They said it “offers sweetness with a sharp white pepper flavor”.

This cheese had a grey speckled rind that kinda looks like a river rock.  You pronounce it ‘ga-ROCH-ah’.  Imported from Catalonia it is a goat cheese that is crafted in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  In 1981 some young cheese makers saved this cheese from going extinct. This is traditionally made with the milk of the Murciana goats and is cave aged to get the mold to grow making that river rock rind and adding flavor to the cheese.  Theses cheeses mature quickly due to the humidity in the Pyrenees, taking between 4 to 8 weeks.

Mahon

There were a bit more details on this cheese from the guide.  “Aged seaside on the island of Menorca, this Hard, Flaky paste has buttery and fruity flavors with a hint of vinegary tartness.”

Mahon is a cows milk cheese and picking it up with it’s orange rind and soft interior I was reminded of Muenster.  This cheese is named for the port of Mahon on the Minorca island on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

The Mahon I chose was young, and was soft.  An aged Mahon will be hard.  It can be served over pasta, potatoes etc..  Traditionally it is served sliced with olive oil, black pepper and tarragon.  (This I will try the next time I pair it!)

I found this to be a fragrant with a slightly floral character that was really lovely.  The cheese was soft and smooth and this was intriguing with the Brut Rose, the Rose bringing out these floral notes in your mouth.

Surprisingly, Michael came home and finished the last glass I had left in the bottle.  Unfortunately he missed out on the pairings.  I do expect to pick up another bottle in the future, specifically to pair with some spicy curly fries!

Stay tuned for our next pairing!

You can find more information on wines, restaurants and on wine country and on Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing with #Winophiles

Picpoul de Pinet and Bonny Doon Vineyard Picpoul

Picpoul or Piquepoul is a grape of the South of France. While it is used as a blending grape in the Rhône, when you travel to Occitanie on the Mediterranean Sea you find it made as a single varietal wine. It is a wine of place, pairing perfectly with the briny oysters and other seafood of the coast. Picpoul translates to “lip stinger”, is named for it’s bright and tingly acid.  It is one of the oldest grape varieties in the Occitanie Region of France.

Languedoc-Rousillon in Occitanie

Occitanie Region of France map

Occitanie Region of France

While we have been diving into Rhone grapes lately, and picpoul is a grape of the Southern Rhone, it is more well know in Languedoc-Roussillon, a wine region in the south of France that is west of the French Riviera and runs around the Mediterranean Sea to the border with Spain.

Until 2016 the Occitanie region was referred to as Languedoc-Roussillon, and Midi-Pyrénées. The new name for the region comes from the Occitan cross which was the coat of arms used by the Counts of Toulouse and used in the 12th and 13th centuries. This new larger region encompasses the area they ruled.

Map of the Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

The Languedoc-Rousillon Wine Region in France

Within this region you find Picpoul-de-Pinet. This area around the Étang de Thau has moderate daytime temperatures due to the sea breezes and being close to the lagoon keeps the night time temps from dropping too much.

Étang de Thau

Photo of Oyster beds on the Thau Lagoon

The oyster beds on the Etang du Thau

The lagoon (étang) itself is 7,500 hectares and spans an area along the Mediterranean that runs 21 km along the coast and is 8 km wide. It is one of the largest lagoons off of the Mediterranean Sea. It is also a spectacular place to see flamingos, who stop in to eat in the lagoon around the village of Frontignan. You will also find many oyster and mussel farms in the region.

Picpoul-de-Pinet

Pinet is a commune in the Héralt department in the Occitanie region of Southern France. The small community gives it’s name to Picpoul-de-Pinet.  The vineyards here are among the oldest on the Mediterranean and grow on the edge of the Thau Lagoon.

The Grape

Picpoul vines grow well and are early to bud out in the spring, which does make it a little susceptible to frost. It also ripens late and it has a tendency toward mildew. The grapes themselves are oval and tend to drop off easily. I have heard that vineyards used to lay pans out under the vines to catch the grapes as they fell.

Picpoul comes to America

I first discovered this variety at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, the winery noted for bringing this variety to the US. This is one of the 13 varieties of grape allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Tablas Creek did not bring this grape in initially with the first 8 varieties that they brought from the Rhône, but after seeing how well suited the land and climate were to this grape imported it and planted an acre in 2000. Since then they have added another acre, grafting some roussanne vines over to picpoul blanc. As in the Southern Rhone, they use picpoul as a blending grape in their Esprit de Tablas Blanc. About every other year they do a varietal bottling. Sadly, I did not have a bottle for this tasting.

Bonny Doon’s Picpoul

When we were traveling and tasting last year and stopped by Bonny Doon, we found that they also had a picpoul. Randall Grahm, the winemaker, sources the grapes from Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. We  shared a little about this area and vineyard last year in our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)

Arroyo Seco

Arroyo Seco is an AVA in Monterey County. The AVA covers two towns, Soledad and Greenfield. The area sits in the Salinas Valley 40 miles from Monterey Bay, which brings dense fog and howling winds during the growing season in the Eastern and Central Portions of the AVA. Named for the “Arroyo Seco” a seasonal waterway that brings in water from the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The Western portion of the AVA runs east to west in a narrow gorge that is sheltered from the Monterey Bay fog and winds and has higher daytime temperatures. The AVA covers over 18,000 acres and is one of the smallest AVAs in California and has about 7,000 planted acres. Find out more about this region at http://www.arroyosecowinegrowers.com/

Beeswax Vineyards

Beeswax Vineyard was established in 2000 and has 24 acres of organically farmed wine grapes with blocks of pinot noir, grenache blanc, roussanne and picpoul blanc. This tiny vineyard is in the Salinas Valley toward the southern end of the AVA and is nestled into the Santa Lucia foothills.

Arroyo Seco Appellation map courtesy the Arroyo Seco Winegrowers

A conversation with Randall Grahm on picpoul blanc

I had an opportunity to speak with Randall Grahm the infamous winemaker at Bonny Doon Vineyards about picpoul.  He was gracious enough to take a few moments out of his busy morning for a chat on the phone.

Randall told me they originally brought picpoul in to add to their Cigare Blanc which is a white Rhône blend. The blend for the Cigare Blanc with the roussanne and grenache blanc was becoming more alcoholic and the acid was dropping. They grafted over some of the roussanne to picpoul hoping to add some of the acid that picpoul is known for, to the blend. “It seemed like a good idea, and we used it for one vintage, but found it did not play well with the roussanne and grenache blanc”, Randall said. It did, however make a great wine on it’s own, and has been well received. 2017 makes their 6th bottling of this variety.

We spoke about Beeswax Vineyard, the vineyard in Arroyo Seco where they source the grapes for this wine. They have had a good relationship with this grower and were involved in the layout and planning for the vineyard 14 years ago.  As I mentioned, they grafted over some of the original roussanne in this vineyard to picpoul which is where we get this wine. Randall also mentioned to me when we spoke that they have recently grafted some of the Beeswax vineyard roussanne over to clairette blanche, so watch for that from Bonny Doon in the future.

As to the wine making behind the Bonny Doon Picpoul,  “It’s a pretty low tech wine, whole cluster pressed with no skin contact and batonnage post fermentation for texture”.  Randall says the 2017 Vintage is a bit of an anomaly, in that it has riper aromatics and is more articulated. In this vintage you get floral notes where you normally find only flinty minerality. Randall only made 1500 cases of the 2017 Picpoul, so you should hurry and get some.

Picpoul in California

It is estimated (and only estimated because there is so little of it) that as of 2016 there were only 30 acres of picpoul in California. In addition to Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon, I found a few other California wineries that have produced picpoul blanc including Forlorn Hope (Napa), Broc Cellars (Berkley), TH Estates, Adelaida (Paso Robles), and Acquiesce (Lodi). If you are aware of other US wineries producing picpoul, let us know in the comments!

The Wines

Mouline de Gassac Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

Picpoul de Pinet

The Mouline de Gassac Picpoul-de-Pinet we chose, grows in limestone soils on a 5 hectare vineyard that is organically farmed. The soil here is clay and limestone close to the Thau Lagoon.  This is an unoaked picpoul.  40,000 bottles were made and the alcohol sits at 12.5%.

Bonny Doon 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul

We had two bottles of this wine.  The first we indulged in last September when we did our “Pairing food with Picpoul Blanc – (Speed Dating for Food and Wine)” post.  As I posted then..

“This wine was mouthwatering and bright, with a light straw yellow color. You get minerals, ocean and a floral note when you stick your nose in the glass and then tart green apple and stone fruit pits in your mouth. There is in the background this little bit of beeswax. It is a lovely and subtle wine.”

This wine comes in at 12.7% alcohol

It is worth mentioning the beautiful art on the label of the Bonny Doon Picpoul.  The artist is by Wendy Cook a calligrapher in San Francisco.  She has also done the labels for the Bonny Doon Viognier and roussanne and you can see more of her work at www.bellocchio.com

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon Vineyard 2017 Picpoul

Bonny Doon 2017 Picpoul from Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard

We did our initial tasting with the 2016 Bonny Doon Picpoul and had a bottle of the 2017 in route.  While it didn’t arrive in time for our pairing.  We did taste it after to see if we could pick up on the differences in the vintage that Randall mentioned.

This wine opened with sweet honeysuckle on the nose with lighter minerals in the back that grew to slate as it opened.  The nose was enchanting.  As with the other picpoul we found notes of beeswax also, but the sweet floral notes were the star.  We ended up pairing this will some linguine and clam sauce for dinner which was a great pairing.

This 6th vintage of Picpoul has an alcohol level a little lower than it’s predecessor, coming in at 12%

We have to thank Bonny Doon for including us in their food pairing notes for this wine! I went to check suggested pairings on their site and this is what I found.

“This wine is utterly brilliant with the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab. Other ideas include Grilled Octopus with Lemon, Moussaka, Sardines a la Plancha, Grilled Sardines with Frisée & Whole-Grain Mustard Dressing. We also love these more doon-to-earth ideas from our friends over at CrushedGrapeChronicles.com: Iberico or Manchego cheese, herbed goat cheese, smoked oysters, anchovies, capers, olive tapenade, calamari.”

 

The Pairing

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

Croquettes & Picpoul Tasting

The last time we tried a pairing, we didn’t prepare very well, although it did lead to some amazing discoveries that were noted in the pairing notes above. This time, I planned ahead. We found briney oysters and Dungeness crab as Randall suggested and made Croquettes de brandade, which is a popular pairing in Provence and Languedoc. The croquettes are made with potatoes and salt cod.  We rounded things out with a salad of frisee with a whole grain mustard vinaigrette.

If you are interested in making Croquettes de brandade (they were delicious), we did a separate post on how to make them along with a little video.

The Experience

Picpoul comparison

Picpoul comparison

Michael poured a glass of each of the wines and the first thing you noticed was the difference in color.  The Picpoul-de-Pinet was a deeper golden color and on pouring, produced tiny bubbles on the bottom of the glass.  The effervescence dissipated when you swirled the glass.  The Bonny Doon Picpoul was much lighter in color, just tinted with a bit of light straw that had a touch of green.

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On the nose the  Picpoul-de-Pinet smelled instantly of the sea, followed by citrus and lemon.  The Bonny Doon opened with slate and was a bit more mouth filling, and I never know if it is just my brain playing tricks on me, since I know that this wine comes from Beeswax vineyard, but I get beeswax on the nose.

Picpoul is a wine of place.  Sip it on it’s own and it’s fine, but it is truly meant to pair with food.  With the oysters, Dungeness crab and the croquettes, it paired perfectly.  Close your eyes and picture the Etang de Thau, or the California coast in Davenport, across the street from the Bonny Doon tasting room.  Smell the sea, taste the oysters, sip the wine.  That is the experience.

Bonny Doon beach

Bonny Doon beach

You can find more information on all things wine, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The #Winophiles

On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. Today we are focusing on the Picpoul varietal hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures.

If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, April 21st at 8am Pacific time. Search for the hashtag #Winophiles to follow along or peruse the tweets later. And be sure to check out the following articles prepared by these amazing writers on their take on picpoul!

The Picpoul Posts

You can find more information on all things Grapes, on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

10 Dog Friendly tasting rooms in Santa Barbara

My friends know me as the go to person for recommendation in Santa Barbara when it comes to wine and I have a friend who asked about dog friendly tasting rooms as they were heading out to Santa Barbara with their dog. So, I did a little investigating, checking in with some wineries to see what their policy was. This list is in no way all-inclusive, I am sure there are many more dog friendly tasting rooms in Santa Barbara, and if you know of them, please leave the info in the comments! But here is a list of some of my favorite places, that happen to also be dog friendly.

Municipal Winemakers

Municipal Winemkers

Municipal Winemakers is in an old Surf Shop near the beach in Santa Barbara

I instinctively knew that Municipal Winemakers was a dog friendly kind of place. They are close to the beach in Santa Barbara and have outside picnic tables and are very laid back. But to be sure I emailed Dave Potter (the winemaker) to check. His response “Absolutely! have a look at #dogsofmuni on instagram.” So I did and you should too (it’s pretty adorable).

Municipal is in the words of Antonio Galloni “Joyous” (click the about button).  He’s so right. The location near the beach is in an old Surf shop and has a wall of filing cabinets where they store the glasses. You can bring lunch and sit at a picnic table outside or watch for great events like the pom pom & tassel workshop or plant-based cheese making workshop! The wines are approachable, affordable and they go fast, so stock up while you are there. You will find they have extremely unpretentious names like Bright Red, Pale Pink, Bright White, Fizz (which is a sparkling Syrah), and Heavy Pets, (keep your mind out of the gutter and think big dogs) which is billed as a weekday sipper.

2 locations!

The tasting room in Santa Barbara is located at 22 Anacapa St. Santa Barbara, CA 93101 (805) 931-6864

They are open every day here Sunday through Wednesday from 11 am to 8 pm and Thursday through Saturday from 11 am to 11 pm.

They also have a tasting room in Los Alamos

423 Bell St. Los Alamos, CA 93440 (805) 245-5524

It’s open Thursdays from 2 to 7 pm; Fridays and Saturdays from 1 to 8 pm and Sundays from 12 to 7 pm.

For some more info on Municipal check out our post Municipal Winemakers and the Funk Zone Wineries.

Deep Sea Tasting Room

If you need to get a little closer to the water, the Conway Family has their Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara. Upstairs with a patio and views of Santa Barbara, the Coast and the Ocean, they are definitely dog friendly.

Deep Sea Conway Winery Santa Barbara Central Coast Wine Country

Deep Sea Tasting Room on Sterns Wharf in Santa Barbara

Gillian Conway, the Owner, responded to my inquiry with “Dogs are very welcome! We have two Winery Dogs who are usually hanging with us, their names are Ringo and Rolo. Both of our dogs have their own wine- Ringo’s Rescue Red supports our local Dog Shelter, the Dog Adoption Welfare Group (DAWG) and Rolo’s Red is in honor of our Rolo, the chocolate lab.”

Rolo at the Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf (Photo courtesy of Conway Family Wines)

Ringo, looking very handsome in the vineyard. (Photo courtesy of Conway Family Wines)

The tasting room is located at 217 G Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.  (805)709-0151.

During the winter their hours at Sunday through Thursday 12-7 and Friday’s and Saturday’s 12-8.

Alma Rosa

Alma Rosa Tasting Room

Outside seating at Alma Rosa in Buellton

Alma Rosa Tasting Room

The beautiful Alma Rosa Tasting Room

You’ll find Alma Rosa in Buellton in an Industry Park, next to the deliciousness that is Industrial Eats.  They are dog friendly “Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards is proud to state that we are dog friendly both within and outside our Tasting Room, as long as the dogs are on a leash.”

The wines here are by Richard Sanford, who is legendary in this area.  He was the first to plant grapes in the Sta. Rita Hills.  The wines are spectacular.  Inside the tasting room the centerpiece is Olivia, their stunning Olive tree planted in the center, so even inside, you feel the great outdoors.  The experience is at table, so you take a seat and they bring the wines to you.  They have tables out front, so you can pick up a bite from Industrial Eats and enjoy a bottle outside.

181-C Industrial Way, Buellton CA, 93427  (805)691-9395

Their Spring and Summer Hours are Monday through Thursday 12:00 to 6:30 and Friday through Sunday 11:00 to 6:30.

You can find more on Richard Sanford as well as some of the other incredible winemakers in Santa Barbara in A Sampling of the Incredible Winemakers of Santa Barbara

Kaena

Los Olivos is a great place to taste and walk your dog.  Many of the tasting rooms here are dog friendly and lots have patios so you can sit outside with your pooch.  Kaena is one of these great places.  Mikael Sigouin the winemaker is known as the “Grenache King” and makes a great rose!  You’ll find lots of Aloha here, Mikael is from Hawaii and Kaena is his Hawaiian name given to him by his Tutu (that’s Grandmother in Hawaiian).

The beautiful tasting room is located at 2890 Grand Ave. Los Olivos, CA 93441  (805) 688-4069.

They are open Daily 11-5 (Island time)

For a little background on the Grenache King check out our post How the Grenache King got his block.

Buttonwood Farm

To get to Buttonwood Farm you will have to head into the Santa Ynez Valley.   This winery is also an organic farm. During the season, you can find their farm stand open with fresh fruits and vegetables.  And you can wander the gardens, where they also raise goats. Dogs are welcome on leash in the tasting room and the gardens, but not at events (due to health department regulations).

 

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Buttonwood Farm inthe Santa Ynez Valley

They are located at 1500 Alamo Pintado Road in Solvang, CA 93463.

Their tasting room is open Daily from 11-5.

For more on Buttonwood Farm read our post Buttonwood Farm, a Hidden Gem in Santa Barbara County

Or check out the video Buttonwood Farm, a video Tour

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa loves their dogs.  You can see great photos of winery dog Ichi on their Instagram feed.

 

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When you get on Zaca Mesa Station Road you head through the woods in the Valley and then you come around a bend and Foxen Canyon opens up ahead of you.  If it’s in the morning, you will be watching the Fog and mist swirl around the windmill as you turn into Zaca Mesa.  I always love walking up to the winery beneath the huge tree that shades the courtyard and winery.

6905 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos CA 93441  (805)688-9339 ext 308

They are Open Daily from 10-4 but if you are headed there on a holiday, double check the site.

For more information on the amazing winemakers who have come through Zaca Mesa Checkout the video of the Santa Barbara Spring 2015 Wine Seminar “Zaca Mesa University”

Foxen

If you continue past Zaca Mesa on Foxen Canyon Road, you will find Foxen just when you think you have gone too far. The “Shack” is my favorite spot with all their non-Burgundian varieties. But the beautiful Pinot House on the hill is really stunning. Both locations are Dog Friendly.

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Elizabeth sent me a wonderful response “Yes, we are dog friendly are both of our tasting rooms. We just request that the dogs be on a leash and have decent social skills. We’ve got dog biscuits behind our counters and water bowls outside for our furry friends. Sometimes we’ll even have cats visit us! FOXEN collectively has 5 dogs and 2 cats, so we definitely love animals here. Just for fun, I’ve attached a picture of Rosie, Zeke and Tucker’s birthday party last month. They celebrated with pup cakes. The cats were not invited. “

Rosie, Zeke and Tucker’s birthday party at Foxen. (Photo courtesy Foxen Winery)

Foxen (The Pinot House) is the first tasting room you come upon at 7600 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria CA, 93454.  (805) 937-4251.

Continue just a little further to The Shack (or 7200 Foxen) at 7200 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria CA, 93454. (805) 937-4251 ext 201.

They are open Daily from 11-4, but check their site for their holiday hours.

Riverbench

If you get back on Foxen Canyon and keep driving you will come into the area of the Santa Maria Bench on your right and soon the Riverbench vineyards will be in view.  Riverbench is primarily Chardonnay and Pinot and they do have a wonderful Sparkling wine program.  The tasting room is a restored 1920’s craftsman style house and the grounds around the tasting room are perfect for a picnic.  You will find a Bocce ball court and a horseshoe pit, so it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

Sadie and a friend in the vineyard at Riverbench. (Photo courtesy of Riverbench Vineyard & Winery)

Sadie and a friend in the vineyard at Riverbench. (Photo courtesy of Riverbench Vineyard & Winery)

We did a vineyard tour with Rawley and were joined by his black Labrador Sadie.  This is a great location to bring the dog along.

Riverbench historic overview

Riverbench Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley shares a little of their history as you enter their tasting room

They are located at 6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria, CA 93454 (805) 937-8340

They are open Daily from 10 to 4.

Downtown Santa Barbara location

Riverbench Santa Barbara Tasting Room

The Riverbench Santa Barbara Tasting Room on Anacapa St.

They also have a new Downtown location, (also Dog Friendly) at 137 Anacapa St. Suite C, Santa Barbara CA 93101 (805) 324-4100

Which is open daily from 11-6.

For more on Riverbench check out the post Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, a Vineyard tour

and you can see a video here.  Riverbench Winery, a Video Tour

Presqu’ile

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Presqu’ile Winery is located up in the Santa Maria Valley. The winery sits up on a hill (it’s a gravity flow winery) and has amazing views on clear days of the ocean. Dogs here are allowed both indoors and outdoors as long as they are friendly and on-leash. The only area they don’t allow them in is on their tours.

This winery is stunning and has amazing hospitality as well as brilliant wines by winemaker Dieter Cronje.  If you happen to be driving an electric vehicle, they do have charging stations and they offer really beautiful, Cheese Plates, Charcuterie, and a Parisian sandwich 7 days a week from 11am-4pm.

The beautiful property is at 5391 Presqu’ile Drive  Santa Maria, CA 93455 (805) 937-8110

Their tasting room is open 7 days a week year round. On Friday’s from 11am to 6pm and Saturday through Thursday from 11am to 5pm

We have visited Presqu’ile multiple times, so there is plenty of information on the site about them.  Start with the Big Bottle Bash at Presqu’ile  and then check out the series from The Taste through the Vineyard Event

Longoria

Another legendary Winemaker in this region is Richard Longoria.  He and his wife Diana have been making wine in Santa Barbara since 1982.  For many years they had a tasting room in Los Olivos.  Two years ago they built a winery and tasting room in Lompoc and closed the Los Olivos tasting room to focus their energies there.  Lompoc is the perfect place for them.  Richard was the first winery in what is now affectionately known at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  The new winery is just outside the “Ghetto” in the historic Lompoc JM Club building.

Rick Longoria of Longoria Wines

Rick Longoria, Longoria Winery

In response to my question of if they were dog friendly, Diana Longoria replied “Our tasting room is Dog Friendly!  We only ask that owners keep their dogs on their leash and next to them during their visit.

When I’m working in the tasting room, my Beagle, Buddy is usually with me.  He’ll be 12 years old next month and has been “helping” in the tasting room since he was a puppy.” And she kindly included a photo of Buddy.

Winery Dogs

Buddy, the tasting room assistant at Longoria in Lompoc (photo courtesy of Longoria Winery)

You will find the tasting room at 415 W. Chestnut Ave.  Lompoc, CA 93436 (866) 759-4637.

They are open daily 11 to 4:30, but do check for holiday closings and special hours.

As I said, this list in by no mean all of the Dog Friendly wineries or tasting rooms in Santa Barbara County, it’s just a few that I know of.  If you know of other dog friendly tasting rooms in the area, please leave us a note in the comments!

You can find more information on Santa Barbara County and on wine country and wines on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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.

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A Trio of Syrahs from California’s Central Coast

Syrah bottles Tablas Creek Carhartt Larner

I started out with a plan.  It actually wasn’t Syrah. The plan was dinner and a Roussanne.  We have spent a couple weeks doing research on Syrah and were almost complete.  Our next varietal to focus on is Roussanne and we were going to start with that tonight.  But…it got a little cloudy out and it was feeling a little cold and rather than the seafood companion to the Roussanne, we wanted something a little warmer and cozier.

I came across a post on my Twitter from Bonny Doon of two of their Syrah’s the 2013 Bien Nacido and the 2013 Le Pousseur.  I was inspired and pretty sure I had a Le Pousseur in the cellar, so I did a little pairing research on the Bonny Doon site, and Randall Grahm their winemaker, suggests lamb chops with chimichurri.  I don’t do lamb, (can’t eat baby animals) so I look a little further on the web for pairing advice and see sirloin as a pairing.  Off we go to shop for dinner.  We pick up a marinated sirloin with a chimichurri sauce!  Upon arriving at home, I head down to grab the wine, only to find, well, to not find, the Le Pousseur.  We must have already enjoyed that bottle!  Luckily, we have a few other Syrahs (that’s kind of an understatement).  So I debate between a 2013 Carhartt and a 2014 Larner Transverse.  Both are from Santa Barbara County.  Finally I decide that with a Tablas Creek 2014 Syrah already open, we might as well do a side by side with all 3.

Grilled sirloin & Syrah Tablas Creek 2014, Carhartt 2013 and Larner Transverse 2014

Grilled Sirloin with a chimichurri sauce, grilled eggplant and a salad to pair with our Trio of Syrahs.

The Syrahs

 

2014 Tablas Creek Syrah

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Syrah

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Syrah

At Tablas Creek in Paso Robles they have 4 clones of Syrah that were brought from France, from Chateau du Beaucastel. They planted these in 1994, so the vines are almost in their mid 20’s.  The 2014 is the tenth bottling of this single varietal that they have done.  This was fermented in open-top fermenters and was aged in a mix of smaller newer barrels (note that they are “newer” not “New”) and Neutral 1200- gallon foudres for 20 months.  It is 100% Syrah and sits at 14.6% alcohol. If you are familiar with Rhône Syrahs, they say this wine is “more Cote Rotie than Cornas,”.  Only 800 cases were produced.  Visit https://tablascreek.com/ for all the details.

You will also find Vintage Charts (I love these) on their site, to let you know where their wines are at drinkability wise.  Many of the Tablas Creek Wines are meant to age. They taste through their wines and update the vintage chart annually.  The chart will let you know if the wine needs more aging, is drinking well but is youthful, is mature, is in a closed phase, if it’s time to drink it now, before it passes it’s prime or if you have waited too long.  It will also tell you if they currently recommend decanting the wine.

2013 Carhartt Syrah

Carhartt 2013 Syrah.

Carhartt 2013 Syrah.

This Syrah comes from Rancho Santa Ynez in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.  Carhartt prints all the good geeky details right on the back label and I love them for that!  This vineyard is just 10 acres and sits on a mesa in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The wine is 100% Syrah from clones 470 & 174 on 1103p Rootstock and 877 & Estrella clones on 5c rootstock. It is grown on vertical trellis.  It is sustainably farmed, and fermented in small lots with a cold soak, punch downs and pump overs & gently pressed.  It spends 17 months in barrel (35% new french oak).  It sits at 13.5% alcohol.  This wine is unfined and unfiltered and only 435 cases were made.

To learn a little more about Carhartt head to their website http://carharttvineyard.com  On the home page you will find a digital magazine, written by Chase Carhartt.  He will tell you the history of this small family business, where they produce only 5000 cases of wine per year and are dedicated making quality wine and treating customers like family.  Their tasting room in Los Olivos is only 99 square feet, making it the tiniest tasting room, but then there is the back patio, which is the best place to be a 5 pm in Los Olivos.

2014 Larner Transverse

Larner 2014 Transverse Syrah

Larner 2014 Transverse Syrah

Michael Larner has a background as a Geologist, so his labels and names for his wine stem from this background.  Transverse is the name for his Syrah that is not an estate wine.

“Transverse:  A geologic structure lying or extending across an area, in a cross direction to other distinguishing local features” From his blog post on this wine

This wine is a blend of Syrah from across Santa Barbara County.  The grapes come from 4 estates spread across the area: Verna’s vineyard is on the east side of the Los Alamos Valley, Coquelicot vineyard sits in the southern part of the Santa Ynez AVA east of Solvang,  Rodney’s vineyard is in the Northern part of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA on Foxen Canyon Road (at Fess Parker) and Star Lane vineyard is in the Eastern most part of the Santa Ynez Valley in the Happy Canyon AVA. So these vineyards span the area and all sit outside the Ballard Canyon AVA, where Larner Vineyard is located.

The grapes for this wine were harvested between October 1st and November 10th, 2014.  It was aged for 14 months in 100% neutral french oak puncheons and then spent 4 months in bottle before it was released.  It sits at 14.7% Alcohol.

“100% Syrah, 10% Whole Cluster. All vineyard lots were fermented individually, macerated for a total of 15 days, initiated fermentation using native yeast, later inoculated with BM 45 yeast and pumped over 1x per day plus punched down 3x per day. Peak Temp averaged 86˚F.”

All these details can be found on the Larner site at http://www.larnerwine.com/product/2014-Transverse

The Tasting

2014 Tablas Creek Syrah

As you pour this wine you immediately notice how dark and opaque it is.  The first thing I got when I stuck my nose in the glass was leather and earth, followed by dark fruit like black currants, folloowed by pepper and savory herbs.  When I went back to it later, I was struck by the salinity and minerality that it gave off as it opened up.  In my mouth it was tart blackberries with a bit of cranberry, you know that extra tartness and tannin you get from cranberries.  It made my mouth water and my teeth dry just a little.  It was mellow and the most food friendly of the wines.

2013 Carhartt Syrah

This wine was decidedly lighter as I poured it, and more translucent in the glass.  The first thing I smelled here was wet straw and barnyard, followed by cranberries, red currants and brighter spices like white pepper.  There were also light floral notes like violets.  In my mouth it was a much lighter wine than the others and tasted of tart red apple skin and dark red berries.  It numbed my gums a little without drying them.  It had a strong medium finish.  It heightened the spice in the chimichurri sauce without making it too hot.

2014 Larner Transverse

This wine was darker, like the Tablas Creek.  Was this due to the 2014 Harvest?  It also sits at 14.7 alcohol (the Tablas is 14.6 and the Carhartt 13.5), so perhaps the depth of color has something to do with the hang time?  The nose was pepper and spice immediately followed by Eucalyptus, black currants and leather.  In my mouth it was all rich red and black fruit with spice and bright bold pepper.  The bright red fruit really hits you mid palate.  It was tangy on the sides of my tougue and had a sweetness on the finish.

After tasting the wines, I was fascinated by the differences.  Were the differences due to wine making techniques, the location of the vineyards, the vintage year and it’s weather?  So I did a little digging and here is what I found out about the harvests.

About the Vintages

Paso Robles 2014 Harvest

2014 was the 3rd year of drought in Paso Robles.  The yields across the area were down, although Tablas Creek’s Syrah Harvest yields were up by 13% over 2013.  The year was noted for depth and concentration in the berries.

Santa Barbara County 2013 Harvest

While 2013 was the 2nd year of drought it was also the 2nd year of ideal growing conditions.  It was a warm, dry growing season without any considerable heat spikes.  It was an early harvest, starting on August 14th and like 2014 it was a fast harvest.  A typical harvest is spread out over 3 months, 2013’s harvest lasted only 7 weeks.  Yields were above average, with an early bud break and large fruit set.

Santa Barbara County 2014 Harvest

In Santa Barbara they had a shorter growing season.  The winter was mild and harvest for many was the earliest ever.  Harvest was also fast, with vineyards bringing in lots of fruit at the same time putting wineries into quite the scramble.  For all intents and purposes it was a solid crop and the fruit had good intensity.

The Regions

Map of California's Central Coast with Paso Robles and Santa Barbara Highlighted

Paso Roble and Santa Barbara Regions in California’s Central Coast  Map by GoogleMaps

The areas that these wines come from spans around a hundred miles on California’s Central Coast.  Tablas Creek is in the Paso Robles Region, while the Carhartt and Larner Syrahs are from the Santa Barbara Region.

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles, Adelaida AVA

Tablas Creek Vineyards is located in the Western Portion of the Paso Robles wine region in the Adelaida AVA.  The elevations in this AVA are between 900 and 1200 feet for planted vineyards.  Because they are the closest AVA to the Ocean, hot summer days are typically tempered by the Maritime influences.  Warm days and cool nights are an ideal growing condition.

For more on the Adelaida AVA you can watch our interview with Jason Haas.

Carhartt Vineyard, Rancho Santa Ynez, Santa Ynez AVA

Carhartt Vineyard is located in Santa Barbara County.  It is in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which is a larger AVA encompassing most of the southern part of Santa Barbara County.  Within this AVA you find the Sta. Rita Hills AVA to the West, Ballard Canyon AVA in the Central part of the area and the Happy Canyon AVA to the East.  Carhartt Vineyard sits in Rancho Santa Ynez on a hill top.

Larner Wines Transverse, Santa Barbara County

This wine is called Transverse because it comes from 4 estate vineyards that span the Transverse Valley of the Santa Barbara Area.  So…as you can see from the Map above it takes in multiple regions.

Verna’s Vineyard is in Los Alamos off of Cat Canyon Road.  The vineyard was planted in 1999 by the Melville family and is now owned by Cat Canyon / Shokrian Vineyards.  It is a or 100 acre parcel east of the 101 with warm winds and cool nights.

Rodney’s Vineyard is on the Fess Parker Ranch which is on the east side of Foxen Canyon Road. It is included in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA in it’s Northernmost region.  Fess Parker, so well known as “Daniel Boone” bought the property in 1988.  The vineyard is named after his late son-in-law.

Coquelicot Vineyard is in the Santa Ynez Valley, just east of Solvang.  It is one of the Southern most vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. This 58 Acre vineyard is Certified Organic.

Star Lane Vineyard is located in the Happy Canyon AVA which is the furthest West region of the Santa Barbara area and as such the warmest.  It sits north of Happy Canyon Road.

So, the differences in the wines?   It could be the growing season and the fact that it was just the 2nd year of drought was part of what made the Carhartt a bit lighter.  Or perhaps it was the wine making style.  Or the type of soil in the vineyards (we didn’t even really talk about that variable!)  And don’t get me wrong, the fact that it was lighter than the other two was not a bad thing.  It was lighter on my palate, but it was still full of flavor and nuance.  This whole side by side tasting is about finding the nuanced differences in the wines and enjoying each for their uniqueness.  There are differences in soils, in weather, in the clones, in the yeasts…Michael mentions inoculating with BM 35 yeast after the initial fermentation was started with native yeasts.  Tablas Creek is all native yeast and I actually don’t have the details on the yeasts used on the Carhartt, as this is one of the few details that they don’t include on this label.  The choice of when to harvest is dependent on the winemakers preference for ripeness typically, but for Michael Larner was harvesting from 4 vineyards that were not his own, which often can mean that you are subject to being harvested a little earlier or later than your preference depending on who else the vineyard is harvesting for at the time.  Then there are the subtle differences of where the block is located within the vineyard and what time of sunlight and wind it gets.  Really, there are just so many variables.

And that is what makes this beverage so fascinating. The variables all add up to a complex story in the glass.  It’s a story of the place, of the soil, of the season, of the people… and it’s a delicious story.

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What is Terret Noir?

Wine & Cheese Pairing with Tablas Creek Terret Noir 2105

Terret Noir

Terret Noir is a Rhône Valley Grape that is dark but thinned skinned and produces a light colored wine. It is one of the 13 grapes permitted for blending in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, although it totals just 2 acres of vineyard in the region. Like Grenache you will also find Terret Blanc and Terret Gris the other color variations in the grape. Terret Noir is thought to be originally from Languedoc where Terret Gris was once grown widely and used in the production of vermouth.

This grape buds late (which is great, so you don’t have as much frost worry with it), produces abundantly and brings a freshness to other varieties when blended.

Terret Noir in Paso Robles

Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles brought this grape in with their program to bring all 13 of the Châteauneuf-de-Pape grapes to their vineyard.  We had the opportunity to taste a single varietal of Terret Noir in their tasting room and took a bottle of the 2015 with us. (They made this as a single varietal in 2013, 2014 & 2015)

It was indeed a light colored wine, transparent cranberry red, leaning more toward orange than purple in my glass.  On the nose you get bright red fruit and spice with dried strawberries and brambles, like a walk in a meadow in summer after rain as you get all the lush green grasses drying in the sun.

In your mouth it is pomegranate and bright spices and the flesh of a bright red plum.

We paired it with a cheese and charcuterie plate and found it made the parmesan cheese taste sharper and less salty.  The dry Italian salami brightened the fruit in the wine while the wine brought out the savory tones in the salami.

Tablas Creek plans to use this as a blending grape. Watch for it to appear with Syrah and Grenache in a 2016 blend.

I always enjoy exploring those underappreciated grape varieties.  It widens your palate and reminds you that there is so much more out there than Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.

This wine pairs well with braised vegetables, grilled eggplant and salty meats and cheeses.

Come back and see what other great wine varieties we are tasting. 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

Albariños from Rias Baixas

Albariño is being grown all over the world, but it originates from Rias Baixas.  We spent some time getting to know a little about the region and then tasting through 3 Albariños from this region and doing a little experimental food pairing.

Where does Albariño come from?

Galicia

This area is the Northwestern corner of Spain, and it’s probably not what you picture when you picture Spain.  Located above Portugal with two edges of coast line on the Atlantic.  It’s called Galicia and it sounds Gaelic for a reason.  This area was inhabited by Celtic people who lived north of the Douro River.  My dear friend Pepe who is from Spain once told me about this area with such passion and longing, that he created a picture of this place for me without my even seeing it.  The area is often wet and cloudy and feels more like Ireland than Spain.  You find it populated with many ginger-haired blue-eyed Spaniards.  Bagpipes are not uncommon and Celtic crosses dot the landscape.

Rias Baixas

Within this green wet corner of Spain you find Rias Baixas.   “Rias Baixas” means “lower Rias” in Galician.  This coastal area encompasses 4 inlets and it is rich in fishing and aquaculture.  Wide beaches and beautiful vineyards, great seafood and wine make this an idealic destination.

Albariño and how it is grown

90% of the wine coming out of Rias Baixas is Albariño, and the grape is thought to have originated in the area.  While it has been proven to be indigenous to Spain, there were legends saying that monks had brought Riesling or Petit Manseng from Burgundy to this region of Spain back in the  12th or 13th centuries. It does resemble Riesling in it’s minerality.

This grape is very good at thriving in this moist environment, but to up the odds of success, the vines here are trained on pergolas. The pergolas are hewed from granite (makes sense because wood would rot in the moisture).  The pergola’s keep the grapes off the ground,  they get protection from the sun and great airflow.  These pergolas can be up to 7 feet tall, so the breezes pass through keeping down mildew and allowing for even ripening.  Harvest is by hand into 40 lb bins and yields here are low, between 3 and 5 tons per acre.

The Wines for today

2016 Luzado Albariño

The first was a 2016 Luzada Albariño. This is an estate grown and bottled wine from Val do Sainés in Rais Baixas. We picked this up at Trader Joes for $6.99. This was to be our low end wine for comparison. Quite honestly it stood up pretty well. The closure on this wine was screw cap, so quick and easy to get into. On the nose I got dusty rocks, minerals, lemon spritzer and pith. As it opened up it blossomed with honeysuckle. On the palate there was a tartness, like an under ripe green apple. It lingers on the palate and we found it to be really nice. Is there a ton of depth and nuance? No, but the nose did evolve and kept me going back for more.

Luzada Albariño with Palak Paneer and Pad Thai

Luzada Albariño with Palak Paneer and Pad Thai

We paired this one night (yes at $6.99 it’s easy to pick up another bottle), with Indian and Thai food, which are go to pairings for Albariño. It was beautiful with the Palak Paneer, the brightness of the wine went well with the greens in the dish. With the Pad Thai, it was nice, but we still got stung a bit by the heat of the dish, so I think I will still prefer Rieslings with Thai.

2015 Alma Terra Albariño

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The 2015 Alma Terra we picked up at Total Wine. This bottle set us back $16.99. This is a “Ponte” which means it is single vineyard. When I stuck my nose in this glass, I got peach pits and dusty honeysuckle. In my mouth it was more tropical with a little pineapple and tart still hard white peaches. (I actually tasted this wine with some slightly under ripe white peaches). There was a bit more nuance to the nose on this wine, but we found that it settled quickly, and didn’t continue to open or change.  This bottle had a cork closure. I mention this because, surprisingly, each of these bottles had a different closure.

2014 La Caña Albariño

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Lastly we had a 2014 La Caña Albariño. This wine again came from Total Wine and ran $19.99. Upon sticking my nose in the glass, I knew we had something different here. The nose was beeswax and honeysuckle and it felt comfortable and round. It opened up to peach and nectarine and citrus blossoms late in the day on a hot and humid day. 80% of this wine is fermented in Stainless and 20 percent in French Oak puncheons. It rests 8 months on the lees before bottling. This wine was not bright and sharp, like the previous wines, but rather comes across like a beautiful watercolor painting, the colors melding and blending softly as they seep into the paper. This perhaps is because it sits on the lees for 8 months. Oh and this bottle had a composite stopper.

While the La Caña was my favorite of the evening, it is also clearly a different style of Albariño.

The pairings

Eggplant was the theme du jour.  We had picked some at Gilcrease Farm and were ready to dive into using it.  I made a dip, with a recipe from my friend Corinne.  It called for roasting the eggplant, scooping out  the insides and mixing it with mayo, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  I tossed in some lemon zest for good measure.

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Michael pulled up a recipe for Eggplant parmesean.  He had just made several jars of roasted tomato sauce that we used in this.  Pretty simple, slice the eggplant in 1/8 inch slices lengthwise, salt and let sit for 30 minutes.  Then do an egg and breadcrumb dip and fry them.  Then layer like lasagna…a layer of eggplant, a layer of sauce and repeat twice (3 layers), then top with fresh mozzerella slices and bake.

We also made some fried calamari and we had white peaches and nectarines as well as two types of flavored goat cheese and a sampling of spanish cheeses.

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So…as to the pairings;  The Luzado was really wonderful with the eggplant dip.  I attribute this to the lemon juice and zest in the dip.  The Calamari was great with the Alma Terra.  The La Caña blended well with everything, it didn’t make anything sparkle or shine, but it was really easy going playing well with all the dishes.

How was the Eggplant Parmesean you ask?

Homemade Eggplant Parmesan

Homemade Eggplant Parmesan

Well, due to the red sauce, it really didn’t do much of anything with the wine, but, it was tasty on it’s own!

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Winter in the Vineyard

winter-vineyard

Winter in the Vineyard. It’s the quiet time. Harvest is over, the cellar has done their thing and now the wine sits quietly and ages. The leaves in the vineyard turn red or golden and then fall, the vines are going dormant. They will get pruned mid winter, cutting back the vines to ensure a healthy crop for next year.

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Fertilizing the vineyard

Now is the time to compost the vineyard. Many vineyards save the unripe fruit and/or pomice (the skins from the grapes after the wine is pressed off) to use in their compost. Sometimes additional fertilizers will be added. (We like when they used the natural kind). Then the soil is disked to get the nutrients mixed in with the topsoil. This way when the rain comes the soil can soak up all these nutrients.

Grapevines and mustard growing in California's Napa Valley

Grapevines and mustard growing in California’s Napa Valley

Cover Crops

Cover crops will also be seeded, and coming up, likely making the vineyards look green in early winter. Cover crops help with keeping down erosion, adding nutrients back into the soil and help lure in those beneficial insects. Vineyards with sheep and other animals may have them out grazing in the vines. This helps keep the soil loose and adds natural fertilizer.

Pruning

Pruning may seem simple. It’s just cutting back the vines of course, but there is strategy involved.

A weaker vine may be pruned more deeply than a healthy vine.

Pruning also has some determining factors for harvest. As you prune you determine the number of spurs per vine (the knubs left of the pruned branch which will bud out in the spring). Each spur will have a shoot in the spring that will probably hold 2 clusters. So when you prune you can calculate your crop size for the next vintage (of course accounting for frost, shatter, birds, rot and rain, LOL).

There is also the matter of timing in pruning. All the vines of a varietal that you prune at the same time are likely to ripen at about the same time. So spreading the pruning out a little, changes the pacing of your harvest. And Pruning will stimulate the vines causing them to push out earlier. So depending on your forecast for spring, you might hold your pruning until later.

The pruning typically removes most of the canes leaving just those spurs. As you prune you can see how the sap is flowing. The sap flows stronger as you close in on bud break

These vine cuttings can be used to graft to new rootstock to plant again.

Pruning is often done by hand and it is laborious work. There are Pre-pruning machines that can cut the larger parts of the canes back, making it easier to get in and finish the job by hand.

As winter ends we will head toward spring and as the sap starts to flow and we get closer to bud break the sleepless nights when freeze warnings happen. But that’s for Spring (and you thought spring was all bright greens and flowers?)

 

find out more of how the Seasons work in Wine country.

Lompoc, the Wine Ghetto and Beyond

lompac Ghetto

We visited Lompoc.  It was a Thursday…so limited wine tasting rooms were open, but it gave us a chance to do a few tastings and scope out tasting rooms we would like to return to.  But perhaps you have never heard of Lompoc?  Let me bring you up to speed.

Lompoc

Lompoc is located on the Central Coast of California in Santa Barbara County.  From a wine perspective, it is the area just west of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  The Chumash Indians were the first known settlers here and enjoyed relative peace and quiet for what is thought to be 10,000 years until the first European Settlement was built in 1787 with the La Purisima Mission.  The original mission was destroyed in 1812 by an earthquake and was rebuilt several years after at another site.  The mission is now a state park and is host to the Wine and Fire Event held annually by the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. the name Lompoc comes from the Chumash Indian word “Lum Poc” for “Lagoon” (or for stagnant waters, but lagoon sounds better).

The city of Lompoc was Incorporated in 1888 and many wharves were built for incoming supplies to the coast.  At the turn of the century the rail system took over transport of goods and slowed traffic to the coast by boats, but the new rail system ran from San Francisco to LA with a spur coming into Lompoc. The city is known as the City of Arts and Flowers and indeed they became know as the capitol for the flower seed industry.  The area became agriculturally based and still grows many flowers.

In 1941 Camp Cooke was established as a Army Training base and was renamed Vandenburg Air Force Base in 1958 when the Air Force began using it as a test site for intermediate-range ballistic missles.  In the late 1980’s this was to be the new spot for launching Space Shuttle Missions and the town grew and boomed with the expectation of people coming in to see the launches.  Sadly the Challenger shuttle explosion in 1986 ended that program and the city struggled to find a way out of the recession they found themselves in.

They turned to Tourism and now in addition to their arts and flowers, they are home to many wineries with around 30 tasting rooms, which are typically open on the weekends.

The Wine Ghetto

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto came about in 1998 when Rick Longoria moved his winery operations to an industrial Warehouse in Lompoc.  It was close to the vineyards and allowed an affordable space to make wine.  Others soon followed suit, and while Longoria moved out of the Ghetto, in to a new facility down the street (in the historic JM Club), there are still plenty of great tasting rooms in the Ghetto.

We had tasted in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto before at Palmina by Steve Clifton and a little further outside the Ghetto at Brewer Clifton back in 2012.  It seems like not so long ago, but really it has been a bit of time and things have changed.  Brewer-Clifton was founded in 2001 by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton.  In 2015 Ken Frederickson and his team joined Brewer Clifton and recently the winery was purchased by Jackson Family Wines.

We also visited Fiddlehead Cellars during a Vintners Spring weekend event and enjoyed a great tasting with Kathy Josephs the winemaker there as well as some great home-cooked food!

Currently the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is home to 18 wineries and tasting rooms.  In addition there are individual tasting rooms like Longoria and Brewer Clifton further to the West and just east of the Ghetto is the Santa Rita Hills Wine Center Where you can find 4 tasting rooms and several other wineries.  The tasting rooms here include Zotovich, AVE, Kessler-Hawk and Transcendence.  In the Ghetto you will find Ampelos, Arcadian, Bratcher, DSP, Fiddlehead, Flying Goat, Holus Bolus, Jalama, La Montagne, La Vie, Montemar, Morretti, Pali, Palmina, Piedrasassi & Stolpman.  Check out the Lompoc Wine Trail for details and a map.

During this visit we stopped at A Taste of Sta. Rita Hills tasting room, which shares space with Moretti, located in the Wine Ghetto and then visited AVE and Transcendence located a short walk away at the Santa Rita Hills Wine Center.

You will find that most of the tasting rooms and wineries here focus on the varieties of grapes coming from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, meaning lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but there are other varieties available also.

While I was unable to get there, on Friday afternoons, Piedrasassi, Sashi Moorman’s Winery also has it’s Bakery open run by Melissa Sorongon.  You can get fresh baked bread and taste some great wines all at one time.  It’s on my list.

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We will be sharing the details of our tastings in Lompoc in future posts.  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