On the 11th Day – A Ballard Canyon Syrah from Larner & Beef Stew

Larner Reserve Syrah with Beef stew and Polenta

We’ve come to the 11th Day in our 12 Days of Wine and we pulled a beautiful bottle of Ballard Canyon Syrah out from Larner Vineyard & Winery.

2013 Larner Estate Syrah – Reserve

Larner Ballard Canyon Syrah
Larner 2013 Ballard Canyon Syrah Reserve

Our finest Syrah from the 2013 vintage has a vivid bouquet of violets, cassis, blueberries, pepper, vanilla and espresso. The intense, full palate has a layered texture of chalky tannins followed by a smooth finish. Fermented with 20% whole cluster, 4% Viognier and aged 36 months in 30% new French oak barrels.

Larnerwine.com

So this is a big Syrah.  This is not just their Estate Syrah, but a bottling of the best of the lots of the Estate Syrah from 2013. 

Ballard Canyon AVA

The view down @ballardcanyon from above @saarloosandsons Windmill Ranch Vineyard. #sbcwines

This AVA is in the Santa Barbara Region and is nested inside the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.  At about the half way point of the East West Valley of Santa Barbara, the climate is perfect for Rhône Varieties and Syrah thrives here. 

You can visit the AVA site and read about the climate and varieties here.

Larner Vineyard

We have been lucky enough to spend significant time with Michael Larner soaking up his amazing knowledge of the area and the soils.  You can find all sorts of articles and interviews on our Larner Winery & Vineyard page.

What to Pair?

I reached out to Larner Vineyards and Jeni who runs the Tasting Room and Wine Club responded with a great pairing for winter.  A Beef Stew made with the Syrah to pair with the Syrah!


Hi there Robin! Here is a recipe that we definitely recommend to go withour Reserve Syrah! Nice and hearty and pairs perfectly with the wonderfully balanced 2013 Syrah!

Jeni Torres Larner Wine Club Manager and Tasting Room Lead

Here is the beautiful recipe she shared with us.

Beef stew with mushrooms and polenta

  • 3 pounds stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1-inch –wide strip. (I used unsalted bacon)
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups of 2011 Larner Syrah.
  • 25 pearl onions
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 20 ounces of mushrooms, you can used brown button mushrooms, quartered, shitake cut in half,
  • cremini mushroom or if possible fresh porcini mushroom. I soaked the dry porcini mushrooms in the warm water and added this water to the stew.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoon on tomato paste
  • 1 bunch of baby carrots, cut
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 springs of thyme
  • Salt. If you use the salted bacon don’t add salt,you can always do it at the table.
  • Some olive oil
  • 3 cups of polenta

In the heavy pot cook bacon, until the bacon turns light brown and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pot and drain on paper towels. Keep the fat.

 Dry the meat in the paper towel and cook it in the bacon fat until brown. Put the meat aside in the bowl. Add 1 cup of beef stock to the pot,increase the temperature and try to scrape all the brown bits from the bottom.  Pour this liquid over the meat in the bowl.

 Add 4 tablespoons of the olive oil to the clean pot and add chopped onion. Cook until golden.

Add garlic and cook until soft. Add all the mushrooms and cook until soften, about 2 minutes

Add 3 tablespoon of flower and cook for1 more minute stirring. Pour 2 cups of beef broth to the mixture, stir and add to the meat.

Return the beef and all the juices that have accumulated to the pot. Add 4 cups of red wine.  I used Larner Syrah 2011. 

Add 2 tablespoon of the tomato paste, herbs and bring the meat to the boil. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the meat is soft.

Boil some water in the pot, add small onions and cook for 10 minutes. Peel the onion. Clean the carrots and cook them until soft.

When the meat is ready add the bacon, onions and carrots to the pot. Remove the herbs.

If your beef stew is too thick add more beef broth.

In the medium pot bring 9 cups of water to the boil. Add polenta in the thin stream stirring all the time until polenta starts to separate from the side of the pot. Your polenta should be very soft and runny. You can also follow the instruction on the box.

Pour the polenta on the plates and cover it with beef stew. You can also sprinkle it with some chopped parsley. (Optional)

Beef Stew with Polenta
Beef Stew with Polenta

This was a delicious meal and was beautiful with the Syrah. As you can see I did not add the parsley, but I did add a pat of butter on top of the polenta before ladeling on the stew.

Want some?

Well I don’t know if there is any of the 2013 left but you can find their beautiful Syrahs as well as other Rhône style wines in single varieties as well as their Elemental Blend on their site.

They also have a tasting room in Los Olivos, next to the Los Olivos General Store where you can taste their wines.

Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
T | (805) 688-8148

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

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Comparing Rhône blends from California’s Central Coast

2011 Pateline de Tablas & 2013 Le Cigare Volant Rhône Blends with cheese pairings

I love Rhône wines.  Wait…let me classify.  I love Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Tannat, Roussanne, Marsanne, Terret Noir, Picpoul Blanc….I love the varieties and the blends of said varieties.  My experience with these wines is mostly from those Rhône Rangers in California.  I am just beginning to explore further into French wines and Rhône Blends.   In France the wine or blend is named by the area in which it is grown, the AOC , which is a completely different way of learning about the wines.

So as I learn about these wines, I start with comparing a couple of Rhône Blends from two of my favorite California wineries for Rhônes, Tablas Creek and Bonny Doon.  We chose the 2011 Patelin de Tablas from Tablas Creek and the 2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon.

The Wines

These two wines differ in where the grapes were grown, the makeup of the blends, the vintage and the wine-making techniques.  So first lets look at the wines themselves.

2011 Patelin de Tablas

 

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

2011 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas

https://tablascreek.com/wines/2011_patelin_de_tablasHere you can find all the geeky details.

This wine comes from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, but this is not an estate wine.  This wine comes from multiple vineyards that they source from.

“Patelin” means neighborhood in French, so these are grapes not from the estate, but from the neighborhood.  The list of vineyards is long (16 different vineyards across 4 different AVA’s in the Paso Robles Region).  The AVA’s range from Adelaida Hills (higher elevation and warmer), to Templeton Gap (cooler with a coastal influence) to El Pomar (which is more moderate in climate) and then Estrella which is warmer.  The soils differ in these AVA’s also, Adelaida Hills, Templeton Gap and El Pomar tend to be limestone, where as Estrella is sandy loam.

Tablas Creek first produced this wine in 2010 after having a very light harvest in 2009.  This was second vintage of the Patelin de Tablas in 2011.

The blend is 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre and 1% Counoise, and sits at 13.7% Alcohol.

As to the winemaking techniques:  the grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in a mix of Open-top and closed stainless steel fermenters as well at 1500-gallon upright oak casks. As usual for Tablas Creek it was only native yeasts that were used.  After blending they were aged in stainless steel and 1200 gallon oak foudres.  So, kind of a variety (I think some of that may be due to available space).  They made 8460 cases of this wine.  That’s alot compared to the Côtes de Tablas of which they made 1560 cases.

2013 Le Cigare Volant Réserve “en bonbonne”

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

2013 Le Cigare Volant reserve from Bonny Doon

Randall Grahm has been making this homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1984.  The name comes from a weird wine law in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The story goes that a railway worker in northern France claimed he saw two Martians on his property who had landed in a cigar-like machine.  Soon the reports spread and the French were all worried about these “flying cigars” or Cigare Volant.  The Mayor of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region put a law into place banning these “Cigare Volants” from landing or even flying over the area or vineyards.  And…it worked, there have been no alien sitings in the region since then.  Randall came across this law and in his own inimitable fashion, names his homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Le Cigare Volante”.

This wine is from the Central Coast.  This wine comes from multiple vineyards that are not necessarily close to each other.  It is a bit more diverse in soils and climates that they Tablas, which at least sources from the same region.

When you talk about wine-making techniques…well in Randall’s own words

“The idea of “raising” the wine in glass demijohns was also a bit of a fever dream, occasioned in part by the many hours I spent in deep contemplation of the mysteries of redox chemistry; there was something dream-like (à la Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan) about the many hours driving around southern France with Patrick Ducournau, deep thinker about oxygen and wine (and inventor of microbullage, or micro-oxygenation). I’ve already written quite a bit about the nature of the esoteric élevage en bonbonne—bâtonage magnetique, etc., the opportunity for the wine to digest a substantial volume of yeast lees, and the extraordinary texture and savoriness this protocol engenders.”  From his Production Notes

When you visit the tasting room you can see one of the demijohns (or carboys)

Carboy or Demijohn at Bonny Doon

A “Carboy” or demijohn on the counter at Bonny Doon Vineyards. This is used for élevage (the progression of a wine between fermentation and bottling)

This wine is 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, $16% Mourvedre and 4% Cinsault and it sits a little bigger than the Tablas with Alcohol at 14.3%.

This wine’s production was only 554 cases.

What to Pair with these Rhône Blends?

I took inspiration from Randall’s suggestions.

“All manner of cute creatures: rabbit, tiny birds, etc. Rabbit in Mustard Sauce (We suggest our Cigare Blanc mustard for this dish). Beef Kidneys. Stilton. Braised Oxtail.”

Well I have a thing about eating cute creatures, so we settled on the Stilton as well as a Cambozola (a triple creme chees with the flavor of a bleu cheese).

Tablas Creek suggested Grilled Steaks, rich beef stews and spicy sausages with the Patelin.

We set off and got some sweet italian sausage, a shepard’s pie and steak and stout pie.

So here is the spread:  Sweet Italian Sausage with a brown mustard, Shepherds pie, a steak and stout pie, some zuchinni noodles sautéd with spices, black olives, a fig jam, the Stilton, Cambonzola, some manchego and aged gouda.

Eccelctic pairings for 2011 Patelin de Tablas and 2013 Le Cigare Volant Rhône Blends

Eccelctic pairings for 2011 Patelin de Tablas and 2013 Le Cigare Volant

Tasting the Rhône Blends

In general, the Patelin was more fruit forward, with a bit of wet hay on the nose (I love that funkiness), and you get a little mineral. The fruit is red and bright, but then there is spice and a bit of anise.  The tannins here are light, but the wine still has great structure.  It has developed, but still will be great for further cellaring.

The Le Cigare Volant was mellower on the nose,  But when it hit your mouth, it was richer than you expected from the nose.  My first impression was Thyme in cooked strawberries with hints of smoked spices (like a sweet smoked paprika that is very mellow)

Pairing the Rhône Blends with Food

Both of the wines were fantastic with the sausage, but each brought out something different in the wine.  The Steak and stout pie was also good with both, when paired with the Patelin, brought the fruit forward, with the Cigare Volant it highlighted the more savory notes.  Michael liked the aged gouda best with both wines (mostly because he’s not so into the Bleu cheeses).  The Bleu cheese with fig jam and the Patelin de Tablas was a big hit for me.  We got less scientific as we tasted on savoring every bite and pondering on it.  We pondered quite a bit and I forgot to write down all the notes, job hazard.  Regardless, we enjoyed both wines thoroughly and I am inspired to dive further into Rhône blends, from California as well as digging in deeper to the history of the AOC’s of the Rhône Valley in France.

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2017 The year in retrospect

Wet West Virginia moss

I’ve started this post at least 3 times.  How to sum up a year?  My tendency is to go analytical and spin out the year chronologically.  But remembering a year doesn’t really work that way.  Even scanning through my Instagram feed, I found my mind drifting, one memory taking me to another, rarely chronologically and I would swipe from one end of my feed to the other as the thoughts took me.  The visuals, the photos, were the things that drew me in, so that is what I want to share with you.

A Year of #_______Strong and of people coming together

2017…It’s been a year. It was the year of #(currentdisasterousevent)strong. There were so many, it was overwhelming at times. These events, that used to happen in some far away place, to people we didn’t know, suddenly, as we become a global community, have become things happening to people we know in places we have often seen. I had friends in Florida, Houston, in Sonoma, in New York City, in the Dominican Republic. And then of course there was Vegas. That’s home, and while I was not on the strip that night, many people that I work with daily and care for deeply, were. It was a year of stress and struggles, but also a year of people coming together. These events reminded us what is important, they caused us to be in touch with people who are dear to us and let them know they are dear to us.

Nature and home

As I sifted through the photos from this year, the ones I found the most moving, were those I took on our family farm early this spring.  No, they have nothing to do with wine, but returning to this place during some torrential spring rains, brought some perspective to the year.  The day was wet and rainy, but it only drizzled a bit while we were there.  We watched the creek rush overflowing it’s banks, and trudged from the ridge to the meadow and were soaked to the bone by the the dripping trees and wet underbrush by the time we left, but bits of astounding beauty were everywhere.

Fungus on the Farm

Fungus on the Farm

My Waterfall.

My Waterfall

Friends and Wine in Virginia

While we were on the East Coast we were able to catch up with friends and spent a weekend with my best friend and another friend from college as well as their husbands and did a bit of exploring of Virginia Wine Country.  A few years ago, we did a girls weekend in Virginia wine country and this was a great opportunity to do  Wine Country II,  Electric Boogaloo tour with the boys.

I did a bit of research on the history of Virginia Wine Country before we traveled, and we tried to take in a few different areas starting at Chrysalis and Stone Tower in Northern Virginia.  Chrysalis Vineyards is the Champion of the Norton Grape, a grape native to North America and have their tasting room at the Ag District Center.  The Winery is the vision of Jennifer McCloud who started Chrysalis in the late 1990’s.  This is a from scratch business. In Todd Kliman’s book “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine” he talks about meeting Jennifer at the Vineyards and riding out with her in her pickup to see the vines.  She is the heart and soul of this winery.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Stone Tower Vineyards, is something completely different.  You drive up Hogsback Mountain to find an impressive Estate with a “stone tower” hence the name.  Part of the property had been in the family for 40 years and in 2005 they added to the property when a neighboring farm was available.  Many of their vines are still too young to yield fruit, so their winemaker brings in juice from California for some of their wines, which are labeled under “Wild Boar Cellars”.  Regardless, the wines were all beautifully made and the Estate wines made from grapes grown on site are really exquisite.  The tasting room at the vineyard in Loudoun County is expansive and beautiful and as such is overflowing with wine tasters from the DC area on the weekends, so go early!

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

We ventured south from here to meet my dearest friend at Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.  This Vineyard is on a historic estate between Monticello and Montpelier. On the property lies the remnants of the home designed for James Barbour by Thomas Jefferson.  In 1976 the Zonin Family, who command a portfolio of 9 wineries in 7 regions of Italy, acquired the property.

Barboursville Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

We then headed to Charlottesville (this was early in the year, before they needed a #CharlottesvilleStong).  We had a great dinner on the Historic Downtown Mall and then planned our morning trip to Monticello.

Jefferson wanted so desperately to grow grapes and make his own wine.  He was a renaissance man and as such tended to get wrapped up in some things to the detriment of others.  The property is beautiful, the house unique and quirky, with it’s wine elevator among other things and the gardens are lovely, if filled with non native species.  The vineyards speak to the longing to make his own wine and on this spring day, in the mist, they seemed to echo this.

 

Monticello

Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

We had lunch at the historic Michie Tavern and visited a few other wineries, a standout being Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Matthews.

How much California Wine Country can you see in 6 days?

August took us on a Flash Tour of the California Coast and it’s wine regions.  We spent 6 Days traveling the coast hitting Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, the Livermore Valley, and Santa Cruz. You can check out our travels here. The trip was amazing, here are some visual highlights.

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Other highlights

Those are the big highlights, but we were busy all year.

At the beginning of the year I did a tasting of Natural Wines with Matthieu at the farmers market.

We did a Superbowl Wine Party How to pair with Everything!  And we did pair with everything!

In April we did a Virtual trip to the McLaren Vale in Australia with our friend Dean being our Wine Reporter at Large

In May and June we dove into Rosé with some basics and tastings.  July saw us drinking lots of bright whites, as you would expect in the summer in Vegas, and then

We found ourselves back in Santa Barbara again in October and spent time in Lompoc in the Wine Ghetto, Solvang and downtown Santa Barbara.

Beyond that we traveled closer to home and did some amazing at home pairings.  Including a wonderful Grenache Vertical and some Wine and Chocolate bark pairings.

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Onward to 2018

And what about 2018? I love the New Year. It always feels like a clean slate. Will there be good wine and some wine travel? Yes! Adventures and meeting new people and sharing their stories is what we are all about, and we get better at this all the time. Plans are in the works for this year, but who knows where the wind may blow us. I look forward to more spontaneous trips this year.

And I have been inspired seeing people post their “power words” for the new year.  Mine…”Exploration”.  I love research and if I want to be more spontaneous this year, it actually probably means chasing tangents down the research rabbit hole, and I’m okay with that!  I do have a few things on my list.  Expect to see more on French wines and wine regions this year.  Between trips to wine regions, we will be taking some virtual trips to France and digging in deeper to it’s wine regions. There is a reason that when people think of wine, they first think of French wine.  I am also anxious to search out more “natural wines”.  I know, I know, it’s a really open term, but I love pét-nat and I want to explore deeper into this movement and I’m anxious to see how this category of wines develops and evolves.  And then of course there will be the tangents.  I always start the year with plans, and I will be sitting down soon to create my list for 2018.  By the end of 2018 I am sure that I will have happily strayed from it.

Happy New Year!  I’m off to make my exploration planning list.  I should probably pour a glass of wine as I head down the rabbit hole.

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Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 1

6 days…where to go in wine country?

Well if you have a Prius and can get to California fairly easily, you don’t have to choose.  Join us on our journey through California’s Central Coast Wine Country and a little beyond.

Day 1 Las Vegas to Monterey

We left Vegas before dawn and drove to the coast. We skipped LA and hit the coast in Ventura County. Day 1 was mostly driving with a bit of sightseeing along the way, with the final goal being Monterey.

Santa Barbara – the city

We took a break in Santa Barbara by Sterns Wharf to soak up some of the ocean and the morning. Santa Barbara, the city, has plenty to do for an entire vacation and if you love wine, we can enjoy plenty here without leaving the city on the Urban Wine Trail. Sterns Wharf is home to The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting Room; The Funk Zone (the hip area close to the beach) has lots of great laid back tasting rooms and the El Paseo further in the historical district has even more tasting rooms.

Los Olivos

On this trip however, we kept driving. We took the 154 into Santa Barbara Wine Country. We drove through Los Olivos, with the plan to return. This town houses multiple wine tasting rooms and some great restaurants. It is a great place to park and walk, taste and eat. You are highly likely to run into winemakers in the tasting rooms and restaurants.

Los Alamos

We drove onto the 101 from here, heading north past Los Alamos, which is another great spot to do weekend tastings. There is another Municipal Winemakers tasting room in town as well as Casa Dumetz Wines. Full of Life Flatbread is a great dinner spot and if you need beer, Babis Beer Emporium (same owner as Casa Dumetz) is a perfect spot to sit outside and enjoy some really great local brews. On the weekends there is often music and Casa Dumetz has a Friday night “Words to Live By” speaker series which covers a wide range of topics with an eclectic group of speakers! But yeah, we didn’t have time to stop here either….on we drove.

SLO – San Luis Obispo

Next to drive through is SLO (San Luis Obispo). You begin by passing Laetitia where they do Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and have an amazing sparkling wine program that is Méthode Champenoise (that’s the really good tiny bubbles). Further in you will find more wine trails and downtown SLO which has beautiful tree-lined streets, lots of art and great food.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles is up next and there are so many wineries here that I won’t even try right now. They recently divided into 11 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Before dividing, this one area was the Paso Robles AVA and covered about 614,000 acres. (for some perspective, Napa is only 1/3 of that size). This place deserves a bit of your time. Take all 6 days here. It’s close enough to the beach that you can spend a day tasting and a day on the coast and then back. We do stop here on our way back…we’ll get there on day 4.

Monterey

We kept driving to arrive in Monterey for the first evening and with limited time, we went to Cannery Row to enjoy the view, taste some wine and have a bite at A Taste of Monterey. You can taste at the bar or get a table and do a flight and order food. We found a great table with a view (and a seagull companion) and enjoyed a couple of flights along with some bacon wrapped dates and…pardon me I drool when I talk about these… Inzana Farms Almonds & Pistachios, which are roasted in olive oil, brown sugar, cayenne, thyme.

This is a flash trip so there are more areas to discover and explore that we passed by.  Yep, the Central Coast is full of great wine country.  In Santa Barbara County you can also visit, Buellton, Lompoc and it’s Wine Ghetto, Santa Ynez and then the many wineries all around the county.  For more information on the Santa Barbara Wineries visit Santa Barbara Vintners.  San Luis Obispo Country also has great tasting rooms out at Avila Beach.  While we didn’t visit those areas this time, you can find more about them here at Crushed Grape Chronicles, just do a search!

The Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest is coming up September 29th to October 2, 2017 and it is a great time to visit.  You can attend the Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country Event and enjoy wines from 50 of the different wineries in the region on September 29th in downtown Santa Barbara.  And there are event all over the region during the weekend where you will learn more about the wines, wineries and winemakers.

Day 2 takes us from Monterey to Napa and Sonoma!  Come back for more of the trip!

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April on the Central Coast

I love April. It is a month where Michael and I have a little time to travel. This year, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that we hit the Central Coast. This trip was about taking in all that the Central Coast has to offer. We visited wineries and tasting rooms, yes, but one of the great things about the Central Coast is that the ocean is right there. We had an opportunity to speak with Heather Muran of SLO Wine Country. You may have seen our quick video with Heather talking about the wrap up of the April month long anniversary celebration for “Roll Out the Barrels”. There will be more video with Heather giving us more insights to the SLO Wine Region, but she impressed upon us that one of the most wonderful things about this area is the lifestyle. Many of the winemakers, surf or hike, and Michael and I wanted to take this in. So on our trip we visited wineries, hiked the bluffs trail at Montana de Oro north of Morro Bay, drove the Pacific Coast Highway, stopped in at the Avila Beach tasting rooms and watched a cricket game on the beach!

You’ve seen the beginning of our trip. It started at Santa Barbara’s El Paseo , first with lunch on the rooftop patio of Nordstroms in the historic Presidio district, with a view of the shops, buildings and trailing bouganvilla. The blog post has photos and details of The Wine Collection of the El Paseo with details on tasting at the 6 tasting rooms; Jamie Slone Wines, Margerum, Au Bon Climat, MCW32, Happy Canyon and Grassini Family Vineyards.

After our afternoon at the El Paseo, we wandered back down through the funk zone and onto the pier. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is the perfect place to enjoy some wine and watch the sunset over the water.

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara
Central Coast Wine Country Spring at Tablas Creek

We also spent a bit of time in Paso Robles. Jason Haas, GM of Tablas Creek Vineyards was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to do an interview with us in the vineyard and the winery. It was a fascinating conversation that I look forward to sharing with you.

As I mentioned we did a great interview with Heather Muran the Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association at the beautiful Laetitia Vineyards which is the southern most end of SLO Wine Country. We did a tasting at Claiborne & Churchill where they were doing a “Roll Out the Barrels” Event called “Hit Me”. They are known for their Alsatian style white wines and did a blind tasting of 5 aromatic wines where you had to pick which variety matched each wine. We had a great lunch at Big Sky Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo, which is a great town to stroll through.

Claiborne & Churchill SLO Central Coast Wine Country
Kynsi San Luis Obispo Central Coast Wine Country

Kynsi has a beautiful tasting patio at their vineyard. Don Othman came to the area to start a company to design and manufacture wine making equipment. He created the “Bulldog Pup” which is a widely used racking wand for transferring wine from barrels. He later began making wine and now his daughter Kala and her husband also work in the winery.

We returned for a tasting and a short hike at Laetitia, where you can taste classic sparkling wines and hike part way through the vineyard and see the ocean views. Come through the week if you want to talk wine, the tasting room is bustling on the weekends!

These vineyards are just a few miles from the Central Coast beaches, so after your tasting you have time for a leisurely drive to Pismo or Shell beach to take in the sunset.

Laetitia Central Coast Wine Country
The Hike on the Bluffs at Montana de Oro

The Morro Bay area has a beautiful park that is just south of the Bay called Montana de Oro where you can hike the bluffs at the edge of the ocean. After a little exercise, a drive up the coast exploring the beach towns and catching lunch at a great little beach spot is perfect. We had lunch at Schooners at Cayucos. This place has great views and a very attentive staff. The food is fresh and easy going and if you are there around sunset there is a great view from the upstairs bar.

Schooner's Restaurant in Caucus on the Coast

Continue up the Pacific Coast Highway to Hearst Castle or Cambria or on to Ragged Point for some great views.

We turned around a little past Ragged Point and headed into Paso Robles for dinner at Artisan. You are likely to see a winemaker or two here. The sidewalk patio on the square is nice and it is a great local menu with artisan cheeses, small plates and more. You can enjoy great local wines and they also have flights. A couple of flights and some small plates make for a great evening exploring pairings! And don’t skip the dessert, the bread pudding was delicious.

Artisan Restaurant in Central Coast Wine Country

Avila Beach is a great little secluded getaway on the Central Coast. As you drive in, you pass Apple Orchards where you can pick your own apples, Hot springs where you can lounge at the resort or rent a hot spring tub by the hour. The Bob Jones trail runs from the springs to the beach and is busy on weekend mornings with bicyclists, walkers and dog walkers. Pirates Cove is said to be great for hiking and word has it the secluded beach that you must hike in to, is clothing optional. We parked ourselves at the in Avila beach to watch the ocean and suddenly a group of guys set up a cricket game on the beach in front of us.  Beyond them sail boats from San Luis Harbor were out. After a morning on the beach we had lunch at the Custom House, enjoying live music on the patio and then strolled to several of the wine tasting rooms nearby.

Avila Beach and it's Tasting rooms

The beautiful Peloton Cellars tasting room with it’s bicycle racing theme, attentive and informed pouring staff and really great afternoon light (oh and lovely wines) was our first stop. A little past them there was live music by A Simple Parade in the Morovino tasting room. This tiny tasting room has the winemaker pouring behind the bar, with wines that she makes because she likes them. She has recipe cards for pairing with each of her wines. The tasting room atmosphere was warm and friendly and the music filled the room and kept us all entranced. We headed around the corner to the downstairs Alapay Cellars tasting room with their large Aquarium behind the tasting bar. And our final stop was at Sinor La Vallee’s brand new tasting room. Mike Sinor has worked with Byron, Center of Effort and Ancient Peaks. He now owns the Bassi Vineyard in Avila Valley which is only 1.5 miles from the ocean. After a late day tasting we finished the day on a super casual note with pizza at Mission Pizza and sunset at the beach.

Of course the following weekend was the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring weekend, so we were back to dive into Santa Barbara County. We finally were able to get to the new Alma Rosa Tasting room, conveniently located next to Industrial Eats in Beullton. You are in an industrial area, but when you walk through the door you forget all of that. The center piece of the tasting room is Olivia, their olive tree. There are skylights, beautiful photos of the vineyards and casual seating. You are greeted at the door and your Wine Guide finds you a seat. This is not your typical wine tasting bar. And of course Richard Sanford’s wines are spectacular.

Another one of those iconic Santa Barbara spots that we had not managed to get to yet, was The Hitching Post II. So…we enjoyed dinner there. This place is like a time capsule. The way you saw it in “Sideways” is exactly how it is today. But the food, while in a style of times past, is delicious. The steaks here really are phenomenal. I can’t gush enough quite honestly.

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

We started Saturday bright and early at the Santa Ynez Marriott with a Wine Seminar by the http://www.sbcountywines.com/. Christopher Sawyer moderated a panel of current and previous winemakers at Zaca Mesa including Ken Brown, Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist and Eric Mohseni. We will have a multiple part series coming out with the full Seminar.

It was a grey morning and it rained right up until the Vintners Spring Festival tasting at River View Park in Buellton. The cloud cover kept us from getting sunburned and overheated as we tasted through wines and spoke with winemakers from all over the area.

After the tasting we headed to Los Alamos where Sonja Madjevski was releasing Sonja’s Sonnet at her Babi’s Beer Emporium next to her Casa Dumetz wine tasting room. This was a project with the Libertine Pub Limited release ale fermented & barrel aged in French Oak, brewed with Kiwi, hibiscus, & Mourvedre grapes. This was a great sour beer and the Turkey Buzzards were playing inside and the kitchen was open. We relaxed on stools by the bar on the fence, enjoyed the beer and watched the people go by.

Babi's Beer Emporium Los Alamos Central Coast Wine Country
Ful of Life Flatbread Central Coast Wine Country

Dinner called and when in Los Alamos what better place is there than Full of Life Flatbread. The place is small so there was a wait. So we bellied up to the bar and ordered a couple of glasses of wine. I ordered the Au Bon Climat Aligote that was on tap. Little did I know that when our table was ready, we would have a perfect view of the big wood fired oven and an entire table with Jim Clendenen and his staff behind us. This is Santa Barbara County. It’s rare that you walk into a restaurant and don’t see a winemaker enjoying wine “at table” as it is meant to be with friends or colleagues.

Our flatbread was great and we ordered 2 desserts since we couldn’t decide between them. Another perfect day in wine country.

Sunday had us out in Ballard Canyon doing another great interview with Michael Larner, of Larner Vineyards and Winery, this time focusing on the wines. (Look for that shortly). We then headed out to Sta. Rita Hills to the open house at Hilliard Bruce. I had a chance at the Festival to speak with the owners and winemakers Christine Bruce and John Hilliard, but they were out of town today, so we went to see their beautiful new winery. We had been to the vineyard before and did a post about their detailed viticultural methods, and wanted to see their new winery which is a blend of the practical and the artistically beautiful.

The new Hilliard Bruce Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara

We finished our day tasting in Los Olivos, at Stolpman, Longoria, and Blair Fox, all of which introduced us to more amazing wines.

On our final morning in wine country we headed out to see how the new chardonnay planting at Riverbench was coming along. When we were here last year in June we saw these vines before they went in the ground and have been following their progress. They were pulling off the tubes today and training them up on the trellis’. We drove out onto the Bench in Santa Maria and drove by the Bien Nacido Vineyards before heading back through Foxen Canyon to meet Larry Schaffer of Tercero in his Los Olivos Tasting room. We had a great interview with Larry that will come out shortly, talking about, screw caps, Roussanne, Rhones and so much more. It is always a fascinating conversation with Larry.

So as you can see, we have tons to tell you about our trip to the Central Coast! We will be releasing video’s as soon as they are ready, watch for the Wine Seminar to come out first! Stick with us on the journey..from dirt to glass!