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From Dirt to Glass is our Wine Video Series that will talk about the stories behind the Vine. We will speak with Vineyard Owners, Winemakers, Vineyard Managers… the people behind the wine to get their stories, passions and philosophies on wine

Wine Education Series

Syrah Seminar, Santa Barbara Vintners

April 2015

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 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. In addition we spent some time with Jason Haas, the General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles. Watch for a series of videos of our interview with him. We attended Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend and are rolling out the video of the Wine Seminar, beginning with a highlight reel. This Seminar was on “Zaca Mesa University” and Sommelier Christopher Sawyer guided us through a discussion with several of the Wine Makers who have come through Zaca Mesa including Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Eric Mohseni current Wine Maker at Zaca Mesa. We will also share with you our day at the Spring Vintners Festival, an event with great wine, food, music and plenty of Wine Makers to talk with. We visited Michael Larner, to find out more about Larner Wines and finally we had a wonderful conversation with Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines in Los Olivos at his tasting room. We look forward to sharing our interview with this fascinating and passionate Wine Maker with you.

And that just covers the videos that we have lined up. There will be additional blog posts on our travels down the Central Coast, including our day in Avila Beach and great places to visit on the coast when you take a break from wine tasting.

So stick with us, there is a lot more to come!

“Zaca Mesa University” Santa Barbara Wine Seminar Spring 2015 – The Highlight Reel

During the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend this April, the Wine Seminar topic was “Zaca Mesa University”. Inspired by a Spring 2013 article in Edible Santa Barbara Magazine, this seminar featured winemakers who have played a part in the history of Zaca Mesa and indeed the entire Santa Barbara region.

Zaca Mesa has turned out a plethora of amazing wine makers and Sommelier Christopher Sawyer led us through a discussion with 4 of the best. Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines was the first paid winemaker at Zaca Mesa. Ken went on to found Byron. While at Zaca Mesa he hired both Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat) and Bob Lindquist (Qupe). We enjoyed the stories of how each had come to Zaca Mesa; Ken coming in after helping to choose the equipment for the winery, Jim escaping a future in law to become the premiere bottling line employee in the valley and Bob getting fired from his wine shop job for going to a Kinks concert and being hired the same day by the wine shop owners father, who happened to be the owner at Zaca Mesa. Eric Mohseni, the current winemaker at Zaca Mesa shares how being part of this legacy has influenced him.

This is the highlight reel. We will start releasing the full seminar in segments for you to enjoy on May 20th on our From Dirt To Glass Video Page. This will include the tasting with wine from each of these amazing winemakers.

The Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend featured a Wine Seminar called “Zaca Mesa University”. Zaca Mesa Winery has a long history of turning out amazing winemakers and this seminar brought 4 of them together. Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Vintners introduced the seminar and then introduced our Moderator. Christopher Sawyer is and internationally known sommelier, who is notorious for his pairings of wine with movies as well as wine with pop culture music. Having attended UC Davis, Christopher followed the early winemakers in Santa Barbara. He took some time to give us the history of the Santa Barbara Wine region before introducing us to the panel for the day which included: Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Eric Mohseni, the current winemaker at Zaca Mesa.

Part 4 features Eric Mohseni. Eric has a degree in food science from California State University. He spent a bit of time as a wine buyer before stepping into the vineyard during harvest in 1997 at Edna Valley Vineyards in SLO Wine Country. After a little time in New Zealand at Esk Valley Estate he returned to California and joined the Zaca Mesa team as the enologist. He became Zaca Mesa’s winemaker in 2008.

Ken Brown or Byron Kent Brown started his career working for IBM, never dreaming that he would end up a winemaker.  He later got into real estate development with his father, who had a friend with a family vineyard in Lodi.  He got to know some people in the wine industry, fell in love with it and went back to school to become a winemaker.  When Marshall Reams decided to build a winery, he called Ken to help purchase the equipment and set the place up.  Ken became Zaca Mesa’s first winemaker.  While there, he hired Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist who each went on to found Au Bon Climat and Qupe respectively.  After a bit as Zaca Mesa’s winemaker, Ken found he wanted to start making his own wines.  He founded Byron Winery in 1984 and built a winery where he not only made his own wines, but could also make the overflow wines for Zaca Mesa, when they ran out of room.  So basically he got his own winery, subsidized by Zaca Mesa, while still serving as their head winemaker.  Pretty good gig!  In 1990 Mondavi bought Byron.  He stayed on for 14 years before leaving to start Ken Brown wines in 2003. They do small lot wines in an unassuming little tasting room in Buellton with a range of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  But here…let’s let Ken tell it.

Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat

Jim is the Winemaker at Au Bon Climat, the Santa Barbara winery he founded with his friend Adam Tolmach back in 1982. Both he and Adam, came through Zaca Mesa. Jim tells us how he saved the world from another mediocre lawyer, by instead going into wine. He is quintessentially Californian with shoulder length grey hair and typically sporting a Hawaiian shirt. His wines however show the restraint and balance of the Old World wines of Burgundy.

Bob Lindquist of Qupe

Bob Lindquist is the Winemaker at Qupe. Qupe pronouced “kyoo-pay” is the Chumash word for “poppy”. The Chumash Indians are the indigenous people of the Central Coast. A man who bleeds “Dodger” blue, he is a baseball lover who became a wine enthusiast while attending UC Irvine. He is known for his love of Rhones as well as Chardonnay. He and Jim share a winery they built in 1989 on the famous Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley.

Jim & Bob’s time at Zaca Mesa University

In this segment the comedy shines through as Jim tells us how he came to Zaca Mesa in 1978 to run the bottling line. He had more experience than any other applicants with a total of 6 hrs on the Brander bottling line bottling Fred Branders 1976 Gewurztraminer. He talks about their 1st Chard that won top honors in both Orange County and LA County with it’s accidental residual sugar and how they learned to stop that sweetness (and stop winning both top honors). We hear about the differences he found in winemaking techniques in Australia, California and France and the pluses and minuses of getting a salaried job at harvest.

Bob & Jim are friends from way back and Bob tells the very funny story of how Jim helped him get fired and hired thanks to a Kinks concert. He goes on to tell his story at Zaca Mesa after Jim left and how he opened his own winery Qupe in 1982 with the help of both Ken Brown and Marshall Reams. He also talks about making Syrah first from grapes from Gary Eberle in Paso and discovering that cool climate Syrah was the direction to go. He also brought a beautiful 10 year old Syrah from Bien Nacido Vineyard that we were able to taste.

The Beautiful Presqu'ile Vineyards

During the Key To Wine Weekend in Santa Barbara in June of 2014, Presquile Winery hosted “Taste Through the Vineyard: Explore Wines Sourced from Presqu’ile Vineyards Produced by Different Winemakers” Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje, was joined by Storm Winemaker Ernst Storm, Luceant Luminesce Winemaker Kevin Law and Labyrinth Winemaker Ariki Hill. The discussion itself lasted a bit over an hour and we have split the conversation into 4 parts.

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During the Key to Wine Weekend, we had the opportunity to speak with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard and Winery. This is the first in a series of interviews we had with him at his vineyard and we discuss how Ballard Canyon AVA was formed. In the coming weeks we will hear from him on Syrah, how he got started, and what is in the future for Larner Vineyard and Winery. Join us as we speak with Michael Larner.

Thinking back to our tasting and hike at

During the Spring Vintners Weekend we were lucky enough to do a Vineyard hike with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard.
Located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA this property sits at the north end of the Canyon. This estate vineyard is planted primarily with Syrah & Grenache with smaller blocks of Roussanne, Marsanne, Counoise, Mourvedre, Grenach Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard became 100% biodynamic in 2006.

Tablas Creek Vineyard

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties. In this part of the interview Jason tells us how the soil and climate brought them to Paso. Average rainfall was also one of the draws and Jason tells us how the current drought is affecting them, which segues into a discussion on planting dry farmed vines and the benefits of a head-pruned vineyard.

In this part of the interview we talk about Biodynamics and the Tablas approach, the similarities and differences between the Tablas Creek wines and the Chateau du Beaucastel wines and the Tablas Creek Wine Library.

San Luis Obispo Wine Country is holding their 25th Annual Roll about the Barrels Month Long Adventure. We talked with Heather Muran
Executive Director of San Luis Obispo Vintners and Growers Association at the beautiful Laetitia vineyard in the Arroyo Grande AVA to find out more about the Events in SLO Wine country.

Presqu’ile Winery Key To Wine Country Weekend 2014

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

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

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

Presqu’ile Winery, Key Weekend Part 1

Presqu’ile Winery, Key Weekend Part 2

When you are a wine geek, there is no place you would rather be than tasting wine with a winemaker. In June, the Santa Barbara Vintners held their 1st Key to Wine Country Weekend. The weekend included multiple events at various wineries, meant to give you an insiders perspective on winemaking in Santa Barbara. Presqu’ile set up an event for Key Weekend, that gave you the opportunity to taste with 4 different winemakers. The amazing thing about this, was that all four winemakers were making wine from the grapes from the same vineyard. A side by side tasting while listening to the winemakers each speak about their wines was wine geek bliss.

This event was held at Presqu’ile Winery on the crush pad at the top of their beautiful gravity flow winery. Past the tables set with glassware and charcuterie were 4 smaller tables, behind which sat our winemakers. Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje, was joined by Storm Winemaker Ernst Storm, Luceant Luminesce Winemaker Kevin Law and Labyrinth Winemaker Ariki Hill.

The discussion itself lasted a bit over an hour and we have split the conversation into 4 parts. This first section includes an introduction by Presqu’ile owner Matt Murphy, a bit of Santa Maria Valley history from Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and then a side by side tasting of the Presqu’ile 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and the Storm Wines 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.

Of note with these wines the Storm 2012 Sav Blanc was done in a mix of Neutral Oak and Acacia wood and was aged on the lees for 8 months. The Presqu’ile 2013 Sav Blanc was done with a wild ferment and aged in a combination of Stainless Steel tank, concrete egg and neutral oak.

See the entire Event

Ballard Canyon

This Video is with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard and Winery. This is the first in a series of interviews we had with him at his vineyard and we discuss how Ballard Canyon AVA was formed. In the coming weeks we will hear from him on Syrah, how he got started, and what is in the future for Larner Vineyard and Winery. Join us as we speak with Michael Larner.

Syrah

It’s not the nation’s top variety sitting behind the Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay that made Napa what it is. Syrah however is extraordinarily expressive. In Ballard Canyon it is the most widely grown grape. Much of that happened by accident. Growers didn’t plant Syrah because they heard about someone else planting it, it was just simply the right grape to plant in this soil and this climate. Then it thrived. Syrah composes more than half of the planted vineyard acres in the Ballard Canyon AVA, so it’s no wonder that they chose this variety as their Champion as they tell the world about Ballard Canyon.

Ballard Canyon Climate

Heat spikes cause sugars to go up. As the vines become stressed for water the first place they get it from is the berries. As the berries dehydrate from the vine pulling moisture the sugar levels increase and concentrate. This is only temporary and the sugar levels will stabilize again when the temperature drops or when the vine gets more water. Watching the weather and planning ahead they can water before a heatspike so that the sugar levels don’t soar. This gives the clients a couple more weeks before harvesting when the wineries are typically full at the end of harvest. Michael says he tells clients

“Let me water it, rather that you having to water it in the winery!”.

“The vines will tell you what they need” Michael says, “It’s up to us to read it and learn it’s language”.

The happy Syrah he grows here at Larner Vineyards is sold to other wineries in addition to making his Estate Syrah. But only the estate Syrah will be in the new “Ballard Canyon” bottles. You can stop by and taste his Syrah in Los Olivos at the Larner Tasting room in the Los Olivos General Store.

Language of the Vine

There are many ways of telling what a vine needs in the vineyard. On our visit, Michael took us into the Syrah at his Vineyard in Ballard Canyon and spoke to us about how the vines communicate with them. “We think of the vines as living beings” Michael says. The vines he says will tell you if they are happy, you will see them with tendril and shoots straight up reaching for the sun. You can tell by their vigor that they are happy and that they are getting enough water. When the vines are stressed the tendrils will droop and the leaves will turn away from the sun, because they don’t want to photosynthesize.

In addition they have moisture probes at varying depths and they can see how fast the roots are taking the water. If the vines are unhappy they can push the water deeper to get to the feeder roots and the tap root. The leaves will also show you in different ways if they have potassium deficiencies or if there are nitrogen problems.

Syrah

You know it. You have heard it called Shiraz and made into lush giant styles from Australia. Maybe you have had it in a GSM, that Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Chances are you have even tried it as a single variety wine, perhaps a French . Recently while we were in Santa Barbara, Michael Larner took the time to show us the Syrah in the Larner Vineyard, explain how they chose their clones and the future of Syrah at Larner Vineyard.

The Community Spirit in the Santa Barbara Wine Region

We spoke about the community spirit in the Santa Barbara Valley. Just as the vineyards in Ballard Canyon have bonded together to make Ballard Canyon AVA a recognized name, all the vineyards in Santa Barbara County are of a like mind to call attention to this amazing region where you can find some of the most phenomenal wines in the world reasonably priced. Santa Barbara sits right in LA’s backyard, and maybe as such it is taken for granted. They often find people stopping in on their way to Paso Robles.

Larner Vineyard History

Michael Larner’s parents found Ballard Canyon to be a magical place. From the curvy roads at the top of the canyon, the expansive views from Purisima Mountain Vineyard and they delicious way that Rhone Variety grapes grow here, I have to agree. Amidst the “eclecticness” that is Santa Barbara County, this quiet valley is growing some amazing grapes, primarily Rhones, with a focus on the Champion grape of this valley, Syrah.
We had an opportunity to spend some time with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery out at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard earlier this year. In this video, he tells us about the history of his vineyard here in Ballard Canyon.

Michael Larner’s father had wanted to own a vineyard. After spending time doing documentaries on wineries and vineyards in France he was smitten with the idea of this type of lifestyle and with the thought of a family legacy that could be handed down. Living in LA, Santa Barbara County was practically in their backyard and they found this property in Ballard Canyon. Covered in sage and chaparral they started making 34 acres of the 134 acre property ready for a vineyard in 1998. Michael was a geologist. He went into geology to avoid lab coats or sitting behind a desk.

The Vision – The future of Larner Vineyard and Winery

Michael Larner has been thrown some curve balls as he has worked to build the future of Larner Vineyard and Winery. The vision for this family legacy was to be an estate winery with a tasting room and some events. When they took this business plan to the county, the neighbors revolted. So they worked to be dynamic in dealing with these issues, continuing with the vineyard, opening a wine tasting room in Los Olivos and then Michael created the Buellton Bodegas.

The property in Ballard Canyon, has a barn, which they hope in the future be able to turn into a winery, and a small General Store building and turning it into a tasting room. They are currently asking for an 8000 case production for the winery, the tasting room and then 4 events each year which all would be shuttled. This is the vision, so people can come and see the source.

How to deal with the Curve Balls

In the meantime, in Los Olivos you will find the Los Olivos General Store which Michael and his wife run, along with their Larner Wine tasting room. In Buellton, Michael has created the Buellton Bodegas. After working out of other wineries for a bit, he was looking for a space where he could close the door and crank his music while working. He was not alone in his need for this. So…went out looking for a 2000 square foot space and he found a 30,000 square foot space in Buellton where he could chop it up into 9 different spaces for wineries with a community space. He formed a cooperative, took a master lease on the building and then leased out all 9 spaces. He purchased equipment for processing that is communal for all the wineries, but then they all have their separate space and equipment like pumps and hoses, so that they can do their own temperature control and they have stability in their zone, which is essential to winemakers.

Beckmen Vineyard

During the Spring Vintners Weekend we were lucky enough to do a Vineyard hike with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard.
Located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA this property sits at the north end of the Canyon. This estate vineyard is planted primarily with Syrah & Grenache with smaller blocks of Roussanne, Marsanne, Counoise, Mourvedre, Grenach Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard became 100% biodynamic in 2006.

The elevations at Purisima Mountain reach 1250 feet. The wind, the fog, the climate all affect the grapes and I had a fascinating conversation with Steve about the “architecture” of the vineyard and how that was still evolving.

In this episode, Steve talks about the soils of the Purisima Mountain Vineyard.

The drive to Purisima Mountain was like taking a step back into my childhood, the curving roads at the top of this canyon reminded me of southern West Virginia, with one dramatic difference…there were vineyards on these hills. We made this trek during the Spring Vintners Weekend, when we were lucky enough to do a Vineyard hike with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard.

Located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA this property sits at the north end of the Canyon. From Ballard Canyon Road you drive up and around the Stolpman property to reach the 365 acre property. This estate vineyard is planted primarily with Syrah & Grenache with smaller blocks of Roussanne, Marsanne, Counoise, Mourvedre, Grenach Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard became 100% biodynamic in 2006 and uses a gravity fed drip irrigation system.

The elevations at Purisima Mountain reach 1250 feet. The wind, the fog, the climate all affect the grapes and I had a fascinating conversation with Steve about the “architecture” of the vineyard and how that was still evolving.

We had hiked part way up the Mountain and stopped in the shade of a large Oak tree to taste some wine, have some water and enjoy some snacks. Then Steve pulled us over to the nearest vines and showed us the process of shoot thinning that was beginning to happen all over the vineyard.

The vines here are bi-lateral cordons and they pull off the suckers and try to leave 4 evenly spaced shoots on each cordon. Sometimes you are just pulling suckers (shoots with no blossoms or fruit) and sometimes you are doing some pre-thinning on your fruit this way. The shoot thinning does a couple of things, it gets rid of the suckers that are pulling energy from the vine, it thins out the leaves to allow better sunlight and airflow through the vines and it thins your crop a little to allow your berries to be a little more concentrated. As they thin they also start to train the shoots up into the trellis system above.

Watch for more Interviews and Stories in 2016

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