This is the fourth and last section of our conversations with the winemakers at the Santa Barbara Vintners Key to Wine Country event held by Presqu’ile. This event brought together 4 winemakers all making wines from the grapes from Presqu’ile Vineyard. This final section finishes out the last 2 Pinot Noirs of the 5 that we tasted.
These last two wines were both 2012 Pinots one from Labyrinth by Wine Maker Arki Hill and Storm by Winemaker Ernst Storm. The Labyrinth Pinot Noir was made with whole clusters in neutral oak. The Storm Pinot Noir came from a small block at Presqu’ile that only produced 1.3 tons total that vintage. Ernst did 30% whole cluster and a 6 day cold soak. Fermentation was 14 days on skin and then 10 month in barrel on the lees.
Ernst Storm of Storm Wines is a believer in wines expressing a sense of place. You find a place that produces fruit with depth and balance then the winemaker just guides the grapes. His South African roots gave him a balance between new and old world styles in winemaking. He believes in being gentle with the grapes, basket pressing using gravity flow to move the wines and only fining and filtrating when absolutely needed on the white wines.
If you enjoyed this series and would like to enjoy an experience like this for yourself, check out the Santa Barbara Vintners site and watch for more of their amazing upcoming events. Santa Barbara County is a haven for wine geeks, not wine snobs. People here are relaxed and down to earth and more often than not you will run into the winemaker in the tasting room. If you are fascinated by wine and are looking for people to have interesting conversations about wine and winemaking and who knows what else…this is the place to be.
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.
And…both of these winemakers are from South Africa.
The Key to Wine Country event in Santa Barbara was created by the Santa Barbara Vintners to give you a chance to get to know a little more about the wineries. More than just discounted tastings, many of the participating wineries set up unique events to give you an insiders perspective on their wines, vineyards and styles.
Our Key Weekend began in the Santa Maria Valley at Riverbench Vineyard with a vineyard walk on Friday morning with Rawley Hermreck the Vineyard Manager. Rawley walked us into the vineyard and explained the planting and trellising techniques that they use.
We were able to see the new vines that would be planted the next day in the front block (watch for some pictures of this process!). Laura the tasting room manager set us up to learn how to dip their pinot bottles in wax for the beautiful wax closure, and then we enjoyed lunch on the back patio with Rawley and his dog Sadie complete with a tasting of the Riverbench wines. They have a sparkling program and the Blanc de Blanc was really lovely. Of course I left with that bottle of Pinot I dipped!
We had some free time before our next event and spent a little time wandering in Los Olivos, ending up in the tiniest tasting room and enjoyed the casual laid back atmosphere at Carhartt.
Carhartt Tasting Patio
Our next event was the Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn. The Ballard Inn is a beautiful spot just south of Los Olivos. Chef Budi Kazali is also the owner of the the Inn, purchasing it in 2004. He blends Asian and New French styles with fresh local ingredients to create some captivating dishes.
Ballard Inn, Ballard CA
The evening began at 6 pm with Michael Larner pouring his Rose as well as the Malvasia Bianca and guests relaxed in the parlor or on the porch, watching the sun start to dip and the trees start to glow. Passed hors d’oeuvres kept our stomachs at bay as we waited for the main event. The pairings were beautiful and the intimate dining room made for a singular experience. Watch for the full blog post on this incredible evening as well as our series of conversations with Michael Larner.
Presquile Wine Event
Saturday our day began with a unique event at Presqu’ile Winery in the Santa Maria Valley. Presqu’ile gathered 4 winemakers, including their own Dieter Cronje, to taste through wines made from grapes from the Presqu’ile Vineyards.
On hand were Ernst Storm of Storm Wines, Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce and Ariki Hill of Labyrinth. We tasted through 9 wines doing side by side comparisons and listening to the winemakers discuss their winemaking techniques and unique aspects of each vintage. The event took place on the crushpad of the winery, high above the tasting room in this gravity flow space. Matt Murphy, President of Presqu’ile is warm and welcoming and kicked off the event with an introduction and welcome. This was a fascinating journey to taste the differences in these wines and search for the underlying commonality that the soil and the site bring. It was truly an amazing event for a wine geek! I was in heaven and took page upon page of notes! Of course the atmosphere was stunning as you looked to the panel sitting next to the railing that looked down on the winery floor, the glassware, the charcuterie laid out with such care and the attentiveness to warmth and hospitality… it was a beautiful event.
We had to dash out sooner than I would have liked so that we could make it to Buellton for another unique event. Cold Heaven Cellars was holding a “Rhone Scentual” event. We arrived at the Buellton tasting room and were greeted by Kara and Liz.
Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience
In the barrel room they had 2 tables set with tasting wheels, sheets for notes and lovely blue mason jars each filled with a different item to spark your aromatic senses. We began with the white wines (Viogniers of course!) and while we were all a little shy at first, this quickly became a case of grabbing for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with the people around you. Conversations were animated and we all found that we were smelling things in a new way and with much more thought. It was a discovery each time you opened a jar. Kara and Liz had samples of diatomaceous earth, white pepper, white flowers, fresh peaches, grapefruit peal and so many others. For the Reds at the other table they had chocolate, leather, fresh berries, cinnamon, just to start, I can’t remember them all! This was really a wonderful experience and Kara was there every step of the way encouraging you to make more discoveries and talk about other fragrances that you found in your scent memory. This event, broke down those barriers of intimidation from tasting notes. You may think that you can’t smell the habanero on that wine, but once you dip your nose in that jar, your memory is sparked and you can find it! Those tasting notes aren’t really as crazy and out there as people sometimes think. It’s just a matter of creating those scent memories and keeping them active!
With a little time to kill before the evening event, we headed to Industrial Eats for lunch. Mention Industrial Eats to anyone in the valley and you will get the same response. People will often close their eyes briefly, envisioning the last thing they had there, and then will animatedly tell you about the amazing things you should order there. We had attended the Sta. Rita Hills AVA dinner here back in April and were excited to go try some wood fired pizza for lunch. The tables are long community tables allowing large groups to sit together or smaller groups to make new friends. The food here is phenomenal and the service is great. Don’t miss stopping here!
Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker
Our last event of the day was in Santa Ynez at Imagine Wine. They held an evening of Music, Art, Food and “Blogging”. I’m blushing a little, the “blogging” was added since we were attending. Located on the corner of Numancia and Edison this tasting room is also an art gallery that is flooded with natural light from 2 sides. For this event they featured the work of Robert Karl Vogel, as well as music from Jim Campbell and then of course the wines. Ross Rankin, the owner and winemaker had barrel samples out on the corner of the porch and took guests through the stories of each wine. Jim
Campbell performed “every song you know by heart (almost).” (really, I could sing along with everything!). Lyndee Rankin had great food set out to accompany the wines and you could wander and sip as you enjoyed the “En Plein Air” paintings by Robert Karl Vogel, landscapes and cloudscapes of California and the Sierras. Also sculptures by Blake Rankin, (son of the winemaker) dotted the tasting room. The centerpiece for the gallery is a sculpture called Wings, which is the inspiration for one of his father’s wines.
Ross’s wines are unique in that he believes in aging his wines before release. We did get to taste his new (Barbera)? which he created specifically to have a wine for a quicker release. It was a lovely evening with the art, music and wine inspiring great conversations among the varied guests. Watch for a video blog with insights from Ross on his wines!
I unfortunately had to fly home to Vegas, so Michael enjoyed the Sunday Vineyard Hike and Farm-to-table lunch at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard without me. So here…I’ll turn it over to him.
Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs
It was a great weekend for wine tasting and a beautiful morning. I was looking forward to seeing the Farm and tasting the wines. We had stopped by their booth at the grand tasting during the Spring Vintners Weekend event and their wines were amazing. After tasting them again that still held true. Karen Steinwachs, their winemaker told us during the tour, that they try to keep the wines affordable. This is possible because they do everything in house, but the wines really could sell for twice the amount they sell them for. When you drive in you only see the tasting room and the surrounding farm, that is because the vineyard and winery are up on the plateau. So we drove up the hill and started out the day at the winery at the top of the plateau where Karen poured our first wine a 2013 “Zingy”, a Sav Blanc, and told us stories about how it was named. She then gave us a tour of the wine making and storage facility, followed by a walk around the picturesque views of the vineyard. We made our way back to the winery tried another Sav Blanc, the 2011 Devin, we then made our way back down the hill to the picnic grounds below,
Pascale Beale, Salad Demo
Salad with Grenache
where we were treated to a chef Demo by Pascale Beale and tasted various wines with fresh from the farm Salads. We will have a more complete Blog post and video on this adventure at Buttonwood. This is a must stop, to see the combination of Farm and Vineyard. If you can visit this Fall while they are doing their Harvest Tour, it should not be missed.
Stay Tuned, in the next couple of weeks we will be Posting Blogs and Videos on this amazing Weekend. We will also be launching a Ballard Canyon Series, with Interviews with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery, and Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards. This will be a 4 week Series starting July 7th 2014. We will also be at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July to talk to with more winemakers and hear more stories from Santa Barbara. So you can expect more information on this incredible region for wines.
In 1874 when Edwin Smith moved to Paso Robes the area of Halter Ranch was still known as Las Tablas. This is the name of the creek that runs through the property and gives it’s name to the Haas/Perrin winery just over the hill. It wasn’t until the MacGillivray family purchased part of the property in 1943 that the first vines were planted.
Halter Ranch Spring Vines
Halter Ranch, as we know it today came about in 2000 when Hansjorg Wyss purchased 900 acres. Halter is his mother’s maiden name. In 2008 he was ranked number 164 of the Forbes list of billionaires and he is the 2nd richest person in Switzerland. Here we see his money being put to good use for wine lovers. He is known for his philanthropy. His Wyss Foundation places large parcels of land under government protection. He is a by nature conservationist.
The vineyards here have been growing grapes and selling them to the best of the area’s wineries. They now have to wean wineries of their grapes as they establish their own label. The ranch itself is over 1000 acres with less than ¼ of it devoted to vines. They focus on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties. Mr. Wyss conservationist attitude can be seen here. The property has wildlife corridors for local mountain lions, badgers, bobcats and coyotes. These corridors allow the animals to roam over large portions of land as they are meant to, rather than simply running into fences. On the ranch you will also find the Ancestor Oak. This Coastal oak is the world’s oldest. It is 324 inches around, 55 feet tall and has a 104-foot crown. On the property you will find insectaries, owl boxes and raptor perches. They have a mobile chicken coup that was used to keep pests down, until they realized that the raptors loved chicken for lunch!
Halter Ranch Gravity Flow
They began their own label in 2002 and the new winery is stunning. They wooed Kevin Sass from Justin Winery here. How could he resist! The winery is gravity flow, which is great for the wines and lower in energy use. Gravity flow is noted for producing smoother wines free of astringent tannins. The winery has 4 self contained temperature controlled rooms and naturally cooled caves in the side of the mountain for barrel storage.
With 57 separate vineyard blocks and soil types from calcareous clay to clay loam with shale and sandstone deposits and a computerized tank monitoring system with enables Kevin to monitor and regulate the fermentation tanks temps from his desktop or phone, this is a winemakers dream.
The winery is also SIP certified which means they are sustainable not only in vineyard and winery practices toward the grapes, but also toward the staff also. The winery has concrete catwalks so that the staff can easily get to the top of the tanks. They also have the tanks on concrete pads to raise them making it much easier to clear out the must.
Halter Ranch Covered Bridge
In addition to the stunning winery the property also houses a gorgeous covered bridge that connects the older buildings of the property with the new. Across the bridge you will find the Historic Victorian Farmhouse that was built in the 1880s and was completely restored in 2001-2003 and the Silo Barn that was restored in 2012. This property is a photographers dream!
I know…we were just there in April, but ya know, the wines in this area are really amazing! We are headed back first to the Funk Zone to visit some more tasting rooms. We have waxed poetic on ABC (Au Bon Climat) and Municipal Winemakers, now it’s time to explore some of the other Funky Wine Tasting rooms.
Au Bon Climate & Municipal
The plan is lunch at Pierre Lafond’s Wine Bistro on State Street for lunch and a flight. In 1962 Pierre Lafond opened the first winery in Santa Barbara County since prohibition. Mr. Lafond originally had a wine and cheese shop that became the place to be for Santa Barbara wine lovers.
Pierre LaFond’s Wine-Bistro
He started Santa Barbara Winery and later Lafond Winery. So…we will taste some wine, have some lunch and maybe try a little of the new Kambucha made locally that is now on the menu. And hopefully we will find a seat out on the patio where we can absorb some of the State Street atmosphere.
After lunch we will head to Grassini Family Vineyards to do a chocolate pairing. They have a tasting room near ABC and Margerum. Their vineyards are located on the east edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in Happy Canyon. Oddly enough for this primarily Burgundian style region, they are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all Bordeaux varieties. I look forward to finding out why they decided to grow Cab and what makes their vineyard Cab friendly. They also have solar panels and are a gravity flow winery so I look forward to finding out more about that!
AVA Santa Barbara
Then we head to the funkier part of Santa Barbara and stop by AVA Santa Barbara where I need to check out the amazing Elkpen murals of the region.
This winery is a wine geeks dream, the murals are all educational with details on the climate in each of the regions AVA’s. They have wines from each of the 5 AVA’s in the regions. They are owned by Seth Kunin of Kunin wines. This should be a great opportunity to get a little more of the details of the area under my belt, with a big map to guide me.
Gravity flow wineries. Lately it’s a high tech term, but really it seems like common sense doesn’t it? In Bordeaux Chateau Lynch-Bages built a tank house that employed a railed gravity flow system in 1850. The lower level held the vats and the upper level was for de-stemming and crushing so that the juice would flow (via gravity) into the vats below.
Gravity flow these days is seemingly expensive with huge complexes built to support this method. The Palmaz Winery in Napa is the ultimate example of this. This is the ultimate in gravity flow winery design. This winery is built in Mount George in Napa. The wine cave is 18 stories tall with fermentation tanks that rotate on a carousel under the crush pad.
Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility
Halter Ranch in Paso Robles just finished a beautiful new facility that is designed for gravity flow and ease of work flow for winery workers. On top of that the place is stunning. ( more on Halter Ranch Soon)
Of course there are simpler methods. Take Willakenzie Winery in Yamhill Oregon. This winery is simply built to be 3 stories down the side of a hill. The top floor is for sorting and de-stemming, the middle floor for fermentation and tank storage and the bottom floor for barrel storage. The juice/wine flows from one floor down to the next via gravity.
But even small wineries can make this system work. You just have to have your tanks higher than your barrels! A simple hose from the tank to the barrel will work! You save the expense of the pumping equipment as well as the maintenance and energy costs. This method is a bit more time consuming though. You can fill a barrel in 4 to 5 hours, but…if you don’t wish the gravity to push too hard on your wine, you might adjust your hose to allow the juice to flow more slowly taking 7 to 8 hours to fill a barrel. So if you are a big mass producing winery you probably don’t want to take the time to do this. But…if you are in the business of making good wine…
So what kind of damage can pumping do to wine? From the top you want to gently press the grapes and have them release their juice. Crushing is actually a pretty harsh word. In crushing the concern is breaking the seeds and imparting the astringent tannins into your wine. (of course there are winemakers who utilize the tannins in both seeds and stems to great result! ie Brewer/Clifton) Pumping can force through solids and then requiring additional filtration for your wine. Pumping also imparts oxygen into the wine and this can affect the aging of the wine. Pumping can be especially unwanted with the more nuanced varieties of wine like pinot noir as it can disturb the subtleties in the wine.
From an environmental standpoint it is reducing the energy use. You don’t have to pay for gravity on the electric bill! Building a gravity flow winery in the beginning will save you energy and equipment cost in the end.
So does it make the wine better? Well, it treats it more gently and after we torture the grapes on the vine, that seems to be the preferred method of treating them post harvest. It is energy efficient and seems to be kinda common sense (work smarter not harder!). In the end there are so many variables. When you use gravity flow you are again trying to have as little outside influence on the grape as possible. After that it is in the winemaker’s hands. And…well before that it is in the vineyard managers hands, as well as the weather. So many variables. All in all, a gravity flow system is an ideal, that can be put into practice with a little forethought in building. It is environmentally better and should in the long run be cheaper. As to it making the wine taste better? Maybe it’s time for a comparison test!? (Any excuse to taste more wine!)