2014 in Retrospect for Crushed Grape Chronicles

California Au bon climat

2014 was a big year for Crushed Grape Chronicles.  We honed our blogging and filming skills and got an in depth look at one of the most exciting wine regions in California, Santa Barbara County.

Our late 2013 trip to Santa Barbara got us hooked.  After visit with John and Christine at Hilliard Bruce and an exceptional morning harvesting pinot noir at Clos Pepe Estate for a sparkling project, we did a tasting with Wes Hagen and got a real look at the fantastic diversity and depth this area has.  Oh…and they have quite a few varieties of grapes too.

April 2014

We returned in April 2014 for the Vintners Spring Weekend.  We kicked off the weekend with dinner at Industrial Eats with the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Association.  Sta. Rita Hills is known for it’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and for it’s exceptional winemakers.  If you have not been to Santa Barbara, you may have a vision of this event in your mind of fancy people in suits at some fancy restaurant.  This is the glory of Santa Barbara.  Industrial Eats is a great restaurant in an Industrial area of Buellton, the city best known for it’s pea soup.  Here they source locally, so the menu changes depending on what is fresh and seasonal.  We did have uni and oysters…so the food was fancy, but you got to see and speak to the people who were making it.  The place is filled with community tables and it’s not very big.  The winemakers spoke about their wines in such humble tones.  This area is a community and they are happy to welcome you in.

We enjoyed a vineyard walk with Steve Beckman at the Purism Mountain Vineyard in Ballard Canyon.  I worked hard to keep up with Steve so I could ask some questions about this beautiful vineyard.  We have some great video’s posted as Steve talks about the soil at Purisma Mountain and gives us a little seminar on shoot thinning.

At the Grand Tasting we had the opportunity to speak one on one with so many of the amazing winemakers in Santa Barbara.

We had wonderful conversations with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery, Christine Bruce of Hilliard Bruce, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena.  Again you are surrounded by some of the most fantastic winemakers in California, but this is all about sharing and community there is no stuffiness here.

Our 4th day had us doing a round about trip around the northern part of Santa Barbara County.  We started the day in the Santa Maria valley at Au Bon Climat and Qupe at their twice annual open house, where Jim Clendenen can be seen cooking barbecue.  We then drove around the north end of the valley to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto for a barrel tasting at Clos Pepe’s Winery (which is not at the vineyard) and finished our tastings at Fiddlehead being entertained and fed sliders by the fabulous Kathy Joseph.  We then took the long way back driving up past the new Evening Star vineyard that Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman have started on the outside edge of the Sta. Rita Hills and then up to enjoy the view of Fiddlestix vineyard.  Dinner found us a Matteis Tavern enjoying a stunning dinner at this historic location.

On our final day we made our way to Presqu’ile up in the Santa Maria Valley. This beautiful winery produces some exceptional wines and blends clean beautiful modern architecture with a warm air of southern hospitality.  When we got home we tried a recipe for strawberry, citrus and avocado salad inspired by Ryan in their tasting room to pair with their rose.

June 2014

In June of 2014 we were invited back to Santa Barbara for the first ever Key to Wine Country Weekend.  This is a weekend filled with special events at many of the wineries designed to give you an inside look at this amazing region.

We were lucky to be able to schedule an interview and vineyard walk with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard.  We had a great conversation with Michael which can be seen in a series of videos on our site.  Michael’s background is in geology so it was fascinating to hear his perspective on the Ballard Canyon soils.

We began events of the weekend with a vineyard walk at Riverbench Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, with their vineyard manager Rawley Hermreck.  We walked the vineyard, saw the new vines that were about to go in, waxed the top of a bottle of pinot and had a lovely lunch with Rawley and his dog Sadie.

That evening we attended the 1st annual Larner Winemaker Dinner held at the Ballard Inn and Restaurant.  Chef Budi Kazali created beautiful dishes to pair with the Rhone style wines of Larner Vineyards and Michael Larner spoke on each of the wines before each course.  It was an amazing evening filled with good food, good wines and great company!

Saturday morning brought us back to Presqu’ile Vineyards for an Taste through the vineyard event with 4 different winemakers all of whom were sourcing grapes from Presqu’ile. This eclectic group of winemakers from Storm, Luceant Luminesce, Labyrinth and Presqu’ile spoke on their wines and their methods and we were in wine geek heaven.  The setting was stunning also on the crush pad of the gravity flow winery at Presqu’ile.  There is a 4 part series on this conversation if you want to geek out also!

Then it was on to Cold Heaven for a Rhone-scent-ual experience.  Jars filled with white flours, olives, grapefruit, herbs, chocolate…and then some filled the tables, along with sheets for notes and aroma wheels.  Attendees were like kids in a candy store passing jars back and forth and making new scent memories, while tasting some amazing wines.

The day wrapped up at Imagine Wines in Santa Ynez, where they pair wine and art.  With beautiful sculptures, paintings and photos, live music, great wine, home cooked food and the ever entertaining winemaker Ross Rankin this made for a lovely evening.

While I had to head back to work, Michael was able to stay for a final event.  Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard did a vineyard hike and farm to table lunch. The hike was led by winemaker Karen Steinwachs and lunch followed a salad demonstration by Chef Pascale Beale with recipes from her cookbook “Salade”. All the items used were picked fresh from the gardens at Buttonwood which is a working farm.

July 2014

July 2014 found us in Santa Barbara again, this time for WBC14 (Wine Bloggers Conference).  This gave us another opportunity to see the area and talk with winemakers here as well as meet other wine bloggers.  We had a fantastic evening on a planned Friday night excursion planned by the Santa Barbara Vintners.  Various vehicles and buss’s rolled up to the Conference hotel and Bloggers piled in. Then the vehicles set off for mystery locations.  Our bus headed out to Sunstone Vineyard and Winery, where Michael Larner greeted us followed shortly by Bion Rice, the wineries President and CEO, in a t-shirt and jeans.  Bion gave us a tour of the stunning Villa at Sunstone, which is built from reclaimed materials from villages in Marseille and Provence.  We then gathered in the garden to sample wines and speak with winemakers from Larner, Core, Transcendence, Big Tar, and Sunstone.  Dinner family style followed and then a question and answer session with the winemakers refereed by non other than Keith Saarloos of Saarloos and Sons. The blog post on this fantastic evening is still to come so keep watching!

We also made a trip to see Bridlewood Winery just outside Happy Canyon where we enjoyed a stroll through the gardens, lunch by the creek and then a panel discussion with a sustainable theme. Moderated by Richard Martin from Food Republic with Bridlewood winemaker Mark Williams, Chris and Johanna Finley of Finley Farms Organic, Stephanie Mutz of Sea Stephanie Fish, Jake O’Francis of Valley Piggery, Jeff Olsson of Industrial Eats. This was an incredible discussion by the people who grow, raise or harvest our foods on their thoughts on sustainability and how they do what they do.  There were no easy answers here, but a heartfelt and honest discussion which was interesting and refreshing in such a large corporate winery (Bridlewood is owned by Gallo).

2014 the overview

So all in all, 2014 was a pretty amazing year!  I expect that 2015 will see us back in Santa Barbara (there is so much to explore there and more winemakers we would love to have an opportunity to talk with!) as well as exploring some other California regions, so expect more blog posts and videos on wineries and winemakers.

We will also continue our adventure in pairing wines and foods.  I am finding that the typical rules for pairing varieties is only the tip of the iceberg.  Wines are individual and change as they age, so a pairing is only for the moment and we look forward to more of those.  You will see more cooking videos here and on our sister site 4Farm2Mrkt and suggestions on pairings.

We also will probably dabble a little into things other than wine.  There is a post coming soon that is about chili and beer pairings.  As winemaker will tell you, it takes a lot of good beer to make wine.

And…if you have suggestions, on wineries or regions, restaurants or pairings…let us know!

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to keep up to date on the Latest Video’s

In the meantime…find a good bottle of bubbly or whatever you prefer and share a toast to a wonderful 2014 and an even better 2015 to come!

 

Thanks,

 

Robin & Michael

Crushed Grape Chronicles

 

Santa Barbara, The Key to Wine Country, Clos Pepe

Wes Hagen, Clos Pepe Wine Maker


A Barrel Tasting at Clos Pepe is an event not to be missed. Wes Hagen, the winemaker is a charismatic and engaging personality with an incredible amount of knowledge on wine, soil and philosophy! Taste great wines, learn an amazing amount about vineyards, barrels and winemaking and have a great time!

Learn about Russian Barrels, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Blending and so much more.

You can do this during “The Key to Wine Country” http://www.sbcountywines.com/key-to-wine-country1.html#calendar

Event from June 20-22nd in Santa Barbara County.

Get your key then head to the Barrel Tastings at the winery in Lompoc on Sunday June 22nd!

Wes will be starting Barrel Tastings at 11:00 am, 12:30 pm and 2:00 pm that day.

 

Check out all the great Key to Wine Country events at http://www.sbcountywines.com/key-to-wine-country1.html#calendar

Key to Wine Country – An exclusive weekend in Santa Barbara

Beckmen Vineyard

If you follow this blog, you know that we are in love with Santa Barbara Wine Country.  We had the great pleasure of attending the Vintners Spring Weekend in April where we met many of the local winemakers, sampled wines and saw some beautiful wineries.

Well the Santa Barbara Vintners are at it again.  Coming up on June 20th-22nd they will have their “Key to Wine Country” Event.  This is a weekend of  exclusive experiences for a limited number of people.  You purchase your “Key” and then may attend your choice of over 40 different events over the course of the weekend.  The events run from Complimentary tastings at a tasting room to Vineyard Walks with winemakers to farm to table lunches with wine pairings, to seminars on tasting or horseback rides through the vineyard!  Some events have an additional fee for lunch or dinner.  This event will allow you to meet winemakers, and get a behind the scenes look at the vineyards and wineries of Santa Barbara County.

He is just a sampling of the options:

A Winery Tour, Reserve Tasting and Picnic Lunch at Beckmen Vineyards, on Friday June 20th at 11 am,  where you tour the Beckmen Vineyards  winery and barrel room with winemaker Neil Redmond followed by a pond-side Reserve tasting and picnic lunch hosted by Bell Street Farm.

Beckmen Vineyards

Beckmen Vineyards

A Farm-toTable event with Buttonwood Farm Winery on Sunday, June 22nd from 11-2.  Winemaker Karen Steinwachs will take you on a farm tour and vineyard hike, followed by a farm-to-table cooking demo and lunch with wine pairings by Pascale Beale, local chef and cookbook author which includes lunch, pairings and the Salade cookbook.

Buttonwood Farm

Buttonwood Farm

Mise en Scene – Storytelling through the Casa Dumetz Wine Lens. on Friday June 20th from 12-5.  Winemaker Sonja Magdevski will take you on an intimate tour of the various vineyards where Casa Dumetz sources its fruit.  Anthropologist Bryan Bass will discuss the “terroir” and you will taste the wines that were made from the different locations.  Lunch, snacks and wine will be served throughout the day.

Casa du Matz wine, Grand Tasting

Casa Dumetz wine, Grand Tasting

Clos Pepe Estate will have Barrel Tastings on Sunday June 22nd at 11, 12:30 and 2 pm with wines from Clos Pepe, Axis Mundi and Lindley Wines.  Winemaker Wes Hagen will be on hand to educate you on wine, soil, and who knows what else!

Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Cold Heaven Cellars will have a Rhone Scent-ual Experience on Saturday and Sunday from 2-5, where they will lead you through an in-depth sensory seminar of Viognier & Syrah.

Cold Heaven

Cold Heaven, Grand Tasting

Larner Vineyard & Winery will host a Wine Dinner on Friday June 20th from 6-9 at the Ballard Inn, as well as a Wine & The Artisan event on Saturday June 21 from 6 to 9pm at their Los Olivos tasting room, where you can taste their wines, enjoy artisinal products and see works by featured artists!

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

Presqu’ile Winery will have a “Taste through the Vineyard” on Saturday and Sunday from 11-1.  This unique event will allow you to taste through the wines of 3 different producers using the fruit from the same vineyard.  Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje, Storm winemaker Ernst Storm, Luminesce winemaker Kevin Law and Labyrinth winemaker Ariki Hill will showcase their wines, all from Presqu’ile vineyards.

Presquille Vineyard

Presquille Vineyard Tasting Room

And that is just a sampling!  Head to the Santa Barbara Vintners website for the complete list!

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

Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner

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

Industrial Eats in Buellton CA

Industrial Eats in Buellton CA

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

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

Alma Rosa sign

Alma Rosa in the Spring

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

Sanford Winery

The Beautiful Sanford Tasting Room

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

Beckmen Hike at Purisma Mountain

Hiking to the top of Purisima Mountain with Steve Beckmen

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

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

Sandhi Wines at the Watering Hole at Matteis Tavern

Sandhi Wines at the Watering Hole at Matteis Tavern

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

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

Panorama Carhartt Grand Tasting

Panorama of the Grand Tasting at River View Park in Buellton

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

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

abc-patio-open-house

Relaxing at the Au Bon Climat & Qupe Open House

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

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

Clos Pepe barrel tasting

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

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

Fiddlehead Winery in Lompoc

Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc

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

Matteis Tavern

The historic Matteis Tavern

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

salmon-and-corn

Red Trout and Creme Corn Brûlée

 

 

Presquille Vineyard

Presqu’ile Vineyard Tasting Room

 

Persquille view

The View from Presqu’ile

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

 

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

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

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room in Los Olivos

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

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

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

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

Sta. Rita Hills AVA Wine Dinner

Industrial Eats


http://youtu.be/imy0wafJKY8

On industrial way in Buellton CA, you might not expect to find a dinner of fine wines and food pairings, but you are in Santa Barbara County and you should expect the unexpected.

Industrial eats was the location for this years Sta. Rita Hills AVA dinner at the SB Vintners Spring Weekend.

The evening started with a Clos Pepe Pinot Sparkling Wine, and Appetizer of Sea Urchin with avocado and just got better from there.  On Hand to discuss the wines were, Wes Hagen from Clos Pepe and Ken Brown, from Ken Brown Wines, along with Laura Roach, Enologist for Sanford wines and Jeff Connick, assistant wine maker from Dierberg &  Star Lane wines

This is just a preview of all of the wonderful food and wine, Watch for a more detailed blog post on the evening, with a full length video.

Sta. Rita Hills, the Burgundy of Santa Barbara

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

Vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills as viewed from Hilliard Bruce

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

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

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

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

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

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

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

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

It’s no secret, I’m in love with the Santa Barbara County Wine Region.  It is laid back with an incredible range of variety.  “Sideways” got it right.  This is the best up and coming wine area in our country.  Up and coming actually seems a little silly, the wineries and winemakers here have quite a history.  There are giants of winemaking here including: Richard Sanford, Jim Clenedenen, Bob Linquist, Richard Longoria & Bill Wathen. And the list of amazing winemakers continues to grow and the wines they are producing are varied and amazing.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Santa Barbara lies in a unique area that separated from the plates along the coast.  Over the past twelve million years this little section shifted and created a Transverse valley.  This means that the valley here runs east west as opposed to north south like all the other valleys on our coast.  The transverse valley and the microclimates within it lead to a place where you can grow an amazing variety of grapes in a relatively small area.  On the western edge the valley is cool and is perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As you move east the valley warms by a degree a mile!  This makes the middle section perfect for Rhone varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne and as you continue to the east side where Happy Canyon lies you have enough heat to support those Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc.

So if you are a wine geek like me…this is a great place.  But if you are not a wine geek and want to avoid the intimidation of wine talk and just enjoy a glass…well this is the right place too.

So…make your first stop in the Funk Zone near the beach in Santa Barbara on the Urban Wine trail.  Stop into one of the many great tasting rooms there.  Maybe hit Municipal Winemakers first and soak up some of the funky atmosphere.  Sit down at the picnic table and enjoy a glass of rose.

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Then if you are feeling like learning a little about where these wines come from head up the street to AVA Santa Barbara. Here you can taste wines from all the different regions in Santa Barbara County.  The entire wall over the tasting bar is a huge chalk mural by Elkpen that  shows the regions soils, microclimates and topography. The wines, by Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines are lovely and deliberately varied to feature the microclimates in this incredible area.

Au Bon Climate, Grassini, Margerum

If you head further North into downtown, you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat & Margerum to choose between for a tasting.

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Head back through the downtown shopping district and stop at  Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro for lunch.  Then take a stroll on the beach and finally enjoy a nice glass of wine at Conway Family Wines – Deep Sea Tasting room on the Santa Barbara Pier while you enjoy the sunset.

 

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Oh, but my friend, you are just getting started in Santa Barbara County.  Tomorrow drive into Solvang, the adorable little Danish town and get some aebleskivers for breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant.  You can then stroll this town and taste at several tasting rooms that you can walk to, or drive a little further into Los Olivos where you will find over 35 tasting rooms to choose from!  And…I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great place to dine at Side’s Hardware & Shoes.  Don’t miss Saarloos and Sons for a pairing with cupcakes from Enjoy Cupcakes.

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

They are there Thursday thru Sunday from 11-5 (or until they run out of cupcakes, so go early!) and one of my favorite tasting rooms, the tiniest one on the planet is across the street from Saarloos and Sons at Carhartt.  Carhartt stays open an hour later than the others and this often becomes quite the gathering spot on the beautiful but tiny back patio.

Are you overwhelmed yet?  There is more…I highly recommend Terrravant Winery Restaurant in Buellton for dinner and pairings.  They have an Enomatic wine dispensing system set up so you can try small tastes of many of the amazing local wines.  And the now World Famous Hitching Post II is also here in Buellton, made famous by the movie “Sideways”.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Tapas & Wine Bar Front Entrance

Tomorrow morning you have more wine country to explore!  There are amazing wineries outside of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley like Buttonwood Farms & Beckman.  Or travel up to Santa Maria through Foxen Canyon and enjoy the morning Vandenberg Fog.  Stop at Zaca Mesa and try their Rhones.  This place has been around a while and popped out some pretty amazing winemakers!  Further up the road, you can’t miss stopping at “The Shack” at Foxen.

Zaca Mesa chess set

Zaca Mesa Patio with the oversized chess set

And…then there is the Sta. Rita Hills. If you love Pinot or good Chard you want to drive through here.  Make an appointment and stop by Clos Pepe.  Wes Hagen has more vineyard and wine knowledge than you can imagine and a tasting with him is amazing!  Just past Clos Pepe is Hilliard Bruce.  John and Christine have an incredibly beautiful landscaped property and their vineyard management is state of the art.

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Keep driving down 246 to Lompoc and top into the Wine Ghetto.  Filled with small wineries working out of an industrial park you will find Flying Goat Cellars, Fiddlehead & Palmina as well as a host of others.  Check the hours though, because they are often just open on weekends for tastings.  Further into Lompoc you will find Brewer-Clifton, which again brought out my geeky side as we talked about stem inclusion and how they thin the vines to ripen the stems!

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Have I covered it all?  Not even close.  There is so much exploring I look forward to going back to do.  But…if you are short on time…The Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have all of these great wineries and winemakers in one place on April 12th.

Or at anytime for information visit Santa Barbara Vintners

Save

Clos Pepe, early morning picking Pinot Noir

Clos Pepe Vineyard

On and early Foggy morning in Santa Barbara, were able to film our first Harvest experience at Clos Pepe Winery.  We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County. We contacted Morgen, the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association to help in our search.  She guided us to Clos Pepe Winery who was harvesting a small block of Pinot Noir for a Sparkling Wine project for Flying Goat Cellars.  See a little of our adventure in the early morning fog in the video.

We pulled up in the dark in front of Clos Pepe. I texted Morgen, “the gate says no trespassing, should we go in?”  “Yes by all means” she texted, “I’ll be there soon.”  Morgen is the Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association and she had sent me a message the day before.  We were looking for someplace to shoot harvest shots at night or in the morning while in Santa Barbara County.  It seemed the Sav Blanc in Happy Canyon was already being harvested and everything else was holding until after labor day.  Morgen had been able to find something and sent a message saying to meet her at 5:45 am at Clos Pepe to harvest for a little sparkling project they were working on.

We pulled through the gates and parked by the house and waited for Morgen.  Michael headed down to get some photos, trying to stay out of the way.  When Morgen arrived she asked if I was going to pick.  This took me a little off guard, I would be happy to, I said, but I had never picked before and didn’t want to be in the way or slow things down.  Nonsense, she said and guided me down to meet Wes Hagen the winemaker at Clos Pepe.  Wes proceeded without hesitation to hand Morgen and I gloves, clippers, a headlamp and a bucket and briefed us on how to harvest.

We were harvesting early in the day beginning in the dark.  This has multiple benefits 1st it’s cooler, this makes those picking happier and the grapes happier.  The grapes will be cooler and firmer and the sugar levels will be lower and more stable.

It was late August, just the beginning of harvest season.  We were harvesting pinot noir. This pinot was at about 20 brix, so lower than a typical Pinot harvest because this Pinot was headed for a sparkling wine project for Norm Yost at Flying Goat Cellars.

In harvesting we were looking for full ripe bunches, but in this harvest we were not skipping unripe fruit.  Any green or pink berries could be knocked off or if the bunch was too green it could simply be dropped.  The idea was to pick the row clean leaving no fruit behind. We were also looking for botrytis.  Botrytis cinerea known as botrytis bunch rot by those in the vineyard, but others in horticulture call it gray mold. This comes in 2 forms: “Grey rot” which is the result of consistent wet or humid conditions and “noble rot” which is when wet conditions are followed by dry.  Noble rot can create beautiful desert wines like Tokaji or Sauternes.  Any botrytis that we found was to be pulled out or dropped.

The harvest team we were on was only setting out to harvest 3 rows of Pinot Noir.  We were hand picking and only looking for around 4 bins of grapes for this sparkling project.  Each of the bins were half ton so we were looking for about 2 tons. Our team was about 15 people and we finished 2 rows in about 2 hours.  It was a good harvest, most of the bunches were evenly ripened and 2 rows filled the 4 bins.

As we picked we made sure to keep our buckets  free of MOG (material other than grapes).  Also the clippers should never hang on the side of the bucket.  If the clippers fall in, they could end up in the bin and then in the crusher, which could ruin a very expensive piece of equipment.

We clipped away, first finding the bunches in the light of our headlamps, then turning the headlamps in as the sun rose to light the vines for us.  The early morning fog misted our hair and the drip irrigation dripped on our knees as we tucked in to find the ripe berries.  I worked what Wes refers to as “my agricultural muscles”.  As I tried to fill my orange bucket, I would periodically turn to find it empty again, as the bucket guys stealthily emptied it without my even knowing.  There was little that was green and only bits of botrytis that I came across.  These were firm tight bunches, sometimes they were wrapped around the vines or wires making it difficult to free them, but all in all it was beautiful fruit.

We worked the rows following the tracker the was hauling the bins.  As the sun came up the large lights on the top of the tracker were turned off.  Two people rode on the sides of the bins, doing a second sort for MOG and Botrytis as the buckets were dumped in.

By the time we reached the end of the row, the bins were full and the sun was up.  We walked back down the rows checking for any missed fruit.  It was my first harvest and while it was only 2 hours and 2 rows, I could not have asked for a better place.  What could be better than picking Pinot Noir in the Santa Rita Hills on a gorgeous morning in late August.  Thank you Wes and Clos Pepe for an amazing experience.

Remember, “Every grape wants to make wine”

See more of Wes in his Blog very informative. Visit Clos Pepe Site