Day 3 had us up early and traveling back the way we had been the afternoon before. The Applegate Valley AVA in Southern Oregon established in 2000, is actually a sub AVA of the Rogue Valley AVA. From California’s border runs north 50 miles to the Rogue River west of Grants Pass.
We arrived early to Cowhorn to meet Bill Steele. This Southern Oregon vineyard is Demeter Certified Biodynamic and is a bucolic setting on Eastside Road that runs along the Applegate River. We did an interview with Bill in the vineyard and walked the property before heading into the beautiful modern tasting room to do a tasting with Bill. The tasting room features a large window that looks out onto the vineyard and the valley, which is reflected in the shiny white glass behind the tasting bar, allowing you the view while facing either direction.
The wines here are Rhône varieties primarily and the finese on the winemaking is pretty spectacular. Everything is done with native yeast. I have to admit the grounds were so beautiful, I really didn’t want to leave. We will dive in deep to our visit in a separate post and tell you about Bill, biodynamics, the patio, gardens and the tasting room. Their tasting room was the first in the US to meet the “Living Building Challenge”.
You can look forward to our in depth interview with Bill coming up soon.
We left unwillingly. We could have stayed all day (or perhaps forever). But we had another appointment and this one was a bit of a drive.
North to the Umpqua Valley
We were headed toward Roseburg in the Umpqua Valley about 2 hours North. The Umpqua Valley AVA is a little older, established in 1984. We jumped back on Route 238 and took the scenic (and shorter) route to Grants Pass where we grabbed a bite and got on the 5. Yes it was freeway, but it’s Southern Oregon, so the views are still pretty spectacular.
We exited onto the 99 around Cow Creek and then took Route 42 out to Ten Mile where Girardet Vineyards is located. Mind you….our GPS had a little trouble out here and we ended up coming into the property the back way. I suggest downloading a map ahead of time and not relying on GPS.
Girardet is one of the older wineries in this area planting the vineyard back in 1971. The Girardets (Philippe and Bonnie) got in their VW bus and drove the country looking for vine starts. They picked up some French varieties from Wente and then planted some of the French hybrids that they picked up in New York; Baco Noir, Seyval Blanc, Cayuga among others. Marc was born in 1975 just after this experiment had begun. He now runs the vineyard and winery and he took some time to speak to us on the beautiful covered patio with a picnic table, next to the tasting room. After our chat he took us through the winery and drove us up into the vineyard to see the views. Vines do love a view.
We finished this stop with a tasting which included some of the Italian varieties that Marc has added on the newer section of the vineyard where they found ancient marine bed shale. We made some friends in the tasting room before heading back on the road to Newburg, where we would stop for the night. This winery has a great history that we look forward to sharing with you.
Coming up Next…
Next we head North, first to the Columbia Gorge to visit the waterfalls on the Oregon side, then onto the Washington side to visit Syncline winery. From there it is off to the Yakima Valley to visit with Seth Kitzke of Kitzke Cellars and Upsidedown Wine and then enjoy sunset with Jonathan and Mike Sauer at the iconic Red Willow Vineyard.
Even if you are not an expert on French Wine, you are sure to have heard of Gérard Bertrand. He produces that stunning bottle of rosé Côte des Roses. You know, the bottle with the rose embossed on the bottom. It’s hard to miss! And…it’s a lovely wine, that actually comes from the Côte des Roses, an area near Gruissan in Languedoc in the South of France. But Gérard Bertrand is much more than simply rosé….
Gérard Bertrand – the man
Gérard’s family had an estate vineyard. He learned alongside his father. Of course he went off on his own and found a passion for Rugby, which he played professionally for many years. But he always had a passion for wine. When his father passed in 1987 he returned to take over the family’s Villemajou Estate and later created the Gérard Bertrand wine company.
Even if you enjoy French wines, Languedoc is rarely one of the first regions you will encounter. This region is in the south of France to the West of the famous Provence. It is the region that wraps around the mediterranean sea from Nîmes to the border with Spain.
The red grape varieties here include Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Carignan, all of which can be beautifully blended. We will explore two of these blends below, as well as dipping our toes into a bit of Crémant from Limoux.
Gérard Bertrand – Expressing the Terroir
At Gérard Bertrand they are dedicated to biodiversity and to the area of Languedoc-Roussillon. They expanded from the original Villemajou vineyard to purchase Cigalus Estate, Château Laville Bertrou and the Aigle Estate. Beyond that they now include Château la Sauvageonne, Château la Soujeole, Clos d’Ora, Clos du Temple, Château les Karantes, Château Aigues-Vives, Cap Insula winery, Château des Deux Rocs, Château de Tarailhan and the Estagnère Estate, in their portfolio.
After becoming interested in homeopathic medicine in the early 2000’s, Gérard became interested in Biodynamics and in 2002 started farming the Cigalus Estate biodynamically. They have since converted all their estates to biodynamic practices.
Many of the pieces you will see below will focus on the Biodynamic Cigalus Blanc, the wine that Gérard Bertrand provided as samples to many of the French #Winophiles. With many people interested the list had to be limited. Late to the party we did not receive the samples, but we were able to find several other bottles of Gérard Bertrand wines that peaked our interest!
The Grand Terroir range of wines they produce allow you discover each unique region. In addition they produce a Crémant de Limoux, claimed to be the region where sparkling wine originated. I mean how could we pass that up?!
So we have all probably heard the story of the famous monk Benedictine Dom Pérignon who lived in Hautvillers in the Champagne region of France, discovering bubbles and tasting the stars! Dom has, in legend, often been credited with inventing Champagne. He lived from 1638 to 1715. Well… in Limoux they say that in 1531, the monks of Saint Hilaire were the first to discover the bubbles and begin using the “traditional methode” to produce sparkling wines. I’ll let them duke it out, you can pour me a glass of either and I will be happy to watch them debate while I simply enjoy the delicious wine.
Limoux sits in the cool foothills of the Pyranees, an area perfect for growing grapes for sparkling wine. For more on this area, I highly recommend visiting the Limoux AOC page on Languedoc Wine site!
Gérard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Crémant de Limoux Brut Rose 2016
Crémant de Limoux is said to be the only sparkling wine that Thomas Jefferson kept in his cellar. I like to picture him receiving the sparkling bottles from the chilly basement through his wine elevator…leave it to Thom to invent this stuff. (We visited Monticello a few years ago, hence the photos).
This particular wine is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 15% Chenin, and 15% Pinot Noir.
The Grapes are harvested when their acid-sugar balance reach their best. The fruit is transferred to the winery and immediately pressed in a pneumatic pressing machine. In addition to reinforce the perception of freshness and balance, the dosage is very precise. The Pinot Noir grapes are not macerated, in order to preserve their colour. The must is transferred to the vats for alcoholic fermentation using the same process used for still wine. After malolactic fermentation in the vats, the wine is blended together and then transferred to the barrels to mature for 8 months.
During the Roman era, this area was actually an island. No longer an island, La Clape is bordered to the east by the sea, to the west by the low-lying alluvial plains of the Aude and to the south by the lagoons. The soils here are loose limestone.
Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir La Clape 2015
The wine is a blend of 50% Syrah, 35% Carignan and 15% Mourvèdre. It sits at 13.5% abv
A slow ripening process and a late harvest (end of September to mid-October) are the key ingredients for producing grapes that are ripe, healthy and concentrated and also aids the extraction of colour and aromas during fermentation and maceration. The grapes are harvested by hand when they have reached peak ripeness and transported to the winery in special bins. They are then de-stemmed before being transferred to the stainless steel vats for maceration, lasting 20 to 25 days. The wine is then decanted into barrels for 8 months of ageing.
Tautavel is a village in the Roussillon region, located between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. This region lays claim to some of the oldest hominid remains in Europe. In 1971, the remains of Tautavel Man were discovered. These remains date to 450,000 years ago, and the area is thought to be one of the cradles of civilization.
Gérard Bertrand Grand Terroir Tautavel 2015
This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah & Carignan and sits a 15% abv
Work in the vineyard starts by selecting the most suitable plots of land for each variety. The grapes are harvested once they have reached peak maturity, determined by regular tasting, and are sorted twice: once in the vineyard and again in the winery. The fruit is vinified in the traditional manner, the grapes are de-stemmed and then undergo maceration for 3 to 4 weeks. The must is then pressed before malolactic fermentation begins. 33% of the wine is transferred to barrels and matured for 9 months, while the rest matures in the vats.
I sat with the tech sheets for each of these wines and prepared a menu, which began and ended with the Crémant de Limoux Brut Rose.
The salmon crostini was simple, just crostini, (sliced baguette, brushed with olive oil and baked 8-10 minutes) topped with smoked salmon, a dot of creme fraiche and then either a dab of raspberry jam or a dab of caviar.
The Crémant was beautiful in the glass, clear with fine bubbles and a light salmon color, that looked gorgeous next to our salmon crostini. The nose hit you first with tart fruit followed by whiffs of toast.
This was beautiful with the salmon, the acid and bubbles cutting through the fat. The creme fraiche mirrored the tartness in the wine and the crostini brought in those toasty elements. It was interesting to see how the difference of salt or sweet on the top affected the experience. I enjoyed the jam matching the fruit in the wine and balancing it with that hint of sweetness, but the crostini with the caviar was my favorite. The caviar contrasted beautifully, pulling forward the fruit notes in the wine. This was a delicious bite and pairing.
Cheese & charcuterie
We opened the two red wines and put together a cheese & charcuterie platter, which included gouda, manchego and a St. Angel triple creme cheese. I added some sopresso, honey & walnuts, as well as an assortment of berries; strawberries, raspberries and blackberries.
I found that the triple creme cheese went beautifully with both wines, with the wine pulling forth some beautiful floral notes in the cheese. The Tautavel was surprisingly nice with the salmon crostini with caviar, brightening and highlighting the food.
As expected the sopresso was wonderful with the La Clape with the mouvedre in the blend. The La Clape was also very nice with the crostini with the jam. Together both the jam and the wine felt brighter in my mouth.
Sous vide pork in caramel sauce & Roasted fennel & Peppers
Gérard Bertrand’s suggested pairings for the Tautavel included “grilled peppers, pork in caramel sauce and rabbit with prunes and fine cheeses”. The tasting notes also listed red fruit and raspberry aromas underpinned by spicy notes…delicate notes of scrubland and spices on the palate”. In addition they noted “Ripe black fruits, chocolate, licorice and smoked herbs…”
Intrigued by the pork in caramel sauce, I found a recipe for sous vide pork to riff on. The pork went into the sous vide with a rub of salt, pepper, paprika (for those subtle spices on the palate) and rosemary (for the scrubland herb notes). 2 hours later, we seared the chops and drizzled with a caramel sauce with salt pepper and rosemary. This plated with roasted fennel (pulling forward those licorice notes) and peppers with a bit of rubbed sage (more scrubland). We garnished with fresh fennel and sage leaves and blackberries to tie in the “ripe black fruit”.
Roasted Chicken on a bed of cous cous with arugula and cranberries
The La Clape suggestions included roasted poulty and creamy cheeses. We had already enjoyed this with the triple creme, so now it was onto tasting it with the roast chicken. I served this on a bed of cous cous with cranberries to pull those fruit notes and arugula to pull some of the peppery notes, as well as add a bit of green.
Both of the wines paired well with the food. These wines are lovely on the nose, but feel lighter on the palate, so that they were beautiful to pair with these lighter meats without overpowering the flavors of the dishes.
Dessert – Deconstructed Berry tart
With a Brut Rosé you can rarely go wrong with a red fruit desert, and this was no exception. I created a simple deconstructed berry tart, with crumbled shortbread, raspberry jam, a puree of raspberries an strawberries, fresh blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, mint and a raspberry sorbet.
We poured another glass of the Gérard Bertrand Cuvee Thomas Jefferson Crémant de Limoux Brut Rose 2016 (which we had stoppered, pressurized returned to the fridge to preserve the bubbles while we enjoyed the rest of the meal). This pairing did not disappoint and was the perfect end to an evening of delicious wines.
This was a beautiful exploration into this region and this winery for me. I encourage you to search for Gérard Bertrand wines, beyond that beautiful rosé and taste a bit of Languedoc.
The French #Winophiles
Read on for more great pieces on the wines of Gérard Bertrand. As I mentioned before, many of these will focus on the wonderful 2018 Cigalus Blanc, an exceptional white blend that I look forward to tasting in the future.
And join us on Saturday May 18th at 11 am EST on twitter to discuss these wines! Just follow #Winophiles to find us!
Life gets busy. These days I find myself reading quite a bit, but the reading I am doing is often short articles or posts on my phone. I long for a cold, perhaps rainy day where I can curl up on the couch with a blanket and a book. Oh and perhaps a good glass of wine.
The French #Winophiles
This month the French #Winophiles decided to tackle Provençe, and take the mostly non-rosy path, searching out red and white wines from the region. (Scroll to the bottom for links to all of the posts by the #Winophiles) Wendy Klik our host and leader for this journey procured multiple copies of Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” to inspire us (and, lucky for me, satisfy my urge for reading!) These were provided by the Blue Vase Book Exchange. This is a local book exchange in Michigan.
Blue Vase Book Exchange
What exactly does the Blue Vase Book Exchange do? Here’s a quote from their website:
We strive to find balance between purpose and profit, which is why we do what we do! By hosting our book exchange, we can feel good about getting books into hands who might not have access to literature via other means.
Curling up and reading
After receiving the book that Wendy so graciously sent to me, I found a corner of the couch on a cold winter day, grabbed a blanket and a glass of wine and started to read.
“A Year in Provence” within it’s first pages, will have you daydreaming of moving to Provençe. Even as he describes the cold of the Mistral wind in the winter, you will find yourself longing for this place. It is the “simpler life”, the unhurried pace and as this book was written a while ago, it also reminds of the quiet of a life free from our cell phones.
On to my search for a bottle of wine that was not a rosé from Provençe.
Searching for the Red Wines of Provençe
This region is of course known for it’s rosés, which are perfect on a warm day in the south of France. The south of France shares it’s long lovely season with my home here in Las Vegas. Most of the year is warm (often times too warm…”but it’s a dry heat”…whatever it gets hot!), with a bit of the year where the cold rolls in. Perhaps we are spoiled and that is what makes the cold feel all the more brutal. I am shivering in the 39 degree temps! Regardless, the cold weather made me anxious to find some reds from the region.
I searched for maps and information on the reds of the region, trying to see what would have been nearby for the Mayle’s. The house in the book is was built in the 18th century and is located in the Luberon Region of Provençe outside of the town of Lourmarin. This would be within the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence. The town is enchanting…
This region covers 4127 Hectares and produces what would be about 28 million bottle of wine annually (Information Courtesy of Vins du Provence) 82.5% is rosé, 5.5% white, and 12% red. This is about 16% of the wine made in Provence. Primary grapes include Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache & Counoise, with bits of Cab Sav and Carignan. (I have researched and can’t seem to find what grapes Faustin had planted in the book)
On to Bandol
Of course finding a bottle of red wine from Provençe is significantly harder than looking it up! I ended up with a bottle from Bandol, which is perhaps the best known spot in Provençe for red wine. Mourvèdre is the “King of Grapes” here and you will find it as the primary grape in the areas red blends. In fact, often if you say “Mourvèdre” to a wine lover the first word that will come out of their mouth is “Bandol”. Often you will find grenache and cinsault blended in, or perhaps syrah or carignan, so we are still within the varieties that are well known in Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, but here, in Bandol, mourvèdre will lead the blend.
Bandol has some of the oldest vineyards in France. The Phocaeans arrived on the shores of Provençe in the 6th Century bringing amphorae, vines and wine. The Romans came and the Phocaean colony of Torroeis became Torroentrum and the vineyard they planted here can still be seen today. (information from http://www.vinsdebandol.com/en/history.cfm)
The Wine – 2015 Le Pont Bandol
In the spirit of Provençe and the book, I refused to stress about the wine. I picked up the only bottle I could find at the wine store which was a 2015 Le Pont Bandol. It was a 60/40 blend of Mourvèdre and Grenache.
The sketch on the label of Le Pont got me wondering about the place and I searched and found a photo of the Viaduc de Bandol, this shot taken from out on the water looking back at Bandol and the Viaduc.
In my search I also came upon a painting by Edouard Pignon. He painted this in 1957. (Click through and give the painting a look, in the lower half of the image you can see the curve of the viaduc)
This painting evokes the wild feel of Provençe. You can almost smell the salt and garrigue. This scent melds with the Mourvèdre and Grenache in my glass. Scent is memory and all this lets me step into Mayler’s world.
A Simple Pairing
Did I do a pairing? A food pairing that is? Well yes. The mourvèdre screams for something wild, like boar. I settled for a rare steak, roasted potatoes covered with herbs de Provençe and some peas. It was simple and delicious. I will admit to dreaming a little of the feast that the Mayle’s enjoyed with their neighbors, the never ending feast in the cold of winter. That feast will be for another day, one with a full house and a long table!
Have I finished the book?
No. My bottle is empty. I am searching for another Bandol and I will keep reading. The thing is…I don’t want the book to end. Each time I have a moment, I want to curl up with my Bandol and my book. He wrote a few more books didn’t he? In the meantime, I can continue to visit Provençe through pages written by my fellow #Winophiles as they share their journeys through these wines of the region.
More on Provence from the #Winophiles
As I mentioned this month’s French Winophiles was sponsored by Blue Vase Book Exchange. They provided some of our members with a copy of “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle. You can find Blue Vase Book Exchange on Amazon and on Facebook.
And….if you read this before February 16th 2019…you can join us on twitter to talk about the wines and the region. Just follow #Winophiles and join the conversation. We get going at 8 am Pacific or 11 am Eastern!
We had planned to head to the Valley of Fire, but the winds kicked up and it didn’t seem like a good day to go, so…how to fill our day off? Michael suggested a vertical. We settled on a Grenache Vertical from Tablas Creek Vineyard. We had a 2009, 2010 and 2012 in the cellar (they didn’t make a single variety Grenache in 2011).
First, let’s start by talking about Grenache. The grape likely originated in Spain where they call it Garnacha, but it is found abundantly in France in the Rhône Valley. It is the “G” in a “GSM” (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre) which is the traditional Red Blend from the Southern Rhône. About half of the Grenache grown in the world is in France, with the next biggest portion being grown in Spain. As far as the Rhône Valley goes, it is the most widely planted grape and it is the second most widely planted grape in the world! When you have a single variety Grenache you are looking at a Medium bodied wine.
Tablas Creek Winery in the Adelaida AVA in Paso Robles
Tablas Creek Vineyards,Paso Robles
Tablas Creek Vineyard is located in Paso Robles in California’s Central Coast Region. The Vineyard and winery are a collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau de Beaucastel in the Rhône Valley’s Châteauneuf du Pape area and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. They spent 4 years searching for a property that would be similar to the southern Rhône and settled on this piece of land with limestone soils similar to Beaucastel. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard on the West side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone Varieties. Hot sunny summer days and cool nights from the nearby Pacific, were just the right conditions. At the time, Paso Robles was one big AVA. This ginormous AVA which covered 614,000 acres of land and had 40,000 vineyard acres, was broken into 11 new AVAs including the Adelaida District AVA which is where Tablas Creek is located.
So they found the spot, now it was about the grapes. At this point in time, Rhône grape vines were not abundantly available in California, so they began the process of importing vines from Beaucastel. 9 grape varieties, with several clones from each as well as a variety of rootstocks where selected and imported. Of course that sounds easy right? Just get the cuttings and FedEx them right? Nope. The process is tedious, but important. After the Pheloxera outbreaks in the mid 1800’s and again in 1980’s, regulation to keep vineyards safe was imperative. The first vines arrived from France in 1990 and went through a 3 year process to be sure they were free of all virus’. Once the vines were released they needed to make more vines to have enough to plant. They created a nursery to do this which “at it’s peak produced over 200,000 bench-rafted vines for planting in Tablas Creek’s own vineyard and for sale to interested growers each year.” ( from https://tablascreek.com/story/history) They later partnered with NovaVine in Sonoma to handle this. You can now find Tablas Creek Clones in over 600 vineyards in multiple states.
They began with 9 varietals from Southern Rhone, including Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Picpoul. They continue bringing in varietals so that they eventually will have all of the Châteauneuf du Pape collection.
We have been lucky enough to visit them multiple times and even had an opportunity to do an extensive interview a few years ago with Jason Haas their General Manager. You can find all that info here on the website on our Tablas Creek Page.
The Grenache Vertical
Yes, each of these wines are grown at the same vineyard and made by the same winemaker, but there are differences. First of course is the difference in age, when it was made and how much time it has spent in the bottle before opening. But each vintage is unique. We began our Grenache vertical with the 2009 which was the fourth time that Tablas Creek had done a single varietal Grenache bottling.
Vertical tasting through 3 years of Tablas Creek Grenache
In 2009 California had been in drought conditions for 3 years. April frost and a huge October rainstorm caused the lowest yields they had ever seen at 1.85 tons per acre for the reds. Low yields do typically indicate more concentrated fruit and that held true for this wine when it was made. This was the 4th bottling of Grenache as a single varietal for Tablas Creek.
The Vintage Chart for this wine (which you can find on the Tablas site) indicates that this wine is “Drinking Well: Youthful” while the other two vintages are noted at “Drinking Well: Mature”. Seems strange that the older wine is more tasting more youthful right? The concentration of this vintage allowed more tannins in the wine to give it more room for aging, and in fact they believe that this wine will continue to age nicely for another decade or more. When it comes to aging wines, these folks know a thing or two.
This wine started off warm with red fruit topped with baking spice and prune then it opened up and became spicier with fine ground white pepper. It continued to open through the evening with more herbs and resin.
Harvest for this vintage was late, starting 3 weeks later than usual and ending 2 weeks later. As opposed to 2009, yields of Grenache were almost doubled from the previous vintage. The summer was cool, but not foggy and while they had a little rain during harvest, it was followed by sun and wind to dry out the moisture. This wine and the ’12 are expected to continue to age well for the next 15 years.
This wine had more fruit on the palate than the ’09 and it was a little figgy on the nose (which caused me to buy some fig butter to pair with it). As it opened up I got a little leather, then prunes and more warmth.
The yields from this vintage were similar to 2010 (just a small increase in the tons of Grenache). The sugar levels in the 2012 Grenache sit at just about the same place as the 2010 also.
My first impression in the glass was dried strawberries and cocoa. It opened up to more savory notes of black tea on roasted meat with dried herbs and then some caramel at the end.
We opened the wines mid day and had a taste to see what we wanted to pair with them. We did not decant, which was recommended and here’s why. We had 3 bottles, and we were planning to pair with lunch and then again with dinner and we did not want to let them dissipate too quickly. So after sipping, we set out to find some pairings that might show up the similarities and differences in our Grenache Vertical.
Our cheese pairings with the Tablas Creek Grenache Vertical
Our lunch pairings included a Beef Shepherd’s pie, lentil soup and then a cheese plate that consisted of Asiago with Rosemary, a triple crème cheese and a Cambolzola (a triple crème bleu), fig butter, cherry preserves, dates, strawberries and rosemary.
For dinner, we made bacon wrapped dates, roasted root vegetables (carrots and beets), roasted strawberries with rosemary and crostini’s with cherry preserves and Beef Sirloin Tri Tip in a Kansas City BBQ sauce, which we topped with a little fresh rosemary.
The lentil soup: This went well with the ‘09, great with the ‘10 and not so much with the ‘12. The 12 was just a little too fruity to go with the spices, where the 09 was good, but took a little bit of a backseat. The ‘10 was “just right”.
The Shepherd’s Pie: The ’09 was really nice, there was less spice in the shepherd’s pie than in the soup and that seemed to lend itself to a nice match with the ’09. The ’10 was a little big for the pie and the ’12 a little fruity but okay. The ’09 wins for this pairing.
With the cheeses the Fig butter and triple crème brie were wonderful with the ’09, and the ’10. The Asiago and rosemary went best with the ’10 and the Triple Crème Bleu and cherry preserves were heaven with the ’12.
The bacon wrapped dates and the crostini with cherry jam and BBQ tri tip were heaven with all 3.
My idea of the roasted strawberries seemed great and the nose and taste seemed like it would be great with the wines, but I tasted alone with the ’12 had me reeling. The sugars in the strawberries made the wine go pure heat and alcohol in my mouth (don’t try this at home).
These wines continued to open up. We vacuum sealed them at the end of the evening and popped them open the following day to taste again. They continued to open up in our glasses with more nuances and surprises.
This was a wonderful vertical…I just wish I had another bottle of each that I could hold for another 10 years and try then! (This is why I need a Coravin!)
Check back for more vertical tastings! We will be doing an Esprit de Tablas (with one Esprit de Beaucastel) vertical with Thanksgiving Dinner!
In Santa Barbara, Mikael Sigouin is known as the “Grenache King”. This Island Boy has a winery called Kaena in Santa Barbara County where he makes some amazing Grenache as well as other wines. He sources his grapes from local vineyards, many of whom specially farm his blocks to his particular specs. One of these vineyards is Larner Vineyards in Ballard Canyon. He has the best Grenache block on this vineyard, but it wasn’t always that way. Let’s hear him tell the story….
You can visit Kaena and try some of this amazing Grenache at their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2890 Grand Avenue.
The beautiful Kaena tasting room
Mikael Sigouin of Kaena
Beautiful Tree outside the Kaena Tasting room in Los Olivos
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 du 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 our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines. Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details
The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard
Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel. These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock. These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Soon after they also added Picpoul. They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50! In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes. Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade. Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014. Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time. 3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter. Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year. Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes
The Adelaida AVA
Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South. This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees. In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District. This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location. How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen. For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.
Native Yeast Fermentation
I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation. Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation. Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making. He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”. During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away. If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options. They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well. They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t. So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder. Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.
Use of Foudres
There are few places in California that you will see foudres used. Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons). When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room. As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want. As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak. As a result, large wood it the way to go. With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel. This gives you more volume to surface area. The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower. This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky. The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.
While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines. So watch for more videos and blog posts.
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 as Steve explains:
The Beckmen Winery and Tasting room are not located here at Purisima Mountain, but are one valley over. They have a tasting room on a duck pond with gazebos where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, that is located just outside Los Olivos.
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 Beckmen Vineyard 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 soil types here include clay and clay loam soils as well as a limestone subsoil. Limestone subsoil is predominate in the Rhone region of France but is not widely found in California. It can be found in the Central Coast from West side Paso to the North and here in Ballard Canyon further south. This limestone is tough and makes it hard for the roots to penetrate it. As a result the roots struggle in the topsoil keeping the vines less vigorous and creating low yields and intense fruit.
Listen to Steve talk about the soils:
The Beckmen Winery and Tasting room are not located here, but are one valley over. They have a tasting room on a duck pond with gazebos where you can enjoy a picnic lunch, that is located just outside Los Olivos.
We had the opportunity to speak one on one with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery in Ballard Canyon, out at the vineyard. This beautiful property is at the Southern end of the new Ballard Canyon AVA.
In this Video Michael talks about the formation and the plans for the new Ballard Canyon AVA.
The AVA was established in October of 2013 and covers just 7,800 acres, sitting in the very center of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Planted primarily with Rhone Varieties with scatterings of some Bordeaux and Italian varieties. There area 600 planted acres of vineyard in Ballard Canyon and at least ½ of the planted vineyards are of Syrah.
The catalyst for the forming of the AVA came in 2010 when Ballard Canyon hosted a group of 100 sommeliers from Sommelier Journal. In a side by side tasting of the wines of Ballard Canyon there were nuances of minerality, clarity of fruit, structure and tannins that ran through all of the wines. Of course each had it’s signature from the winemaker, but side by side the similarities rang through loudly. This was a case where the vineyards were speaking louder than the winemakers. The sommeliers in the Q & A following the tasting asked why they were not an AVA? And so it began. This is a tight knit group of vineyards. There are only 15 vineyards in the AVA and they were focused. They brought in Wes Hagen, who had already written 2 AVA proposals. With a focus of purpose the AVA was established in 3 years.
Once established they returned to the idea of clarity of purpose. As I mentioned, over ½ of the vineyards planted are in Syrah. Much of this happened without the Vineyards speaking to each other. This grape grows well here and it became their Champion. As they move forward they have a special Rhone style bottle with “Ballard Canyon” in the glass on the neck that can be used only for Estate wines and only for Syrah. In this way they can focus on getting the word out about the new AVA with a focus on this variety.
Don’t get me wrong, the other Rhone Varieties that are grown here are spectacular they have Grenache and Mourvedre that will knock your socks off, but you should first and foremost taste their Syrah.
While we were in Santa Barbara for the Vintners Spring Weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery. He graciously took time to speak with us while he was setting up for the Grand Tasting.
So we are here with Michael Larner of Larner Winery and you are in the new Ballard Canyon AVA right?That’s right. We formed last year. At harvest in October we were certified and approved. We are very excited.
Michael Larner was actually instrumental in the creation of the AVA. After a visit from a group of Sommeliers sent by Sommeliers Journal in 2010 to taste Ballard Canyon Syrahs, he rallied the vineyard owners and contacted Wes Hagen who had put together the Sta Rita Hills AVA to get the ball rolling on creating this new AVA.
What wines are you making with your winery?We are what we call Rhone Valley varietal specific, so we have Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, a little bit of an outlier of Malvasia Bianca. Of the 34 acres we have 23 planted in Syrah and that is really our champion of Ballard Canyon. Essentially all of us, Rusack, Jonata, Beckmen, Stolpman we are all really specialized in Syrah more than anything, so that really becomes the champion as well as also becoming the face of Ballard Canyon. We are actually going to do something unique creating a bottle mold that is specifically made for Ballard Canyon producers that says Ballard Canyon on the shoulder and that will be something we can take to the market. The only Caveat is that it has to be A. an estate and B. is has to be Syrah. So we want to go out into the market putting our best foot forward with Syrah. Because the AVA is 7600 acres with about 600 acre planted and over 300 in Syrah, it is definitely our Champion definitely what we want people to know about when we go out into the market.
The day before we had taken a vineyard hike at Beckmen’s Purisimo Mountain Vineyard which is North of Larner in Ballard Canyon. I had an opportunity to speak with Steve Beckmen about how he had chosen to layout his vineyard. The decisions on where to plant different varieties are based on so many variables, including soil, water, temperature, sun and even wind. So I asked Michael about how he had made these choices for his vineyard.
Michael: At Larner Vineyard our slopes are south facing slopes and our Syrah is kind of in the middle section. We actually put our Grenache on top. We are always worried about ripening so we put it at the higher elevation to push it a little, and then on the lower elevations we do more of our whites. Most of our site is sandy compared to Beckmen, so because of that we match soils a little differently than they do. That is probably why we have more of our Syrah in the middle. We are on any given day maybe a degree or two cooler than them. The main thing for us is that Ballard Canyon is defined by the presence of chalk or limestone, and up at Beckmen, Stolpman it’s limestone, you come down to me on the south side and we are more chalk. It’s still the same material it’s just a little more friable in my neck of the woods, where it’s a little more compacted up on the north side. It’s still rendered from the same foundation of bedrock, but ours is basically overlaid by sand so it allows the vines to be stressed enough to produce low quantities, high concentration, but then there is a nice underlay of chalk in our case that also brings a minerality. I think that was sort of the unique thing about Ballard, the way it formed was essentially 6 of us producers that were pouring wine for Sommelier Journal we tasted through all the wines and looked at each other and thought wow there’s a lot of similarities. We all have our different fingerprint in terms of oak use etcetera, but there was definitely a lot of very characteristic minerality, that we all picked up on. Then when we did the Q & A with these sommeliers, they said “Why aren’t you guys an AVA” and we said okay no brainer, why aren’t we an AVA. So we started forming it in 2010.
We let him get back to setting up as it was closing in the time to open the gates for the Grand Tasting and later came back to taste the wines. His “Elemental” is a gorgeous GSM blend that is a favorite in many restaurants. They also have a 2012 Viognier that is brand new and a lovely GSM Rosé.
We also met his wife Christina later in the day. She had a booth with her Wine Art and I picked up one of her stunning paintings of a cluster of Viognier on the vine, painted in Syrah.
They have a tasting room in Los Olivos attached to the Los Olivos General Store, right behind the classic Gas Pump! You can stop in there and taste all of their wines.
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
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 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.
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.
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
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 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!
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!
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 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.
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.
Red Trout and Creme Corn Brûlée
Presqu’ile Vineyard Tasting Room
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 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
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.
Ballard Canyon is the newest of the AVA’s in Santa Barbara County, established in October of 2013. This relatively small AVA encompassing only 7,800 acres sits at the center of the Santa Ynez Valley with Los Olivos to the North East and Solvang to the South. It produces Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Viognier. Syrah accounts for almost half of the planting.
ballard canyon ava
Ballard Canyon runs North-South, which protects it from the winds coming through the transverse valley than runs through the Santa Ynez Valley. Happy Canyon is thought of as the warmest part of the region with daytime temperatures of 102, but it also drops to 48 overnight. Ballard canyons highs are a little lower, but their nighttime lows are also a little higher, this allows the grapes to stay warmer over night and warm up more quickly in the morning.
The first vines were planted in this area in 1974 at the Ballard Canyon Winery. Today this property is Rusack Vineyards. The 17 acre estate was replanted in 2003 with varieties of grape that would capture the character of Ballard Canyon. It is now planted in Sangiovese and Syrah primarily with bits of Savignon Blanc, Semillon and Petite Sirah. Everything is farmed in small lots.
The Rusack’s bought this property in 1995 and in 2013 hired Steven Gerbac to be their winemaker. In addition to their Ballard Canyon property, the Rusack’s have a newly planted vineyard on Santa Catalina Island (but that story is for another day).
The winery is set back in on the property and you follow the winding drive through the old oaks to their tasting room. They have a lovely redwood deck on the front of the tasting room with tables and great vineyard views. It is shaded by the oaks so it makes the perfect spot for a picnic.
Larner is on the southern end of Ballard Canyon. When Michael and Christine Larner purchased the land in 1997 it was nothing but sage and chaparral with Texas Longhorns on the property. Now the 34 acres of vineyard include 23 acres of Syrah, 6 acres of Grenache and smaller plots of Viognier, Malvasia Blanca and Mourvedre. For a number of years they sold fruit to wineries, but in 2009 they began making their own.
Michael Larner is also the instigator behind the Ballad Canyon AVA. In 2010 the vintners in Ballad Canyon gathered to coordinate an event on Syrah. Michael got them together again after the event and recruited Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe to help them develop plans for creating the AVA.
You can visit the Larner Tasting room is located in Los Olivos. They hope eventually to have a beautiful tasting room on their property in the old Ballard General Store. (again, another story for another day)
Tom Beckmen purchased a 365 acre hillside property in 1996 that is now Beckmen Vineyards. With elevations of up to 1250 feet, this property would become the Purisima Mountain Vineyard. Tom & his son Steve farm this property and they are certified biodynamic. They vineyard is planted with seven clones of Syrah that fill 18 blocks, five clones of Grenache that fill 8 blocks and smaller plantings of Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rousanne, Marsanne, Mourvedre and Sauvignon Blanc. The soils here are clay and clay loam with a limestone subsoil, which while typical of the soil in Rhone, is a rarity in California.
Their tasting room is at the winery and is south of Los Olivos. Take a picnic and enjoy the views from one of the three gazebos at the duck pond after your tasting!
Stolpman was founded in 1990 by Tom & Marilyn Stolpman. This vineyard in the limestone hills was turning out fruit for cult wines like Sine Qua Non & Ojai Vineyards, until in 1997 they started producing their own wines. Their winemaker Sashi Moorman (who also works with Sandhi & Evening Land) joined them in 2001 and works closely with the Vineyard Manager Ruben Solorzano. They have experimented with high density plantings and dry farming. They produce Syrah, Roussane, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc with limited plantings of Grenache, Viognier, Petite Sirah and Chardonnay which they mostly use for blending. Today Tom’s son Peter manages the vineyards and winery.
Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos
You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos on Alamo Pintado, in their little red cottage. The cottage has fables. One says it was moved here from Arroyo Grande in the early 1900’s. Another claims it was built from scrap lumber from an old military barracks. Regardless the Stolpman’s have filled it with a great staff and designed a Tuscan inspired bar. Plus they have a picnic area under the persimmon tree out front. In the summer they even have a farm stand with local produce.
Jonata (pronounced Ho-na-ta, which is the Chumash word for “live oak”)has an 84 acre vineyard with sandy soil planted in Syrah, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc.
When they originally bought the property the French vineyard expert they brought in found only 5 acres of land on the 600 acre property that he felt were suitable to growing grapes. Matt Dees joined them in 2004 as their winemaker and Ruben Solorzano is their vineyard manager.
Here there is extreme detail in the growing. Each shoot and cluster is individually manicured. Lots are separately pulled from each distinct part of the vineyard and put into different barrels or tanks before blending. Well known French wine expert Michel Rolland comes in to check aging potential before bottling. As a result of all of this extra attention and the fact that if a vintage doesn’t live up to their standards, they simply won’t produce a wine from it, these bottles can run up to $125 per bottle. Their 2010 La Sangre de Jonata Syrah was given 97 points by Wine Advocate.
A little back story. This winery is owned by Stanley Kroenke, a real estate developer who owns the Dever Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche. He is also one of the leaders of the consortium that purchased Screaming Eagle.
Windmill on Saarloos & Son’s Windmill Ranch Vineyard
Last but not least I will mention Saarloos & Sons. Their Windmill Ranch Vineyard lies within this AVA.
Saarloos & Sons is a family business that is 4 generations in the making. Each of their releases is unique and is never duplicated. Their goal is to capture the year in a bottle and bring you a high quality wine that they name in honor of a family member. They have a 250 year plan, thinking not just for the next generation but for the next 50. Their goal is “Honoring + Preparing” and their wines are heartfelt and unique. Their winemaker and resident chronicler is Keith Saarloos. Check out the blog for amazing vineyard videos and for philosophic posts on life, family and farming (amongst other things).
And head to their tasting room in Los Olivos. If you are lucky, Brad will be there and will fill your glass and your spirit as he passionately talks about the wines and his family that made them.