Curled up with a Bandol and a book – #Winophiles

A Year in Provence and a bottle of Bandol

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.

https://www.bluevasebookexchange.com/about

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

a map of the wine regions in Provençe
Vinoble de Provençe, a map of the wine regions in 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…

Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence, France: picturesque ancient alley in the old town with plants and flowers
Lourmarin, Vaucluse, Provence, France: picturesque ancient alley in the old town with plants and flowers

Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provençe

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.

The village of Bandol sits west of Toulon and east of Marseille. We spoke before about the history of the wines of this region “Cotes de Provence through rose filled glasses

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

Le Pont 2015 Bandol
Le Pont 2015 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.

Viaduc de Bandol
Viaduc de Bandol

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)

http://www.edouardpignon.com/oeuvre/70095/Le_Viaduc_de_Bandol_Edouard_Pignon/

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!

Bandol and Dinner
Steak and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe to pair with a Bandol.

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!

Tablas Creek Vineyard – The Rhones, the new Adelaida AVA, natural fermentation and the use of foudres.

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

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.

 

See More Conversations with

In the Vineyard with Steve Beckmen – Shoot thinning

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.

2670 Ontiveros Road, Los Olivos

1-805-688-8664

They are open Daily from 11-5.

You can learn more about the new Ballard Canyon AVA at their new site or on our Ballard Canyon Page here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.

For more information on the entire Santa Barbara Wine Region visit the Santa Barbara Vintners.

In the Vineyard with Steve Beckmen – Talking Soil at Purisima Mountain Vineyard

From dirt to glass, Conversations with...

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.

Beckmen Vineyard  Tasting room

Beckmen Vineyard Tasting room

See more on our Beckmen Vineyard page or on their page on the link below

2670 Ontiveros Road, Los Olivos

1-805-688-8664

They are open Daily from 11-5.

http://www.beckmenvineyards.com

Speaking with Michael Larner – Ballard Canyon AVA

Larner Winery

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.

See our Video Series From Dirt to Glass to see all of the Videos with Michael Larner

A Conversation with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards & Winery

Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country

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.

Michael LarnerSo 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.

Larner Winery

Larner Winery

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.

Larner Art

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.

Larner Wine    2900 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441

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.

Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara’s newest AVA

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

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 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.

There are 18 Vintners and growers in the Canyon and 6 wineries:  Larner, Stolpman, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, Jonata & Beckmen.

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

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.

Wines here are only sold through the mailing list. http://jonata.com

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

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.

And…have to mention, if you are there on the weekend, try the cupcake pairings!

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons tasting room in Los Olivos

Over the upcoming Vintners Spring Weekend you will be able to taste many of these wines at the Grand Tasting on Saturday April 12th.  In addition, Steve Beckmen will be leading a Vineyard Hike with with wine at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard on Friday Spril 11th.  Larner will be pouring wines at the Barrel Toasting Seminar and Tasting at the Buellton Bodegas on Friday evening. Also Friday evening Beckmen and Larner will be pouring at the 90+ Wine & Dine event at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort in Santa Barbara.  Beckmen will also be pouring on Sunday at the Farm-to-Table Picnic at the Fess Parker Ranch.

2013 Spring Vintners' Festival at the Mission Santa Ines

2013 Spring Vintners’ Festival at the Mission Santa Ines

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

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A harvest vineyard walk at Tablas Creek Vineyards

Tablas Creek Wine Walk

We gathered in the shade just outside the Tablas Creek tasting room.  You could tell why we were here by our sturdy shoes.  Yes it was almost 100 degrees, but we were wine lovers ready to brave the elements to find out more about this wonderful winery with a vineyard walk and tasting.

Levi Glenn, the Tablas Creek Viticulturist gave us some basics on the winery history before we got started.  The Perrin and Haas families joined to find vineyard land here in California to grow the Rhone varieties that the Perrins’ have long grown at Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley.  The Tablas Creek property is on the same latitude, the climate and soil are both similar and when they bought this 102 acre property in 1989 they began the process of bringing the traditional Rhone varieties grown on the Perrins’ estate to this country.  The cuttings from France had to go through a three year process to be sure that they were virus free.  In order to have enough vines to actually make wine, they started a nursery, bench-grafting vines to plant on the estate and enough to sell to other vineyards.  While they no longer have the nursery, they partner with NovaVine in Sonoma to create Tablas Creek clones from grafted vines and bud wood.  Many wineries are now raising Tablas Creek clones to create their Rhone style wines.

They grow sustainably, organically and use biodynamic practices.  There is a compost tea that they use to fertilize the vines and they plant sections of the vineyard with insectaries to encourage beneficial insects.

We headed down the drive then past the head-pruned Mourvedre by the gate and continued down to the lambing barn and barnyard.  Levi talked about the animals, they have 2 donkeys and 5 alpacas that guard the herd of 40 sheep. The sheep are primarily used to mow down the cover crops.  Over the season they can cover 30-40 acres of vineyard.  In addition they fertilize as they mow.  Once the vineyards are growing the sheep have to be moved elsewhere and still need to be fed.  Typically they grow legumes as cover crops to add nitrogen back into the soil.  They had some vines that were showing a little too much vigor so instead they planted barley as their cover crop.  This works beautifully as they can then harvest the barley to use as feed for the herd.

While here they poured us a cool and refreshing glass of the 2012 Vermentino, one of only 2 non Rhone varieties grown on the estate.  This was the wine that got me hooked on Tablas Creek when I recieved it as a gift from a friend.  Enjoying this wine as the sun came dappled through the poplars, we took in the animals, the view of the cutting shed and the beautifully ripening Grenache.

Refreshed, it was time to move on up the long hill to the top where Chef Jeff Scott waiting under the oak trees.  The vineyard views are beautiful.  At the top of the hill you have a view of the las tablas creek area including Halter Ranch next door.  Reveling in the shade they poured us glasses of the 2011 Estate Rose, a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Counoise. We enjoyed the view and Chef brought out a tray of figs topped with goat cheese to pair.

We headed back down the hill to the  head pruned Roussanne block.  We believe these are the only head-pruned Roussanne vines in the state. The 2009 Roussane is a gorgeous golden color.  Rousanne is often very difficult to grow (NovaVine calls it “the princess”).  This is the backbone to the Esprit du Beaucastel Blanc their flagship white wine adding richness, weight  and honey with a nice salinity on the backend.  Chateau du Beaucastel makes their Roussanne Vielles Vignes which is considered one of the greatest white wines in France. “Roux” is the French word for “russet” which describes the color of the grapes when ripe and gives us the base for the name “Roussanne”.  This is the latest ripening white Rhone varieties that are grown at Tablas Creek.  The vines respond highly to sunlight and bunches that get sun on the western side will ripen faster than those on the eastern side.  This is also a wine that will age well, case in point we were drinking a 2009 and it was rich and stunning.  After Levi gave us the run down on the grape, Chef Jeff pulled out the pairing.  This was a crostini with fresh ricotta and thyme roasted golden beets topped with a piece of candied bacon.  Beets and bacon pair well and both were gorgeous with the wine.

Across from the Roussanne there are scattered fruit trees including some Quince.  Levi supplied me with a quick recipe for quince paste.

As we had walked down I noticed a large rack with netting and asked Levi when they netted before harvest.  He said that they no longer net.  There are so many vineyards locally that the birds no longer descend and feast, but rather just stop in here and there for a snack which is not an issue.  They still have air cannons when needed.

We headed back up the hill to the head trained Tannat.  This is the other non Rhone variety grown on property.  Levi said that it has been called Tablas Creek Zin, as it is so rich, deep and flavorful.  This grape thrives in the Tablas Creek climate and soils.  Levi says that it takes almost no work and produces consistently good fruit.  Tannat is found most notably in the Basque country on the Spanish border.  Growing this at Tablas Creek was actually a little bit of an accident.  The Perrins’ French nurseryman included cuttings when he packed up the Rhone varieties in 1990 even though it was not requested.  His instincts told him that this grape would do well in Paso Robles and I for one would like to thank him!  The berries have very thick skins which add to the tannins in the wine.  It is fermented open top to allow more oxygen to soften the tannins and then is aged in small barrels again to introduce more oxygen.  In 2010 most of the 248 acres of Tannat planted in California came from Tablas Creek cuttings.  This wine is beautifully balanced with acid, fruit and tannin.  Chef Jeff Scott then had to figure out a way to do a cold red wine pairing out in the vineyard!  He succeeded overwhelmingly with this small bite, which still makes my mouth water whenever I think of it (and I think of it often!).  He prepared Rillettes in the style of the south of France. The pork is slow cooked for 6 hours in it’s own fat then sits in olive oil, thyme and garlic to soak up some more goodness.  This is placed on crostini topped with caramelized onions, drizzled with a pommerey mustard aioli and sprinkled with fleur de sel and black pepper. The fat in the rillettes paired with the acid and tannins in the wine were perfect.  We enjoyed the wine, watched the sun set, had some great conversations and suddenly turned around to find that only 1/3 of the group was left!  We headed back down to the winery and tasting room in the slowly dimming light, sated and fulfilled.  There’s really nothing like being part of the Tablas Creek family.  The staff was incredible and the other wine club members we met share our love for great wine and fascinating wine facts.  Levi was extremely patient as we all pummeled him with questions, answering and enlightening us.  All in all it was a glorious evening.

Sculpterra Wine & Art – Roaming the sculpture garden

Sculpterra Winery

Sculpterra is located on the East side of Paso off of Linne Road. This unique winery greets you with a magnificent sculpture garden.  Surrounded by gorgeous iron fencing by master black smith Robert C. Bentley the garden itself is filled with the beautiful sculpture work of John Jagger.

Dr. Warren Frankel bought this property back in the 1980’s and moved his family there in 1990.  Paul his son is the winemaker, a graduate of Cal Poly in Viticulture and Enology.  Paul is more than just the winemaker, he also manages the vineyards, deals with fruit and juice sales and occasionally can be found pouring in the tasting room.

As we were here on a Saturday, the winery was busy and had an accordion player playing live in the tasting room.  In addition to making their own wines, they also sell bulk fruit and juice to small independent winemakers.  They do a wide variety of wines here, including Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Primitivo, Mourvedre, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The wines are lovely and it is a wonderful place to come grab a glass of wine and wander the sculpture garden for a little art fix.

Enjoy a virtual stroll through their amazing sculpture gardens…you’ll have to provide your own wine, I recommend a rose.

Zaca Mesa at 40

Zaca Mesa Sign

 

Zaca Mesa WIndmill foggy Morning

Zaca Mesa WIndmill foggy morning

This weekend Zaca Mesa Winery will celebrate it’s 40th birthday.  This winery has quite a bit of history.  The property was purchased by a group of friends in 1972 and the vineyard was planted in 1973 and they have been sustainably growing grapes in Santa Barbara ever since.  The winery itself was built in 1978 and expanded in 1981.  By the early 90’s they had determined that Rhone Varieties grew best on the property.  They were the first Central Coast winery to appear in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 back in 1995.  They are down to the last of their original owners and have been family owned for about 25 years.

Their first winemaker was Ken Brown who has since gone on to start the very successful Byron in Santa Maria.  The rest of the list of previous winemakers continues to look like a who’s who of Santa Barbara & Paso winemakers including: Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Daniel Gehrs of Daniel Gehrs Wines, Clay Brock of Wild Horse, Chuck Carlson of Curtis and Benjamin Silver of Silver Wines.

Their current winemaker is Eric Mohseni.  He started his career in wine retail then worked at Edna Valley Vineyards in 1997.  It was there that he got hooked on winemaking.  He started at Zaca Mesa in 2001 as the enologist worked up to Assistant Winemaker, then Associate Winemaker and finally took the reins in July of 2008.

All the wines here are estate bottled and grown.  They don’t buy or sell grapes.  They have about 750 acres of which 244 are planted with grapes.  20 acres are newly planted with Syrah.  They sit about 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Northern portion of the Santa Ynez AVA.  Soils here are mostly Chamise loam over gravelly beds of silk and clay so the soil is well drained.  Many of their vineyards are up on a high mesa at 1500 feet.  This gives them lower high and higher low temperatures.  The more consistent temps allow for slow consistent ripening.  The height also causes higher UV radiation, which makes the grapes smaller, and thicker-skinned giving them increased color and phenolic compounds, which can provide more flavor to the wine.

Zaca Mesa glass

Zaca Mesa glass

As to “sustainable” there is a “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing” developed by the California Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.  It spells out “practices that are sensitive to the environment, responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large, and economically feasible to implement and maintain.”  Zaca Mesa is sustainable using organic products, conserving energy and working efficiently to reduce waste.  They farm only one-third of the acreage leaving open space for wildlife and preserving ground water.

Zaca Mesa was the third stop in a little trilogy we were doing in Santa Barbara, the day before we had tasted at both Au Bon Climat and Qupe.  We rolled in early on a Friday morning and watched the coastal fog roll through the valley coming in from the North.  The property is beautiful with huge trees greeting you as you walk from the parking area to the tasting room.

It was the beginning of a busy weekend for them as they had their wine club pickup party happening the next day.  We rolled up and were the first guests in the tasting room.

Now onto the tasting!

  • 2010 Estate Viognier.  This wine received 91 Points and was the Editor’s Choice in Wine Enthusiast Magazine in the Feb 2013 issue.  The nose is very Viognier but on the palate it is dryer than expected and has lots of lemon lime.  It has the body of a Viognier but is crisper and brighter on the palate with a bit of minerality.  This wine starts out in stainless steel and then transfers to new oak after about 3 months.  $16
  •  Z Blanc.  This wine was not on the tasting menu but we managed a taste.  It is a blend of Grenache, Roussanne and a little Viognier.  The grapes for this were hand harvested, fermented and barrel aged for 10 months.  This had minerality and a little oak and would go great with shellfish.  This has great layer of flavor.
  • 2009 Estate Roussanne:  Michael does not normally like Roussanne.   There is some flavor in there that he usually finds off-putting.  This Roussanne has great weight and viscosity in your mouth. It is aged sur lee so it is mellower.  Michael didn’t mind this Roussanne.  Wine Enthusiast liked it and gave it 93 point in the February 2013 issue.  $25.
  • 2009 Estate Grenache Blanc:  A little brighter than the Z Blanc Blend with a bit more mineral, but less depth then the blend (obviously). $25
  • 2010 Estate Mourvedre:  This was smoky with a beautiful nose.  First I got smoke then blueberry.  It was cool on the palate and had a long finish.  I could have kept my nose in this glass all day.  $35.
  • 2008 Estate Z Cuvee: This GSM Blend is mostly Grenache (68%) with 18% Mourvedre and 14% Syrah. Lots of blackberry with big fruit on the nose.  This will cellar for another 7 years.  $20.
  • 2008 Estate Z-Three:  Another GSM with 51% Syrah, 37% Mourvedre and 12% Grenache.  This was a really wonderful blend (my favorite here) Loads of blackberry with a little blueberry from the Mourvedre and then a touch of raspberry from the Grenache.  This again will cellar for 5 or so more years.  Wine Enthusiast gave this 89 points in their February issue.  $42.
  • 2009 Estate Syrah:  I got blackberry, smoke, salted meat and a little bit of dried herbs.  Bigger tannins that lightly coat your palate and the roof of your mouth but not your teeth.  Warm on the back of the palate without being hot.  Yeah, this would be perfect with rack of lamp in rosemary and garlic.  This is great now and can cellar for up to 10 years, if you can keep from drinking it before then.  $25.

 

After our tasting we wandered up on the hill to where they have a small picnic area overlooking the winery and vineyards.  I could have strolled the grounds all day and maybe gotten Michael to play me a game of chess on the oversized chess board outside the tasting room, but….we had to press on to our next tasting! (Coming up next…Talley!)