French Wine…where to begin? #Winophiles

Map of French Wine Regions

This month the French Winophiles are diving into a French Wine 101.  It’s timely as we all enter our comments to the government in opposition to proposed 100% European wine tariffs.  (If you have not heard about this, I’ll post some links at the bottom for more information.) We have done a bit of writing on French wines and you will find links to those pieces. Many of these pieces were written in conjunction with the French #Winophiles, which means there is the extra bonus, of each of those pieces having links to other articles written by the rest of the #Winophiles! If you are interested in French wine, you will have plenty of reading available!

French Wine 101

I’m here to rally for French wine.  If you are new to wine, French wine can be a bit overwhelming so let’s start at the beginning.

Old World vs New World

To be sure, when we say “Old World” in reference to wines, we think first of French wines.  But what does “Old World” mean?  From a scholastic point of view: Old world wines are dominated by terroir, they are defined by place.  Typically these wines are more restrained and elegant.  New World wines, on the other hand tend to be reflective of the winemaker’s style and are often more fruit forward and bold.

That is a really broad definition of the differences, and doesn’t always hold true, but when people say “Old World” and “New World” this is what they are thinking.

French wine names

In France, wines are named for the region they come from, not by the variety of grape as we do in the new world.  This takes us back to that idea of “terroir” which is a sense of place, with soil, and climate.  So rather than speaking about Chardonnay in France, you would speak of Chablis or White Burgundy.  Both of those wines are made with Chardonnay, but the wine is named for the region.

When we think of Bordeaux, we think of age worthy reds.  These are typically Cabernet or Merlot based, depending on which bank of the river the region sits.  And you will notice that I said “based”. These wines are blends of the different varieties of grapes that grow best in this region.

There is one exception to this. In Alsace, the white wine region on the German border in the North East of France, wines are often labeled with the variety.  This comes from the German culture and this area throughout the ages, has bounced back and forth between French and German control.

Without going too deep into the wine labels (that’s a rabbit hole best saved for another day), let’s talk about some of the most well known French Wine Regions, and I’ll give you a translation for what varieties you will see from each.

French Wine regions

Map of French Wine Regions
Map of French Wine Regions

I love maps.  It gives you a better sense of the geography and influences on a region.  I could dive into the climates and soils in each of these regions (I do love to get geeky on these things), but this is French Wine 101!  So let’s put together some dots for you, on what varieties you will find in each of these regions and what you might want to eat with each of these wines!

Loire Valley – Val de Loire

Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley
Map of the wine regions of the Loire Valley

This is white wine country!  You will find a bit of red, but the white wines are likely to be the ones you have heard of.

Muscadet

On the West end of the Loire Valley closest to the Atlantic Ocean. Melon de Bourgogne, which you will hear called Muscadet, is most prevalent here. This is a dry white wine that pairs really well with seafood. You will get citrus, and green apple and pear along with a lovely note of salinity. Go for shellfish with this wine

Chenin Blanc

Moving east Chenin Blanc begins to shine. Vouvray and Saviennières are well known Chenin Blancs from the regions of Touraine and Anjou-Saumur respectively. The two can be very different. Vouvray can be made from dry to semi-sweet to sweet, and you will find you need to do a bit of research to determine which sweetness level you are getting. Saviennières has been called the “most cerebral wine in the world”. These wines have depth of flavor, great acidity and minerality.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc, is mainly found in the Upper Loire, the area furthest east and inland. Here you hear of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. These wines are crisp and high acid. Pair them with fish or poultry. With cheeses these are wonderful with goat cheese or other creamy cheeses (think brie).

Cabernet Franc

Not to be overlooked is Cabernet Franc which in this region is the primary red wine. Chinon or Bourgueil in the Touraine region produce elegant Cab Francs. These wines can be slightly spicy with raspberry and violet notes and are a favorite at Parisian Bistros.

For more…

Champagne

Popping a champagne cork!

Well you know what Champagne is!  This region and it’s soil and climate produce some of the world’s finest sparkling wines primarily from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

These wines, while often looked at a just for celebrations or just with the hors d’oeuvres at the top of the meal actually are perfect during a meal. The bubbles and acidity clean your palate making every bite taste as amazing as the first.

There are plenty of classic pairings, but try potato chips, buttered popcorn or fried chicken! The bubbles and acid with the fat and salt are heaven.

For more…

Alsace

Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France
Famous wine route in the Vosges mountains Alsace France

This region sits on the German border and as I mentioned earlier has bounced back and forth between French and German control. The names and architecture here reflect that mixed heritage and the wines do as well.

These bright aromatic white wines are perfect to keep your nose in all day or dab behind your ears. But…if you must move on to drinking them, pair them with fish, aromatic cheeses, schnitzle, salads…there are so many great pairings. These are also wines known for pairing well with spicy foods like Thai! You will find riesling, pinot gris, muscadet and gewurztraminer lead the pack on varieties.

For more…

There are a few other varieties including Pinot Noir, but you are less likely to run into them.

Chablis

Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse
Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu Simonnet-Febvre 2013 and Pôchouse

Chardonnay

This is Chardonnay land, but not those big buttery California Chardonnays that your Aunt might drink.  These are sharp and bright with great mineral quality! Pair with fish or chicken, oysters or other shellfish, mushrooms or cheese (think goat cheese or Comté). The sharp acid makes this great with creme sauces.

For more…

Burgundy (Bourgogne)

Vignoble de Bourgogne
Vignoble de Bourgogne

Chablis, above, is in Burgundy sitting 80 miles northwest of the rest of Burgundy.  Burgundy is known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir

The Côte de Nuits is the Northern part of the Côte d’Or and is the region that Pinot Noir calls home. It ventures further afield, but this is it’s homeland and you will find some of the most expensive Pinot Noirs on the planet, hail from here.

Pinot Noir is perfect for red wine with fish. It is the go to wine to pair with salmon. Many Pinot Noirs also have earthy notes and pair beautifully with mushrooms.

Chardonnay

The Côte de Beaune is dominated by Chardonnay. These are likely to be aged in oak. They will be richer and more buttery than those lean Chardonnays from Chablis, but they are still dry. Try this wine with pasta, chicken, risotto, shellfish or salt water fish and with cheeses like gruyere.

There is more to the region, the Côte Chalonnais and the Mâconnais, but we will leave those for another day.

For more…

Beaujolais

Gamay grapes in Beaujolais
Gamay grapes in Beaujolais

Just south of Burgundy you find Beaujolais.  This is a wine you will know better by the region name than by the grape, Gamay, that it is made from.  Beaujolais Nouveau is the first wine released each year on the third Thursday in November.  These early release wines are fresh and fruity, but the region does have other Gamay’s that are meant to be deeper and more age worthy.

Beaujolais Nouveau will be fruit forward and downright perky! Sometimes you will hear people say that they smell bubblegum or bananas in addition to raspberries and cranberry.

Aged Beaujolais might have notes of forest floor, mushroom, violet, tart cherry and smoke.

These are lighter wines and can pair across the spectrum from salmon to barbeque. Visit the Beaujolais site for a great graphic to assist with pairings for all the varied wines from this region.

The Rhone Valley

M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl' Hermitage Rhone valley France
M.Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage vineyards in Tainl’ Hermitage Rhone valley France

I am a lover of Rhônes. Guaranteed…many of mine come from the Rhône Rangers that you find in California, and many of which were brought from Chateauneuf-de-Pape in the Southern Rhône.

The region is broken into the Northern and Southern Rhône. The Northern Rhône is the land of Syrah and Viognier and typically very pure and expensive versions of these.

Syrah

The Côte Rotie is known for some of the most amazing Syrah on the planet. I’ve heard it described as bacon and violets. Which sounds pretty amazing to me.

Viognier

Condrieu is well known for 100% Viognier. This white wine is full bodied and round with notes of apricot, pear and almonds.

There are other appellations like Crozes Hermitage above and Cornas, there is more to explore here, if you have the budget.

The Southern Rhone is warmer as it heads down the Rhone river to the Mediterranean and you will find blends of multiple varieties.  The famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape is here with blends of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and more. Wines here lean toward blends.

Red Rhône Blends

These will have berry notes (think raspberry and black berry) baking spice, and maybe some garrigue (think underbrush), lavender, dried herbs. The more Mourvedre, the more likely you will have meaty notes to the wine.

These go well with mediterranean foods, like olives and red peppers, and herbs like rosemary or sage (or herbs de Provençe).

White Rhône Blends

Marsanne, Roussanne & Viognier make up the body of most white wines in this area. These blends are medium bodied and have notes of beeswax (I love that), as well as moderate citrus, like a meyer lemon, then stone fruits like peach and apricot.

Pair them with richer dishes with white meat (chicken or fish or even pork) and perhaps with fruits that are stewed or roasted. Dried apricots are a definite must on a cheese plate with these wines.

For more…

Bordeaux

Vignoble de Bordeaux
Vignoble de Bordeaux

If you have heard of any region in France other than Champagne, it will be Bordeaux. This is the region that Napa Valley wants to be. It is the big daddy of French wine with bottles that can be very pricey and many that need considerable aging. When people pull out dusty bottles from their wine cellar, typically they are Bordeaux wines.

Left Bank Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon based)

Red wines here are classified by which bank of the river the vineyards sit on. Left bank wines are west of the river in Médoc and Graves. The reds here are Cabernet Sauvignon based.

Right Bank Reds (Merlot driven)

The Right bank wines are on the other side of the river in the Libournais. These wines are Merlot driven. The Entre-deux-mers, the area in the middle between the two, has much more fertile soil producing less concentrated (but more affordable) wines.

The bold reds of Bordeaux are perfect with rich meaty dishes, like a big steak.

Sweet wines of Sauternes

Down in Graves you find the region of Sauternes. These are my friend Corinne’s favorite wines. These are sweet wines made from grapes with “Noble rot”. The botrytis fungus takes hold of the grape and dries them out considerably. They are pressed into tiny amounts of wine that when fermented becomes sweet and delicious. These are wines to pair with bleu cheese or with desserts.

For more…

Provence

Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration rosé from Provençe
Emotion, Urban Provençe and Inspiration. Emotion and Inspiration come from Château de Berne and Urban Provençe is from Ultimate Provençe

Rosé

This is Rosê country, more than 1/2 the output of wine from this region is rosé. The mistral wind that whips down from the mountains keeping the vines in this Mediterannean region dry and free from disease. The landscape is dotted with lavender fields. It’s pretty dreamy.

In addition to those delicate ballet slipper pink rosés you will find Bandol, which is a rich red wine from Mourvedre.

Pair pink with pink. It’s delicious and pretty. Smoked salmon, ham, prosciutto, crab, lobster….you get the picture.

Yes…these wines are great in the summer. Their high acid and bright flavors are perfect to help you cool down on a hot day. But don’t overlook them at other times.

For more…

Other regions

Is there more to French Wine?  Why yes…so much more, there is the island of Corsica, the black wines of Cahors, Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc-Rousillon…and then there are the wines that I have yet to discover!

Oh and did I mention Crémant? That would be sparkling wine from any region outside of Champagne! You want bubbles and value? It’s your go to!

Dive deep into the links and the links in the links and take a little vacay to France sans airfare!

For more…

More from the Winophiles!

There are so many ways to dive into French Wine, I have only scratched the surface. Why not check out the other #Winophiles and their approaches to the subject! You can join us for the conversation on Twitter on Saturday Morning January 18th (8 am PST, 11 am EST) by following the hashtag #Winophiles!

Remember I said I would include more about those potential tariffs.

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

How to measure a year – 2019, specifically..

Calendar

Years….they used to take forever! No longer. Now they often seem to speed by in a blur. The coming of the New Year makes me nostalgic. I sit warm, happy with a full belly and I remember that this is not to be taken for granted. Time for a little reflection and gratitude.

I head to social media to reflect on the year. Remember the days when we had journals or diaries or a box of photos? Well, technology has allowed us to share those memorable moments, both big and small.

Instagram is my go to photo journal. So I’m sifting through to give you an idea of my year…holy crap there are alot of wine photos! LOL!

The Quiet Time

My photo essay of the beginning of my year…snow, studying, a Valentines Day on the ice, new Ramen places, hiking at Mount Charleston, beautiful sunsets, reading by the ocean in Carlsbad, high tea with friends, the super bloom in San Diego, a blind tasting event and of course, Loki. Okay…that gets us through the quiet months.

Double click on any of the photos for a larger picture and perhaps a bit more information.

The Scenic Route

We did our typical drive a million miles summer vacation. This year it was named “The Scenic Route”. It took us from Vegas to Tahoe, to Mount Shasta, to Southern Oregon, through the Columbia Gorge to the Yakima Valley, Walla Walla and then back through the Willamette, down to the Applegate Valley and finally to Yosemite before traveling home. We met incredible winemakers, saw beautiful scenery and vineyards and while we shared the overall story of our trip this year, you can look forward to many more in depth pieces on the places we visited this year.

Studying

Then we rested…that should be what I write next. But no. This was crunch time for me. I had been studying all year to take my test to become a Certified Specialist of Wine. After a 13 week course and then months of additional study I hoped I was ready. I was…

#OurAussieWineAdventure

Now was it time to rest? Nope. We were off to the Wine Media Conference in October. Social media got to see much of our trip…there are still interviews and articles to be written in the new year. Here is a glimpse of our travels through New South Wales Australia. We dubbed it #OurAussieWineAdventure.

So, exhausted and exhilarated, we returned. At this point the holiday’s approached and our 2nd Annual 12 Days of wine celebration was at hand.

12 Days of Wine

Here is a link to that page. 12 Days of Wine 2019. You’ll find fun video reveals and details about each of the wines there.

Now we’ve come to the end of the year. It was a full year. We have writing to do video’s to create and tons of content to share with you. And…there will be new adventures. For right now…I’m going to relax and then day dream about what the New Year might hold.

Want more details on some of these great spots?

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

12 Days of Wine Day 9 – Wooldridge Creek

We are sticking to Southern Oregon today, but…we are into a white wine. Viognier is a white Rhône variety that has found a home in the new world. It is thought to be the leading white variety in Virginia, where it does very well. You will find it in California where it can vary in style from a more full bodied style in warm climates to a more elegant style in cool climates.

Last year we did a Viognier from Maryhill Winery near the Columbia Gorge in Washington. This year, we bring you a Viognier from a bit further south in Oregon.

Wooldridge Creek

Wooldridge Creek The Scenic Route

We visited Wooldridge Creek this past summer and did a tasting and pairing. The property is a beautiful farm with goats and a garden in addition to the vineyard. They make cheese here on site also, as well as other delicious things from the garden.

Our tasting at the time took us through the gammit of their wines, as well as a tasting array of cheeses, charcuterie, mustard and chutneys, all produced on site. It was a treat for the senses as we sat on the crush pad with a view of the vineyards and gardens and enjoyed this feast.

Wooldridge Creek The Scenic Route

Wooldridge Creek 2018 Viognier

This wine is fermented and matured in stainless steel. They noted flavors of peaches, creme, candied orange zest and vanilla. It sits at 13.5% abv and runs $25.00.

The Tasting

The nose on this gave me wet stone, white peach, mineral and citrus zest. On the palate it had great acidity and I got tart white peach that was still a little crisp. The body is medium and the alcohol heats your mouth and makes your gums tingle.

The Pairing

Wooldridge Creek Cheese Pairing
Wooldridge Creek Cheese Pairing

We paired this with roast chicken, butternut squash and mac & cheese. The acid allowed it to cut through the fat in the chicken as well as the mac & cheese to pair well. I found that it also paired nicely with the bleu cheese we had.

More on Wooldridge Creek

We included Wooldridge Creek in a piece we did earlier this year The Scenic Route – Flash Tour 2019 – Part 1 Vegas to Southern Oregon

Wait, is it almost Day 10? How can that be?

Stick with us! We have 3 more wines to share with you!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

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.

 

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Cold Heaven Cellars – Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Cold Heaven Rhone Scentual Experience

Founded in 1996 by winemaker Morgan Cledenen, Cold Heaven Cellars creates cool climate Viognier. Her Viogniers exhibit balance, finesse and bright acid.

In addition to her Viogniers, Pinot Noir and Syrahs, she also produces “Domaine de Deux Mondes”.  This is a wine made from Santa Barbara grapes but done in the style of Yves Cuilleron from Condrieu. These wines are a completely different style from the Cold Heaven wines. The Domaine de Deux Mondes is oaky and riper than the Cold Heaven wines showing the versatility of this grape and Morgan’s winemaking skills.

One of the greatest things about the Cold Heaven Wines is that the wines have great depth and dimension, which….made them perfect for the Rhone Scent-ual event planned in her tasting room for the Santa Barbara Vintners Key to Wine Country Weekend event.

Aroma Wheel, Key to WIne Event

Kara and Liz had the Barrel room set with two tables one set for white wines and one for reds. Each had aroma wheels, a sheet for notes and lots of little blue mason jars filled with wonderfully scented stuff.

We began with the 2012 Le Bon Climat Vineyard Viognier.  This wine has peaches on the nose and a background of white flowers, you also get an earthy minerality which you could match with the diatomaceous earth that Kara and Liz had set on the table.

It was amazing all the fragrances that you could find in the wine. It soon became a little bit of a frenzy with all of us reaching for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with everyone else. It was a sensory awakening. I think many people are intimidated by tasting notes, thinking that sommeliers just make up all those aromas they say they get on the wine. When you actually have those scents right there to compare, it’s amazing. And then you are adding to your scent memory catalogue for future experiences.

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

We moved on to the 2011 Sanford and Benedict Viognier, coming from Sta. Rita Hills this wine comes from Western most AVA in the country and one of the coolest growing regions.  There is more spice on this wine, and our noses got stuck in the ginger jar, there was also white pepper and grapefruit peel in there.

The third wine was the 2009 Saints and Sinners Viognier.  These grapes are also from Sanford and Benedict, but this wine is made in the Yves Cuilleron style.  The 30% new oak adds a warmth to this wine.  It’s like peach or apricot cobbler with baking spices and toasted nuts.

Red Wine at Cold Heaven

When we got to the red wine table we smelled the 2008 Domaine de Deux Mondes Syrah and right off the bat I got olives on the nose and I could pick up the jar of olives and confirm this. There were jars with leather, with spices and peppers with red and black berries, cinnamon, chocolate and even habanero sauce (which would burn your nose hairs if you stuck your nose in too far!).  You get woods and twigs on this wine, “Sous la Foret” which is under the forest floor in French, that bit of rich decaying leaves.  There were dark berries, and cinnamon, and coffee, but the olives were the most surprising.  The olive scent comes from stem inclusion.  This wine was done in a full cluster press, which means the grapes did not go through a destemmer before pressing.  Often this will give you a green pepper note, if the stems are not ripened.  When the stems are ripe, you get a wonderful black olive aroma.

Kara and Liz were there all along the way to answer questions and point you in directions you might not have thought about. This was an interactive event that broke down barriers. People got involved and excited and will walk away with a new understanding of these wines, of tasting notes and of their own senses. Thanks to everyone at Cold Heaven Cellars for a great event and some great wines!  If you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to nerd out on wines…this is the tasting room to come to!

Cold Heaven Tasting Room

Cold Heaven Cellars

92 2nd Street, Buellton (behind Andersons Pea Soup)

805-686-1343

The tasting room is open Friday to Monday from 12-5 (until 4:30 in the winter)

You can find them online at

http://www.coldheavencellars.com

The “Key” to Wine Country – an inside perspective on what Santa Barbara Wine Country is all about.


The Key to Wine Country event in Santa Barbara was created by the Santa Barbara Vintners to give you a chance to get to know a little more about the wineries. More than just discounted tastings, many of the participating wineries set up unique events to give you an insiders perspective on their wines, vineyards and styles.

 

Riverbench Vineyard

Riverbench Vineyard

Our Key Weekend began in the Santa Maria Valley at Riverbench Vineyard with a vineyard walk on Friday morning with Rawley Hermreck the Vineyard Manager. Rawley walked us into the vineyard and explained the planting and trellising techniques that they use.

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We were able to see the new vines that would be planted the next day in the front block (watch for some pictures of this process!).  Laura the tasting room manager set us up to  learn how to dip their pinot bottles in wax for the beautiful wax closure, and then we enjoyed lunch on the back patio with Rawley and his dog Sadie complete with a tasting of the Riverbench wines. They have a sparkling program and the Blanc de Blanc was really lovely.  Of course I left with that bottle of Pinot I dipped!

 

Bottle Dipping

Bottle Dipping

We had some free time before our next event and spent a little time wandering in Los Olivos, ending up in the tiniest tasting room and enjoyed the casual laid back atmosphere at Carhartt.

 

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Our next event was the Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn. The Ballard Inn is a beautiful spot just south of Los Olivos. Chef Budi Kazali is also the owner of the the Inn, purchasing it in 2004. He blends Asian and New French styles with fresh local ingredients to create some captivating dishes.

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Wine-pour600The evening began at 6 pm with Michael Larner pouring his Rose as well as the Malvasia Bianca and guests relaxed in the parlor or on the porch, watching the sun start to dip and the trees start to glow. Passed hors d’oeuvres kept our stomachs at bay as we waited for the main event. The pairings were beautiful and the intimate dining room made for a singular experience. Watch for the full blog post on this incredible evening as well as our series of conversations with Michael Larner.

 

Presquile Wine Event

Presquile Wine Event

Saturday our day began with a unique event at Presqu’ile Winery in the Santa Maria Valley. Presqu’ile gathered 4 winemakers, including their own Dieter Cronje, to taste through wines made from grapes from the Presqu’ile Vineyards.

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On hand were Ernst Storm of Storm Wines, Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce and Ariki Hill of Labyrinth. We tasted through 9 wines doing side by side comparisons and listening to the winemakers discuss their winemaking techniques and unique aspects of each vintage. The event took place on the crushpad of the winery, high above the tasting room in this gravity flow space. Matt Murphy, President of Presqu’ile is warm and welcoming and kicked off the event with an introduction and welcome. This was a fascinating journey to taste the differences in these wines and search for the underlying commonality that the soil and the site bring. It was truly an amazing event for a wine geek! I was in heaven and took page upon page of notes! Of course the atmosphere was stunning as you looked to the panel sitting next to the railing that looked down on the winery floor, the glassware, the charcuterie laid out with such care and the attentiveness to warmth and hospitality… it was a beautiful event.

 

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

We had to dash out sooner than I would have liked so that we could make it to Buellton for another unique event. Cold Heaven Cellars was holding a “Rhone Scentual” event. We arrived at the Buellton tasting room and were greeted by Kara and Liz.

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

In the barrel room they had 2 tables set with tasting wheels, sheets for notes and lovely blue mason jars each filled with a different item to spark your aromatic senses. We began with the white wines (Viogniers of course!) and while we were all a little shy at first, this quickly became a case of grabbing for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with the people around you. Conversations were animated and we all found that we were smelling things in a new way and with much more thought. It was a discovery each time you opened a jar. Kara and Liz had samples of diatomaceous earth, white pepper, white flowers, fresh peaches, grapefruit peal and so many others. For the Reds at the other table they had chocolate, leather, fresh berries, cinnamon, just to start, I can’t remember them all! Grapefruit peelThis was really a wonderful experience and Kara was there every step of the way encouraging you to make more discoveries and talk about other fragrances that you found in your scent memory. This event, broke down those barriers of intimidation from tasting notes. You may think that you can’t smell the habanero on that wine, but once you dip your nose in that jar, your memory is sparked and you can find it! Those tasting notes aren’t really as crazy and out there as people sometimes think. It’s just a matter of creating those scent memories and keeping them active!

 

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats

With a little time to kill before the evening event, we headed to Industrial Eats for lunch. Mention Industrial Eats to anyone in the valley and you will get the same response. People will often close their eyes briefly, envisioning the last thing they had there, and then will animatedly tell you about the amazing things you should order there. We had attended the Sta. Rita Hills AVA dinner here back in April and were excited to go try some wood fired pizza for lunch. The tables are long community tables allowing large groups to sit together or smaller groups to make new friends. The food here is phenomenal and the service is great. Don’t miss stopping here!

 

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Our last event of the day was in Santa Ynez at Imagine Wine. They held an evening of Music, Art, Food and “Blogging”. I’m blushing a little, the “blogging” was added since we were attending. Located on the corner of Numancia and Edison this tasting room is also an art gallery that is flooded with natural light from 2 sides. For this event they featured the work of Robert Karl Vogel, as well as music from Jim Campbell and then of course the wines. Ross Rankin, the owner and winemaker had barrel samples out on the corner of the porch and took guests through the stories of each wine. Jim

Jim Campbell

Jim Campbell

Campbell performed “every song you know by heart (almost).” (really, I could sing along with everything!). Lyndee Rankin had great food set out to accompany the wines and you could wander and sip as you enjoyed the “En Plein Air” paintings by Robert Karl Vogel, landscapes and cloudscapes of California and the Sierras. Also sculptures by Blake Rankin, (son of the winemaker) dotted the tasting room. The centerpiece for the gallery is a sculpture called Wings, which is the inspiration for one of his father’s wines.

Ross’s wines are unique in that he believes in aging his wines before release. We did get to taste his new (Barbera)? which he created specifically to have a wine for a quicker release. It was a lovely evening with the art, music and wine inspiring great conversations among the varied guests. Watch for a video blog with insights from Ross on his wines!

 

I unfortunately had to fly home to Vegas, so Michael enjoyed the Sunday Vineyard Hike and Farm-to-table lunch at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard without me. So here…I’ll turn it over to him.

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

It was a great weekend for wine tasting and a beautiful morning. I was looking forward to seeing the Farm and tasting the wines. We had stopped by their booth at the grand tasting during the Spring Vintners Weekend event and their wines were amazing.  After tasting them again that still held true.  Karen Steinwachs, their winemaker told us during the tour, that they try to keep the wines affordable. This is possible because they do everything in house, but the wines really could sell for twice the amount they sell them for.  When you drive in you only see the tasting room and the surrounding farm, that is because the vineyard and winery are up on the plateau.  So we drove up the hill and started out the day at the winery at the top of the plateau where Karen poured our first wine  a 2013 “Zingy”, a Sav Blanc, and told us stories about how it was named.  She then gave us a tour of the wine making and storage facility, followed by a walk around the picturesque views of the vineyard. We made our way back to the winery tried another Sav Blanc, the 2011 Devin, we  then made our way back down the hill to the picnic grounds below,

where we were treated to a chef Demo by Pascale Beale and tasted various wines with fresh from the farm Salads.  We will have a more complete Blog post and video on this adventure at Buttonwood. This is a must stop, to see the combination of Farm and Vineyard.  If you can visit this Fall while they are doing their Harvest Tour, it should not be missed.

 

Stay Tuned, in the next couple of weeks we will be Posting Blogs and Videos on this amazing Weekend.  We will also be launching a Ballard Canyon Series, with Interviews with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery, and Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards. This will be a 4 week Series starting July 7th 2014. We will also be at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July to talk to with more winemakers and hear more stories from Santa Barbara.  So you can expect more information on this incredible region for wines.

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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.

Sta. Rita Hills, the Burgundy of Santa Barbara

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

Vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills as viewed from Hilliard Bruce

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

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

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

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

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

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

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

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Shopping for wine…..

I spent the afternoon at Total Wine.  I know…it’s a big corporate wine store.  But I find I am lacking on small wine shops on my side of the valley.  Khoury’s, you know I love you, but you are on the other side of the planet.  And Marche Bacchus..well, I wasn’t planning on lunch and I can’t resist that if I stop by.

So, I’m wandering the aisle at Total Wine.  This is because I need a bottle of wine to enjoy tonight.  Michael is working and I can’t just pop a bottle from the cellar!  That wouldn’t be fair.  So I am off to find something else, something meaningful, but not so expensive that I feel guilty drinking it without Michael.  I find myself drawn to the domestic wines.  I really want to be a “buy local” kind of girl!  So I stroll though and find myself only looking at the top shelfs.  Well, there are two things about this.  First, those are the more expensive wines.  But second, that is where you find the smaller vineyards and wineries. I’m looking to avoid the giant consumer conglomerate wines.  No Constellation or even Terlato for me!  I look for names that I know or recognize as smaller vineyards.  I found a Tablas Creek wine over in the Alternative reds today!  I was drawn to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay today, because of my current infatuation with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  There was a Sanford Chard and Pinot, but…they are owned by Terlato.  I found a Grgich Hills Chardonnay and Fume Blanc (the Fume Blanc came close to hitting my basket!).  On the Pinot Noir aisle I look longingly at a Trisae Pinot Noir, as well as a Monkey House from Argyle, both vineyards I love in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

I was looking for a smaller winery.  Who I support is important to me.  I must admit a little disappointment in the recent Wine Enthusiasts Awards.  Barbara Banke, Rodney Strong and Paso Robles….well, this is a little establishment based.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy Kendall-Jacksons wines as well as Rodney Strong and I have spent quite a bit of time in Paso.  But this seems extraordinarily mainstream.  There is so much more out there!  My current infatuation is with Sta. Rita Hills and the entire amazing Santa Barbara County.  And I do love Paso…the Adelaida district has my heart….But I’m looking for more.  Yes, I am a sucker for the story.  I am not a wine reviewer.  I don’t need blind tasting.  For me the experience is part of the tasting, the atmosphere, be it restaurant, winery or home, has alot to do with how I enjoy the wine.  I return to my favorite wine quote:  “I like drinking wine made by people I like!”  (this fabulous quote I got from John Hilliard, as he repeated a comment by a winemaker he met at a major tasting…forgive me for not remembering her name…I’m sure she is very well known and I should!).  This is the bottom line.  I don’t like or dislike varieties or wines by their alcohol percentage, they just need to be balanced.  But I do like wines better when I like the people who make them.  If I have a bad experience in the tasting room, the wines won’t taste as good (keep this in mind when you hire tasting room staff!) and an educated winemaker who is passionate about what he or she is doing will always make the wines taste better to me.  I cannot separate these things.

I left with a Chenin-Blanc Viognier blend from Pine Ridge in Napa.  They were the last vineyard we tasted at on our trip that way and a favorite of my friend Kathy. I remember pulling up at the end of the day and strolling through their demo gardens out front, then wandering in to the lovely tasting room and having a pleasant tasting.  Not the best ever, but quite pleasant and knowing how much my friend Kathy and her husband love this place has warmed my memories of it.   I had a pasta with shellfish blend in a red sauce planned to curl up with for dinner with a side salad, so this should be perfect.  I ended up with Orecchette with the shellfish blend in a marinara sauce with a little lemon zest and some chipotle dusting to kick in a little spice.  This went beautifully with the wine.  I ended up skipping the salad…no one was home to see me enjoy two bowls of just the pasta, and you won’t tell, right?