So you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to know where to taste wine…

Sunset Au Bon Climat

I was asked recently about insights into visiting Santa Barbara. My brain goes a little crazy then, filled with all the wonderful options. It’s no secret that I love this area and it’s people. As I set out to jot down some notes, it occurred to me that I am asked this quite often. And while Crushed Grape Chronicles has loads of information on Santa Barbara, I do not have one concise blog post that details the highlights as I see them today. So here I am, putting together my SBC highlight reel. Keep in mind that there will be omissions. Some because there is only so much room in a highlight reel and some because I have yet to discover them. So if you come across one of these omissions, please feel free to add your SBC favs in the comments section!

When you say Santa Barbara, the first thing that comes to mind is the beach, and the city of Santa Barbara. So we will start there. Just know that Santa Barbara is so much more than that.

The City of Santa Barbara

Stearns Wharf and the Beach

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara

 

 

Go straight to the beach. You know you want to. You can head out onto Sterns Wharf where there are restaurants and a tasting room. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is a great place to start. They have a variety of wines that they source from coastal vineyards and you can’t beat the ocean view, I mean you are ON the ocean, not just on the beach looking at it! And a meal at The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is perfect, especially on a cloudy day. If you can manage to pack into this tiny place at the far end of the wharf you will indulge in some soul warming seafood.

The perfect place for a quick overview: The Valley Project

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

But the city beckons and I suggest your first stop be to the The Valley Project– AVA Santa Barbara
This project started by Seth Kunin will give you an overview of Santa Barbara County. This county contains multiple AVA’s (American viticulture Areas), which differentiate climate and soils within wine growing areas. The beautiful Elkpen chalk mural that spans the entire wall behind the tasting room bar will give you an overview and the pourers are there to discuss the differences in the wines and areas with you. Expect them to pull out soil samples to show you.

Super quick tutorial on Santa Barbara County

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 led 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. Read more about it in The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

The Funk Zone and Urban Wine Trail

So now that you are armed with a little background, you can decide where to go next. The Funk Zone is home to lots of little urban tasting rooms. If you are looking to just hang and drink wine and enjoy the sunset in a set of board shorts barefoot, you can march right down to Municipal Winemakers . The funky laid back atmosphere here is ultra relaxing. If this is your style, you can check out our article Municipal Winemakers and the “Funk Zone” wineries

Wine Collection of El Paseo

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If you are not in your board shorts there is the El Paseo further up State Street. Here you will find the tasting room for one of the grand daddies of Santa Barbara Wine Au Bon Climat (ABC to those in the know, which now you are!). Margerum Wine Company  is located here also, along with Doug Margerum’s restaurants the Wine Cask and the Intermezzo Wine Bar. Grassini, known for Happy Canyon Bordeaux style reds and gorgeous Sav Blancs is also here as well as  Jamie Sloane Wines, where you will often find Jamie himself behind the tasting bar pouring.   There are a few more tasting rooms here that I have yet to visit.

You can read more about the El Paseo in our post Santa Barbara’s Wine Collection of El Paseo

Into Wine Country

While you found tasting rooms, I bet you didn’t see any vineyards here in town. That’s because you have to drive inland to get to wine country. You have two options, you can take the 101 and head to Buellton or you can take the 154. The 101 will stick to the coast line until Gaviota State Park and then head north to Buellton. The 154 takes you up into the hills above the City of Santa Barbara and along Lake Cachuma bringing you out in Happy Canyon. From there you can choose to head to Solvang (the little Danish town, that is very quaint and contains most of the areas hotels) or to Los Olivos, a town of tasting rooms. Both are pretty drives, the 154 is quieter (and faster and my favorite).

Places to Taste:

Regulations in Santa Barbara are still quite strict in many areas, so you will find many tasting rooms in towns like Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton & Lompoc, some of these are wine makers sourcing fruit and some are vineyards and wineries, who according to current regulations are not allowed to have a tasting room at their vineyards. Below is a short list of some of my favorites in each of the areas. As I mentioned before, I have yet to drink through all 300 wine tasting rooms in the valley, so please add your suggestions in the comments section below!

Quick note on tastings:

Many of the places listed below are not open 7 days a week, in fact some are only open on weekends. I have provided links to their websites so you can check on the days and hours before you go as they typically change seasonally. And, always be responsible. Drink lots of water, limit the number of tastings you do in a day (4 is really max) and spend some time in each tasting room. Michael and I typically share a tasting, we make sure we have snacks along the way (pack something!) and don’t be afraid to use the spit bucket! They are there for you to use. You can swish and spit or if that is uncomfortable, you can use it to empty your glass after you have “tasted”. If you walk into a tasting room and find the spit bucket is a tip bucket? You have come to the wrong place, and you should turn and find the door.

Los Olivos

The main drag of this small town circles around it’s flagpole. The streets are lined with tasting rooms as well as shops and some restaurants. If you are looking to stroll from tasting to tasting, this is the place I suggest.

 

Larner

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

Michael and Christina Larner are some of our favorite people in Santa Barbara. Michael championed the Ballard Canyon AVA and he is the founder of the Buellton Bodegas a Wine Cooperative space where wine makers have their individual space but can share some of the big wine making equipment. Their tasting room is on the corner by the flagpole (behind the antique gas station) next to the Los Olivos General Store, a gift shop that Christina runs. During the day you can grab a sandwich from Panino next door and get a glass of wine from the Larner tasting room and enjoy lunch on the patio. Michael has a background in Geology and as such he is an expert on soils. You will find a long list of interviews on many fascinating wine related subjects here we have discussed with him here Larner Vineyard

 

Tercero

tercero Wines Tasting Room

Larry Schaffer loves making wine and talking about wine. He especially loves Rhones. Typically you will find Maeapple pouring in the tasting room (she is a joy to chat with), but sometimes Larry will roll in from a busy day going in a million directions and will hold court in the tasting room. He is active in the Rhone Rangers, a passionate supporter of screw caps and footstomps his grapes.  Oh and he loves baking bread, so if you are exceptionally lucky, you might come in on a day when there is a loaf being shared in tasting room.  (the ultimate breaking bread!)
https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/video/tercero-wines-larry-schaffer/

Blair Fox

Blair is the Winemaker at Fess Parker. But here he makes his own wines and they are spectacular, with many single vineyard wines. His tasting room staff is well versed in the wines and the local vineyards.  We had an exceptional tasting here, talking with the staff as well as several other guests in the tasting room.  One guest had a special reserve bottle and busted it open to share tastings of.  Yep, it’s that kind of atmosphere here. They mostly produce Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Vermentino and Viognier. Alright…Vermentino & Viognier?  That makes me very happy.

Crawford Family Wines

Okay, I have yet to visit this tasting room, but I met Mark Horvath the winemaker and tasted his Sta. Rita Hills Syrah (cool climate Syrah) and really enjoyed it. Here he is on the Syrah panel this past spring speaking about this wine. Mark Horvath, Crawford Family Wines on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

Saarloos & Sons 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

Follow their blog. This place is all about family and Keith Saarloos is a joy to read. The wines here sell out fast, so if you like something, better buy it while you are here.
AND they have cupcake pairings on the weekends! Check out the video here https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/video/saarloos-sons-paired-withenjoy-cupcakes/

Bien Nacido & Solomon Hills Estate Wines

Bien Nacido has been providing extremely sought after fruit for a while. Au Bon Climat & Qupe built their winery (that they share) on the property to be close to this fruit. If you have ever tasted a Bien Nacido Pinot, you will remember it and be able to pick out this fruit regardless of the winemaker using it. It is distinctive. And now, they not only grow this prize fruit but they have begun making their own wine with Winemaker Trey Fletcher. They also make Syrah. Here is Vineyard Manager Chris Hammel talking about their Syrah and Bob Lindquist’s Qupe Syrah from their vineyards. Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 3 Bien Nacido

Kaena

Beautiful Tree outside the Kaena Tasting room in Los Olivos

Mikael Sigouin is also the Winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards (notice a theme?) He is originally from Hawaii and is known as the Grenache King, so I guess you know what you will be drinking here!  His tasting room is full of Aloha, I always end up having great conversations with other guests there.  Last time, we met some folks from Hawaii tasting, who lived near where I did when I was there growing up.  They knew dear friends of ours from when we lived out Makaha way.  Small world syndrome at it’s finest.  We included Mikael in our Sampling of the Incredible Winemakers of Santa Barbara

 

J. Wilkes

This is another tasting room I have yet to visit, but it is on my list for our next trip. Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe is now the winemaker and brand ambassador.  He can wax poetic on many topics, and is fascinating.  I was able to pick Pinot with him during an early morning harvest a few years ago at Clos Pepe.  He has helped create an educational tasting room for J. Wilkes and quite honestly I can’t wait to see it! Typically just open on weekends, Wes posts on his and J. Wilkes facebook pages and on Twitter other times when he will be in for tasting and teaching. You can Make a Reservation on the website ahead of time also.

Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

This is where you finish your day. It is the tiniest tasting room in the world they claim, with just 3 stools at a small bar. Luckily, the back patio opens up (and fills up) at the end of the day. The Carhartts, yes, they are those Carhartts, of work clothes fame, grow grapes and make wine as a family affair. This place is casual though, as handsome young men often pad around the back patio barefoot pouring wines. Here is a throwback piece from way back in 2011 when we first discovered them. https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/santa-barbara-and-los-olivos-part-2/

Buellton:

If you have seen Sideways, you will know Buellton. The restaurant Miles meets Maya in, is none other than The Hitching Post II. (They, by the way make their own Hitching Post wines). There are several tasting rooms in the area here are two of my favorites.

Cold Heaven

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

This is the place if you like cool climate Viognier. Morgan Clendenen (yes, you recognized the name, she used to be married to Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat) pioneered cool climate Viognier, and she also makes Pinot Noir. We had an extraordinary visit with them with  Cold Heaven Cellars – Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Alma Rosa

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

The Sta. Rita Hills wine growing region was pioneered by Richard Sanford. While he no longer owns and runs Sanford Winery, this legend in this area now has a new winery called Alma Rosa. The tasting room is conveniently located next to Industrial Eats, off of Industrial Way in Buellton. Get a little bit of his history here.

Lompoc:

This place looks as different from Wine Country as you can get.  When you drive out 246 toward the ocean and Vandenberg Air Force Base, the vines end and you run into an Industrial Park Area.  This is the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  The beautiful irony is that Lompoc was first founded as a Temperance Colony back in 1874.  The Ghetto has lots of wineries, but further into Lompoc you will find more wineries and tasting rooms.

Longoria

Longoria 2014 Albarino in the garden

Rick Longoria is quiet, soft-spoken and decidedly unpretentious. He quietly tries to blend in with the crowd at the Grand Tastings in Santa Barbara. A couple of years ago I had a lovely conversation with him at his table there.  And he is a joy to speak with.  He beams while telling you about his wines. His vineyard is Fe Ciega in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. In addition to his award-winning Pinot Noirs (Lovely Rita is one of my favorites…a wine that once you taste it, you long for), he also makes a wonderful Albarino sourced from Clover Creek Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.
https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/little-longoria-albarino-shellfish/

Brewer-Clifton

Founded by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton in 1995. Back then they were working at other wineries. In 2005 they started growing their own grapes and 2012 was their first estate vineyards vintage and their 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot was named the #8 Wine in Wine Spectator’s Topp 10 of 2014. Here you will taste Sta. Rita Hills Pinot & Chard. Ask about stem inclusion. You will find an older piece I wrote about a tasting we did at Brewer-Clifton here.

Transcendence

We met Kenneth “Joey” Gummere at an event at Sunstone Winery sponsored by the Santa Barabara Vintners. He and several other wine makers were there showing off some of their wines. He and his wife Sarah are dedicated to making cool-climate Syrah, Pinot and Chard. I had a fascinating conversation with him about temperature control with his wine making process. He’s a really nice human, who is a joy to speak with AND he makes great wine. I will admit that I have not been to the tasting room, but I look forward to getting there!

Sandhi & Piedrassi

It’s time to go ghetto, Wine Ghetto that is. In a semi-industrial area of Lompac on the road in from Sta. Rita Hills you will find warehouses with roll up doors housing wineries. The office space next to each warehouse becomes the tasting room. Sandhi and Piedrassi share a winemaker Sashi Moorman, who also is the head winemaker for Pence Ranch and Stolpman. Sashi’s wife Melissa makes bread which is available (and in demand) in the tasting room. Sandhi is a project he works on with Sommelier Rajat Parr and Charles Banks. You will need to make an appointment but it is worth it. While I have not tasted in this tasting room, I was blown away by the elegance of the Chardonnays that I tasted back when they had a tasting room tucked away behind Matteis Tavern in Los Olivos.

Stoplman

Stolpman's Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman has their vineyards in Ballard Canyon, but they have a tasting room here in the Lompac Wine Ghetto as well as one in Los Olivos. Tom Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. His son Peter manages the vineyard. Sashi Moorman as I mentioned before, is their winemaker and the Grape Whisperer himself, Ruben Solorzano is their Vineyard Manager. This vineyard did a lot of the beta testing of grapes for Ballard Canyon. They planted everything and waited to see what worked. There’s a lot of patience that goes into that. They found Syrah was the perfect match and indeed Syrah has become the flagship wine for Ballard Canyon. They are not afraid to experiment and they have some huge concrete tanks that they use for wines. Give them a taste and ask for stories and make sure to taste “Ruben’s Block”. In this post on the Syrah Seminar, Peter speaks about the Estrella River Clone from the Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block that is used in the Stoplman’s 2013 Original Syrah.

Foxen Canyon & the Santa Maria Valley

When you hop on Foxen Canyon Road you get more than Foxen Canyon. This road takes you all the way up into some of the great vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley.

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa pathway

Zaca Mesa pathway

Before Au Bon Climat, before Qupe and so many others, there was Zaca Mesa. Many of the greats in Santa Barbara Wines did a stint here before opening their own wineries.  You can see more about that  in Zaca Mesa University” Santa Barbara Wine Seminar Spring 2015 – The Highlight Reel

Zaca Mesa is beautiful early in the day. When the fog weaves through the big coastal oaks it’s either ethereal or creepy (I vote for ethereal, cause after all, they have wine!)
They are dog and kid friendly and on Saturdays they have baguettes. There is a giant Chess set in the courtyard to play.
What to expect to taste: Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Syrah (the Syrah from the Black Bear Block is highly sought after and well respected), Grenache, Mourvedre…yep, are you sensing a Rhone theme? And they do have a Pinot.

Foxen & 7200

The valley side of Foxen 7200 “The Shack”

This is the same winery, just with two tasting rooms, steps from each other. 7200 also known as “The Shack” is in an old blacksmith shop and was the wineries original tasting room. Foxen is at the top of the hill, their solar powered tasting room, where you will find their Rhone & Burgundian style wines. “The Shack” is the place to go for atmosphere. You are open to the elements and often can see the resident bobcat prowling the hill outside. Bill Wathen and Dick Dore founded this winery back in 1985.

Riverbench

The Vines we watched being planted at Riverbench are getting bigger!

Riverbench is on Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Maria Valley. They grown Pinot and Chardonnay Pinot Meunier and a little Albarino for Kenneth Volk, who is just a stones throw away. Clarissa Nagy is their winemaker. In addition to Pinot and Chard they craft sparkling wines. We spent a morning at Riverbench doing a vineyard tour with Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck and learned how to hand dip bottles for the wax cap, which Rawley does mostly himself. We also watched a new block of vines put in out front and have been able to continue to watch these grown. You can read about our tour here https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/riverbench-vineyards-winery-tour/ They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

Presqu’ile

The Presqu’ile Tasting Room

Presqu’ile Winery has grown to be one of our favorite spots in the Santa Marie Valley. The winery sits up on a hill and is a gravity flow winery.  The view here is stunning, on a clear day you can see the ocean, and this place does hospitality right. If you have an electric car that needs charging, never fear, there are two charging stations. And they have a wonderful light food menu with truly spectacular cheese and charcuterie boards to enjoy with the wine. We spent a morning here for an event which brought together 4 winemakers all making wine from fruit from these vineyards. The event was held on the crush pad at the top of the winery (remember gravity flow). We again attended the Big Bottle Bash at the winery during the 2014 Vintners Spring Weekend in Santa Barbara.

Santa Rita Hills:

This is the Western part of the area, where the climate is cooler and Pinot and Chardonnay thrive.  You will find vineyards on both sides of the 246, but for a more complete look at this area, make sure to take a drive on Santa Rosa Road, where the first vineyard in this area Sanford & Benedict was planted.

Sanford WinerySanford Winery

I spoke about Richard Sanford earlier with Alma Rosa. Here is an opportunity to see the amazing winery he built before Alma Rosa. Now owned by the Terlato Family, the winery retains the beautiful buildings and exceptional vineyards that Richard Sanford built. The tasting room is in the middle of the La Riconada Vineyard on Santa Rosa Rd. Made to be sustainable the walls are adobe bricks and are 30 inches thick to keep the interior temperature cool. The lumber is from recycled timber.
Just down the way you will find the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. The vines here grow some of the most prized fruit in these hills. Sanford & Benedict Vineyard was first planted in 1971 and is home to some of the oldest Pinot Vines in Santa Barbara County.

Hilliard Bruce

The new Hilliard Bruce Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara

This stunning tasting room is appointment only, but it is well worth it. John Hilliard and Christine Bruce beautiful wines (John handles the Pinot Noir & Christine the Chardonnay). Be in touch a few days in advance. We had a wonderful visit with them before the winery was even built. The start of the series is here

Santa Ynez Valley/Los Olivos District:

The Santa Ynez Valley, actually covers quite a bit of space!  The AVA itself encompasses the entire lower section of Santa Barbara County.  Within this AVA you will find the Sta. Rita Hill AVA, Ballard Canyon AVA, Happy Canyon AVA and the newly approved Los Olivos District AVA.  The 3 wineries listed below are actually within the Los Olivos District.

Buttonwood:

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Buttonwood is not just a vineyard, it is a farm. They have a farmstand with seasonal fruits and vegetables next to the tasting room. Michael spent a day on a winery & vineyard tour with winemaker Karen Steinwach, followed by chef demo and lunch with Chef Pascale Beale.
Buttonwood Farm, a Hidden Gem in Santa Barbara County

Beckmen

Beckmen Tasting Room

Beckmen Tasting Room

We did a vineyard walk with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard. The event walk us through the vineyard with a bit of education on soil & vine thinning. I was lucky enough to have a great conversation with Steve as we hiked up to the high point. He gave me a run for my money, he is obviously used to climbing these hills! You can see an overview of the hike here, but there are additional videos with Steve speaking on the soils and shoot thinning also.

Sunstone Winery

Wine Dinner Sunstone

Wine Dinner Sunstone

This is a stunning (no…REALLY stunning) property. I mentioned earlier our visit to this winery when we met Joey Gummere at an event here. This was a Santa Barbara Vintners event for WBC14, with multiple wine makers. We were given a tour by Bion Rice, the wineries President and CEO, of the stunning Villa at Sunstone, which is built from reclaimed materials from villages in Marseille and Provence. We then gathered in the garden to sample wines and speak with the wine makers followed by a family style dinner. This is a premium place for Weddings and the location is stunning (did I say that before?)

Los Alamos:

Michael and I were lucky enough to spend a weekend in the Los Alamos Valley. That gorgeous photo on our homepage and as the feature image on this page, we took from the top of the Rancho La Cuna Vineyard.

Casa Dumetz

Casa Dumetz Winery

I first learned of Sonja Madjevski when she I came across “The Wine Down” a video series on The Lip.tv where she would have conversations with wine makers and farmers and other interesting Industry people. I loved the show. Sadly, it is no more, but go look it up, there are plenty of old episodes that are fascinating! She is the owner and winemaker at Casa Dumetz Wines as well as running Babi’s Beer Emporium here in Los Alamos.  She does a wonderful “Words to Live By” speaker series on Friday’s nights at her tasting room. I have had a few opportunities to speak with her, most recently at the Larner Fete in April (she sources grapes from Michael Larner). Her tasting room is a wonderful welcoming place.

Municipal Winemakers

(Yep you can find a location here too, if you didn’t already visit them in the Funk Zone, or if you just need more of their wine)

Places to Eat:

We published this article in April of 2014 and it is a great reference.
9 Great Places to eat in Santa Barbara County
Since then we have enjoyed a few more spots so I’ll include them below. Also, sadly Matteis Tavern is closed and is only available as an event venue.

Buellton:

The Hitching Post II

The Old School Steakhouse that you got to know in Sideways is here putting out classic steak dinners. You are likely to see Frank Ostini the owner and chef and a local personality in his pith helmet.

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Jeff and Janet Olsson own New West Catering Company and they have been a stable for farm to table catering in the area for a while. Industrial Eats is their fast casual restaurant where they write the daily menu on the butcher paper hanging from a spool on the wall. The menu changes daily depending on what is fresh and available. It’s great for lunch (and it’s right next to Alma Rosa if you want to do a tasting there!) For a sampling of some of the amazing catering they do, check out the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner that was set here.

Los Olivos:

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Great spot in the center of town for lunch or dinner and you can always pick up a few bottles of local wine. You are very likely to see wine makers here with friends or family. It’s elegant without being stuffy.  The patio is covered in wisteria and they do have outdoor seating available.  Inside is a wall of wine, a beautiful U shaped bar and fireplace.  They serve California/Mediterranean cuisine.  They also have a blog where they do interviews with local wine makers that you can find here.

Sides Hardware & Shoes

This building was previously a hardware and shoe store owned by Milburn Sides. The Nichols Brothers opened this restaurant with a made from scratch local menu.  They cure their own bacon here.  You can sit inside or on the front or back patios. They are open for lunch or dinner, but plan ahead, because it gets crowded.  The do have a larger restaurant in Santa Ynez called The Red Barn.

Santa Ynez:

Trattorio Grappolo

Michael tasted a bite of food from this restaurant at the Grand Tasting one year and we decided to head there for dinner. We were not disappointed. They do great Italian dishes. Skip the table and sit at the bar where you can watch the kitchen bustle! These guys make hustle in the most beautifully choreographed manner around the small kitchen.

SY Kitchen

Dinner at SY Kitchen with parpadelle and scallops and Gnocchi with sausage

A newer restaurant, having opened in April of 2013, SY Kitchen serves modern Italian in a beautiful farmhouse.  You can dine in the Front room, the porch or the Dining Room of the house. They also have an outdoor Courtyard which is great for cocktails.  Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli was born and raised in Verona Italy. His dishes take the inspiration from Italy and compose them from local fresh ingredients.  Ask the servers for wine pairings, they will be happy to assist.  In addition to lots of local wines, they have an innovative cocktail program and a great selection of dessert wines.

Ballard Inn and Restaurant

Ballard Inn

Ballard Inn & Restaurant

Well, it’s really in the lower part of Ballard Canyon, but that is considered the Santa Ynez Valley. This is the place for a special occasion dinner. We enjoyed the first annual Larner Winemakers Dinner here with Chef Budi creating dishes to perfectly pair with each wine. Again a place you will find tons of local wines.

Solvang:

CHOMP

A great place for burgers, fries and shakes. All-American, kid friendly and locally owned (you will probably see the owner out managing the plethora of teenage staff he teaches and employs as wait staff.)

Los Alamos:

Full of Life Flatbread

Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, where you are bound to run into a winemaker

This bakery becomes a Restaurant on the weekends, and is a frequent gathering place for wine makers. You will find lots of local wines here.

On Crushed Grape Chronicles you will find information on the area and wineries as well as interviews with Winemakers. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

See some of the Video’s we have made on Santa Barbara here.

The Santa Barbara Vintners website is the ultimate comprehensive place for information on the areas wineries. http://www.sbcountywines.com/

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2014 in Retrospect for Crushed Grape Chronicles

California Au bon climat

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

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

April 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2014

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

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

2014 the overview

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks,

 

Robin & Michael

Crushed Grape Chronicles

 

From Dirt to Glass -The Vision, the future of Larner Vineyard & Winery

Larner Vineyard Panorama

Michael Larner has been thrown some curve balls as he has worked to build the future of Larner Vineyard and Winery.  The vision for this family legacy was to be an estate winery with a tasting room and some events.  When they took this business plan to the county, the neighbors revolted.  So they worked to be dynamic in dealing with these issues, continuing with the vineyard, opening a wine tasting room in Los Olivos and then Michael created the Buellton Bodegas.

The Vision – The future of Larner Vineyard and Winery

The property in Ballard Canyon, has a barn, which they hope in the future be able to turn into a winery, and a small General Store building and turning it into a tasting room.  They are currently asking for an 8000 case production for the winery, the tasting room and then 4 events each year which all would be shuttled.  This is the vision, so people can come and see the source.

How to deal with the Curve Balls

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

In the meantime, in Los Olivos you will find the Los Olivos General Store which Michael and his wife run, along with their Larner Wine tasting room.  In Buellton, Michael has created the Buellton Bodegas.  After working out of other wineries for a bit, he was looking for a space where he could close the door and crank his music while working.  He was not alone in his need for this.  So…went out looking for a 2000 square foot space and he found a 30,000 square foot space in Buellton where he could chop it up into 9 different spaces for wineries with a community space.  He formed a cooperative, took a master lease on the building and then leased out all 9 spaces.  He purchased equipment for processing that is communal for all the wineries, but then they all have their separate space and equipment like pumps and hoses, so that they can do their own temperature control and they have stability in their zone, which is essential to winemakers.

The Community Spirit in the Santa Barbara Wine Region

We spoke about the community spirit in the Santa Barbara Valley.  Just as the vineyards in Ballard Canyon have bonded together to make Ballard Canyon AVA a recognized name, all the vineyards in Santa Barbara County are of a like mind to call attention to this amazing region where you can find some of the most phenomenal wines in the world reasonably priced.   Santa Barbara sits right in LA’s backyard, and maybe as such it is taken for granted.  They often find people stopping in on their way to Paso Robles.

This area is like Burgundy with the smaller wineries, where as Napa is more like Bordeaux with the big wine houses.   As Michael said, if you head into Flatbreads in Los Almos, 10 out of every 100 people that walk in there are winemakers.  This is still a community that is bound together by wanting people to know about the great wine that they produce.  Sadly 75% of the grapes grown in the Santa Barbara Valley, leave the valley to be bought up by bigger wineries outside the area and blended into their wines. The County loses revenue as well as dilutes the name of Santa Barbara County for wines.  You probably drink more Santa Barbara wine than you realize, it’s just blended in with some big name wine company and is labeled with the ambiguous “California” wine on the label.

Enjoy the video and make your way to Santa Barbara and taste some of these amazing wines, in places where you are likely to be able to speak with the winemaker.  In the future as more people discover this overlooked area…it may get busier and these wines harder to get ahold of.

Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Ave

Los Olivos, CA 93441

(805)688-8148

http://larnerwine.com

Open Thursday thru Monday 11:00 am to 5:00 pm

wpid-img_20140620_153158.jpg

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Presqu’ile, Key to Wine Country Weekend Part 4 – Pinot Noir Deux

Presqu'ile Winery Terrace

This is the fourth and last section of our conversations with the winemakers at the Santa Barbara Vintners Key to Wine Country event held by Presqu’ile. This event brought together 4 winemakers all making wines from the grapes from Presqu’ile Vineyard. This final section finishes out the last 2 Pinot Noirs of the 5 that we tasted.

These last two wines were both 2012 Pinots one from Labyrinth by Wine Maker Arki Hill and Storm by Winemaker Ernst Storm. The Labyrinth Pinot Noir was made with whole clusters in neutral oak. The Storm Pinot Noir came from a small block at Presqu’ile that only produced 1.3 tons total that vintage. Ernst did 30% whole cluster and a 6 day cold soak. Fermentation was 14 days on skin and then 10 month in barrel on the lees.

Ernst Storm of Storm Wines is a believer in wines expressing a sense of place. You find a place that produces fruit with depth and balance then the winemaker just guides the grapes. His South African roots gave him a balance between new and old world styles in winemaking. He believes in being gentle with the grapes, basket pressing using gravity flow to move the wines and only fining and filtrating when absolutely needed on the white wines.

For More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

If you enjoyed this series and would like to enjoy an experience like this for yourself, check out the Santa Barbara Vintners site and watch for more of their amazing upcoming events. Santa Barbara County is a haven for wine geeks, not wine snobs. People here are relaxed and down to earth and more often than not you will run into the winemaker in the tasting room. If you are fascinated by wine and are looking for people to have interesting conversations about wine and winemaking and who knows what else…this is the place to be.

Buttonwood Farm, a Hidden Gem in Santa Barbara County

Key to Wine Country Weekend is a new endeavor in Santa Barbara County. We were able to attend the first one in June 2014. On the final day on a beautiful Sunday Morning, we gathered at the top of the mesa for a guided tour of Buttonwood Farm. This weekend you get the chance to taste and visit some of the other Hidden gems in Santa Barbara Celebration of Harvest Festival Weekend

.

Watch the Highlight Video to give you a sense of Buttonwood Farm

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Karen Steinwach, the winemaker for Buttonwood, started us off pouring a Glass of “Zingy”, their Sauvignon Blanc. She spoke about the history and about how Betty Williams started the farm. She also told a little story about how “Zingy” the name came about, along with her interactions with a prim and proper Matron Betty, who didn’t like the name, but loved the wine. In the end the marketing team was thrown under the bus, but the name stuck.

Karen Steinwach pouring Zingy

Karen Steinwach pouring Zingy

Karen explained that she makes wine that she loves to drink and since she can’t drink it all, Buttonwood sells the rest. The essence of Buttonwood Farm is their mission to make and provide produce and wine affordably with excellent quality. The wines have an aroma, taste and quality you would associate with far more expensive wines, yet a bottle of Zingy is $20.

Karen proceeded to lead us through the Winery on the hill. Buttonwood Farm is a completely self contained operation; growing, harvesting, barreling, bottling, and selling all on their Estate.

We wandered the Vineyard as she explained the landscape, grapes, harvest and philosophy of Buttonwood.

Karen discussed how they use some of their smaller grape throw aways to make Verjus for chefs. (We will release a future version of this talk, along with Chef Pascale explaining how chefs use this)

The original 39 Acre vineyard plan was relatively simple, with largish blocks each containing a single grape varietal: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The focus was on Bordeaux-style wines.

Later Grenache Noir, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier & Malbec were added.

This led us back down the hill to the gardens for a private Chef Demo with Chef Pascale Beale. She had just released a recipe book called “Salade” with a wide variety of recipes for fresh Salads.   She gave us several helpful hints about preparing farm fresh salads and we then paired them with Buttonwood Wines. The salads were bright, fresh, and paired wonderfully with the wines. (We will release a Video just on the demo in the near Future)

Salad with Grenache

We have passed by Buttonwood several times on our trips to Los Olivos, not realizing what we were missing. It is now on our radar to stop in and check out the newest wines and speak with the friendly knowledgeable staff on every trip to the Los Olivos area. It truly is a hidden gem.

Watch for more Video’s on our trip to Buttonwood, and some features on Los Olivos in the up coming months.

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard
1500 Alamo Pintado Road
Solvang CA 93463
805-688-3032
[email protected]

Tasting Room
Open Daily
11am – 5pm

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

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Visit From Dirt to Glass

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for Info on their next Key to Wine Country Event in December 5th thru 7th 2014

http://www.sbkeytowinecountry.com/

http://www.sbcountywines.com

Presqu’ile Winery, Key to Wine Country Weekend – Pinot Noir

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

We continue with the third segment of the Key to Wine Country event held at Presqu’ile Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. Held on the crush pad high atop the Presqu’ile gravity flow winery, we had the opportunity to taste wines made by 4 different winemakers, all from grapes grown on the Presqu’ile Vineyard. After side by sides of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, we moved onto Pinot Noir of which there were 5 to taste.

In this section we taste through the Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir made by Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje as well at 2 Pinots from Luceant Luminesce a 2011 and a 2012.

The Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir was done with whole clusters and spent 18 months in neutral oak. It was fascinating to do a side by side with Kevin Law’s 2011 and 2012 Luceant Luminesce Pinot Noirs. Again all the grapes are from Presqu’ile Vineyard. 2011 was a cooler year and Kevin used 1/3 whole cluster and 25% new oak for this vintage, as opposed to the 2012 which was bigger. The 2012 vintage he went 75% whole cluster and 50% new oak. It’s amazing to see the difference a vintage can make as well as the differences created by the amount of whole cluster press and oak which can impart tannins and other flavors.

Kevin was the lone American on the panel.  He jokes when the get to him “I don’t have an accent”.  His wines have previously been produced under the Luminesce label but they have had to relinquish that name. In the interim you will see them often listed as Luceant Luminesce as they segue into their new name Luceant. Before opening his label, he spent 7 years as the assistant winemaker at Tantara. He is soft spoken and you won’t find him out on social media. This humble winemaker spends all his time pushing to make greater wines. The differences in his two Pinots were many, but they were both beautiful expressions of their vintage and style.

for More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

Presqu’ile Key Weekend Part 2 – Chardonnay

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

In our second installment of the amazing conversation at the Presqu’ile Winery Key to Wine Country Event, we move on to a side by side tasting of Chardonnays.

The grapes for these two Chardonnays were again both grown on the Presqu’ile Vineyard. The Presqu’ile Chardonnay, made by winemaker Dieter Cronje is aged in neutral oak for 18 months. They typically harvest their Chardonnay early to retain the acidity. This is a mix of clones including Dijon clones 95 and 96 as well as the Davis clone 4. They had also been playing with a sparkling program and had some grapes from the 131 and 124 Champagne clones that were included.

The Labyrinth Chardonnay was all from Block B. Ariki Hill ages this Chardonnay in 30% new oak and the wine is fermented in the barrel on the lees.

A little back ground on Ariki (Rick) Hill of Labyrinth…

Ariki hails from New Zealand. While working in the dairy industry he started his winemaking. He found many similarities in handling fragile milk products and grape juice for wine. He pursues balanced wines that feature the region. He currently makes wines from Santa Barbara County, Paso Robles and the Yarra Valley in Australia. Most of his Paso wines are under the HAKA label. You can find more details about Rick and his wines on his website at https://labyrinthwine.com.

for More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

Presqu’ile Key Weekend Part 1 – Sauvignon Blanc

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

When you are a wine geek, there is no place you would rather be than tasting wine with a winemaker. In June, the Santa Barbara Vintners held their 1st Key to Wine Country Weekend. The weekend included multiple events at various wineries, meant to give you an insiders perspective on winemaking in Santa Barbara. Presqu’ile set up an event for Key Weekend, that gave you the opportunity to taste with 4 different winemakers. The amazing thing about this, was that all four winemakers were making wine from the grapes from the same vineyard. A side by side tasting while listening to the winemakers each speak about their wines was wine geek bliss.

This event was held at Presqu’ile Winery on the crush pad at the top of their beautiful gravity flow winery. Past the tables set with glassware and charcuterie were 4 smaller tables, behind which sat our winemakers. Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje, was joined by Storm Winemaker Ernst Storm, Luceant Luminesce Winemaker Kevin Law and Labyrinth Winemaker Ariki Hill.

The discussion itself lasted a bit over an hour and we have split the conversation into 4 parts. This first section includes an introduction by Presqu’ile owner Matt Murphy, a bit of Santa Maria Valley history from Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and then a side by side tasting of the  Presqu’ile 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and the Storm Wines 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.

Of note with these wines the Storm 2012 Sav Blanc was done in  a mix of Neutral Oak and Acacia wood and was aged on the lees for 8 months.  The Presqu’ile 2013 Sav Blanc was done with a wild ferment and aged in a combination of Stainless Steel tank, concrete egg and neutral oak.

And…both of these winemakers are from South Africa.

Presqu’ile Winery – Taste through the vineyard

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley


Starting the day driving north on the 101 to the Santa Maria Valley is never a bad thing. This section of roadway is lined with vineyards. Before you get to Santa Maria you take a right and drive out to the gates of Presqu’ile. Through the gate you see the expanse of rolling vineyards, you pass the Italian Villa of the vineyard next door and come up to the top of the hill where you find the elegant and modern Presqu’ile Winery and tasting room. Chances are you will be greeted by the winery dog as you walk in through the parking lot. Outside there are terraces overlooking a small amphitheatre, all set with comfortable seating perfect to curl up in with a glass of wine. The tasting room has a glass wall that slides open to make it open air during the day and as you look out when it’s clear you can see the ocean in the distance. The Tasting bar is spacious and dotted with bowls of seasoned pecans that came, like the owners the Murphy Family, from Mississippi.

“Presqu’ile” is the Creole word for “almost an island”. The Murphy family retreat on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi held the same name. Yes “held”, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to this place where the family had gathered for generations. So the family headed west to find a 200 acres of property in the Santa Maria Valley. Two generations of Murphy’s are now here and this new Presqu’ile has become the new gathering place for the family.

Tasting Room at Presqu'ile

Tasting Room at Presqu’ile

After we gathered in the tasting room, our group was escorted to the Key to Wine country weekend event, “Taste Through the Vineyard:  Explore Wines Sourced from Presqu’ile Vineyards Produced by Different Winemakers”. We were led back through the barrel tunnel. Cut into the side of the mountain this barrel lined tunnel is climate controlled (mostly naturally) and makes for a memorable entrance to the winery. We got into a shiny stainless steel elevator. I felt a little like I was going to a secret base in a James Bond film, but rather than heading to an underground laboratory, we headed up. The doors opened and we entered the sunlit crush pad. Glasses twinkled in the sunlight on sleek modern metal tables, set at the center with a thick wooden block abundantly piled with delicious charcuterie. At the front, just before the railing down to the tanks in this gravity flow winery, there were four smaller tables, each again bedecked with glasses and wines and behind them sat our four winemakers.

Key Weekend Glass Setting

Our host Matt Murphy stepped up to welcome us. He is genuine, warm, well spoken and his inherent sense of southern hospitality melded with the relaxed nature of the California that he and his family now call home. He set the stage for a wonderful conversation with these winemakers.
So we are in California in a winery owned by a Mississippi family…are you ready for it to get a little more exotic?
Our winemakers hailed from South Africa, New Zealand and the US. Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and Storm winemaker Ernst Storm are both from South Africa, Ariki Hill of Labyrinth is from New Zealand and Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce was exotic in that he was the only one without an accent.

Presqu'ile Wine Event

Presqu’ile Wine Event

We settled in, Matt handed things over to the winemakers and we did side by side tastings of wines from the Presqu’ile vineyards made by these different winemakers with different styles. I’ve spent some time as of late reading and listening to winemakers speak about growing grapes and making wine, but even the conversation here had an accent. There were terms that I knew well, but the direction that they brought to winemaking was fresh to me.
We spent the next couple of hours listening with rapt attention as these winemakers discussed their wines, their winemaking styles and the soils here at Presqu’ile Vineyards. Ernst Storm discussed his use of Acacia barrels, Dieter spoke to how he incorporates the concrete egg, we tasted with Kevin through his 2011 Pinot Noir to his 2012, two very different vintages and Ariki spoke about spoke of his love for one specific Cooper…I was so engrossed in the conversation that I almost completely missed the incredible charcuterie platter.
We drove back out through the rolling vineyards, feeling like we had not had enough time. I could have stayed all day talking with the winemakers, enjoying the wine and relaxing on this beautiful property. It’s okay…we’ll be back.

You can get an idea of what our day was like from the video here.  But…if you want to hear the full discussion, we will have it broken into 3 or 4 episodes and available in our “Dirt to Glass” series.

We also have  a great recipe for a Strawberry, citrus and avocado salad inspired by Ryan in the Presqu’ile Tasting room.  It is a great summertime pairing to go with their Rose of Pinot Noir .

Presqu’ile’s Winery, Vineyards and tasting room are located in the Santa Maria Valley at 5391 Presqu’ile Drive, 93455. You can reach them at 805-937-8110.

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

From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on Syrah

Larner Vineyard Sunset

Syrah. You know it. You have heard it called Shiraz and made into lush giant styles from Australia.  Maybe you have had it in a GSM, that Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Chances are you have even tried it as a single variety wine, perhaps a French wine from Chateauneuf du Pape. It’s not the nation’s top variety sitting behind the Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay that made Napa what it is. Syrah however is extraordinarily expressive. In Ballard Canyon it is the most widely grown grape. Much of that happened by accident. Growers didn’t plant Syrah because they heard about someone else planting it, it was just simply the right grape to plant in this soil and this climate. Then it thrived. Syrah composes more than half of the planted vineyard acres in the Ballard Canyon AVA, so it’s no wonder that they chose this variety as their Champion as they tell the world about Ballard Canyon.

Recently while we were in Santa Barbara, Michael Larner took the time to show us the Syrah in the Larner Vineyard, explain how they chose their clones and the future of Syrah at Larner Vineyard.

Of the 33 acres of vineyards at Larner, 23 acres are planted in Syrah. When they began planning in the late 90’s there was only so much information on this variety available at the time. They searched for the top three clones of Syrah from France, Australia and California and then laid out their 11 blocks. They also created an experimental block with clones that they were interested in but didn’t want to commit to a full 2 or 3 acres. There are 6 different rows of an experimental selection of clones. These rows can then be looked at from a purely viticultural perspective. This gives Michael the opportunity to see how the different clones work and decide if he might want to use them in the future. The property is 130 acres and they have another 30 acres that they will eventually plant with grapes, so this block has become their training ground for grapes.

In addition they will be doing some Massale Selection in an area of the property. This is a process of pulling canes when the sap has started to move back into them and then planting them to let them root. They will then allow these vines to go to seed and start propagating off the seeds. They do that a couple of times to speed the acclimation process of these vines that are all still relatively new (by Old World Standards) to California.

There are enough rows in the experimental block to harvest grapes and separately ferment, but you would be fermenting in 5 gallon lots. Michael used to sell these to small home winemakers who were very excited that Larner would sell as little as ¼ ton of grapes, but now they harvest all of these together and co-ferment them for the estate wines.

Ironically the experimental block has become their Cru. This spot has about 7 feet of sand and is probably the worst soil on the site. Even the weeds don’t like this spot. Surprisingly it has been beneficial, forcing these vines that would normally be vigorous to not overproduce. Almost every cluster here is picture perfect, making it the place for beautiful shots of Syrah grapes and vines.

At a recent event we had the opportunity to taste Syrahs from 7 of the Vineyards in Ballard Canyon. The styles vary dependent on the winemaker and the site, but there is an underlying similarity from the AVA that cannot be dismissed. In Michael’s words “You know you have a good vineyard when the vineyard speaks louder than the winemaker.” This is the case with the Ballard Canyon AVA. The underlying similarities in these wines shine through past the voices of the winemakers. The next bottling of the Larner Syrah will be in the new Ballard Canyon bottles. (Stolpman has a beautiful post and photo about the new bottles.) These bottles are reserved for Ballard Canyon AVA Estate Syrahs and have the Ballard Canyon embossed on the neck of the bottle. Watch for these, the new voice of Syrah will be coming from Ballard Canyon.

 

 

Larner Vineyard & Winery has a Tasting room in Los Olivos attached to the Los Olivos General Store. They are open Thursday to Monday from 11am to 5pm.

2900 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos

(805)350-1435

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

Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, a Vineyard tour

Riverbench Vineyard


Michael and I started our Key to Wine Country Weekend with a Vineyard Tour at Riverbench Vineyards with the Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck. We arrived way early (I read 10 am and it was actually 11!) and actually beat Laura, the tasting room manager in. Really it was a happy accident though, Michael had time to take some great morning shots around the tasting room and vineyard and we relaxed in the garden listening to the birds. The birdsong was really amazing.

 

Riverbench Winery Patio

Riverbench Winery Patio

 

Riverbench is located in the Santa Maria Valley on Foxen Canyon Road. The vineyard established in 1973 planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and made a name for themselves as growers of these varieties. In 2004 the property was purchased by a group of local families, who shortly thereafter began producing their own wine. In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they now grow Savignon Blanc and Albarino. The majority of the fruit they grow is still for other wineries and winemakers. The Albarino is for Kenneth Volk who is just a stone’s throw away.

Rawley just took over for long time Vineyard Manager Jim Stollberg this year, but he’s part of the family (he’s the son of owner Randy Hermreck) and he has extensive farming experience and a degree in viticulture from Cal Poly, and from our walk with him, you can tell he has a great love for these vineyards.

Vintage 2014 Grapes

Vintage 2014 Grapes

 

Rawley started by walking us out to the Chardonnay block out front. Block 37 was one of the original blocks and these vines are indeed 41 years old. The style of trellising here is known as California sprawl. This is a Simple Curtain two-wire vertical trellis and is typically used when the anticipated vine vigor is moderate to high. There is a wire for the cordon and a higher wire that is for the foliage support. The rows here are at 12’ spacing. They do a beautiful Blanc de blanc sparkling wine from some of this Chardonnay.

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

We headed across the driveway to the back of block 38 to look at some of the Pinot Noir planted there. Here the trellises are Vertical-shoot positioned and Rawley showed us how the upper wires could be repositioned. We talked about frost protection. They did a little frost protection this year as a preventative measure, but luckily did not have any frost. They use oils and mixed chemistry to keep mold and mildew down and luckily this area never gets warm enough to have to worry much about mites. They do have gopher issues and have Owl Boxes and Raptor Perches. Owls make for great rodent control. You put up the boxes and the owls fly in. 1 owl will catch 1 gopher per night which really helps keep the gopher population down. Owls are not territorial like raptors, so you can put up multiple owl boxes without a worry.

We talked a little about handpicking as opposed to machine picking. Labor is becoming very hard to come by but the machines require a certain amount of space between the rows and they run a quarter million each. The machines are usable year round with attachments for picking, disking, spraying, mowing, and pre-pruning. Rawley watches the machines all the time over on the other side of the river up on the bench at Kendall-Jackson. As for how they harvest: they basically shake the berries off of the stems, so this doesn’t work for winemakers who want whole cluster presses or stem inclusion. The berries are shaken onto conveyor belts and then into baskets.

9000 plus plants

9000 plus plants

The front area of the block by Foxen Canyon road had been pulled out and was scheduled to be replanted the following morning. Rawley took us around back to show us the 9000 (yes 9000) baby vines that were waiting to be planted. I have seen dormant vines before waiting to be planted, grafted onto their rootstock, but this was new to see green potted vines. They all had green wax around their centers to protect the graft. Rawley’s nursery guy had designed a new kind of pot for the baby vines and convinced Rawley to try some in these new containers. Rather than being the short square pot like the kind you get on your vegetables at the nursery, these new pots were tall and thinner. They had holes on the sides, which kept the roots from growing out through air exposure. These new pots allow the tap root more room to avoid “j-root” (when the root reaches the bottom of the pot and turns back up). Rawley will see how they do compared to the other pots! We actually stopped by the next morning to watch as they were planting these vines.

Hand dip Pinot Bottle in wax

Hand dipping Pinot Bottle in wax

At this point it was time to grab Sadie, Rawley’s black Labrador and head into the back garden to put wax seals on some Pinot bottles. This evidently is Rawley’s job. Each bottle of Pinot from Riverbench has a wax top and is hand-dipped. It’s a simple but focused process and Rawley demonstrated before he let me have a go. You begin with what looks like a crock pot filled with the melted wax. Hold the bottle with your thumb over the center of the label and dip the bottle into the wax at a 45 degree angle. Make sure to allow the wax to reach the point on the neck of the bottle where the wine would come to when the bottle is standing upright. When you pull the bottle out, begin spinning the bottle and the excess wax will start to drip back into the crock pot. As you continue turning you gradually get the bottle to completely vertical. When it is done dripping you plunge it into a bucket of water to cool it and seal it. It was pretty fascinating and concentrating work, and I decided that Laura would have to put this bottle aside for me to purchase after lunch.

Picnic and Tasting

Picnic and Tasting

Laura then brought out lunch for us to enjoy with Rawley & Sadie on the back patio. We started our tasting with lunch with the Blanc de Blanc which is a lovely dry sparkling wine and was refreshing after our walk. We enjoyed the 2013 Rosé, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay and 2011 Estate Pinot Noir and finished with the 2013 Reisling. Paired with the salad & sandwiches as we listened to the birds and talked Rodeo with Rawley it made for the perfect lunch.

Riverbench historic overview

Riverbench historic overview

 

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery

6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria

805-937-8340

Open Daily 10-4

 

They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara

137 Anacapa St. Suite C

Open Daily 11-6

www.riverbench.com

Watch for the next Key Weekend event coming up in December as well as other great events at the Santa Barbara Vintners site.  sbcountywines.com