From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on the Language of the Vines

Larner Vineyard Syrah

There are many ways of telling what a vine needs in the vineyard. On our visit, Michael took us into the Syrah at his Vineyard in Ballard Canyon and spoke to us about how the vines communicate with them. “We think of the vines as living beings” Michael says. The vines he says will tell you if they are happy, you will see them with tendril and shoots straight up reaching for the sun. You can tell by their vigor that they are happy and that they are getting enough water. When the vines are stressed the tendrils will droop and the leaves will turn away from the sun, because they don’t want to photosynthesize.

In addition they have moisture probes at varying depths and they can see how fast the roots are taking the water. If the vines are unhappy they can push the water deeper to get to the feeder roots and the tap root.

The leaves will also show you in different ways if they have potassium deficiencies or if there are nitrogen problems.

“The vines will tell you what they need” Michael says, “It’s up to us to read it and learn it’s language”.

The happy Syrah he grows here at Larner Vineyards is sold to other wineries in addition to making his Estate Syrah.  But only the estate Syrah will be in the new “Ballard Canyon” bottles.  You can stop by and taste his Syrah in Los Olivos at the Larner Tasting room in the Los Olivos General Store.

Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Ave

Los Olivos, CA 93441


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


Come back here to look for other conversations with winemakers, in Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County and beyond.

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Hilliard Bruce Vineyards – Part 3: Canopy Management, Wines & Philosophy.

Canopy Management

Part 3 of a 4 part series on our trip to Hilliard Bruce in the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.

Canopy management that you will see no where else!

The planting style at Hilliard Bruce is compact with 2,420 vines per acre at a spacing of 6 feet by 3 feet.  The canopy management that John is so rightly proud of begins with the trellis system that is vertical shoot positioned.  The vines here are hand pruned twice each year.  Each spring the new shoots are carefully positioned to run parallel and then are individually tied so that they do not cross each other.  They monitor the number of leaves per vine to offer the perfect exposure to sun and so that the air can move through.  This keeps down the mold and disease.  This also allows the bunches to hang free which is helpful for easy harvesting.  All this is lots of work during the growing season, but makes for much less work in the winery.  As we looked down the rows from the top of the vineyard John pointed out how you could see from the shadows that all the vines were healthy.  It’s easy during the day to come out and look at the shadows and see where you have lost a vine. But of course with the kind of attention that these vines get, that is rare.

Fruit of all this labor…amazing wines.

They are  growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here exclusively.  Christine claims the Chardonnay as her own and John’s focus is on the Pinot Noir.  The yield per acre here is less than 2 tons and less than 1.65 lbs per vine.  Next year the new winery will be ready, but this year they will make their wines at the Central Coast Wine Service  facility that is located in Santa Maria.

While there we tasted the 2010 Moon Pinot Noir, the 2011 Earth Pinot Noir and the 2011 Chardonnay.

The Moon Pinot Noir is very much a Sta. Rita Hills style Pinot.  After 12 months in barrel they go through a careful selection process and choose only the barrels that show the concentration and focus that this cool growing region is known for.  They look for riper fruit and full spice as they choose the barrels.

The 2011 Earth Pinot Noir is definitely earthier.  This wine has rich clove spice, darker fruit and minerals as well as great tannins.

The 2011 Chardonnay comes from the coldest corner of the vineyard and these vines produce very little fruit.  With great acid, oak for tempering and a little salinity this is a truly stunning Chardonnay.

The winery is well under way and photos of the progress can be seen on their facebook page.  This will be a LEED Certified, gravity flow winery with an underground cellar that will be humidity controlled. It will be designed as a  work of art, but also to blend and compliment the beautiful natural setting.


There is a quote from Paul Ingersol on the Hilliard Bruce labels that really sums it up

  • Happiness is the only good
  • The time to be happy is now.
  • The place to be happy is here
  • The way to be happy is to make others so.

This is what they embody at Hilliard Bruce.


Stay tuned for a video of our visit tomorrow!

Hilliard Bruce Vineyards – Part 2: On Sustainability

Lily pad in Pond

Part 2 of a 4 part series on our trip to Hilliard Bruce in the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.


On Sustainability

The vineyard is SIP Certified as Sustainable.  For several years they farmed “organically” but John wanted to move past this and address the efficient use of water and electricity.  SIP Certification addresses a broader goal of sustainability including water conservation, pest management, energy efficiency, habitat conservation, economic stability as well as human resources.

Hilliard Bruce Solar panels


The property is solar powered by 35 Kilowatts of solar panels that provide at least 80% of the power needed.

Hilliard Bruce lake view


They hired a bioreclaimation company for industrial sites to create a 6 acre reservoir.  The reservoir holds 1.5 million gallons of water and originally had a v-8 car engine to power the pumps.  In 2011 this was put to good use preventing frost damage that year in April.  Spraying all 21 acres with the water raises the temperature above freezing keeping the vines from being damaged.  In addition the reservoir is also used for irrigation.  The reservoir sits on a hill top so much of the irrigation is gravity flow.  There are 1500 square feet of floating islands in the middle of the pond, made of recycled water bottles.  This island with it’s plants filters out heavy metals and excess nutrients from the water.  The water is then conditioned so that when it goes into the irrigation lines there is not alkaline bicarbonate build-up which can cause clogs and keep the lines from irrigating evenly.  They also have cutting edge computer telemetry to monitor the vines for when they need water.  They use drip, double drip and overhead sprinklers for watering. And the trickle down effect is measured in, so….the vines at the bottom of the hill don’t have as much coming out of the drip as the top of the hill, because the excess water from above will be already trickling down to them.  Brilliant!


The Static Aeration compost building is pretty amazing.  The compost is aerated from below to get the micro-organisms going faster.  This compost is made from Horse Manure from their stables with Arabian horses that they raise.  The building has a blower system underneath to inject air into the compost from below.  They use the manure for the 20 Arabian horses to create compost in 30 days without turning the pile!  The entire compost needs of the vineyard are taken care of internally from this compost building.


Tomorrow We will get into their amazing canopy management and talk about the wines.

Halter Ranch – Tradition and Innovation

Halter Ranch Winery

In 1874 when Edwin Smith moved to Paso Robes the area of Halter Ranch was still known as Las Tablas.  This is the name of the creek that runs through the property and gives it’s name to the Haas/Perrin winery just over the hill. It wasn’t until the MacGillivray family purchased part of the property in 1943 that the first vines were planted.

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch, as we know it today came about in 2000 when Hansjorg Wyss purchased 900 acres.  Halter is his mother’s maiden name. In 2008 he was ranked number 164 of the Forbes list of billionaires and he is the 2nd richest person in Switzerland.  Here we see his money being put to good use for wine lovers.  He is known for his philanthropy.  His Wyss Foundation places large parcels of land under government protection.  He is a by nature conservationist.

The vineyards here have been growing grapes and selling them to the best of the area’s wineries. They now have to wean wineries of their grapes as they establish their own label.  The ranch itself is over 1000 acres with less than ¼ of it devoted to vines.  They focus on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties.  Mr. Wyss conservationist attitude can be seen here.  The property has wildlife corridors for local mountain lions, badgers, bobcats and coyotes.  These corridors allow the animals to roam over large portions of land as they are meant to, rather than simply running into fences.  On the ranch you will also find the Ancestor Oak.  This Coastal oak is the world’s oldest.  It is 324 inches around, 55 feet tall and has a 104-foot crown.  On the property you will find insectaries, owl boxes and raptor perches.  They have a mobile chicken coup that was used to keep pests down, until they realized that the raptors loved chicken for lunch!

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

They began their own label in 2002 and the new winery is stunning.  They wooed Kevin Sass from Justin Winery here.  How could he resist!  The winery is gravity flow, which is great for the wines and lower in energy use.  Gravity flow is noted for producing smoother wines free of astringent tannins.  The winery has 4 self contained temperature controlled rooms and naturally cooled caves in the side of the mountain for barrel storage.

With 57 separate vineyard blocks and soil types from calcareous clay to clay loam with shale and sandstone deposits and a computerized tank monitoring system with enables Kevin to monitor and regulate the fermentation tanks temps from his desktop or phone, this is a winemakers dream.

The winery is also SIP certified which means they are sustainable not only in vineyard and winery practices toward the grapes, but also toward the staff also.  The winery has concrete catwalks so that the staff can easily get to the top of the tanks.  They also have the tanks on concrete pads to raise them making it much easier to clear out the must.

Halter Ranch Covered Bridge

Halter Ranch Covered Bridge

In addition to the stunning winery the property also houses a gorgeous covered bridge that connects the older buildings of the property with the new.  Across the bridge you will find the Historic Victorian Farmhouse that was built in the 1880s and was completely restored in 2001-2003 and the Silo Barn that was restored in 2012.  This property is a photographers dream!

Halter Ranch buildings

Halter Ranch buildings

And yes, the wines are lovely.

Halter Ranch Wine Glass

Halter Ranch Wine Glass

Gravity flow wineries. Isn’t this just common sense?

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

Gravity flow wineries.  Lately it’s a high tech term, but really it seems like common sense doesn’t it?  In Bordeaux Chateau Lynch-Bages built a tank house that employed a railed gravity flow system in 1850. The lower level held the vats and the upper level was for de-stemming and crushing so that the juice would flow (via gravity) into the vats below.

Gravity flow these days is seemingly expensive with huge complexes built to support this method.  The Palmaz Winery in Napa is the ultimate example of this. This is  the ultimate in gravity flow winery design.  This winery is built in Mount George in Napa.  The wine cave is 18 stories tall with fermentation tanks that rotate on a carousel under the crush pad.


Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

Halter Ranch in Paso Robles just finished a beautiful new facility that is designed for gravity flow and ease of work flow for winery workers.   On top of that the place is stunning. ( more on Halter Ranch Soon)

Of course there are simpler methods.  Take Willakenzie Winery in Yamhill Oregon.  This winery is simply built to be 3 stories down the side of a hill.  The top floor is for sorting and de-stemming, the middle floor for fermentation and tank storage and the bottom floor for barrel storage.  The juice/wine flows from one floor down to the next via gravity.

But even small wineries can make this system work.  You just have to have your tanks higher than your barrels!  A simple hose from the tank to the barrel will work!  You save the expense of the pumping equipment as well as the maintenance and energy costs.  This method is a bit more time consuming though.  You can fill a barrel in 4 to 5 hours, but…if you don’t wish the gravity to push too hard on your wine, you might adjust your hose to allow the juice to flow more slowly taking 7 to 8 hours to fill a barrel.  So if you are a big mass producing winery you probably don’t want to take the time to do this.  But…if you are in the business of making good wine…

So what kind of damage can pumping do to wine?  From the top you want to gently press the grapes and have them release their juice.  Crushing is actually a pretty harsh word.  In crushing the concern is breaking the seeds and imparting the astringent tannins into your wine. (of course there are winemakers who utilize the tannins in both seeds and stems to great result! ie Brewer/Clifton)  Pumping can force through solids and then requiring additional filtration for your wine.  Pumping also imparts oxygen into the wine and this can affect the aging of the wine.  Pumping can be especially unwanted with the more nuanced varieties of wine like pinot noir as it can disturb the subtleties in the wine.

From an environmental standpoint it is reducing the energy use.  You don’t have to pay for gravity on the electric bill!  Building a gravity flow winery in the beginning will save you energy and equipment cost in the end.

So does it make the wine better?  Well, it treats it more gently and after we torture the grapes on the vine, that seems to be the preferred method of treating them post harvest.  It is energy efficient and seems to be kinda common sense (work smarter not harder!).  In the end there are so many variables.  When you use gravity flow you are again trying to have as little outside influence on the grape as possible.   After that it is in the winemaker’s hands.  And…well before that it is in the vineyard managers hands, as well as the weather.  So many variables.  All in all, a gravity flow system is an ideal, that can be put into practice with a little forethought in building.  It is environmentally better and should in the long run be cheaper.  As to it making the wine taste better?  Maybe it’s time for a comparison test!?  (Any excuse to taste more wine!)

All About Barrels

Wine began stored and aged in amphorae (sealed earthenware or clay jars) that were used in Greece and Rome.


Wine Urn's

Wine Urn’s

It was the Celts in around 50BD that devised using wooden barrels to store and transport wines (those Celts…so smart!)

Wine barrels stacked in old cellar

Wine barrels stacked in old cellar


Wooden barrels were sturdy and shaped conveniently for transport.  And…it seemed that wine could actually benefit from the wood!


Why Oak?  Some would say out of convenience and then as a taste preference.  There are over 400 species of oak.  Only about 20 of them are typically used for wine barrels and these can very with the flavors they impart although most often the flavor noticed is “vanilla”.


In addition to the wood itself you have the toast.  Cooperages specialize in specific toasts for the staves and heads of the barrels and the intensity of the toast can definitely affect the flavor of the wine. Toasts are labeled as light, medium or heavy and can very from the barrel staves to the head.


Barrels allow the introduction of oxygen to the wine in a very slow manner.  The pace of the introduction depends on the tightness of the grain of the wood.  It also imparts the wood flavor into the wine as well as tannins, and body.  The body comes mostly from the sugars that are formed when the oak is toasted.


When speaking of types of Oak:

  • French oak has the highest tannins. They tend to be more subtle than American Oak.  They are distinguished by which forest they come from with 5 major regions.  The trees used are between 120-150 years old and are strictly controlled by the French Department de Eaux et de Forets.  The rough staves are typically air dried for 2 to 3 years before the barrels are made.  French barrels can run between $800 and $3600 each.
  • American oak is the opposite extreme with grains that are not nearly as tight.  Here you get much bolder flavors including spice, vanilla and butter. American oak primarily comes from the Midwest, Appalachia and Oregon.  American oak is much more affordable at $300-$500 per barrel.
  • Hungarian is usually thought of as the tightest grain, this makes it more neutral, imparting less flavors even when it is new as well as typically being lower in tannins.  Hungarian oak sits right between the two cost wise at $500-$700 per barrel.


Barrels lose their flavor as they age.  Typical barrels can be used for about 5 years before they are done imparting flavor.  You get the most flavor extracted on the first use, about 50%.  The second use you get about 25% and after that the barrel dwindles toward what is referred to as neutral oak or a barrel that no longer imparts noticeable oak flavor.  So…if after 5 years you have wines to age in neutral oak, you are good!  You can keep using those barrels for 100 years or so!


You can increase the life of the barrel and get more use out of it. I have seen photos from the Cilurzo winery in Temecula back in the 60’s shaving down the inside of the barrels to get more exposure to the oak.  Shaving at this time was a special art and the people who did it travelled from winery to winery doing this. This practice picked up in the 80’s and 90’s. Barrels would be shaved and then re-toasted.  Shaving costs run about $75 per barrel.  A new company out of Australia has a new robot called the Phoenix that uses a high-speed cutting tool to cut 9-10 mm from each stave.  This is done by first mapping the interior of the barrel with a laser.  Once the interior is cut down the barrels are re-toasted with an infrared machine.  I have heard also of adding new thinner staves that have been toasted to neutral barrels.


Wine Barrel's Stacked

Wine Barrel’s Stacked

Now the barrels we are talking about here are the standard 60 gallon barrels that are used in many wineries.  The ones you see turned later into planters and lawn furniture.  There is a whole different world of barrels out there that are much larger. A great example of these larger wooden barrels can be seen in southern Rhone Style wines where you want less oak contact.  Tablas Creek has great (and might I say stunningly beautiful) examples of these.


  • Barriques are the French term for the typical 60 gallon barrels.
  • Foudres are 1200 gallon French Oak barrels and hold enough wine to fill 500 twelve-bottle cases.
  • Puncheons are 120 gallon barrels.
  • Demi-muids are 160 gallon barrels.
  • There are also 1600-gallon wooden casks that stand upright, like a fermentation tank.


Foudres, 1200 Galllon French Barrel's

Foudres, 1200 Galllon French Barrel’s

Other types of containers available

  • Flextank and other companies create plastic wine tanks that replicate barrel functions and are space efficient.  If you do not need oak flavor…well you can reuse these multiple times.
  • Vino Vessel originated in Paso Robles and is a company that creates concrete fermentation and storage tanks.  The benefits are that they are more affordable, easier to clean, less space and labor intensive and longer lasting.  They also offer more natural oxygenation than stainless steel does and they are naturally stay cooler so they reduce refrigeration costs.
  • Stainless Steel has no oxygen exchange and is initially expensive, but can be used repeatedly.  They can be fitted with wood staves to impart flavor.


Okay speaking of adding staves…you can use these alternative vessels for aging your wine and still get oak flavor by adding staves and or oak chips.


So that’s the basics of barrels.  This is not to be confused with fermentation tanks.  That’s a whole ‘nother chapter! See More Wine Education

Yeasts: Indigenous or Cultured

Wine pouring into vat

Recently while in Paso I had an interesting and enlightening conversation with David Parrish of Parrish Family Vineyards regarding yeast.  Now this is not a subject that I have in depth knowledge on, most of what I know I have picked up by listening at my favorite vineyards.  I walked into the conversation a big supporter of the use of natural yeast, without any real understanding of why you wouldn’t use natural yeast.  David explained that natural yeast could be a completely uncontrollable variable in wine making.  This was a new perspective for me.   So, today is the day to research and explore the pros and cons of indigenous yeast vs. adding cultured yeast to wines.

First, I suppose we should talk about what part the yeast plays in the making of wine.

Yeast is what causes the fermentation process in wine.  The yeast, just like when you are making bread, eats up the sugars and produces, in this case alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The yeast will typically continue to do this until it has transformed all the sugars. The process can stop or be stopped short of that, which gives you the residual sugar in wine.

grape-grapesIndigenous yeasts are those that are “naturally” occurring in the vineyard or winery.  Yes “naturally” is in quotes, because well…yeasts can show up from anywhere.  Lets begin by talking about the natural yeast that you find in the vineyard.   In Europe these yeasts that are found on the skins of the grapes are considered part of the terroir.   Often called the “bloom” or “blush” these yeasts can be seen on the skin of the grape and come into the winery with the grape during harvest.  These native yeasts can produce amazing and unique wines, but they are also a bit of a wildcard, because they can also be unpredictable causing off flavors or aromas and possible spoilage.  Wild yeast as it is already on the grapes can start the fermentation process immediately, as the weight of the grapes on top crush the grapes on the bottom the yeasts can go to work before they even get to the crushpad.  Indigenous yeast can take longer to get going with fermentation and there isn’t a specific formula for how long fermentation will take, so the winemaker must be vigilant, checking in on the process often to see where it’s at.  The type of vineyard can assist natural yeast in the vineyards.  If the pH is low and there is high acidity this will help the yeast to succeed.  Often warmer regions with higher yields don’t work as well for natural yeast.  The variety of natural yeast found in a vineyard can also add to the diversity of flavor in the wines.  In Europe most wineries use natural yeast, this is the way it has been done for centuries.  Often a “pied du cuvee” is used to kick start a slow fermentation.   A “pied du Cuvee” is like sourdough starter.  Grapes are picked a few days or weeks prior to harvest and crushed to cultivate the yeasts.  Then if the fermentation from the indigenous yeasts is slow this can be added to kick start the fermentation process.  This is also used if there is rain before harvest that washes away many of the natural yeasts on the grapes.

On the downside, it has been said that the benefits to flavor of natural yeast can only be shown while the wine is young, after 6 months of aging these notes are no longer noticeable.  And…yeasts also can be found in the winery and cellar and these are thrown into the mix along with any that arrive on equipment coming into the winery, so you have additional curve balls that can be thrown in.  Also many indigenous yeast are of strains that only tolerate low alcohol levels, once levels reach 3 to 4% these yeasts die off.


For the winemaker who prefers cultured yeast it is all about control.  Yeast is an ingredient carefully chosen for a specific effect. I mentioned how indigenous yeast can be a wild card?… Using indigenous yeast it is possible to lose 10-20% of a wineries wine if the yeast does not behave in the way you expected.  Many small wineries do not want to take that chance.  And…well once you use a cultured yeast, that powerhouse of a yeast is in your winery and will overpower any native yeast that comes in, so it’s hard to go back.  Cultured yeasts will start the fermentation process much more quickly.  Large producers use this to quickly ferment, so they can move on and reuse the tanks.  Cultured yeasts are primarily “sugar yeasts” and there are several hundred strains to choose from.  The type of yeast can affect the characteristics of the wine even changing characteristics within a grape variety.  Some strains make a heavier sediment to make it easier to rack the wine.  Commonly with added yeast a large dose of a single strain is added to start the fermentation process.  Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the primary yeast used in fermenting wines.  Unlike many naturally occurring types of yeasts it can tolerate high alcohol levels.

There are downsides to using cultured yeast.  You can have problems with volatile acidity and stuck fermentations, problems you don’t see with natural yeast.


My summary:  This is just the start of my research on yeasts.  I look forward to conversations with winemakers on their opinions.  I am all about the love of wine, and the winemaker’s love of winemaking.  The romance and history of natural yeast and my immense love of Tablas Creek has me leaning in that direction.  But…as I have said before gorgeous wine comes in many forms.  There are so many variables in wine, in the growing of the grapes, in the harvesting, in the winemaking… and I enjoy wines with many different backgrounds and styles.  We discussed Biodynamics and Organically Certified wineries before.  Do those labels make these wineries and their wines better?  No, but often it means that the winery and winemaker are passionate about their wines and are striving to find ways to make them better.

So here’s to the discussion and exploration of winemaking in all it’s many forms and facets!  Cheers!

Avant Tapas and Wine Bar. I have found my Nirvana.

Avant Wine & Tapas from Crushed Grape Chronicles on Vimeo.

So…after our first day of tasting on our trip.  Hitting Santa Barbara and then a stop in Los Olivos, we checked into the hotel and headed out for dinner.  With my pre-planning we had picked up a Groupon for Avant Tapas and Wine Bar in Buellton, which gave us $40 in wine for $20 as well as 20% off of any Tapas we ordered.  When we checked into the Hamlet Inn (which is fabulous!) the person at the desk suggested Avant for dinner and highly recommended the “Yuppie Crack”.  So after settling into our room at the extremely adorable Hamlet Inn we set out.

Avant is in Buellton.  If you have seen “Sideways” you remember the town with “The Hitching Post”?  Yep!  Just across the Highway from “The Hitching Post” and down a long drive into a small industrial park you will find the Terravant Wine Company Wine Center.  This 40,000 foot Wine Center is a full service wine industry support facility.  They have a state of the art analysis lab as well as refrigerated, controlled warehouse storage. They also provide distribution and direct to consumer wine services.  As well as office space for wine makers and industry professionals.  It has become an incubator to support many Santa Ynez wineries.  They provide custom crush and alternating proprietor space.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Front Entrance

When you arrive you drive to the back of the facility to the Avant entrance.  The two-story entrance leads you upstairs to the Tapas and Wine Bar.  The space has a wine wall with a wine dispensing system.  You purchase a card and load it up with the amount you would like to spend.  Michael and I had our $40 card to share.  Each wine is listed by price for a taste, a half glass or a glass and there are 52 wines to choose from.  You look out from the second floor through glass windows onto the tank room.

Michael and I were in heaven.  We chose several tapas dishes and then went to town each getting a taste of a wine and then sharing to see how they paired with the food.  Really I would eat here every day and do this if I could.

We tasted through at least 16 different wines.

  • Beginning with roses from Dragonette and Fiddlehead
  • Riesling from Code Quest
  • Lucas and Llewelyn Gewurztraminer
  • Zotovich 2009 Syrah
  • Reeves Ranch 2008 Syrah
  • Longoria 2010 Albarino that was perfect with the shrimp
  • Open Field 2010 Chardonnay
  • Brander 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Baehner V3 Cab Blend
  • Ground Effect 2010
  • Chennin Blanc Blend
  • Insomnia White Blend
  • Ken Brown 2010 Chardonnay
  • Sort This Out Muscat…that’s all I can remember.

To eat we had the,

  • Wood Fired Shrimp (which I mentioned was perfect with the Longoria Albarino!)
  • The Mac’N’Cheese
  • the “Yuppie Crack” which is Apple-wood smoked bacon, dates, goat cheese, balsamic reduction and basil oil drizzle.  This stuff is REALLY amazing!
  • We did the Rosemary Chicken Skewers
  • Seared Scallops with Madeira, dijon, thyme and micro greens.

We finished with the chocolate cinnamon bread pudding which we paired with the Sort Out Cellars Muscat.  Turns out the muscat and the bread pudding were great on their own, not so good together.  We found the Insomnia White Blend went pretty well with everything!  The Ken Brown 2010 Chard was really good (and I’m picky about my Chards) and I really enjoyed it paired with the Mac’N’Cheese.  I also really enjoyed the Brander 2009 Cab with the Lamb Meatballs (brown rice, mint, rosemary, lemon zest and white wine).  The cab seemed to have a little eucalyptus on the nose and that melded perfectly with the mint in the meatballs.  The Yuppie crack was good with the syrahs, but really shone with the Gewurztraminer!

In addition there was music on the night we were there.  The Trio was playing and singing from the corner was lovely.  Really we could not have asked for a better end to our first day.

They have since change their Restaurant name from  Avante to Terravant Winery Restaurant

Wilson Creek, so much more than Almond champagne

Wilson Creek Sign Art in Oil

I will admit to a bit of snobbery.  I really had no desire to go to Wilson Creek in Temecula. I mean you find bottles of their Almond champagne in Long’s Drug Stores (well you did when they were around).  I figured how could they be creating wine I would like to drink?  Well… there is a lot more to them then the Almond champagne.

Wilson Creek is located at the far east end of Rancho California Road and it is rare that you will get there and find the parking lot not full.  While the grounds are huge and beautiful, a favorite for weddings and the buildings and event center large and impressive, this is still a family affair at heart.

Wilson Creek View

Wilson Creek View

Gerry and Rosie Wilson acquired the 20 acre vineyard in 1996 with the simple intent of running a fun family business and making great wine. With the entire family, children and grand children as well as 5 golden retrievers who can be seen often on property, they have succeeded in making this a family affair.

The Lower Garden is open to parties of 10 or less for picnicing. They just ask that you don’t come to camp!  No tents or shade covers, ice chests or animals and no outside alcoholic beverages.

The Creekside Restaurant offers a menu for lunch that can be enjoyed around the grounds.  You place your order at the Concert Stage and it will be delivered to you in the upper garden.  You can enjoy this in the lower garden also, but you will need to pick up your order.  The menu includes a variety of lunch items as well as a full wine list, beer and other beverages.

With their Event Center Wilson Creek stays busy with Corporate Events and private parties.  The Event Center includes 3 spaces that can accommodate 50-300 people each with a dance floor.  In addition they have two stages that can accommodate up to 400 guests.  Really this place can be party central for 6 or 7 large parties at time!

Bill Wilson is the son and owner.  He works with his Mom & Dad, Brother & Sister, Wife, brother in law & sister in law.  (Did I mention that this was a family affair?) Bill’s Mom and Dad can often be seen on the grounds with their two golden retrievers. They have 92 acres and grow 12 varieties on the estate and then source some grapes.  The varieties used in their wines include: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Barbera, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel.  They also . When you listen to Bill you know that you are not dealing with a corporation, this is a joyful family affair.  They incorporated what they loved about the wineries they visited when they created Wilson Creek.  And it’s not just about their winery, they want to promote Temecula and encourage people to come and taste, enjoy and learn.  Listen to the great interview with him at and see exactly what I mean.

I didn’t think it was possible that Wilson Creek used Methode Champenois for their almond champagne, and I was right. There is no way they could do that and sell it at that price!  What I was surprised by, was that they do use the Charmat method which is fermenting the wine in bulk in stainless steel tanks!  The final method they actually refer to as “cheating” on their site.  In this method CO2 is injected into the wine.  Typically this method causes very large bubble that can cause Huge headaches!  They do not cheat at Wilson Creek.  They do, by the way have a wonderful section of their website on wine education called Wine 101 that Mick Wilson put together with fascinating information on Barrels, Port, Champagne, Wine Varietals and much more.

Wilson Creek Picnic View

Wilson Creek Picnic View

The next time you are in Temecula, drive all the way out Rancho California to Wilson Creek, taste some wine, stroll the grounds and say hello to the Wilson’s.  You will know them by the golden retrievers at their sides!

Wine Geekdom, and Media Technology

Media technology is amazing.  So is wine geekdom.  I realized this morning that I was currently reading 3 books.  I picked up a beautiful hard backed copy of Kevin Zraly’s Complete Wine Course the 2012 edition for my birthday.  I have downloaded a sample of Matt Kramer On Wine on my phone and on my Kindle I have a copy of Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking by Michael Gelb.  I have links to all my favorite Wine Blogs on my cell (Steve Heimoff, Terroirist, Vinography).  I check my e-mail on my phone as soon as I get up and I get the my daily fix of 1 Wine Dude and  get my FeedBlitz for the Tablas Creek Blog.  On Facebook I am friends with all my favorite wineries and even have some of them grouped into lists by regions.  I love when the Food and Wine Magazine comes each month and love it even better when I can steal Michael’s iPad and read the online version.  I love being able to click through and get more information.

Now I have other hobbies and other passions, but it was a little overwhelming to find that technology had me swimming in all kinds of information on my favorite subject anywhere that I was.  I’m constantly working on databases for different wine regions that we would like to travel to.  I am a research junkie.

I troll sites for new videos, like the Wine Down or the Lone Madrone site for Conversations with a Winemaker.  Yesterday I got sucked into research on the Mozart Effect and how that can tie in with wine tasting and making wines taste better (inspired by a chapter in the Michael Gelb book).  I was looking into the history of Virginia Wineries yesterday  for an upcoming trip and found the amazing website for the Virginia Wine Organization, beautifully laid out and with tons of easy access information on varietals being grown in Virginia that I have never tasted!

I started out being a little embarrassed by my geekdom, but as I look at it my pride is growing a bit.  I love this subject and I immerse myself in it and learn as much as I can, and yet I still feel like a novice.  I don’t think that will ever change.  There is too much to learn, too many opinions to read and see if I agree with and too many wines to taste.  Those we won’t ever run out of!