The Scenic Route Part 7 – Du Brul to Hiyu

Cote Bonneville Dubrul Vineyard

Our time in Washington was nearing it’s end. Morning had us traveling from Walla Walla west to the Yakima Valley once again to visit with Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville. We met her for an interview at their tasting room in Sunnyside.

Côte Bonneville

Driving through the small town of Sunnyside you come upon a quaint restored building that was previously a train station. When Hugh and Kathy Shiels moved to the area, Hugh set up practice as an orthopedic surgeon. The renovated Train Station was his office for many years. It has now become their beautiful tasting room.

Cote Bonneville, Tasting Room Sunnyside Washington
Cote Bonneville, Tasting Room Sunnyside Washington

Kerry is a wealth of information on the area and the science behind the vineyard and wine making. Kerry has an engineering degree, which she put to use with Fiat in Italy, before returning to get a degree in Viticulture and Enology and then taking over as winemaker. She is smart and intense, a woman who made her way in the male dominated engineering field.

DuBrul Vineyard

We headed to their DuBrul vineyard before things warmed up too much. The drive up to the top was a little sketchy for our Kia hybrid, but we made it. The mountains were both out (Mt Adams and Mt. Ranier) as we reached the top of the vineyard to walk through the vines.

Own rooted vines

We talked about the aspect of this vineyard, which allows them to grow so many varieties well and discussed the difference with own rooted vines.

“It’s like reading Tolstoy in Russian”.

Kerry Shiels of Côte Bonneville and DuBrul Vineyard
Dubrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels
DuBrul Vineyard with Kerry Shiels

This is certain to be a topic we hear more about and lamented over as phyloxera has been found in Washington and precautions will need to be taken. I will tell you that I find the difference in the character of the wines from own rooted stock undeniable and wonderful.

You can look forward to hearing much of our conversation in future posts. It was really a fascinating morning.

Co Dinn Cellars

We made a stop to visit Co at his tasting room at Co Dinn Cellars. Co also has a renovated historic building in Sunnyside. His winery and tasting room are in the old Water Works. It’s a gorgeous space.

  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room
  • Co dinn Cellars Tasting Room

He showed us around and took us through a tasting. We also had an amazing conversation on closures…more on that later.

We headed back to the Gorge and through Hood River then off to Hiyu on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge AVA.

Hiyu Wine Farm

Go to the website…the water colors will enchant you. I was sucked in immediately and knew that I needed to visit this place.

Hiyu is 30 acres of wine farm. There is a sense of wildness here. Nate Ready, a Master Sommelier and China Tresemer fell in love with the beauty of this region. This place is undeniably stunning, with it’s glorious views of Mt. Hood.

The idea didn’t begin with wine. They really wanted to cultivate a lifestyle. From 7 acres in 2010 it expanded to take in another 20 acres in 2015.

We arrived a bit early, and walked in to see if it was okay if we explored the property. There was a bit of chaos happening, the goats had just escaped and there was some scurrying to round them up.

Community within the staff

The farm has a staff that includes a handful of interns. Duties rotate weekly, so everyone gets to do each of the jobs. This insures that no one takes for granted the job someone else is doing. It has a little 60’s 70’s nostalgia feel to me. A little feel of a hippy commune, and I’m down for that.

  • Hiyu Beet Pairing
  • Hiyu Smockshop Band
  • Hiyu Smockshop Band
  • Hiyu Wines
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Goats
  • Hiyu Ducks
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Farm
  • Hiyu Vineyard

Gardens

The garden in front of the tasting room is an edible food forest. You will find Goji berries and rock herbs here seasonally. We headed up the hill to the garden. Wild and overgrown, the things that were complete for the season were taking their natural course, going to seed to prepare for the next season. There are flowers and herbs, annuals and perennials, artichokes, favas and cardoons.

Vineyard

From here we walked the vineyard and then up to the hill where the view of Mt. Hood is simply breath taking. Winter to spring the cows, pigs and chickens wander through the vines, grazing and fertilizing. There is an acre of pear trees left. They have a green house and make compost on site.

Falcon boxes protect the vineyard. And they have grafted field blends. They don’t hedge the vines here, allowing them to be a little more wild, and do just 1 pass with a scythe. Cinnamon is used to prevent powdery mildew.

Livestock & Animals

There are cows and guinea fowl. A 100 year old irrigation ditch feeds the pasture and gardens. We wound down by the pond and visited with the ducks and came around to the goats. Phoebe the matriarch stood on the fender of the horse trailer. They were fiesty, but contained once more.

There are hawthorn trees and over by the house there are currants. I was reminded of days as a child on mountain farms in West Virginia. Life is allowed to thrive and be wild and perhaps a bit messy.

Mt. Hood

The day ended with spectacular views of Mt. Hood. We leave you hear with a bit of spectacular nature.

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Owen Roe’s Union Gap Vineyard – A tour with David O’Reilly

Owen Roe Winery, in Yakima Valley Washington

Glasses were clinking, wines were being poured, great conversations were happening, the weather was perfect and Flavor Camp was about to begin.

Wine Yakima Valley treated those of us who attended the WBC Pre Conference tour to 2 incredible days exploring the Yakima Valley. (You can catch our overview here). This first evening was spent at Owen Roe Winery.  We managed an impromptu winery tour with Co-Owner David O’Reilly and now we were on to Flavor Camp. 

The Yakima Valley is an agricultural region and in addition to grapes for wine, they also produce apples for cider and hops for beer.  We were treated to an in-depth look at these with Flavor Camp.

You will get to hear about the Cider and Hops also, but we are about wine here, so….

David O'Reilly with Owen Roe Vineyard explained that we are about as far West in the Yakima Valley as you can go.
David O’Reilly With Owen Roe Vineyard

Vineyard Tour with David O’Reilly

We are at the Owen Roe Union Gap Vineyard in the Yakima Valley.  As we climb into the back of the all-terrain vehicle with about a dozen wine writers, David explained that we are about as far West in the Yakima Valley as you can go.

“From east to west there is not a big temperature difference.”  David tells us, but Walla Walla, where we would be going the following day, was at 30 degrees the night before, where as Yakima was at 40.  The cold air rushes down the valley.

For a bit of perspective, take a look at this Wine map of Washington State, Courtesy of Washingtonwine.org you can see Yakima about at center east/west in the state, with the cascades to the west, compared to Walla Walla to the east.

Washington AVA Photo Courtesy of washingtonwine.org
Washington AVAs Photo Courtesy of washingtonwine.org

Here on this map of the Yakima Valley courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org you can see the Union Gap Vineyard all the way west.

Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org
Map Yakima Valley 2019 courtesy of WineYakimaValley.org

This tour would take us through 3 of the distinct soil types on the vineyard and we would taste the flavor profile from each.

Missoula Flood Loess and Bordeaux varieties

We drove up the hill and stepped out at the top, into soft loose dusty soil that immediately covered my shoes. As people walked, little puffs of dust erupted in their footsteps. “Loose soil” is your clue here. This is loess.

Loess soil at Owen Roe's Union Gap Vineyard.
Loess soil at Owen Roe’s Union Gap Vineyard.

David pulls out his altimeter app to check the altitude (we all scrambled to find this app).  We were standing at 1199 feet.

Remember those Missoula Floods?

Now it’s time to talk a little soil history.  If you read our piece on Montinore, you may have some of this history! If not, you can find it here, where Rudy Marchesi explains the Missoula Floods.

This property sits at the convergence of Glacial Lake Missoula.  We would pass the Wallula Gap tomorrow as we headed to Walla Walla.  This is where the Ice dam backed up the water, eventually lifting and flooding the valley, creating the Columbia River Gorge and impacting the land and soil all the way into Oregon.

The water here in Yakima came up to about 1150 feet, so the soil we were standing on was above the glacial flood.  The soil here are silts (really fine). David pointed out the hillside where you could see the sub soils of basalt and ancient rock that are about 22 million years old.

Owen Roe 2014 Bordeaux Blend.
Owen Roe 2014 Bordeaux Blend in the vineyard

Soils here on top are shallow making it good for Bordeaux varieties.  At the top of the hill where we are standing, they grow their Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is clone 47, David tells us, a clone with small berries, this wine retains it’s fruit and has beautiful acid.  We are tasting the 2014 bordeaux Blend with is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot & Malbec blend, with Cabernet Sauvignon from this vineyard block.

In the summers, up here, the sun is up at 6 am and the soils tend to stay warm overnight.  They have less of a diurnal (day to night temperature) shift then Red Mountain.  Photosynthesis is maximized when the soil is warm so the grapes here ripen earlier and the wine is less tannic and more textural.

We strolled down the hill, creating little dust storms and ending at the block of Cabernet Franc.

Elevation, terroir and matching varieties

Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington
Owen Roe Winery in Yakima Valley Washington

David explained the planting method.   The soils that are most shallow are planted to the latest ripening grape varieties (cabernet sauvignon), the deeper soils toward the bottom of the hill are planted to merlot, which has big clusters that ripen early.  Here in the middle is where the cab franc grows, ripening later than merlot and before the cabernet sauvignon.

Cabernet Franc at Owen Roe

Owen Roe Winery, in Washington State
Owen Roe Winery, in Washington State

Cabernet Franc is a favorite of mine and of David’s it seemed.  He spoke of this ancient grape, father to cabernet sauvignon and how it likes cooler temperatures.  In hotter years it gets finicky.  This end of the Yakima Valley is about 4 degrees cooler than other sites in the valley during the day, but it stays warmer at night.  This gives the cabernet franc “gorgeous texture and keeps that perfume in the grape”.

We taste the 2015 Cabernet Franc.  This year was warmer and the cabernet franc was finicky.  They had to pluck out the green berries by hand from the bunches.  The first major heat will shut photosynthesis down.  The 2014 by comparison was very Bordeaux in style and was chunky and tannic.

Irrigation in the Yakima Valley

We noticed the irrigation drip.  Washington is extremely dry and they must irrigate here to keep the vineyard growing.  The water here comes from wells from the Ellensberg Formation Aquifer.  Due to the soil type, it tends to be slightly acidic.  The soils are basic and low in nitrogen so this is one of the nutrients they will add in the winery.  (We talk about that in our winery tour)

Drip Irrigation, a necessity when growing in the high desert conditions in the Yakima Valley
Drip Irrigation, a necessity when growing in the high desert conditions in the Yakima Valley

In so many wine regions we are trained to think of irrigation as bad and dry farming is good. That would be to stress the vines and keep those roots digging deep.  Here, with the lack of rain fall, it is necessary.

The region gets only 7 to 8 inches of precipitation each year, and the definition of a true desert is anything less than 10.

http://wineyakimavalley.org/climate/

The cherries in the valley, David tells us, use 10 times the amount of water as the vines here.

Into the glacial soils & Rhône varieties

Calcium Carbonate in the rocks at Owen Roe Vineyard.
Calcium Carbonate in the rocks at Owen Roe Vineyard.

Further down the hill we get into the glacial soils where you find calcium carbonate, the white substance we had seen above.  These glacial silts have a little deeper soil and give you rock and minerality, the wines are finer than if they were grown in loess & deeper soils, that present as more aromatic and textural.The Oldest soil type here is the Ellensburg Formation, which is old Columbia Riverbed.  This predates the Yakima River & the basalt activity.  These are actually “anti-clines” that formed through earth movement.  The upthrust that we were standing on at this point was at almost 1200 feet.  This is not glacial.  Anything lower than this was not upthrust, it was just washed away.

Ellensburg is found in high elevations.  In Walla Walla the famous Rocks AVA is all on riverbeds at the Valley Floor.

What makes this great for Grenache is that Grenache is cold sensitive, so you want it high in the vineyard so the cold air rushes down.  Sounds counter intuitive, it’s at one of the highest elevations & yet it ripens early. 

Okay…all this talk about soils and wine, are you thirsty now? Search out a bottle of Washington wine, Owen Roe if you can find it, and enjoy our video tour with David O’Reilly.

Washington Tasting room

Open Daily from 11-4 in the Yakima Valley, they do require reservations for more than 8 guests.

They also offer Barrel Room Tastings on the weekends started each day at noon. You can reserve this for a fee on their reservation page. It includes a tour, private tasting, an expanded flight and a cheese and charcuterie platter.

The Union Gap Vineyard and tasting room can be found at 309 Gangl Rd in Wapato WA 98951. 509-877-0454

Oregon Tasting Room

Again open daily from 11-4 their tasting room off Hwy 219 outside of Newberg requires reservations for more than 6 guests. You can bring snacks, or contact them ahead of time and they can have a snack plate ready.

Here they have a Cellar Table Experience that you can reserve to do a more private tasting geared toward your palate. Contact them ahead of time to set this up.

The Willamette Valley tasting room is located at 2761 E 9th St. Newberg OR 97132. 503-538-7778

More to come!

Watch for more on Yakima Valley Wine, coming out soon!

And visit our Yakima Valley Wine page on our site for more details on this great region.

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Illahe Vineyards – Stepping back to a simpler time

Illahe Vineyards, Tasting Room

Well, I suppose “simpler” is all about perspective.  They have a wine here called 1899 that they do with all the conveniences that could be had at that time.  That means no tractors, no electricity, no motorized vehicles. 

Illahe means “earth” or “place” or “soil” in the Chinook local dialect.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

We visited Illahe this past July and spent the morning with Lowell Ford, the owner and grower.  He and their Hospitality Manager Kathy took us through a tasting and a tour of the Winery and Vineyard. 

The proposed Mount Pisgah, Polk County AVA

The winery and vineyard are located in the middle part of the Willamette Valley, West of Salem near Dallas Oregon.  This area is part of the overarching Willamette Valley AVA and Illahe winemaker Brad Ford (Lowell’s son) has started the process of creating a Mount Pisgah, Polk County AVA. 

The AVA covers 5,850 acres, 15 miles west of Salem and home to 10 commercial vineyards, including Freedom Hill, and two bonded wineries: Amalie Roberts Estate and Illahe Vineyards. Mount Pisgah, named by settlers in the 1800s in honor of a hill back home in Missouri, has 531 acres of vines — mostly Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay — planted from 260 to 835 feet in elevation.

https://www.oregonwinepress.com/gaining-ground

The Vineyards at Illahe

Grape Varieties

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

While the Primary focus here is Pinot Noir, they have planted Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner, Tempranillo, Viognier and then small bits of Lagrein, Schioppettino and Teroldego.

Sustainability

The vineyard is LIVE-certified and they take pride in working by hand.  They are using native flowers as cover crops, which is good for the soil and makes for stunning vineyard shots.

The winery is built on the hill and is set up to be gravity flow. They also use solar power.

The site and soils

The site is south-facing with spectacular views from their patio in front of the winery.  Their elevation here ranges from 250-440 feet.  They get earlier budbreak and a bit of the Van Duzer Winds. On Mount Pisgah they get a little less of the extreme temps and winds than those vineyards in the proposed Van Duzer Corridor.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

Soils here are Willakenzie sedimentary clay (Bellpine, Dupee, Wellsdale) with sections of volcanic Jory soil.

They use some Acacia barrels here, and the winery was designed for it’s roof to make you feel as if you are inside a barrel.

The 1899 Pinot Noir

Without electricity for their 1899, they revert to bicycle power to do pump overs.  Everything here is done by hand.  The Percheron’s plow the fields, the harvest is by hand, the bottling, labeling etc.  Then they have a carriage take the wine to the river and there is a two day canoe trip north and then they bicycle the wine to market.  Yep… maybe not “simpler” right.  But worth the effort.

Illahe Vineyard
Illahe Vineyard

To visit Illahe

You can look forward to a journey through the winery and into the cellar with Lowell coming up.  In the meantime if you want to visit them To schedule an appointment email Kathy: [email protected] or call 503-831-1248.

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Crushed Grapes & Open Minds – The Event

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds

an interactive experience

Last August we held an event entitled “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds”. My friend RuBen with Act2Art by RuBen is an accomplished artist and created some works specifically for this event. The idea connected scent memory and art, both in the creation of the pieces and peoples reactions to them.

We chose 5 wines, a Champagne (A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru), a Sauvignon Blanc (Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand) a Syrah (Carhartt 2013 Estate Syrah Santa Barbara), 2 Zinfandels (Tobin James 2010 Fat Boy & French Camp Zin) and a Dessert wine (Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 2010)

There was a station for each wine, with a pairing, aroma jars, the wine and of course the associated work of art. Cards to explain the pairings were located at each station.

Individuals bring their personal experiences and memories as they interpret a work of art. Scent memories are similar, an aroma can trigger a very personal memory. Mixing the two and stirring in a little wine and good food can make for a powerful experience.

We asked guests to smell the aroma jars, taste the wine, and look at the art, then jot down a word, a phrase or a memory that came to them.

A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru

 

We chose this Champagne for the bread on the nose. When we were sampling Champagnes, Cremants and Sparkling wines, we dipped our nose in this glass and got hamburger buns. Yep, hamburger buns. That yeasty smell of bread came across in a very approachable way that we thought would make this wine less intimidating for those new to finding aromas in wine, so it made a great start. This Champagne is mostly Pinot Noir so you also get berries on the nose and so there were scent jars of hamburger buns and berries for people to smell. For a food pairing we matched it with Salty potato chips. The salt and fat are a perfect pairing, the salt making you crave another sip of the champagne and the champagne’s bubbles and acid clean the fat off of your palate after each bite, making every bit as delicious as the first.

 

The Art – Champagne

Champagne Painting by Act2Art

Champagne

Some of the responses to this piece:  “A perfect first date” “Crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon” “Happy – like a picnic at an apple orchard” “Fields of dandelions – fresh grass” “A beautiful sun shower in late April or Early May”

 

 

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds w/ Crushed Grape Chronicles.com

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc w/ Crushed Grape Chronicles.com

We had a bunch of Sav Blancs to choose from, but the nose on this one was just captivating! This wine, is not fancy, you can find it in your local grocery store. We had jars of lime, grapefruit, cut grass, stone fruit, and lemongrass and everyone found something different in the wine. We paired this with Guacamole and chips. The avocado is fatty which is nice with the acid in the wine and goes well with the lime and fresh greenness of the wine.

 

The Art – Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc Painting by Act2Art Ruben Permel

Sauvignon Blanc Painting by Act2Art Ruben Permel

“Blowing out candles on your birthday cake” “Very content and peaceful – smells like our smoothie day” “Blood splatter on the grass from when I split my lip” (I love this childhood memory)

 

Carhartt 2013 Estate Syrah Santa Barbara

We love the wines from this Winery and Syrah from Santa Barbara is almost always wonderful. These are the same “Carhartts” that make the work clothes. They owned a cattle farm in Santa Barbara that Mike Carhartt turned into a vineyard. His wife Brooke and their son Chase now make the wines and they have my favorite tasting room on the planet in Los Olivos.

Carhartt Syrah at Crushed Grapes & Open Minds

Carhartt Syrah

This wine has quite a bit going on with aromas of Black berries, dirt, allspice, tobacco, vanilla bean and beef jerky and we had scent jars with all of these. As to a pairing? Well there is a pig on the label, so bacon was the perfect pairing.

 

The Art – Syrah

Carhartt Syrah Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

Carhartt Syrah Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

“The calm after a winter storm – perfect tranquility” Dark – cosmos – blanketing” “Thirsty – the kind of thirst when flying” “A very tempestuous sunset”

 

Tobin James 2010 Fat Boy and French Camp Zinfandels

Tobin James Zin at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Tobin James Zin at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

We were members of Tobin James for a while and pulled these two older Zinfandels from the cellar to try. Tobin James is in Paso Robles California and their wines tend to be pretty big. The aromas on these were earth, pepper, fruit jam, leather and chocolate. We paired them with chocolate fountain mini cup cakes from Retro Bakery.

 

The Art – Zin

Zinfandel Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

Zinfandel Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

“Making a picnic lunch for the family” “Costy – like a warm blanket wrapped around me during the winter” “tobacco warmth – a little earthy – comfortable”

 

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 2010

Chateau Megyer Tokaji at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Chateau Megyer Tokaji at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Tokaj is an area in Hungary and this wine is made from a grape called “furmint”. This is a wine made through “noble rot” or “botrytis cinerea” a fungus that shrivels the grapes like raisins. The raisins are then made into a paste which is added to a dry base wine. This is a sweet wine with citrus, apricot and honey on the nose. We paired it with Brie and Comte cheese.

 

The Art – Tokaji

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Painting by Act2ARt.com Ruben Permel

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Painting by Act2ARt.com Ruben Permel

“Oceanside Cliffs on a summer evening” “My first visit to Montreal – wonder and excitement – Christmas eve” “Tending to my fathers garden”

 

In addition to the wine stations, there was more to eat with a table filled with delicious things with notes to suggest pairings to try with the wine as well as more of RuBen’s beautiful art around the space.

Perfect pairings with wine at Crushed Grapes Open Minds Event

Perfect pairings with wine at Crushed Grapes Open Minds Event

This was an evening of exploration, discovery and animated conversations.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on wine and the people behind the wines!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

To have an evening like this created for you, contact 42Aspens Productions at…. 702.463.4242

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Fish tacos and wine?

Fish taco with cod, avocado and slaw

I was searching for an easy dinner and wine pairing, and I got a hankerin’ for fish tacos.  And where do I go to find a wine pairing for fish tacos?  The first place that came to mind was Wine Folly.  Madeline Puckette always has great easy wine advice that is clear and fun.  Recently I came across an article where she paired 2015 food trends with wines.  So I searched it out and found a pairing suggestion for fish tacos.

Madeline suggested pairing with a Sauvignon Blanc or if you wanted to take it a little further, with a Gruner Veltliner or a Verdejo from Spain.

The Wine

So off I went to find the Gruner and Verdejo and see which I liked better with fish tacos.  I ended up with a 2013 Gruner Veltliner from Winzer Krems in Austria and a 2013 Palma Real Rueda Verdejo from Spain.  And…these didn’t break the bank, coming in at around $14 each.

Gruner Veltliner and Rueda Verdejo

Gruner Veltliner and Rueda Verdejo

The Fish Tacos

Now on to the fish tacos. I found a recipe and then ad libbed with it.  I picked up some cod, cut it into strips and marinated it in oil, lime juice, lime zest and garlic.  It marinated for about 1/2 hour and there are two things I would do differently next time.  First, I would marinate longer, overnight I think would be great.  Second, I used coconut oil which congealed as it marinated.  In the future I would use organic canola (which I couldn’t find at the store that day).  While that was marinating I made a slaw.  Honey, vinegar and olive oil whisked together and then drop in some slaw blend.  Mine had carrots, purple cabbage, green cabbage and broccoli stems.  If you are making this same day you can leave it on the counter, or you can make it ahead and throw it in the fridge overnight.  Heat your oven to 350 degrees, put the fish on a sheet pan on parchment and wrap your tortillas in foil (or in a damp towel on a plate, which is what I like to do) and toss them in for 8 to 10 min.

lime marinated cod

Cod marinating in Lime Juice & zest, oil & salt

sweet and tangy slaw

Red & Green Cabbage, carrot and broccoli stem slaw with honey, oil and vinegar dressing

When you pull them out, put a piece of fish on the tortilla, top with a sauce if av0cado and finish with the slaw. Voila!  Fish Taco!

I did a rice with cilantro, lime juice and a little butter on the side and some chips and salsa.

Both wines went well.  The Gruner had a little more sweetness and was a little rounder with the fish tacos, where as the Verdejo had a little more pronounced acid.

Fish taco with cod, avocado and slaw

Fish taco with cod, avocado and slaw

Regardless, it was a tasty and fairly quick dinner with a happy pairing.  This is quick and easy to cook at home, but….keep in mind, fish tacos are a great food truck find.  So stash a bottle of Gruner or Verdejo and the next time you see a fish taco food truck, pick up and few and dash home to try the pairing yourself!

Sta. Rita Hills, the Burgundy of Santa Barbara

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

Vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills as viewed from Hilliard Bruce

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

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

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

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

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

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

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

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Take a trip up Happy Canyon”

Grassini Family Vineyard in Happy Canyon courtesy of Grassini Family
Westerly Vineyard Courtesy of SB Vintners

Westerly Vineyard
Photo Courtesy of SB Vintners

“Take a trip up Happy Canyon”  Yep, that’s how Happy Canyon got it’s name.  It was the place to sneak off to find a simple alcoholic beverage during Prohibition to “get Happy”, and the name stuck.

This AVA was established in 2009 and is the fourth to be established in Santa Barbara County.  It is on the eastern edge of the Santa Barbara region and being the furthest inland and warmest (average summer temps in the low nineties) it lends itself to Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah.

The soil here has a high mineral level and is loam and clay loam.  The lack of nutrients in the soil creates smaller vines with lower yields.

Happy Canyon AVA

Happy Canyon AVA

The AVA itself covers 23,941 acres and includes 6 major vineyards:  Crown Point, Dascomb, Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards, Grassini Family Vineyards, Happy Canyon Vineyard and Westerly. This is the easternmost part of the Santa Ynez Valley and sits Northwest of Lake Cachuma.

The first planting was done in 1996 with the first vintage here in 2001.  The fruit here is limited but produce complexity and depth.  You get natural acidity as well as ripe fruit flavors creating balance.

So the alcoholic beverages from Happy Canyon are no longer simple as they were in the day when it got it’s name.  Now you will find complex and expressive wines.  Feel free to take a drive through the beautiful area and see the vineyards, but unfortunately, you will not find any tasting rooms here.  Never fear!  Many of these wineries have tasting rooms conveniently located in downtown Santa Barbara, Solvang or Sta. Rita Hills.

Grassini Tasting Room, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Tasting Room, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

You can find Grassini Family Vineyards beautiful tasting room in Downtown Santa Barbara. Dascomb has a tasting room in Solvang.  Star Lane has it’s vineyards in Happy Canyon.  It’s sister Vineyard is Dierberg and you can taste Star Lane wines at their tasting room on their Sta. Rita Hills property on Drum Canyon Road.

 

As to the rest?  Well…the Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have them all available for tasting!  Or you can spoil yourself and plan to attend the Grassini Family Dinner Event with 6 wineries including Grassini, Sea Smoke, Margerum, Dierberg Estate, Kaena, Fiddlehead and Andrew Murray.

Grassini Family Vineyard Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Family Vineyard, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

They have an incredible event planned for after the Grand Tasting on Saturday night with Dinner lakeside under the oaks out on their Happy Canyon Vineyard.  They will have passed hors d’oeuvres and a four-course meal and of course, wine!

Find out all the details about the Vintner’s weekend at http://www.sbvintnersweekend.com 

Grassini Family Vineyard Pond Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Family Vineyard Pond, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

 

Or visit Santa Barbara Vintners for information on things happening year round in Santa Barbara’s Wine Country.

Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County’s 1st AVA

Early morning fog in Foxen Canyon

Santa Maria Valley is the northernmost appellation in Santa Barbara County.  The average temperature here is 64 degrees.  The area is bounded on the north by the San Rafael Mountains and on the south by the Solomon Hills.  They get early bud break here and then a long ripening season with an average of 125 days from bloom to harvest.  The maritime fog keeps things cool here from sunset until about 10 am.  This AVA boasts Nielson Vineyard, the oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County that was planted in 1964.

The View from Zaca Mesa when the morning fog clears

The View from Zaca Mesa when the morning fog clears

The Santa Maria AVA was the 3rd established AVA in the United States. We think of this Santa Barbara region as being so new.  But truly AVA’s are new.  The Santa Maria Valley AVA was established in September of 1981.  To give a little perspective here, the first US AVA was established in June of 1980.  (And crazily enough that 1st AVA was in Augusta, Missouri!)  If you are like me, you won’t be able to read any further until you know where the 2nd US AVA hailed from…so….I did the research and it is the Napa Valley AVA which was established in February of 1981, just a scant 7 months  (or actually 6 and a quarter months) before the Santa Maria Valley AVA.  Are you still curious…you can find this info at The Wine Institute (http://www.iwineinstitute.com/avabydate.asp).  Feel free to search for AVA establishment dates to your hearts content.

There has been a massive replanting of the Santa Maria vineyards in recent years to varieties that are more suited to the climate and soil.  You will find lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here due to the climate, but you will find many vineyards expanding into cool climate Syrah as well as other Rhone varieties.

The Santa Maria AVA encompasses some incredible vineyards like Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, Julia’s Vineyard and Foxen Estate Vineyard.  As to Wineries… here you will find Cambria, Kenneth Volk, Riverbench and Tres Hermanas.  Fine wineries such at Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido, Byron, Qupe, Solomon Hills and others feature wines from Santa Maria.

To enjoy this area take a look at the Santa Maria Valley & Los Alamos Wine Trail that is listed on the Santa Barbara Vintners site  http://www.sbcountywines.com/tasting-routes.html#smv

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Windmill on Saarloos & Son’s Windmill Ranch Vineyard

To fully experience this area I suggest that you start at the Saarloos and Sons Windmill Ranch Vineyard.  (Update…okay I made an assumption, because of the windmill, but clearly if you read the sign on the windmill, you will see that this is actually the El Camino Real Vineyard)  You can’t miss the landmark windmill if you are driving on the 101.  This is just their vineyard, you will have to head back into Los Olivos to do a tasting with them.  From here take Zaca Station Road out into the vineyards.  First on your drive you will pass Firestone (yes from the tire company).  They have a vineyard, winery and a brewing company.

Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard

Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard

Further ahead is Fess Parker (yes, Daniel Boone from the TV series)  Their winery is out here, but they also have a tasting room and Inn in downtown Los Olivos.  A little further on is Zaca Mesa.

The Patio at Zaca Mesa

The Patio at Zaca Mesa

This place really got things going out here.  Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Linquist of Qupe both started out working here.  The property is lovely especially if you get there early and can watch the marine layer roll through from Vandenberg AFB, and then stay long enough to enjoy the views that it was hiding once it burns off.  The wines….I love their Rhones.  And on weekends they often have lunch available on the patio.  This place is really welcoming and….they have great trees.

 

Foxen  7600 - the Pinot House

Foxen 7600 – the Pinot House

A little further on you will come to Foxen.  Now you can go into the Pinot House at 7600.  It’s shiny and pretty and nice.  But I prefer stopping a little past there at “The Shack” .  This is their original tasting room and it is rustic and fabulous.  You look out the door onto the hills as you are tasting and often the girls in the tasting room will point out the resident mountain lion who hunts on the ridge.  The Shack pours their Bordeaux & Cal-Ital-style wines.  at 7600 you will find Pinots, Chardonnays and Rhone Blends.

Riverbench's tasting room a 1920's Craftsman style house

Riverbench’s tasting room a 1920’s Craftsman style house

Continue north and you will come to the cluster of River Bench, Cambria and Kenneth Volk.  I will give a shout out here to Kenneth Volk.  I have not been to this tasting room, but did taste at the tasting room with Lone Madrone in Paso Robles.

Kenneth Volk's old Paso tasting room

Kenneth Volk’s old Paso tasting room

He is another wine legend.  He was the winemaker at Wild Horse and now has his own winery where he gets to play.  He does Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Maria and Bordeaux varieties from Paso Robles and then… he does Heirloom Wines.  This are rare varieties like Malvasia, Trousseau, Negrette, Touriga Nacional, Blaufrankish, Verdelho and Albarino.  This is a great place to go and explore varieties you may not have tried before.

Closer to Santa Maria you will find Cottonwood and Presqu’ile.  I have tasted at the old Presqu’ile tasting room in Los Olivos and look forward to an opportunity to see their beautiful winery!

Presqu'ile old Los Olivos tasting room

Presqu’ile old Los Olivos tasting room

And I know that I have skipped a few in here.  What can I say, I have more exploring to do myself.  This is a beautiful drive.  Start early and revel in the fog!

If you are heading up for the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend April 10-13 you can stop by Zaca Mesa on Saturday the 12th for a Hike with your Dog & Picnic with their winemaker!  In addition Chef John will be offering BBQ Steak Sandwiches all day, so if you are hunger before or after the Grand Tasting…. Also on Saturday night Foxen will hold their Spring Dinner at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Cottonwood Canyon will have a Cook Your Own event.  They have the venue the music and the wine, you just bring something to grill and a side to share!

Early morning fog in Foxen Canyon

Early morning fog in Foxen Canyon

On Sunday Au Bon Climat & Qupe will have their Semi-Annual Spring Open House with a myriad of wines from  Au Bon Climat, Clendenen Family Wines, Qupe, Verdad, Ici La-Bas….and more and a luncheon prepared by Jim Clendenen.  Now how can you pass that up!  Of course you will need to squeeze this in around the Farm-to-Table Picnic and Concert with Jamestown Revival at the Fess Parker Winery.  So much to do….so little time.

Head to Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend for all the details!

Wine and containers…drinking wine at bin702 at the Downtown Container Park

While it’s January, we are having spring-time temps in Vegas.  Well at least that’s what Michael tells me, I’m still usually freezing. None the less we set out into the 63 degree and sunny weather early this afternoon to try a little wine at the Downtown Container Park.  We had been down a couple months ago to wander around and check it out and thought today was a good chance to head back down and visit Bin702 the wine bar.

As we got to the container park, there were people going in, the park was busy and while not crowded, it  felt comfortable.  Lots of the tables around the park were filled with people enjoying a bite to eat, a cocktail or coffee.  The grassy area in front of the stage was covered in strollers, kids and parents relaxing and enjoying the day.

A view of the bar from the patio at bin702

A view of the bar from the patio at bin702

We headed over to Bin702 were there were a couple of outside tables with people and a few filled tables inside.  It’s a container, so it’s not really big.  The decor is dark woods and warm and while it was lovely, we opted to head back outside.  We each ordered a glass of wine and a sandwich.  The menu is small but covers everything you would need, with a variety of sandwiches, paninis and salads, as well as charcuterie platters.

They have 12 different wines by the glass, 3 different sparklers, a couple of “good” beers on tap as well as around 16 beers or ales bottled or canned that run the gamut from Bud Light to couple really nice

The staff here is great!  I did my usual of choosing what I wanted to eat and asking for pairing suggestions.  No deer in headlights here!  She recommended two wines and told me what she thought they would bring to the dish (I love that!).

Inside the container at bin702

Inside the container at bin702

As we chose to sit outside, they rang us up and poured the wine into plastic cups (no glass out by the park!) and promised to bring our sandwiches out when they were ready.  The sandwiches came with a great side salad.  Michael got a lobster salad sandwich with a glass of Pinot Grigio from Sicily and I has the Grilled Harvarti on Brioche with an Albarino from Edna Valley California.  We mixed and matched and Michael found he liked his lobster better with my Albarino.

All in all it was a beautiful afternoon and a relaxing meal OUTSIDE IN JANUARY!  I mean, what’s not to love!

We were here early between 2:30 and 4:00, but if you show up a little later you can enjoy Live bands at the container park that begin at 5pm every night but Wednesday.  and on the weekends there are multiple events, with one or two daytime concerts, an evening band and then something later (8:00 or 9:30).

This place has good energy, head to downtown Vegas and check it out.

bin702 at the Downtown Container Park

bin702 at the Downtown Container Park

A harvest vineyard walk at Tablas Creek Vineyards

Tablas Creek Wine Walk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A day in Los Olivos.

Los Olivos Carhartt Tasting Room Santa Barbara County

Day two of our trip will be in Los Olivos.   We are hoping to get some great sunrise shots probably near the Saarloos and Sons vineyards and up into Foxen Canyon to shoot the Vandenberg fog.

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

Later we will do a cupcake pairing at Saarloos and SonsEnjoy Cupcakes is located in the Saarloos and Sons tasting room and they have cupcakes available for sale or pairings Thursdays thru Sundays.  With flavors like Chocolate Blackberry Syrah and Brown Butter Cowboy Cookie Dough, how can you go wrong?  On top of that you have the Saarloos and Sons wines.  I look forward to trying the latest vintage of Brielle that he makes with his daughter of the same name who just started 3rd grade.  This budding young winemaker is in control of the Sauvignon Blanc and decides when they are ready to harvest.  As the Sav Blanc is the first thing to harvest, she gets to kick off the whole season.  This place is all about family and making great wine to enjoy with family and friends.

We hope to make a stop out to Buttonwood and maybe get to meet their winemaker Karen Steinwachs.  Buttonwood Farm was founded in the 60’s by Betty Williams to be a working farm based on practices that were good for people, animals and the earth.  In 1983 they began planting vines and now they work as a winery and a farm with a Farm stand open in the summer.  This is a place that was designed early for sustainability.  Karen worked at Foley and Fiddlehead before coming to Buttonwood.  I look forward to a great discussion on sustainability and how the farms thoughts on this have changed or adapted since the 1960’s.

Alta Maria

Alta Maria

I have a list of other tasting rooms I would like to visit including Alta Maria where James Ontiveros and Paul Wilkins are making wines inspired by old world France.  James is the descendent of Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, drove cattle across the Santa Maria River back in 1855, so there is a bit of history with his family here.  Their artwork on the label features hand-hewn iron nails.  This is the type that homesteaders used before the Industrial Revolution and it makes for stunning artwork.

Others on the list include: Andrew Murray, Byron, Stolpman, Dragonette, Consilience, Epiphany for their new tasting room, Fess Parker, Lincourt, Blackjack Ranch, Fontes & Phillips, Rideau & Presqu’ile.  There is never enough time to get to all the wineries in this area that we want to see.

Blair Fox Cellars ?…well if they happen to be open, I will find a way to stop in. They are typically only open on Fridays and Saturdays, but who knows, maybe I will get lucky.

Richard Longoria Wines

Richard Longoria Wines

And, I don’t see myself leaving without a stop at Longoria to see if there is any Lovely Rita left this year (there fantastic Pinot Noir), as well as a stop at the smallest tasting room on the planet (as well as one of my favorite places on the planet) Carhartt.  I never cease to be amazed by the incredible aromas that Brook gets in her wines.  I could smell them forever and possibly dab some behind each ear!

Dinner is planned at Avant with a possible breakfast or lunch stop at Succulent in Solvang.  So many places and so little time.

Next stop Paso Robles!

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