Illahe – flowers, deep roots, happy cows and birds…oh and wine grapes.

Illahe Vineyards Patio Panorama

We made the drive toward the southern part of the Willamette Valley to visit Illahe.  (ILL-a-he)  We were staying in Newburg and took the opportunity to get up early and drive south through the Eola-Amity Hills and then down to Salem.  In Salem we made a stop along the Willamette River at Minto-Brown Island Park for a little morning hiking and to see the river.  We headed back across the river and along Rt. 22 to Rickreall and then south and west to Illahe Vineyards.  This area is Southwest of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.  The area has a proposal in to become a new AVA which would be the Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA.  Illahe is one of nine vineyards that would be located in this new AVA.

This is part 2 in our series (the folks at Illahe were kind enough to spend the whole morning with us!). Check out part one with an audio recording here.

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room

After a bit of tasting with Vineyard Owner Lowell Ford and tasting room manager Kathy, Lowell took us out front to the patio that overlooks the vineyard.

The view is wide and bucolic.  Lowell first planted back in 2001 with 22 acres of Pinot Noir.  The vineyard is now 60 acres of the 80-acre slope and includes 7 varieties.  They also grow estate fruit on the 120-acre family vineyard at Glenn Creek which is back near Salem.

This vineyard is planted south facing for heat with rows planted north to south.  There is one small exception where the vineyard was very steep, and the rows could not run north south for safety reasons.

Native flowers

Illahe Vineyard-Flora
Illahe Vineyard-Flora

One thing we noticed on our drive in and from our vantage point looking down on the vineyard was the bright pops of color from flowers in the vineyard.  They have planted baby blue eyes, which by the time we visited were a bright pink/purple color.  They worked with the soil and conservation district and have planted every other row to a different cover crop of flowers.  The idea is to return the area to the native savannah that it was before the European settlers arrived with native species. There are poppies, which sadly only a few were in still in bloom when we visited and 5 or 6 other varieties of flowers in a 2.5-acre spot in the vineyard.  As you look out, you see some areas with more color where they planted these cover crop flowers more densely to help combat erosion.  Eventually they would like to use this practice throughout the entire vineyard.

The Pros and cons

The bad news first…many of these flowers grow very tall which creates issues for the vineyard workers and trouble with mowing.

On the plus side, these plants de-vigor the vines, causing them to pull back on their green growth.

Water in the Vineyard and the Deep Roots Coalition

They, like most vineyards began with irrigation, as young vines, especially in the first three years need a little extra help as they establish their root system.  They have since joined the Deep Roots Coalition.   The organization believes that when you don’t irrigate, the roots dig deeper, giving you a truer expression of the terroir. 

Deep Roots Coalition is based out of nearby Salem and includes 26 vineyards in the Willamette Valley.  Their group looks to make terroir driven wines from sustainable agriculture.  Dry farming accomplishes both of these things.

We promote sustainable and terroir-driven viticulture without irrigation.

Wine should reflect the place from which it emanates: its terroir. Irrigation prevents the true expression of terroir. In most cases, irrigation is not a sustainable method of farming. The members of drc, winemakers and vineyard growers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, are committed to producing world-class wines solely from dry-farmed vines.

From the http://www.deeprootscoalition.org/

I asked Lowell if there was a water table that the roots could be heading toward.  There is he told me “about 12-15 feet down”.  With the Willakenzie soil they have a dense black clay from the Missoula floods that is very hard.  As they were putting in the vineyard, they had to tile a section as there was water coming out from a hole in the side of the hill creating a mud hole.

Mostly Pinot Noir

Most of the grapes planted here are Pinot Noir, with the Lion’s share going to the very popular Estate Pinot Noir. They also have 3 other Pinots their Bon Savage from the lower blocks, the Percheron and the 1899.

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Bottle Shots
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Bottle Shots

Other varieties

As we looked over the vineyard, Lowell pointed out a section of two rows that was shorter and lighter in color than the rest. This is the Schioppettino that was planted down in what he calls “Little Italy”, where they also grow Lagrein, and Teraldego. 

Side note: Schioppettino is the word for “gunshot” in Italian.  This wine is often dry with black cherry and spicy, sharp black pepper.

In addition, they have 15 rows of Grüner Veltliner, plus some Pinot Gris, Viognier and some Tempranillo that they make into a rosé.

Happy Cows

We looked out and could see a tractor moving.  David, their neighbor was out feeding his cattle and while he was over a quarter mile away, you could clearly hear the tractor.  This prompted Lowell to share with us a story about the cattle.  Early on as they started making wine, they were looking for a way to use the pomace (the grape skins and seeds that are left after the wine has been pressed).  As a natural product he and David thought they could feed it to the cows!  Lowell took a truck load over to dump near the shed and noticed the cows got aggressive, jumping up and shoving each other out of the way.

David called later to say the cows were drunk and they were not good drunks.  They now blend the pomace with hay, which keeps the cows happy with less of a buzz, since they obviously can’t hold their liquor!

The Bird issue

We saw raptors, northern harriers and white-tailed kites. Oregon is home to many raptors. Lowell enjoys seeing these birds who often cause starlings to disappear in a big puff.  I might sound cruel, but starlings can wreak havoc on a vineyard. There have been years when starlings appeared as a huge cloud migrating from Alaska.  During harvest propane cannons which cause periodic explosive bursts that will scare the piss out of you and squawkers, which are recordings of birds in distress are used to keep the birds away, so they don’t eat all the fruit.  Lowell says each of these techniques works for about 2 weeks until the birds catch on.  Robins (not me!) can be an issue also. Luckily for him, the last four years the birds have been less of a problem.

From here we headed back into the winery, to fill our glasses again and talk about the wine making techniques.

How to find them!

Illahe Vineyards is located at 3275 Ballard Rd, Dallas, OR 97338.

Give Kathy a call for an appointment at 503-831-1248 or drop her an email at [email protected].

Tastings are $25 per person and are waived with a $100 purchase.

While they don’t serve food, they have a lovely patio with tables overlooking the vineyard, where you can bring your own lunch and enjoy the view.

Want to know more?

We did a quick primer on the winery ” Illahe Vineyards – stepping back to a simpler time” as well as a tasting and pairing with their Gruner Veltliner.

We will also be back with a tour through the winery, the vineyard and cave as well as a discussion with Lowell on their 1899 Pinot Noir project.

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

Crushed Grape Chronicles & a visit to Illahe Vineyards

Illahe Vineyard

We made the drive toward the southern part of the Willamette Valley to visit Illahe.  (ILL-a-he)  We were staying in Newburg and took the opportunity to get up early and drive south through the Eola-Amity Hills and then down to Salem.  In Salem we made a stop along the Willamette River at Minto-Brown Island Park for a little morning hiking and to see the river.  We headed back across the river and along Rt. 22 to Rickreall and then south and west to Illahe Vineyards.  This area is Southwest of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. 

The area has a proposal in to become a new AVA which would be the Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA.  Illahe is one of nine vineyards that would be located in this new AVA. We talked with Kathy Greysmith, until Lowell Ford the owner and grape grower arrived and then we had a conversation about how things got started and some of the reasons for their philosophy and direction they chose with their Winery. This is the primer for the next 4 Video’s. Geek out with us.

Take a listen as we talk with Kathy Greysmith and Lowell Ford, discussing Illahe Wines.

A Family Affair – a few people and alot of hats

Illahe is a small family based winery.  Lowell Ford is the owner and grape grower along with his wife Pauline, his son Brad is the winemaker and Brad’s wife, Bethany, deals with the marketing and National Sales, so it really is a family affair.  They have an Associate Winemaker, Nathan and Cellar Master Howard and then Kathy. Kathy Greysmith, who was our contact, is their tasting room manager and deals with sales, membership and whatever other office work comes up.  They all wear many hats.  There It’s a labor of love that makes for some great wine.

Soil types here are different from Dundee, side by side tastings will tell you that.  The climate is a little different also as they are further south. The terroir expresses itself in those differences.  When they initially planted, they took the time to experiment in the vineyard, to see what would do best. 

Illahe Grüner Veltliner

One of their early experimentation was with Grüner Veltliner and many of the different whites from Germany to see how they did. The Grüner was the star of the bunch.

Grüner Veltliner is mostly grown in Austria, they think of it as an “autochthonous” grape in the region. (that’s a big old technical term for grapes that are almost exclusively the result of a mutation or cross breeding in a specific area, that also have a long history in that area).  It is thought to be a crossing between Traminer and possibly St. Georgen, both grapes that are indigenous to Austria. While most believe it expresses itself best in Austria, I can tell you that it is creating beautiful wine here at Illahe in Oregon. 

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Acacia Barrels
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Acacia Barrel

The wine gives you crisp apple, stone fruit and then some herbal qualities from being partially fermented in acacia barrels. It, like all their white wines is a very reasonable $19 per bottle and you can find it here.

Back in the fall we asked Brad for a winter pairing with this wine and he suggested a Soupe aux choux (cabbage soup) You can read about that pairing with the link below.

Hedging bets on Climate Change with other varieties

They also planted Lagrein, Teraldego and Schioppettino wines from the base of the alps in Italy.  All three are growing well in their “little Italy” block.  They felt it important to experiment and will likely continue.  With Climate change you can’t move the vineyard, so you have to hedge your bets and look to varietals that may do better as the conditions in the vineyard change.

We have heard this before.  If you read our piece on Montinore, you will know that they are also growing Lagrein and Teraldego.  Experimenting with these Italian varieties for much the same reason.  We spoke with Rudy Marchesi about this at the end of our Barrel Tasting with him at Montinore.

Pushing the envelope – trying new things

Brad is creative.  He wants to try new things.  This is how the 1899 came about, their wine made using the technology that would have been available in 1899.  (More on that later).  They have 6 different clones of Pinot Noir as well as Pinot Grigio (clone VCR5) sourced from the base of the Alps.  (As we talked, we tasted the 2017 Pinot Gris).  50% of the Pinot Gris was made it what Kathy calls the Hobbit Barrel (Lowell tells the story at around 4:30 in about how they came to have this barrel.)

Barrel Illahe for Pinot Gris with Kathy and Lowell
The Hobbit Barrel as Kathy calls it at Illahe.

We talk about their Tempranillo Rose which sells out annually.  We only get to talk about it, we don’t get to taste it. Released on Valentines Day, it sells out by Memorial Day.  Every year they increase their production, and every year they still sell out by Memorial Day.

On to the Pinot Noirs

Lowell had planned to be a grower. He thought he would have a vineyard not a winery.  He would grow the grapes and in the off season he and his wife would travel.  Brad changed all that.  But…at least he did it wisely.

As they planted the vineyard, every tenth row, every 20th plant, Brad kept detailed records on for 3 years. This included pruning, weights, brix, blossom time…very detailed.  They found the sweet spots in the vineyard.  The Percheron block…that was the sweet spot. This block also happened to be next to where originally Lowell had planted his riesling.   So, sadly the Riesling made way for the Pinot Noir. This block is typically their earliest ripening.  You will find clones 777, Wadenswil 2 and Swan.

Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, Bottle Shots
Illahe Vineyard Tasting room, the Pinot Noirs

Continue with us as we head out front to view the vineyard and talk about some of the growing practices.

Illahe Vineyards is located at 3275 Ballard Rd, Dallas, OR 97338.

Give Kathy a call for an appointment at 503-831-1248 or drop her an email at [email protected].

Tastings are $25 per person and are waived with a $100 purchase.

While they don’t serve food, they have a lovely patio with tables overlooking the vineyard, where you can bring your own lunch and enjoy the view.

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

Fabulous French Biodynamic Wines and some Exquisite Pairings #Winophiles

Livienière 2011 Les Planels a biodynamic French Wine

biodynamic

adjective

bio·​dy·​nam·​ic | \ˌbī-(ˌ)ō-di-ˈna-mik,

Definition of biodynamic 

1 : of or relating to a system of farming that follows a sustainable, holistic approach which uses only organic, usually locally-sourced materials for fertilizing and soil conditioning, views the farm as a closed, diversified ecosystem, and often bases farming activities on lunar cycles Followers of biodynamic viticulture not only abstain from the use of chemicals, but also take a more holistic approach, viewing their environment—the soil, plants and animals—as a working unity that should be as self-sustaining as possible.— Alison Napjus biodynamic practices

2 : grown by or utilizing biodynamic farming biodynamic vegetables a biodynamic vineyard

Merriam Webster definition https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/biodynamic

Biodynamics and me

I grew up with a Mother Earth News on the coffee table, the Farmers Almanac from my dad’s shelf was referred to for the garden.  I do Yoga and believe in chakras.  You will find a stone or crystal in my pocket most days and essential oils in my drawer.  I have a dear friend who has a house in Hawaii, she and a friend put out gifts for Pele during the last expansion of Kilauea and I am sure that it protected her home.  Yet somehow, when I speak with winemakers or vineyard owners about biodynamics, the skeptic comes out in me.  I will talk with them about how it is probably the attention to detail in the vineyard that causes the results to be so good.  And they ARE good, of that I am sure. 

Michael and I had a discussion about this recently.  I value his perspective, as he tends to be analytical with these things.  We talked about the preparations, with cow manure in a cow horn buried in the ground.  Sounds like a “potion” right?  But you are creating something with the biology in the ground, the micro-organisms on the site.  That’s science.  We discussed the leaf days, which I have been really hesitant to buy into, but they are based on moon cycles.  I’m a woman, I believe in moon cycles.  Again…there is some science behind it.

Finally we came around to the founder, Rudolph Steiner, and I think I found my answer.  I don’t have enough depth of knowledge on him and I am skeptical of one guy coming up with all the answers.  (ie, I love Bikram Yoga. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of this style yoga…not so much)

What I will tell you, is that I have yet to meet a biodynamic wine that I didn’t like,  and when it comes to the people I have met on vineyards who are growing biodynamically, they are some of my very favorite people in the industry.  You can check out a couple of interviews we have done with Jason Haas of Tablas Creek and Rudy Marchesi of Montinore.

 But for now, lets get on to a quick explanation of biodynamics and then move on to the wines!

Biodynamics

As the definition at the top says, this is about a holistic approach to farming that looks at the farm as a self-sustaining system.  It takes organic a step further.  These farms work without chemicals and adhere to a lunar calendar. 

Biodynamics in Winemaking

Rudy Marchesi reminded me in our interview

…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices.  …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process. 

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.

Biodynamic practices have been adapted to growing wine grapes and processing wine.  Demeter International is the most recognized organization for official biodynamic certification.  https://www.demeter-usa.org/

Certification is difficult, can be expensive and must be renewed annually. Biodyvin is another organization in Europe that certifies vineyards http://www.biodyvin.com/en/home.html

You can find certification logos on bottles in different forms.

Biodynamic logos on labels
Biodynamic logos on labels

Finding Biodynamic wine

It’s tough!  If you are not out in wine country it can be hard to find!  In Las Vegas I could not find any biodynamic French wines at the “to be unnamed” wine store that claims to be “total” on the wines is carries.  The manager told me that 100% of the people buying wine do not care about biodynamics. After a sharp glance from me, he updated his statement to “only 1 out of 100 customers care”.  I did admonish him, that as people in the industry, it was our job to educate people on this subject.

So I searched and finally purchased wine online to be shipped to me.  I was lucky to have Jeremy at wine.com who was willing to do the research and provide me with multiple links to wines they had available to choose from.  I settled on the Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011 and the Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016.

The bottles arrived and I found them to be without Demeter labels.  But I had researched and each of the wineries said they grew biodynamically! Well they are.  My love/hate relationship with certifications comes out here.  Running a winery is a busy all-encompassing business.  Certification means extra time and money that many wineries may not have.  Also, it depends on when they were certified!  I checked my Tablas Creek bottles.  They were certified in October of 2017, so it won’t be until the 2018’s are released that they will be able to put the Demeter logo on their label.

They have a great piece on their blog about attending the International Biodynamic Wine Conference that makes for great reading.  https://tablascreek.typepad.com/tablas/2018/05/consumers-dont-really-understand-the-difference-between-organic-and-biodynamic.html

So…while I won’t show you Demeter logos on the bottles I tasted, I will tell you about the vineyards and their biodynamic practices.  And then…we will get to the delicious pairings.

Domaine Fouassier Sancerre Les Chailloux 2016

Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre
Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre

Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, Loire, France  $29.99

About Domaine Fouassier

This domaine has been in the Fouassier family for 10 generations, with Benoit and Paul Fouassier at them helm. The domaine is 59 hectares of mostly Sauvignon Blanc.  Wines are vinified by parcel here to showcase the individuality of the sites.  They have members of Biodyvin since 2009.

Biodynamics to them means enchancing the soil and the plant, applying preparations at precise times and working the soils through ploughing and hoeing. 

“A wine domaine, just like any other agricultural concern, is considered to be a living entity. The soils that we work are not just there to support the vine but are a living environment and a source of energy for the plant, just as much as the air it breathes.

Biodynamics in Wine Growing from the Domaine Fouassier website http://www.fouassier.fr/la_biodynamie-en.html

The wine

The 2016 Les Chailloux is 100% Sauvignon Blanc comes from a vineyard with vines between 10 and 35 years old.  It spends 12 months in stainless steel.  The soil on this vineyard is clay, chalk and limestone and you get the minerality immediately on the nose.  Alcohol on this is 12.7%. 

The Pairing – Cod with Lemon Purée

Les Chailloux Sancerre with cod and lemon purée
Domaine Fouassier 2016 Les Chailloux Sancerre with cod and lemon purée

On their site they suggested pairing with oysters, fish & chips or cod with lemon purée.  I went with the 3rd as I knew I had cod in the freezer, and searched for a recipe online for the lemon purée.  I found a recipe for Sea bass with Meyer lemon purée and zucchini salad on farm to plate and did a riff on it.  http://www.farmonplate.com/2013/09/15/sea-bass-with-meyer-lemon-puree-and-zucchini-salad/

My lemon puree came out looking decidedly different than theirs, but regardless, it was delicious and it was an absolutely perfect pairing with this wine.  The notes of mineral in the wine reflected in the cod, the lemon notes of the purée mirroring the wine.  It was truly blissful. 

Butter poached cod and lemon purée with Zucchini and lemon salad
Butter poached cod and lemon purée with Zucchini and lemon salad

Michael noted that after enjoying the pairing and then just sipping on the wine, that the wine was enhanced by the lingering flavors on his palate from the food.

This is a dish I will work to perfect.  This is one of those “Flavor Match” pairings.  You can learn more about different strategies of pairings with our Pairing with Bubbles – Gloria Ferrer And The Amazing Sarah Tracey https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/pairing-with-bubbles-gloria-ferrer-and-the-amazing-sarah-tracey/

Château Maris Les Planels Old Vine Syrah La Liviniere Minervois 2011

Chateau Maris Cru La Livinière 2011 Les Planels
Chateau Maris Cru La Livinière 2011 Les Planels

Syrah/Shiraz from Minervois, Languedoc-Roussillon, France $31.99

About Château Maris

Wine spectator says that “Château Maris is one of the five most environmentally friendly wineries in the world.”

Robert Eden and Kevin Parker bought this vineyard in 1997 with the idea of growing grapes and making wine, in harmony with nature. They knew they wanted to go chemical free, and decided to do a test with biodynamics. They set up two compost piles and treated one with a biodynamic preparation, while the other went without. Testing later, they found the compost treated with the biodynamic treatment had far more living organisms than the one without…and the path was set.

They have been Ecocert since 2002, and Biovin since 2004. In 2008 they became Demeter Certified and in 2016 set up as a BCorp. You can read more about their biodynamic philosophy here at http://www.chateaumaris.com/gb/about/a-biodynamic-philosophy/

The wine

This Syrah comes from a 3 hectare parcel with soil of clay-limestone and clay-sandstone. It sits at 14.5% alcohol. Tasting notes on this wine noted, tar and smoke on the nose with notes of black currants and black licorice.

The first thing I got on the nose was smoke, for Michael it was blueberries. When I dipped my nose back in I could find a little tar, but it was savory. There were nice tannins. This wine was big, but not too big, kind of a gentle giant. This wine did not feel like a 2011. It’s aging is really graceful. It has probably mellowed, but still is vibrant.

The Pairing – bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets

Chateau Maris 2011 Le Planels pairing
Château Maris 2011 Le Planels pairing with bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe

I again went to the tasting notes and pulled from these for my pairing. I picked up a couple bacon wrapped tenderloin fillets and encrusted them with cumin and black pepper (both spices often found on the nose of syrah). These got seared on both sides and went into the oven to finish. While they were cooking I took some red currant jam, added fresh blackberries, a bit of worchestershire sauce and a bit of anise seeds and slowly cooked it down, to drizzle on top.

We did baby potatoes in butter and herbs de Provençe and a baby greens salad topped with fennel and green apple in a lemon vinaigrette with just a touch of lavender.

Bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet encrusted in black pepper and cumin, with a blackberry and red currant sauce, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe
Bacon wrapped tenderloin fillet encrusted in black pepper and cumin, with a blackberry and red currant sauce, fennel and apple salad and potatoes with Herbs de Provençe

The pairings all worked pretty well. The fennel in the salad pulling up those black licorice notes (although I would have lightened up on the amount of lemon). The umami from the tenderloins with the berry sauce went beautifully. This was a delicious and very comfortable pairing.

The wrap up – is it worth it to search out Biodynamic Wines?

That’s a pretty easy yes. Here’s my take on why. When I’m searching for a new wine the possibility exists that I may not like it. Even with scores etc…it’s often hard to be sure of the quality of the wine you are getting. I have never been disappointed with a Biodynamic wine. There may be many reasons for this, the farming is one, the attention to detail demanded by this type of farming is another and quite honestly the vineyard that is determined to do this is committed with time and resources to doing this and that may be one of the biggest reasons that it works so well.

Will it be difficult to find biodynamic wines? Probably to start, but if all of you go out and start asking about biodynamic wines in your local wine shops and restaurants, the market will follow! Businesses will add items that they hear people consistently asking for. So do us all a favor and start asking!

The French #Winophiles

The French #Winophiles are a group of wine writers that gather monthly to together, tackle a subject on French Wine. I am privileged and honored to be a part of this lovely group. This month, the topic was biodynamic French wines. You have seen my take on this, now you can read on, to see biodynamic French wines from a variety of points of view! There will be so many different wines and pairings! And…you can join us on twitter on Saturday morning January 19th as we spend an hour chatting about the wines we tasted and biodynamics and the impact on the wines (as well as the impact on the planet!). Gwendolyn from Wine Predator will be leading the discussion at 8 am PST or 11 am EST.

More great pieces from the French #Winophiles on Biodynamic French Wine

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

Biodynamics at Montinore Estate

In our conversation with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estates, we asked him about biodynamics. The winery was Certified biodynamic in 2008. Rudy had set this process up while he was still working for the Montinore Estate as an employee.

The Motivation & learning

Pheloxera was what originally motivated him to look at biodynamics. They had so much vine loss and he was looking at how to combat this, instead of just ripping everything out. So he started studying soil microbiology.

When he started out, he was more into organic farming. I would imagine his own garden informed this. But working with the wholesale importer on the east coast, he just kept finding that the biodynamic wines he sold in the French Portfolio, were the wines he liked the best.

At the time there were only a few books available and only two places in the US that had training. He found a tiny college in NY state teaching a course. This was just 1 class per month for 5 months and then a 5 day intensive. He took this information and tried it out and had tremendous results right away.

…biodynamic practices were established as agricultural practices.  …Biodynamic winemaking is an extension of the thought process. 

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.

Biodynamics the practical and the mystical

I expressed my skepticism regarding some of the practices. I have never been one to believe in “leaf days”,

Rudy told me a story about his home garden. He always planted fall vegetables. Two weeks before the recent solar eclipse in 2017, he planted his fall endives. He planted a second row on the day before the eclipse. He had read that you shouldn’t plant anything for a few days around an eclipse, but he needed to get them in. The first row was beautiful. The second row only had 15% germination.

Rudy says that big events are significant. They don’t pick on black out days. They have to prune from January 1st to March 20th and it’s all got to be done. So they don’t take days off, blackout, leaf day or not. With racking and tasting they just watch to see if it makes a big difference.

80% of wine making is done in the vineyard anyway. It’s all about the quality of the fruit you get.  I think that’s why, it’s perceptible but not understood, why biodynamic wines have that certain something that’s….  you put them in your mouth, they’re lively they’re interesting, they’re there, they have a presence. What is it? You can’t measure it.  There is so much in life we can’t measure anyway you know, so it’s some sort of life force that we are creating in the vineyard in the farm to begin with.  That translates through the vineyard to the fruit and to the bottle.  And that’s what I think it is.  You can’t measure that.  You can taste it!

Rudy Marchesi, in our interview July 2018.
Vines at Montinore Estate

There is more to come…

We will have more with Rudy…he took us to the cellar after this to do some barrel tastings which were delicious and fascinating. In the meantime feel free to check out the rest of our conversation with him:

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

Winter in the Vineyard

winter-vineyard

Winter in the Vineyard. It’s the quiet time. Harvest is over, the cellar has done their thing and now the wine sits quietly and ages. The leaves in the vineyard turn red or golden and then fall, the vines are going dormant. They will get pruned mid winter, cutting back the vines to ensure a healthy crop for next year.

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Fertilizing the vineyard

Now is the time to compost the vineyard. Many vineyards save the unripe fruit and/or pomice (the skins from the grapes after the wine is pressed off) to use in their compost. Sometimes additional fertilizers will be added. (We like when they used the natural kind). Then the soil is disked to get the nutrients mixed in with the topsoil. This way when the rain comes the soil can soak up all these nutrients.

Grapevines and mustard growing in California's Napa Valley

Grapevines and mustard growing in California’s Napa Valley

Cover Crops

Cover crops will also be seeded, and coming up, likely making the vineyards look green in early winter. Cover crops help with keeping down erosion, adding nutrients back into the soil and help lure in those beneficial insects. Vineyards with sheep and other animals may have them out grazing in the vines. This helps keep the soil loose and adds natural fertilizer.

Pruning

Pruning may seem simple. It’s just cutting back the vines of course, but there is strategy involved.

A weaker vine may be pruned more deeply than a healthy vine.

Pruning also has some determining factors for harvest. As you prune you determine the number of spurs per vine (the knubs left of the pruned branch which will bud out in the spring). Each spur will have a shoot in the spring that will probably hold 2 clusters. So when you prune you can calculate your crop size for the next vintage (of course accounting for frost, shatter, birds, rot and rain, LOL).

There is also the matter of timing in pruning. All the vines of a varietal that you prune at the same time are likely to ripen at about the same time. So spreading the pruning out a little, changes the pacing of your harvest. And Pruning will stimulate the vines causing them to push out earlier. So depending on your forecast for spring, you might hold your pruning until later.

The pruning typically removes most of the canes leaving just those spurs. As you prune you can see how the sap is flowing. The sap flows stronger as you close in on bud break

These vine cuttings can be used to graft to new rootstock to plant again.

Pruning is often done by hand and it is laborious work. There are Pre-pruning machines that can cut the larger parts of the canes back, making it easier to get in and finish the job by hand.

As winter ends we will head toward spring and as the sap starts to flow and we get closer to bud break the sleepless nights when freeze warnings happen. But that’s for Spring (and you thought spring was all bright greens and flowers?)

 

find out more of how the Seasons work in Wine country.

Michael Larner on choosing wine grape rootstock

Michael Larner, Larner Fête 2016

Last year after the fabulous Larner Fête we had a chance to sit down with Michael Larner and talk about wine grape rootstock.

Michael and his family did quite a bit of research before choosing what they would plant at Larner Vineyard.  Luckily Michael’s background is in Geology, so that had some inside expertise on soils.

Choosing which wine grape varieties to grow

The first decision of course was climate based, figuring out what they could realistically grow in this area.  This came down to Rhone or Italian varieties.  They already knew that Syrah did well, because Stolpman was already successfully growing it, so Rhone varieties were the way they decided to go.  After that it’s a matter of seeing what soils you have and how water is managed in those soils.

Choosing Rootstock

Rootstock is the footing for your vines, it is the foundation in your vineyard, and there is quite a bit to take into consideration when choosing a rootstock.

Own-rooted vs grafted rootstock

For the Larners, it was an easy decision to not go with own rooted varieties. Being a vineyard first, they grow grapes for many winemakers, all of whom stop by to visit the vineyard and check on their grapes.  Phylloxera is a tiny aphid that feeds on grapevine roots.  There is no cure.  Phylloxera hit Europe back in the late 19th century taking out most of the vineyards.  It was discovered that American rootstock was resistant to phylloxera and so grape vines all over Europe were transferred to American Rootstock.  This grafting of rootstock keeps vines safe.  Own-rooted vines are available, but you take the risk of your vines getting phylloxera.  With winemakers coming and going from other vineyards, this risk was unappealing to the Larners.

Choices in Wine Grape Rootstock

After determining that you are not going with own-rooted stock, you look at the soil.  There are differences in soil pH and water retention.  You find something that, in these soils, will not cause the vines to be overly vigorous (cause then they don’t want to produce grapes) and then also vigorous enough to keep the vines healthy.  They look at where they were planning on planting their blocks and looked at the soil pits.  Michael found 3 major soil types in the vineyard and chose 3 rootstocks based on that.  Of course there are slight variations in the soil within those areas, but that can be treated separately to compensate for the differences.

They chose Rootstocks 101-14, 5C and 110R.  I did a little research and found some information from UC Davis on the differences in these rootstocks. These rootstocks differ mostly in their drought tolerance but also somewhat in Wet soil tolerance, and tolerance of salinity and lime.

So the vineyard blocks are broken into 3 sections depending on the soil, which each have a different rootstock.  Then…you choose the clones that will be grafted to the rootstock.  With 4 different Syrah clones, they ended up with 11 blocks of Syrah that because of the differences in rootstock and clones are each farmed differently.  This makes farming a little harder, but in the end you want each block to perform to the best of it’s ability.  Even when the wine isn’t estate, your vineyard name is on their bottle and you want the wine to be the best it can be.

We had time to talk with Michael even further about the clones of Syrah he grows, so check back here for more on that!

You can taste some of Michael Larner’s exceptional wines at their Los Olivos Tasting Room at 2900 Grand Avenue.

 

For more on the wines of  Santa Barbara visit Santa Barbara Vintners.

They will be holding their Vintners Spring Weekend April 20-22, 2017, where you can attend the Grand Tasting and taste wines from all over this amazing region.

And you will find plenty of information here at Crushed Grape Chronicles and lots of videos on Santa Barbara, it’s wines and people. As well as information on previous Vintners Spring Weekends.

And stop back to visit us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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

Sunset Au Bon Climat

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

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

The City of Santa Barbara

Stearns Wharf and the Beach

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

 

 

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

The perfect place for a quick overview: The Valley Project

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

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

Super quick tutorial on Santa Barbara County

Santa Barbara lies in a unique area that separated from the plates along the coast. Over the past twelve million years this little section shifted and created a Transverse valley. This means that the valley here runs east west as opposed to north south like all the other valleys on our coast. The transverse valley and the microclimates within it led to a place where you can grow an amazing variety of grapes in a relatively small area. On the western edge the valley is cool and is perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As you move east the valley warms by a degree a mile! This makes the middle section perfect for Rhone varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne and as you continue to the east side where Happy Canyon lies, you have enough heat to support those Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc. Read more about it in The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

The Funk Zone and Urban Wine Trail

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

Wine Collection of El Paseo

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

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

Into Wine Country

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

Places to Taste:

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

Quick note on tastings:

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

Los Olivos

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

 

Larner

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

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

 

Tercero

tercero Wines Tasting Room

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

Blair Fox

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

Crawford Family Wines

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

Saarloos & Sons 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

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

Bien Nacido & Solomon Hills Estate Wines

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

Kaena

Beautiful Tree outside the Kaena Tasting room in Los Olivos

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

 

J. Wilkes

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

Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

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

Buellton:

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

Cold Heaven

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

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

Alma Rosa

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

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

Lompoc:

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

Longoria

Longoria 2014 Albarino in the garden

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

Brewer-Clifton

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

Transcendence

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

Sandhi & Piedrassi

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

Stoplman

Stolpman's Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

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

Foxen Canyon & the Santa Maria Valley

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

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa pathway

Zaca Mesa pathway

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

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

Foxen & 7200

The valley side of Foxen 7200 “The Shack”

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

Riverbench

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

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

Presqu’ile

The Presqu’ile Tasting Room

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

Santa Rita Hills:

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

Sanford WinerySanford Winery

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

Hilliard Bruce

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

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

Santa Ynez Valley/Los Olivos District:

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

Buttonwood:

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

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

Beckmen

Beckmen Tasting Room

Beckmen Tasting Room

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

Sunstone Winery

Wine Dinner Sunstone

Wine Dinner Sunstone

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

Los Alamos:

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

Casa Dumetz

Casa Dumetz Winery

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

Municipal Winemakers

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

Places to Eat:

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

Buellton:

The Hitching Post II

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

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Industrial Eats in Buellton

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

Los Olivos:

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

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

Sides Hardware & Shoes

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

Santa Ynez:

Trattorio Grappolo

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

SY Kitchen

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

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

Ballard Inn and Restaurant

Ballard Inn

Ballard Inn & Restaurant

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

Solvang:

CHOMP

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

Los Alamos:

Full of Life Flatbread

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties.

In our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines.  Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details

 

The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel.  These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock.  These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc.  Soon after they also added Picpoul.  They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50!  In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes.  Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade.  Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014.  Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time.  3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter.  Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year.  Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes

The Adelaida AVA

Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South.  This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees.  In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).  Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District.  This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location.  How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen.  For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.

Native Yeast Fermentation

I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation.  Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation.  Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making.  He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”.  During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away.  If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options.  They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well.  They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t.  So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder.  Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.

Use of Foudres

There are few places in California that you will see foudres used.  Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons).  When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room.  As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want.  As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak.  As a result, large wood it the way to go.  With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel.  This gives you more volume to surface area.  The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower.  This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky.  The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.

 

While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines.  So watch for more videos and blog posts.

 

See More Conversations with

Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, Biodynamics and more

Tablas Creek Vineyard Spring 2015

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties. In this part of the interview we talk about Biodynamics and the Tablas approach, the similarities and differences between the Tablas Creek wines and the Chateau du Beaucastel wines and the Tablas Creek Wine Library.

More on Tablas Creek Vineyard to Come

This is part two of our series, we will release additional segments where we discuss native yeast fermentations, the use of Foudres (1200 gallon barrels), as well as aging wines. We do a walk through the vineyard to look at the new acreage as well as Scuffy Hill where they grow their field blend. We look at the soil, the biodiversity in the fields and then explore the winery and it’s barrel rooms, before Jason talks us through how they create their blends. There is also Part 1 on the drought, dry farming and head pruning if you missed that.  So stick with us…there is lots more to come.

 

See More Conversations with

A Conversation with Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, the Drought, Dry farming

Tablas Creek Vineyards, Paso Robles, Central Coast Wine Country

While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.

Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties. In this part of the interview Jason tells us how the soil and climate brought them to Paso. Average rainfall was also one of the draws and Jason tells us how the current drought is affecting them, which segues into a discussion on planting dry farmed vines and the benefits of a head-pruned vineyard.

More on Tablas Creek Vineyard to Come

This is just part one, we will release additional segments where we discuss biodynamics, similarities and differences between the Beaucastel wines and Tablas Creek Vineyard Wines, native yeast fermentations, the use of Foudres (1200 gallon barrels), as well as aging wines and the library of wine Tablas keeps. We do a walk through the vineyard to look at the new acreage as well as Scuffy Hill where they grow their field blend. We look at the soil, the biodiversity in the fields and then explore the winery and it’s barrel rooms, before Jason talks us through how they create their blends. So stick with us…there is lots more to come.

And if you are fascinated by this discussion, visit the Tablas Creek Blog.  Jason has a 3 part series on his blog about dry farming in California’s drought.

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

Larner Vineyard Panorama

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

The Vision – The future of Larner Vineyard and Winery

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

How to deal with the Curve Balls

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

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

The Community Spirit in the Santa Barbara Wine Region

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

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

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

Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Ave

Los Olivos, CA 93441

(805)688-8148

http://larnerwine.com

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

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

Visit us on  Facebook

facebook.com/CGCFromDirtToGlass.

Or on Twitter at

https://twitter.com/CrushGrapeChron

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

Presqu'ile Winery Terrace

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

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

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

For More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

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