Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest Weekend

Firestone Vineyard Koehler Vineyard Curtis Vineyard

Santa Barbara is one of our favorite wine regions. Typically we find our way that direction in April for the Vintners Spring Weekend, with it’s Seminars, special events and of course the Grand Tasting.  This year, we thought we would mix it up a bit and we will be attending the Celebration of Harvest.  Fall rather than spring, post harvest rather than bud break…it gives a different visual of the area.

We just did a Flash tour through a large portion of California Wine country and our starting and ending point was Santa Barbara County.  You simply can’t beat the diversity.  With the East/West Valley and the temperature increasing a degree per mile as you drive from the cooler Sta. Rita Hills (think Burgundy) through the Santa Ynez Valley past Ballard Canyon (think the Rhone) and on into Happy Canyon (yep think Bordeaux), (not to mention the micro climates you find in Los Alamos Valley or the amazing Vandenburg fog that influences the grapes in Santa Maria and Foxen Canyon), you get a wide range of varieties that grow well here, so when it comes to the Santa Barbara Vintners events, there is something for everyone.  We have done a highlight reel of our favorite stops in this amazing area.  Of course that list is growing, but check out So you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to know where to taste wine.

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This years Celebration of Harvest, kicks off with their signature event “Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country“.  This event will be held at the Fess Parker Resort, right across from the beach in Santa Barbara.  50 wineries will be on hand to pour their fall releases and word has it that many will have library wines available for tasting also.  And of course their will be great food from some of the best restaurants and vendors in wine country.

Many of the greats will be there, Alma Rosa, Au Bon Climat, Qupe and some of our favorites, Beckmen, Casa Dumetz, Clos Pepe, Jamie Slone, Presqu’ile, Riverbench, Zaca Mesa. And don’t miss stopping by The Central Coast Group Project if you want to try something new.  Scott Sampler of CCGP has been working with extended mascerations and is producing some very interesting wines.

In addition they will have Harvest Experience Passports available.  The passport allows you to visit up to 12 of the participating tasting rooms over the weekend, many of which will have special experiences and tastings just for passport members.

They also have a series of Collaborative Dinners in various locations, where a restaurant or chef are paired up with several wineries for a unique dining experience.  There are 4 of these set up in various locations around the area from a Surf and Turf dinner Angel Oak at Bacara out on the shore with Fiddlehead, Zotovich, Martian, Longoria and Jaffurs wines, to a Cowboy BBQ in Los Alamos with Municipal Winemakers, Casa Dumetz, Lumen, Frequency and Bedford.  Further in there is a Farm to Fork, Vine to Glass dinner at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe with Bernat, J. Wilkes, and Refugio Ranch and then and East Meets West at the magical Ballard Inn Gathering Table with Chef Budi Kazali creating amazing dishes to pair with wines from Melville, Andrew Murray, Beckmen and Star Lane Vineyards.

Celebration of Harvest Weekend is a great opportunity to taste a variety of the amazing wines from this area and get to meet some of the winemakers.  There is so much to this amazing area you could spend weeks here and not see it all (trust me, we’ve tried).  So take the weekend and learn about this amazing wine region that is practically in LA’s backyard.  There are beautiful wines being made here and there is something for everyone.

You can find out more on the Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest site, where you can see the entire schedule for the weekend, buy tickets for the events and purchase your passport for the weekend.

And be sure to stop back here!  We look forward to sharing with you all of our adventures during the Celebration of Harvest.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 5 – Santa Barbara County

Coast Oak Foxen Canyon road San Rafael Mountains Santa Barbara County

We are winding up our Flash Tour of the Central Coast and Beyond in Santa Barbara County.  This was our final day of fun, before we made the drive home to Vegas.  This final day allowed us a little less driving.

Day 5 Solvang, Santa Barbara County and Los Olivos

Solvang

Day 5 started with a stroll of the charming city of Solvang in the morning. The sun was out, the temperature was just right and it was the perfect way to start the day. Nestled in the middle of Santa Barbara County, Solvang feels like you have stepped into another world.  This historic Danish Village in the middle of California was founded by Danish-Americans in 1911.  Solvang translates to “sunny field” in Danish.  The town has embraced the Danish Architecture and the town is dotted with windmills.  The streets are enchanting and you can find aebleskivers (a Danish dessert that is like a donut hole) at many restaurants.  If you enjoy shopping or window shopping, you will be in heaven.  There is a store for everything here.  Walking the town you will find courtyards and corners to explore. Or you can rent a bicycle or a 4-wheeled surrey! They have an outdoor theatre, the Solvang Festival Theatre that runs productions throughout the summer.  Every Wednesday there is a Farmers Market in Solvang Park in the afternoons. There are great restaurants, wine tasting rooms and really, something for everyone.

Foxen Canyon to the Santa Maria Bench

We finished our walk and got in the car again to head up into Foxen Canyon.  With over 200 wineries, 6 AVAs, and over 21,000 acres of vineyards Santa Barbara County has quite a bit of area to explore.  We had limited time so we headed north from Solvang.  We took Ballard Canyon Road though the Ballard Canyon AVA which is known for it’s Syrah, and noticed that Larner Vineyard had netted for birds.  As the fruit starts to sweeten the birds like to feast so the green netting helps to keep them out and save the fruit.  At the top of the Canyon we stopped for another gorgeous view from above Saarloos & Sons beautiful Windmill Ranch Vineyard.

Foxen Canyon Road is a beautiful drive with the San Rafael Mountains on the right and views of Firestone, Curtis (where Andrew Murray has his winery) and Koehler Vineyards as you round the curve to meet with Zaca Station Road.  This is a perfect drive to get a sense of the sweeping area that Santa Barbara County covers.

We had some vines to visit at Riverbench to see how they were growing. Back in 2014 we watched as they planted a new front block.   Still in Santa Barbara County, this does take you into the Santa Maria AVA.  You can see below how much these vines have grown since we saw them as babies in 2014.

We continued into the Santa Maria AVA to see how Bien Nacido Vineyard was doing after the Alamo fire. The Whittier fire pulled much of the fire department away and vineyard staff worked very hard to keep the vines at Bien Nacido safe.  This is a revered vineyard and you will find it’s name on some of the best labels.  We met Chris Hammell their vineyard manager at a Syrah Seminar.  While they are known for their Pinot Noir, they are also growing some amazing Syrah.  You can hear Chris talk about it here.

Los Olivos

From here we headed back to Los Olivos where you can find the largest selection of Santa Barbara County Tasting rooms within walking distance of each other.  After a walk about town we headed to Crawford Family Wines for a tasting. We had met Mark Horvath, owner and winemaker a while ago at a Syrah Seminar at the Spring Vintners Festival and had wanted to get by to taste his wines. His wife Wendy was manning the tasting room and we had a great conversation and tasting with her.

We stopped at Larner for a tasting and to have lunch out front on the patio in front of the Los Olivos General Store.  This sits on the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Avenue by the flagpole in the center of town.  You get the view of Andrew Murray’s Tasting Room across the street among others.

Larner Tasting Room Los Olivos General Store View Santa Barbara County

The view from lunch with a tasting at Larner Vineyards Tasting Room in Los Olivos

We then finished out the day at the best place to finish your day in Los Olivos, Carhartt’s. It’s just down the block on Grand Ave.  They stay open a little later than the other tasting rooms and get pretty busy at the end of the day.  They have the tiniest tasting room (you can squish 5 people in if you try really hard, but the back patio here has a bit more space and is heaven.  Joe, as always, took great care of us.

Los Olivos Carhartt Tasting Room Santa Barbara County

Carhartt’s, the “World’s smallest tasting Room”.

As you can see, we had to gloss over most areas. You could easily spend 2 to 3 days or more in each area. We put almost 2000 miles on the Prius, but we tasted a variety of wines and saw an amazing portion of the beautiful state of California. Day 6 was the drive back to Vegas.  We soaked in as much of the coast as we could on the drive.  But this was just the quick version of the trip. Check back here as we delve into the details on each of the places we visited.

For more information on the wonderful wineries in Santa Barbara County visit http://www.sbcountywines.com/

The Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest is coming up September 29th to October 2, 2017 and it is a great time to visit.  You can attend the Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country Event and enjoy wines from 50 of the different wineries in the region on September 29th in downtown Santa Barbara.  And there are event all over the region during the weekend where you will learn more about the wines, wineries and winemakers.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, a Vineyard tour

Riverbench Vineyard


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

 

Riverbench Winery Patio

Riverbench Winery Patio

 

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

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

Vintage 2014 Grapes

Vintage 2014 Grapes

 

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

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

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

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

9000 plus plants

9000 plus plants

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

Hand dip Pinot Bottle in wax

Hand dipping Pinot Bottle in wax

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

Picnic and Tasting

Picnic and Tasting

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

Riverbench historic overview

Riverbench historic overview

 

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery

6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria

805-937-8340

Open Daily 10-4

 

They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara

137 Anacapa St. Suite C

Open Daily 11-6

www.riverbench.com

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

A REALLY Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend

SB Vintners Spring Weekend

Santa Barbara Celebrated the Vintners Spring Weekend in April and the crowning event for the weekend was the Grand Tasting held at Riverview Park in Buellton.

Presqu'ile at Grand Tasting

Presqu’ile at Grand Tasting

What I love most about Santa Barbara County is that the wines are amazing and the people are laid back and approachable. The Grand Tasting had something for everyone. For a start, this area because of it’s climate, is home to so many varieties. Sta. Rita Hills and parts of the Santa Maria Valley bring Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the central part of the Santa Ynez Valley is perfect for growing all the Rhone Varieties and further inland in Happy Canyon, the weather is warm enough to grow Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc.  That doesn’t even touch on the Italian and other lesser known varieties that are being grown. So a wine lover can taste the spectrum at the Grand Tasting.

Christine Bruce, of Hilliard Bruce

Christine Bruce, of Hilliard Bruce

When you taste, chances are the person pouring the wine is the winemaker, and you can ask them about the vineyard and their winemaking techniques first hand. I was lucky enough to chat with Michael Larner of Larner Wines, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa, Christine Bruce of Hilliard Bruce and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena. They were all more than willing to take some time and answer all my questions as I tasted their wines.

There was plenty of great food to be enjoyed also!  Each of the tents filled with wineries also had at least one restaurant booth. Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley were serving up sliders from The Hitching Post II in Buellton, Trattoria Grappolo of Santa Ynez had meatballs, Babé Farms had fresh green salads, Avant Tapas and Wine Bar had a beautiful hummus, there was Prime rib at The Starting Gate, The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café had some amazing seasoned potatos…and that was just the few we had a chance to taste.

los-olivos-wine-merchantLive music filled the air from the stage at the far end of the tasting, inspiring many to kick off their shoes and dance. There were plenty of tables and grass areas to relax in, as well as an art walk. I bought an artwork by Christina LoCascio that was a painting of Viognier ripening on the vine, painted in Syrah.

The Alan Hancock College was also on hand with viticultural knowledge and free grapevine cuttings. If you got tired, there was a massage station, if you needed to tweet, there was a social media tent. They also had a silent auction to benefit the Alan Hancock College.

This year for the first time the wineries could sell wine at the event. There was a tent set up near the entrance where you could pick up your wine purchase on your way out.

The event was well thought out with water available everywhere to keep you hydrated. They also had a designated drivers tent with beverages for those who chose to not imbibe and there was a special ticket price for those folks. A bus service to and from the event available from local hotels for a fee and Uber the online driving service was available. This mobile app connects you with a driver and had just launched in the Santa Ynez Valley so there were lots of options for safe transportation.

The day was beautiful the wine was flowing and people were enjoying themselves all around. If you didn’t make it…don’t worry, you don’t have to wait an entire year. The Santa Barbara Celebration of Harvest will be happening October 10-13th. Visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site for details! http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/event-schedule.html

Watch for more Video’s on SB Vintners Spring Weekend in the coming Weeks, with some features on the Wine and Wine Makers and so much more.

Santé

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!

The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

It’s no secret, I’m in love with the Santa Barbara County Wine Region.  It is laid back with an incredible range of variety.  “Sideways” got it right.  This is the best up and coming wine area in our country.  Up and coming actually seems a little silly, the wineries and winemakers here have quite a history.  There are giants of winemaking here including: Richard Sanford, Jim Clenedenen, Bob Linquist, Richard Longoria & Bill Wathen. And the list of amazing winemakers continues to grow and the wines they are producing are varied and amazing.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

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

So if you are a wine geek like me…this is a great place.  But if you are not a wine geek and want to avoid the intimidation of wine talk and just enjoy a glass…well this is the right place too.

So…make your first stop in the Funk Zone near the beach in Santa Barbara on the Urban Wine trail.  Stop into one of the many great tasting rooms there.  Maybe hit Municipal Winemakers first and soak up some of the funky atmosphere.  Sit down at the picnic table and enjoy a glass of rose.

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Then if you are feeling like learning a little about where these wines come from head up the street to AVA Santa Barbara. Here you can taste wines from all the different regions in Santa Barbara County.  The entire wall over the tasting bar is a huge chalk mural by Elkpen that  shows the regions soils, microclimates and topography. The wines, by Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines are lovely and deliberately varied to feature the microclimates in this incredible area.

Au Bon Climate, Grassini, Margerum

If you head further North into downtown, you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat & Margerum to choose between for a tasting.

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Head back through the downtown shopping district and stop at  Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro for lunch.  Then take a stroll on the beach and finally enjoy a nice glass of wine at Conway Family Wines – Deep Sea Tasting room on the Santa Barbara Pier while you enjoy the sunset.

 

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Oh, but my friend, you are just getting started in Santa Barbara County.  Tomorrow drive into Solvang, the adorable little Danish town and get some aebleskivers for breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant.  You can then stroll this town and taste at several tasting rooms that you can walk to, or drive a little further into Los Olivos where you will find over 35 tasting rooms to choose from!  And…I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great place to dine at Side’s Hardware & Shoes.  Don’t miss Saarloos and Sons for a pairing with cupcakes from Enjoy Cupcakes.

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

They are there Thursday thru Sunday from 11-5 (or until they run out of cupcakes, so go early!) and one of my favorite tasting rooms, the tiniest one on the planet is across the street from Saarloos and Sons at Carhartt.  Carhartt stays open an hour later than the others and this often becomes quite the gathering spot on the beautiful but tiny back patio.

Are you overwhelmed yet?  There is more…I highly recommend Terrravant Winery Restaurant in Buellton for dinner and pairings.  They have an Enomatic wine dispensing system set up so you can try small tastes of many of the amazing local wines.  And the now World Famous Hitching Post II is also here in Buellton, made famous by the movie “Sideways”.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Tapas & Wine Bar Front Entrance

Tomorrow morning you have more wine country to explore!  There are amazing wineries outside of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley like Buttonwood Farms & Beckman.  Or travel up to Santa Maria through Foxen Canyon and enjoy the morning Vandenberg Fog.  Stop at Zaca Mesa and try their Rhones.  This place has been around a while and popped out some pretty amazing winemakers!  Further up the road, you can’t miss stopping at “The Shack” at Foxen.

Zaca Mesa chess set

Zaca Mesa Patio with the oversized chess set

And…then there is the Sta. Rita Hills. If you love Pinot or good Chard you want to drive through here.  Make an appointment and stop by Clos Pepe.  Wes Hagen has more vineyard and wine knowledge than you can imagine and a tasting with him is amazing!  Just past Clos Pepe is Hilliard Bruce.  John and Christine have an incredibly beautiful landscaped property and their vineyard management is state of the art.

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Keep driving down 246 to Lompoc and top into the Wine Ghetto.  Filled with small wineries working out of an industrial park you will find Flying Goat Cellars, Fiddlehead & Palmina as well as a host of others.  Check the hours though, because they are often just open on weekends for tastings.  Further into Lompoc you will find Brewer-Clifton, which again brought out my geeky side as we talked about stem inclusion and how they thin the vines to ripen the stems!

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Have I covered it all?  Not even close.  There is so much exploring I look forward to going back to do.  But…if you are short on time…The Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have all of these great wineries and winemakers in one place on April 12th.

Or at anytime for information visit Santa Barbara Vintners

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Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend

Santa Barbara Vintners Weekend


The vineyards are seeing bud break, it’s spring and we are all ready to burst outdoors and enjoy the new season.  It’s a beautiful time of year to visit Santa Barbara and enjoy a weekend with the vintners!

Beginning  Thursday April 10th and running to Sunday April 13th, the Vintners Weekend is filled with a variety of events.

Thursday there is the Vintners Festival Golf Tournament and the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner & Wine Pairing.

Friday during the day there is a Vintners Wine Education Seminar Series happening as well as vineyard hikes at Beckman, Buttonwood Farm, Baehner Fournier, Hilliard Bruce and Refugio Ranch.  That evening you can choose between a Barrel Toasting Seminar with Barrel Tasting or a 90+ Points Top Rated Wine & Dine Event.  Other events happening that day include a blind tasting and seminar on Cabernet at Brander Vineyard, a Wine and Cheese Pairing at Brewer-Clifton and a Flying Goat Winemaker Dinner at the La Purisima Mission.

Saturday is the big event with the Vintners Festival Grand Tasting.  There will be over 100 wineries and over 50 varieties of wines represented.  In addition there are Open houses and other events at many wineries including: Melville, Zaca Mesa, Pence Ranch, Lafond, Alta Maria, Longoria, Brander, Lucas & Lewellen, Foxen & Cottonwood Canyon.

Sunday wraps up with a Farm-to-Table Picnic & Concert.  Plus lots of vineyards and wineries will be having open houses, brunches and receptions.

This is the perfect opportunity to explore all the wines of Santa Barbara County, meet the vintners and have a really extraordinary weekend.

Santa Barbara Vintners Weekend

Santa Barbara Vintners Weekend

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!

It’s a Viognier kinda day (with a little Chard on the side)

Viognier Night

It was Thursday and our night for pairings, so I pulled out Sid Goldstein’s book “The Wine Lover’s Cookbook” and pulled together a menu that will pair a little with Chardonnay and a little with Viognier.

We are having Chilled Corn and Sundried Tomato Chowder, Crab Jicama and Mango Salad with Lemon-Curry dressing and Chicken Paprika with dried apricot and almond relish.  The Chowder will pair with a 2007 Miramonte Chardonnay, the Crab salad will pair with both the Chardonnay and a 2010 Zaca Mesa Viognier (Happy 40th Zaca Mesa!), and the Chicken Paprika will pair exclusively with the Viognier.

Farmer's Market vegetables

Farmer’s Market vegetables

So this morning I got up early, hit the gym and headed to the Molto Vegas Farmers Market at the Springs Preserve to pick up the produce!

As you can see I scored fresh desert corn, butter lettuce, garlic, onion, a Meyer lemon, a mango, and two regular lemons.  I raided my pantry and freezer for chicken stock (we had some frozen that I Michael made), cumin, coriander, paprika, olive oil, honey, turmeric, chili powder and tarragon.  Hit the garden for chives and green onions and made a trip to Whole Foods for the rest.  I figured Whole Foods would be a one-stop shop for the varied items that I needed.  We picked up organic chicken breasts, blue crab meat, sour crème, dried apricots, sweet paprika, caraway seeds, sliced mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and pasta.  I picked up slivered almonds from the bulk area since I just needed 3 tablespoons, season croutons for the soup and jicama.  So I have seen sliced jicama in the produce section but they didn’t have any so I had to have someone come and help me find it!  It is a bulbous root that runs around $1.49 lb. and the one I picked ran me $2.79.  I only used about 1/3 of it.

So I started with the soup since it needed to chill for 3 to 4 hours.  Olive oil, onions, tarragon, cumin, turmeric and lemon zest get going in the soup pot then you add the corn, corn cobs, chicken stock and white wine.  I used a Viognier that I had already opened.  This boils, and then simmers a bit then you pull out the cobs and add the roasted garlic, lemon juice and sour crème and then process it in the blender or food processor.  Add the rough chopped sundried tomatoes and toss it in the fridge for 3 to 4 hours.

While that is chilling I jump onto the crab salad.  Crab meat, diced mango, diced jicama and then a dressing with Meyer lemon juice and zest, champagne vinegar, mayo and a homemade curry powder with cumin, turmeric, chili powder and coriander.  Mix it all up and pop it in the fridge for 2 hours.  (there is a chillin’ theme here!)

On to the relish for the chicken.  Dice the dried apricots; add champagne vinegar (it called for raspberry, but I wasn’t buying a whole bottle for ¾ teaspoon!), honey, green onions, caraway seed, lemon zest and toasted almonds.  Then chill this for an hour!

Plating of DinnerFinally the chicken.  I pound out the breasts season with salt, paprika, sage and lemon zest and brown them in butter and oil then drain them on paper towels.  Then cook the onions add the mushrooms, marjoram, sweet paprika, caraway seed and roasted garlic (I had this left over from the previous recipe and it gave a sweeter flavor to the dish).  Once this is cooked up I added the chicken stock and sour cream and then put the breasts back in.  I cooked up some buttered noodles to serve this on.

 

Now for the pairings.  The Chardonnay was beautiful with the Chowder.  And this chilled soup just develops more flavors the longer it chills.  (I enjoyed it for lunch for several more days!).  The salad was fine with the Chard, but the jicama really came to life with the Viognier.  The Chicken and the Viognier were spectacular on several levels.  The earthiness of the mushrooms and the sauce were really lovely creating a new depth when paired with the wine and then the apricots and the relish really popped.

 

All in all, I was pretty impressed with myself. Thanks Sid for the help!  I look forward to cooking my way through this book!

Zaca Mesa at 40

Zaca Mesa Sign

 

Zaca Mesa WIndmill foggy Morning

Zaca Mesa WIndmill foggy morning

This weekend Zaca Mesa Winery will celebrate it’s 40th birthday.  This winery has quite a bit of history.  The property was purchased by a group of friends in 1972 and the vineyard was planted in 1973 and they have been sustainably growing grapes in Santa Barbara ever since.  The winery itself was built in 1978 and expanded in 1981.  By the early 90’s they had determined that Rhone Varieties grew best on the property.  They were the first Central Coast winery to appear in Wine Spectator’s Top 10 back in 1995.  They are down to the last of their original owners and have been family owned for about 25 years.

Their first winemaker was Ken Brown who has since gone on to start the very successful Byron in Santa Maria.  The rest of the list of previous winemakers continues to look like a who’s who of Santa Barbara & Paso winemakers including: Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Daniel Gehrs of Daniel Gehrs Wines, Clay Brock of Wild Horse, Chuck Carlson of Curtis and Benjamin Silver of Silver Wines.

Their current winemaker is Eric Mohseni.  He started his career in wine retail then worked at Edna Valley Vineyards in 1997.  It was there that he got hooked on winemaking.  He started at Zaca Mesa in 2001 as the enologist worked up to Assistant Winemaker, then Associate Winemaker and finally took the reins in July of 2008.

All the wines here are estate bottled and grown.  They don’t buy or sell grapes.  They have about 750 acres of which 244 are planted with grapes.  20 acres are newly planted with Syrah.  They sit about 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Northern portion of the Santa Ynez AVA.  Soils here are mostly Chamise loam over gravelly beds of silk and clay so the soil is well drained.  Many of their vineyards are up on a high mesa at 1500 feet.  This gives them lower high and higher low temperatures.  The more consistent temps allow for slow consistent ripening.  The height also causes higher UV radiation, which makes the grapes smaller, and thicker-skinned giving them increased color and phenolic compounds, which can provide more flavor to the wine.

Zaca Mesa glass

Zaca Mesa glass

As to “sustainable” there is a “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing” developed by the California Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.  It spells out “practices that are sensitive to the environment, responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large, and economically feasible to implement and maintain.”  Zaca Mesa is sustainable using organic products, conserving energy and working efficiently to reduce waste.  They farm only one-third of the acreage leaving open space for wildlife and preserving ground water.

Zaca Mesa was the third stop in a little trilogy we were doing in Santa Barbara, the day before we had tasted at both Au Bon Climat and Qupe.  We rolled in early on a Friday morning and watched the coastal fog roll through the valley coming in from the North.  The property is beautiful with huge trees greeting you as you walk from the parking area to the tasting room.

It was the beginning of a busy weekend for them as they had their wine club pickup party happening the next day.  We rolled up and were the first guests in the tasting room.

Now onto the tasting!

  • 2010 Estate Viognier.  This wine received 91 Points and was the Editor’s Choice in Wine Enthusiast Magazine in the Feb 2013 issue.  The nose is very Viognier but on the palate it is dryer than expected and has lots of lemon lime.  It has the body of a Viognier but is crisper and brighter on the palate with a bit of minerality.  This wine starts out in stainless steel and then transfers to new oak after about 3 months.  $16
  •  Z Blanc.  This wine was not on the tasting menu but we managed a taste.  It is a blend of Grenache, Roussanne and a little Viognier.  The grapes for this were hand harvested, fermented and barrel aged for 10 months.  This had minerality and a little oak and would go great with shellfish.  This has great layer of flavor.
  • 2009 Estate Roussanne:  Michael does not normally like Roussanne.   There is some flavor in there that he usually finds off-putting.  This Roussanne has great weight and viscosity in your mouth. It is aged sur lee so it is mellower.  Michael didn’t mind this Roussanne.  Wine Enthusiast liked it and gave it 93 point in the February 2013 issue.  $25.
  • 2009 Estate Grenache Blanc:  A little brighter than the Z Blanc Blend with a bit more mineral, but less depth then the blend (obviously). $25
  • 2010 Estate Mourvedre:  This was smoky with a beautiful nose.  First I got smoke then blueberry.  It was cool on the palate and had a long finish.  I could have kept my nose in this glass all day.  $35.
  • 2008 Estate Z Cuvee: This GSM Blend is mostly Grenache (68%) with 18% Mourvedre and 14% Syrah. Lots of blackberry with big fruit on the nose.  This will cellar for another 7 years.  $20.
  • 2008 Estate Z-Three:  Another GSM with 51% Syrah, 37% Mourvedre and 12% Grenache.  This was a really wonderful blend (my favorite here) Loads of blackberry with a little blueberry from the Mourvedre and then a touch of raspberry from the Grenache.  This again will cellar for 5 or so more years.  Wine Enthusiast gave this 89 points in their February issue.  $42.
  • 2009 Estate Syrah:  I got blackberry, smoke, salted meat and a little bit of dried herbs.  Bigger tannins that lightly coat your palate and the roof of your mouth but not your teeth.  Warm on the back of the palate without being hot.  Yeah, this would be perfect with rack of lamp in rosemary and garlic.  This is great now and can cellar for up to 10 years, if you can keep from drinking it before then.  $25.

 

After our tasting we wandered up on the hill to where they have a small picnic area overlooking the winery and vineyards.  I could have strolled the grounds all day and maybe gotten Michael to play me a game of chess on the oversized chess board outside the tasting room, but….we had to press on to our next tasting! (Coming up next…Talley!)

Springtime in Wine Country – Santa Barbara to Paso Robles

Santa Barbara
Stearn Wharf Sign

Stearn Wharf Sign

Drawn to the coast we began on the beach in Santa Barbara wandering Stearns wharf and then tasting at Municipal Winemakers on Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail in “The Funk Zone”.  Au Bon Climat called and we strolled up the beautiful State Street with bougainvillea petals blowing on the breeze to taste there. Jim Clendenen’s wines lived up to the hype in my book. Then it was just a beautiful drive up 154 to Los Olivos past Lake Cachuma to taste at Qupe/Verdad/Ethan in Los Olivos see some of the amazing wines Bob Lindquist creates.  A relaxing tasting on the back patio at Carhartt slowed our pace and had us waxing poetic on the glorious fragrances of Brooke Carhartt’s wines.  Dinner of small plates and a wine wall where I could enjoy tastings or a glass at Avant Tapas and Wine ended a perfect day one.

In the morning we caught the marine layer drifting through as we headed north into Foxen Canyon stopping for a great tasting at Zaca Mesa.  The property here is beautiful.  This is the winery that turned out both Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist as well as numerous other amazing winemakers.  After our tasting here, we headed North to Arroyo Grande and enjoyed a tour at Talley.  As we toured the winemaker Eric Johnson stopped by on a couple of occasions to say hello and answer questions.  Now it was on to our final destination of Paso Robles.  We tasted at Booker which is off of 46 West and were greeted by the winery dog who is the spittin’ image of our dear Mojo from Miramonte!

Day 3 began at Bella Luna, a tiny winery south-east of Paso, where Sherman, the winemaker was pouring their Italian style wines. Staying on the East Side we drove on to Sculpterra with their amazing sculpture garden live accordion music and lovely wines.  We made our way back to the West side of the 101 to Vines on the Marycrest where they were hosting a “Songwriters at Play” event.  The sun filtered through the tasting room windows and the music filtered in from the patio while we enjoyed a great tasting and conversation with Jennifer while Vic the winemaker and a sound engineer busily took care of cables, mic stands and making sure the sound system in the tasting room gave us the best mix.  Our day ended strolling downtown where they were having a wine and art event.  We were drawn into the Parrish Family Vineyards elegant tasting room where enjoyed tasting the Parrish Family wines with a cheese pairing from Vivant cheeses and I was treated to a wonderful conversation with winemaker David Parrish regarding yeast!

Another beautiful morning saw us enjoying a drive in on Vineyard Drive from the south. Shale Oak is a newer winery in Paso and I had been lucky enough to stumble across them on Cellar Pass.  The peacefulness of this spot in the morning with its stunning architecture topped by it’s eco friendly stance made for a beautiful start to the day.  We added a little adrenaline to the morning with a drive out Peachy Canyon Road.  The twists and turns put this West Virginia girl right at home.  We stopped at a small winery called Stacked Stone.  Winery owner and winemaker Donald Thiessen saw us pull in and came out to open the tasting room to pour for us.  The property is in a lovely wooded area landscaped with “stacked stones”.  Back up Peachy Canyon we headed toward one of the highest limestone plateaus on the West side of Paso Robles 1200 feet above the Salina Valley.  Here at Lloyd’s Lookout sits the Calcareous Winery and tasting room.  The views are amazing.  We enjoyed a tasting followed by a lunch pairing with food by Thomas Hill Organics.

Mid day saw us heading North and East to San Miguel and tasting at family owned and run Locatelli.  Raynette Gregory the co-proprietor poured for us.

From this small family owned winery, we headed further east to the big new tasting room on this block, Nigel Lithgoe’s Villa San Juliette.  The drive out is lovely with expansive views of the East side hills and the property itself is impressive.  Photo’s to come!  From here we were a little wined out…so time for a little pacific coast palate cleanser.  We headed to the coast and dinner at Moonstone beach.  We finished dinner and drove partway back to Paso to pull off and wait to watch sunset.

Our final day started with tour at Tablas Creek.  We are loyal members here and took a tour before our tasting.  The place has grown so much since our last trip here.  We saw Bob Haas arriving for the day, and while we did not see winemaker Neil Collins, we did get to hang with his dog Millie!  From here we had a little time before our tour at neighboring Halter Ranch and made a stop at Adelaida to taste the wines, the almonds, see the sheep and alpacas and meet Addy the vineyard cat.  We headed back to Halter Ranch to do our tour and tasting, and fell in love with the place.  The new winery here is state of the art and stunning.  We ended our trip here on a high note.

So that is the quick view, watch for detailed posts and pictures from these amazing wineries over the next few weeks.

Carhartt Winemakers Dinner

When we were traveling through wine country last year we made a brief afternoon stop in Los Olivos.  It was almost the end of the day and  we had stopped at 2 other tasting rooms and headed down to Saarloos and Sons only to find them closed.  Sadly we headed across the street and the gods were more than kind as we slid into the tiny little tasting room a Carhartt.  I’ve waxed poetic about them before so feel free to check out that blog post if you want more details on the tasting room.  For here, suffice to say we were in love and charmed and joined the wine club.  So…as folks who rarely have the weekend off, when we had a vacation the first thing we did was to check our wineclubs and see if any had special events.  Voila!  The Carhartt Winemakers Dinner fit perfectly!  The Dinner is held at the winery on Rancho Santa Ynez just south of Los Olivos.  Limited to 120 guests the event feels like a family affair with Brooke, Mike and Chase out greeting guests and pouring wine.  We began thinking it was going to be cold and in fact many people went to get coats.  I however had not thought to pack one…it didn’t matter with the food wine and conversation I never got cold. A band played jazz with a keyboard/trumpet player and a dog.  (yes keyboard with one hand, trumpet with the other). Lights were strung over the lawn and candles set on each table. A roving magician wondered entertaining guests.  Richard’s quick wit and ability to deal with hecklers was impressive.  He also helped a table of people who didn’t know each other to bond.  Dinner was great, the wine fantastic and we made 7 new friends!  The raffle ended the night and our table seemed always just a number away from a win.  Finally Michael’s number came up!  We won a bottle of 2009 Fourplay.  While it was a prize worth saving, the only way to finish this evening was to pop the bottle and share with all of our new friends.  It took some work!  They tried to talk us out of opening it and then when opened the pourer tried to tell us “Oh no, I think it’s corked!  I’ll take it home for you!” HA  we poured a glass for everyone at the table and enjoyed a charming moment of community with these other wine lovers.  A perfect end to the evening.