The “Key” to Wine Country – an inside perspective on what Santa Barbara Wine Country is all about.


The Key to Wine Country event in Santa Barbara was created by the Santa Barbara Vintners to give you a chance to get to know a little more about the wineries. More than just discounted tastings, many of the participating wineries set up unique events to give you an insiders perspective on their wines, vineyards and styles.

 

Riverbench Vineyard

Riverbench Vineyard

Our Key Weekend began in the Santa Maria Valley at Riverbench Vineyard with a vineyard walk on Friday morning with Rawley Hermreck the Vineyard Manager. Rawley walked us into the vineyard and explained the planting and trellising techniques that they use.

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We were able to see the new vines that would be planted the next day in the front block (watch for some pictures of this process!).  Laura the tasting room manager set us up to  learn how to dip their pinot bottles in wax for the beautiful wax closure, and then we enjoyed lunch on the back patio with Rawley and his dog Sadie complete with a tasting of the Riverbench wines. They have a sparkling program and the Blanc de Blanc was really lovely.  Of course I left with that bottle of Pinot I dipped!

 

Bottle Dipping

Bottle Dipping

We had some free time before our next event and spent a little time wandering in Los Olivos, ending up in the tiniest tasting room and enjoyed the casual laid back atmosphere at Carhartt.

 

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Our next event was the Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn. The Ballard Inn is a beautiful spot just south of Los Olivos. Chef Budi Kazali is also the owner of the the Inn, purchasing it in 2004. He blends Asian and New French styles with fresh local ingredients to create some captivating dishes.

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Wine-pour600The evening began at 6 pm with Michael Larner pouring his Rose as well as the Malvasia Bianca and guests relaxed in the parlor or on the porch, watching the sun start to dip and the trees start to glow. Passed hors d’oeuvres kept our stomachs at bay as we waited for the main event. The pairings were beautiful and the intimate dining room made for a singular experience. Watch for the full blog post on this incredible evening as well as our series of conversations with Michael Larner.

 

Presquile Wine Event

Presquile Wine Event

Saturday our day began with a unique event at Presqu’ile Winery in the Santa Maria Valley. Presqu’ile gathered 4 winemakers, including their own Dieter Cronje, to taste through wines made from grapes from the Presqu’ile Vineyards.

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On hand were Ernst Storm of Storm Wines, Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce and Ariki Hill of Labyrinth. We tasted through 9 wines doing side by side comparisons and listening to the winemakers discuss their winemaking techniques and unique aspects of each vintage. The event took place on the crushpad of the winery, high above the tasting room in this gravity flow space. Matt Murphy, President of Presqu’ile is warm and welcoming and kicked off the event with an introduction and welcome. This was a fascinating journey to taste the differences in these wines and search for the underlying commonality that the soil and the site bring. It was truly an amazing event for a wine geek! I was in heaven and took page upon page of notes! Of course the atmosphere was stunning as you looked to the panel sitting next to the railing that looked down on the winery floor, the glassware, the charcuterie laid out with such care and the attentiveness to warmth and hospitality… it was a beautiful event.

 

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

We had to dash out sooner than I would have liked so that we could make it to Buellton for another unique event. Cold Heaven Cellars was holding a “Rhone Scentual” event. We arrived at the Buellton tasting room and were greeted by Kara and Liz.

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

In the barrel room they had 2 tables set with tasting wheels, sheets for notes and lovely blue mason jars each filled with a different item to spark your aromatic senses. We began with the white wines (Viogniers of course!) and while we were all a little shy at first, this quickly became a case of grabbing for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with the people around you. Conversations were animated and we all found that we were smelling things in a new way and with much more thought. It was a discovery each time you opened a jar. Kara and Liz had samples of diatomaceous earth, white pepper, white flowers, fresh peaches, grapefruit peal and so many others. For the Reds at the other table they had chocolate, leather, fresh berries, cinnamon, just to start, I can’t remember them all! Grapefruit peelThis was really a wonderful experience and Kara was there every step of the way encouraging you to make more discoveries and talk about other fragrances that you found in your scent memory. This event, broke down those barriers of intimidation from tasting notes. You may think that you can’t smell the habanero on that wine, but once you dip your nose in that jar, your memory is sparked and you can find it! Those tasting notes aren’t really as crazy and out there as people sometimes think. It’s just a matter of creating those scent memories and keeping them active!

 

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats

With a little time to kill before the evening event, we headed to Industrial Eats for lunch. Mention Industrial Eats to anyone in the valley and you will get the same response. People will often close their eyes briefly, envisioning the last thing they had there, and then will animatedly tell you about the amazing things you should order there. We had attended the Sta. Rita Hills AVA dinner here back in April and were excited to go try some wood fired pizza for lunch. The tables are long community tables allowing large groups to sit together or smaller groups to make new friends. The food here is phenomenal and the service is great. Don’t miss stopping here!

 

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Our last event of the day was in Santa Ynez at Imagine Wine. They held an evening of Music, Art, Food and “Blogging”. I’m blushing a little, the “blogging” was added since we were attending. Located on the corner of Numancia and Edison this tasting room is also an art gallery that is flooded with natural light from 2 sides. For this event they featured the work of Robert Karl Vogel, as well as music from Jim Campbell and then of course the wines. Ross Rankin, the owner and winemaker had barrel samples out on the corner of the porch and took guests through the stories of each wine. Jim

Jim Campbell

Jim Campbell

Campbell performed “every song you know by heart (almost).” (really, I could sing along with everything!). Lyndee Rankin had great food set out to accompany the wines and you could wander and sip as you enjoyed the “En Plein Air” paintings by Robert Karl Vogel, landscapes and cloudscapes of California and the Sierras. Also sculptures by Blake Rankin, (son of the winemaker) dotted the tasting room. The centerpiece for the gallery is a sculpture called Wings, which is the inspiration for one of his father’s wines.

Ross’s wines are unique in that he believes in aging his wines before release. We did get to taste his new (Barbera)? which he created specifically to have a wine for a quicker release. It was a lovely evening with the art, music and wine inspiring great conversations among the varied guests. Watch for a video blog with insights from Ross on his wines!

 

I unfortunately had to fly home to Vegas, so Michael enjoyed the Sunday Vineyard Hike and Farm-to-table lunch at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard without me. So here…I’ll turn it over to him.

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

It was a great weekend for wine tasting and a beautiful morning. I was looking forward to seeing the Farm and tasting the wines. We had stopped by their booth at the grand tasting during the Spring Vintners Weekend event and their wines were amazing.  After tasting them again that still held true.  Karen Steinwachs, their winemaker told us during the tour, that they try to keep the wines affordable. This is possible because they do everything in house, but the wines really could sell for twice the amount they sell them for.  When you drive in you only see the tasting room and the surrounding farm, that is because the vineyard and winery are up on the plateau.  So we drove up the hill and started out the day at the winery at the top of the plateau where Karen poured our first wine  a 2013 “Zingy”, a Sav Blanc, and told us stories about how it was named.  She then gave us a tour of the wine making and storage facility, followed by a walk around the picturesque views of the vineyard. We made our way back to the winery tried another Sav Blanc, the 2011 Devin, we  then made our way back down the hill to the picnic grounds below,

where we were treated to a chef Demo by Pascale Beale and tasted various wines with fresh from the farm Salads.  We will have a more complete Blog post and video on this adventure at Buttonwood. This is a must stop, to see the combination of Farm and Vineyard.  If you can visit this Fall while they are doing their Harvest Tour, it should not be missed.

 

Stay Tuned, in the next couple of weeks we will be Posting Blogs and Videos on this amazing Weekend.  We will also be launching a Ballard Canyon Series, with Interviews with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery, and Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards. This will be a 4 week Series starting July 7th 2014. We will also be at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July to talk to with more winemakers and hear more stories from Santa Barbara.  So you can expect more information on this incredible region for wines.

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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

The 2014 Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend – My highlight reel.

Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner

Our trip to the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend was absolutly amazing.  The weekend was filled with events to suit any wine lover, and while there was no way that we could attend everything, I’ll give you the quick run down on the amazing events we did attend. This is just the quick version; you can look forward to more detailed posts on each of our adventures as well as photos and video.

Industrial Eats in Buellton CA

Industrial Eats in Buellton CA

Our weekend began Thursday night with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner & Wine Pairing.  This event was held at the new Industrial Eats restaurant in Buellton. The dinner included hors d’oeuvres, 3 courses plus dessert, and included 10 wines. On hand to explain and discuss the wines and pairings were Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Jeff Connick Assistant Winemaker at Dierberg Star Lane and Laura Roach, Enologist at Sanford. The evening was filled with great food, great wine, great people and great conversation.  For a brief view of our evening, check out the video here.

Friday morning we took a drive out Santa Rosa Road to explore the vineyards in this part of the Sta. Rita Hills. The drive begins just south of Buellton of the west side of the 101.  You pass Mosby where they primarily do Italian varieties and then come to Richard and Thekla Sanford’s Alma Rosa.

Alma Rosa sign

Alma Rosa in the Spring

It was picturesque with the sign and the orange poppies blooming all around.  Unfortunately the tasting room is currently closed as they do some expansion work.  But never fear they have a temporary tasting room open in Buellton on Industrial Way.  Past Alma Rosa you come to Lafond, and then finally to Sanford.

Sanford Winery

The Beautiful Sanford Tasting Room

The property here is stunning and the tasting room made of reclaimed wood from a Washington sawmill and adobe bricks made on premise is beautiful, yet understated. After a tasting here we headed back to do the vineyard hike at the Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard.

Beckmen Hike at Purisma Mountain

Hiking to the top of Purisima Mountain with Steve Beckmen

The Purisima Mountain Vineyard is located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA.  This area lies along the winding Ballard Canyon road. This vineyard is not located with the Beckmen Winery, which is one canyon over, but is their larger vineyard with 125 planted acres of world class Rhone varieties.  The vineyard reaches 1250 feet at the top of Purisima Mountain and that is where we were headed.  With Steve Beckmen as our guide we walked the vineyards, learned about the soil, the grapes, the viticulture…it was fascinating.  We did make a few stops along the way, two for food and wine and one for the view (that was from the top).  Steve was an unending resource of information and it made for a spectacular day.  I will share more of the wonderful insights I gleaned from him in another post, but for now, you can enjoy some of our hike here.

Following our hike we headed back to do one more tasting in Los Olivos.

Sandhi Wines at the Watering Hole at Matteis Tavern

Sandhi Wines at the Watering Hole at Matteis Tavern

Located in The Watering Hole at the historic Matteis Tavern, is Sandhi Wines tasting room. You will find it next to the tavern, over the lawn, under the water tank and in this lovely little cottage.  Rajat Parr, Charles Banks and winemaker Sashi Moorman founded Sandhi in 2010.  They wanted to produce wines of balance and the wines here are stunning with brilliant and elegant character.  And…the fact that they are served in the exquisite Zalto glasses doesn’t hurt a bit!  Sarah was a wealth of knowledge and was kind enough to stay late to answer all of our questions.  Be aware, they will be moving into the old Epiphany tasting room around the corner soon.  While they are moving (beginning May 1st) they will be available by appointment only.  Visit their website for Sarah’s contact information to set up an appointment to taste these amazing wines.

Now what we needed was big and easy food and we found Chomp in Solvang.  This place is diner style with burgers, fries and shakes.  They do serve local wines and have some good beers on tap, but we opted for a shake to split.  The place is comfortable and modern and was bustling when we got there.  Aaron the owner found us a seat at the bar, which was perfect. The food was outstanding, the service really good.

Panorama Carhartt Grand Tasting

Panorama of the Grand Tasting at River View Park in Buellton

Saturday was the day for the Grand Tasting located at the River View Park in Buellton. The tastings were set up around multiple tents with all the wineries conveniently in alphabetical order so you could easily find the wineries you were looking for.  Interspersed among the wineries in each tent you would find a restaurant station where you could grab a bite.  They also had Artists Alley where you could find wine inspired artwork, a massage station, a silent auction tent and Alan Hancock College had a space where they had information on viticulture and they were giving out wine grape cuttings. This year you could purchase wine at the festival and at the entrance was a large tent where wines could be picked up as you left.  The event was a wonderful opportunity to try some amazing wines from this area and to speak with many of the winemakers themselves. It was a very enjoyable day spent with lots of other wine lovers!

For dinner Michael was inspired by some delicious meatballs he had at the festival and we drove to Santa Ynez to have dinner at Trattoria Grappolo.  It was busy but they found us a spot at the pizza bar.  Dinner was delicious and watching the incredible staff work together seamlessly and so fluidly to create these beautiful plates of food was truly inspirational.  If you are in the area, go…and request a seat at the pizza bar!

abc-patio-open-house

Relaxing at the Au Bon Climat & Qupe Open House

Sunday was all about Open Houses.  I believe there were 61 different winery events happening in the valley.  We headed to the twice annual Au Bon Climat and Qupe Open House, which was way north in the Santa Maria Valley at their winery which is tucked way back down some back roads. If you want to find their tasting room…Au Bon Climat is in downtown Santa Barbara and Qupe is in Los Olivos.  Cheese, crackers and olives and the lunch table filled with home cooked food and Barbeque done by Jim Clendenen himself were found in the front room by their offices.  The barrel room was dotted with tasting stations for the 8 or so labels that Jim Clendenen and Bob Linquist have between them.  There was plenty to taste and it was all available for purchase on site, at least until it sold out.  After a bit we took our glasses and some cheese and headed out to the dock area outside and sat down at a barrel to enjoy the atmosphere and the view.

But of course, there was another open house to get to and it was in Lompoc!

Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Wes Hagen pulling Chardonnay from a barrel for the Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Clos Pepe has its winemaking facility in Lompoc outside the Wine Ghetto.  We made the trek from Santa Maria for their open house and for a barrel tasting.  Wes Hagen, as always, was full of fascinating information and was pouring delicious wine.  We had the lovely Sparkling Pinot and tasted through some Chardonnays, Pinots and his Rhone blend.  Then came the barrel tastings, with Wes coming around and filling glasses and explaining each wine and where it was in its journey.  Watch for another detailed blog post and movie on this.  Really, someone should just follow Wes around recording him, he is an encyclopedia of wine knowledge and he imparts his knowledge in the most entertaining way.

Fiddlehead Winery in Lompoc

Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc

After the Barrel Tasting we headed to the Ghetto for some corned beef sliders.  Oh…and some amazing wine and more inspiring wine knowledge from Fiddlehead’s owner and winemaker Kathy Josephs.  Fiddlehead does Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Noir. She had two stations set up in the winery and got you moving back and forth between the two.  They were of course pouring 728, their Pinot from the Fiddlestix vineyard, which is at mile marker 7/28 on the Santa Rosa Road and the Doyle, which is their reserve Pinot that they do not make every year.  The wines were fantastic, we met great people there, and…yes we closed the place.  We were there to watch Kathy turn up the music and start dancing as cleanup began.

Matteis Tavern

The historic Matteis Tavern

So our tastings for the day were done, now it was time to enjoy our last dinner of the trip, so we headed to the newly renovated Matteis Tavern.  We had eaten at this historic venue a couple years ago and had a great meal.  It had since closed and then reopened in July of last year. The Tavern itself has been around since 1886 and is a historic Stagecoach stop.  Our dinner here was spectacular.  The food, service and surroundings all made for the perfect end to a day.  We will entice you with a photo here, but watch for a full blog post on this historic location.

salmon-and-corn

Red Trout and Creme Corn Brûlée

 

 

Presquille Vineyard

Presqu’ile Vineyard Tasting Room

 

Persquille view

The View from Presqu’ile

Our last day was just a partial day and we had a couple places we wanted to get to.  We began with a drive north headed to Presqu’ile North in the Santa Maria Valley. I often speak of beautiful properties, but…you know when you go to a parade of homes and get to the most beautiful house…well Presqu’ile is the winery equivalent.  “Presqu’ile” means “almost an island” in French and was the name of the Murphy Family property in Mississippi that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  The family looked for a place to rebuild their family gathering spot and came upon this property in Santa Maria.

 

The wines are unique and delightful and the place…well, let the pictures speak.

Our last tasting in Santa Barbara was at the tiny Larner Tasting room in Los Olivos.  They are located in the Los Olivos General Store (you will see the old gas pump out front).

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room in Los Olivos

The Larner Vineyards are in the new Ballard Canyon AVA and Michael Larner was the person who got the ball in motion to create the AVA.  We spoke with Michael at the Grand Tasting and did some tasting there, but wanted to see the tasting room and pick up some wines to take home.  Their entire selection is exceptional and the people are genuine and wonderful. This is their inaugural year of Larner Wines  being produced, they grow Rhone varieties: Viognier, Grenache, Mouvedre & Syrah as well as Malvasia Bianca. We will post our full discussion with Michael Larner in another post shortly.

With our tasting done, it was time to have some lunch before the drive home.  We had spoken earlier about trying the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café.  (photo of the restaurant) As Michael said, the patio is always full and that must be a good sign! Emily from Larner had recommended the Beets and Burrata appetizer and the Mykonos Pizza (with pesto, oven dried tomato, tapenade, feta, cucumber & four cheeses).  This 12” pizza was more than enough for the two of us.  The menu here is local, delicious and a little unexpected.  This is definitely a place that we will return to.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

So…that was our weekend and it doesn’t even begin to cover all the events that were happening with the Vintners Spring Weekend!  This area is producing astoundingly good wines and the fact that they are so laid back and you have so many opportunities to speak with winemakers makes it a truly exceptional place to visit if you are a wine lover.  Clear your calendars for October 10-13 and head up for the Celebration of Harvest Weekend!  Or visit anytime!  You can find information on the entire Santa Barbara region at the Santa Barbara Vintners website.

Sta. Rita Hills, the Burgundy of Santa Barbara

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

Vineyards of Sta. Rita Hills as viewed from Hilliard Bruce

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

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

Sta. Rita Hills AVA map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

Clos Pepe Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills

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

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

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

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

Picking Pinot Noir at Clos Pepe

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

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

The reservoir at Hilliard Bruce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Santa Ynez Valley and it’s Wineries

Santa Ynez AVA

Santa Ynez Valley is the largest of the AVA’s in Santa Barbara County taking in 76,000 acres . This is a cool climate AVA in Santa Barbara County that encompasses 3 smaller AVA’s, Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon and Ballard Canyon.  The AVA is bordered on the North by the Purisima Hills and the San Raphael Mountains and to the south by the Santa Ynez Mountains.  We mentioned the transverse valley before, this valley funnels cool air in from the Pacific.

The Santa Ynez Valley AVA and its included AVAs

The Santa Ynez Valley AVA and its included AVAs

Because this area is so large and includes 3 other AVA’s a large portion of the wineries in Santa Barbara are included in this AVA.

The Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association is an association of select boutique wineries in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley that covers about 6 miles.  These wineries have banded together to form this association and hold several events over the course of the year.  Including “The Summer Pass”  which allows you to taste anytime between May 1 and August 31 at any of the member wineries.  Your pass expires when you have tasted at all of the wineries or on August 31st, whichever comes first.

http://www.santaynezwinecountry.com/events.html

There are 15 wineries included in the Association including Alexander & Wayne, Arthur Earl, Brander, Buttonwood Farm, Casa Cassara, Cimarone & 3CV Wines, Daniel Gehrs, Imagine Wines, Lincourt, Lucas & Lewellen, Rideau Vineyard, Standing Sun Wines, Toccata, Toretti Family Vineyard & William James Cellars.

Some of the wineries of the Santa Ynez Wine Country Association

Some of the wineries of the Santa Ynez Wine Country Association

The Santa Barbara Vintners have a Santa Ynez tasting route that takes you through the center of the Santa Ynez Valley, from Los Olivos to Solvang.  It differs slightly from the Association route including a few different wineries like Beckmen, Blackjack Ranch, Bridlewood Estate Winery, Carr, Crown Point, Fontes & Phillips Wines, Kalyra Winery & Sunstone, this route is also worth checking out.

If you want to taste wines from many of these wineries all in the convenience on one location, you should head to the Santa Barbara Vintner’s Spring Weekend for the Grand Tasting on April 12.

VF2012 Attendees, Photo Credit- Jeremy Ball

VF2012 Attendees, Photo Credit- Jeremy Ball

Fontes & Phillips Wines & Carr will be presenting at the Sparkling Wine Seminar & Panel Discussion during the Wine Education Seminar Series on Friday april 11th.

Buttonwood Farm will be hosting a Vineyard Hike with Wine also on Friday. They will be pouring at the 90+ Points Top Rated Wine & Dine Event on Friday night, along with Beckmen. They also have a Vineyard Walk, Scavenger Hunt & Brunch scheduled at the winery on Sunday.

Brander will be holding an Cabernet Sauvignon blind tasting event featuring Cabernet from around the globe with a panel discussion on Friday night.  They will have Argentine BBQ and music at the winery on Saturday.

Lucas & Lewellen will have Wine and Cheese Pairings on Saturday at their tasting room and Saturday night will hold their Vintners Festival Winemakers Dinner at Root 246.

Kalyra will be holding and “Around the World” Wine & Food pairing at the winery on Sunday.

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

Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara’s newest AVA

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Ballard Canyon is the newest of the AVA’s in Santa Barbara County, established in October of 2013.  This relatively small AVA encompassing only 7,800 acres sits at the center of the Santa Ynez Valley with Los Olivos to the North East and Solvang to the South. It produces Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Viognier.  Syrah accounts for almost half of the planting.

ballard canyon ava

ballard canyon ava

Ballard Canyon runs North-South, which protects it from the winds coming through the transverse valley than runs through the Santa Ynez Valley.  Happy Canyon is thought of as the warmest part of the region with daytime temperatures of 102, but it also drops to 48 overnight.  Ballard canyons highs are a little lower, but their nighttime lows are also a little higher, this allows the  grapes to stay warmer over night and warm up more quickly in the morning.

There are 18 Vintners and growers in the Canyon and 6 wineries:  Larner, Stolpman, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, Jonata & Beckmen.

The first vines were planted in this area in 1974 at the Ballard Canyon Winery.  Today this property is Rusack Vineyards.  The 17 acre estate was replanted in 2003 with varieties of grape that would capture the character of Ballard Canyon.  It is now planted in Sangiovese and Syrah primarily with bits of Savignon Blanc, Semillon and Petite Sirah.  Everything is farmed in small lots.

The Rusack’s bought this property in 1995 and in 2013 hired Steven Gerbac to be their winemaker. In addition to their Ballard Canyon property, the Rusack’s have a newly planted vineyard on Santa Catalina Island (but that story is for another day).

The winery is set back in on the property and you follow the winding drive through the old oaks to their tasting room. They have a lovely redwood deck on the front of the tasting room with tables and great vineyard views.  It is shaded by the oaks so it makes the perfect spot for a picnic.

Larner is on the southern end of Ballard Canyon.  When Michael and Christine Larner purchased the land in 1997 it was nothing but sage and chaparral with Texas Longhorns on the property.  Now the 34 acres of vineyard include 23 acres of Syrah, 6 acres of Grenache and smaller plots of Viognier, Malvasia Blanca and Mourvedre. For a number of years they sold fruit to wineries, but in 2009 they began making their own.

Michael Larner is also the instigator behind the Ballad Canyon AVA.  In 2010 the vintners in Ballad Canyon gathered to coordinate an event on Syrah.  Michael got them together again after the event and recruited Wes Hagen  of Clos Pepe to help them develop plans for creating the AVA.

You can visit the Larner Tasting room is located in Los Olivos.  They hope eventually to have a beautiful tasting room on their property in the old Ballard General Store.  (again, another story for another day)

Tom Beckmen purchased a 365 acre hillside property in 1996 that is now Beckmen Vineyards.  With elevations of up to 1250 feet, this property would become the Purisima Mountain Vineyard. Tom & his son Steve farm this property and  they are certified biodynamic. They vineyard is planted with seven clones of Syrah that fill 18 blocks, five clones of Grenache that fill 8 blocks and smaller plantings  of Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rousanne, Marsanne, Mourvedre and Sauvignon Blanc. The soils here are clay and clay loam with a limestone subsoil, which while typical of the soil in Rhone, is a rarity in California.

Their tasting room is at the winery and is south of Los Olivos.  Take a picnic and enjoy the views from one of the three gazebos at the duck pond after your tasting!

Stolpman was founded in 1990 by Tom & Marilyn Stolpman.  This vineyard in the limestone hills was turning out fruit for cult wines like Sine Qua Non & Ojai Vineyards, until in 1997 they started producing their own wines.  Their winemaker Sashi Moorman (who also works with Sandhi & Evening Land) joined them in 2001 and works closely with the Vineyard Manager Ruben Solorzano.  They have experimented with high density plantings and dry farming.  They produce Syrah, Roussane, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc with limited plantings of Grenache, Viognier, Petite Sirah and Chardonnay which they mostly use for blending.  Today Tom’s son Peter manages the vineyards and winery.

Stolpman's Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos on Alamo Pintado, in their little red cottage.  The cottage has fables. One says it was moved here from Arroyo Grande in the early 1900’s. Another claims it was built from scrap lumber from an old military barracks.  Regardless the Stolpman’s have filled it with a great staff and designed a Tuscan inspired bar. Plus they have a picnic area under the persimmon tree out front.  In the summer they even have a farm stand with local produce.

Jonata (pronounced Ho-na-ta, which is the Chumash word for “live oak”)has an 84 acre vineyard with sandy soil planted in Syrah, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc.

When they originally bought the property the French vineyard expert they brought in found only 5 acres of land on the 600 acre property that he felt were suitable to growing grapes.  Matt Dees joined them in 2004 as their winemaker and Ruben Solorzano is their vineyard manager.

Here there is extreme detail in the growing.  Each shoot and cluster is individually manicured.   Lots are separately pulled from each distinct part of the vineyard and put into different barrels or tanks before blending.  Well known French wine expert Michel Rolland comes in to check aging potential before bottling.  As a result of all of this extra attention and the fact that if a vintage doesn’t live up to their standards, they simply won’t produce a wine from it, these bottles can run up to $125 per bottle. Their 2010 La Sangre  de Jonata Syrah was given 97 points by Wine Advocate.

A little back story.  This winery is owned by Stanley Kroenke, a real estate developer who owns the Dever Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche.  He is also one of the leaders of the consortium that purchased Screaming Eagle.

Wines here are only sold through the mailing list. http://jonata.com

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Windmill on Saarloos & Son’s Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Last but not least I will mention Saarloos & Sons.  Their Windmill Ranch Vineyard lies within this AVA.

Saarloos & Sons is a family business that is 4 generations in the making.  Each of their releases is unique and is never duplicated.  Their goal is to capture the year in a bottle and bring you a high quality wine that they name in honor of a family member.  They have a 250 year plan, thinking not just for the next generation but for the next 50.  Their goal is “Honoring + Preparing”  and their wines are heartfelt and unique.  Their winemaker and resident chronicler is Keith Saarloos.  Check out the blog for amazing vineyard videos and for philosophic posts on life, family and farming (amongst other things).

And head to their tasting room in Los Olivos.  If you are lucky, Brad will be there and will fill your glass and your spirit as he passionately talks about the wines and his family that made them.

And…have to mention, if you are there on the weekend, try the cupcake pairings!

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons tasting room in Los Olivos

Over the upcoming Vintners Spring Weekend you will be able to taste many of these wines at the Grand Tasting on Saturday April 12th.  In addition, Steve Beckmen will be leading a Vineyard Hike with with wine at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard on Friday Spril 11th.  Larner will be pouring wines at the Barrel Toasting Seminar and Tasting at the Buellton Bodegas on Friday evening. Also Friday evening Beckmen and Larner will be pouring at the 90+ Wine & Dine event at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort in Santa Barbara.  Beckmen will also be pouring on Sunday at the Farm-to-Table Picnic at the Fess Parker Ranch.

2013 Spring Vintners' Festival at the Mission Santa Ines

2013 Spring Vintners’ Festival at the Mission Santa Ines

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

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

Santa Barbara Wines- the Highlight Reel!

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural Central Coast Wine Country

We are back from our trip to Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles and I wanted to quickly get the highlights out and give some shout outs to people and places that made this an exceptional trip.

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

We started the trip in Santa Barbara, walking the beach, exploring the murals in the funk zone and then heading up to beautiful State Street for lunch and a flight at Wine Bistro Pierre Lafond.  This beautiful café has great sidewalk tables that let you take in the romance that is State Street while enjoying great food and wine.  There is great history here, more about that in a later blog.

 

Grassini Tasting Room

Grassini Tasting Room

Our next stop was Grassini Family Cellars.  This winery is located in Happy Canyon and they specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their tasting room is located in the historic El Paseo shopping center near Au Bon Climat and Margerum.  This is a beautiful space and Katie Grassini stopped in while we were there and we had a wonderful conversation about their wines, the winery and the sustainable practices they are using there.

 

Carr SB Tasting Room

Carr SB Tasting Room

From there we headed off the beaten track a little to Carr and we tasted through their line up.  The space here is a converted Quonset hut giving it a feel of the inside of a barrel.  They also have wines available here on tap.

 

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Now it was back into the Funk Zone proper to AVA Santa Barbara, previously known as Anacapa Vintners.  This beautiful tasting room features wines from each of the Santa Barbara AVA’s.  On the entire wall behind the tasting room bar you will find a huge Elkpen mural that shows the AVAs and describes the climates, soils and topography.  They have soil samples on the counter to look at and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable.  For wine geeks that get into the soil and climate this is heaven.

To finish our day we headed down to Stearns Wharf to Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Tasting Room.  This beautiful tasting room is on the 2nd level on the Wharf with beautiful views of the coast and the ocean.  Their Deep Sea Wines are made with coastal grapes.  Shout out to Lauren for a great tasting!

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

 

We finished the day with some sunset shots followed by dinner on the end of the Wharf at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company…tiny and perfect!

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

 

Just before bed I realized I had a message from Morgen McLauglin from the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, she had been searching to see if anyone was harvested so we could go get some harvest shots.  Well she found a small harvest happening at none other than Clos Pepe.  So we were up early the next morning to meet her at the vineyard at 5:45.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

This unexpected boon turned out to be so much more than we expected.  Michael jumped in getting shots and Morgen and I chatted and she walked me down to meet Wes Hagen, the winemaker.  Wes handed us gloves, clippers, a bucket and a head lamp and directed us on the finer points of harvesting pinot noir.  The harvest was for a sparkling project that he was working on with another winery. We spent about 2 hours helping to harvest 2 rows of beautiful tight clusters of pinot noir and watching the sun come up.  And…we were lucky enough that Wes invited us to tag onto a tour and tasting he was doing later that day.

 

Vines at Carhartt

Vines at Carhartt

After a quick cleanup and breakfast at Succulent in Solvang, we headed to Carhartt for a winery tour with Joe the new Wine club manager.  We got to see all the new buildings the harvest prep and then head up to the ridge to see the vineyards as well as the newly planned vineyard site.

 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

We headed back into Los Olivos for a little wine and dessert!  “Enjoy Cupcakes” has cupcake flights available daily to pair with Saarloos and Sons tastings.  If you are here on a weekend, this is really something you shouldn’t miss.

We managed to have time for one more shared tasting at Presqu’ile.  This is a stunning tasting room that they unfortunately closed after Labor Day.  Don’t be too sad though, they have a tasting room open at their new winery in Santa Maria.  Everyone I have spoken to says the new winery is beautiful.  The wines here I found to have a unique flair which seems to come from their winemaker.  I look forward to stopping by the winery on our next trip.

At this point it was time to head back out to Clos Pepe.  I will have an entire post about our visit here.  Wes Hagen opens his mouth and fascinating facts fall out.  The wines were spectacular and the information and knowledge shared was beyond expectations.  If you are in the area and love wine, you should schedule a visit with Wes.

We ended our day in the world’s tiniest tasting room at Carhartt’s which becomes quite the gathering spot at the end of the day.  They are open an hour later than the other tasting rooms and end up being quite the industry gathering spot. And then caught a light dinner at Avant in Buellton.

 

Hilliard Bruce

Hilliard Bruce

The next morning we were off to Hilliard Bruce.  As I was tweeting about our upcoming trip, I had a tweet from them saying, “If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  Well with an offer like that…  So we went.  This is a mind bogglingly beautiful property.  John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are both Certified Master Gardeners and they love their plants.  The entire property is beautifully landscaped and truly, the canopy management is beyond anything you will see anywhere else.  Again, you will get an entire blog post on this exceptional property, but let me say that between the wine, the property and the people this was really an amazing visit.

Lots more fascinating details to come as well as photos and video!

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!

Santa Barbara…yes Again!

Life is better with WIne

I know…we were just there in April, but ya know, the wines in this area are really amazing!  We are headed back first to the Funk Zone to visit some more tasting rooms. We have waxed poetic on ABC (Au Bon Climat) and Municipal Winemakers, now it’s time to explore some of the other Funky Wine Tasting rooms.

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

The plan is lunch at Pierre Lafond’s Wine Bistro on State Street for lunch and a flight.  In 1962 Pierre Lafond opened the first winery in Santa Barbara County since prohibition.  Mr. Lafond originally had a wine and cheese shop that became the place to be for Santa Barbara wine lovers.

Pierre LaFond's Wine-Bistro

Pierre LaFond’s Wine-Bistro

He started Santa Barbara Winery and later Lafond Winery.  So…we will taste some wine, have some lunch and maybe try a little of the new Kambucha made locally that is now on the menu.  And hopefully we will find a seat out on the patio where we can absorb some of the State Street atmosphere.

After lunch we will head to Grassini Family Vineyards to do a chocolate pairing. They have a tasting room near ABC and Margerum.  Their vineyards are located on the east edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in Happy Canyon.  Oddly enough for this primarily Burgundian style region, they are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all Bordeaux varieties.  I look forward to finding out why they decided to grow Cab and what makes their vineyard Cab friendly.  They also have solar panels and are a gravity flow winery so I look forward to finding out more about that!

AVA Santa Barbara

AVA Santa Barbara

Then we head to the funkier part of Santa Barbara and stop by AVA Santa Barbara where I need to check out the amazing Elkpen murals of the region.

This winery is a wine geeks dream, the murals are all educational with details on the climate in each of the regions AVA’s.  They have wines from each of the 5 AVA’s in the regions.  They are owned by Seth Kunin of Kunin wines.  This should be a great opportunity to get a little more of the details of the area under my belt, with a big map to guide me.

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

After that we will hit as many other tasting rooms as is feasible and plan to get a nice sunset time-lapse out at the Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf that night.  Kalyra, Santa Barbara Winery, Carr, Oreana, Kunin, Riverbench, and Pali…you could all see us knocking at your door!  We will try!

Next stop Los Olivos!

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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!)