Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend 2016

Larner Vineyard

This past weekend was the time for our Annual trip to Santa Barbara for the Vintners Spring Weekend.  The weekend was filled with great food, great wine and great people.  We will start out with the overview here and then you can look forward to in depth posts on the winemakers we met and the events we attended coming up.

We started out early, the drive from Vegas is long, and arrived to the City of Santa Barbara in time for lunch.  The coastal winds were kicking up and we were probably some of the last diners of the day to be able to enjoy the outdoor patio at Moby Dick’s.  Then we took the beautiful drive up 154 through the San Marcos Pass to Los Olivos.  We did a tasting with Mae Apple at Tercero and picked up a Magnum of Larry’s Abberation for the Big Bottle Bash.  Larry was there and waxed poetic on Roussanne.  He is always fascinated to listen to.

The Big Bottle Bash

The kickoff event of the Vintners Spring Weekend was the Big Bottle Bash at Presqu’ile.  This event was sponsored by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.  Presqu’ile is a beautiful Vineyard and Winery in the Santa Maria Valley with gorgeous views, beautiful gardens and amazing hospitality.  We had been lucky enough to attend an event here on the Key to Wine Country Weekend held up on the crush pad, where 4 winemakers compared wines that they had made from the Presqu’ile vineyards.  The Big Bottle bash began with a cocktail hour on the Presqu’ile members patio. There were lots of bottles open, a fire in the fire pit, blue skies and great conversations.  We tasted through a Transcendence Grenache Rose, a Sandhi Chardonnay and a Presqu’ile Pinot Noir before Matt Murphy of Presqu’ile welcomed us and ushered us into the Tasting room for dinner.

View of the San Rafael Mountains from Presqu'ile Winery

View of the San Rafael Mountains from Presqu’ile Winery

This dinner by Chef Nick Barainca was served family style at two long tables and the magnums of wine were poured by several amazing Somms, including Rajat Parr who is also the owner of Sandhi, Dustin Wilson (from the Movie Somm) and Eric Railsback, one of the founders of Les Marchands in Santa Barbara and a founder of Lieu Dit Winery.  There were amazing wines poured.. a Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc (they focus on Loire Valley style wines), a Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir (That is from the Clendennen Family Vineyards),  a Pinot from a Vineyard near Sea Smoke that Raj Parr was pouring that might have been from Sandhi, but I am not sure, a Chateauneuf de Pape that someone had amazingly brought with them and a Dragonette wine.  All of the wines were delicious and several were really interesting for a couple of reasons that I will elaborate on.  One of the guests at our table, Eric works with the winemaker at CCGP (Central Coast Group Project).  Scott Sampler of CCGP will be someone you will hear us speak more of here, and we look forward to following his wines.  Scott is playing with masceration times.  Masceration is the process of soaking the skins, stems and seeds to extract flavor and tannins at the beginning of the winemaking process.  Extended mascerations can be anywhere from 7 to 44 days.  Scott poured a Grenache that had a 100 day masceration period and a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend) that had been 120 days in masceration.  I look forward to tasting his wines as they age and he experiments further.  Lastly we also tasted the wine we brought, Aberration from Tercero.  For this wine Larry was experimenting with how long you could leave a red wine in stainless steel.  This wine is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache & Mourvedre aged in stainless steel for 4 months.  This wine is fresh and bright and drinks a little like a deep rose.  It’s great slightly chilled and perfect for summer.  Dinner was dazzling and there will be more on that later.

Wine Seminar on Syrah

Saturday morning started off early with the Wine Seminar. This year the panel discussed Syrah in Santa Barbara County.  Wendy Thies Sell did a magnificent job moderating the panel of 7 winemakers, growers and owners from all over Santa Barbara.  We tasted 8 Syrahs from various areas within the Region, from cooler to warmer climates.  There were wines from SAMsARA and Crawford Family Wines in the Sta. Rita Hills, Central Coast Group Project and Tercero Syrahs from White Hawk Vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley, Bien Nacido and Qupe Syrahs from the Santa Maria Valley and Larner and Stolpman Syrahs from Ballard Canyon an AVA that identifies itself as “Syrah Territory”.  All the wines were wonderful and they were all different, some dramatically so.  Watch back for more details on this seminar and more information on the winemakers and wines.

Santa Barbara Vintners 2016 Wine Seminar on Syrah

Santa Barbara Vintners 2016 Wine Seminar on Syrah

The Grand Tasting

From the Seminar we headed straight to the Vintners Spring Weekend Grand Tasting at Riverview Park in Buellton.  This years event was set up by Wine Trails instead of alphabetically. For some trails this was great being able to taste wines from the same area made by different wine makers.  For other trails like Lompoc or Los Olivos which are not located by vineyards, you could enjoy the great diversity of wine styles in this area.  As always there was great food and music and so many winemakers to speak with.  Some highlights of our tastings included Ca’ Del Grevino, Demetria, DV8 Cellars, Ferguson Crest, Lieu Dit, Refugio Ranch Vineyards, Solminer, Toretti Family Vineyard and Transcendence.   We had been challenged at the Big Bottle Bash by Eric who we sat with to spend the Grand Tasting tasting with wineries that we had never tried before and we did this for the most part.  Check back as we delve further into some of our new discoveries.

Lunch at the 2016 Spring Grand Tasting with Santa Barbara Vintners

Lunch at the 2016 Spring Grand Tasting with Santa Barbara Vintners

Dinner out (at SY Kitchen)

After the Grand Tasting it was time to think about dinner.  Michael wanted to continue the trend of trying something new and challenged me to find someplace for dinner where we had not eaten before.  We ended up with fewer options than we expected (we’ve eaten at quite a few restaurants in the Valley).  We settled on SY Kitchen in Santa Ynez and were not disappointed.  Outside the restaurant is unassuming, but as you stroll through the gate you see cozy outdoor lounge seating all around the yard.  The entrance takes you to the bar area and from there you are ushered about the house to your seating area.  We were on the partially enclosed patio which was perfect.  We skipped appetizers to save room for dessert (Thank goodness!).  We shared the parpadelle special with scallops and asparagus paired with a Grimm’s Bluff Savignon Blanc and the Gnocchi alla Salsaccia with tomato, sausage and smoked ricotta with a 2007 Arcadian Syrah from the Santa Ynez Valley.  Both pairings were lovely and I was not familiar with either of these Wineries…so I have more research to do and you can look forward to finding out more about Arcadian and Grimm’s Bluff with me!  The pastas were delicious and not too heavy so we could dive happily into dessert!  We chose a glass each of the 2004 Vin Santo from Tuscany and the Passito di Pantelleria from Sicily. Then we asked our waiter for his help in pairing a dessert with these. He recommemded the Fresh Berry Plate with handmade coconut gelato, balsamic and hibiscus to pair with the Passito and the Home made Vanilla Panna Cotta with caramel and ladies’ kisses crunch with the Vin Santo.  So needless to say…you can expect a future post on Italian dessert wines!

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

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

Vin Santo, Passito di Pantelleria, Fresh Berry Plate and Homemade Vanilla Panna Cotta at SY Kitchen

Vin Santo, Passito di Pantelleria, Fresh Berry Plate and Homemade Vanilla Panna Cotta at SY Kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Larner Fête

Sunday we attended the Larner Fête out at the Larner Vineyard.  Vintners Spring Weekend is a great time for wineries to hold events, and Sunday is perfect as everyone is looking for a great way to spend the last day of the weekend.  This event brought together 6 winemakers plus Michael Larner tasting wines made from Larner Vineyard Grapes.  These winemakers included: Larry Schaffer from Tercero, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Mac Myers of McPrice Myers, Craig Jaffurs of Jaffurs, Mikael Sigouin of Kaena, Scott Sampler of Central Coast Group Project and of course Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard and Winery.  We had amazing conversations with all of the winemakers and you can look forward to posts on each of them coming up.   The event was held in the barn which hopefully one day will be converted into the Larner Winery.  There was food from Autostrada who did wood fired pizzas and an array of sliders from Amaranto Catering and it was all delicious. The Ruben Lee Dalton Band played original music on a stage and a flatbed truck bed in front of the barn with picnic tables and umbrellas for relaxing between tastings.

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We wrapped up our weekend with an interview with Michael Larner which will kick off an educational series on Syrah that will be coming up.

A weekend in Santa Barbara is always amazing. This place is filled with great food, wine and people.  Big shout out to Morgen of the Santa Barbara Vintners for putting together such a great Vintners Spring Weekend.  Keep in mind though, anytime is a good time to get to Santa Barbara Wine Country.  If you want a big event, the Celebration of Harvest Weekend will be coming up in the fall.  But don’t wait, there are Multiple Wine Trails and tasting rooms to be explored, pick a weekend…or there are many tasting rooms that are even open during the week.  Trust me, you will need years to explore them all.

We obviously have quite a bit more to share about this trip, so follow us on Facebook or Twitter to catch all of our posts!

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Tercero’s Larry Schaffer on his love of Rhones

tercero Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country

Santa Barbara Wine Country has a cast of wildly eclectic characters.  When you think of those characters, Larry Schaffer always comes to mind. Last year we had a wonderful opportunity to speak with Larry Schaffer who is the owner and winemaker at tercero.  It was the Spring Vintners Weekend and on top of everything else, Larry had an out of town wine tasting dinner to pour his wines at.  None the less, he made time for us.  We met Maeapple at his tasting room and she took us through a tasting before Larry arrived.  Larry is graduate of the UC Davis program for Viticulture and Enology.  He is passionate about many things; wine, of course, screw caps and as we discuss with him here, Rhones.

“So I started doing Rhones. My Masters thesis was on tannin development in Syrah. And so I fell in love with Syrahs throughout the state of California. Had a couple of Grenaches that really intrigued me. My favorite wines of all time have been old world Chateau Neufs. To me there is something magical aromatically about those wines and how they develop. I love gentle giant wines that continue to expand and twist and turn and I find Rhones do that more than other varieties do.

I’m also a fan of underdogs and making Rhones in a region that is not known for Rhones is basically being an underdog. Starting off making wine you kind of have to find a niche. It can’t be what everyone else is doing, so for me that’s kind of where I got my start. That’s why I started doing what I did. And the more I did it the more variety I saw in those varieties, the more I continue to fall in love with it. I’m on the board of directors for the Rhone Ranger, I’m the President of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Rhone Rangers.. Rhones are definitely my passion.

I hope to never get bored with doing it in Santa Barbara County. Such diverse soils climates terroir whatever you want to say. And our vintages have been so varied that there has been no similarity over the last decade of any individual wine that I have made. I enjoy that.”

You can often find Larry at his tercero Tasting room in Los Olivos.  It is off the beaten path at 2445 Alamo Pintado Ave, suite 104 (find the entrance on San Marcos).  They are open Thursday through Monday from noon to about 5 pm or you can call them at 805-245-9584 and set an appointment.  If Larry is not there Maeapple with take great care of you.  We did a pairing with the tercero 2013 Mourvedre Rose from Vogelzang Vineyard in Happy Canyon, that you can check out here.

One of the most beautiful things about Santa Barbara County Wines is that the winemakers are passionate AND accessible.  They love to speak about their wines and this region.  When you go to the Grand Tasting either in the Spring or at Harvest, you will often find the winemaker themselves behind the table pouring wine and speaking animatedly about these wines.  The wines are their children, and they love to tell you about them.  Just don’t ask for their favorite…you will always get the same answer  “And which of your children is your favorite? Don’t you love them all the same?”

If you want to meet some of these passionate people you should head to the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend and their Grand Tasting on Saturday April 23rd.  the links will take you to more information and tickets. You can also visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site for more details on this beautiful area and it’s wineries.

And of course, you will find plenty of information right here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.  Stop back and explore or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Zaca Mesa University Jim Clendenen & Bob Lindquist

Zaca Mesa Winery

Welcome to part 3 of our coverage of the Santa Barbara Vintners Wine Seminar from the Vintners Spring Weekend 2015. The theme of the seminar was “Zaca Mesa University” based on a wonderful article in Edible Santa Barbara from Spring of 2013 about all of the winemakers who have come through Zaca Mesa Winery. This panel featured Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Eric Mohseni the current winemaker at Zaca Mesa. The Seminar was moderated by Sommelier Christopher Sawyer. Part 3 features Jim Clendenen & Bob Lindquist.

Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat

Jim is the Winemaker at Au Bon Climat, the Santa Barbara winery he founded with his friend Adam Tolmach back in 1982. Both he and Adam, came through Zaca Mesa.   Jim tells us how he saved the world from another mediocre lawyer, by instead going into wine. He is quintessentially Californian with shoulder length grey hair and typically sporting a Hawaiian shirt.   His wines however show the restraint and balance of the Old World wines of Burgundy.

Bob Lindquist of Qupe

Bob Lindquist is the Winemaker at Qupe.  Qupe pronouced “kyoo-pay” is the Chumash word for “poppy”.  The Chumash Indians are the indigenous people of the Central Coast.  A man who bleeds “Dodger” blue, he is a baseball lover who became a wine enthusiast while attending UC Irvine.  He is known for his love of Rhones as well as Chardonnay.  He and Jim share a winery they built in 1989 on the famous Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley.

Jim & Bob’s time at Zaca Mesa University

In this segment the comedy shines through as Jim tells us how he came to Zaca Mesa in 1978 to run the bottling line. He had more experience than any other applicants with a total of 6 hrs on the Brander bottling line bottling Fred Branders 1976 Gewurztraminer. He talks about their 1st Chard that won top honors in both Orange County and LA County with it’s accidental residual sugar and how they learned to stop that sweetness (and stop winning both top honors). We hear about the differences he found in winemaking techniques in Australia, California and France and the pluses and minuses of getting a salaried job at harvest.

Bob & Jim are friends from way back and Bob tells the very funny story of how Jim helped him get fired and hired thanks to a Kinks concert. He goes on to tell his story at Zaca Mesa after Jim left and how he opened his own winery Qupe in 1982 with the help of both Ken Brown and Marshall Reams. He also talks about making Syrah first from grapes from Gary Eberle in Paso and discovering that cool climate Syrah was the direction to go. He also brought a beautiful 10 year old Syrah from Bien Nacido Vineyard that we were able to taste.

 

 

 

There is more to come. Our next segment will feature Eric Mohseni the current wine maker at Zaca Mesa which will be released on June 10th.

For more conversations with winemakers and wineries visit Crushed Grape Chronicles – From Dirt to Glass

Zaca Mesa University Part 2 – Ken Brown

Zaca Mesa Winery

This is part 2 of our coverage of the Santa Barbara Vintners Wine Seminar from April of 2015.  The theme of the seminar was “Zaca Mesa University” with a panel of wine makers all of whom had come through the Zaca Mesa Winery.  Sommelier, Christopher Sawyer introduced the first of these winemakers Ken Brown.

Ken Brown or Byron Kent Brown started his career working for IBM, never dreaming that he would end up a winemaker.  He later got into real estate development with his father, who had a friend with a family vineyard in Lodi.  He got to know some people in the wine industry, fell in love with it and went back to school to become a winemaker.  When Marshall Reams decided to build a winery, he called Ken to help purchase the equipment and set the place up.  Ken became Zaca Mesa‘s first winemaker.  While there, he hired Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist who each went on to found Au Bon Climat and Qupe respectively.  After a bit as Zaca Mesa’s winemaker, Ken found he wanted to start making his own wines.  He founded Byron Winery in 1984 and built a winery where he not only made his own wines, but could also make the overflow wines for Zaca Mesa, when they ran out of room.  So basically he got his own winery, subsidized by Zaca Mesa, while still serving as their head winemaker.  Pretty good gig!  In 1990 Mondavi bought Byron.  He stayed on for 14 years before leaving to start Ken Brown Wines in 2003. They do small lot wines in an unassuming little tasting room in Buellton with a range of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.  But here…let’s let Ken tell it.

The next segment featuring Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat will be released on June 3rd 2015.

For more conversations with winemakers and wineries visit Crushed Grape Chronicles – From Dirt to Glass

Zaca Mesa University, With Christopher Sawyer

Zaca Mesa Winery

The Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend featured a Wine Seminar called “Zaca Mesa University”.  Zaca Mesa Winery has a long history of turning out amazing winemakers and this seminar brought 4 of them together.  Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Vintners introduced the seminar and then introduced our Moderator.  Christopher Sawyer is and internationally known sommelier, who is notorious for his pairings of wine with movies as well as wine with pop culture music.  Having attended UC Davis, Christopher followed the early winemakers in Santa Barbara.  He took some time to give us the history of the Santa Barbara Wine region before introducing us to the panel for the day which included: Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Eric Mohseni, the current winemaker at Zaca Mesa.

See more on From Dirt to Glass

Santa Barbara’s Wine Collection of El Paseo

El Paseo of Santa Barbara Central Coast Wine Country

Downtown Santa Barbara is picturesque with the Spanish Colonial Architecture and the trailing bougainvillea. In the heart of the Presidio Neighborhood lies the Paseo de la Guerra or El Paseo. This beautiful complex with it’s interior courtyards and passageways is the restored home of Jose de la Guerra y Noriega, the Commandante of the Presidio.

This historic property was purchased in the 1920’s and through several owners was designed into the paseo that it is today. In addition to the Casa de la Guerra Museum housed within the property, there are Shops, Wine tasting rooms and restaurants. It is a beautiful place to step back a little in time and slow your pace. The tasting rooms have gathered as the Wine Collection of El Paseo. We strolled into the center of the interior courtyard entering from the State Street side and began our tasting at…

Jamie Slone Wines

23 E. De La Guerra Street

Santa Barbara CA 93101

(805)560-6555

Open Daily 12-6

If you are a racing fan, you might know the name “Jamie Slone”. Jamie until recently, was a Formula Race Car Driver. When he would race in Indy Car weekend in Sonoma, the guys would always look to head out for a beer when there was time off. Jamie preferred to head into Sonoma and explore the wines. His fascination with wine led to the opening of Jamie Slone Wines. He works closely with his winemaker Doug Margerum, tasting blends and making suggestions, sometimes suggestions that are a little out of the norm..he has released a Cabernet Sauvignon & Syrah blend and feels as if blends might be his new direction in the market.

When we walked into the beautiful tasting room we were greeted first by Sophie, their dog and then by Jamie himself. He is passionate and energetic and loves to share the experience of his wines. The tasting room he describes as an American Riviera Experience and it is both stunning and warm. His wife Kym joined us toward the end of our tasting in time for a photo.

The wines have depth and nuance. Jamie pulled out a bit of his 2013 Sauvignon Blanc for us to taste which is all but gone. We also tasted the 2011 BoRific Red blend. It is a blend of Merlot & Cab Franc and is named “BoRific” after Jamie’s nickname for Kym. We left with a bottle of the beautiful, 2013 Aloysius Chardonnay, named after Kym’s late father which is a balanced and elegant wine. He also has a lovely Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir and his 2012 Super Tuscan which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese and just a hint of Malbec.

After a wonderful tasting, Jamie was kind enough to walk us down and introduce us at the MWC32 Tasting room.

Marjoram Wine Company

32 El Paseo (in the center courtyard)

Santa Barbara, CA 93101
805-845-8435

Open Daily 12-6

Jamie introduced us to the Tasting Room manager Rani at the MWC32 Tasting Room.  This tasting room is the Margerum Reserve tasting room. It is tucked inside the El Paseo as opposed to the flagship Margerum Tasting room on Anacapa Street. Rani set us up for a tasting and filled us in on much of the background of wine maker Doug Margerum.

Doug came from the restaurant industry and as such has a great love for wine and food. His parents originally purchased the Wine Cask restaurant which expanded to include a bistro and wine store. He sold the restaurant in 2007 to devote all his time to Margerum Wine, and then reopened it in 2009 with new partners. In addition to his own wines, he also makes wines for 2 other wineries in The Wine Collection of El Paseo, both Jamie Slone and Happy Canyon Vineyards.

We tasted the 2014 Riviera Rose, the 2013 Klickitat Pinot Gris (from the Margerum Ranch & Dampier Vineyards in Klickitat Washington), the 2011 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah (this is one of those wonderful Ballard Canyon Syrahs), the Black Oak Vineyard Syrah (from the Eastern side of the Los Alamos Valley), the M5 which is a Rhone Blend in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape style of Syrah, Grenach, Mourvedre, Counties and Consult.  Mid tasting Hugh, Doug’s brother, who in addition to dealing with the website and wine club is also an accomplished artist, stopped by with a Riesling for us to taste.  This came from the Kick-On Vineyard on the Western end of the Los Alamos Valley.

All the wines were beautiful and I am still dreaming about the Amaro which Doug started making 9 years ago, fortifying the wine with brandy and 40 different botanicals, roots, herbs, barks and orange peel…..this is amazing digestif, with many layers from the botanicals.

Grassini Family Vineyards

813 Anacapa Street, #6

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805) 897-3366

Open Daily 12-6

Lastly we revisted Grassini. The last time we were at the El Paseo, Katie Grassini had stopped by to greet us and we had a wonderful chat. The tasting room is done in deep dark woods.  The tasting bar is made of refurbished wood from old Fir trees and there are big comfy leather arm chairs. Their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was just given a top score by Jancis Robinson. While their vineyards & winery are not open to the public, they are located out in Happy Canyon where they grow Bordeaux varieties.

There are multiple tasting room experiences here, including the Estate Tasting Flight of their Sauvignon Blanc, the Equipo Red Blend, the Articondo Bordeaux Blend (named for Katie’s great grandfather), and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.  They also do a reserve tasting of their library wines, a new Sauvignon Blanc flight and a wine and truffle pairing.

The estate vineyard in the warmer Happy Canyon AVA is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc with bits of Merlot, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  I was told that one of the two small blocks of Cabernet Franc is on a hill so steep that they put up a net at the bottom during harvest.  “To catch the grapes” I asked? “No, to catch the people”.

Their Equipo Red Wine is made by their team, “equip” being the spanish word for team.  The team has full control over a portion of the vineyard and a portion of the profits from this wine goes right back to the team.

Au Bon Climat

813 Anacapa Street

Santa Barbara, CA 93101

(805)963-7999

Open Daily 12-6

While we did not have time to stop by the Au Bon Climat Tasting room on this trip, we did stop in on a previous trip. Jim Clendenen is a legend in these parts. He has several labels including Au Bon Climat, Clendenen Family Vineyard, Ici/La-Bas, Barham Mendelsohn and Vita Note and you can taste many of these labels daily in his tasting room. There is a comfy couch and chairs, but I’m much more likely to be at the bar asking multiple questions of the knowledgeable people pouring the wine. You will find maps of the area vineyards laid out on tables in the tasting room which you can pour over to find each of the sourced vineyards. If you are familiar with the area, the names will be familiar beginning with the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, which is their primary vineyard source. In addition there is the Le Bon Climat Vineyard, tucked back into an valley in the upper part of the Santa Maria Valley. Twice annually they have an Open House here at the Winery, (it’s coming up this weekend!) If you are in the area, you should plan to go. Jim will be cooking! There is also the beautiful Rancho La Cuna vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley and the list goes on from their with famous names like Nielson, Sierra Madre, Talley, Sanford & Benedict and Los Alamos Vineyard.

This is the grand-daddy of them all.

Don’t miss this tasting room!

In addition you will find the main Margerum Tasting room next to Au Bon Climat on Anacapa Street as well as Happy Canyon Vineyards in the interior courtyard.

Margerum Shops Street View

Margerum Tasting Room

And of course the amazing Wine Cask Restaurant is also here with the newer Intermezzo Wine Bar that has small plates and wines on Tap.

If you find yourself in Santa Barbara, you can make a day of it just exploring the El Paseo with history, wine and great food all within steps of each other.

You will also be able to find all of these wineries at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Grand Tasting in Buellton this weekend on Saturday April 25th. Visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site for more details on all the wineries in the area.

A Sampling of the Incredible Wine Makers of Santa Barbara

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

Santa Barbara County is filled with an amazing array of vintners and winemakers.  The styles of wine and the varieties that they work with are as varied as the winemakers themselves.  The great thing about this area is that they are all easy going and approachable and you a very likely to have the opportunity to meet many of these winemakers while you are in the area and learn first hand what makes each of their wines special.  As we approach the Annual Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend, here is just a sampling of the incredible winemakers you could end up meeting.


 

Kathy Joseph

Winemaker, Fiddlehead Cellars

Kathy Joseph is the self proclaimed Grape Herder and Head Fiddle at Fiddlehead Cellars. She started Fiddlehead in 1989 and her focus is Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The winery is in the Lompoc “Wine Ghetto” and their estate vineyard, Fiddlestix, sits on Santa Rosa Road, at Mile marker 728, just across the road from Sanford & Benedict. She is a pioneer among women winemakers and is an enchanting hostess (and a great cook). An opportunity to attend an event at the Lompoc Winery, taste her wine, her food and enjoy some conversation with this vivacious icon, shouldn’t be missed.

Fiddlehead Cellars Tasting Room
1597 E Chestnut Avenue, Lompoc
(805) 742-0204  |  (800) 251-1225

Open Friday 12pm-5pm, Saturday 11am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm & alternate days by advance appointment


 

Mikael Sigouin

Winemaker, Kaena Wine

Mikael is known by many as “The Grenache King”. He produces Rhone varieties for his Kaena Wine Company, sourcing from Larner and Tierra Alta in Ballard Canyon, as well as Vie Caprice in the Santa Ynez Valley. He was raised on Oahu and was most influenced in life by his “Tutu” (grandmother). He has strong beliefs in biodynamics and I had a fascinating conversation about fruit vs root days for tasting! He is also the winemaker for Beckmen Vineyards. He has a beautiful tasting room in Los Olivos, where he often stops by to pour and speak with visitors. This place is full of “Aloha”. It is warm and inviting, just like Mikael.

Kaena Tasting Room
2890 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos
(805) 688-4069

Open Monday – Thursday 12pm – 5pm, Friday – Sunday 11am – 5pm


 

Richard Sanford

Winemaker, Alma Rosa

Richard Sanford is a legend in the Sta. Rita Hills. He planted the first Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills at Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1970 after scouring the climate and geological regions of California looking for the perfect spot. He and his wife Thekla started the Sanford Winery in 1981. In 2005 they left Sanford to begin Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. This new venture was dedicated to being organic and sustainable. They have a tasting room in Buellton on Industrial Way that is graced with a beautiful olive tree named Olivia, bringing the outdoors in. Richard Sanford is a gentle and soft-spoken man, who seems charmingly unaware of his own greatness. If you find a opportunity to speak with him in his tasting room or at an event…relish it!

Alma Rosa Tasting Room
181 C Industrial Way, Buellton
(805) 688-9090

Open Daily 11am – 4:30pm


 

Karen Steinwachs

Winemaker, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Karen Steinwachs started her career in the high-tech world and after 20 years there, thought she needed some fresh air. She started out working a harvest gig at Foley Estate and never looked back. She spent some time at Fiddlehead working as Kathy Joseph’s assistant winemaker and then went on to become the winemaker at Buttonwood Farm.  No nonsense and to the point, she will give you great information without waxing poetic. A walk in the vineyard with Karen is educational and down to earth. Grape growing is farming after all, and the idea at Buttonwood is to be a self-sustaining system. Buttonwood has gardens, orchards, the vineyard as well as livestock. Their annual “All Farm Dinner” is an early sell out every year. Make sure to taste the “Zingy”, her bright and bold Sauvignon Blanc.

Buttonwood Tasting Room
1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang
(805) 688-3032
Picnic Area Available

Open Daily 11am – 5pm


 

Michael Larner

Winemaker, Larner Wine

Michael Larner came to the wine industry through his Parents.  His father had fallen in love with wine while shooting a documentary on wines in Europe.  He worked side by side with his father building the vineyard, his background in Geology coming in handy.  Now he and his family continue the family legacy.  He was instrumental in the founding of the Ballard Canyon AVA and continues to be a voice for this new AVA.  Most of the Estate is planted in Syrah, which is the go to grape in Ballard Canyon.  In addition he grows Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and the Italian Malvasia Bianca.  You will find his vineyard designation on many of the Rhones from this area as winemakers looking for the best Rhone grapes source his fruit.

Michael’s knowledge and love for this area are abundant and a conversation with him will give you an in-depth education on the region, it’s climates and soils in layman’s terms.  While Syrah is his flagship, don’t miss his Mourvedre.

His tasting room in in Los Olivos next to the Los Olivos General Store, which he and his wife Christine also run.  You can see Christine’s original artwork here.  She creates beautiful watercolors with pigments from the concentrated colors from the grape varieties in their vineyard.

Larner Tasting Room
2900 Grand Ave, Los Olivos
(805) 688-8148

Open Thursday – Monday, 11am – 5pm


 

Sonja Magdevski

Winemaker, Casa Dumetz

Sonja’s Casa Dumetz Tasting room in the little town of Los Olivos is perhaps the most welcoming tasting room I have ever been in. The room has the openness of a small town coffee shop and the commaradarie of a small town pub. You are greeted as you walk in the door and a friendly face finds you a spot at the bar to taste. The staff is knowledgeable and can fill you in on any detail of the wine, but more than anything, you feel at home, you feel like you have become one of the locals. Cultivating that feeling is no small feat, it is the genuineness of the place, the people and…the wine. Sonja’s background is in journalism. She had a wonderful show where she gathered winemakers to talk about their wines, called “The Wine Down”. Casa Dumetz has Friday night speaker series at the tasting room, where you can hear people speak on a “wide” variety of subjects from songwriting to rocket missions! She also owns BaBis Beer Emporium down the street if you need a break from wine. Oh and in addition to creating a wonderful place…she makes great wine.

Casa Dumetz Tasting Room
388 Bell Street, Los Alamos
(805) 344-1900

Open Thursday 12pm-7pm, Friday & Saturday 11am – 7pm, Sunday 11am – 6pm

And that’s not all!

Keep in mind this is just a sampling.  There are so many other wonderful winemakers in this area,  Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Rick Longoria of Longoria, Ken Brown of Ken Brown, Sashi Moorman of Sandhi, Morgen Clendenen of Cold Heaven, Larry Schaefer of Tercero, Ernst Storm of Storm, Dieter Cronje of Presqu’ile…my list could go on and on.  The bottom line is, you should make time to get to Santa Barbara, taste the wines and meet the people.  I have a feeling that this somewhat undiscovered area is not going to stay undiscovered much longer!

If you are lucky enough to be in town during the Spring Vintner’s Festival, coming up April 24th through 26th, you will have the opportunity at the Grand Tasting to have meet many of these winemakers and have them pour their wines for you.  Get all the details on at Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend.

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For more information on this amazing area visit Santa Barbara Vintners.

Check out our coverage of last years event at Santa Barbara, Vintners Spring Weekend 2014 The Grand Tasting

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

Presqu'ile Winery Terrace

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

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

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

For More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

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

Larner Vineyard and Winery, the History

Larner Vineyard Sunset

Michael Larner’s parents found Ballard Canyon to be a magical place. From the curvy roads at the top of the canyon, the expansive views from Purisima Mountain Vineyard and they delicious way that Rhone Variety grapes grow here, I have to agree. Amidst the “eclecticness” that is Santa Barbara County, this quiet valley is growing some amazing grapes, primarily Rhones, with a focus on the Champion grape of this valley, Syrah.

We had an opportunity to spend some time with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery out at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard earlier this year. In this video, he tells us about the history of his vineyard here in Ballard Canyon.

Larner Vineyard Panorama

Michael Larner’s father had wanted to own a vineyard. After spending time doing documentaries on wineries and vineyards in France he was smitten with the idea of this type of lifestyle and with the thought of a family legacy that could be handed down. Living in LA, Santa Barbara County was practically in their backyard and they found this property in Ballard Canyon. Covered in sage and chaparral they started making 34 acres of the 134 acre property ready for a vineyard in 1998. Michael was a geologist. He went into geology to avoid lab coats or sitting behind a desk.

“the idea of working outside, being with the family and maybe actually making a product that’s really kind of cool was exciting”

With the 34 acres ready they ordered 34 acres of grapevines to plant. But it was a busy season, lots of new vineyards were going in and the nurseries had over promised all around. The new Larner Vineyard ended up getting just 17 acres of vines. “Truth be told that was the best thing that happened to us. Because here we are a new vineyard, we didn’t have a lot of winery contacts and if we had come out with 34 acres of grapes we would have had a lot of grapes to sell. But we came out with 17 and it slowly built and that has been the secret to our success. Our internal model is “Rome wasn’t built in a day” which is apropos since we lived in Rome, but we have to do things step by step. First we planted the vineyard, then I started making a little wine. We do this slowly, my hope is that in my generation I will be making the estate, but if I don’t, no problem. My kids and my sisters kids, can then take over. It allows that flexibility.”

2011 Rose in my glass tonight.  Channeling a little   tonight!

While his mother and father were the driving force behind the vineyard, his sister and he were quick to jump in. As he began classes at UC Davis, his sister shifted from working for “Business Week” to “Wine Enthusiast”. So they both dove into the industry at about the same time.

He and his dad built the vineyard together. Always hands on and wanting to learn, he laughs “The irrigation company always laughs at me when I go in for valves, because they always loved the fact that I would jump in the trenches with them and help them move pipes because I wanted to learn. I didn’t know what they were doing so I wanted to find out.” In addition he worked on his education. “Because when you are running a vineyard you have downtime, 1999 we planted the vines, we are not going to see our first crop until 2001 or 2002, I mean were are training the vines but I’ve got two years to do stuff. So I start taking classes at Alan Hancock, viticulture classes and then got to the point where I wasn’t just taking classes I was teaching them, I was a quick learner.” In addition to classes at Alan Hancock, he worked for E. Guigal in the Rhone Valley in Ampuis, France, and Antinori in Tuscany. He got into the Masters program at UC Davis and got a masters in viticulture and enology. He was planning an internship with Penfolds in Australia when his father passed away. “My dad and mother paved the path and when all of a sudden there is nobody driving, we had to determine if we were going to stay on this road.”

Michael Larner at Larner Vineyard

2005 at the 7 year mark, was the first year that the vineyard broke even. “So we are suffering the loss of the figure-head, but there are all these positive signs. So I called up Peter Gago and said, you know what, I can’t do the internship I can’t be away from the ranch for 2 month. But my wife and I took a month and went and turned it into a business trip and went around to see how they were making wines and the style that they are doing and having more time with winemakers one on one. It was definitely instrumental informing my palate and my style of how we grow grapes and make wine.”

And so the Larner family legacy continues with Michael Larner growing grapes, both for himself and other local wineries. He was instrumental in the formation of the Ballard Canyon AVA and actively works with the AVA to get the word out about the great wines coming out of this little valley. Syrah is the forerunner, but all of the Rhone varietals do well here and many vineyards are expanding to try new lesser know grapes.

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Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Ave

Los Olivos, CA 93441

(805)688-8148

http://larnerwine.com

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

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

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Or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CrushGrapeChron

Presqu’ile Winery, Key to Wine Country Weekend – Pinot Noir

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

We continue with the third segment of the Key to Wine Country event held at Presqu’ile Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. Held on the crush pad high atop the Presqu’ile gravity flow winery, we had the opportunity to taste wines made by 4 different winemakers, all from grapes grown on the Presqu’ile Vineyard. After side by sides of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, we moved onto Pinot Noir of which there were 5 to taste.

In this section we taste through the Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir made by Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje as well at 2 Pinots from Luceant Luminesce a 2011 and a 2012.

The Presqu’ile 2012 Pinot Noir was done with whole clusters and spent 18 months in neutral oak. It was fascinating to do a side by side with Kevin Law’s 2011 and 2012 Luceant Luminesce Pinot Noirs. Again all the grapes are from Presqu’ile Vineyard. 2011 was a cooler year and Kevin used 1/3 whole cluster and 25% new oak for this vintage, as opposed to the 2012 which was bigger. The 2012 vintage he went 75% whole cluster and 50% new oak. It’s amazing to see the difference a vintage can make as well as the differences created by the amount of whole cluster press and oak which can impart tannins and other flavors.

Kevin was the lone American on the panel.  He jokes when the get to him “I don’t have an accent”.  His wines have previously been produced under the Luminesce label but they have had to relinquish that name. In the interim you will see them often listed as Luceant Luminesce as they segue into their new name Luceant. Before opening his label, he spent 7 years as the assistant winemaker at Tantara. He is soft spoken and you won’t find him out on social media. This humble winemaker spends all his time pushing to make greater wines. The differences in his two Pinots were many, but they were both beautiful expressions of their vintage and style.

for More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

Presqu’ile Key Weekend Part 2 – Chardonnay

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

In our second installment of the amazing conversation at the Presqu’ile Winery Key to Wine Country Event, we move on to a side by side tasting of Chardonnays.

The grapes for these two Chardonnays were again both grown on the Presqu’ile Vineyard. The Presqu’ile Chardonnay, made by winemaker Dieter Cronje is aged in neutral oak for 18 months. They typically harvest their Chardonnay early to retain the acidity. This is a mix of clones including Dijon clones 95 and 96 as well as the Davis clone 4. They had also been playing with a sparkling program and had some grapes from the 131 and 124 Champagne clones that were included.

The Labyrinth Chardonnay was all from Block B. Ariki Hill ages this Chardonnay in 30% new oak and the wine is fermented in the barrel on the lees.

A little back ground on Ariki (Rick) Hill of Labyrinth…

Ariki hails from New Zealand. While working in the dairy industry he started his winemaking. He found many similarities in handling fragile milk products and grape juice for wine. He pursues balanced wines that feature the region. He currently makes wines from Santa Barbara County, Paso Robles and the Yarra Valley in Australia. Most of his Paso wines are under the HAKA label. You can find more details about Rick and his wines on his website at https://labyrinthwine.com.

for More Conversations check out our Dirt to Glass Page

Presqu’ile Key Weekend Part 1 – Sauvignon Blanc

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley

When you are a wine geek, there is no place you would rather be than tasting wine with a winemaker. In June, the Santa Barbara Vintners held their 1st Key to Wine Country Weekend. The weekend included multiple events at various wineries, meant to give you an insiders perspective on winemaking in Santa Barbara. Presqu’ile set up an event for Key Weekend, that gave you the opportunity to taste with 4 different winemakers. The amazing thing about this, was that all four winemakers were making wine from the grapes from the same vineyard. A side by side tasting while listening to the winemakers each speak about their wines was wine geek bliss.

This event was held at Presqu’ile Winery on the crush pad at the top of their beautiful gravity flow winery. Past the tables set with glassware and charcuterie were 4 smaller tables, behind which sat our winemakers. Presqu’ile Winemaker Dieter Cronje, was joined by Storm Winemaker Ernst Storm, Luceant Luminesce Winemaker Kevin Law and Labyrinth Winemaker Ariki Hill.

The discussion itself lasted a bit over an hour and we have split the conversation into 4 parts. This first section includes an introduction by Presqu’ile owner Matt Murphy, a bit of Santa Maria Valley history from Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and then a side by side tasting of the  Presqu’ile 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and the Storm Wines 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.

Of note with these wines the Storm 2012 Sav Blanc was done in  a mix of Neutral Oak and Acacia wood and was aged on the lees for 8 months.  The Presqu’ile 2013 Sav Blanc was done with a wild ferment and aged in a combination of Stainless Steel tank, concrete egg and neutral oak.

And…both of these winemakers are from South Africa.