Let’s start with the name. Syncline…where does that come from? It was a new word to me. This winery & vineyard in located in the Columbia Gorge AVA. Vineyards are typically in scenic areas. Grapes like a view. But the Columbia Gorge? Come on…this is a pretty stellar backdrop.
So…back to the meaning of the word Syncline, from their website
syn-cline (‘sin-klin) a trough of stratified rock in which the beds dip toward each other from either side
The Syncline winery is located on the Washington side of the Gorge on their Steep Ranch Vineyard. West of the property 300-foot cliffs rise up from the Columbia River…this is the Syncline, locally called the Coyote Wall Syncline.
The Columbia Gorge AVA
The Columbia Gorge AVA was established in 2004 and is overwhelmingly known for white wines. This is the sweet spot where the rainy western part of the Gorge and the more arid Eastern Gorge meet. Syncline is on the South Eastern edge of the AVA.
We spent a wonderful morning, talking with Winemaker, Vineyard Manager and Co-Founder of Syncline, James Mantone. Sitting in their beautiful gardens, we spoke about biodynamics which they are putting into practice here on this vineyard as well among other things before we walked the vineyard to take in the spectacular views at the top of the Syrah block.
But alas…in addition to the wines he makes from grapes grown on the estate vineyard, he also sources some fine grapes from elsewhere to make some beautiful wines. Such is the case with this Picpoul.
Picpoul is a favorite of mine. I have enjoyed Picpoul de Pinet which comes from the South of France right on the Mediterranean coast, as well as some lovely California Picpouls. You can read about those in Picpoul from Pinet and California and a seaside pairing. The name “Picpoul” means lip stinger in French. It is a zippy high acid wine.
Syncline 2018 Picpoul Boushey Vineyard Yakima Valley
We tasted this wine in the tasting room with James when we visited. Since I tend to think of Picpoul and ocean, this was intriguing to me. The grapes for this wine are sourced from Boushey Vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Boushey Vineyard sits at a high elevation (700-1200 feet) on southern slopes of the Rattlesnake Mountains. Dick Boushey is considered one of Washington States top wine grape growers.
Soil and the long ripening time at this vineyard allow for lots of complex flavors to develop.
The fruit was hand harvested and transported to the winery on October 2nd. It was whole cluster pressed and settled overnight. The juice was then racked to one of our stainless steel tanks. Fermentation completed with no malolactic fermentation. It was aged in stainless steel and bottledin March 2019. 300 cases produced • 12.4% Alc. By Vol.
James tasting notes mention “Bright lemon verbena and key lime blossom” as well as “citrus zest and wet stones”. When we opened this wine, the first thing I smelled was chalk and dust followed my notes of tart citrus fruit. It opened further with some floral notes and then lemon zest and yes wet stones. This wine was completely enjoyable on it’s own.
We paired this wine with herbed goat cheese and olive oil on bread to start. The pairing sweetened the cheese and brightened the wine and was kind of magical.
Then we went to a classic Picpoul pairing of shellfish. We had mussels in garlic and butter dusted with lemon zest. Which is indeed a perfect pairing with this wine. Often you think of oysters with Picpoul and somehow those didn’t hit me as the right pairing. Perhaps it was me thinking of the photos I had recently seen of the hoarfrost on the vines in the Yakima Valley. None-the-less this wine wanted a warmer version of shellfish and these mussels did the trick, warm with savory flavors and a bit of brightness, they snuggled with the wine and brightened a chilly evening.
I totally told you all about the vineyard at Syncline, but I skipped right over the stunning gardens and grounds at their winery and tasting room. Here…take a look.
Head up there in the summer, on a weekend. Drive the Gorgeous Gorge and then stop for a tasting and to enjoy the garden.
That’s a wrap!
All the unwrapping is complete on our 12 Days of Wine Celebration. Hopefully you enjoyed the journey and perhaps have a few wines to search for, or a vacation to plan to take in some of these places.
We wish you all a very happy holiday and a wonderful New Year. Here’s to a spectacular 2020!
Pôchouse. What is that you ask? That was my response when I was researching what to pair with the Chablis I had picked up for this tasting. Quick answer…
pôchouse La pôchouse, or pauchouse, is a recipe of French cuisine based on river fish, cut into pieces, and cooked with a white wine sauce, traditional Burgundy and Franche-Comté cuisine.
How did we get to pôchouse? Let’s start with the Wine.
Chablis with the French #Winophiles
This month the French Winophiles are dipping our toes into Chablis. (scroll down to see all the stories by the Winophiles on the subject this month! AND… you can follow the conversation on Twitter using #Winophiles).
I found my wine, a Simonnet-Febvre Premier Cru Chablis from Mont de Milieu.
But lets back up a little more. I suppose we should start with a little breakdown of the region.
Chablis is part of Burgundy. Although if you look at a map , you might find that surprising. It sits 80 miles Northwest of the rest of Burgundy and is actually closer to Champagne than Burgundy. (take a look at the small inset map to see what I mean). In Chablis, one grape rules them all and that grape is Chardonnay. In fact, it is the only permitted grape in the region.
Kimmeridgian soils and a bit better sun
This region is has cool summers and cold winters, much like Champagne, but being further south and planted on South facing slopes it is protected from North winds and gets more sun exposure than they do in Champagne, allowing for better ripening. It is perhaps best known for it’s Kimmeridgian soils. Those south facing slopes are on an outcrop of Kimmeridgian marl, which provides great mineral nutrients for these grapes.
Breaking down the region
Chablis has but one Grand Cru. The Chablis Grand Cru is a 254 acre vineyard that is made up of 7 parcels. Then there are 40 premier cru vineyards, 17 of which are considered “principal” premiers. Mont de Milieu is one of these 17.
After that you have “Chablis” (you can see that in the brightest yellow on the map below), and finally the “Petit Chablis” which are tucked in and around the other vineyards and typically have less ideal slopes for sun and lesser soils.
Mont de Milieu
So the wine we chose came from Mont de Milieu, and as I mentioned above, this is one of the 17 “Principal” premier crus. It sits on the right bank, on the east side of the Serein river. It is often compared to the Grand Cru site because it has similar sun exposure, which is important for ripening the grapes (remember it’s chilly up here in Chablis). The climate here is one of the warmest in Chablis which creates a rich wine.
The Kimmeridgian marl with clay and limestone rich soil is not as stony here. The soils make the vines struggle and they tend to produce fewer leaves. This again, helps with sun exposure to the berries for ripening.
A Border between Dukedoms
The area gets it’s name, which translates to “middle hill” from the fact that it marked the border between the dukedoms of Burgundy and Champagne.
Founded in 1840, this is among the oldest wineries in the area. It has undergone several name changes over the years and specialized in Sparkling Chablis before Crémant de Bourgogne was even a thing. Here is a great story of their sparkling wines and current owner Latour…
Simonnet-Febvre is the only one in Chablis to perpetuate since its origin the production of sparkling wines from the traditional method – now called Crémant de Bourgogne. The grapes still come from the slopes of the Grand Auxerrois area, located a few kilometers away from the famous Chablis vineyards. Ironically, Louis Latour from the 4th generation had celebrated the purchase of the Château Corton with bottles of Sparkling Chablis from Simonnet-Febvre. These bottles were ordered on December 8th, 1891, which was 112 years before Louis Latour finally purchased Simonnet-Febvre.
Alas…we are not talking about crémant, but rather their Chablis. But I did think that was a fun story.
Simonnet-Febvre Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu 2013
This wine comes from vines that average about 35 years old, fermented and then aged for 12 months in stainless steel on the lees.
This wine was clear and golden in the glass. On the nose I got slate and warm golden fruit. On my first taste I got tart fruit, rich like golden raisins. As it opened minerals and chalk became more present. As it continued to open and warm it flooded into warm blossoms, the rich fragrance of flowers on a hot humid afternoon.
We did taste a Chablis a little while back that I loved also. The difference between that wine and this were pronounced. The other Chablis was young, vibrant and full of mineral. The Mont de Milieu, an older wine and age worthy wine, was richer and fuller, less bright, less mineral driven, but rounder with greater depth. You could see this in color in the glass.
Okay, back to the Pôchouse. So I was looking for a pairing for the Chablis and searching different sites. One of my go to sites is Fiona Beckett’s Matching Food and Wine. Fiona had lots of suggestions, broken down into the different styles and ages of Chablis’. Of course when I see something that I’m not familiar with, I’m intrigued. “Pôchouse” caught my attention. What was that?
So I googled it. Some of the fish stew recipes, looked delicious but humble. I was looking for something a bit fancier. Then I came across a recipe that looked so elegant and delicious… Gourmet Traveler’s version of Pôchouse was so pretty, I was determined to make it. Of course I couldn’t find perch, eel, sandre or hapuku all of which they offer as options in the recipe. So we went with rainbow trout for our river fish, which I love anyway. Also, no sorrel or watercress were to be found, so I substituted spinach and arugula. Oh…and I never have Bay leaves in the house when I need them, so I used dry thyme. The dish was fairly easy to make and the sauce…OMG it was heaven!
I’ll let you check the link for the full recipe, but here is the quick version.
Cook sliced onions, mushrooms, bacon, garlic and your dried herb in grape seed oil and butter. Do this in a roasting pan you can then pop in the oven. Lay the fish fillets on top, bake a few minutes then pour about a half of a bottle of chard over it and cook a bit more. (I didn’t use the Chablis…I wasn’t cooking with a half a bottle of that! It was reserved for drinking.)
Pop it out of the oven, put the fish aside and drain the liquid to make the sauce. You will put that delicious blend of bacon, onions and mushrooms to the side for plating also.
Add some more butter to the liquid, plus olive oil and lemon juice and whisk. (This golden elixir is truly amazing).
Now take the sorrel (or spinach like me) and cook it until it wilts in butter.
Okay, now make it pretty! Mushrooms etc spooned in the bottom, top with the fish, then the sorrel butter, a dollop of sour creme, spoon the sauce over (and let it puddle on the bottom) and finish with the fresh arugula (or watercress, if you are lucky enough to have it).
Our pôchouse made with rainbow trout on a bed of mushrooms, bacon & onions, with a white wine sauce, topped with butter sauteed spinach, sour creme and arugula.
How was the pairing you ask?
The dish was heaven and sang with the wine. The roundness of the wine paired beautifully with the sauce. The mushrooms and sour creme along with the mineral notes in the wine, the tang from the spinach and the peppery arugula all made for a delicious bite that was so well paired. Yep it was a close your eyes while you eat moment. That bit of Zen when deliciousness all comes together in your mouth.
The French #Winophiles on Chablis
On Saturday, April 20, we are convening on Twitter at 10 a.m. CST for a Chablis chat. If you like Chardonnay, ahem,
Chablis, join in! Just use #winophiles and you’ll find us. We’ve got a
fantastic group of bloggers posting about Chablis. We’ll talk about the
region, the wines, food pairings and travel! Here’s a peek at all the
posts you’ll be able to explore:
After a wonderful interview with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate discussing the Missoula Floods, the history of Montinore estate and their wines as well as Biodynamics in the vineyard and garden, Rudy invited us to the cellar for a barrel tasting.
Winemaker Stephen Webber
On the way, we went through the lab, where we met Montinore Estate winemaker, Stephen Webber. Stephen started with Montinore as Assistant Winemaker over a decade ago in 2006 coming from DiStefano winery in Seattle. He became the Co-Winemaker in 2009 and took over as head winemaker in 2016.
On to the tasting
We stopped briefly in the tank room for a taste of the Red Cap Pinot that was fermenting in tank. Before heading to the cellar with room after room filled with barrels and a few clay amphorae style vessels (which we later found out were on loan from Andrew Beckham).
The original plantings of Pinot Noir in the Montinore Estate Vineyard in 1982 were very typical of the early Oregon plantings and were Pommard and Wadenswil clones.
High density vineyards
The vineyard we tasted from next were some of the first high density vineyards in the area, planted 2500 vines to the acre. Rudy feels high density works better here. With high density vineyards, each vine is asked to do less work. Here, instead of each vine needing to produce 6 lbs of fruit, they are only asked to produce 2 lbs per vine.
I remember speaking with Jason Haas about high density vineyards. He was very much against them in Paso Robles. But here is where perspective comes in. High density planting in Central California during a drought is much different from high density planting in Oregon, where moisture is much more abundant. So much of vineyard practice is determined by location and climate and available natural resources.
Soils and their affect on the taste of a wine
We moved on to taste from another barrel that came from a block about 100 yards from the first. The difference was immediately apparent in nose and color. This was the same elevation. The soil is Missoula Flood loess over basalt. Rudy conjectured that these 35 year old vines had worked their roots into the basalt and this was where the differences came from. This pinot had more earth with herbal and cherry notes. Basalt, Rudy explained, often had this cherry note. The first block we tasted from had deeper loess. He noted that the basalt in Dundee was different, but still had these cherry notes.
The Red Cap Pinot Noir is a blend of all of their Pinots. Everything is barrelled separately, then they pull reserves from each vineyard and block and the remaining blends into the Red Cap. The very best blocks make up the estate reserve. They then make several vineyard designate wines. They make 200 cases of a single vineyard Pinot Noir from Parsons Ridge. Which we tasted next.
We tasted again, from a block in Helvetia soil. This is a different soil series but still part of the Missoula flood loess and is known as Cornelius. The slope on this block is a little different. The color in this wine was more purple, which they seem to get from the southern part of the property. You could taste a bit more wood (the barrel this was in was newer oak) on this wine. There was more floral, and the fruit on the nose was more boysenberry than blackberry. This is the soil on Rudy and his wife’s 1 1/4 acre property
The next wine was from the Tidalstar vineyard which has marine sediment soils. This vineyard is located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA on it’s western edge. This wine will be part of the Red Cap, as well as all 3 tiers of single vineyard wines. They are thinking of creating a new brand exclusively from this vineyard.
Michael commented on this being the perfect way to taste wines. Comparing blocks and soils in the cellar and seeing and smelling the differences, guided by someone who knows the vineyard.
This is the beauty of Pinot Noir, it is so expressive.
Rudy Marchesi (our interview in July 2018)
More than just Pinot Noir
As Rudy searched for the right varieties for his early vineyards on the East Coast, he set up a research project to go to Northern Italy and explore indigenous varieties. His father was born there, so he had some people he could contact. They went to 5 different cultural research stations. He learned quite a bit, but didn’t put it into practice until he arrived in Oregon.
We tasted the Lagrein. (disclosure – a varietal I love and find all too rarely). Lagrein’s parentage is Pinot Noir and Dureza (which is also a parent of Syrah). In the glass it is very Syrah like.
You can really see in the glass, something syrah like going on. This has been doing well. We just bottled the 2016. I planted these in 2010-2012, so they are just starting to come in stride.
Rudy Marchesi (our interview in July 2018)
We moved on to Teroldego a grape related to Pinot Noir, Lagrein & Syrah.
Elisabetta Foradori, she inherited her family winery at 19 or so, they grew Teroldego, at the time it was meh. She went through and selected the best vines and clusters and bred for quality….I got material from her. We only have 2 acres of it, like the Lagrien. But I think it needs warmer sites, this might be our global warming hedge.
Rudy Marchesi (our interview in July 2018)
At this point we came to the beautiful clay fermentation tanks.
Clay breathes more than concrete, you can feel it. That’s what we want. I want that evaporation of water through clay just like barrel. In amphorae you get alot more fruit. Pinot producers worry, they get so much fruit…would it have the ageing ability without the tannins from the wood? As a blending component it could be very exciting.
Rudy Marchesi (our interview in July 2018)
Unfortunately, the Clay tanks have no sampling valves. So there was no tasting to be done there. Andrew Beckham is making him several of these clay vessels which Andrew calls “novum”. (these clay vessels are rounded like amphorae but do not have the conical bottom). You will get to hear all about the “novum” soon, as we spent a morning at Beckham and some time with Andrew on this trip also.
This was the end of our joyous trip to the cellar with Rudy. He was off to lunch with the grand kids and led us back to the tasting room for a tasting of their wines already in bottle.
For his work in Biodynamics and its advocacy, and, more importantly, for his generosity of spirit, OWP is pleased to honor him.
Oregon Wine Press, January 8, 2019 by Jade Helm
I knew of his work in Biodynamics. We spoke with him during our interview about it. But I truly had no idea of what a true leader in this field he is.
Most recently, Marchesi was one of nine growers — and the only American — asked to join the International Biodynamic Viticulture Group. This new committee will endeavor to integrate more viticulture into the annual Biodynamic Agriculture Conference held in Dornach, Switzerland, and to create a web-based forum for exchange of information among the world’s Biodynamic winegrowers.
Oregon Wine Press, January 8, 2019 by Jade Helm
Here, here Oregon Wine Press! Well done! And well done Rudy. I am humbled at the time and knowledge you so graciously shared with us.
More on Montinore
We documented all the time he spent with us that morning. The fascinating information fills 4 posts in addition to this one. There are links below as well as a pairing we did over the holidays that Rudy’s daughter Kristin (President of Montinor Estate), so graciously shared with us:
We have been talking with Leah Jørgensen of Leah Jørgensen Cellars about her inspirations as well as Southern Oregon. We’ve discussed how her love of the wines from the Loire Valley in France influences her wines as well as the depth of history in the soils of Southern Oregon. Now we are finally putting glass to lips and tasting some of her wines. We begin with her 2017 Sauvignon Blanc.
Leah Jørgensen Cellars 2017 Sauvignon Blanc
Leah Jørgensen Cellars 2017 Sauvignon Blanc
“This is our Sauvignon Blanc from Rogue Valley. It comes from the Crater View Vineyard that I was mentioning. Hence we gave her a little makeover (she is a mermaid on the bottle) to inspire the fish and I think she has an oyster shell right there. So actually, I wanted to make white wines that go with shellfish. We are here in Oregon right, we have incredible oyster beds, crab. My cousins own the fisherman’s market in Eugene. They are fishermen have fishing boats that go up to Alaska, that’s my Nordic heritage coming through. This wine has got all kinds of bright acidity and gooseberry. It’s not anything like a California Sauvignon Blanc and it’s nothing like a New Zealand, it’s much more along the lines of…sometimes it even gets a “gunflintiness”, so similar to a Pouilly-Fumé. Definitely the Loire inspired Sauvignon Blancs. We use stainless steel and Acacia barrels.”
“So a lot of the young guns in the Loire Valley have been moving to Acacia barrels for their whites; Chenin blanc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. And the reason for that is that if you were to smell an oak barrel versus an acacia barrel, we know what oak is right, it gives that vanilla and caramel and all those wonderful notes coconut too, but if you smell an acacia barrel it’s much more herbal and floral, elderberry flower, gardenia, resin like from a fir tree, so it’s just much more interesting. The grapes like Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc really lifts those herbal-floral notes and it makes a quite pretty difference than using oak. “
This wine was so different from other Sauvignon Blancs from California or New Zealand. It’s softer on the nose, but with great acidity. It’s clean and you get minerals off of it.
“It’s that wonderful thing about putting your nose in a wine glass and getting all these amazing things and then it’s all subjective, because it all depends on things that I have smelled or that I can imagine smelling.”
“And your biochemistry! We are biochemically individual people, so we will experience wine all so differently. That’s why I never really take reviews, you kind of take it as a grain of salt that it should be something experienced Individually.”
This wine retails at $24. It comes from the Crater View Vineyard in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley AVA, just outside of Jackson Oregon. This vineyard has some major elevation sitting between 1,500 and 1,675 feet. This site has all the feel good attributes of Salmon-Safe, Oregon Certified Sustainable and L.I.V.E. Certified and… in 2015 they found 250 MILLION year old blue schist rocks and other marine rock as they were getting a new block ready for planting.
I recently had occassion to make a frittata. We were doing a tasting of Alsatian Pinots with the French Winophiles, with some beautiful samples provided by @AlsaceWines. When I searched for a pairing to go with the Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc, a suggestion of eggs and spring vegetables came up. I settled on a pairing of a spring green salad and a spring vegetable frittata.
So what is a frittata? It is an Italian egg dish. The name loosely translates to “fried”. Kind of like an omlette, it is a great way to use up leftovers. You can create a frittata with almost anything. Use up vegetables, rice, pasta, cheese, meats….you name it. A frittata ideally cooks in a rod iron skillet and the size of the skillet and number of eggs is the key. Typically you are looking at a ratio of 1 cup of cheese, 2 cups of filling, 6 eggs and 1/4 cup of milk or…go for it, heavy cream. Whole milk and richer creme will make a more unctuous frittata with a thick creamy texture. And the number of eggs? Use a full dozen for a 10 inch skillet. And make sure your pan is well seasoned.
Why rod iron? It heats evenly and you are starting this on the stove and finishing in the oven.
I wanted a light spring vegetable frittata. Something bright to pair with the Pinot Blanc. I dug around in the fridge and freezer and here is what I put together.
Spring Vegetable Frittata
1/2 cup broccoli
1/2 cup peas
1/2 cup green beans
(my broccoli and peas were frozen and my beans were fresh)
2 golden beets
1/2 teaspoon Allium Allure spice blend from Spicy Camel Trading Company (or use a seasoning blend that you like)
1/4 cup milk
1 cup ricotta
1/4 cup red onions
First I got the oven heating to 400 degrees.
Then I needed to cook the broccoli, peas and beans. Just blanching them and quickly cooling them with cold water (I was too lazy to do an ice bath). The beans were cut into 3/4 inch pieces (on the diagonal to make them pretty) and I chopped the broccoli into smaller pieces when it was cooked. It’s important to cook your vegetables first so they don’t let go of all their moisture in your frittata and make it soupy.
Blanched broccoli, peas and green beans for the frittata
I then diced the beets, radishes and zucchini and sautéed them in olive oil with a little Allium Allure spice blend from my friends at Spicy Camel Trading Company. (I’m adding the link ’cause you really should get to know their spice blends! Amazing blends, handcrafted…and really nice people too). Allium Allure is all that onion goodness Onion, Shallots, Roasted Garlic, Leeks, Chives and Green Onions. I tossed in a little salt and pepper (Spicy Camel does not add salt to their spice blends). Radishes are great this way. It tones downs their spiciness and gives them a sweetness. You could also toss all of this in the oven to roast if you wanted. I was hungry so a sauté seemed quicker.
Sautéed golden beet, radish and zucchini with the Allium Allure spice blend from Spicy Camel Trading Company
Now, on to the frittata!
I lightly whisked my 11 eggs (yes I went 1 short of a dozen on this). I say lightly whisked. You want the yolks to be incorporated but you don’t want to get too much air in the mixture, as that will cause the final texture of your frittata to be light, but dry.
I added my milk. I just used whole milk and with the ricotta, it may have been redundant, but the final product came out perfect, so I’m stickin’ with it. I folded in my ricotta so it would break up a little, but still have chunks that would create pockets of creaminess in the finished frittata. Then it’s all the rest, the broccoli, peas, beans as well as the sautéed vegetables, a little salt and pepper and some fresh dill.
I got out my rod iron skillet and started a little olive oil and butter melting in the bottom, then tossed in my red onions to get a beautiful base going.
Once the onions were soft and translucent, I added the egg mixture. This cooks over medium until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Spring vegetable frittata cooking on the stove in it’s rod iron pan
Then toss it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. You want to be sure it is set, but not overcooked! Poke the center with a knife and if egg is still flowing, it’s not quite ready. When it is ready, pull it out and serve it immediately…OR…you can cut this and store it in the fridge, it is delicious cold!
Finished Spring vegetable frittata just out of the oven
We served our frittata with a salad of spring greens topped with some more of those golden beets and radishes that I quick pickled in honey and white wine vinegar while the frittata cooked and some pine nuts.
Spring Vegetable Frittata and salad with pickled beets and radishes with an Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc from Alsace
This did make quite a big frittata for Michael and I. (8 nice sized slices). I enjoyed cold frittata happily for lunch for a good part of the week.
Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc and an appetizer of fresh peaches, goat cheese, basil and prosciutto
We did need an appetizer to go with this while we waited for the frittata to finish in the oven and we went with fresh peaches (these were still firm) sliced, with a dollop of goat cheese a leaf of basil and then wrapped in prosciutto. This was pretty perfect with the wine that was so bright. The peaches were crisp and picked up on the notes of slightly unripe stone fruit in the wine.
This Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc Tradition is made in the picturesque village of Eguisheim, just outside of Colmar. The family estate is now run by Christian Beyer who is 14th generation in the family business.
The wine comes from younger vineyards, and the grapes are pressed pneumatically to gently get those juices to drip from the skins. It’s a slow fermentation and they age the wine on the fine lees for several months.
The soil of these vineyards are made of Chalky marl, sandstone and clay.
It is not 100% Pinot Blanc, they do add some Auxerrois. What is Auxerrois you ask (I asked that too, it was a variety I was not familiar with). This grape is grown mostly in Alsace and it adds weight and body to the wine. If you want to know more, there is a great article on called Auxerrois: A Lesson from Alsace on Wine’s Acidity
This is a beautiful fresh wine for spring time or any time of year when you want to channel a little spring time. And…Suggested retail price is $15. So run out and find a bottle!
Give this frittata a try, or come up with your own combination and let us know how it goes! Oh, and don’t forget to let us know what wine you choose to pair with it!
I often have friends come and ask me for wine recommendations. Mind you, I love wine, but I am not a Somm. My thoughts and recommendations come from the wines that I have tasted and most of those come from places I have traveled. And for me, the story behind the wine is part of what makes it taste special to me. But when you just need to go out and pick up a bottle and you don’t have the luxury of being anywhere near a vineyard as you are landlocked in Las Vegas…well, you have to look at this in a different light.
Most often people tell me that they like red wine, and quite often I also here that they don’t want it too dry. For me of course dry is the opposite of sweet in a wine, but I think they often mean more than just that. Often they are talking about astringency and tannins that “dry” your mouth out. So, I’m hear to brainstorm on what type of wine they would like. I know they often wish I could give them a name of a bottle to search for at the wine or liquor store, but usually I end up giving them a grape variety to look for. California wines were where I first started delving into my wine education, so grape varieties are my way into deciphering what a wine will taste like.
From dirt to glass, Conversations with…
Tobin James Zinfandel and Scents
Yep, a little @blairfoxcellars is my glass tonight!
The 2010 and 2011 Dedication Syrah from Larner Vineyards and Winery
Typically I start with Zinfandel. California grows alot of Zinfandel. Paso Robles Zins can be warm and jammy (and likely high in alcohol) with blackberry jam, chocolate and smoky tobacco. It is big and fruity and a crowd pleaser, medium bodied, but it does have medium tannins, so I thought I would dig deeper to find a few other suggestions.
There is Gamay for a lighter fruitier wine, with berries on the nose this is the primary wine from Beaujolais in France and you can find this almost anywhere.
Into medium bodied wines Barbera is a good bet. It can be rich with cherry, blackberry, plum and licorice. If it has been aged in oak you will also get some chocolate in there. Of course the oak may strengthen the tannins also. If you like all that big fruit, go with a Barbera from a warmer climate like California or Argentina.
When you move into fuller bodied reds most have pretty heavy tannins. Malbec often is a little lower in tannins and has delicious red plum, blackberry and blueberry notes. Look for these with little to no oak aging to keep them juicy. Most of the Malbec in the world comes from Argentina, and much of that from the area around Mendoza. Higher end Malbecs “Reserva” will have time in oak and you will get chocolate, darker fruit and tobacco notes on these. I say grab one of each style and try them together! See what you think!
I often mention Petite Sirah, which yes, can be high in tannins, but it’s just so tasty! The blueberry and chocolate notes blend with black tea and make such a delicious wine to pair with cheese. I say take the plunge, see if you like it! And those tannins are healthy and full of antioxidants! If you are looking at a big wine store (big box wine store), you will likely find these with “alternative reds”. I had an amazing Petite Sirah in Paso at Vina Robles. If I close my eyes I can still taste it!
I ran by the farmers market to drop something to a friend, say hello and then grab a quick and delicious lunch. I love the farmers markets. Finding the season fresh produce, meeting the farmers and hearing their stories. You walk through the market and smell the season, peaches or citrus, greens or spices…today I had planned to be in and out quickly, but then…someone said wine,natural wine and Mathieu pulled out 6 bottles and asked if I had a minute to hear about them. They will be starting a wine club soon and bringing in natural wine. It doesn’t hurt that Mathieu is handsome with a beautiful French accent (he also makes extraordinary preserves). And today he had a selection of Natural Wines, as well as a beer and a hard pear cider.
Mathieu and the Natural Wines at the Intuitive Forager Farm Shop
Mathieu gave us a quick overview on the wines which got my brain going, so of course I researched further, so you will get some additional insights I dug up on the stories behind the wines, winemakers and wineries.
Vino Frizzante da Tavola
Costadila Bianco Vino Frizzante da Tavola A Natural Prosecco
Costadila means “the hillside over there”. This winery was founded in 2006 by a group of partners. Their mission statement is “Articoltura” – Art, Agriculture and Culture. Their goal was to re-invigorate the agricultural traditions of Tarzo a municipality in the Province of Treviso in the region of Veneto. Everything here is farmed organically and they grow more than grapes. The emphasis here is on polyculture with fruits, grains, vines, vegetables and livestock.
This particular natural wine is a Natural Prosecco. They do not add sulphur and the wine is shipped un-disgorged as you see in the photo (note all the sediment, that’s the dead yeast, in the bottom). This wine is fermented with native yeast until completely dry. They then bottle it with passito grapes that are dried for a secondary fermentation.
The note at the bottom of the label (280 sml) indicates the elevation in meters where these vines grew.
Dinavolino Vino Bianco from Denavolo in Italy
This is an Orange wine from Denavolo. Mathieu tells us that it is made in amphoras in the ground and undergoes a 21 day maceration period, mixed with a stick. The visions that I have of that seem prehistoric, so I did some more research.
I have tasted Orange wine at Le Cuvier in Paso Robles where the legendary John Munch is the “Co-owner, Wine Herd/Winemaker & Elliptical Pontificator” (please click through and read his bio,it will make you chuckle). Tasting these wines for the first time you might find the taste and nose decidedly unexpected and those winemakers who choose to make them, well…they are decidedly unexpected also.
So indeed, Orange wines are made with white grapes in amphoras or Kvevri, typically placed in the ground with just the lid above. The grapes get lots of lovely skin contact, which gives them that orange color.
Giulio Armani’s orange wines come from grapes grown high up in the hills of Emilia-Romagna near Piacenza These vineyards grow very small berries so the ratio of skin to must is high. This wine is a blend of Marsanne, Malvasia (di Candia Aromatica) & Otrugo (or Piancentino).
He produces several other wines (he grew up making wine at La Stoppa from age 12!), and is constantly experimenting.
Domaine de Majas
Natural wine from Cotes Catalanes
Domaine de Majas 2015 Rouge Cotes Catalanes
Tom Lubbe was born in New Zealand and grew up in South Africa. He worked at the only South African Estate that used indigenous yeasts and encouraged low yields (ie low yields better grapes). He did an internship at Domaine Gauby, and ended up marrying the owners daughter. He and Gerard Gauby then started Domaine Matassa making wines from the indigenous grapes in Cotes de Catalans. Then he met Alain Carrere owner of Domaine Majas, together they made the vineyard biodynamic, went to all indigenous yeast, no manipulation and very little sulphur.
Rene Redzepi of Noma (named multiple times the “world’s best restaurant”) did an entire menu paired with the Domaine de Majas wines.
This wine is Carignan with perhaps a bit of Grenache. They are picked early to keep the acidity higher.
I want to be sterotyped
Carbonic Cabernet Franc
Southold Farm & Cellars Long Island NY
I want to be stereotyped Carbonic Cabernet Franc from Southhold Farm & Cellars Long Island
So this is a Carbonic Cabernet Franc made in Long Island. Yep, Long Island New York. This winery has quite the story.
But first..Carbonic wine…Carbonic masceration is a technique used for Beaujolais. Simply put it is fermenting whole grapes in carbon dioxide before crushing them. If you want to be more sciency…well Ask Wine.com had the most satisfying answer that I came across. Now onto the winery story.
Southold Farm + Cellar was a family affair. Regan & Carey met working in Manhattan and returned to Carey’s hometown to start the adventure of telling the story of this place through wine. Southold Farm is in Southold, New York on the Northfork of Long Island.
With some whimsical and beautiful labels they created 2013 Cast your fate to the wind (Whole Cluster Cab Franc), 2013 Devil’s Advocate (Old Vine Chardonnay), 2015 Trust the Pain Langrein, 2015 Quiet Explosions (Teroldego) and sparkling wines Chasing Moonlight Sparkling (Langrein), 2015 You Pretty Things (Syrah/Goldmuskateller Pet-Nat) and then of course I don’t want to be stereotyped (Carbonic Cabernet Franc). The names and labels create a lightness and depth of feeling at the same time.
This story is on hold right now. The town of Southold denied their request for a single variance on their property. They made the decision that they could not sustainably run their small business there. They took a step back and looked at where to go to from there. They are moving their family and the Winery to the Texas Hill Country. So cherish those bottles if you have them and we will keep our ears to the ground and track their progress.
Natural Wine from Portland, Oregon
Le Communard Fausse Piste from Oregon
Jesse Skiles grew up in the Pacific Northwest. A Chef by trade he became a winemaker. He graduated from CIA and worked at Owen Roe Winery as well as being the Chef at Savage. A blend of Gerwurtztraminer, Gruner Veltliner & Riesling from a cooler climate, this is a dry white wine. It is basket pressed with native fermentation and extended aging on the lees. You can find the tasting room at 537 SE Ash St. in Portland.
Poire Authentique; Natural French pear cider by Eric Bordelet
Before 1992, Eric Bordelet was the Sommelier at Arpege, Alain Passard’s Restaurant in Paris. In 1992 that changed when he took over the running of his family’s property in Normandy. The location is in the south of Normandy on sedimentary rock that dates back to the Precambrian era. Two thirds of the orchards are 40-50 years old, the remainder were planted in 1992. He has 20 varieties of apple and 15 varieties of pears grown bio-dynamically.
These are small hard “authentic” fruit. Think of the original crab apples in the United States. They had pick and then dehydrate the fruit for several weeks before grinding and pressing them. They settle and rack. He calls these “Sydre” or “Sidre” reaching back for earlier spellings of the word cider.
The Poire Authentique made from pears (Poire=Pear in French). and is 4% alcohol by volume.
Biere Artsanale de Touraine
Brasserie de la Pigeonnelle
Loirette Biere Artsanal de Touraine from Brasserie de la Pigeonelle
On to beer. This Biere Artisanale de Touraine is called Loirette. The brewery was started by the Hardouin brothers on their family property in Touraine, where they brought in their love of Belgian beers. The Loire is plentiful in natural growers so they began by only using organic barley and grain. They now make several wines as Brasserie de la Pigeonnelle
This Loirette is a simple farmhouse ale.
I look forward to finding these regularly now at the Market as well as others. I have been fascinated with Natural wines, and am thrilled to have a local source to find them.
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
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
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
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
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.
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!
While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.
Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties.
In our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines. Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details
The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard
Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel. These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock. These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Soon after they also added Picpoul. They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50! In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes. Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade. Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014. Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time. 3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter. Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year. Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes
The Adelaida AVA
Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South. This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees. In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District. This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location. How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen. For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.
Native Yeast Fermentation
I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation. Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation. Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making. He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”. During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away. If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options. They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well. They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t. So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder. Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.
Use of Foudres
There are few places in California that you will see foudres used. Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons). When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room. As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want. As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak. As a result, large wood it the way to go. With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel. This gives you more volume to surface area. The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower. This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky. The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.
While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines. So watch for more videos and blog posts.
Santa Maria Valley is the northernmost appellation in Santa Barbara County. The average temperature here is 64 degrees. The area is bounded on the north by the San Rafael Mountains and on the south by the Solomon Hills. They get early bud break here and then a long ripening season with an average of 125 days from bloom to harvest. The maritime fog keeps things cool here from sunset until about 10 am. This AVA boasts Nielson Vineyard, the oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County that was planted in 1964.
The View from Zaca Mesa when the morning fog clears
The Santa Maria AVA was the 3rd established AVA in the United States. We think of this Santa Barbara region as being so new. But truly AVA’s are new. The Santa Maria Valley AVA was established in September of 1981. To give a little perspective here, the first US AVA was established in June of 1980. (And crazily enough that 1st AVA was in Augusta, Missouri!) If you are like me, you won’t be able to read any further until you know where the 2nd US AVA hailed from…so….I did the research and it is the Napa Valley AVA which was established in February of 1981, just a scant 7 months (or actually 6 and a quarter months) before the Santa Maria Valley AVA. Are you still curious…you can find this info at The Wine Institute (http://www.iwineinstitute.com/avabydate.asp). Feel free to search for AVA establishment dates to your hearts content.
There has been a massive replanting of the Santa Maria vineyards in recent years to varieties that are more suited to the climate and soil. You will find lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here due to the climate, but you will find many vineyards expanding into cool climate Syrah as well as other Rhone varieties.
The Santa Maria AVA encompasses some incredible vineyards like Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, Julia’s Vineyard and Foxen Estate Vineyard. As to Wineries… here you will find Cambria, Kenneth Volk, Riverbench and Tres Hermanas. Fine wineries such at Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido, Byron, Qupe, Solomon Hills and others feature wines from Santa Maria.
Windmill on Saarloos & Son’s Windmill Ranch Vineyard
To fully experience this area I suggest that you start at the Saarloos and Sons Windmill Ranch Vineyard. (Update…okay I made an assumption, because of the windmill, but clearly if you read the sign on the windmill, you will see that this is actually the El Camino Real Vineyard) You can’t miss the landmark windmill if you are driving on the 101. This is just their vineyard, you will have to head back into Los Olivos to do a tasting with them. From here take Zaca Station Road out into the vineyards. First on your drive you will pass Firestone (yes from the tire company). They have a vineyard, winery and a brewing company.
Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard
Further ahead is Fess Parker (yes, Daniel Boone from the TV series) Their winery is out here, but they also have a tasting room and Inn in downtown Los Olivos. A little further on is Zaca Mesa.
The Patio at Zaca Mesa
This place really got things going out here. Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Linquist of Qupe both started out working here. The property is lovely especially if you get there early and can watch the marine layer roll through from Vandenberg AFB, and then stay long enough to enjoy the views that it was hiding once it burns off. The wines….I love their Rhones. And on weekends they often have lunch available on the patio. This place is really welcoming and….they have great trees.
Foxen 7600 – the Pinot House
A little further on you will come to Foxen. Now you can go into the Pinot House at 7600. It’s shiny and pretty and nice. But I prefer stopping a little past there at “The Shack” . This is their original tasting room and it is rustic and fabulous. You look out the door onto the hills as you are tasting and often the girls in the tasting room will point out the resident mountain lion who hunts on the ridge. The Shack pours their Bordeaux & Cal-Ital-style wines. at 7600 you will find Pinots, Chardonnays and Rhone Blends.
Riverbench’s tasting room a 1920’s Craftsman style house
Continue north and you will come to the cluster of River Bench, Cambria and Kenneth Volk. I will give a shout out here to Kenneth Volk. I have not been to this tasting room, but did taste at the tasting room with Lone Madrone in Paso Robles.
Kenneth Volk’s old Paso tasting room
He is another wine legend. He was the winemaker at Wild Horse and now has his own winery where he gets to play. He does Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Maria and Bordeaux varieties from Paso Robles and then… he does Heirloom Wines. This are rare varieties like Malvasia, Trousseau, Negrette, Touriga Nacional, Blaufrankish, Verdelho and Albarino. This is a great place to go and explore varieties you may not have tried before.
Closer to Santa Maria you will find Cottonwood and Presqu’ile. I have tasted at the old Presqu’ile tasting room in Los Olivos and look forward to an opportunity to see their beautiful winery!
Presqu’ile old Los Olivos tasting room
And I know that I have skipped a few in here. What can I say, I have more exploring to do myself. This is a beautiful drive. Start early and revel in the fog!
If you are heading up for the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend April 10-13 you can stop by Zaca Mesa on Saturday the 12th for a Hike with your Dog & Picnic with their winemaker! In addition Chef John will be offering BBQ Steak Sandwiches all day, so if you are hunger before or after the Grand Tasting…. Also on Saturday night Foxen will hold their Spring Dinner at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Cottonwood Canyon will have a Cook Your Own event. They have the venue the music and the wine, you just bring something to grill and a side to share!
Early morning fog in Foxen Canyon
On Sunday Au Bon Climat & Qupe will have their Semi-Annual Spring Open House with a myriad of wines from Au Bon Climat, Clendenen Family Wines, Qupe, Verdad, Ici La-Bas….and more and a luncheon prepared by Jim Clendenen. Now how can you pass that up! Of course you will need to squeeze this in around the Farm-to-Table Picnic and Concert with Jamestown Revival at the Fess Parker Winery. So much to do….so little time.
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
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
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.
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
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 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 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
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
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.
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.