I was thrilled to hear that Top Chef would be traveling California this year, and was especially excited for them to get to my favorite region, Santa Barbara. So…we popped open a bottle (or actually 2) of Santa Barbara Wines and kicked back on the couch to enjoy.
As they pulled up at the beach at Santa Barbara, I mentioned out loud, that if they did seafood, I hope they got it from Stephanie. Sure enough the 1st challenge had them using some of Stephanie Mutz’ incredible sea urchins.
Sea Stephie Fish (.com)
Stephanie of SeaStephanieFish is a commercial fisherman as well as a part-time biology professor and is passionate about the local sustainable movement. We met Stephanie at the WBC14 (Wine bloggers conference 2014) held in Santa Barbara. She was part of a panel on sustainability held at Bridlewood Winery at the end of the conference. Stephanie is a well-known urchin diver in the Santa Barbara area.
Maybe you have tasted uni in a sushi bar in some landlocked area of the country and thought…what’s all the fuss, this really isn’t that good. You probably had Uni with alum. Fresh uni right out of the shell is a whole different thing. The meat in the urchin is typically referred to as roe, but it’s not exactly that. The part we eat are actually the reproductive organs, some people refer to them as gonads, but…we eat both the male and female organs. Fresh uni may ooze either an orange or white fluid which is the spawn (orange for females, white for males.), the alum keeps them from oozing. Uni is meant to be eaten fresh. You want to see it being harvested from the spiny shells. The live fresh urchins will keep in their shells if you refrigerate them for about a day or two. Little known fact about urchins: Urchins eat kelp and in the past they were killed off to protect the kelp with teams going out to kill off the urchins. Thanks to the Japanese market for sea urchins, this changed in the 70’s.
I have twice enjoyed Stephanie’s uni. Once at a Sta. Rita Hills wine diner at Industrial Eats during the 2014 Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend. It was paired with a Clos Pepe Sparkling Blanc du Noir and the appetizer combined uni and avocado.
You can see the video of the entire dinner here Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner 2014
The 2nd time I tasted Stephanie’s uni was at Bridlewood winery outside Happy Canyon following the Wine Bloggers conference in July of 2014. After lunch by the creek, we enjoyed a panel discussion with a sustainable theme. Moderated by Richard Martin from Food Republic with Bridlewood winemaker Mark Williams, Chris and Johanna Finley of Finley Farms Organic, Stephanie Mutz of Sea Stephanie Fish, Jake O’Francis of Valley Piggery, Jeff Olsson of Industrial Eats. This was an incredible discussion by the people who grow, raise or harvest our foods on their thoughts on sustainability and how they do what they do.
The Quickfire Challenge has the chefs pairing Stephanie’s uni with a Sanford Wine.
Sanford and it’s history
First…a bit of history. Padma tells the chefs that Sanford was one of the first vineyards in Santa Barbara. The valley’s original winery was at the Santa Barbara Mission way back in 1782. Unfortunately, prohibition shut the wineries down and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that Uriel Nielsen & Bill de Mattei planted up in the Santa Maria Valley.
The first vineyard was planted in the Sta. Rita Hills in 1971, by Richard Sanford. Richard Sanford was a Navy officer who was on a destroyer during the Vietnam War. On his way home from the war he went to Nepal and began a spiritual quest. Coming home to California he sailed competitively for a bit and this allowed him to meet people who were interested in a vineyard.
He studied Burgundy and it’s weather reports and began driving California with a thermometer looking for property with a similar climate. He noticed that the area between Buellton & Lompoc rose by a degree for every mile inland you drove and the possibilities were wide ranging.
He teamed up with Michael Benedict, who was a botanist and they purchased 473 acres in Rancho Santa Rosa. In 1971 they planted the now famous 120 acre Sanford & Benedict Vineyard on Santa Rosa Road. They planted Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir & Riesling. They had open top fermenters, that Gary Gordon, a hot tub pioneer in Santa Barbara, helped them construct. Their first vintage was 1976.
Today Richard Sanford and his wife Thekla own and operate Alma Rosa. With a beautiful tasting room in Buellton right next to Industrial Eats.
A little background on the Santa Barbara Region
Sta. Rita Hills is just one part of the Santa Barbara Region.
Located North of Los Angeles and on the west side of California, Santa Barbara is generally thought of as a beach side resort, but it is so much more, it has a growing winemaking community with unique and interesting diverse wines and tasting rooms. The topography spans a East to West orientation forming valleys, allowing inland flows of fog and ocean breezes to shape one of the coolest growing regions in California. The temperature increases by a degree per mile as you travel from the West end of the county near the shore to the East end of Happy Canyon. This allows for a wide variety of grapes to be grown. From Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the cool Sta. Rita Hills AVA to Rhone varities in the central area of Santa Ynez and the new Ballard Canyon AVA and then onto Bordeaux’s Cabernets and Sauvignon Blancs in the Eastern part of the region known as Happy Canyon.
So the wines from Sanford are not made by Richard Sanford, but are highly influenced by his history in the region. The two estate vineyards, Sanford & Benedict and La Riconada are widely respected in the region. The winery is now owned by Terlato.
The Sanford Wines
Now lets talk a little about the wines for the pairings! I was able to pick out the La Riconada 2012 Chardonnay as well as the 2013 Vin Gris Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills. The lovely folks at Sanford were able to complete the dots for me. The 2012 Viognier was from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard (also used by Viognier Goddess Morgan Clendenen of Cold Heaven Cellars http://www.coldheavencellars.com/). The Pinot Blanc that Chad chose to use was a 2012 came from the Sierra Madre vineyard up in the Santa Maria AVA. Another AVA known for their Burgundian wines. And…there was a 2nd Chardonnay the 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay which is made from grapes from both La Riconada and Sanford & Benedict Vineyards.
The Chardonnays are different, the Sta. Rita Hills Chard is aged 14 months on 20% New French oak. They site “intriguing aromas of lemon peel, nectarine and toasted hazelnut, …bright fruit …and white flowers.” They also site this as a full bodied wine with nice acidity. The La Rinconada is is whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented. They site “aromas of citrus and hazelnut with hints of vanilla” with “minerality and crisp acid to balance the full palate”. Both Chardonnays had 100% malolactic fermentation. This is a secondary fermentation where malic acid is turned into lactic acid by bacteria. This is what gives these chardonnays their rounded mouthfeel.
The Pinot Blanc from the Santa Maria Valley is their first release of this varieity. It is aged 10 months on neutral oak to give it mouth feel. They say it has notes of apple, caramel and bits of lemon.
The Viognier from Sanford & Benedict goes 12 months in neutral French oak. You get all that lovely honeysuckle, jasmine and stone fruits on the nose and a richer mouth feel as you often do with Viognier.
There were quite a few pairings that had me intrigued! I’m right with the judges that simpler is better with uni. Grayson’s choice to pair with grapefruit I found interesting. Frances’ choice to pair her coconut crème curry with the Viognier also seemed wise. If you don’t have a Riesling with a curry, Viognier is a good bet.
The boys who ran with the Vin Gris…
Vin Gris (Grey Wine??What?)
Okay… let’s pause briefly to explain Vin Gris. If you translate from the French, it means “Grey Wine”. Not so appetizing huh. This is done in the Saignee method (more great French terms, translation being “to bleed”). They do an initial pull of juice off the skins (red skins) and then treat this juice as they would with a white wine to keep it fresh and fruity. Then the rest of the juice is left on the red skins to further concentrate the flavors of the red wine.
So Vin Gris is a classic rose. This is a rose of Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills. After destemming they allow up to 18 hours of skin contact then they age in both stainless steel tanks and neutral french oak. This is a dry rose with aromas of rhubarb, cranberry and orange blossom.
Amar paired this with sea urchin and Shitake tempura with lime ricotta cheese. Okay this sounded pretty amazing to me. The brightness of the rose with the lime ricotta playing against the earthiness (it is a pinot noir) of the mushrooms. I’d try that!
Isaac channeled spicy crab cakes and rose from his Louisiana roots and used the uni like he would roe. This too sounded amazing to me.
Pairings I wish I could have tried!
Other dishes I would have liked to try…Wesley’s cremed corn with uni, marinated fennel, salmon roe and scallops. And…while I think I would have paired with the La Rinconada…I bet both chards would be nice with it. Jason’s Salpicon Seafood salad, which I would have paired with the Sta. Rita Hills Chard (don’t know if he did) and Carl’s Sea Urchin omlette.
Okay, my mouth will just have to water thinking about them. I do believe that Grayson won because she went simple and let the uni shine. You don’t need to do much to uni, it’s delicious on it’s own.
Ostrich eggs? What does that have to do with Santa Barbara?
So it was a sudden death quickfire and Grisselle and Angelina had to fight it out with Ostrich Eggs. So if you have not been to Santa Barbara, you might be thinking “what”? What do Ostrich eggs have to do with Santa Barbara. If you have been to Santa Barbara, you giggled and got it right away. Just a short drive inland from the Sta. Rita Hills you reach Buellton and as you drive through you will pass Ostich Land USA. http://www.ostrichlandusa.com/
This ostrich farm is right by The Hitching Post II made famous in Sideways. You can feed the ostriches and see the chicks, who grow a foot a month until they reach full size. Bit of trivia, Ostriches lay eggs until they are 40 years old. And while Angelina thought the one egg looked like a dozen chicken eggs, she underestimated. One ostrich egg is equal to 18 to 24 chicken eggs.
More great cooking…
Giselle wins…no one goes home in the Sudden Death.
Now onto the Elimination Challenge. They didn’t pair with wines, so I won’t elaborate here, except to say that they were at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara where the annual WOPN (World of Pinot Noir Festival) is held every year in March. The views were great. I was a little disappointed that they imported all of their chef judges from LA. Cat Cora lives in Santa Barbara, but she doesn’t have a restaurant there.
I will say how much I enjoyed the joyful and respectful camaraderie of Kwame & Chad. They will go far on good khama and joyful cooking!
Oh and if you are curious as to what we were drinking? They were both from Carhartt Winery & Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, a 2013 Carhartt Estate Grenache as well as a Carhartt late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. The Grenache was lovely, young, fresh and nuanced. The late harvest Sav Blanc went beautifully with our dessert of apple pie. The pie was unsweetened and paired beautifully with the wine, neither being overly sweet.
I’m sad that they only spent one week in Santa Barbara. There is so much more to explore! If you are intrigued by this area, read on…we love Santa Barbara and you will find plenty more about it here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.
To learn more about Santa Barbara Wines, visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site.