Tasting blind – globetrotting at home

Table set for a blind tasting

We gathered a bakers dozen of folks for a blind tasting of 3 white wines and 3 reds. There were aroma jars and tasting sheets and lots of glasses! After the reveal for each, we had small bites to pair with each of the wines. People discovered varieties and places they did not know they liked. Here’s the run down on the wines we tasted.

The White Wines

When choosing these wines, we didn’t want to pick wines everyone was already familiar with and we also wanted them to be from a range of places around the globe. Without realizing it at first, we had chosen three wines, with somewhat similar profiles, which made the guessing a bit harder. Here are our 3 white wines.

White Wine #1 Carhartt 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc bottle shot with apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon
Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc

This wine is from California, Santa Barbara Country and more specifically from the Santa Ynez Valley. It hails from 2 vineyards, the Carhartt Vineyard in Santa Ynez (60%), and Grassini Vineyard located in Happy Canyon (40%). Carhartt is great about the deets on their labels: 100% Savignon Blanc, Clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock, vertical trellis system, sustainably farmed, fermentation in both oak and stainless steel, cooperage :6 months in neutral oak and stainless steel 50% each.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

We set out scent jars for this wine that included pear, green apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon. We paired this with herbed goat cheese on crostini.

This is a great summer sipper sitting at 12.5% alcohol, it will drink fresh through 2022 and can age beyond that. They made 900 cases of this wine and it will set you back $25.00.

About Carhartt

And yes….this is the same Carhartt that you see on work wear. They family had a ranch in the Santa Ynez valley that Mike and his family decided to grow wine grapes on. They still have some livestock and they work the ranch and vineyard. Here is a link to a video that will give you a feel for Carhartt.

Carhartt Hand Made Films Presents: Carhartt Vineyard

You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2939 Grand Ave If you have visited before, know that they are no longer in the tiniest tasting room at the north end of Grand Ave. You can find them in the new larger spot across the street about a block south.

2939 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Ph #: 805.693.5100
Open daily 11am-6pm
No reservations. First-come, first-serve.
Closed only on Christmas Day

White Wine #2 Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc
Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc hails form the Loire Valley in France. While it is grown in France and elsewhere, this is a variety that has become most notable in South Africa, where locally they refer to it as “Steen”.

Spier Wine Farm

This wine is from South Africa from Spier Wine Farm which dates back to 1692. The fruit comes from the Western Cape in the Breede River and Coastal regions. For a video about this winery…

A visit to Spier Wine Farm and Hotel

More details: alluvial, well-drained and aerated soils with decomposed granite from the mountain foothills. Grapes are both trellised and bush vines (head pruned). They hand harvest, destem and slightly crush before pressing. There is a bit of skin contact then they let the free run juic settle in tanks overnight. In the morning they rack from the lees and innoculate with yeast strains (so this is not a native yeast wine). They let the wine mature on the fine lees for 3 months to add body. We could see the results of this in the richer fuller mouthfeel of this wine.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Fragrance jars for this wine included pear, peach, vanilla beans and a mango/guava/passion fruit jam, as there were notes of tropical fruit and green guava in the wine. We paired this with two different bites, a cracker with brie and a dab of the mango/guava/passion fruit wine as well as smoked trout on a baguette slice with either a russian pickle or a cucumber slice. (Here we were lucky that one of our guests had recently been fishing and caught a trout and another had taken that trout and smoked it! Thank you for this great bite to pair with this wine!)

You can look for this wine locally as it is widely distributed. It sits at a higher alcohol level than the Sav Blanc at 14.5% and you can find it for around $18.00.

Here is a video to give you a little more information on this South african Winery. https://www.spier.co.za/

White Wine #3 Martin Codax Albariño

Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain with pear and green apple
Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain

We headed to another country for our final white wine. This is an Albariño from Spain’s Rias Baixas region. Michael actually tasted this wine last year at a session at WBC18 on Rias Baixas.

Rias Baixas

The region of Rias Baixas, if you are unfamiliar, is on the coast of Spain above Portugal. The area is known as Galacia. Most grapes here are grown on pergolas, and the region is green and lush. This wine comes from Val do Salnés, which runs along the coast south of the Ria de Arousa. This area is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape.

Bodegas Martin Códax was founded in 1986 and was named after the most known Galacian troubadour whose medieval poems, the oldest in the Galician-Portuguese language, have survived to the present. In the poems, the troubadour sings to love, the sea and the coastline.

http://www.martincodax.com/en/

The winemaker for Martin Códax is Katia Alvarez. That she is a woman is unsuprising in Spain’s Rias Baixas region, where roughtly half of the winemakers are female.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

The scent jars for this wine were simply, pear, green apple and the mango/guava/passion fruit jam (this time for the passion fruit). We paired this with a slice of Guyere and a slice of pear. It sits at 13% abv and runs about $16. Widely distributed, this is a fairly easy to find wine.

Find out more about this beautiful wine region by visiting the Rias Baixas site.

The Red Wines

When looking to red wines, we again wanted to go a bit out of the box, but not too far. Here though, the wines that we chose had flavor profiles that varied quite a bit so it was easier to differentiate the wines. All of these wines were international varieties that have ventured out from their homeland.

Red Wine #1 Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese with wet stones, strawberries, black tea, clove, and cedar plank
Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

We spoke earlier about Carhartt. We have been fans of Carhartt for awhile and on two separate occasions were able to visit the ranch. Once for a wine dinner (which was a blast) and once to take a tour with Joe, who at the time ran their wine club. We walked the Hilltop vineyard and he pointed out the Sangiovese on the 11 Oaks vineyard across the way.

Sangiovese? Think Chianti

This is a Sangiovese, the famous Italian variety that you might think of as Chianti. You remember the wine in those straw wrapped bottles?

The Geeky bits: 100% Sangiovese from 11 Oaks Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. Fontodi & isole e olena clones that are own rooted, sustainably farmed, fermented in small lots with a cold soak, 18 months in barrel 25% of which is new. Unfined and unfiltered (see Zeina, that was the floaty stuff!)

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Jars for this included: wet stone, wild raspberry jam (couldn’t find wild raspberries), black tea, cedar plank, clove and strawberry. We paired this with an Asigo cheese topped with a bit of prosciutto and a touch of raspberry jam.

Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam
Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam appetizer

They made just 565 cases of this wine, it sits at 13.6% abv and is a crowd pleaser. It is medium to light bodied, so lots of folks guessed it was a Pinot Noir. It will drink well through 2029 and was the most expensive wine we poured at $40 per bottle.

Red wine #2 Gascon Malbec Reserve 2015

Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina with blackberries, plum and spice
Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina

This grape is a little more well traveled. Malbec is originally from Cahors in France where it is known as “the black wine of Cahors”. Long ago it travelled to Argentina where it found it’s voice. In Cahors he dressed in black, in Argentina he wears purple and red!

Don Miguel Gascón Wines

This particular wine is from Mendoza where more than 70% of the country’s vines can be found and most of which are high altitude at 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. Argentina currently has just 2 DOCs: Luján de Cuyo and San Rafael. This wine hails from Luján de Cuyo, and more specifically from the Agrelo and Uco Valley regions. It is labeled “Reserva” which indicates it must have been aged at least 6 months.

The grapes for our Don Miguel Gascón Reserva Malbec were harvested by hand in the early morning hours in mid to late April from the high elevation vineyards of Altamira, Agrelo and Tupungato, then crushed and cold soaked for 72 to 96 hours. The juice maintained contact with the skins for up to three weeks through the end of fermentation, which occurred in upright conical tanks at 85°F for six days. Malolactic fermentation was completed prior to racking and aging. Sixty-five percent of the wine was aged for 15 months in a combination of medium toast French and American oak barriques.

http://www.gasconwine.com

You should really visit the Gascon site for great information on this winery that dates back to 1884.

This wine is 97% Malbec with just a touch (3%) of Petit Verdot. It sits at 14.8% abv and runs a little over $20 a bottle.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Scent jars here included blackberries, plum and spice. We did two bites here a cracker with blue cheese and cherry jam, as well as a slice of smoked gouda.

Red wine #3 Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon  with plum, blackberry, cherry, peppercorn, earth and leather.
Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

If you have visited our site before, you know we are big fans of Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery. He helped to put Ballard Canyon and their Syrah on the map. He was instrumental in founding the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County.

Michael’s background is in geology and he is an invaluable resource for discussing the soils of the entire Santa Barbara Region. He is passionate about the region and it’s wines, most especially the Syrah from this little corner of the universe.

This wine is all Estate grown fruit that is aged 22 months in 33% new French oak and 8% new American oak (the rest is neutral oak).

  • Larner Vineyard Syrah
  • Larner Fête 2016, Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Vineyard Sunset

Aromas, flavors and pairings

This wine was the biggest we served at 14.9%. With a complex nose, we set out scent jars of blackberry, plum, cherry, pepper corns, leather and earth. We paired this with our favorite bite with syrah, bacon wrapped dates.

Visit Larner

If you want a bottle of this wine, or to taste his other wines, head to Santa Barbara and Los Olivos. You can find the tasting room at the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Ave next to the Los Olivos General Store. Grab a tasting and a sandwich from next door and sit at a table in front in the shade, behind the historic gas pump.

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Email: [email protected]
T: (805) 688-8148

Open Daily 11-5

It was a fun evening and hopefully everyone discovered a new wine that they enjoyed! We got up today to 85 dirty glasses! I have a new appreciation for tasting room staff who deal with this, and then some, daily! Was it worth it? Damn straight! We got to explore the world with wine while sitting in the living room with friends. What could be better?

85 dirty wine glasses
A sampling of the 85 dirty wine glasses after last nights tasting.

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A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

Malvasia Bianca…does it sound exotic? A little Italian right? This is not a wine you come across very often, but, it is gaining ground, at least with a couple of my favorite winemakers.

I first had Malvasia Bianca at a winemaker dinner. Actually the very first Larner winemaker dinner, held at Ballard Inn with Larner wines and delicious food by Chef Budi Kazali. (read about it here) It was served with the dessert course.

Michael Larner grows mostly Rhône varieties on his Ballard Canyon Vineyard. The Malvasia is his exception, a nod to the time spent growing up in Rome while his father was filming there. Obviously, by the name, this is an Italian variety, but lets dig a little deeper.

Malvasia Bianca

Malvasia does not make the list of the top 15 grapes in Italy. It is thought to come from Greece, but became very popular with the Venetian Merchants. It was so popular it became synonymous with Venetian wines, with Venetian wine merchants naming their stores Malavasie. Malvasia Bianca is the sub-variety that is white. It is often likened to Muscat with it’s sweet nose.

In Italy you find it in Lazio (the area around Rome), among other places, where it is blended with Trebbiano into the famous Est! Est!! Est!!! (which has it’s own fabulous story which you can read here as told by the Bubbly Professor)

Map of Italy
Map of Italy

California’s Central Coast is now home to a considerable amount of Malvasia and I happened to have 2 bottles in my cellar. One from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon and another from Bonny Doon Vineyards with grapes from Monterey. Strangely enough, both wines are from winemakers known for Rhône varieties and this is not a Rhône. So when you have 2 bottles of Malvasia, why not do a comparative tasting?

Larner 2017 Malvasia Bianca

Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon
Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon

This wine is from Larner Vineyard in the southern part of Ballard Canyon. It was destemmed, crushed and got a 24 hour cold soak before it was pressed.

Fruit was destemmed and crushed for a 24-hour cold soak on the skins before pressing. Fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete egg around 62 degrees for 4 weeks. The wine spent 2 months of ageing sur lees in Stainless steel and concrete, before bottling, followed by a minimum of 4 months in bottle before release.

http://www.larnerwine.com

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca
Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

These grapes hail from Monterey County from the Loma del Rio Vineyard. Bonny Doon only made 182 cases of this lovely wine.

I found a bit of details on this charming label, from a speech that Randall Grahm gave last year on labeling. The wine was originally under the Ca’ del Solo label.

Chuck House and I came up with the idea of using a kind of cartoonish illustration on a series of wines we made under the Ca’ del Solo label. This is a picture of little Malvasia Bianca on her first day of school, letting go of her mother’s hand, going “solo” (get it?) and of course, stepping on every crack in the sidewalk she comes across.

https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/keynote-speech-wines-vines-packaging-conference-august-9th-2018-yountville-ca/

Evidently the label cause a stir in Washington where they took offense to a depiction of a child on the label. Luckily, all ended well and this sweet girl who is a little bit of a renegade still appropriately graces this wine’s label.

The battle!

Really…I have overplayed this. It’s not a battle. These wines are apples and oranges…both of which I love. Similar but different, from different vineyards, soils and winemakers.

We paired with crab rangoons, crab cakes, lo mein and teriyaki salmon.

Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein
Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein

The Bonny Doon Malvasia Bianca from Monterey

This wine was lush with honeysuckle on the nose (I wanted to dab it behind my ears!). It was sweet with lychee like a Gewurztraminer on the nose and florals and perfumes on the palate. There was a little waxiness (the tasting notes say “a slightly waxy, lanolin finish.”, but it was subtle. This was medium weight with light acid as you would expect with this variety. I found that I liked this best with the rangoons and teriyaki salmon, as it tending to lend itself to the sweetness of these dishes.

Larner Malvasia Bianca from Ballard Canyon

This wine is a year older, a different vintage, a different winemaker. Remember I said that the first time I had Malvasia Bianca was a dessert pairing with a Larner Malvasia. I remember it being sweet. This wine was not. It had more white florals with the honeysuckle on the nose as well as a little mineral or chalk note. It was tarter on the palate with soft citrus, like meyer lemon. This was a clean fresh wine and it seemed higher in acid than the Bonny Doon. I enjoyed it more with the crab cakes and the lo mein, the bit of minerality working with the umami and red pepper flavors making them explode in my mouth.

The takeaway

  • Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country
  • Bonny Doon beach

So as you can see, it’s best that I opened both of these bottles to best enjoy all of my meal! Both are delicious and made by two of my favorite winemakers. Of course you won’t find either of these wines made in large quantities. I suggest that you take a road trip, stop by Larner’s tasting room in Los Olivos and then head up the coast and visit Bonny Doon in Davenport! (Or hell jump on a plane and head to Rome!) Mostly, you should pick up a bottle of a type of wine you have never tried before. Explore and taste and travel through the bottle.

  • Find Larner Wine’s tasting room in Los Olivos at 2900 Grand Ave.
  • Bonny Doon’s tasting room can be found on the California Coast in Davenport at 450 Hwy 1

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On the 11th Day – A Ballard Canyon Syrah from Larner & Beef Stew

Larner Reserve Syrah with Beef stew and Polenta

We’ve come to the 11th Day in our 12 Days of Wine and we pulled a beautiful bottle of Ballard Canyon Syrah out from Larner Vineyard & Winery.

2013 Larner Estate Syrah – Reserve

Larner Ballard Canyon Syrah
Larner 2013 Ballard Canyon Syrah Reserve

Our finest Syrah from the 2013 vintage has a vivid bouquet of violets, cassis, blueberries, pepper, vanilla and espresso. The intense, full palate has a layered texture of chalky tannins followed by a smooth finish. Fermented with 20% whole cluster, 4% Viognier and aged 36 months in 30% new French oak barrels.

Larnerwine.com

So this is a big Syrah.  This is not just their Estate Syrah, but a bottling of the best of the lots of the Estate Syrah from 2013. 

Ballard Canyon AVA

The view down @ballardcanyon from above @saarloosandsons Windmill Ranch Vineyard. #sbcwines

This AVA is in the Santa Barbara Region and is nested inside the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.  At about the half way point of the East West Valley of Santa Barbara, the climate is perfect for Rhône Varieties and Syrah thrives here. 

You can visit the AVA site and read about the climate and varieties here.

Larner Vineyard

We have been lucky enough to spend significant time with Michael Larner soaking up his amazing knowledge of the area and the soils.  You can find all sorts of articles and interviews on our Larner Winery & Vineyard page.

What to Pair?

I reached out to Larner Vineyards and Jeni who runs the Tasting Room and Wine Club responded with a great pairing for winter.  A Beef Stew made with the Syrah to pair with the Syrah!


Hi there Robin! Here is a recipe that we definitely recommend to go withour Reserve Syrah! Nice and hearty and pairs perfectly with the wonderfully balanced 2013 Syrah!

Jeni Torres Larner Wine Club Manager and Tasting Room Lead

Here is the beautiful recipe she shared with us.

Beef stew with mushrooms and polenta

  • 3 pounds stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1-inch –wide strip. (I used unsalted bacon)
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups of 2011 Larner Syrah.
  • 25 pearl onions
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 20 ounces of mushrooms, you can used brown button mushrooms, quartered, shitake cut in half,
  • cremini mushroom or if possible fresh porcini mushroom. I soaked the dry porcini mushrooms in the warm water and added this water to the stew.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoon on tomato paste
  • 1 bunch of baby carrots, cut
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 springs of thyme
  • Salt. If you use the salted bacon don’t add salt,you can always do it at the table.
  • Some olive oil
  • 3 cups of polenta

In the heavy pot cook bacon, until the bacon turns light brown and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pot and drain on paper towels. Keep the fat.

 Dry the meat in the paper towel and cook it in the bacon fat until brown. Put the meat aside in the bowl. Add 1 cup of beef stock to the pot,increase the temperature and try to scrape all the brown bits from the bottom.  Pour this liquid over the meat in the bowl.

 Add 4 tablespoons of the olive oil to the clean pot and add chopped onion. Cook until golden.

Add garlic and cook until soft. Add all the mushrooms and cook until soften, about 2 minutes

Add 3 tablespoon of flower and cook for1 more minute stirring. Pour 2 cups of beef broth to the mixture, stir and add to the meat.

Return the beef and all the juices that have accumulated to the pot. Add 4 cups of red wine.  I used Larner Syrah 2011. 

Add 2 tablespoon of the tomato paste, herbs and bring the meat to the boil. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the meat is soft.

Boil some water in the pot, add small onions and cook for 10 minutes. Peel the onion. Clean the carrots and cook them until soft.

When the meat is ready add the bacon, onions and carrots to the pot. Remove the herbs.

If your beef stew is too thick add more beef broth.

In the medium pot bring 9 cups of water to the boil. Add polenta in the thin stream stirring all the time until polenta starts to separate from the side of the pot. Your polenta should be very soft and runny. You can also follow the instruction on the box.

Pour the polenta on the plates and cover it with beef stew. You can also sprinkle it with some chopped parsley. (Optional)

Beef Stew with Polenta
Beef Stew with Polenta

This was a delicious meal and was beautiful with the Syrah. As you can see I did not add the parsley, but I did add a pat of butter on top of the polenta before ladeling on the stew.

Want some?

Well I don’t know if there is any of the 2013 left but you can find their beautiful Syrahs as well as other Rhône style wines in single varieties as well as their Elemental Blend on their site.

They also have a tasting room in Los Olivos, next to the Los Olivos General Store where you can taste their wines.

Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
T | (805) 688-8148

Want more?  Click through to all of our 12 Days of Wine posts!

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Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest Weekend

Firestone Vineyard Koehler Vineyard Curtis Vineyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coast Oak Foxen Canyon road San Rafael Mountains Santa Barbara County

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

Day 5 Solvang, Santa Barbara County and Los Olivos

Solvang

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

Foxen Canyon to the Santa Maria Bench

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

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

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

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

Los Olivos

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

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

Larner Tasting Room Los Olivos General Store View Santa Barbara County

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

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

Los Olivos Carhartt Tasting Room Santa Barbara County

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

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

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

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

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

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The Syrah Clones at Larner Vineyards

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Michael Larner has helped to champion Syrah in Ballard Canyon. He got the ball rolling on the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara.

We spoke with Michael last year about the Syrah planted on Larner Vineyard. We had discussed the different rootstocks that they chose for the vineyard and then went deeper into the Syrah clones that were grafted to those various rootstocks.

There are 23 acres of Syrah planted at Larner Vineyard, broken into 11 blocks of around 2 acres each. With his 3 root stocks he pairs a Syrah clone, so he has 11 different mixes of clone/root stock.

Blending a monovarietal Syrah from different Syrah clones

For his Estate Syrah he has a blend of Clones 877, Estrella, 174 and Clone 3. Each of these clones brings something different to the wine, the Estrella brings a Velvety softness, the 174 pulls up mid-palate strength, and the 877 and Clone 3 give you full body. So in essense he is making a mono-varietal blend. Add to this the variation in rootstock, in the placement in the vineyard and you have quite a bit of variety.

A little geekiness on these Syrah clones

Estrella: Gary Eberle of Eberle wines in Paso Robles planted suitcase cuttings from Chapoutier in Hermitage (in the Rhone Valley in France) This clone has become one of the most widely planted in the Central Coast region.

 174: This came in from France in 1995. It is a low yield clone which gives balanced aromatic fruit.

 877: This French clone brings in tannins that hit the mid palate.

Each year one of the clone/rootstock variations will stand out. This is where the Reserve wines come from, and the Dedication which is all Clone 3.  But all the blocks are treated as if they could be stand alone wines. These stand alone wines would be a wonderful expression of one thing…mid palate tannins or velvety softness.   The blending of these is what creates the depth and layers within the wine. The idea is to pull together the ultimate expression of Syrah in this vineyard to make a complete wine that fires on all synapses.

We spoke with Michael about this once before and at that time he shared with us the details of his experimental Syrah block.

You can taste some of Michael Larner‘s exceptional wines at their Los Olivos Tasting Room at 2900 Grand Avenue.

For more on the wines of  Santa Barbara visit Santa Barbara Vintners.

They will be holding their Vintners Spring Weekend April 20-22, 2017, where you can attend the Grand Tasting and taste wines from all over this amazing region.

And you will find plenty of information here at Crushed Grape Chronicles and lots of videos on Santa Barbara, it’s wines and people. As well as information on previous Vintners Spring Weekends.

And stop back to visit us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Larner Fête 2016, Santa Barbara County

Larner fete, how it came to be

Larner Fête 2016

A celebration with 7 Winemakers each making wine from fruit sourced from Larner Vineyard

fête

a celebration or festival

from the Old French feste and the Middle English feast.

Tables at the entrance to the yard held sparkling wine glasses for the guests

You could smell the smoke from the grill and the portable wood fired pizza oven followed by the aroma of things set to make your mouth water. The buildings remind you of a small western town, with the barn looming in the center, filled with tables, each with it’s own winemaker, each serving a wine they created from grapes grown at this vineyard.

The food by Autostrada Wood Fired Pizza & Amaranto Catering

The beautiful Larner Vineyard Grounds and barn make an enchanting and welcoming place for an event like this.

Click below to dive into the visuals of the event or scroll down below it to read the rest of the story!

Larner Fête 2016

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Casa Dumetz

Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz pulls Grenache from Larner. She brought a 2014 Larner Grenache, and then a 2014 Grenache that is blended from 5 vineyards, all in Ballard Canyon (including Larner). All the grapes were picked on the same day, did a 5 day cold soak, were treated the same and then blended. She also had a GSM made with Larner Grenache.

Casa Dumetz 2014 Larner Grenache, a Ballard Canyon Grenache and a GSM.

McPrice Myers

McPrice “Mac” Myers began winemaking in the Santa Maria Valley. When he moved his winery to Paso Robles (he’s in the Adelaida AVA now) he still felt the pull of the fruit in Santa Barbara.

“Hommage a Stevan Larner” was first introduced in 2006 to honor Stevan Larner who planted Larner Vineyard in 1998. 2012 marked the tenth year Mac purchased fruit from the vineyard and he brought back Hommage a Stevan Larner to commemorate this. Mac will continue to produce this wonderful blend every vintage going forth. This is a Grenache Syrah blend. He also does a Larner Syrah.

Central Coast Group Project

Scott Sampler is exploring extended mascerations. His winery is in the Buellton Bodegas that Michael Larner founded, and is called the Central Coast Group Project. He feels that his wines are not produced by only him, rather it is a group effort with all the people from growers to all the people involved in helping to get the fruit in, the wine made and beyond.

“at the Central Coast Group Project (CCGP), the goal is simple: we hope our love of wine, generosity of spirit and humble efforts in the cellar fully translate to your glass, transporting you, if only for a sip, to the golden age… scott sampler, winemaker/proprietor”

Kaena

Mikael Sigouin of Kaena has been pulling fruit from Larner since the beginning. He is known as the “Grenache King” and the fruit from this vineyard is his favorite.

It is incredibly hard to get into the Grenache blocks at Larner and Mikael shared with us the story of how he managed to get the “Primo” block.

It seems that in the hecticness of harvest, someone accidentally picked his block. He got there and all the fruit was gone. The Larners were devasted about this mistake and asked what they could do to make it up to him. He asked for their best Grenache block in the future and so it has been ever since.

This block is located at the highest and steepest section of this amazing site, where the soil is a 7-foot deep bed of sand and then the vines hit limestone. It has the lowest yielding clone of Grenache #362. Great fruit, makes great wine.

tercero

Larry Schaffer of tercero was pouring and speaking passionately about wine. Again, he was pouring wines made from Larner grapes. He has a stunning 2011 Grenache from Larner that he says is the best Grenache he has made to date. 2011 was a cool year and these grapes were ripening into November. He only produced 3 barrels of this amazing stuff and we were thrilled to be able to taste it.

Oh, and do you see that loaf of bread in front of Larry? Yeah, he bakes too. If you are lucky he might be in his tasting room with a loaf when you drop by.

Larry is a champion of Rhones and leads the Santa Barbara Rhone Rangers. Click through to hear Larry speak on his love of Rhones varieties.

The Craig Jaffurs story

He escaped from a life as a cost analyst in the aerospace industry. After 17 years of that, he started life again, as a cellar rat at Santa Barbara Winery, and ended up deciding on a career in wine. In 1994 he made a Santa Barbara County Syrah that got great reviews in both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate.

Craig himself was behind the table pouring the wines. This may have been a lucky last sighting, in August of 2016 he sold his winery in a rare (at least these days) family to family deal with Daniel Green. He is remaining with the winery through the first year of transition and then will sit on the board indefinitely. Perhaps he just needs a change every 17 years. Regardless it was great to have an opportunity to speak with him.

Larner Vineyard

Ah…then you have the Larner wines. Michael grows Rhone varieties, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier, as well as a little Malvasia Bianca. Michael was instrumental in the creation of the Ballard Canyon AVA which is becoming more and more well known for their world class Syrah.

Michael spoke with us about this gathering of winemakers after the party.

 

 

Music was by Ruben Lee Dalton Band

a stage was set for the band, that spilled over onto the back of a flatbed truck to provide enough space.

The beautiful Coastal Oak in the Larner Vineyard

Want to know more about the Santa Barbara Wine Region? You can find plenty of information on our website. And while you are at it, follow us on Facebook or Instagram for great information on wine and the people and places behind the wines.

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So you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to know where to taste wine…

Sunset Au Bon Climat

I was asked recently about insights into visiting Santa Barbara. My brain goes a little crazy then, filled with all the wonderful options. It’s no secret that I love this area and it’s people. As I set out to jot down some notes, it occurred to me that I am asked this quite often. And while Crushed Grape Chronicles has loads of information on Santa Barbara, I do not have one concise blog post that details the highlights as I see them today. So here I am, putting together my SBC highlight reel. Keep in mind that there will be omissions. Some because there is only so much room in a highlight reel and some because I have yet to discover them. So if you come across one of these omissions, please feel free to add your SBC favs in the comments section!

When you say Santa Barbara, the first thing that comes to mind is the beach, and the city of Santa Barbara. So we will start there. Just know that Santa Barbara is so much more than that.

The City of Santa Barbara

Stearns Wharf and the Beach

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara

 

 

Go straight to the beach. You know you want to. You can head out onto Sterns Wharf where there are restaurants and a tasting room. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is a great place to start. They have a variety of wines that they source from coastal vineyards and you can’t beat the ocean view, I mean you are ON the ocean, not just on the beach looking at it! And a meal at The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is perfect, especially on a cloudy day. If you can manage to pack into this tiny place at the far end of the wharf you will indulge in some soul warming seafood.

The perfect place for a quick overview: The Valley Project

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

But the city beckons and I suggest your first stop be to the The Valley Project– AVA Santa Barbara
This project started by Seth Kunin will give you an overview of Santa Barbara County. This county contains multiple AVA’s (American viticulture Areas), which differentiate climate and soils within wine growing areas. The beautiful Elkpen chalk mural that spans the entire wall behind the tasting room bar will give you an overview and the pourers are there to discuss the differences in the wines and areas with you. Expect them to pull out soil samples to show you.

Super quick tutorial on Santa Barbara County

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 led 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. Read more about it in The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

The Funk Zone and Urban Wine Trail

So now that you are armed with a little background, you can decide where to go next. The Funk Zone is home to lots of little urban tasting rooms. If you are looking to just hang and drink wine and enjoy the sunset in a set of board shorts barefoot, you can march right down to Municipal Winemakers . The funky laid back atmosphere here is ultra relaxing. If this is your style, you can check out our article Municipal Winemakers and the “Funk Zone” wineries

Wine Collection of El Paseo

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If you are not in your board shorts there is the El Paseo further up State Street. Here you will find the tasting room for one of the grand daddies of Santa Barbara Wine Au Bon Climat (ABC to those in the know, which now you are!). Margerum Wine Company  is located here also, along with Doug Margerum’s restaurants the Wine Cask and the Intermezzo Wine Bar. Grassini, known for Happy Canyon Bordeaux style reds and gorgeous Sav Blancs is also here as well as  Jamie Sloane Wines, where you will often find Jamie himself behind the tasting bar pouring.   There are a few more tasting rooms here that I have yet to visit.

You can read more about the El Paseo in our post Santa Barbara’s Wine Collection of El Paseo

Into Wine Country

While you found tasting rooms, I bet you didn’t see any vineyards here in town. That’s because you have to drive inland to get to wine country. You have two options, you can take the 101 and head to Buellton or you can take the 154. The 101 will stick to the coast line until Gaviota State Park and then head north to Buellton. The 154 takes you up into the hills above the City of Santa Barbara and along Lake Cachuma bringing you out in Happy Canyon. From there you can choose to head to Solvang (the little Danish town, that is very quaint and contains most of the areas hotels) or to Los Olivos, a town of tasting rooms. Both are pretty drives, the 154 is quieter (and faster and my favorite).

Places to Taste:

Regulations in Santa Barbara are still quite strict in many areas, so you will find many tasting rooms in towns like Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton & Lompoc, some of these are wine makers sourcing fruit and some are vineyards and wineries, who according to current regulations are not allowed to have a tasting room at their vineyards. Below is a short list of some of my favorites in each of the areas. As I mentioned before, I have yet to drink through all 300 wine tasting rooms in the valley, so please add your suggestions in the comments section below!

Quick note on tastings:

Many of the places listed below are not open 7 days a week, in fact some are only open on weekends. I have provided links to their websites so you can check on the days and hours before you go as they typically change seasonally. And, always be responsible. Drink lots of water, limit the number of tastings you do in a day (4 is really max) and spend some time in each tasting room. Michael and I typically share a tasting, we make sure we have snacks along the way (pack something!) and don’t be afraid to use the spit bucket! They are there for you to use. You can swish and spit or if that is uncomfortable, you can use it to empty your glass after you have “tasted”. If you walk into a tasting room and find the spit bucket is a tip bucket? You have come to the wrong place, and you should turn and find the door.

Los Olivos

The main drag of this small town circles around it’s flagpole. The streets are lined with tasting rooms as well as shops and some restaurants. If you are looking to stroll from tasting to tasting, this is the place I suggest.

 

Larner

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

Michael and Christina Larner are some of our favorite people in Santa Barbara. Michael championed the Ballard Canyon AVA and he is the founder of the Buellton Bodegas a Wine Cooperative space where wine makers have their individual space but can share some of the big wine making equipment. Their tasting room is on the corner by the flagpole (behind the antique gas station) next to the Los Olivos General Store, a gift shop that Christina runs. During the day you can grab a sandwich from Panino next door and get a glass of wine from the Larner tasting room and enjoy lunch on the patio. Michael has a background in Geology and as such he is an expert on soils. You will find a long list of interviews on many fascinating wine related subjects here we have discussed with him here Larner Vineyard

 

Tercero

tercero Wines Tasting Room

Larry Schaffer loves making wine and talking about wine. He especially loves Rhones. Typically you will find Maeapple pouring in the tasting room (she is a joy to chat with), but sometimes Larry will roll in from a busy day going in a million directions and will hold court in the tasting room. He is active in the Rhone Rangers, a passionate supporter of screw caps and footstomps his grapes.  Oh and he loves baking bread, so if you are exceptionally lucky, you might come in on a day when there is a loaf being shared in tasting room.  (the ultimate breaking bread!)
https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/video/tercero-wines-larry-schaffer/

Blair Fox

Blair is the Winemaker at Fess Parker. But here he makes his own wines and they are spectacular, with many single vineyard wines. His tasting room staff is well versed in the wines and the local vineyards.  We had an exceptional tasting here, talking with the staff as well as several other guests in the tasting room.  One guest had a special reserve bottle and busted it open to share tastings of.  Yep, it’s that kind of atmosphere here. They mostly produce Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Vermentino and Viognier. Alright…Vermentino & Viognier?  That makes me very happy.

Crawford Family Wines

Okay, I have yet to visit this tasting room, but I met Mark Horvath the winemaker and tasted his Sta. Rita Hills Syrah (cool climate Syrah) and really enjoyed it. Here he is on the Syrah panel this past spring speaking about this wine. Mark Horvath, Crawford Family Wines on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

Saarloos & Sons 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

Follow their blog. This place is all about family and Keith Saarloos is a joy to read. The wines here sell out fast, so if you like something, better buy it while you are here.
AND they have cupcake pairings on the weekends! Check out the video here https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/video/saarloos-sons-paired-withenjoy-cupcakes/

Bien Nacido & Solomon Hills Estate Wines

Bien Nacido has been providing extremely sought after fruit for a while. Au Bon Climat & Qupe built their winery (that they share) on the property to be close to this fruit. If you have ever tasted a Bien Nacido Pinot, you will remember it and be able to pick out this fruit regardless of the winemaker using it. It is distinctive. And now, they not only grow this prize fruit but they have begun making their own wine with Winemaker Trey Fletcher. They also make Syrah. Here is Vineyard Manager Chris Hammel talking about their Syrah and Bob Lindquist’s Qupe Syrah from their vineyards. Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 3 Bien Nacido

Kaena

Beautiful Tree outside the Kaena Tasting room in Los Olivos

Mikael Sigouin is also the Winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards (notice a theme?) He is originally from Hawaii and is known as the Grenache King, so I guess you know what you will be drinking here!  His tasting room is full of Aloha, I always end up having great conversations with other guests there.  Last time, we met some folks from Hawaii tasting, who lived near where I did when I was there growing up.  They knew dear friends of ours from when we lived out Makaha way.  Small world syndrome at it’s finest.  We included Mikael in our Sampling of the Incredible Winemakers of Santa Barbara

 

J. Wilkes

This is another tasting room I have yet to visit, but it is on my list for our next trip. Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe is now the winemaker and brand ambassador.  He can wax poetic on many topics, and is fascinating.  I was able to pick Pinot with him during an early morning harvest a few years ago at Clos Pepe.  He has helped create an educational tasting room for J. Wilkes and quite honestly I can’t wait to see it! Typically just open on weekends, Wes posts on his and J. Wilkes facebook pages and on Twitter other times when he will be in for tasting and teaching. You can Make a Reservation on the website ahead of time also.

Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

This is where you finish your day. It is the tiniest tasting room in the world they claim, with just 3 stools at a small bar. Luckily, the back patio opens up (and fills up) at the end of the day. The Carhartts, yes, they are those Carhartts, of work clothes fame, grow grapes and make wine as a family affair. This place is casual though, as handsome young men often pad around the back patio barefoot pouring wines. Here is a throwback piece from way back in 2011 when we first discovered them. https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/santa-barbara-and-los-olivos-part-2/

Buellton:

If you have seen Sideways, you will know Buellton. The restaurant Miles meets Maya in, is none other than The Hitching Post II. (They, by the way make their own Hitching Post wines). There are several tasting rooms in the area here are two of my favorites.

Cold Heaven

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

This is the place if you like cool climate Viognier. Morgan Clendenen (yes, you recognized the name, she used to be married to Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat) pioneered cool climate Viognier, and she also makes Pinot Noir. We had an extraordinary visit with them with  Cold Heaven Cellars – Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Alma Rosa

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

The Sta. Rita Hills wine growing region was pioneered by Richard Sanford. While he no longer owns and runs Sanford Winery, this legend in this area now has a new winery called Alma Rosa. The tasting room is conveniently located next to Industrial Eats, off of Industrial Way in Buellton. Get a little bit of his history here.

Lompoc:

This place looks as different from Wine Country as you can get.  When you drive out 246 toward the ocean and Vandenberg Air Force Base, the vines end and you run into an Industrial Park Area.  This is the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  The beautiful irony is that Lompoc was first founded as a Temperance Colony back in 1874.  The Ghetto has lots of wineries, but further into Lompoc you will find more wineries and tasting rooms.

Longoria

Longoria 2014 Albarino in the garden

Rick Longoria is quiet, soft-spoken and decidedly unpretentious. He quietly tries to blend in with the crowd at the Grand Tastings in Santa Barbara. A couple of years ago I had a lovely conversation with him at his table there.  And he is a joy to speak with.  He beams while telling you about his wines. His vineyard is Fe Ciega in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. In addition to his award-winning Pinot Noirs (Lovely Rita is one of my favorites…a wine that once you taste it, you long for), he also makes a wonderful Albarino sourced from Clover Creek Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.
https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/little-longoria-albarino-shellfish/

Brewer-Clifton

Founded by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton in 1995. Back then they were working at other wineries. In 2005 they started growing their own grapes and 2012 was their first estate vineyards vintage and their 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot was named the #8 Wine in Wine Spectator’s Topp 10 of 2014. Here you will taste Sta. Rita Hills Pinot & Chard. Ask about stem inclusion. You will find an older piece I wrote about a tasting we did at Brewer-Clifton here.

Transcendence

We met Kenneth “Joey” Gummere at an event at Sunstone Winery sponsored by the Santa Barabara Vintners. He and several other wine makers were there showing off some of their wines. He and his wife Sarah are dedicated to making cool-climate Syrah, Pinot and Chard. I had a fascinating conversation with him about temperature control with his wine making process. He’s a really nice human, who is a joy to speak with AND he makes great wine. I will admit that I have not been to the tasting room, but I look forward to getting there!

Sandhi & Piedrassi

It’s time to go ghetto, Wine Ghetto that is. In a semi-industrial area of Lompac on the road in from Sta. Rita Hills you will find warehouses with roll up doors housing wineries. The office space next to each warehouse becomes the tasting room. Sandhi and Piedrassi share a winemaker Sashi Moorman, who also is the head winemaker for Pence Ranch and Stolpman. Sashi’s wife Melissa makes bread which is available (and in demand) in the tasting room. Sandhi is a project he works on with Sommelier Rajat Parr and Charles Banks. You will need to make an appointment but it is worth it. While I have not tasted in this tasting room, I was blown away by the elegance of the Chardonnays that I tasted back when they had a tasting room tucked away behind Matteis Tavern in Los Olivos.

Stoplman

Stolpman's Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman has their vineyards in Ballard Canyon, but they have a tasting room here in the Lompac Wine Ghetto as well as one in Los Olivos. Tom Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. His son Peter manages the vineyard. Sashi Moorman as I mentioned before, is their winemaker and the Grape Whisperer himself, Ruben Solorzano is their Vineyard Manager. This vineyard did a lot of the beta testing of grapes for Ballard Canyon. They planted everything and waited to see what worked. There’s a lot of patience that goes into that. They found Syrah was the perfect match and indeed Syrah has become the flagship wine for Ballard Canyon. They are not afraid to experiment and they have some huge concrete tanks that they use for wines. Give them a taste and ask for stories and make sure to taste “Ruben’s Block”. In this post on the Syrah Seminar, Peter speaks about the Estrella River Clone from the Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block that is used in the Stoplman’s 2013 Original Syrah.

Foxen Canyon & the Santa Maria Valley

When you hop on Foxen Canyon Road you get more than Foxen Canyon. This road takes you all the way up into some of the great vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley.

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa pathway

Zaca Mesa pathway

Before Au Bon Climat, before Qupe and so many others, there was Zaca Mesa. Many of the greats in Santa Barbara Wines did a stint here before opening their own wineries.  You can see more about that  in Zaca Mesa University” Santa Barbara Wine Seminar Spring 2015 – The Highlight Reel

Zaca Mesa is beautiful early in the day. When the fog weaves through the big coastal oaks it’s either ethereal or creepy (I vote for ethereal, cause after all, they have wine!)
They are dog and kid friendly and on Saturdays they have baguettes. There is a giant Chess set in the courtyard to play.
What to expect to taste: Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Syrah (the Syrah from the Black Bear Block is highly sought after and well respected), Grenache, Mourvedre…yep, are you sensing a Rhone theme? And they do have a Pinot.

Foxen & 7200

The valley side of Foxen 7200 “The Shack”

This is the same winery, just with two tasting rooms, steps from each other. 7200 also known as “The Shack” is in an old blacksmith shop and was the wineries original tasting room. Foxen is at the top of the hill, their solar powered tasting room, where you will find their Rhone & Burgundian style wines. “The Shack” is the place to go for atmosphere. You are open to the elements and often can see the resident bobcat prowling the hill outside. Bill Wathen and Dick Dore founded this winery back in 1985.

Riverbench

The Vines we watched being planted at Riverbench are getting bigger!

Riverbench is on Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Maria Valley. They grown Pinot and Chardonnay Pinot Meunier and a little Albarino for Kenneth Volk, who is just a stones throw away. Clarissa Nagy is their winemaker. In addition to Pinot and Chard they craft sparkling wines. We spent a morning at Riverbench doing a vineyard tour with Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck and learned how to hand dip bottles for the wax cap, which Rawley does mostly himself. We also watched a new block of vines put in out front and have been able to continue to watch these grown. You can read about our tour here https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/riverbench-vineyards-winery-tour/ They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

Presqu’ile

The Presqu’ile Tasting Room

Presqu’ile Winery has grown to be one of our favorite spots in the Santa Marie Valley. The winery sits up on a hill and is a gravity flow winery.  The view here is stunning, on a clear day you can see the ocean, and this place does hospitality right. If you have an electric car that needs charging, never fear, there are two charging stations. And they have a wonderful light food menu with truly spectacular cheese and charcuterie boards to enjoy with the wine. We spent a morning here for an event which brought together 4 winemakers all making wine from fruit from these vineyards. The event was held on the crush pad at the top of the winery (remember gravity flow). We again attended the Big Bottle Bash at the winery during the 2014 Vintners Spring Weekend in Santa Barbara.

Santa Rita Hills:

This is the Western part of the area, where the climate is cooler and Pinot and Chardonnay thrive.  You will find vineyards on both sides of the 246, but for a more complete look at this area, make sure to take a drive on Santa Rosa Road, where the first vineyard in this area Sanford & Benedict was planted.

Sanford WinerySanford Winery

I spoke about Richard Sanford earlier with Alma Rosa. Here is an opportunity to see the amazing winery he built before Alma Rosa. Now owned by the Terlato Family, the winery retains the beautiful buildings and exceptional vineyards that Richard Sanford built. The tasting room is in the middle of the La Riconada Vineyard on Santa Rosa Rd. Made to be sustainable the walls are adobe bricks and are 30 inches thick to keep the interior temperature cool. The lumber is from recycled timber.
Just down the way you will find the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. The vines here grow some of the most prized fruit in these hills. Sanford & Benedict Vineyard was first planted in 1971 and is home to some of the oldest Pinot Vines in Santa Barbara County.

Hilliard Bruce

The new Hilliard Bruce Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara

This stunning tasting room is appointment only, but it is well worth it. John Hilliard and Christine Bruce beautiful wines (John handles the Pinot Noir & Christine the Chardonnay). Be in touch a few days in advance. We had a wonderful visit with them before the winery was even built. The start of the series is here

Santa Ynez Valley/Los Olivos District:

The Santa Ynez Valley, actually covers quite a bit of space!  The AVA itself encompasses the entire lower section of Santa Barbara County.  Within this AVA you will find the Sta. Rita Hill AVA, Ballard Canyon AVA, Happy Canyon AVA and the newly approved Los Olivos District AVA.  The 3 wineries listed below are actually within the Los Olivos District.

Buttonwood:

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Buttonwood is not just a vineyard, it is a farm. They have a farmstand with seasonal fruits and vegetables next to the tasting room. Michael spent a day on a winery & vineyard tour with winemaker Karen Steinwach, followed by chef demo and lunch with Chef Pascale Beale.
Buttonwood Farm, a Hidden Gem in Santa Barbara County

Beckmen

Beckmen Tasting Room

Beckmen Tasting Room

We did a vineyard walk with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard. The event walk us through the vineyard with a bit of education on soil & vine thinning. I was lucky enough to have a great conversation with Steve as we hiked up to the high point. He gave me a run for my money, he is obviously used to climbing these hills! You can see an overview of the hike here, but there are additional videos with Steve speaking on the soils and shoot thinning also.

Sunstone Winery

Wine Dinner Sunstone

Wine Dinner Sunstone

This is a stunning (no…REALLY stunning) property. I mentioned earlier our visit to this winery when we met Joey Gummere at an event here. This was a Santa Barbara Vintners event for WBC14, with multiple wine makers. We were given a tour by Bion Rice, the wineries President and CEO, of the stunning Villa at Sunstone, which is built from reclaimed materials from villages in Marseille and Provence. We then gathered in the garden to sample wines and speak with the wine makers followed by a family style dinner. This is a premium place for Weddings and the location is stunning (did I say that before?)

Los Alamos:

Michael and I were lucky enough to spend a weekend in the Los Alamos Valley. That gorgeous photo on our homepage and as the feature image on this page, we took from the top of the Rancho La Cuna Vineyard.

Casa Dumetz

Casa Dumetz Winery

I first learned of Sonja Madjevski when she I came across “The Wine Down” a video series on The Lip.tv where she would have conversations with wine makers and farmers and other interesting Industry people. I loved the show. Sadly, it is no more, but go look it up, there are plenty of old episodes that are fascinating! She is the owner and winemaker at Casa Dumetz Wines as well as running Babi’s Beer Emporium here in Los Alamos.  She does a wonderful “Words to Live By” speaker series on Friday’s nights at her tasting room. I have had a few opportunities to speak with her, most recently at the Larner Fete in April (she sources grapes from Michael Larner). Her tasting room is a wonderful welcoming place.

Municipal Winemakers

(Yep you can find a location here too, if you didn’t already visit them in the Funk Zone, or if you just need more of their wine)

Places to Eat:

We published this article in April of 2014 and it is a great reference.
9 Great Places to eat in Santa Barbara County
Since then we have enjoyed a few more spots so I’ll include them below. Also, sadly Matteis Tavern is closed and is only available as an event venue.

Buellton:

The Hitching Post II

The Old School Steakhouse that you got to know in Sideways is here putting out classic steak dinners. You are likely to see Frank Ostini the owner and chef and a local personality in his pith helmet.

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Jeff and Janet Olsson own New West Catering Company and they have been a stable for farm to table catering in the area for a while. Industrial Eats is their fast casual restaurant where they write the daily menu on the butcher paper hanging from a spool on the wall. The menu changes daily depending on what is fresh and available. It’s great for lunch (and it’s right next to Alma Rosa if you want to do a tasting there!) For a sampling of some of the amazing catering they do, check out the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner that was set here.

Los Olivos:

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Great spot in the center of town for lunch or dinner and you can always pick up a few bottles of local wine. You are very likely to see wine makers here with friends or family. It’s elegant without being stuffy.  The patio is covered in wisteria and they do have outdoor seating available.  Inside is a wall of wine, a beautiful U shaped bar and fireplace.  They serve California/Mediterranean cuisine.  They also have a blog where they do interviews with local wine makers that you can find here.

Sides Hardware & Shoes

This building was previously a hardware and shoe store owned by Milburn Sides. The Nichols Brothers opened this restaurant with a made from scratch local menu.  They cure their own bacon here.  You can sit inside or on the front or back patios. They are open for lunch or dinner, but plan ahead, because it gets crowded.  The do have a larger restaurant in Santa Ynez called The Red Barn.

Santa Ynez:

Trattorio Grappolo

Michael tasted a bite of food from this restaurant at the Grand Tasting one year and we decided to head there for dinner. We were not disappointed. They do great Italian dishes. Skip the table and sit at the bar where you can watch the kitchen bustle! These guys make hustle in the most beautifully choreographed manner around the small kitchen.

SY Kitchen

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

A newer restaurant, having opened in April of 2013, SY Kitchen serves modern Italian in a beautiful farmhouse.  You can dine in the Front room, the porch or the Dining Room of the house. They also have an outdoor Courtyard which is great for cocktails.  Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli was born and raised in Verona Italy. His dishes take the inspiration from Italy and compose them from local fresh ingredients.  Ask the servers for wine pairings, they will be happy to assist.  In addition to lots of local wines, they have an innovative cocktail program and a great selection of dessert wines.

Ballard Inn and Restaurant

Ballard Inn

Ballard Inn & Restaurant

Well, it’s really in the lower part of Ballard Canyon, but that is considered the Santa Ynez Valley. This is the place for a special occasion dinner. We enjoyed the first annual Larner Winemakers Dinner here with Chef Budi creating dishes to perfectly pair with each wine. Again a place you will find tons of local wines.

Solvang:

CHOMP

A great place for burgers, fries and shakes. All-American, kid friendly and locally owned (you will probably see the owner out managing the plethora of teenage staff he teaches and employs as wait staff.)

Los Alamos:

Full of Life Flatbread

Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, where you are bound to run into a winemaker

This bakery becomes a Restaurant on the weekends, and is a frequent gathering place for wine makers. You will find lots of local wines here.

On Crushed Grape Chronicles you will find information on the area and wineries as well as interviews with Winemakers. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

See some of the Video’s we have made on Santa Barbara here.

The Santa Barbara Vintners website is the ultimate comprehensive place for information on the areas wineries. http://www.sbcountywines.com/

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Dedication Syrah from Larner Vineyard and Winery

Dedication Syrah

Dedication Syrah is a special wine from Larner Vineyards and Winery. It is a Syrah made in limited quantities only in special vintages when the Larner’s feel strongly that the wine is exceptional. Michael’s winemaking style is influenced by his time working in France and Italy. “Elevage” is very important to him. This is the french word meaning “to raise”. It refers to a wines adolescence, the time between fermentation and bottling, when the wine spends time in barrel. At Larner they put their Syrah in 30% new oak for 2 years. They also have a reserve which is put in 50% new oak for 3 years. If as they are tasting through the reserve, they find something that they feel is really special, they will age that in barrel for an additional year.

The 2010 was aged 4 years in 100% new oak and was limited to 1 barrel which is 20 cases.  The label for each is special and is designed by Christina Larner, Michael’s wife who is an artist.  Each is meant to capture a moment in time.  2010 saw the birth of Michael’s son and the label is a photo of Michael holding him, as an infant, Michael’s hands stained from harvest.

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2010

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2010

The 2011 label features a beautiful coastal oak in the Larner vineyard.  Michael speaks of the 2011 vintage during the Santa Barbara Vintners Syrah Seminar. The vintage was panned in California due to excessive rain in Northern California, but contrary to popular belief this was not a bad vintage everywhere.  The vintage in Ballard Canyon was cooler which adds a different expression to the wine than in a normal vintage and it was stunning.  The 2011 is currently available in limited quantities on the Larner website.

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2011

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2011

Syrah in Ballard Canyon is special. They call it Syrah Territory.  The Ballard Canyon AVA as a whole is dedicated to Syrah.  Michael refers to it as the “Goldilocks Syndrome” not too hot, not too cold.  Syrah in Happy Canyon, the AVA to the East is more fruit forward due to the the warmer temperatures.  The Syrah from Sta. Rita Hills AVA, on the other hand expresses itself with more pepper and herbs due to the cooler climate.  Ballard Canyon Syrah combines all of these elements creating a wine with a broad range of flavors and aromas.  Growers, Winemakers and Vintners alike agree that this Canyon, while it is good with many Rhones, is best suited to Syrah.

While Ballard Canyon as a whole has proven to be similar enough to be an AVA, there still exist differences between the vineyards, allowing each to be unique even before winemaker intervention.  The vineyards in the mid to upper part of Ballard Canyon have more limestone substrate, the lower vineyards like Larner have more chalk.  This changes the way the roots capture moisture and nutrients.  So there are differences between vineyards, and then within vineyards there are differences between blocks and even rows.  The Dedication Syrahs come from the best barrels pulled from the best blocks at the Larner Vineyard and again only on years when the vintage truly speaks to them.  These are precious bottles that capture a quintessential piece of a vintage.

Take a listen to Michael speaking about the 2010 Larner Dedication Syrah.

 

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Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 2

Larner Vineyard

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 2 – Michael Larner

The second episode of the Syrah Seminar from Santa Barbara features Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery. Michael has always been very gracious with his time when we are in Santa Barbara and you can see several video interviews we did with him in the vineyard and his office on subject such as the Language of the Vines , Heat spikes during harvest , his Malvasia Bianca , the Ballard Canyon AVA , the history of his vineyard and of course Syrah

Michael’s background is in geology so it will be no surprise that the discussion with him during the seminar focused on soil. His labels illustrate his love for the soil with his mono varietal wines featuring a soil column indicating the type of soil that these vines grow in within the vineyard and his blends featuring a fee scale, which is used to separate soil particles. In this conversation he also dives in a little on climate and how it makes Ballard Canyon “Syrah Territory”

Michael Larner speaking on Syrah.

Michael Larner speaking on Syrah.

Here is the video with the transcript below. You can look forward to more of Michael speaking on his labels and soil, as well as our latest interview with him following “The Fête” at Larner during this last Vintners Spring Weekend.

Be sure to watch the video or read the transcript below and try to get to the next seminar! They will have one during the Celebration of Harvest Festival, which happens October 7-10. Here’s a link to more information. http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/

And check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on our visit to Santa Barbara.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend 2016

Episode 2: Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards & Winery

 

 

The Transcript (with a little more info than the video)

Wendy Thies Sell (WTS): Our next wine is also from Ballard Canyon. Michael Larner’s parents Stephen and Christine Larner founded the estate back in 1997. Most of their 35 acre vineyard is planted to Syrah. Michael and his sister Monica manage the property. Michael, a geologist, earned his masters degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. Michael tell us about the 2011 Larner Vineyards estate Syrah the #2 wine.

Michael Larner: Thank you, thank you for the introduction and thank you all for coming. It’s an honor to be up here for me because, in 1999 when our vineyard was planted we were Larner Vineyard, which basically meant, we sold fruit. And up until 2009 we sold 100% of our fruit, to folks like Scott, Mark, Larry, Chad…I think you two (Chris and Peter) are the only one’s who haven’t bought fruit from me.

Chris Hammel: I steal your clients to use on my slide presentation. (laughter)

Michael Larner: So it’s an honor because for us the brand really originated from winemakers who were talented and seeking out varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre that we have on the estate. And Wendy’s right, of our 34 acres 23 are planted to Syrah. So we knew, and heavily invested in Syrah for our Estate. Were 2 miles south of Stolpman and the climate is not that much different, but what does change is some of the geology. Pete has a little bit more limestone substrate, I have more chalk. So it’s the same sort of material, but just in a different physical state. Chalk is fractured and allows root penetration, allows sort of water get a little sort of perched situations. So it kind of creates a similar element which all of us have the same base material, but the nature that it’s in changes the dynamic, because what’s interesting for me is I have very sandy soils on top of that chalk and that forces the vines to be stressed out almost year round. So we essentially have to be very proactive in our farming. Luckily being a vineyard first we spent a lot of time dialing in the vineyard, making sure that the fruit was optimal, doing per acre agreements, getting clients up to speed to the best fruit possible. Then it was a natural step for us to branch out. So the first year I made wine was 2009. I had the good fortune to work for Guigal in France and Tenuta in Italy and something that was locked into my mind is allow the wines to evolve on their own, age them longer, release them later, so they are enjoyable to drink right off the bat. So actually my current release, which you are trying today, is 2011, and that’s by design, because I want that wine to be well integrated and velvety and soft. I also chose 2011 because when you get to California and the wine critics, basically everybody panned 2011. If you get rain north of Paso Robles everybody thinks California got hosed with water. But we didn’t get anything. Yes, it might have been a slightly cooler vintage, but that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to Syrah, it just changes the expression of the varietal and the wine. So I wanted to kind of showcase a vintage that I thought may not have been well received by the critics, to me it was well received because it shows a really nice elegance and balance.

WTS: It does. Michael, why do you think Ballard Canyon is so perfectly suited for Syrah?

Michael Larner: I jokingly call it the Goldilocks syndrome. Which, it’s not too cool and not too hot. When you try some of the wines from Sta. Rita you’ll find there are certain Syrah characteristics that are accentuated and almost define the wine. You usually see more pepper, pepper spices that kind of thing and then if you try a wine that’s more in Happy Canyon; Syrah grows in every AVA; you will find more fruit forward. But when you are in Ballard, you have all that. You have pepper, you have fruit, you have balance, you have good acidity. So to me it’s almost like the perfect place to grow Syrah. And one of the things that makes us, Pete and I, aware of that is that we don’t have to work really hard to make a good Syrah, it sort of does it for us and then we’re sort of there corralling it into making the styles that we want to identify with our brand. If we were in other regions we might have to do something to help get it right, if it’s too cool or pick early so we get away from the overly fruity tones or alcohol, but in Ballard Canyon it’s very much, we call it “Syrah Territory” it’s very comfortable in that domain.

More on Larner Vineyard & Winery

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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Larner Wines 2014 Malvasia Bianca

Larner Vineyard Sunset

We had an opportunity to speak with Michael Larner about his 2014 Malvasia Bianca (among other things) last April during the Vintner’s Spring Weekend.  Larner Vineyard & Winery have 35 acres of vineyard planted on their 134 acre property located in the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara California.

We met Michael at his office at the Vineyard. The focus at his vineyard are Rhone varieties with special attention to Syrah, which expresses itself particularly well in Ballard Canyon. Other varieties include Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier, but he takes a dip into the Italian Malvasia Bianca for a single block.

We began speaking about the 2014 Malvasia Bianca. Keep in mind this is last years vintage. Find the Larner booth at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend and find out how this vintage compares with the 2015 Malvasia Bianca!

 

Malvasia Bianca – a little background

Malvasia Bianca is believed to originate on the northwest coast of Italy. Of white Italian varieties, Malvasia Bianca is one of the most widely planted in Italy.

The berries of Malvasia Bianca are yellow to an oily brown when ripe and they grow in large clusters. This grape can be made into a variety of styles, from a lighter wine to a more full-bodied wine, dry to sweet, low to high alcohol and sometimes into a sparkling wine. In Italy it is often blended with Trebbiano to create light dry wines. It is also used in the Tuscan “Vin Santo” (trans. holy wine), which is a straw wine where the grapes are dried on straw mats. This wine was traditionally used for Mass.

Malvasia Bianca is sweet on the nose, but surprisingly acidic on the palate. Malvasia Bianca has great aromatics. A distant cousin to Muscat, it is a beautiful wine to start or end a meal.

The Larner 2014 Malvasia Bianca

We enjoyed this wine at the 1st Larner Winemakers Dinner at the Ballard Inn, where we tasted this wine with appetizers before dinner and then Budi Kazali paired this wine with a coconut mochi for dessert.

They only produced 129 cases of this wine, which ages 6 months in stainless steel and just reached 12.9% for alcohol.

With the 2014 vintage they tried a more traditional style with more maceration. The grapes were destemmed and crushed and then macerated on the skins at a cool temperature to keep them from beginning to ferment. The maceration brings out the floral notes on the wine. In previous years they tried macerating for 6 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours and finally have settled on 24 hrs as the magic number. More than 24 hours and the wine becomes to phenolic and gets an astringency that they were not looking for. After that the grapes stay on the lees for an extended period of time.  Finally the wine ages 6 months in stainless steel. This wine has beautiful sweet aromatics on the nose, but is not a sweet wine. On the palate it has great acidity.

Michael likes the Malvasia Bianca paired with fried calamari. At the time of our interview with Michael they had just completed a wine pairing dinner with “All Star Academy” runner up Vanessa Craig.  She paired the Malvasia Bianca with a fried wonton with avocado mousse and local cerviche. Michael say it paired great with the acidity and fruit qualities of the wine and the bit of spice in the cerviche.

While this vintage may be completely gone, the Larner 2015 Malvasia Bianca has arrived. Stop by the Larner tasting room in Los Olivos where you can find them next to the Los Olivos General Store daily from 11-5.  Or find them at the Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend on Saturday April 23rd and give it a taste!

Want more information on Larner Wines or other wines or winemakers in the Santa Barbara Area?  Find out more at Crushed Grape Chronicles.