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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Michael Larner on choosing wine grape rootstock

Michael Larner, Larner Fête 2016

Last year after the fabulous Larner Fête we had a chance to sit down with Michael Larner and talk about wine grape rootstock.

Michael and his family did quite a bit of research before choosing what they would plant at Larner Vineyard.  Luckily Michael’s background is in Geology, so that had some inside expertise on soils.

Choosing which wine grape varieties to grow

The first decision of course was climate based, figuring out what they could realistically grow in this area.  This came down to Rhone or Italian varieties.  They already knew that Syrah did well, because Stolpman was already successfully growing it, so Rhone varieties were the way they decided to go.  After that it’s a matter of seeing what soils you have and how water is managed in those soils.

Choosing Rootstock

Rootstock is the footing for your vines, it is the foundation in your vineyard, and there is quite a bit to take into consideration when choosing a rootstock.

Own-rooted vs grafted rootstock

For the Larners, it was an easy decision to not go with own rooted varieties. Being a vineyard first, they grow grapes for many winemakers, all of whom stop by to visit the vineyard and check on their grapes.  Phylloxera is a tiny aphid that feeds on grapevine roots.  There is no cure.  Phylloxera hit Europe back in the late 19th century taking out most of the vineyards.  It was discovered that American rootstock was resistant to phylloxera and so grape vines all over Europe were transferred to American Rootstock.  This grafting of rootstock keeps vines safe.  Own-rooted vines are available, but you take the risk of your vines getting phylloxera.  With winemakers coming and going from other vineyards, this risk was unappealing to the Larners.

Choices in Wine Grape Rootstock

After determining that you are not going with own-rooted stock, you look at the soil.  There are differences in soil pH and water retention.  You find something that, in these soils, will not cause the vines to be overly vigorous (cause then they don’t want to produce grapes) and then also vigorous enough to keep the vines healthy.  They look at where they were planning on planting their blocks and looked at the soil pits.  Michael found 3 major soil types in the vineyard and chose 3 rootstocks based on that.  Of course there are slight variations in the soil within those areas, but that can be treated separately to compensate for the differences.

They chose Rootstocks 101-14, 5C and 110R.  I did a little research and found some information from UC Davis on the differences in these rootstocks. These rootstocks differ mostly in their drought tolerance but also somewhat in Wet soil tolerance, and tolerance of salinity and lime.

So the vineyard blocks are broken into 3 sections depending on the soil, which each have a different rootstock.  Then…you choose the clones that will be grafted to the rootstock.  With 4 different Syrah clones, they ended up with 11 blocks of Syrah that because of the differences in rootstock and clones are each farmed differently.  This makes farming a little harder, but in the end you want each block to perform to the best of it’s ability.  Even when the wine isn’t estate, your vineyard name is on their bottle and you want the wine to be the best it can be.

We had time to talk with Michael even further about the clones of Syrah he grows, so check back here for more on that!

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

How the Grenache King got his block

Kaena Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country

In Santa Barbara, Mikael Sigouin is known as the “Grenache King”.  This Island Boy has a winery called Kaena in Santa Barbara County where he makes some amazing Grenache as well as other wines.  He sources his grapes from local vineyards, many of whom specially farm his blocks to his particular specs. One of these vineyards is Larner Vineyards in Ballard Canyon.  He has the best Grenache block on this vineyard, but it wasn’t always that way.  Let’s hear him tell the story….

You can visit Kaena and try some of this amazing Grenache at their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2890 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

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

Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 1

Stoplman Vineyard

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 1 – Wendy Thies Sell and Peter Stolpman

The Wine Seminar in Santa Barbara during their Vintners Weekend is always a highlight of the weekend for wine geeks. It is an hour and a half where you are able listen to Vintners, Growers, and Winemakers from the Santa Barbara Region.

Wendy Thies Sell

This year the Wine Seminar was on Santa Barbara Syrah and was moderated by Wendy Thies Sell. Wendy is a household name in Santa Barbara. The Wisconsin native moved to Santa Barbara in 1995 to anchor the morning and noon newscasts at the CBS affiliate KCOY, moving on to co-anchor the NBC affiliates KSBY evening news casts until 2008. She is a well-known food and wine columnist covering much of the Central Coast. She brought a wealth of information as moderator of this seminar.

Wendy started the day with a little history on Syrah in Santa Barbara County. She provides some fascinating facts and you can read the full transcript at the end of the blog as well as watch the video of this segment of the seminar. Wendy sites Bob Lindquist as the first to make Syrah in Santa Barbara in 1982 and said he bought grapes from Gary Eberle at Estrella River in Paso Robles. She also talked about Zaca Mesa’s famous “Black Bear Block”.  Later Peter Stolpman referenced this block saying that cuttings of the Estrella River clone from the Black Bear Block created the Original planting of Syrah in Ballard Canyon on the Stolpman Vineyard. So…I thought maybe we should look into this Estrella River clone and the Black Bear Block at Zaca Mesa.

The Estrella River Clone

Gary Eberle planted Syrah on the Central Coast back in 1977 at what was then called Estrella River Winery and is now Meridian Vineyards. These were suitcase cuttings that Gary brought in from Chapoutier in Hermitage, and they became known as the Estrella River Clone. Sadly those original Syrah vines in Paso have since been pulled out.

The Estrella River clone of Syrah (from Hermitage) is classified a Sirene clone. It produces tiny yields and wonderful fruit. Nurseries, after WWII refined Syrah clones to produce greater yields, these are the numbered clones. The Sirene clones are the older pure breed of Syrah.

The Estrella River clone is known to have berry and jammy fruit characteristics.

The Black Bear Block Syrah

Zaca Mesa pathway

Zaca Mesa Tasting Room & Winery

The Black Bear Block at Zaca Mesa is planted from cuttings provided by Gary Eberle, back in 1979.

The name comes from the fact that there are lots of Black Bears around this part of the Zaca Mesa Vineyard. This is a 3 ½ acre block and the cuttings here came early on from Gary Eberle, (he got them in 1977 and Zaca Mesa got cuttings in ’79).  As Stolpman got his cuttings directly from this block, they are 2nd generation and they remained clean of the virus’ and funk that can often come with later generations cuttings.

Concrete Fermenters

After Peter gave us a bit of background on Ballard Canyon and their dedication to Syrah (they are the ONLY AVA dedicated to Syrah with over 60% of the vines in this AVA being Syrah), he spoke about this wine. They work to finesse this wine, which is dry farmed, and made from free run juice, natively fermented in concrete. For the past few years they have been backing off of new French oak, as well as additives and filtration. Concrete fermenters are becoming more and more widely used and I thought this was a good time to do a little more research on their use.

To start with, concrete fermenters are not made of wood, so you don’t have that added woody flavor or the additional tannins from the oak.

Concrete fermenters are also good for keeping the fermenting wine at a stable temperature. Of course fermentation releases heat, so a vessel that keeps the wine from raising or lowering its temperature quickly is helpful. This is gentler on the wine.

Proponents of Concrete also site mouth feel as one of the major benefits. The wines mouthfeel is cleaner and fresher without the addition of oak.

Many of the new concrete fermenters that you see are concrete eggs (like this one at Bridlewood).

Bridlewood Concrete Egg

Bridlewood Concrete Egg

These are egg shaped and much smaller than the fermenters that Stolpman is using. These smaller fermenters are curved and closed and “incubate” the wine. People speak to the egg shape as being a “Natural vortex”. The eggs are shaped so that as the gasses from fermentation are released they are forced to the narrow opening at the top, this keeps the wine moving, while you might not see it. The lees don’t settle, they stay floating. Or…you can flip your egg making the small base perfect for collecting sediment.The fermenters at Stolpman are larger, square and have an open top for punch downs.

The concrete, because it is porous allows for gradual oxidation. This is similar to the oxidation that you get in oak barrels, but you don’t get the oakiness. Winemakers looking to feature the wines terroir or location prefer this. If you are highlighting the grape, you don’t want additives muddying that and oak, while a vessel, imparts flavor and tannins to the wine. Of course you can use stainless steel, but…then there is less oxidation and the stainless can add a different sensation on your palate and potentially raise the acid in a wine. It should be noted that you can get a slight hint of minerality from the concrete.

When you get back to Terroir, many French Vintners and Saxum’s Justin Smith are using their own soils to create the concrete for their fermenters. So if you are adding minerality to the wine through the concrete, it is still the minerality that is native to the soils of the vineyard. Does this really impart flavor? Maybe, maybe not, but regardless it sounds cool doesn’t it?

The Stolpman Concrete Fermenters were designed by their winemaker Sashi Moorman and were inspired by concrete tanks he and Rajat Parr saw in Bodega Noemia in Patagonia.

Here’s a link to a blog post by Pete on the concrete fermenters. http://www.stolpmanvineyards.com/blog/refining-winemaking/concrete-waffles-not-eggs-focus-on-authentic-natural-wines/

And.. a Vino Vessel blog from Pete also

http://vinovessel.blogspot.com

And Grape Collective Article on those Terroir Tanks I spoke of.

https://grapecollective.com/articles/putting-terroir-in-the-tank-literally

So just a bit of back ground, the geeky wine stuff that this seminar made me want to know more about. 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/

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend 2016

Episode 1: Introduction by moderator Wendy Thies Sell followed by Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards.

And now…Here is Episode 1 of the Syrah Seminar, with the introduction by Wendy Thies Sell followed by Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards in Ballard Canyon.

 

 

Below is the transcript for this section of the seminar.  Episode 2 will feature Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards, where we get a bit  more into the soil.

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.

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

Wendy Thies Sell (WTS):  Good morning everyone. Isn’t this a great way to start the day? My name is Wendy Thies Sell and I am happy to be the moderator today with these wonderful, talented wine makers up here sharing their wines with you. I think the beautiful thing about Santa Barbara County’s wine region is not only the diversity of climate, geology, geography, terroir, allowing for so many different grape varieties to thrive here, in this region, dozens of different grape varieties. But, also that chance taking maverick wine growers in the early days were brave enough to experiment with many different wine grape varieties. And the other cool thing is that those same wine pioneers are still at it today in Santa Barbara County.

One of those varieties that thrives here dates back more than 35 years in Santa Barbara County. Bob Lindquist was the first to make Syrah in Santa Barbara County in 1982 for his Qupe wine cellars from grapes he bought from Gary Eberle at Estrella River in Paso Robles. Zaca Mesa made their own Syrah in 1983 from their own vineyard in Foxen Canyon. Their earliest Syrah vines were grafted over onto Petite Sirah planted in 1978. This is part of the famous “Black Bear Block”. Then in 1986 Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley grafted the first 7 acres of X block Reisling over to Syrah. The first syrah crop there was in 1987, making it the first vineyard in California to grow what is considered cool climate Syrah. We are here this morning to celebrate what Santa Barbara County Syrah is today. It is grown in every Santa Barbara County AVA now totaling 1900 acres. Syrah plantings that is. And Syrah is produced in a range of styles as you will soon experience.

Let me introduce our panel. Seven people passionate about Santa Barbara County Syrah.

Over here to your right we have Peter Stolpman, Managing Partner of Stolpman Vineyards, Michael Larner, owner winemaker at Larner Vineyards and Winery, Chris Hammel vineyard manager at Bien Nacidio Vineyards, Larry Schaffer owner/ winermaker at tercero wines, Scott Sampler proprietor Winemaker of Central Coast Group Project, Mark Horvath owner winemaker of Crawford Family Wines and Chad Melville owner winegrower at SAMsARA and Melville Vineyards.

Today we will taste 8 Syrahs; 2 from Ballard Canyon, 2 from the Santa Maria Valley, 2 from Los Alamos and 2 from the Sta. Rita Hills, all current releases. And we begin in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, just a few miles from here in Ballard Canyon. One of Santa Barbara’s newest AVA’s it is a North South oriented Canyon providing a mixed climate on the edge of a cooler AVA;Sta. Rita Hills and a warmer AVA Happy Canyon. 60% of the vines planted in Ballard Canyon are Syrah. Tom Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyards in Ballard Canyon 2 decades ago and planted 153 acres to grapes. Their blocks of Syrah were planted in 1982 and 1984 and today wine #1 is Stolpman’s 2013 Original Syrah. Pete please tell us about this wine.

Peter Stolpman: Good morning everyone, thank you for coming out at 10 am to drink Syrah. When I was pouring this wine, I was reminded when I worked in the Barosa Valley back in 2006.   we got one Sunday off and we went down to Adelaide for Brunch. We sat down at a nice place the guy I was with the winemaker ordered a bottle of Shiraz. You know great, if I wasn’t drinking enough Shiraz already, now we are drinking it at brunch. And quickly I found out why he did that. A couple tables over was one of his competitors. And they started talking over the table in between. Oh you know, what are you up to? And they had a bottle of bubbles on their table. Ah mate just havin’ a bottle of Bolle (bolle champagne) what are you up to? Ah Mate champagnes for girls, we’re drinkin’ Shiraz. So we’re drinking Shiraz and here we are. My dad actually sent me down to Australia to learn what not to do with Syrah. 2006 was really the high water mark for that really jammy high octane Shiraz profile. 2007 was a very difficult vintage. Then the economic crisis hit and Shiraz internationally really got hit, but today there is a whole new world-wide Syrah market and it’s very exciting. There has really been a sea change in the perception of Syrah and we are kind of having the chance to be reborn. Which brings us here, to Ballard Canyon. I was lucky enough to take over the vineyard in 2009 and in 2010 Michael Larner finally said “hey guys we have to get an AVA. And really put those initial steps together, got us all together driving for the AVA. We got our publication from the TTB in 2013. I will never forget, we were sitting at my place on the vineyard and everybody agreed that Syrah is Ballard Canyon’s #1 varietal and it should be our message. So today I think it’s really powerful that Ballard Canyon is the only AVA in America dedicated to Syrah. I’m not saying there are not great Syrahs made from every other AVA in Santa Barbara and Sonoma and Paso, but the majority of planted acreage in Ballard Canyon is Syrah, and it’s great to have everybody in agreement that it’s the perfect match. And when I talk about the Originals, it shows through with this Syrah in particular. The Originals planting as Wendy mentioned, was planted back in 1992 and 94. Half of it is that Estrella River clone from Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block we took the cutting and planted them on our vineyard. And that’s actually a very important vineyard, I feel in Santa Barbara County. If you get the chance to try an old Black Bear Zaca Mesa Syrah, they’re beautiful. I like them young too, but they really need to be a decade old to show their magic. That vineyard because it’s 1978, something like that you said (WTS: Yes Petite Sirah planted in 1978, grafted over to Syrah) So, and it’s 2nd generation of Estrella River, which is very important, because Estrella River has been passed around California, and sometimes if you get cuttings it will be riddled with virus because with every vineyard that it has planted and propagated and replanted, it has picked up a lot junk along the way. So I love that Black Bear material, I think it’s really clean and beautiful. And then the other material in this wine, is the Durell Vineyard from Sonoma. And unfortunately, and this sort of ties back in with the Syrah Market, there’s no more Syrah on Durell. They just couldn’t resist the temptation to add more and more Pinot Noir. Which is kind of telling in this kind of economic climate where there is so much money to be made in Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is so popular right now. That’s an interesting little side note. So Estrella River and Durell, and we call this “the Originals” because from everything we know it’s the original the oldest Syrah in Ballard Canyon. And from this block where Manfred Krankl and Adam Tolmach were buying fruit, everybody bought the land around us and planted more and more Syrah. And right now I think there are 17 vineyards in Ballard Canyon and 8 grower producers. Each of the 8 grower producers can use the Ballard Canyon bottle, only for Syrah. So we are really trying to bring that message that Syrah is our focus. So the words Ballard Canyon are etched into the shoulder of the bottle. And all of us in Ballard Canyon can use it if we’re the farmer and only for Syrah. And the style of the wine, we dry farm, we don’t irrigate from set all the way through harvest. We are really trying to achieve natural concentration by with holding irrigation, no dilution, and that way we can pick appropriately we want this to run right at 14% alcohol, we don’t really care for it to exceed that, but also we don’t want it far below. Below 14% we find that they can be a little austere and far above we kind of lose the nuance and freshness that we want out of Syrah. Again, we are not trying to make Shiraz. Fermented in concrete. Big thick concrete fermenters, all native fermentation and these days we only use free run juice. So we are only using the wine will come at the bottom of the tank without pressing. There’s no pressed wine. What we do with the concrete, very minimal punch downs a more gentle extraction and then only free run juice, so we are really trying to manage our tannin. Our wines back in the 90’s and 2000’s were really big and mean and we are really trying to hit a finer balance. Again that ties into the freshness, the nuance and we really want these wines approachable a couple years out rather than a decade out. But the 13’s still a little bit quiet. It’s unfiltered and will take a year or two more to really come out of it’s shell. But today we are all showing current vintage so some of them might be a bit young. Thank you all.

WTS: How many different Syrah’s do you produce?

Peter Stolpman: 5 We have a, give or take, we have some new plantings that are really exciting. We’ve got, I’ve transitioned more to head pruned really high density vines that can only be worked over by hand, by our full time crew. But I think we have 90 acres today of Syrah. And from which we make our main line, our estate grown, The Originals which would be the old vine, 1 hilltop spot and Angeli’s selection named after my mom and her family and then Ruben’s block for the great Ruben Solorazano, our vineyard manager.

WTS: And Stolpman has a tasting room in Los Olivos and also one on the weekends in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Thank you Pete.

 

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April on the Central Coast

I love April. It is a month where Michael and I have a little time to travel. This year, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that we hit the Central Coast. This trip was about taking in all that the Central Coast has to offer. We visited wineries and tasting rooms, yes, but one of the great things about the Central Coast is that the ocean is right there. We had an opportunity to speak with Heather Muran of SLO Wine Country. You may have seen our quick video with Heather talking about the wrap up of the April month long anniversary celebration for “Roll Out the Barrels”. There will be more video with Heather giving us more insights to the SLO Wine Region, but she impressed upon us that one of the most wonderful things about this area is the lifestyle. Many of the winemakers, surf or hike, and Michael and I wanted to take this in. So on our trip we visited wineries, hiked the bluffs trail at Montana de Oro north of Morro Bay, drove the Pacific Coast Highway, stopped in at the Avila Beach tasting rooms and watched a cricket game on the beach!

You’ve seen the beginning of our trip. It started at Santa Barbara’s El Paseo , first with lunch on the rooftop patio of Nordstroms in the historic Presidio district, with a view of the shops, buildings and trailing bouganvilla. The blog post has photos and details of The Wine Collection of the El Paseo with details on tasting at the 6 tasting rooms; Jamie Slone Wines, Margerum, Au Bon Climat, MCW32, Happy Canyon and Grassini Family Vineyards.

After our afternoon at the El Paseo, we wandered back down through the funk zone and onto the pier. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is the perfect place to enjoy some wine and watch the sunset over the water.

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara
Central Coast Wine Country Spring at Tablas Creek

We also spent a bit of time in Paso Robles. Jason Haas, GM of Tablas Creek Vineyards was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to do an interview with us in the vineyard and the winery. It was a fascinating conversation that I look forward to sharing with you.

As I mentioned we did a great interview with Heather Muran the Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association at the beautiful Laetitia Vineyards which is the southern most end of SLO Wine Country. We did a tasting at Claiborne & Churchill where they were doing a “Roll Out the Barrels” Event called “Hit Me”. They are known for their Alsatian style white wines and did a blind tasting of 5 aromatic wines where you had to pick which variety matched each wine. We had a great lunch at Big Sky Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo, which is a great town to stroll through.

Claiborne & Churchill SLO Central Coast Wine Country
Kynsi San Luis Obispo Central Coast Wine Country

Kynsi has a beautiful tasting patio at their vineyard. Don Othman came to the area to start a company to design and manufacture wine making equipment. He created the “Bulldog Pup” which is a widely used racking wand for transferring wine from barrels. He later began making wine and now his daughter Kala and her husband also work in the winery.

We returned for a tasting and a short hike at Laetitia, where you can taste classic sparkling wines and hike part way through the vineyard and see the ocean views. Come through the week if you want to talk wine, the tasting room is bustling on the weekends!

These vineyards are just a few miles from the Central Coast beaches, so after your tasting you have time for a leisurely drive to Pismo or Shell beach to take in the sunset.

Laetitia Central Coast Wine Country
The Hike on the Bluffs at Montana de Oro

The Morro Bay area has a beautiful park that is just south of the Bay called Montana de Oro where you can hike the bluffs at the edge of the ocean. After a little exercise, a drive up the coast exploring the beach towns and catching lunch at a great little beach spot is perfect. We had lunch at Schooners at Cayucos. This place has great views and a very attentive staff. The food is fresh and easy going and if you are there around sunset there is a great view from the upstairs bar.

Schooner's Restaurant in Caucus on the Coast

Continue up the Pacific Coast Highway to Hearst Castle or Cambria or on to Ragged Point for some great views.

We turned around a little past Ragged Point and headed into Paso Robles for dinner at Artisan. You are likely to see a winemaker or two here. The sidewalk patio on the square is nice and it is a great local menu with artisan cheeses, small plates and more. You can enjoy great local wines and they also have flights. A couple of flights and some small plates make for a great evening exploring pairings! And don’t skip the dessert, the bread pudding was delicious.

Artisan Restaurant in Central Coast Wine Country

Avila Beach is a great little secluded getaway on the Central Coast. As you drive in, you pass Apple Orchards where you can pick your own apples, Hot springs where you can lounge at the resort or rent a hot spring tub by the hour. The Bob Jones trail runs from the springs to the beach and is busy on weekend mornings with bicyclists, walkers and dog walkers. Pirates Cove is said to be great for hiking and word has it the secluded beach that you must hike in to, is clothing optional. We parked ourselves at the in Avila beach to watch the ocean and suddenly a group of guys set up a cricket game on the beach in front of us.  Beyond them sail boats from San Luis Harbor were out. After a morning on the beach we had lunch at the Custom House, enjoying live music on the patio and then strolled to several of the wine tasting rooms nearby.

Avila Beach and it's Tasting rooms

The beautiful Peloton Cellars tasting room with it’s bicycle racing theme, attentive and informed pouring staff and really great afternoon light (oh and lovely wines) was our first stop. A little past them there was live music by A Simple Parade in the Morovino tasting room. This tiny tasting room has the winemaker pouring behind the bar, with wines that she makes because she likes them. She has recipe cards for pairing with each of her wines. The tasting room atmosphere was warm and friendly and the music filled the room and kept us all entranced. We headed around the corner to the downstairs Alapay Cellars tasting room with their large Aquarium behind the tasting bar. And our final stop was at Sinor La Vallee’s brand new tasting room. Mike Sinor has worked with Byron, Center of Effort and Ancient Peaks. He now owns the Bassi Vineyard in Avila Valley which is only 1.5 miles from the ocean. After a late day tasting we finished the day on a super casual note with pizza at Mission Pizza and sunset at the beach.

Of course the following weekend was the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring weekend, so we were back to dive into Santa Barbara County. We finally were able to get to the new Alma Rosa Tasting room, conveniently located next to Industrial Eats in Beullton. You are in an industrial area, but when you walk through the door you forget all of that. The center piece of the tasting room is Olivia, their olive tree. There are skylights, beautiful photos of the vineyards and casual seating. You are greeted at the door and your Wine Guide finds you a seat. This is not your typical wine tasting bar. And of course Richard Sanford’s wines are spectacular.

Another one of those iconic Santa Barbara spots that we had not managed to get to yet, was The Hitching Post II. So…we enjoyed dinner there. This place is like a time capsule. The way you saw it in “Sideways” is exactly how it is today. But the food, while in a style of times past, is delicious. The steaks here really are phenomenal. I can’t gush enough quite honestly.

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

We started Saturday bright and early at the Santa Ynez Marriott with a Wine Seminar by the http://www.sbcountywines.com/. Christopher Sawyer moderated a panel of current and previous winemakers at Zaca Mesa including Ken Brown, Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist and Eric Mohseni. We will have a multiple part series coming out with the full Seminar.

It was a grey morning and it rained right up until the Vintners Spring Festival tasting at River View Park in Buellton. The cloud cover kept us from getting sunburned and overheated as we tasted through wines and spoke with winemakers from all over the area.

After the tasting we headed to Los Alamos where Sonja Madjevski was releasing Sonja’s Sonnet at her Babi’s Beer Emporium next to her Casa Dumetz wine tasting room. This was a project with the Libertine Pub Limited release ale fermented & barrel aged in French Oak, brewed with Kiwi, hibiscus, & Mourvedre grapes. This was a great sour beer and the Turkey Buzzards were playing inside and the kitchen was open. We relaxed on stools by the bar on the fence, enjoyed the beer and watched the people go by.

Babi's Beer Emporium Los Alamos Central Coast Wine Country
Ful of Life Flatbread Central Coast Wine Country

Dinner called and when in Los Alamos what better place is there than Full of Life Flatbread. The place is small so there was a wait. So we bellied up to the bar and ordered a couple of glasses of wine. I ordered the Au Bon Climat Aligote that was on tap. Little did I know that when our table was ready, we would have a perfect view of the big wood fired oven and an entire table with Jim Clendenen and his staff behind us. This is Santa Barbara County. It’s rare that you walk into a restaurant and don’t see a winemaker enjoying wine “at table” as it is meant to be with friends or colleagues.

Our flatbread was great and we ordered 2 desserts since we couldn’t decide between them. Another perfect day in wine country.

Sunday had us out in Ballard Canyon doing another great interview with Michael Larner, of Larner Vineyards and Winery, this time focusing on the wines. (Look for that shortly). We then headed out to Sta. Rita Hills to the open house at Hilliard Bruce. I had a chance at the Festival to speak with the owners and winemakers Christine Bruce and John Hilliard, but they were out of town today, so we went to see their beautiful new winery. We had been to the vineyard before and did a post about their detailed viticultural methods, and wanted to see their new winery which is a blend of the practical and the artistically beautiful.

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

We finished our day tasting in Los Olivos, at Stolpman, Longoria, and Blair Fox, all of which introduced us to more amazing wines.

On our final morning in wine country we headed out to see how the new chardonnay planting at Riverbench was coming along. When we were here last year in June we saw these vines before they went in the ground and have been following their progress. They were pulling off the tubes today and training them up on the trellis’. We drove out onto the Bench in Santa Maria and drove by the Bien Nacido Vineyards before heading back through Foxen Canyon to meet Larry Schaffer of Tercero in his Los Olivos Tasting room. We had a great interview with Larry that will come out shortly, talking about, screw caps, Roussanne, Rhones and so much more. It is always a fascinating conversation with Larry.

So as you can see, we have tons to tell you about our trip to the Central Coast! We will be releasing video’s as soon as they are ready, watch for the Wine Seminar to come out first! Stick with us on the journey..from dirt to glass!

Larner Vineyard and Winery, the History

Larner Vineyard Sunset

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

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

Larner Vineyard Panorama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Larner at Larner Vineyard

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

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

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Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Ave

Los Olivos, CA 93441

(805)688-8148

http://larnerwine.com

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

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

Visit us at our Facebook Page facebook.com/CGCFromDirtToGlass.

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

From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on Heat Spikes during Harvest

Larner Vineyard Sunset

We spoke with Michael Larner out at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard in June and asked about how heat spikes affect him around Harvest.

“The nature of Syrah is that it is always harvested in October.” “We never see heat spikes in October so we don’t have to panic.”

Heat spikes cause sugars to go up. As the vines become stressed for water the first place they get it from is the berries. As the berries dehydrate from the vine pulling moisture the sugar levels increase and concentrate. This is only temporary and the sugar levels will stabilize again when the temperature drops or when the vine gets more water.

Watching the weather and planning ahead they can water before a heatspike so that the sugar levels don’t soar. This gives the clients a couple more weeks before harvesting when the wineries are typically full at the end of harvest. Michael says he tells clients “Let me water it, rather that you having to water it in the winery!”.

for more on Larner Vineyards

from Dirt to Glass

Larner Vineyard & Winery

Larner Vineyard Site

Ballard Canyon

Beckmen Vineyard walk at Purisma Mountain

Beckmen Tasting Room

Beckmen Vineyard Hike with Steve Beckmen during the SB Vintners Spring Weekend.  Hiking, Wine and Conversation with Steve Beckmen Architect of Beckmen Vineyards.  Stunning Panoramic Views with amazing views from the hilltop and vineyard education, with wine, food and cardio all built into one unique Experience. Check it out and watch for a extended version coming Soon.

 

http://youtu.be/jrZD3H-JaZQ

Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara’s newest AVA

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

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

ballard canyon ava

ballard canyon ava

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stolpman's Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Windmill on Saarloos & Son’s Windmill Ranch Vineyard

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

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

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

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

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons tasting room in Los Olivos

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

2013 Spring Vintners' Festival at the Mission Santa Ines

2013 Spring Vintners’ Festival at the Mission Santa Ines

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