2014 was a big year for Crushed Grape Chronicles. We honed our blogging and filming skills and got an in depth look at one of the most exciting wine regions in California, Santa Barbara County.
Our late 2013 trip to Santa Barbara got us hooked. After visit with John and Christine at Hilliard Bruce and an exceptional morning harvesting pinot noir at Clos Pepe Estate for a sparkling project, we did a tasting with Wes Hagen and got a real look at the fantastic diversity and depth this area has. Oh…and they have quite a few varieties of grapes too.
We returned in April 2014 for the Vintners Spring Weekend. We kicked off the weekend with dinner at Industrial Eats with the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Association. Sta. Rita Hills is known for it’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and for it’s exceptional winemakers. If you have not been to Santa Barbara, you may have a vision of this event in your mind of fancy people in suits at some fancy restaurant. This is the glory of Santa Barbara. Industrial Eats is a great restaurant in an Industrial area of Buellton, the city best known for it’s pea soup. Here they source locally, so the menu changes depending on what is fresh and seasonal. We did have uni and oysters…so the food was fancy, but you got to see and speak to the people who were making it. The place is filled with community tables and it’s not very big. The winemakers spoke about their wines in such humble tones. This area is a community and they are happy to welcome you in.
We enjoyed a vineyard walk with Steve Beckman at the Purism Mountain Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. I worked hard to keep up with Steve so I could ask some questions about this beautiful vineyard. We have some great video’s posted as Steve talks about the soil at Purisma Mountain and gives us a little seminar on shoot thinning.
At the Grand Tasting we had the opportunity to speak one on one with so many of the amazing winemakers in Santa Barbara.
We had wonderful conversations with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery, Christine Bruce of Hilliard Bruce, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena. Again you are surrounded by some of the most fantastic winemakers in California, but this is all about sharing and community there is no stuffiness here.
Our 4th day had us doing a round about trip around the northern part of Santa Barbara County. We started the day in the Santa Maria valley at Au Bon Climat and Qupe at their twice annual open house, where Jim Clendenen can be seen cooking barbecue. We then drove around the north end of the valley to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto for a barrel tasting at Clos Pepe’s Winery (which is not at the vineyard) and finished our tastings at Fiddlehead being entertained and fed sliders by the fabulous Kathy Joseph. We then took the long way back driving up past the new Evening Star vineyard that Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman have started on the outside edge of the Sta. Rita Hills and then up to enjoy the view of Fiddlestix vineyard. Dinner found us a Matteis Tavern enjoying a stunning dinner at this historic location.
On our final day we made our way to Presqu’ile up in the Santa Maria Valley. This beautiful winery produces some exceptional wines and blends clean beautiful modern architecture with a warm air of southern hospitality. When we got home we tried a recipe for strawberry, citrus and avocado salad inspired by Ryan in their tasting room to pair with their rose.
In June of 2014 we were invited back to Santa Barbara for the first ever Key to Wine Country Weekend. This is a weekend filled with special events at many of the wineries designed to give you an inside look at this amazing region.
We were lucky to be able to schedule an interview and vineyard walk with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard. We had a great conversation with Michael which can be seen in a series of videos on our site. Michael’s background is in geology so it was fascinating to hear his perspective on the Ballard Canyon soils.
We began events of the weekend with a vineyard walk at Riverbench Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, with their vineyard manager Rawley Hermreck. We walked the vineyard, saw the new vines that were about to go in, waxed the top of a bottle of pinot and had a lovely lunch with Rawley and his dog Sadie.
That evening we attended the 1st annual Larner Winemaker Dinner held at the Ballard Inn and Restaurant. Chef Budi Kazali created beautiful dishes to pair with the Rhone style wines of Larner Vineyards and Michael Larner spoke on each of the wines before each course. It was an amazing evening filled with good food, good wines and great company!
Saturday morning brought us back to Presqu’ile Vineyards for an Taste through the vineyard event with 4 different winemakers all of whom were sourcing grapes from Presqu’ile. This eclectic group of winemakers from Storm, Luceant Luminesce, Labyrinth and Presqu’ile spoke on their wines and their methods and we were in wine geek heaven. The setting was stunning also on the crush pad of the gravity flow winery at Presqu’ile. There is a 4 part series on this conversation if you want to geek out also!
Then it was on to Cold Heaven for a Rhone-scent-ual experience. Jars filled with white flours, olives, grapefruit, herbs, chocolate…and then some filled the tables, along with sheets for notes and aroma wheels. Attendees were like kids in a candy store passing jars back and forth and making new scent memories, while tasting some amazing wines.
The day wrapped up at Imagine Wines in Santa Ynez, where they pair wine and art. With beautiful sculptures, paintings and photos, live music, great wine, home cooked food and the ever entertaining winemaker Ross Rankin this made for a lovely evening.
While I had to head back to work, Michael was able to stay for a final event. Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard did a vineyard hike and farm to table lunch. The hike was led by winemaker Karen Steinwachs and lunch followed a salad demonstration by Chef Pascale Beale with recipes from her cookbook “Salade”. All the items used were picked fresh from the gardens at Buttonwood which is a working farm.
July 2014 found us in Santa Barbara again, this time for WBC14 (Wine Bloggers Conference). This gave us another opportunity to see the area and talk with winemakers here as well as meet other wine bloggers. We had a fantastic evening on a planned Friday night excursion planned by the Santa Barbara Vintners. Various vehicles and buss’s rolled up to the Conference hotel and Bloggers piled in. Then the vehicles set off for mystery locations. Our bus headed out to Sunstone Vineyard and Winery, where Michael Larner greeted us followed shortly by Bion Rice, the wineries President and CEO, in a t-shirt and jeans. Bion gave us a tour 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 winemakers from Larner, Core, Transcendence, Big Tar, and Sunstone. Dinner family style followed and then a question and answer session with the winemakers refereed by non other than Keith Saarloos of Saarloos and Sons. The blog post on this fantastic evening is still to come so keep watching!
We also made a trip to see Bridlewood Winery just outside Happy Canyon where we enjoyed a stroll through the gardens, lunch by the creek and then a panel discussion with a sustainable theme. Moderated by Richard Martin from Food Republic with Bridlewood winemaker Mark Williams, Chris and Johanna Finley of Finley Farms Organic, Stephanie Mutz of Sea Stephanie Fish, Jake O’Francis of Valley Piggery, Jeff Olsson of Industrial Eats. This was an incredible discussion by the people who grow, raise or harvest our foods on their thoughts on sustainability and how they do what they do. There were no easy answers here, but a heartfelt and honest discussion which was interesting and refreshing in such a large corporate winery (Bridlewood is owned by Gallo).
2014 the overview
So all in all, 2014 was a pretty amazing year! I expect that 2015 will see us back in Santa Barbara (there is so much to explore there and more winemakers we would love to have an opportunity to talk with!) as well as exploring some other California regions, so expect more blog posts and videos on wineries and winemakers.
We will also continue our adventure in pairing wines and foods. I am finding that the typical rules for pairing varieties is only the tip of the iceberg. Wines are individual and change as they age, so a pairing is only for the moment and we look forward to more of those. You will see more cooking videos here and on our sister site 4Farm2Mrkt and suggestions on pairings.
We also will probably dabble a little into things other than wine. There is a post coming soon that is about chili and beer pairings. As winemaker will tell you, it takes a lot of good beer to make wine.
And…if you have suggestions, on wineries or regions, restaurants or pairings…let us know!
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In the meantime…find a good bottle of bubbly or whatever you prefer and share a toast to a wonderful 2014 and an even better 2015 to come!
Robin & Michael
Crushed Grape Chronicles