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 Art Installation – Crushed Grapes and Open Minds

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds, with Crushed Grape Chronicles and Act2Art

A few days before the “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds” event.  The Artist RuBen Permel came by to install the art works.  He brought the 5 paintings inspired by the wine, as well as a selection of other pieces.  Including his Upland Flight series, “Three Angles Walking”, “Landscape Series 6” parts of the “Whispering Goliath Series” and the beautiful “Open Minds”.  We spent the morning finding just the right spot for each work.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

RuBen Permel – Act2Art – Wine Inspired Art

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds with Act2Art.com

RuBen Permel of Act2Art is an accomplished artist.  He’s actually quite the renaissance man, he is an actor and dancer, a puppeteer, a costumer, a painter, a writer, a film maker….and lucky for me, my friend.

Last year we worked together on a project called “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds”.  I had this idea of finding wine that would pair with some of RuBen’s beautiful art.  RuBen, ever the overachiever, decided he would paint a piece for each wine we chose.  We chose 5 wines and he painted a piece to pair with each.

We spent an afternoon with RuBen while he painted, actually priming a canvas for what became the signature piece for the event.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

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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Wine with friends – A California tasting & pairing

After our trip to the Central Coast, my friend RuBen asked if we wanted to do a wine & cheese party with him at his house.  Well of course!  RuBen is the hostess with the mostest and has a beautiful backyard.  He also knows wonderful people, who are always a joy to talk to.  So….RuBen planned the decor, the people and the over-all menu and I planned the wines and pairings.  I spent several days going through and picking wines from our cellar and then finding interesting facts about each and pairing ideas.  Here’s what I settled on…

Laetitia Brut Cuvee

We needed to start with something bubbly, so we pulled out a bottle of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery Brut Cuvee.  The winery is in the Arroyo Grande AVA which is just south of San Luis Obispo. We had recently done an Interview on their beautiful property  with Heather Muran of the SLO Wine Association.  Starting with bubbles is always a great celebratory way to start any event and it’s a great palate cleanser.  This wine is made in the Champenoise method and the winemaker says his favorite pairing with this is potato chips!  So…that’s what we paired it with.  It was fun to talk to people about this wine and have people share with me their knowledge of sparkling wines.

Tablas Creek 2014 Vermentino

Next we moved onto a white wine, but I didn’t want to do a typical Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  Instead we did a Vermentino from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles.  This winery is known for their Rhone Varieties, and while Vermentino is a little out of the Rhone (although it is grown there under the name Rolle) it is a variety of grape that thrives in the soils and climates you find at Tablas Creek.  It is bright and minerally and we put a jar of wet stones next to it for people to smell.  It was amazing to see people dip their nose into the glass then into the jar and watch the look of realization and surprise come across their faces.  People always think that tasting notes sound so snooty with the wild things sommeliers say they can smell in a wine.  Having it right there and smelling it opened their noses to trying to smell other things in the wines!  Vermentino pairs great with many things, but unlike so many other wines, it is great with green vegetables, so we paired this with a pesto.

Margerum 2014 Riviera Rosé

Onward now to a Rosé.  Rosés are coming back into vogue and you find them popping up everywhere.  While you can find rosés made from Pinot, Zinfandel,  and even Merlot…I love a Rhone or Grenache Rosé best, with a little watermelon and strawberry on the nose, but dry.  That is what we got with the Margerum Wine Company 2014 Riviera Rosé. This Rosé is Grenache with a little Counoise and Cinsault.  The Grenache for the most part is done in the saignee method, then a bit of Counoise and Cinsault are added as well as a little barrel aged Grenache.  As Rosés notoriously go well with anything pink, we paired it with a prosciutto.

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

It was time now to go a little darker.  We pulled out a 2012 Pinot Noir from Carhartt in Santa Barbara. The Carhartt’s are the same Carhartt’s you think of with work clothes. The family owned a ranch in Santa Barbara where they raised cattle for years.  Mike Carhartt and his wife Brooke planted grapes on the land and now it is a family affair with son Chase studying wine making and assisting in the process. This particular wine is not grown on their estate but comes from Riverbench Vineyard up in the Santa Maria Valley where they grow some amazing Pinot Noir.  We paired this with cheeses; goat cheese, gouda and baked brie!

Carhartt 2012 Sangiovese

We continued with a little more robust red with a Carhartt Sangiovese.  This wine was estate grown and smells of cherry, fig, cola, all spice, sweet oak and rose petal.  I had a fresh burrata from the Downtown Summerlin Farmers Market that paired perfectly with this!

Tobin James 2009 Fat Boy Zin

I must admit that we don’t drink alot of big reds these days.  Most are just a bit too big to pair with a meal.  At one time we were members of the Tobin James wine club and we have a bunch of great big fat Zins from them, that I have not yet opened.  So…here was an opportunity to open one and see how it was.  Did it mellow with age or would it have gone flat and passed it’s peak?  We opened a 2009 Tobin James Fat Boy Zin.  It is an over the top Zin that Tobin says is “like the best friend you had as a kid; big brash and maybe slightly obnoxious, but always loved!”.  This is definitely big with the alcohol level sitting at 15.8%.  But indeed, this big boy was loved by many at the party.  We paired this with Smoked Gouda, but truly this big Jammy Zin would go best with bold bold BBQ.

Carol Shelton 2008 Black Magic

We ended the eveningstepping a little further north, with a late harvest Zin by Carol Shelton her 2008 Black Magic from Sonoma County.  Late harvest wines are those that are left on the vine to let their sugars develop and often they will leave them to raisin on the vine concentrating the sugars even further.  This dessert wine screams for chocolate and indeed we paired it with that, but also with a lovely Stilton. The sweet wine and the savory cheese are a perfect combination for finishing an evening.

This was an amazing evening with around 20 people just mingling talking about the wines and whatever else came up and meandering around RuBen’s beautiful backyard with little seating areas tucked here and there.  We enjoyed the wine, the company and conversation as the sun set and the stars came out.  Yep, wine with friends…what could be better?

Wine Party with Friends

Wine Party with Friends

The “Key” to Wine Country – an inside perspective on what Santa Barbara Wine Country is all about.


The Key to Wine Country event in Santa Barbara was created by the Santa Barbara Vintners to give you a chance to get to know a little more about the wineries. More than just discounted tastings, many of the participating wineries set up unique events to give you an insiders perspective on their wines, vineyards and styles.

 

Riverbench Vineyard

Riverbench Vineyard

Our Key Weekend began in the Santa Maria Valley at Riverbench Vineyard with a vineyard walk on Friday morning with Rawley Hermreck the Vineyard Manager. Rawley walked us into the vineyard and explained the planting and trellising techniques that they use.

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We were able to see the new vines that would be planted the next day in the front block (watch for some pictures of this process!).  Laura the tasting room manager set us up to  learn how to dip their pinot bottles in wax for the beautiful wax closure, and then we enjoyed lunch on the back patio with Rawley and his dog Sadie complete with a tasting of the Riverbench wines. They have a sparkling program and the Blanc de Blanc was really lovely.  Of course I left with that bottle of Pinot I dipped!

 

Bottle Dipping

Bottle Dipping

We had some free time before our next event and spent a little time wandering in Los Olivos, ending up in the tiniest tasting room and enjoyed the casual laid back atmosphere at Carhartt.

 

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Our next event was the Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn. The Ballard Inn is a beautiful spot just south of Los Olivos. Chef Budi Kazali is also the owner of the the Inn, purchasing it in 2004. He blends Asian and New French styles with fresh local ingredients to create some captivating dishes.

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Wine-pour600The evening began at 6 pm with Michael Larner pouring his Rose as well as the Malvasia Bianca and guests relaxed in the parlor or on the porch, watching the sun start to dip and the trees start to glow. Passed hors d’oeuvres kept our stomachs at bay as we waited for the main event. The pairings were beautiful and the intimate dining room made for a singular experience. Watch for the full blog post on this incredible evening as well as our series of conversations with Michael Larner.

 

Presquile Wine Event

Presquile Wine Event

Saturday our day began with a unique event at Presqu’ile Winery in the Santa Maria Valley. Presqu’ile gathered 4 winemakers, including their own Dieter Cronje, to taste through wines made from grapes from the Presqu’ile Vineyards.

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On hand were Ernst Storm of Storm Wines, Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce and Ariki Hill of Labyrinth. We tasted through 9 wines doing side by side comparisons and listening to the winemakers discuss their winemaking techniques and unique aspects of each vintage. The event took place on the crushpad of the winery, high above the tasting room in this gravity flow space. Matt Murphy, President of Presqu’ile is warm and welcoming and kicked off the event with an introduction and welcome. This was a fascinating journey to taste the differences in these wines and search for the underlying commonality that the soil and the site bring. It was truly an amazing event for a wine geek! I was in heaven and took page upon page of notes! Of course the atmosphere was stunning as you looked to the panel sitting next to the railing that looked down on the winery floor, the glassware, the charcuterie laid out with such care and the attentiveness to warmth and hospitality… it was a beautiful event.

 

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

We had to dash out sooner than I would have liked so that we could make it to Buellton for another unique event. Cold Heaven Cellars was holding a “Rhone Scentual” event. We arrived at the Buellton tasting room and were greeted by Kara and Liz.

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

In the barrel room they had 2 tables set with tasting wheels, sheets for notes and lovely blue mason jars each filled with a different item to spark your aromatic senses. We began with the white wines (Viogniers of course!) and while we were all a little shy at first, this quickly became a case of grabbing for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with the people around you. Conversations were animated and we all found that we were smelling things in a new way and with much more thought. It was a discovery each time you opened a jar. Kara and Liz had samples of diatomaceous earth, white pepper, white flowers, fresh peaches, grapefruit peal and so many others. For the Reds at the other table they had chocolate, leather, fresh berries, cinnamon, just to start, I can’t remember them all! Grapefruit peelThis was really a wonderful experience and Kara was there every step of the way encouraging you to make more discoveries and talk about other fragrances that you found in your scent memory. This event, broke down those barriers of intimidation from tasting notes. You may think that you can’t smell the habanero on that wine, but once you dip your nose in that jar, your memory is sparked and you can find it! Those tasting notes aren’t really as crazy and out there as people sometimes think. It’s just a matter of creating those scent memories and keeping them active!

 

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats

With a little time to kill before the evening event, we headed to Industrial Eats for lunch. Mention Industrial Eats to anyone in the valley and you will get the same response. People will often close their eyes briefly, envisioning the last thing they had there, and then will animatedly tell you about the amazing things you should order there. We had attended the Sta. Rita Hills AVA dinner here back in April and were excited to go try some wood fired pizza for lunch. The tables are long community tables allowing large groups to sit together or smaller groups to make new friends. The food here is phenomenal and the service is great. Don’t miss stopping here!

 

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Our last event of the day was in Santa Ynez at Imagine Wine. They held an evening of Music, Art, Food and “Blogging”. I’m blushing a little, the “blogging” was added since we were attending. Located on the corner of Numancia and Edison this tasting room is also an art gallery that is flooded with natural light from 2 sides. For this event they featured the work of Robert Karl Vogel, as well as music from Jim Campbell and then of course the wines. Ross Rankin, the owner and winemaker had barrel samples out on the corner of the porch and took guests through the stories of each wine. Jim

Jim Campbell

Jim Campbell

Campbell performed “every song you know by heart (almost).” (really, I could sing along with everything!). Lyndee Rankin had great food set out to accompany the wines and you could wander and sip as you enjoyed the “En Plein Air” paintings by Robert Karl Vogel, landscapes and cloudscapes of California and the Sierras. Also sculptures by Blake Rankin, (son of the winemaker) dotted the tasting room. The centerpiece for the gallery is a sculpture called Wings, which is the inspiration for one of his father’s wines.

Ross’s wines are unique in that he believes in aging his wines before release. We did get to taste his new (Barbera)? which he created specifically to have a wine for a quicker release. It was a lovely evening with the art, music and wine inspiring great conversations among the varied guests. Watch for a video blog with insights from Ross on his wines!

 

I unfortunately had to fly home to Vegas, so Michael enjoyed the Sunday Vineyard Hike and Farm-to-table lunch at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard without me. So here…I’ll turn it over to him.

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

It was a great weekend for wine tasting and a beautiful morning. I was looking forward to seeing the Farm and tasting the wines. We had stopped by their booth at the grand tasting during the Spring Vintners Weekend event and their wines were amazing.  After tasting them again that still held true.  Karen Steinwachs, their winemaker told us during the tour, that they try to keep the wines affordable. This is possible because they do everything in house, but the wines really could sell for twice the amount they sell them for.  When you drive in you only see the tasting room and the surrounding farm, that is because the vineyard and winery are up on the plateau.  So we drove up the hill and started out the day at the winery at the top of the plateau where Karen poured our first wine  a 2013 “Zingy”, a Sav Blanc, and told us stories about how it was named.  She then gave us a tour of the wine making and storage facility, followed by a walk around the picturesque views of the vineyard. We made our way back to the winery tried another Sav Blanc, the 2011 Devin, we  then made our way back down the hill to the picnic grounds below,

where we were treated to a chef Demo by Pascale Beale and tasted various wines with fresh from the farm Salads.  We will have a more complete Blog post and video on this adventure at Buttonwood. This is a must stop, to see the combination of Farm and Vineyard.  If you can visit this Fall while they are doing their Harvest Tour, it should not be missed.

 

Stay Tuned, in the next couple of weeks we will be Posting Blogs and Videos on this amazing Weekend.  We will also be launching a Ballard Canyon Series, with Interviews with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery, and Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards. This will be a 4 week Series starting July 7th 2014. We will also be at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July to talk to with more winemakers and hear more stories from Santa Barbara.  So you can expect more information on this incredible region for wines.

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The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

It’s no secret, I’m in love with the Santa Barbara County Wine Region.  It is laid back with an incredible range of variety.  “Sideways” got it right.  This is the best up and coming wine area in our country.  Up and coming actually seems a little silly, the wineries and winemakers here have quite a history.  There are giants of winemaking here including: Richard Sanford, Jim Clenedenen, Bob Linquist, Richard Longoria & Bill Wathen. And the list of amazing winemakers continues to grow and the wines they are producing are varied and amazing.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Santa Barbara lies in a unique area that separated from the plates along the coast.  Over the past twelve million years this little section shifted and created a Transverse valley.  This means that the valley here runs east west as opposed to north south like all the other valleys on our coast.  The transverse valley and the microclimates within it lead to a place where you can grow an amazing variety of grapes in a relatively small area.  On the western edge the valley is cool and is perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As you move east the valley warms by a degree a mile!  This makes the middle section perfect for Rhone varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne and as you continue to the east side where Happy Canyon lies you have enough heat to support those Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc.

So if you are a wine geek like me…this is a great place.  But if you are not a wine geek and want to avoid the intimidation of wine talk and just enjoy a glass…well this is the right place too.

So…make your first stop in the Funk Zone near the beach in Santa Barbara on the Urban Wine trail.  Stop into one of the many great tasting rooms there.  Maybe hit Municipal Winemakers first and soak up some of the funky atmosphere.  Sit down at the picnic table and enjoy a glass of rose.

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Then if you are feeling like learning a little about where these wines come from head up the street to AVA Santa Barbara. Here you can taste wines from all the different regions in Santa Barbara County.  The entire wall over the tasting bar is a huge chalk mural by Elkpen that  shows the regions soils, microclimates and topography. The wines, by Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines are lovely and deliberately varied to feature the microclimates in this incredible area.

Au Bon Climate, Grassini, Margerum

If you head further North into downtown, you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat & Margerum to choose between for a tasting.

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Head back through the downtown shopping district and stop at  Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro for lunch.  Then take a stroll on the beach and finally enjoy a nice glass of wine at Conway Family Wines – Deep Sea Tasting room on the Santa Barbara Pier while you enjoy the sunset.

 

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Oh, but my friend, you are just getting started in Santa Barbara County.  Tomorrow drive into Solvang, the adorable little Danish town and get some aebleskivers for breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant.  You can then stroll this town and taste at several tasting rooms that you can walk to, or drive a little further into Los Olivos where you will find over 35 tasting rooms to choose from!  And…I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great place to dine at Side’s Hardware & Shoes.  Don’t miss Saarloos and Sons for a pairing with cupcakes from Enjoy Cupcakes.

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

They are there Thursday thru Sunday from 11-5 (or until they run out of cupcakes, so go early!) and one of my favorite tasting rooms, the tiniest one on the planet is across the street from Saarloos and Sons at Carhartt.  Carhartt stays open an hour later than the others and this often becomes quite the gathering spot on the beautiful but tiny back patio.

Are you overwhelmed yet?  There is more…I highly recommend Terrravant Winery Restaurant in Buellton for dinner and pairings.  They have an Enomatic wine dispensing system set up so you can try small tastes of many of the amazing local wines.  And the now World Famous Hitching Post II is also here in Buellton, made famous by the movie “Sideways”.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Tapas & Wine Bar Front Entrance

Tomorrow morning you have more wine country to explore!  There are amazing wineries outside of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley like Buttonwood Farms & Beckman.  Or travel up to Santa Maria through Foxen Canyon and enjoy the morning Vandenberg Fog.  Stop at Zaca Mesa and try their Rhones.  This place has been around a while and popped out some pretty amazing winemakers!  Further up the road, you can’t miss stopping at “The Shack” at Foxen.

Zaca Mesa chess set

Zaca Mesa Patio with the oversized chess set

And…then there is the Sta. Rita Hills. If you love Pinot or good Chard you want to drive through here.  Make an appointment and stop by Clos Pepe.  Wes Hagen has more vineyard and wine knowledge than you can imagine and a tasting with him is amazing!  Just past Clos Pepe is Hilliard Bruce.  John and Christine have an incredibly beautiful landscaped property and their vineyard management is state of the art.

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Keep driving down 246 to Lompoc and top into the Wine Ghetto.  Filled with small wineries working out of an industrial park you will find Flying Goat Cellars, Fiddlehead & Palmina as well as a host of others.  Check the hours though, because they are often just open on weekends for tastings.  Further into Lompoc you will find Brewer-Clifton, which again brought out my geeky side as we talked about stem inclusion and how they thin the vines to ripen the stems!

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Have I covered it all?  Not even close.  There is so much exploring I look forward to going back to do.  But…if you are short on time…The Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have all of these great wineries and winemakers in one place on April 12th.

Or at anytime for information visit Santa Barbara Vintners

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Baked Salmon recipe Paired with Chardonnay or Pinot Noir?

Herb crusted Salmon

Herb crusted Salmon

Salmon is a glorious fish that can pair with either red or white wine.  So tonight we did a taste test and pulled out 2 stunning bottles of wine from Santa Barbara County.

This was also another incredibly quick meal to make!  I did an Israeli Cous Cous, an herb green salad and then baked a big fillet of salmon.  I searched the web for how to best cook my salmon and found a basic method that I got to add the finishing touches to.  First…take your salmon out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before you plan to prepare it, so that it gets closer to room temperature.  Next, preheat the oven to 475.  Get your baking dish set with a couple tablespoons of butter and a little olive oil and stick it in the oven to preheat.  Meanwhile get your herbs ready.  I had thyme, lemon thyme and parsley that I coated the salmon with on the non-skin side.  Once the butter has melted and the pan is hot, pull it out of the oven and put the fish in skin side up (so herbed side down) and stick it in the oven for about 5 minutes.  Then pull it out and peel the skin off.  The skin should come off easily, if it doesn’t stick it back in for a minute or two.  Once the skin is off, season with salt and pepper and flip it over.  Then season your herbed side also and throw it back in for another 3 or 4 minutes.  I admit, I saved the skin and toasted it up the rest of the way later and it accompanied the rest of the salmon for lunch today.

Here’s what it looked like right out of the oven.

Now for the wines.  I pulled out two wines that I have been wanting to get into. The Chardonnay is a 2010 from Hilliard Bruce.  We had the great pleasure to visit them on our last trip to Santa Barbara.  This Chardonnay is stunning. It is crisp with great acid, but still has that wonderful yeast on the nose.  You get a bit of oakiness in the mouth, but the acid beautifully balances it out.   It is aged in 100% French Oak, 30% of which is new and Christine does barrel fermentation with Montrachet yeast with full malolactic fermentation.   It is aged on the lees for 16 months.

Hilliard Bruce 2010 Chardonnay

Hilliard Bruce 2010 Chardonnay

The second wine, our Pinot Noir comes to us from Carhartt Vineyards another of our favorite places in Santa Barbara County.  The Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir is from Riverbench Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley.  This is a young bold Pinot Noir and it was suggested to go with grilled planked salmon.  Lots of smoke and baking spice on the nose and very savory with lots of depth.

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

So, which paired better?  Both were good, but the Chardonnay really knocked it out of the park..  Keep in mind, Carhartt suggested a grilled planked salmon which would have had lots of smoke flavor.  Had we prepared the salmon that way I think it would have been the winner.  But, as it was the herbs paired beautifully with the Chardonnay, the acid cut through the fat in the salmon and it was amazing bite after bite.

Herb Crusted Salmon, Israeli Cous Cous, Salad, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.

Herb Crusted Salmon, Israeli Cous Cous, Salad, a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir.

 

Santa Barbara Wines- the Highlight Reel!

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural Central Coast Wine Country

We are back from our trip to Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles and I wanted to quickly get the highlights out and give some shout outs to people and places that made this an exceptional trip.

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

We started the trip in Santa Barbara, walking the beach, exploring the murals in the funk zone and then heading up to beautiful State Street for lunch and a flight at Wine Bistro Pierre Lafond.  This beautiful café has great sidewalk tables that let you take in the romance that is State Street while enjoying great food and wine.  There is great history here, more about that in a later blog.

 

Grassini Tasting Room

Grassini Tasting Room

Our next stop was Grassini Family Cellars.  This winery is located in Happy Canyon and they specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their tasting room is located in the historic El Paseo shopping center near Au Bon Climat and Margerum.  This is a beautiful space and Katie Grassini stopped in while we were there and we had a wonderful conversation about their wines, the winery and the sustainable practices they are using there.

 

Carr SB Tasting Room

Carr SB Tasting Room

From there we headed off the beaten track a little to Carr and we tasted through their line up.  The space here is a converted Quonset hut giving it a feel of the inside of a barrel.  They also have wines available here on tap.

 

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Now it was back into the Funk Zone proper to AVA Santa Barbara, previously known as Anacapa Vintners.  This beautiful tasting room features wines from each of the Santa Barbara AVA’s.  On the entire wall behind the tasting room bar you will find a huge Elkpen mural that shows the AVAs and describes the climates, soils and topography.  They have soil samples on the counter to look at and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable.  For wine geeks that get into the soil and climate this is heaven.

To finish our day we headed down to Stearns Wharf to Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Tasting Room.  This beautiful tasting room is on the 2nd level on the Wharf with beautiful views of the coast and the ocean.  Their Deep Sea Wines are made with coastal grapes.  Shout out to Lauren for a great tasting!

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

 

We finished the day with some sunset shots followed by dinner on the end of the Wharf at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company…tiny and perfect!

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

 

Just before bed I realized I had a message from Morgen McLauglin from the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, she had been searching to see if anyone was harvested so we could go get some harvest shots.  Well she found a small harvest happening at none other than Clos Pepe.  So we were up early the next morning to meet her at the vineyard at 5:45.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

This unexpected boon turned out to be so much more than we expected.  Michael jumped in getting shots and Morgen and I chatted and she walked me down to meet Wes Hagen, the winemaker.  Wes handed us gloves, clippers, a bucket and a head lamp and directed us on the finer points of harvesting pinot noir.  The harvest was for a sparkling project that he was working on with another winery. We spent about 2 hours helping to harvest 2 rows of beautiful tight clusters of pinot noir and watching the sun come up.  And…we were lucky enough that Wes invited us to tag onto a tour and tasting he was doing later that day.

 

Vines at Carhartt

Vines at Carhartt

After a quick cleanup and breakfast at Succulent in Solvang, we headed to Carhartt for a winery tour with Joe the new Wine club manager.  We got to see all the new buildings the harvest prep and then head up to the ridge to see the vineyards as well as the newly planned vineyard site.

 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

We headed back into Los Olivos for a little wine and dessert!  “Enjoy Cupcakes” has cupcake flights available daily to pair with Saarloos and Sons tastings.  If you are here on a weekend, this is really something you shouldn’t miss.

We managed to have time for one more shared tasting at Presqu’ile.  This is a stunning tasting room that they unfortunately closed after Labor Day.  Don’t be too sad though, they have a tasting room open at their new winery in Santa Maria.  Everyone I have spoken to says the new winery is beautiful.  The wines here I found to have a unique flair which seems to come from their winemaker.  I look forward to stopping by the winery on our next trip.

At this point it was time to head back out to Clos Pepe.  I will have an entire post about our visit here.  Wes Hagen opens his mouth and fascinating facts fall out.  The wines were spectacular and the information and knowledge shared was beyond expectations.  If you are in the area and love wine, you should schedule a visit with Wes.

We ended our day in the world’s tiniest tasting room at Carhartt’s which becomes quite the gathering spot at the end of the day.  They are open an hour later than the other tasting rooms and end up being quite the industry gathering spot. And then caught a light dinner at Avant in Buellton.

 

Hilliard Bruce

Hilliard Bruce

The next morning we were off to Hilliard Bruce.  As I was tweeting about our upcoming trip, I had a tweet from them saying, “If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  Well with an offer like that…  So we went.  This is a mind bogglingly beautiful property.  John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are both Certified Master Gardeners and they love their plants.  The entire property is beautifully landscaped and truly, the canopy management is beyond anything you will see anywhere else.  Again, you will get an entire blog post on this exceptional property, but let me say that between the wine, the property and the people this was really an amazing visit.

Lots more fascinating details to come as well as photos and video!

Springtime in Wine Country – Santa Barbara to Paso Robles

Santa Barbara
Stearn Wharf Sign

Stearn Wharf Sign

Drawn to the coast we began on the beach in Santa Barbara wandering Stearns wharf and then tasting at Municipal Winemakers on Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail in “The Funk Zone”.  Au Bon Climat called and we strolled up the beautiful State Street with bougainvillea petals blowing on the breeze to taste there. Jim Clendenen’s wines lived up to the hype in my book. Then it was just a beautiful drive up 154 to Los Olivos past Lake Cachuma to taste at Qupe/Verdad/Ethan in Los Olivos see some of the amazing wines Bob Lindquist creates.  A relaxing tasting on the back patio at Carhartt slowed our pace and had us waxing poetic on the glorious fragrances of Brooke Carhartt’s wines.  Dinner of small plates and a wine wall where I could enjoy tastings or a glass at Avant Tapas and Wine ended a perfect day one.

In the morning we caught the marine layer drifting through as we headed north into Foxen Canyon stopping for a great tasting at Zaca Mesa.  The property here is beautiful.  This is the winery that turned out both Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist as well as numerous other amazing winemakers.  After our tasting here, we headed North to Arroyo Grande and enjoyed a tour at Talley.  As we toured the winemaker Eric Johnson stopped by on a couple of occasions to say hello and answer questions.  Now it was on to our final destination of Paso Robles.  We tasted at Booker which is off of 46 West and were greeted by the winery dog who is the spittin’ image of our dear Mojo from Miramonte!

Day 3 began at Bella Luna, a tiny winery south-east of Paso, where Sherman, the winemaker was pouring their Italian style wines. Staying on the East Side we drove on to Sculpterra with their amazing sculpture garden live accordion music and lovely wines.  We made our way back to the West side of the 101 to Vines on the Marycrest where they were hosting a “Songwriters at Play” event.  The sun filtered through the tasting room windows and the music filtered in from the patio while we enjoyed a great tasting and conversation with Jennifer while Vic the winemaker and a sound engineer busily took care of cables, mic stands and making sure the sound system in the tasting room gave us the best mix.  Our day ended strolling downtown where they were having a wine and art event.  We were drawn into the Parrish Family Vineyards elegant tasting room where enjoyed tasting the Parrish Family wines with a cheese pairing from Vivant cheeses and I was treated to a wonderful conversation with winemaker David Parrish regarding yeast!

Another beautiful morning saw us enjoying a drive in on Vineyard Drive from the south. Shale Oak is a newer winery in Paso and I had been lucky enough to stumble across them on Cellar Pass.  The peacefulness of this spot in the morning with its stunning architecture topped by it’s eco friendly stance made for a beautiful start to the day.  We added a little adrenaline to the morning with a drive out Peachy Canyon Road.  The twists and turns put this West Virginia girl right at home.  We stopped at a small winery called Stacked Stone.  Winery owner and winemaker Donald Thiessen saw us pull in and came out to open the tasting room to pour for us.  The property is in a lovely wooded area landscaped with “stacked stones”.  Back up Peachy Canyon we headed toward one of the highest limestone plateaus on the West side of Paso Robles 1200 feet above the Salina Valley.  Here at Lloyd’s Lookout sits the Calcareous Winery and tasting room.  The views are amazing.  We enjoyed a tasting followed by a lunch pairing with food by Thomas Hill Organics.

Mid day saw us heading North and East to San Miguel and tasting at family owned and run Locatelli.  Raynette Gregory the co-proprietor poured for us.

From this small family owned winery, we headed further east to the big new tasting room on this block, Nigel Lithgoe’s Villa San Juliette.  The drive out is lovely with expansive views of the East side hills and the property itself is impressive.  Photo’s to come!  From here we were a little wined out…so time for a little pacific coast palate cleanser.  We headed to the coast and dinner at Moonstone beach.  We finished dinner and drove partway back to Paso to pull off and wait to watch sunset.

Our final day started with tour at Tablas Creek.  We are loyal members here and took a tour before our tasting.  The place has grown so much since our last trip here.  We saw Bob Haas arriving for the day, and while we did not see winemaker Neil Collins, we did get to hang with his dog Millie!  From here we had a little time before our tour at neighboring Halter Ranch and made a stop at Adelaida to taste the wines, the almonds, see the sheep and alpacas and meet Addy the vineyard cat.  We headed back to Halter Ranch to do our tour and tasting, and fell in love with the place.  The new winery here is state of the art and stunning.  We ended our trip here on a high note.

So that is the quick view, watch for detailed posts and pictures from these amazing wineries over the next few weeks.

Pairings – Scallops w/ mango salsa and Sauvignon Blanc and more…..

On our recent trip to Santa Barbara we picked up a bottle of Carhartt’s 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.  On the tasting menu it suggested a pairing of scallops or  mango salsa, sooo last  Thursday night we combined both.

Carhartt Pairing W/Scallops

Carhartt Pairing W/Scallops

Carhartt 2012 Sav Blanc

Carhartt 2012 Sav Blanc

The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc is from the Santa Ynez Valley with 47% of the fruit coming from the Carhartt vineyard, 17% from the Faith Vineyard, 18% from La Pressa and 18% from Curtis. (This is the geeky stuff I love that Carhartt kindly puts on the back of their labels!  Ready to geek out some

more?) The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock grown on a vertical trellis system.  This was whole cluster pressed and fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% neutral oak for 6 months.  Only 750 cases were produced.

The mango salsa I created was a simple recipe with mango, green onions, lime juice, cilantro and olive oil.  My mango was not fully ripe, so it had a little tartness to it.  Michael cooked the scallops in butter and olive oil with just salt and pepper.  We did a fresh herb salad from the garden with a sesame dressing, quinoa with herbs and some avocado/cucumber rolls from Whole Foods.

Michael remembered that we had 2 other whites open (we have a vacuum sealer and they had only been opened the day before!  Don’t worry!).  One was a Field Blend from Stuart Cellars.  This wine was 45% Chardonnay, 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Viognier and 5% Muscat.  The Muscat definitely adds a sweetness to this wine.  Stuart Cellars was a winery in Temecula California, they were bought out by a company an are now named Bel Vino.  We had a bottle of Bel Vino 2012 Viognier also open, so…we thought we would give them all a shot! The Viognier I had really enjoyed the day before and the Field Blend is Michael’s go to.

Tasting Notes:

Bel Vino Stuart Carhartt

Bel Vino Stuart Carhartt

Carhartt Savignion Blanc 2012-17% from the Faith Vineyard, 18% from La Pressa and 18% from Curtis.

  • This wine was lovely on it’s own.  When we opened it I got lots of tropical fruit on the nose.  A little citrus, not overly grapefruit.  Later on as it opened up I got more apple, and a softer apple like a Fuji apple or a macintosh.
  • Scallops/ Mango-The Sauvignon Blanc held up to the mango salsa, and slightly tempered the brightness of the flavors.  It would be interesting to see how it would taste with a riper mango.  The flavors were nice with the quinoa and salad (I think it played nicely off of the sesame dressing) but with the avocado/cucumber rolls it was really nice!
  • Avocado Cucumber Rolls– …by far the Sav Blanc was the best pairing here.  It enhanced the cucumber causing the flavor to burst in cool refreshment in the back of my palate!

Bel Vino Viognier 2012

  • Scallops/ Mango– With the scallops and mango salsa the Viognier was very nice bringing out the sweetness in the scallops, it held its own here.
  • Avocado Cucumber Rolls- the Viognier was better with the roll as it had a little less sweetness and held it’s own.

Stuart Cellars Field Blend-45% Chardonnay, 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Viognier and 5% Muscat.

  • Scallops/ Mango- The Field Blend was the overall winner with the scallops and mango.  It brightened the mango and pulled out the sweetness in the scallop and while not an over the top OMG pairing, it was very nice.
  • Avocado Cucumber Rolls-The Field Blend was just a little sweet with the roll.  It picked up on the rice wine vinegar but it was a little sweet and heavy to pair with the cucumber/avocado. Had this been a roll with a little crab, the Field Blend would have probably been better, pairing with the sweetness of the crab meat.

This could become a Thursday event!  Look forward to some Pizza pairings and then possibly a take off on “The Taste” with spoon full tastings to pair.  This promises to make Thursdays my favorite night of the week!

Wines I can’t forget, part two

More on great wines that I can’t forget.  We started this in the last blog with my list of the 15 wines that I want to drink again.  These are wines that stand out in my memory.  Most were tasted at the winery and perhaps some of why I like them is because of the atmosphere or the day.  Any way we are back with 5 more of those wines and today we begin with

Grgich Hills Fume Blanc

Grgich Hills if I remember correctly was only the 2nd winery we visited in Napa.  The experience was good and informative (when I say informative you can read: Robin liked the people in the tasting room!).  We left with a split of the Fume Blanc and directions to Gott’s Roadside with directions to pair with the Ahi Burger.  It was raining and we were in the tent with tables behind the place and I was very happy.  Perhaps I was just really hungry, perhaps it was that I love ahi, perhaps because I was just learning about pairings and the guidance made me a little giddy.  At the time I only new a little about Mike Grgich (like that when you watch bottle shock…he was the winemaker behind that historic wine!) and I knew nothing about Joel Gott.  This was a memorable wine for me, I think, due to the place and time in my wine education.

Carhartt Pinot Noir

Carhartt Vineyards patio at the "Worlds Smallest Tasting Room" Los Olivos California

The tiniest tasting room on the planet is in Los Olivos, CA and I have waxed poetic on this place quite often.  So yes…the atmosphere and the people play a big part in why I love this wine.  But this one I will go on the record for saying, even if you take all that away, I would still be enamored by this wine.  I love bold Pinots with smoke, meat and barnyard.  This Pinot on the other hand was elegant and delicate and smelled of violets.  I was completely taken off guard and transported.  I adore this wine and cherish the experience of this tasting.

Tablas Creek Vermentino

Tablas Creek Tasting Room Paso Robles, CA

 

So this wine we did not taste at the vineyard!  I love Tablas Creek and we have been there twice and are very proud to be wine club members, but this particular wine was given to me as a gift from a friend.  I cannot thank Laurie and Al enough for giving me this glimpse into Vermentino.  This simple Italian white is not fancy but really fulfilling.  We make sure to pick up a bottle whenever we visit now.

Terry Hoage Syrah

View from Terry Hoage Vineyards Paso Robles CA

We stumbled upon this vineyard at the recommendation from someone in another tasting room.  The property is lovely as you can see by the vineyard view. They are on a hilltop with chickens running free and a lake on the property.  Terry Hoage played footbal at the University of Georgia in the 80’s and then played 13 seasons in the NFL as a free safety.  They moved to Paso to build a home and put in a small vineyard for landscaping.   That evolved into a love for growing grapes and then making wine. The tasting room was elegant and the staff well educated on wine.  This was the last wine we tasted that day and we left with a split that I covet in my wine cellar.  I’m afraid to drink it!  I don’t want it to be gone!

Vino Robles Petite Sirah

Vino Robles Paso Robles CA

 

It’s a struggle to get me on the Petite Sirah bandwagon. I find it often inky and sometimes cloying.  Our tasting at Vino Robles included the cheese pairings and that might have set me over the edge.  It was heaven.  I know it is here in a previous blog post, but we had a cheese with coffee and lavender that was stunning and this Petite Sirah was gorgeous.  Was I affected by the elegant surroundings, by the informative and friendly staff, by the gorgeous cheese, by the comradery with other patrons during our tasting?  Perhaps, but I still want to drink this wine again.

Stay tuned for the last 5 of my wines I can’t forget in the next post!