Santa Barbara is one of our favorite wine regions. Typically we find our way that direction in April for the Vintners Spring Weekend, with it’s Seminars, special events and of course the Grand Tasting. This year, we thought we would mix it up a bit and we will be attending the Celebration of Harvest. Fall rather than spring, post harvest rather than bud break…it gives a different visual of the area.
We just did a Flash tour through a large portion of California Wine country and our starting and ending point was Santa Barbara County. You simply can’t beat the diversity. With the East/West Valley and the temperature increasing a degree per mile as you drive from the cooler Sta. Rita Hills (think Burgundy) through the Santa Ynez Valley past Ballard Canyon (think the Rhone) and on into Happy Canyon (yep think Bordeaux), (not to mention the micro climates you find in Los Alamos Valley or the amazing Vandenburg fog that influences the grapes in Santa Maria and Foxen Canyon), you get a wide range of varieties that grow well here, so when it comes to the Santa Barbara Vintners events, there is something for everyone. We have done a highlight reel of our favorite stops in this amazing area. Of course that list is growing, but check out So you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to know where to taste wine.
This years Celebration of Harvest, kicks off with their signature event “Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country“. This event will be held at the Fess Parker Resort, right across from the beach in Santa Barbara. 50 wineries will be on hand to pour their fall releases and word has it that many will have library wines available for tasting also. And of course their will be great food from some of the best restaurants and vendors in wine country.
Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa at a Grand Tasting on Vintners Spring Weekend
Au Bon Climat Tasting Room in the El Paseo of Santa Barbara
Qupe Verdad Ethan Menu
Beckmen Hike at Purismo Mountain
Casa Dumetz Sonja Magdevski
Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe with a wine thief for a barrel tasting
Jamie Slone at the Tasting Bar
The view of the Ocean from Presqu’ile Vineyard
Riverbench Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley shares a little of their history as you enter their tasting room
The huge coastal oak the greets you as you enter Zaca Mesa’s patio and tasting room
Scott Sampler speaking on his cool climate Syrah at the Syrah Seminar
In addition they will have Harvest Experience Passports available. The passport allows you to visit up to 12 of the participating tasting rooms over the weekend, many of which will have special experiences and tastings just for passport members.
They also have a series of Collaborative Dinners in various locations, where a restaurant or chef are paired up with several wineries for a unique dining experience. There are 4 of these set up in various locations around the area from a Surf and Turf dinner Angel Oak at Bacara out on the shore with Fiddlehead, Zotovich, Martian, Longoria and Jaffurs wines, to a Cowboy BBQ in Los Alamos with Municipal Winemakers, Casa Dumetz, Lumen, Frequency and Bedford. Further in there is a Farm to Fork, Vine to Glass dinner at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe with Bernat, J. Wilkes, and Refugio Ranch and then and East Meets West at the magical Ballard Inn Gathering Table with Chef Budi Kazali creating amazing dishes to pair with wines from Melville, Andrew Murray, Beckmen and Star Lane Vineyards.
Celebration of Harvest Weekend is a great opportunity to taste a variety of the amazing wines from this area and get to meet some of the winemakers. There is so much to this amazing area you could spend weeks here and not see it all (trust me, we’ve tried). So take the weekend and learn about this amazing wine region that is practically in LA’s backyard. There are beautiful wines being made here and there is something for everyone.
You can find out more on the Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest site, where you can see the entire schedule for the weekend, buy tickets for the events and purchase your passport for the weekend.
And be sure to stop back here! We look forward to sharing with you all of our adventures during the Celebration of Harvest.
1st Annual Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn & Restaurant
Ballard Inn, Ballard CA
The warm atmosphere of the Ballard Inn, was the perfect setting to enjoy the beautiful wines of Larner Vineyard and Winery grown in the brand new Ballard Canyon AVA (by the man who got this AVA going) and have them paired with the Asian & New French inspired dishes of Chef Budi Kazali.
As guests arrived, Michael Larner was pouring his 2012 rosé, and the guests found seats in the comfortable parlor, or ventured back out onto the porch to watch as the sun started to dip toward sunset. The rose is a GSM made in the saignée method, bleeding off the juice. It is about 55% Syrah, 30% Grenache and the rest Mouvedre.
Larner Wine Dinner Appetizer
The 2013 Malvasia Bianca came out next as well as passed hors d’ouevres. Conversation was light and easy, but we were all waiting for the main event. Table by table the guests were seated in the small dining room that holds about 50, and Michael spoke about the wines and the things that make this place so special for him. This is the place that he and his wife Christina come to celebrate momentous occasions, so The Ballard Inn, Chef Budi and great memories are all wrapped up together for them. Holding their first winemaker dinner here, was really the icing on the cake.
The menu was spectacular
Larner Dinner Menu
As we came to the table Michael began with a little background.
Larner is about Geology Origins and Territory.
Michael’s background is in Geology and he spent time doing geotechnical engineering. His parents Stevan & Christine had been looking since 70’s for a vineyard to take them into their retirement. In the late 90’s found this place in Ballard Canyon and invited him to join them in the vineyard venture.
He came out and fell in love with the place.
Michael finds that there is a synergy between geology and winemaking. Both get you out in the field getting dust on your feet and sunburnt.
Viticulturalists talk about soil. Soil starts from the decomposition and erosion of something else and that is the geology of it. This is the “origin” of the soil.
In France they talk about terrioir, which is the expression of climate & soil. Here in America that would translate to “territory”. The Larner “territory” is Ballard Canyon. They seek to express this territory in their wine.
So there you have it. Geology, Origins, Territory. That is what Larner Wine is all about.
We started dinner with the Kombu Brined Local Halibut Sashmi with Japanese Cucumber & Nagaimo Peach Vinaigrette & Basil Oil paired with the 2012 Larner Viognier. I will admit..I had to go look up Kombu and Nagaimo and here’s what I found. Kombu is an edible kelp that is often used to flavor broths. Nagaimo is an Asian yam that can be eaten raw and is typically shaved or grated. Regardless, the dish was light and nuanced and with the peach vinaigrette, it tied in beautifully with the wine. You should have seen us all laying bits on our fork to create the perfect bite.
The second course was Jimenez Farm Rabbit & Shitake Confit with Black Pepper Gnocchi & Brown Butter Demi Glace, paired with 2009 Elemental, GSM blend. This blend is where Michael gets to be more creative, channeling his wife’s artistic energy. For him a blend doesn’t have a standard bar that it is striving to reach like a 100% variety wine does. You can blend it to make you and your palate happy. The name “Elemental” comes from blending these separate elements: Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. This wine is meant to be multidimensional, pairing with anything from pizza to the Rabbit and Mushroom dish that Budi created to accompany it.
The 3rd course was the one that Emily had been waiting for. Emily runs the tasting room and deals with the social media and much more for Larner and she loves the Mourvedre. Typically Mourvedre is a blending grape and it is rare to see it on it’s own. Since Michael keeps all his lots and clones separate for as long as he can, he has an opportunity to see them grow and evolve before blending. The 2010 Mourvedre surprised him with expressions of game spice, chocolate spice and crushed rock characteristics and he determined to let it stand on it’s own. Budi paired this with Rack of Wild Boar with Velasquez Farm Nopales & Bacon Forbidden Rice with Bing Cherry Glaze. I got to watch as Emily took her first bite, her eyes closed and I think she might have even moaned a little. It was perfect. It is rare to see something as gamey as Wild Boar on a menu, but the “gaminess” is what made it pair so well with the wine, that and the cherry glaze which pulled up the fruit character. I will admit to not knowing what Nopales were. The word sounded familiar, but within this context I couldn’t place it. Understandable I think, Nopales are the paddles of the prickly pear cactus, they were unexpected and delicious.
The 4th course was to pair with Ballard Canyon’s signature wine, Syrah. Syrah is the poster child for Ballard Canyon and by far is the most widely planted grape there. While it is planted all over Santa Barbara County, it flourishes in Ballard Canyon with a structure and minerality that you don’t find elsewhere in Santa Barbara. The Larner Syrah is made up of a about 7 different clones and is sourced from all over the vineyard. The lots are kept separate and then brought back together to blend giving you a synopsis of the Larner Vineyard. The pairing for this went exotic again with Buffalo prepared 2 ways. First braised Buffalo short ribs & then a buffalo ravioli with Sautéed Celtuce in a Chinese Black Bean Sauce. (full disclosure..we all went “Celtuce? is that like a lettuce?” So let me set the record straight, it is also known as “stem lettuce” or “chinese lettuce” and it is the stem that it used.)
Our last course was dessert and we enjoyed a different side of the Malvasia Bianca here paired with the Coconut Mochi with Lychee Ice Cream. The nose on the wine and the taste and smell of the dessert were really complimentary.
Chef Budi, Ballard Inn
At this point Budi made it out of the kitchen to speak to us. This was a fun dinner for him, pairing with wines he loves and mixing it up with things outside the norm was fun for him. He did also mention one of the big perks for him with these dinners. “Everybody orders everything and No left overs!”
If you find yourself in Santa Barbara, make the trip to the Ballard Inn. Budi’s food is not to be missed. Stop in Los Olivos and do a tasting with Larner Wines. You won’t be able to leave without a bottle or two.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
The 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
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.
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.
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
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! This 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!
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
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
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
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,
Pascale Beale, Salad Demo
Salad with Grenache
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.