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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Saarloos & Sons with Enjoy Cupcakes, the perfect pairing

Saarloos & Sons paired with Enjoy Cupcakes

I have waxed poetic before on Saarloos & Sons and Enjoy Cupcakes.

You can check out the previous blog post http://crushedgrapechronicles.com/foxen-canyon-los-olivos/ if you are so inclined.

Today enjoy the video with a little surf inspiration (Keith Saarloos is a surfer).
This tasting is from the Thursday of Labor day weekend this year. Sadly both Keith and Brad were out of the tasting room. Keith was down in LA doing a couple of tastings. I look forward to the day I finally meet him in person. None the less we enjoyed the cupcakes and the wine! Here’s the tasting and pairing menu for the day.

Peach fig chardonnay

Chardonnay cake, filled with peach fig butter, topped with sweet cream frosting & more peach fig butter. W/ Bride 2011 Grenache Blanc

Chocolate Blackberry Syrah

Chocolate Syrah cake, filled with dark chocolate fudge, topped with blackberry frosting and a Syrah soaked blackberry that’s rolled in sugar crystals
W/ Brother 2010 Syrah

Banana orange foster

Vanilla cinnamon cake, filled with bananas fried in butter & OJ, topped with orange buttercream. W/ Brotherhood 2010 GSM

Serrano chili chocolate

A chocolate cake filled with Serrano chili fudge, chocolate frosting with a Serrano chili soaked sugar crystals on the top.
W/ Courage 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

Cinnamon Sugar Dulce de Leche

Vanilla cinnamon sugar cake, filled with vanilla bean pastry crème, topped with vanilla frosting & Dulce de Leche
W/ Extended Family Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2011

Salted Ridiculous

Chocolate cake, filled with house-made caramel, topped with salted peanut butter frosting, caramel and chocolate sauce & pinches of salt
This is a bonus cupcake to console you as you run out of wines to taste!

Check out both of their websites! Keith often posts great life philosophy in his unique voice and his commitment to family is unparalleled. The Enjoy Cupcakes site has stunning photography and just try to keep your mouth from watering as you stroll down the “flavors” page.

http://saarloosandsons.com
http://enjoycupcakes.com

See More YouTube Video’s on our Crushed Grape Chronicles Channel http://youtu.be/Uj8uqGIjPM4

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!

A day in Los Olivos.

Los Olivos Carhartt Tasting Room Santa Barbara County

Day two of our trip will be in Los Olivos.   We are hoping to get some great sunrise shots probably near the Saarloos and Sons vineyards and up into Foxen Canyon to shoot the Vandenberg fog.

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

Later we will do a cupcake pairing at Saarloos and SonsEnjoy Cupcakes is located in the Saarloos and Sons tasting room and they have cupcakes available for sale or pairings Thursdays thru Sundays.  With flavors like Chocolate Blackberry Syrah and Brown Butter Cowboy Cookie Dough, how can you go wrong?  On top of that you have the Saarloos and Sons wines.  I look forward to trying the latest vintage of Brielle that he makes with his daughter of the same name who just started 3rd grade.  This budding young winemaker is in control of the Sauvignon Blanc and decides when they are ready to harvest.  As the Sav Blanc is the first thing to harvest, she gets to kick off the whole season.  This place is all about family and making great wine to enjoy with family and friends.

We hope to make a stop out to Buttonwood and maybe get to meet their winemaker Karen Steinwachs.  Buttonwood Farm was founded in the 60’s by Betty Williams to be a working farm based on practices that were good for people, animals and the earth.  In 1983 they began planting vines and now they work as a winery and a farm with a Farm stand open in the summer.  This is a place that was designed early for sustainability.  Karen worked at Foley and Fiddlehead before coming to Buttonwood.  I look forward to a great discussion on sustainability and how the farms thoughts on this have changed or adapted since the 1960’s.

Alta Maria

Alta Maria

I have a list of other tasting rooms I would like to visit including Alta Maria where James Ontiveros and Paul Wilkins are making wines inspired by old world France.  James is the descendent of Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros, drove cattle across the Santa Maria River back in 1855, so there is a bit of history with his family here.  Their artwork on the label features hand-hewn iron nails.  This is the type that homesteaders used before the Industrial Revolution and it makes for stunning artwork.

Others on the list include: Andrew Murray, Byron, Stolpman, Dragonette, Consilience, Epiphany for their new tasting room, Fess Parker, Lincourt, Blackjack Ranch, Fontes & Phillips, Rideau & Presqu’ile.  There is never enough time to get to all the wineries in this area that we want to see.

Blair Fox Cellars ?…well if they happen to be open, I will find a way to stop in. They are typically only open on Fridays and Saturdays, but who knows, maybe I will get lucky.

Richard Longoria Wines

Richard Longoria Wines

And, I don’t see myself leaving without a stop at Longoria to see if there is any Lovely Rita left this year (there fantastic Pinot Noir), as well as a stop at the smallest tasting room on the planet (as well as one of my favorite places on the planet) Carhartt.  I never cease to be amazed by the incredible aromas that Brook gets in her wines.  I could smell them forever and possibly dab some behind each ear!

Dinner is planned at Avant with a possible breakfast or lunch stop at Succulent in Solvang.  So many places and so little time.

Next stop Paso Robles!

Foxen Canyon & Los Olivos

Foxen Canyon Road

Saarloos & Sons Vineyard

After breakfast at the hotel it was still early so we decided to drive through Foxen Canyon.  We started on 154 and headed north on Zaca Mesa past the Saarloos & Sons vineyards.  Right about where you get to Firestone the road meets with Foxen Canyon Road.  We drove north watching the marine layer rise finally turning around at River Bench.  River Bench sits just past the road that takes you out to the famous Bien Nacido Vineyards.  We enjoyed the drive back down Foxen Canyon and pulled in a few minutes before 11 to Foxen 7600 the Pinot House.

 

Foxen 

A little fancier than “the shack” down the road now known as Foxen 7200, which is still perfection to me.  None the less this tasting room with their production facilities was open and the ladies in the tasting room were very welcoming.  2 of them were actually the pourers who we had met last year at the shack and they remembered us! We tasted Chardonnay and Pinot and had a great conversation finding out about “Bob” the bobcat that we had been watching when we were at the shack.  He evidently has moved on to tastier grounds these days.

 

Saarloos and Sons

Saarloos & Sons Tasting Room

 

Okay I have been a little enamored with this winery since seeing Keith Saarloos speak on the Wine Down.  This is a family vineyard and the whole family works it.  Bradley was pouring in the tasting room when we got there and was full of great and passionate information about the family the wine and the vineyards.  The wines are named for someone in the family each year and all wines are individual to the vintage and are not meant to ever be recreated.  The names include “Brielle” a  fantastic Savignon Blanc named for Keith’s daughter; Hers a grenache blanc; His a Cabernet, Humble Harv a 100% grenache named for Keith’s dad and Big Larr a 100% syrah named for Bradley’s dad.  194d8 is a wine that is made new every year.  The first year it was called 1945 for Keith’s grandparents anniversary.  Each year they make a new blend and honor another year of their grandparents being together with a label complete with a photo of the happy couple from that year.  The last wine we tasted was the Creed a 100% Petite Sirah.  Oh…and did I mention that on Thursday through Sunday “Enjoy Cupcakes” is in the house with great cupcakes and a $10 pairing menu to go with the wines!  Yeah!  Totally Rocks!  So I’ll try to remember the pairings.  A Ginger Lime Chardonnay cupcake with the Brielle, (chardonnay cake, buttery ginger crust filled with a lime curd and topped with a lime frosting and sugared lime zest).  I remember that the “His” went with the Chocolate Malt Milkshake with “fries” (chocolate cake filled with malt pudding topped with chocolate frosting and “fries”- that is shoestring style).  Okay I can’t remember the rest…but…can you picture getting a little box with 6 miniature cupcakes and then walking over the to tasting bar and having them pour something to taste with each!?  IT IS THE BEST!  So Keith was not there but Bradley was amazing handling 8 guests at the tasting bar with ease and keeping us all informed and entertained!  Larr came in while we were tasting and we all said hello.  This is a very warm and welcoming tasting room.  And after hearing the stories about the wines and the family you feel very much a part before leaving.

 

 

Artiste

Bradley suggested Artiste which is on a side street just off of Grand.  The place is covered with art, as are the wine bottles.  “Art Inspired Wine”.  The fabulous idea is that you can taste the art in the glass.  The first wine we tasted was called “Windy Beach”  The art on the label is of ocean beach and sea grass blowing.  The wine is a blend of 60% Sav Blanc, 25% Chard and 14% Pinot Grigio.  I tasted before knowing what the blend was (that seemed to be the idea!), and it tasted like the shore on a windy day, one  that is crisp (that would be the sav blanc).  Crazy…but you even get a bit of salinity to it.  Could be my imagination, but then again, who cares!  We went on to taste the Lilium with a label that was colorful and abstract.  It reminded me of a summer field of flowers.  It was a Cote du Rhone style blend with 81% Grenache, 18% Syrah and 1% Viognier.  Next was a Bordeaux style blend called Midtown with a label filled with deep rich colors of the city on a black background.  This blend was 80% Merlot and 20% Cab Franc, rich and bold.  The Skyline with a similar painting that was a little lighter a little more of a view than the other was another Bordeaux style blend of 60% cab franc, 20% Cab Sav and 20% Merlot.  I enjoyed the depth of this wine (I do love Cab Franc).  Last we tasted Daybreak with a sensual painting of a dark haired woman in a white nightgown sitting on a bed as daylight starts to break into a room.  This Super-Barbaresco style blend was sensual and warm and is made of 60% Nebbiolo, 20% Barbera, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc.

 

Artiste also reminded us of what a small and connected world we live in.  The pourer, who had just started that day was in school studying scenic design so we got talking and found that Michael knew her uncle.  6 degrees…

 

Panino

By now we were hungry again (the cupcakes had worn off) and we headed to Panino for a bit of lunch.  Panino is a Santa Barbara chain for sandwiches and Salads with 4 locations in the area.  I had a Harvest Salad and Michael had a sandwich and while we ordered to go, a table opened up as we were walking out, so we sat and enjoyed our lunch.  We did a little walk around town on Almo Pintado I had to wonder into J. Woeste.  The gardens are filled with herbs and plants for sale and all kinds of wonderful nick nacks for the garden.  It was enchanting.  They have some wonderful tubular chimes out front that were just glorious. I was intrigued by Coghlan Vineyard and Jewelers…(Vineyards and Jewelers?) So I wandered across the street to check it out.  They had a collection of artists set up in the beautiful side yard and I needed a new pair of earrings!  I indeed found a pair I liked, although they were in turquoise and I really wanted something in green…The artist suggested swapping out the stones and we did!  Gorgeous sterling silver earrings with Periodot that I love!  Now we were ready for a nap.  Time to reserve our energy for the evenings big event, the Carhartt Winemakers Dinner.  More on that later…..