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

Save

Save

Save

Save

Riverbench Vineyards and Winery, a Vineyard tour

Riverbench Vineyard


Michael and I started our Key to Wine Country Weekend with a Vineyard Tour at Riverbench Vineyards with the Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck. We arrived way early (I read 10 am and it was actually 11!) and actually beat Laura, the tasting room manager in. Really it was a happy accident though, Michael had time to take some great morning shots around the tasting room and vineyard and we relaxed in the garden listening to the birds. The birdsong was really amazing.

 

Riverbench Winery Patio

Riverbench Winery Patio

 

Riverbench is located in the Santa Maria Valley on Foxen Canyon Road. The vineyard established in 1973 planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and made a name for themselves as growers of these varieties. In 2004 the property was purchased by a group of local families, who shortly thereafter began producing their own wine. In addition to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay they now grow Savignon Blanc and Albarino. The majority of the fruit they grow is still for other wineries and winemakers. The Albarino is for Kenneth Volk who is just a stone’s throw away.

Rawley just took over for long time Vineyard Manager Jim Stollberg this year, but he’s part of the family (he’s the son of owner Randy Hermreck) and he has extensive farming experience and a degree in viticulture from Cal Poly, and from our walk with him, you can tell he has a great love for these vineyards.

Vintage 2014 Grapes

Vintage 2014 Grapes

 

Rawley started by walking us out to the Chardonnay block out front. Block 37 was one of the original blocks and these vines are indeed 41 years old. The style of trellising here is known as California sprawl. This is a Simple Curtain two-wire vertical trellis and is typically used when the anticipated vine vigor is moderate to high. There is a wire for the cordon and a higher wire that is for the foliage support. The rows here are at 12’ spacing. They do a beautiful Blanc de blanc sparkling wine from some of this Chardonnay.

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

Santa Maria Valley, Riverbench

We headed across the driveway to the back of block 38 to look at some of the Pinot Noir planted there. Here the trellises are Vertical-shoot positioned and Rawley showed us how the upper wires could be repositioned. We talked about frost protection. They did a little frost protection this year as a preventative measure, but luckily did not have any frost. They use oils and mixed chemistry to keep mold and mildew down and luckily this area never gets warm enough to have to worry much about mites. They do have gopher issues and have Owl Boxes and Raptor Perches. Owls make for great rodent control. You put up the boxes and the owls fly in. 1 owl will catch 1 gopher per night which really helps keep the gopher population down. Owls are not territorial like raptors, so you can put up multiple owl boxes without a worry.

We talked a little about handpicking as opposed to machine picking. Labor is becoming very hard to come by but the machines require a certain amount of space between the rows and they run a quarter million each. The machines are usable year round with attachments for picking, disking, spraying, mowing, and pre-pruning. Rawley watches the machines all the time over on the other side of the river up on the bench at Kendall-Jackson. As for how they harvest: they basically shake the berries off of the stems, so this doesn’t work for winemakers who want whole cluster presses or stem inclusion. The berries are shaken onto conveyor belts and then into baskets.

9000 plus plants

9000 plus plants

The front area of the block by Foxen Canyon road had been pulled out and was scheduled to be replanted the following morning. Rawley took us around back to show us the 9000 (yes 9000) baby vines that were waiting to be planted. I have seen dormant vines before waiting to be planted, grafted onto their rootstock, but this was new to see green potted vines. They all had green wax around their centers to protect the graft. Rawley’s nursery guy had designed a new kind of pot for the baby vines and convinced Rawley to try some in these new containers. Rather than being the short square pot like the kind you get on your vegetables at the nursery, these new pots were tall and thinner. They had holes on the sides, which kept the roots from growing out through air exposure. These new pots allow the tap root more room to avoid “j-root” (when the root reaches the bottom of the pot and turns back up). Rawley will see how they do compared to the other pots! We actually stopped by the next morning to watch as they were planting these vines.

Hand dip Pinot Bottle in wax

Hand dipping Pinot Bottle in wax

At this point it was time to grab Sadie, Rawley’s black Labrador and head into the back garden to put wax seals on some Pinot bottles. This evidently is Rawley’s job. Each bottle of Pinot from Riverbench has a wax top and is hand-dipped. It’s a simple but focused process and Rawley demonstrated before he let me have a go. You begin with what looks like a crock pot filled with the melted wax. Hold the bottle with your thumb over the center of the label and dip the bottle into the wax at a 45 degree angle. Make sure to allow the wax to reach the point on the neck of the bottle where the wine would come to when the bottle is standing upright. When you pull the bottle out, begin spinning the bottle and the excess wax will start to drip back into the crock pot. As you continue turning you gradually get the bottle to completely vertical. When it is done dripping you plunge it into a bucket of water to cool it and seal it. It was pretty fascinating and concentrating work, and I decided that Laura would have to put this bottle aside for me to purchase after lunch.

Picnic and Tasting

Picnic and Tasting

Laura then brought out lunch for us to enjoy with Rawley & Sadie on the back patio. We started our tasting with lunch with the Blanc de Blanc which is a lovely dry sparkling wine and was refreshing after our walk. We enjoyed the 2013 Rosé, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay and 2011 Estate Pinot Noir and finished with the 2013 Reisling. Paired with the salad & sandwiches as we listened to the birds and talked Rodeo with Rawley it made for the perfect lunch.

Riverbench historic overview

Riverbench historic overview

 

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery

6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria

805-937-8340

Open Daily 10-4

 

They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara

137 Anacapa St. Suite C

Open Daily 11-6

www.riverbench.com

Watch for the next Key Weekend event coming up in December as well as other great events at the Santa Barbara Vintners site.  sbcountywines.com