A Sampling of the Incredible Wine Makers of Santa Barbara

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

Santa Barbara County is filled with an amazing array of vintners and winemakers.  The styles of wine and the varieties that they work with are as varied as the winemakers themselves.  The great thing about this area is that they are all easy going and approachable and you a very likely to have the opportunity to meet many of these winemakers while you are in the area and learn first hand what makes each of their wines special.  As we approach the Annual Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend, here is just a sampling of the incredible winemakers you could end up meeting.


 

Kathy Joseph

Winemaker, Fiddlehead Cellars

Kathy Joseph is the self proclaimed Grape Herder and Head Fiddle at Fiddlehead Cellars. She started Fiddlehead in 1989 and her focus is Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The winery is in the Lompoc “Wine Ghetto” and their estate vineyard, Fiddlestix, sits on Santa Rosa Road, at Mile marker 728, just across the road from Sanford & Benedict. She is a pioneer among women winemakers and is an enchanting hostess (and a great cook). An opportunity to attend an event at the Lompoc Winery, taste her wine, her food and enjoy some conversation with this vivacious icon, shouldn’t be missed.

Fiddlehead Cellars Tasting Room
1597 E Chestnut Avenue, Lompoc
(805) 742-0204  |  (800) 251-1225

Open Friday 12pm-5pm, Saturday 11am-5pm, Sunday 12pm-4pm & alternate days by advance appointment


 

Mikael Sigouin

Winemaker, Kaena Wine

Mikael is known by many as “The Grenache King”. He produces Rhone varieties for his Kaena Wine Company, sourcing from Larner and Tierra Alta in Ballard Canyon, as well as Vie Caprice in the Santa Ynez Valley. He was raised on Oahu and was most influenced in life by his “Tutu” (grandmother). He has strong beliefs in biodynamics and I had a fascinating conversation about fruit vs root days for tasting! He is also the winemaker for Beckmen Vineyards. He has a beautiful tasting room in Los Olivos, where he often stops by to pour and speak with visitors. This place is full of “Aloha”. It is warm and inviting, just like Mikael.

Kaena Tasting Room
2890 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos
(805) 688-4069

Open Monday – Thursday 12pm – 5pm, Friday – Sunday 11am – 5pm


 

Richard Sanford

Winemaker, Alma Rosa

Richard Sanford is a legend in the Sta. Rita Hills. He planted the first Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills at Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in 1970 after scouring the climate and geological regions of California looking for the perfect spot. He and his wife Thekla started the Sanford Winery in 1981. In 2005 they left Sanford to begin Alma Rosa Winery and Vineyards. This new venture was dedicated to being organic and sustainable. They have a tasting room in Buellton on Industrial Way that is graced with a beautiful olive tree named Olivia, bringing the outdoors in. Richard Sanford is a gentle and soft-spoken man, who seems charmingly unaware of his own greatness. If you find a opportunity to speak with him in his tasting room or at an event…relish it!

Alma Rosa Tasting Room
181 C Industrial Way, Buellton
(805) 688-9090

Open Daily 11am – 4:30pm


 

Karen Steinwachs

Winemaker, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Karen Steinwachs started her career in the high-tech world and after 20 years there, thought she needed some fresh air. She started out working a harvest gig at Foley Estate and never looked back. She spent some time at Fiddlehead working as Kathy Joseph’s assistant winemaker and then went on to become the winemaker at Buttonwood Farm.  No nonsense and to the point, she will give you great information without waxing poetic. A walk in the vineyard with Karen is educational and down to earth. Grape growing is farming after all, and the idea at Buttonwood is to be a self-sustaining system. Buttonwood has gardens, orchards, the vineyard as well as livestock. Their annual “All Farm Dinner” is an early sell out every year. Make sure to taste the “Zingy”, her bright and bold Sauvignon Blanc.

Buttonwood Tasting Room
1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang
(805) 688-3032
Picnic Area Available

Open Daily 11am – 5pm


 

Michael Larner

Winemaker, Larner Wine

Michael Larner came to the wine industry through his Parents.  His father had fallen in love with wine while shooting a documentary on wines in Europe.  He worked side by side with his father building the vineyard, his background in Geology coming in handy.  Now he and his family continue the family legacy.  He was instrumental in the founding of the Ballard Canyon AVA and continues to be a voice for this new AVA.  Most of the Estate is planted in Syrah, which is the go to grape in Ballard Canyon.  In addition he grows Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and the Italian Malvasia Bianca.  You will find his vineyard designation on many of the Rhones from this area as winemakers looking for the best Rhone grapes source his fruit.

Michael’s knowledge and love for this area are abundant and a conversation with him will give you an in-depth education on the region, it’s climates and soils in layman’s terms.  While Syrah is his flagship, don’t miss his Mourvedre.

His tasting room in in Los Olivos next to the Los Olivos General Store, which he and his wife Christine also run.  You can see Christine’s original artwork here.  She creates beautiful watercolors with pigments from the concentrated colors from the grape varieties in their vineyard.

Larner Tasting Room
2900 Grand Ave, Los Olivos
(805) 688-8148

Open Thursday – Monday, 11am – 5pm


 

Sonja Magdevski

Winemaker, Casa Dumetz

Sonja’s Casa Dumetz Tasting room in the little town of Los Olivos is perhaps the most welcoming tasting room I have ever been in. The room has the openness of a small town coffee shop and the commaradarie of a small town pub. You are greeted as you walk in the door and a friendly face finds you a spot at the bar to taste. The staff is knowledgeable and can fill you in on any detail of the wine, but more than anything, you feel at home, you feel like you have become one of the locals. Cultivating that feeling is no small feat, it is the genuineness of the place, the people and…the wine. Sonja’s background is in journalism. She had a wonderful show where she gathered winemakers to talk about their wines, called “The Wine Down”. Casa Dumetz has Friday night speaker series at the tasting room, where you can hear people speak on a “wide” variety of subjects from songwriting to rocket missions! She also owns BaBis Beer Emporium down the street if you need a break from wine. Oh and in addition to creating a wonderful place…she makes great wine.

Casa Dumetz Tasting Room
388 Bell Street, Los Alamos
(805) 344-1900

Open Thursday 12pm-7pm, Friday & Saturday 11am – 7pm, Sunday 11am – 6pm

And that’s not all!

Keep in mind this is just a sampling.  There are so many other wonderful winemakers in this area,  Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Rick Longoria of Longoria, Ken Brown of Ken Brown, Sashi Moorman of Sandhi, Morgen Clendenen of Cold Heaven, Larry Schaefer of Tercero, Ernst Storm of Storm, Dieter Cronje of Presqu’ile…my list could go on and on.  The bottom line is, you should make time to get to Santa Barbara, taste the wines and meet the people.  I have a feeling that this somewhat undiscovered area is not going to stay undiscovered much longer!

If you are lucky enough to be in town during the Spring Vintner’s Festival, coming up April 24th through 26th, you will have the opportunity at the Grand Tasting to have meet many of these winemakers and have them pour their wines for you.  Get all the details on at Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend.

View Santa Barbara Video’s

For more information on this amazing area visit Santa Barbara Vintners.

Check out our coverage of last years event at Santa Barbara, Vintners Spring Weekend 2014 The Grand Tasting

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.