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 Syrah Clones at Larner Vineyards

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Michael Larner has helped to champion Syrah in Ballard Canyon. He got the ball rolling on the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara.

We spoke with Michael last year about the Syrah planted on Larner Vineyard. We had discussed the different rootstocks that they chose for the vineyard and then went deeper into the Syrah clones that were grafted to those various rootstocks.

There are 23 acres of Syrah planted at Larner Vineyard, broken into 11 blocks of around 2 acres each. With his 3 root stocks he pairs a Syrah clone, so he has 11 different mixes of clone/root stock.

Blending a monovarietal Syrah from different Syrah clones

For his Estate Syrah he has a blend of Clones 877, Estrella, 174 and Clone 3. Each of these clones brings something different to the wine, the Estrella brings a Velvety softness, the 174 pulls up mid-palate strength, and the 877 and Clone 3 give you full body. So in essense he is making a mono-varietal blend. Add to this the variation in rootstock, in the placement in the vineyard and you have quite a bit of variety.

A little geekiness on these Syrah clones

Estrella: Gary Eberle of Eberle wines in Paso Robles planted suitcase cuttings from Chapoutier in Hermitage (in the Rhone Valley in France) This clone has become one of the most widely planted in the Central Coast region.

 174: This came in from France in 1995. It is a low yield clone which gives balanced aromatic fruit.

 877: This French clone brings in tannins that hit the mid palate.

Each year one of the clone/rootstock variations will stand out. This is where the Reserve wines come from, and the Dedication which is all Clone 3.  But all the blocks are treated as if they could be stand alone wines. These stand alone wines would be a wonderful expression of one thing…mid palate tannins or velvety softness.   The blending of these is what creates the depth and layers within the wine. The idea is to pull together the ultimate expression of Syrah in this vineyard to make a complete wine that fires on all synapses.

We spoke with Michael about this once before and at that time he shared with us the details of his experimental Syrah block.

You can taste some of Michael Larner‘s exceptional wines at their Los Olivos Tasting Room at 2900 Grand Avenue.

For more on the wines of  Santa Barbara visit Santa Barbara Vintners.

They will be holding their Vintners Spring Weekend April 20-22, 2017, where you can attend the Grand Tasting and taste wines from all over this amazing region.

And you will find plenty of information here at Crushed Grape Chronicles and lots of videos on Santa Barbara, it’s wines and people. As well as information on previous Vintners Spring Weekends.

And stop back to visit us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Dedication Syrah from Larner Vineyard and Winery

Dedication Syrah

Dedication Syrah is a special wine from Larner Vineyards and Winery. It is a Syrah made in limited quantities only in special vintages when the Larner’s feel strongly that the wine is exceptional. Michael’s winemaking style is influenced by his time working in France and Italy. “Elevage” is very important to him. This is the french word meaning “to raise”. It refers to a wines adolescence, the time between fermentation and bottling, when the wine spends time in barrel. At Larner they put their Syrah in 30% new oak for 2 years. They also have a reserve which is put in 50% new oak for 3 years. If as they are tasting through the reserve, they find something that they feel is really special, they will age that in barrel for an additional year.

The 2010 was aged 4 years in 100% new oak and was limited to 1 barrel which is 20 cases.  The label for each is special and is designed by Christina Larner, Michael’s wife who is an artist.  Each is meant to capture a moment in time.  2010 saw the birth of Michael’s son and the label is a photo of Michael holding him, as an infant, Michael’s hands stained from harvest.

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2010

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2010

The 2011 label features a beautiful coastal oak in the Larner vineyard.  Michael speaks of the 2011 vintage during the Santa Barbara Vintners Syrah Seminar. The vintage was panned in California due to excessive rain in Northern California, but contrary to popular belief this was not a bad vintage everywhere.  The vintage in Ballard Canyon was cooler which adds a different expression to the wine than in a normal vintage and it was stunning.  The 2011 is currently available in limited quantities on the Larner website.

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2011

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2011

Syrah in Ballard Canyon is special. They call it Syrah Territory.  The Ballard Canyon AVA as a whole is dedicated to Syrah.  Michael refers to it as the “Goldilocks Syndrome” not too hot, not too cold.  Syrah in Happy Canyon, the AVA to the East is more fruit forward due to the the warmer temperatures.  The Syrah from Sta. Rita Hills AVA, on the other hand expresses itself with more pepper and herbs due to the cooler climate.  Ballard Canyon Syrah combines all of these elements creating a wine with a broad range of flavors and aromas.  Growers, Winemakers and Vintners alike agree that this Canyon, while it is good with many Rhones, is best suited to Syrah.

While Ballard Canyon as a whole has proven to be similar enough to be an AVA, there still exist differences between the vineyards, allowing each to be unique even before winemaker intervention.  The vineyards in the mid to upper part of Ballard Canyon have more limestone substrate, the lower vineyards like Larner have more chalk.  This changes the way the roots capture moisture and nutrients.  So there are differences between vineyards, and then within vineyards there are differences between blocks and even rows.  The Dedication Syrahs come from the best barrels pulled from the best blocks at the Larner Vineyard and again only on years when the vintage truly speaks to them.  These are precious bottles that capture a quintessential piece of a vintage.

Take a listen to Michael speaking about the 2010 Larner Dedication Syrah.

 

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Larner Vineyard and Winery, the History

Larner Vineyard Sunset

Michael Larner’s parents found Ballard Canyon to be a magical place. From the curvy roads at the top of the canyon, the expansive views from Purisima Mountain Vineyard and they delicious way that Rhone Variety grapes grow here, I have to agree. Amidst the “eclecticness” that is Santa Barbara County, this quiet valley is growing some amazing grapes, primarily Rhones, with a focus on the Champion grape of this valley, Syrah.

We had an opportunity to spend some time with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery out at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard earlier this year. In this video, he tells us about the history of his vineyard here in Ballard Canyon.

Larner Vineyard Panorama

Michael Larner’s father had wanted to own a vineyard. After spending time doing documentaries on wineries and vineyards in France he was smitten with the idea of this type of lifestyle and with the thought of a family legacy that could be handed down. Living in LA, Santa Barbara County was practically in their backyard and they found this property in Ballard Canyon. Covered in sage and chaparral they started making 34 acres of the 134 acre property ready for a vineyard in 1998. Michael was a geologist. He went into geology to avoid lab coats or sitting behind a desk.

“the idea of working outside, being with the family and maybe actually making a product that’s really kind of cool was exciting”

With the 34 acres ready they ordered 34 acres of grapevines to plant. But it was a busy season, lots of new vineyards were going in and the nurseries had over promised all around. The new Larner Vineyard ended up getting just 17 acres of vines. “Truth be told that was the best thing that happened to us. Because here we are a new vineyard, we didn’t have a lot of winery contacts and if we had come out with 34 acres of grapes we would have had a lot of grapes to sell. But we came out with 17 and it slowly built and that has been the secret to our success. Our internal model is “Rome wasn’t built in a day” which is apropos since we lived in Rome, but we have to do things step by step. First we planted the vineyard, then I started making a little wine. We do this slowly, my hope is that in my generation I will be making the estate, but if I don’t, no problem. My kids and my sisters kids, can then take over. It allows that flexibility.”

2011 Rose in my glass tonight.  Channeling a little   tonight!

While his mother and father were the driving force behind the vineyard, his sister and he were quick to jump in. As he began classes at UC Davis, his sister shifted from working for “Business Week” to “Wine Enthusiast”. So they both dove into the industry at about the same time.

He and his dad built the vineyard together. Always hands on and wanting to learn, he laughs “The irrigation company always laughs at me when I go in for valves, because they always loved the fact that I would jump in the trenches with them and help them move pipes because I wanted to learn. I didn’t know what they were doing so I wanted to find out.” In addition he worked on his education. “Because when you are running a vineyard you have downtime, 1999 we planted the vines, we are not going to see our first crop until 2001 or 2002, I mean were are training the vines but I’ve got two years to do stuff. So I start taking classes at Alan Hancock, viticulture classes and then got to the point where I wasn’t just taking classes I was teaching them, I was a quick learner.” In addition to classes at Alan Hancock, he worked for E. Guigal in the Rhone Valley in Ampuis, France, and Antinori in Tuscany. He got into the Masters program at UC Davis and got a masters in viticulture and enology. He was planning an internship with Penfolds in Australia when his father passed away. “My dad and mother paved the path and when all of a sudden there is nobody driving, we had to determine if we were going to stay on this road.”

Michael Larner at Larner Vineyard

2005 at the 7 year mark, was the first year that the vineyard broke even. “So we are suffering the loss of the figure-head, but there are all these positive signs. So I called up Peter Gago and said, you know what, I can’t do the internship I can’t be away from the ranch for 2 month. But my wife and I took a month and went and turned it into a business trip and went around to see how they were making wines and the style that they are doing and having more time with winemakers one on one. It was definitely instrumental informing my palate and my style of how we grow grapes and make wine.”

And so the Larner family legacy continues with Michael Larner growing grapes, both for himself and other local wineries. He was instrumental in the formation of the Ballard Canyon AVA and actively works with the AVA to get the word out about the great wines coming out of this little valley. Syrah is the forerunner, but all of the Rhone varietals do well here and many vineyards are expanding to try new lesser know grapes.

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Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Ave

Los Olivos, CA 93441

(805)688-8148

http://larnerwine.com

Open Thursday thru Monday 11:00 am to 5:00 pm

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Come back here to look for other conversations with winemakers, in Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara County and beyond.

Visit us at our Facebook Page facebook.com/CGCFromDirtToGlass.

Or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CrushGrapeChron

Key to Wine Country – An exclusive weekend in Santa Barbara

Beckmen Vineyard

If you follow this blog, you know that we are in love with Santa Barbara Wine Country.  We had the great pleasure of attending the Vintners Spring Weekend in April where we met many of the local winemakers, sampled wines and saw some beautiful wineries.

Well the Santa Barbara Vintners are at it again.  Coming up on June 20th-22nd they will have their “Key to Wine Country” Event.  This is a weekend of  exclusive experiences for a limited number of people.  You purchase your “Key” and then may attend your choice of over 40 different events over the course of the weekend.  The events run from Complimentary tastings at a tasting room to Vineyard Walks with winemakers to farm to table lunches with wine pairings, to seminars on tasting or horseback rides through the vineyard!  Some events have an additional fee for lunch or dinner.  This event will allow you to meet winemakers, and get a behind the scenes look at the vineyards and wineries of Santa Barbara County.

He is just a sampling of the options:

A Winery Tour, Reserve Tasting and Picnic Lunch at Beckmen Vineyards, on Friday June 20th at 11 am,  where you tour the Beckmen Vineyards  winery and barrel room with winemaker Neil Redmond followed by a pond-side Reserve tasting and picnic lunch hosted by Bell Street Farm.

Beckmen Vineyards

Beckmen Vineyards

A Farm-toTable event with Buttonwood Farm Winery on Sunday, June 22nd from 11-2.  Winemaker Karen Steinwachs will take you on a farm tour and vineyard hike, followed by a farm-to-table cooking demo and lunch with wine pairings by Pascale Beale, local chef and cookbook author which includes lunch, pairings and the Salade cookbook.

Buttonwood Farm

Buttonwood Farm

Mise en Scene – Storytelling through the Casa Dumetz Wine Lens. on Friday June 20th from 12-5.  Winemaker Sonja Magdevski will take you on an intimate tour of the various vineyards where Casa Dumetz sources its fruit.  Anthropologist Bryan Bass will discuss the “terroir” and you will taste the wines that were made from the different locations.  Lunch, snacks and wine will be served throughout the day.

Casa du Matz wine, Grand Tasting

Casa Dumetz wine, Grand Tasting

Clos Pepe Estate will have Barrel Tastings on Sunday June 22nd at 11, 12:30 and 2 pm with wines from Clos Pepe, Axis Mundi and Lindley Wines.  Winemaker Wes Hagen will be on hand to educate you on wine, soil, and who knows what else!

Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Cold Heaven Cellars will have a Rhone Scent-ual Experience on Saturday and Sunday from 2-5, where they will lead you through an in-depth sensory seminar of Viognier & Syrah.

Cold Heaven

Cold Heaven, Grand Tasting

Larner Vineyard & Winery will host a Wine Dinner on Friday June 20th from 6-9 at the Ballard Inn, as well as a Wine & The Artisan event on Saturday June 21 from 6 to 9pm at their Los Olivos tasting room, where you can taste their wines, enjoy artisinal products and see works by featured artists!

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

Presqu’ile Winery will have a “Taste through the Vineyard” on Saturday and Sunday from 11-1.  This unique event will allow you to taste through the wines of 3 different producers using the fruit from the same vineyard.  Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje, Storm winemaker Ernst Storm, Luminesce winemaker Kevin Law and Labyrinth winemaker Ariki Hill will showcase their wines, all from Presqu’ile vineyards.

Presquille Vineyard

Presquille Vineyard Tasting Room

And that is just a sampling!  Head to the Santa Barbara Vintners website for the complete list!