Tasting blind – globetrotting at home

Table set for a blind tasting

We gathered a bakers dozen of folks for a blind tasting of 3 white wines and 3 reds. There were aroma jars and tasting sheets and lots of glasses! After the reveal for each, we had small bites to pair with each of the wines. People discovered varieties and places they did not know they liked. Here’s the run down on the wines we tasted.

The White Wines

When choosing these wines, we didn’t want to pick wines everyone was already familiar with and we also wanted them to be from a range of places around the globe. Without realizing it at first, we had chosen three wines, with somewhat similar profiles, which made the guessing a bit harder. Here are our 3 white wines.

White Wine #1 Carhartt 2018 Sauvignon Blanc

Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc bottle shot with apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon
Carhartt 2018 Savignon Blanc

This wine is from California, Santa Barbara Country and more specifically from the Santa Ynez Valley. It hails from 2 vineyards, the Carhartt Vineyard in Santa Ynez (60%), and Grassini Vineyard located in Happy Canyon (40%). Carhartt is great about the deets on their labels: 100% Savignon Blanc, Clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock, vertical trellis system, sustainably farmed, fermentation in both oak and stainless steel, cooperage :6 months in neutral oak and stainless steel 50% each.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

We set out scent jars for this wine that included pear, green apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon. We paired this with herbed goat cheese on crostini.

This is a great summer sipper sitting at 12.5% alcohol, it will drink fresh through 2022 and can age beyond that. They made 900 cases of this wine and it will set you back $25.00.

About Carhartt

And yes….this is the same Carhartt that you see on work wear. They family had a ranch in the Santa Ynez valley that Mike and his family decided to grow wine grapes on. They still have some livestock and they work the ranch and vineyard. Here is a link to a video that will give you a feel for Carhartt.

Carhartt Hand Made Films Presents: Carhartt Vineyard

You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2939 Grand Ave If you have visited before, know that they are no longer in the tiniest tasting room at the north end of Grand Ave. You can find them in the new larger spot across the street about a block south.

2939 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Ph #: 805.693.5100
Open daily 11am-6pm
No reservations. First-come, first-serve.
Closed only on Christmas Day

White Wine #2 Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc
Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc hails form the Loire Valley in France. While it is grown in France and elsewhere, this is a variety that has become most notable in South Africa, where locally they refer to it as “Steen”.

Spier Wine Farm

This wine is from South Africa from Spier Wine Farm which dates back to 1692. The fruit comes from the Western Cape in the Breede River and Coastal regions. For a video about this winery…

A visit to Spier Wine Farm and Hotel

More details: alluvial, well-drained and aerated soils with decomposed granite from the mountain foothills. Grapes are both trellised and bush vines (head pruned). They hand harvest, destem and slightly crush before pressing. There is a bit of skin contact then they let the free run juic settle in tanks overnight. In the morning they rack from the lees and innoculate with yeast strains (so this is not a native yeast wine). They let the wine mature on the fine lees for 3 months to add body. We could see the results of this in the richer fuller mouthfeel of this wine.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Fragrance jars for this wine included pear, peach, vanilla beans and a mango/guava/passion fruit jam, as there were notes of tropical fruit and green guava in the wine. We paired this with two different bites, a cracker with brie and a dab of the mango/guava/passion fruit wine as well as smoked trout on a baguette slice with either a russian pickle or a cucumber slice. (Here we were lucky that one of our guests had recently been fishing and caught a trout and another had taken that trout and smoked it! Thank you for this great bite to pair with this wine!)

You can look for this wine locally as it is widely distributed. It sits at a higher alcohol level than the Sav Blanc at 14.5% and you can find it for around $18.00.

Here is a video to give you a little more information on this South african Winery. https://www.spier.co.za/

White Wine #3 Martin Codax Albariño

Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain with pear and green apple
Martin Codáx 2016 Albarino from Rias Baixas Spain

We headed to another country for our final white wine. This is an Albariño from Spain’s Rias Baixas region. Michael actually tasted this wine last year at a session at WBC18 on Rias Baixas.

Rias Baixas

The region of Rias Baixas, if you are unfamiliar, is on the coast of Spain above Portugal. The area is known as Galacia. Most grapes here are grown on pergolas, and the region is green and lush. This wine comes from Val do Salnés, which runs along the coast south of the Ria de Arousa. This area is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape.

Bodegas Martin Códax was founded in 1986 and was named after the most known Galacian troubadour whose medieval poems, the oldest in the Galician-Portuguese language, have survived to the present. In the poems, the troubadour sings to love, the sea and the coastline.

http://www.martincodax.com/en/

The winemaker for Martin Códax is Katia Alvarez. That she is a woman is unsuprising in Spain’s Rias Baixas region, where roughtly half of the winemakers are female.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

The scent jars for this wine were simply, pear, green apple and the mango/guava/passion fruit jam (this time for the passion fruit). We paired this with a slice of Guyere and a slice of pear. It sits at 13% abv and runs about $16. Widely distributed, this is a fairly easy to find wine.

Find out more about this beautiful wine region by visiting the Rias Baixas site.

The Red Wines

When looking to red wines, we again wanted to go a bit out of the box, but not too far. Here though, the wines that we chose had flavor profiles that varied quite a bit so it was easier to differentiate the wines. All of these wines were international varieties that have ventured out from their homeland.

Red Wine #1 Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese with wet stones, strawberries, black tea, clove, and cedar plank
Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese

We spoke earlier about Carhartt. We have been fans of Carhartt for awhile and on two separate occasions were able to visit the ranch. Once for a wine dinner (which was a blast) and once to take a tour with Joe, who at the time ran their wine club. We walked the Hilltop vineyard and he pointed out the Sangiovese on the 11 Oaks vineyard across the way.

Sangiovese? Think Chianti

This is a Sangiovese, the famous Italian variety that you might think of as Chianti. You remember the wine in those straw wrapped bottles?

The Geeky bits: 100% Sangiovese from 11 Oaks Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. Fontodi & isole e olena clones that are own rooted, sustainably farmed, fermented in small lots with a cold soak, 18 months in barrel 25% of which is new. Unfined and unfiltered (see Zeina, that was the floaty stuff!)

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Jars for this included: wet stone, wild raspberry jam (couldn’t find wild raspberries), black tea, cedar plank, clove and strawberry. We paired this with an Asigo cheese topped with a bit of prosciutto and a touch of raspberry jam.

Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam
Asiago Proscuitto and raspberry jam appetizer

They made just 565 cases of this wine, it sits at 13.6% abv and is a crowd pleaser. It is medium to light bodied, so lots of folks guessed it was a Pinot Noir. It will drink well through 2029 and was the most expensive wine we poured at $40 per bottle.

Red wine #2 Gascon Malbec Reserve 2015

Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina with blackberries, plum and spice
Gascón 2015 Reserva Malbec from Argentina

This grape is a little more well traveled. Malbec is originally from Cahors in France where it is known as “the black wine of Cahors”. Long ago it travelled to Argentina where it found it’s voice. In Cahors he dressed in black, in Argentina he wears purple and red!

Don Miguel Gascón Wines

This particular wine is from Mendoza where more than 70% of the country’s vines can be found and most of which are high altitude at 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. Argentina currently has just 2 DOCs: Luján de Cuyo and San Rafael. This wine hails from Luján de Cuyo, and more specifically from the Agrelo and Uco Valley regions. It is labeled “Reserva” which indicates it must have been aged at least 6 months.

The grapes for our Don Miguel Gascón Reserva Malbec were harvested by hand in the early morning hours in mid to late April from the high elevation vineyards of Altamira, Agrelo and Tupungato, then crushed and cold soaked for 72 to 96 hours. The juice maintained contact with the skins for up to three weeks through the end of fermentation, which occurred in upright conical tanks at 85°F for six days. Malolactic fermentation was completed prior to racking and aging. Sixty-five percent of the wine was aged for 15 months in a combination of medium toast French and American oak barriques.

http://www.gasconwine.com

You should really visit the Gascon site for great information on this winery that dates back to 1884.

This wine is 97% Malbec with just a touch (3%) of Petit Verdot. It sits at 14.8% abv and runs a little over $20 a bottle.

Aromas, flavors and pairings

Scent jars here included blackberries, plum and spice. We did two bites here a cracker with blue cheese and cherry jam, as well as a slice of smoked gouda.

Red wine #3 Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon  with plum, blackberry, cherry, peppercorn, earth and leather.
Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon

If you have visited our site before, you know we are big fans of Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery. He helped to put Ballard Canyon and their Syrah on the map. He was instrumental in founding the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County.

Michael’s background is in geology and he is an invaluable resource for discussing the soils of the entire Santa Barbara Region. He is passionate about the region and it’s wines, most especially the Syrah from this little corner of the universe.

This wine is all Estate grown fruit that is aged 22 months in 33% new French oak and 8% new American oak (the rest is neutral oak).

  • Larner Vineyard Syrah
  • Larner Fête 2016, Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Vineyard Sunset

Aromas, flavors and pairings

This wine was the biggest we served at 14.9%. With a complex nose, we set out scent jars of blackberry, plum, cherry, pepper corns, leather and earth. We paired this with our favorite bite with syrah, bacon wrapped dates.

Visit Larner

If you want a bottle of this wine, or to taste his other wines, head to Santa Barbara and Los Olivos. You can find the tasting room at the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Ave next to the Los Olivos General Store. Grab a tasting and a sandwich from next door and sit at a table in front in the shade, behind the historic gas pump.

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
Email: [email protected]
T: (805) 688-8148

Open Daily 11-5

It was a fun evening and hopefully everyone discovered a new wine that they enjoyed! We got up today to 85 dirty glasses! I have a new appreciation for tasting room staff who deal with this, and then some, daily! Was it worth it? Damn straight! We got to explore the world with wine while sitting in the living room with friends. What could be better?

85 dirty wine glasses
A sampling of the 85 dirty wine glasses after last nights tasting.

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A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

A tale of two Malvasia Biancas

Malvasia Bianca…does it sound exotic? A little Italian right? This is not a wine you come across very often, but, it is gaining ground, at least with a couple of my favorite winemakers.

I first had Malvasia Bianca at a winemaker dinner. Actually the very first Larner winemaker dinner, held at Ballard Inn with Larner wines and delicious food by Chef Budi Kazali. (read about it here) It was served with the dessert course.

Michael Larner grows mostly Rhône varieties on his Ballard Canyon Vineyard. The Malvasia is his exception, a nod to the time spent growing up in Rome while his father was filming there. Obviously, by the name, this is an Italian variety, but lets dig a little deeper.

Malvasia Bianca

Malvasia does not make the list of the top 15 grapes in Italy. It is thought to come from Greece, but became very popular with the Venetian Merchants. It was so popular it became synonymous with Venetian wines, with Venetian wine merchants naming their stores Malavasie. Malvasia Bianca is the sub-variety that is white. It is often likened to Muscat with it’s sweet nose.

In Italy you find it in Lazio (the area around Rome), among other places, where it is blended with Trebbiano into the famous Est! Est!! Est!!! (which has it’s own fabulous story which you can read here as told by the Bubbly Professor)

Map of Italy
Map of Italy

California’s Central Coast is now home to a considerable amount of Malvasia and I happened to have 2 bottles in my cellar. One from Larner Vineyards in Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon and another from Bonny Doon Vineyards with grapes from Monterey. Strangely enough, both wines are from winemakers known for Rhône varieties and this is not a Rhône. So when you have 2 bottles of Malvasia, why not do a comparative tasting?

Larner 2017 Malvasia Bianca

Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon
Larner 2018 Malvasia Bianca Ballard Canyon

This wine is from Larner Vineyard in the southern part of Ballard Canyon. It was destemmed, crushed and got a 24 hour cold soak before it was pressed.

Fruit was destemmed and crushed for a 24-hour cold soak on the skins before pressing. Fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete egg around 62 degrees for 4 weeks. The wine spent 2 months of ageing sur lees in Stainless steel and concrete, before bottling, followed by a minimum of 4 months in bottle before release.

http://www.larnerwine.com

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca
Bonny Doon 2018 Malvasia Bianca

These grapes hail from Monterey County from the Loma del Rio Vineyard. Bonny Doon only made 182 cases of this lovely wine.

I found a bit of details on this charming label, from a speech that Randall Grahm gave last year on labeling. The wine was originally under the Ca’ del Solo label.

Chuck House and I came up with the idea of using a kind of cartoonish illustration on a series of wines we made under the Ca’ del Solo label. This is a picture of little Malvasia Bianca on her first day of school, letting go of her mother’s hand, going “solo” (get it?) and of course, stepping on every crack in the sidewalk she comes across.

https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/keynote-speech-wines-vines-packaging-conference-august-9th-2018-yountville-ca/

Evidently the label cause a stir in Washington where they took offense to a depiction of a child on the label. Luckily, all ended well and this sweet girl who is a little bit of a renegade still appropriately graces this wine’s label.

The battle!

Really…I have overplayed this. It’s not a battle. These wines are apples and oranges…both of which I love. Similar but different, from different vineyards, soils and winemakers.

We paired with crab rangoons, crab cakes, lo mein and teriyaki salmon.

Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein
Crab rangoons, crab cakes, teriyaki salmon & lo mein

The Bonny Doon Malvasia Bianca from Monterey

This wine was lush with honeysuckle on the nose (I wanted to dab it behind my ears!). It was sweet with lychee like a Gewurztraminer on the nose and florals and perfumes on the palate. There was a little waxiness (the tasting notes say “a slightly waxy, lanolin finish.”, but it was subtle. This was medium weight with light acid as you would expect with this variety. I found that I liked this best with the rangoons and teriyaki salmon, as it tending to lend itself to the sweetness of these dishes.

Larner Malvasia Bianca from Ballard Canyon

This wine is a year older, a different vintage, a different winemaker. Remember I said that the first time I had Malvasia Bianca was a dessert pairing with a Larner Malvasia. I remember it being sweet. This wine was not. It had more white florals with the honeysuckle on the nose as well as a little mineral or chalk note. It was tarter on the palate with soft citrus, like meyer lemon. This was a clean fresh wine and it seemed higher in acid than the Bonny Doon. I enjoyed it more with the crab cakes and the lo mein, the bit of minerality working with the umami and red pepper flavors making them explode in my mouth.

The takeaway

  • Larner Vineyard
  • Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country
  • Bonny Doon beach

So as you can see, it’s best that I opened both of these bottles to best enjoy all of my meal! Both are delicious and made by two of my favorite winemakers. Of course you won’t find either of these wines made in large quantities. I suggest that you take a road trip, stop by Larner’s tasting room in Los Olivos and then head up the coast and visit Bonny Doon in Davenport! (Or hell jump on a plane and head to Rome!) Mostly, you should pick up a bottle of a type of wine you have never tried before. Explore and taste and travel through the bottle.

  • Find Larner Wine’s tasting room in Los Olivos at 2900 Grand Ave.
  • Bonny Doon’s tasting room can be found on the California Coast in Davenport at 450 Hwy 1

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On the 11th Day – A Ballard Canyon Syrah from Larner & Beef Stew

Larner Reserve Syrah with Beef stew and Polenta

We’ve come to the 11th Day in our 12 Days of Wine and we pulled a beautiful bottle of Ballard Canyon Syrah out from Larner Vineyard & Winery.

2013 Larner Estate Syrah – Reserve

Larner Ballard Canyon Syrah
Larner 2013 Ballard Canyon Syrah Reserve

Our finest Syrah from the 2013 vintage has a vivid bouquet of violets, cassis, blueberries, pepper, vanilla and espresso. The intense, full palate has a layered texture of chalky tannins followed by a smooth finish. Fermented with 20% whole cluster, 4% Viognier and aged 36 months in 30% new French oak barrels.

Larnerwine.com

So this is a big Syrah.  This is not just their Estate Syrah, but a bottling of the best of the lots of the Estate Syrah from 2013. 

Ballard Canyon AVA

The view down @ballardcanyon from above @saarloosandsons Windmill Ranch Vineyard. #sbcwines

This AVA is in the Santa Barbara Region and is nested inside the Santa Ynez Valley AVA.  At about the half way point of the East West Valley of Santa Barbara, the climate is perfect for Rhône Varieties and Syrah thrives here. 

You can visit the AVA site and read about the climate and varieties here.

Larner Vineyard

We have been lucky enough to spend significant time with Michael Larner soaking up his amazing knowledge of the area and the soils.  You can find all sorts of articles and interviews on our Larner Winery & Vineyard page.

What to Pair?

I reached out to Larner Vineyards and Jeni who runs the Tasting Room and Wine Club responded with a great pairing for winter.  A Beef Stew made with the Syrah to pair with the Syrah!


Hi there Robin! Here is a recipe that we definitely recommend to go withour Reserve Syrah! Nice and hearty and pairs perfectly with the wonderfully balanced 2013 Syrah!

Jeni Torres Larner Wine Club Manager and Tasting Room Lead

Here is the beautiful recipe she shared with us.

Beef stew with mushrooms and polenta

  • 3 pounds stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1-inch –wide strip. (I used unsalted bacon)
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups of 2011 Larner Syrah.
  • 25 pearl onions
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 20 ounces of mushrooms, you can used brown button mushrooms, quartered, shitake cut in half,
  • cremini mushroom or if possible fresh porcini mushroom. I soaked the dry porcini mushrooms in the warm water and added this water to the stew.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoon on tomato paste
  • 1 bunch of baby carrots, cut
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 springs of thyme
  • Salt. If you use the salted bacon don’t add salt,you can always do it at the table.
  • Some olive oil
  • 3 cups of polenta

In the heavy pot cook bacon, until the bacon turns light brown and crisp. Remove the bacon from the pot and drain on paper towels. Keep the fat.

 Dry the meat in the paper towel and cook it in the bacon fat until brown. Put the meat aside in the bowl. Add 1 cup of beef stock to the pot,increase the temperature and try to scrape all the brown bits from the bottom.  Pour this liquid over the meat in the bowl.

 Add 4 tablespoons of the olive oil to the clean pot and add chopped onion. Cook until golden.

Add garlic and cook until soft. Add all the mushrooms and cook until soften, about 2 minutes

Add 3 tablespoon of flower and cook for1 more minute stirring. Pour 2 cups of beef broth to the mixture, stir and add to the meat.

Return the beef and all the juices that have accumulated to the pot. Add 4 cups of red wine.  I used Larner Syrah 2011. 

Add 2 tablespoon of the tomato paste, herbs and bring the meat to the boil. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the meat is soft.

Boil some water in the pot, add small onions and cook for 10 minutes. Peel the onion. Clean the carrots and cook them until soft.

When the meat is ready add the bacon, onions and carrots to the pot. Remove the herbs.

If your beef stew is too thick add more beef broth.

In the medium pot bring 9 cups of water to the boil. Add polenta in the thin stream stirring all the time until polenta starts to separate from the side of the pot. Your polenta should be very soft and runny. You can also follow the instruction on the box.

Pour the polenta on the plates and cover it with beef stew. You can also sprinkle it with some chopped parsley. (Optional)

Beef Stew with Polenta
Beef Stew with Polenta

This was a delicious meal and was beautiful with the Syrah. As you can see I did not add the parsley, but I did add a pat of butter on top of the polenta before ladeling on the stew.

Want some?

Well I don’t know if there is any of the 2013 left but you can find their beautiful Syrahs as well as other Rhône style wines in single varieties as well as their Elemental Blend on their site.

They also have a tasting room in Los Olivos, next to the Los Olivos General Store where you can taste their wines.

Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
T | (805) 688-8148

Want more?  Click through to all of our 12 Days of Wine posts!

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Larner Wines 2014 Malvasia Bianca

Larner Vineyard Sunset

We had an opportunity to speak with Michael Larner about his 2014 Malvasia Bianca (among other things) last April during the Vintner’s Spring Weekend.  Larner Vineyard & Winery have 35 acres of vineyard planted on their 134 acre property located in the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara California.

We met Michael at his office at the Vineyard. The focus at his vineyard are Rhone varieties with special attention to Syrah, which expresses itself particularly well in Ballard Canyon. Other varieties include Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier, but he takes a dip into the Italian Malvasia Bianca for a single block.

We began speaking about the 2014 Malvasia Bianca. Keep in mind this is last years vintage. Find the Larner booth at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend and find out how this vintage compares with the 2015 Malvasia Bianca!

 

Malvasia Bianca – a little background

Malvasia Bianca is believed to originate on the northwest coast of Italy. Of white Italian varieties, Malvasia Bianca is one of the most widely planted in Italy.

The berries of Malvasia Bianca are yellow to an oily brown when ripe and they grow in large clusters. This grape can be made into a variety of styles, from a lighter wine to a more full-bodied wine, dry to sweet, low to high alcohol and sometimes into a sparkling wine. In Italy it is often blended with Trebbiano to create light dry wines. It is also used in the Tuscan “Vin Santo” (trans. holy wine), which is a straw wine where the grapes are dried on straw mats. This wine was traditionally used for Mass.

Malvasia Bianca is sweet on the nose, but surprisingly acidic on the palate. Malvasia Bianca has great aromatics. A distant cousin to Muscat, it is a beautiful wine to start or end a meal.

The Larner 2014 Malvasia Bianca

We enjoyed this wine at the 1st Larner Winemakers Dinner at the Ballard Inn, where we tasted this wine with appetizers before dinner and then Budi Kazali paired this wine with a coconut mochi for dessert.

They only produced 129 cases of this wine, which ages 6 months in stainless steel and just reached 12.9% for alcohol.

With the 2014 vintage they tried a more traditional style with more maceration. The grapes were destemmed and crushed and then macerated on the skins at a cool temperature to keep them from beginning to ferment. The maceration brings out the floral notes on the wine. In previous years they tried macerating for 6 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours and finally have settled on 24 hrs as the magic number. More than 24 hours and the wine becomes to phenolic and gets an astringency that they were not looking for. After that the grapes stay on the lees for an extended period of time.  Finally the wine ages 6 months in stainless steel. This wine has beautiful sweet aromatics on the nose, but is not a sweet wine. On the palate it has great acidity.

Michael likes the Malvasia Bianca paired with fried calamari. At the time of our interview with Michael they had just completed a wine pairing dinner with “All Star Academy” runner up Vanessa Craig.  She paired the Malvasia Bianca with a fried wonton with avocado mousse and local cerviche. Michael say it paired great with the acidity and fruit qualities of the wine and the bit of spice in the cerviche.

While this vintage may be completely gone, the Larner 2015 Malvasia Bianca has arrived. Stop by the Larner tasting room in Los Olivos where you can find them next to the Los Olivos General Store daily from 11-5.  Or find them at the Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend on Saturday April 23rd and give it a taste!

Want more information on Larner Wines or other wines or winemakers in the Santa Barbara Area?  Find out more at Crushed Grape Chronicles.

From Dirt to Glass -The Vision, the future of Larner Vineyard & Winery

Larner Vineyard Panorama

Michael Larner has been thrown some curve balls as he has worked to build the future of Larner Vineyard and Winery.  The vision for this family legacy was to be an estate winery with a tasting room and some events.  When they took this business plan to the county, the neighbors revolted.  So they worked to be dynamic in dealing with these issues, continuing with the vineyard, opening a wine tasting room in Los Olivos and then Michael created the Buellton Bodegas.

The Vision – The future of Larner Vineyard and Winery

The property in Ballard Canyon, has a barn, which they hope in the future be able to turn into a winery, and a small General Store building and turning it into a tasting room.  They are currently asking for an 8000 case production for the winery, the tasting room and then 4 events each year which all would be shuttled.  This is the vision, so people can come and see the source.

How to deal with the Curve Balls

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

In the meantime, in Los Olivos you will find the Los Olivos General Store which Michael and his wife run, along with their Larner Wine tasting room.  In Buellton, Michael has created the Buellton Bodegas.  After working out of other wineries for a bit, he was looking for a space where he could close the door and crank his music while working.  He was not alone in his need for this.  So…went out looking for a 2000 square foot space and he found a 30,000 square foot space in Buellton where he could chop it up into 9 different spaces for wineries with a community space.  He formed a cooperative, took a master lease on the building and then leased out all 9 spaces.  He purchased equipment for processing that is communal for all the wineries, but then they all have their separate space and equipment like pumps and hoses, so that they can do their own temperature control and they have stability in their zone, which is essential to winemakers.

The Community Spirit in the Santa Barbara Wine Region

We spoke about the community spirit in the Santa Barbara Valley.  Just as the vineyards in Ballard Canyon have bonded together to make Ballard Canyon AVA a recognized name, all the vineyards in Santa Barbara County are of a like mind to call attention to this amazing region where you can find some of the most phenomenal wines in the world reasonably priced.   Santa Barbara sits right in LA’s backyard, and maybe as such it is taken for granted.  They often find people stopping in on their way to Paso Robles.

This area is like Burgundy with the smaller wineries, where as Napa is more like Bordeaux with the big wine houses.   As Michael said, if you head into Flatbreads in Los Almos, 10 out of every 100 people that walk in there are winemakers.  This is still a community that is bound together by wanting people to know about the great wine that they produce.  Sadly 75% of the grapes grown in the Santa Barbara Valley, leave the valley to be bought up by bigger wineries outside the area and blended into their wines. The County loses revenue as well as dilutes the name of Santa Barbara County for wines.  You probably drink more Santa Barbara wine than you realize, it’s just blended in with some big name wine company and is labeled with the ambiguous “California” wine on the label.

Enjoy the video and make your way to Santa Barbara and taste some of these amazing wines, in places where you are likely to be able to speak with the winemaker.  In the future as more people discover this overlooked area…it may get busier and these wines harder to get ahold of.

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

wpid-img_20140620_153158.jpg

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

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From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on the Language of the Vines

Larner Vineyard Syrah

There are many ways of telling what a vine needs in the vineyard. On our visit, Michael took us into the Syrah at his Vineyard in Ballard Canyon and spoke to us about how the vines communicate with them. “We think of the vines as living beings” Michael says. The vines he says will tell you if they are happy, you will see them with tendril and shoots straight up reaching for the sun. You can tell by their vigor that they are happy and that they are getting enough water. When the vines are stressed the tendrils will droop and the leaves will turn away from the sun, because they don’t want to photosynthesize.

In addition they have moisture probes at varying depths and they can see how fast the roots are taking the water. If the vines are unhappy they can push the water deeper to get to the feeder roots and the tap root.

The leaves will also show you in different ways if they have potassium deficiencies or if there are nitrogen problems.

“The vines will tell you what they need” Michael says, “It’s up to us to read it and learn it’s language”.

The happy Syrah he grows here at Larner Vineyards is sold to other wineries in addition to making his Estate Syrah.  But only the estate Syrah will be in the new “Ballard Canyon” bottles.  You can stop by and taste his Syrah in Los Olivos at the Larner Tasting room in the Los Olivos General Store.

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

From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on Heat Spikes during Harvest

Larner Vineyard Sunset

We spoke with Michael Larner out at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard in June and asked about how heat spikes affect him around Harvest.

“The nature of Syrah is that it is always harvested in October.” “We never see heat spikes in October so we don’t have to panic.”

Heat spikes cause sugars to go up. As the vines become stressed for water the first place they get it from is the berries. As the berries dehydrate from the vine pulling moisture the sugar levels increase and concentrate. This is only temporary and the sugar levels will stabilize again when the temperature drops or when the vine gets more water.

Watching the weather and planning ahead they can water before a heatspike so that the sugar levels don’t soar. This gives the clients a couple more weeks before harvesting when the wineries are typically full at the end of harvest. Michael says he tells clients “Let me water it, rather that you having to water it in the winery!”.

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From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on Syrah

Larner Vineyard Sunset

Syrah. You know it. You have heard it called Shiraz and made into lush giant styles from Australia.  Maybe you have had it in a GSM, that Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Chances are you have even tried it as a single variety wine, perhaps a French wine from Chateauneuf du Pape. It’s not the nation’s top variety sitting behind the Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay that made Napa what it is. Syrah however is extraordinarily expressive. In Ballard Canyon it is the most widely grown grape. Much of that happened by accident. Growers didn’t plant Syrah because they heard about someone else planting it, it was just simply the right grape to plant in this soil and this climate. Then it thrived. Syrah composes more than half of the planted vineyard acres in the Ballard Canyon AVA, so it’s no wonder that they chose this variety as their Champion as they tell the world about Ballard Canyon.

Recently while we were in Santa Barbara, Michael Larner took the time to show us the Syrah in the Larner Vineyard, explain how they chose their clones and the future of Syrah at Larner Vineyard.

Of the 33 acres of vineyards at Larner, 23 acres are planted in Syrah. When they began planning in the late 90’s there was only so much information on this variety available at the time. They searched for the top three clones of Syrah from France, Australia and California and then laid out their 11 blocks. They also created an experimental block with clones that they were interested in but didn’t want to commit to a full 2 or 3 acres. There are 6 different rows of an experimental selection of clones. These rows can then be looked at from a purely viticultural perspective. This gives Michael the opportunity to see how the different clones work and decide if he might want to use them in the future. The property is 130 acres and they have another 30 acres that they will eventually plant with grapes, so this block has become their training ground for grapes.

In addition they will be doing some Massale Selection in an area of the property. This is a process of pulling canes when the sap has started to move back into them and then planting them to let them root. They will then allow these vines to go to seed and start propagating off the seeds. They do that a couple of times to speed the acclimation process of these vines that are all still relatively new (by Old World Standards) to California.

There are enough rows in the experimental block to harvest grapes and separately ferment, but you would be fermenting in 5 gallon lots. Michael used to sell these to small home winemakers who were very excited that Larner would sell as little as ¼ ton of grapes, but now they harvest all of these together and co-ferment them for the estate wines.

Ironically the experimental block has become their Cru. This spot has about 7 feet of sand and is probably the worst soil on the site. Even the weeds don’t like this spot. Surprisingly it has been beneficial, forcing these vines that would normally be vigorous to not overproduce. Almost every cluster here is picture perfect, making it the place for beautiful shots of Syrah grapes and vines.

At a recent event we had the opportunity to taste Syrahs from 7 of the Vineyards in Ballard Canyon. The styles vary dependent on the winemaker and the site, but there is an underlying similarity from the AVA that cannot be dismissed. In Michael’s words “You know you have a good vineyard when the vineyard speaks louder than the winemaker.” This is the case with the Ballard Canyon AVA. The underlying similarities in these wines shine through past the voices of the winemakers. The next bottling of the Larner Syrah will be in the new Ballard Canyon bottles. (Stolpman has a beautiful post and photo about the new bottles.) These bottles are reserved for Ballard Canyon AVA Estate Syrahs and have the Ballard Canyon embossed on the neck of the bottle. Watch for these, the new voice of Syrah will be coming from Ballard Canyon.

 

 

Larner Vineyard & Winery has a Tasting room in Los Olivos attached to the Los Olivos General Store. They are open Thursday to Monday from 11am to 5pm.

2900 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos

(805)350-1435

You can learn more about the new Ballard Canyon AVA at their new site or on our Ballard Canyon Page here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.

For more information on the entire Santa Barbara Wine Region visit the Santa Barbara Vintners.

Ballard Canyon Wines, The 1st Annual Larner Winemaker Dinner

Larner Vineyard Wines


1st Annual Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn & Restaurant

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

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.

Michael Larner Rose

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

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

Larner Dinner Menu

 

 

As we came to the table Michael began with a little background.

Larner is about Geology Origins and Territory.

Michael Larner

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

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!”

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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 – 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.

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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.

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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.

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