Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 1

6 days…where to go in wine country?

Well if you have a Prius and can get to California fairly easily, you don’t have to choose.  Join us on our journey through California’s Central Coast Wine Country and a little beyond.

Day 1 Las Vegas to Monterey

We left Vegas before dawn and drove to the coast. We skipped LA and hit the coast in Ventura County. Day 1 was mostly driving with a bit of sightseeing along the way, with the final goal being Monterey.

Santa Barbara – the city

We took a break in Santa Barbara by Sterns Wharf to soak up some of the ocean and the morning. Santa Barbara, the city, has plenty to do for an entire vacation and if you love wine, we can enjoy plenty here without leaving the city on the Urban Wine Trail. Sterns Wharf is home to The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting Room; The Funk Zone (the hip area close to the beach) has lots of great laid back tasting rooms and the El Paseo further in the historical district has even more tasting rooms.

Los Olivos

On this trip however, we kept driving. We took the 154 into Santa Barbara Wine Country. We drove through Los Olivos, with the plan to return. This town houses multiple wine tasting rooms and some great restaurants. It is a great place to park and walk, taste and eat. You are highly likely to run into winemakers in the tasting rooms and restaurants.

Los Alamos

We drove onto the 101 from here, heading north past Los Alamos, which is another great spot to do weekend tastings. There is another Municipal Winemakers tasting room in town as well as Casa Dumetz Wines. Full of Life Flatbread is a great dinner spot and if you need beer, Babis Beer Emporium (same owner as Casa Dumetz) is a perfect spot to sit outside and enjoy some really great local brews. On the weekends there is often music and Casa Dumetz has a Friday night “Words to Live By” speaker series which covers a wide range of topics with an eclectic group of speakers! But yeah, we didn’t have time to stop here either….on we drove.

SLO – San Luis Obispo

Next to drive through is SLO (San Luis Obispo). You begin by passing Laetitia where they do Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and have an amazing sparkling wine program that is Méthode Champenoise (that’s the really good tiny bubbles). Further in you will find more wine trails and downtown SLO which has beautiful tree-lined streets, lots of art and great food.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles is up next and there are so many wineries here that I won’t even try right now. They recently divided into 11 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Before dividing, this one area was the Paso Robles AVA and covered about 614,000 acres. (for some perspective, Napa is only 1/3 of that size). This place deserves a bit of your time. Take all 6 days here. It’s close enough to the beach that you can spend a day tasting and a day on the coast and then back. We do stop here on our way back…we’ll get there on day 4.

Monterey

We kept driving to arrive in Monterey for the first evening and with limited time, we went to Cannery Row to enjoy the view, taste some wine and have a bite at A Taste of Monterey. You can taste at the bar or get a table and do a flight and order food. We found a great table with a view (and a seagull companion) and enjoyed a couple of flights along with some bacon wrapped dates and…pardon me I drool when I talk about these… Inzana Farms Almonds & Pistachios, which are roasted in olive oil, brown sugar, cayenne, thyme.

This is a flash trip so there are more areas to discover and explore that we passed by.  Yep, the Central Coast is full of great wine country.  In Santa Barbara County you can also visit, Buellton, Lompoc and it’s Wine Ghetto, Santa Ynez and then the many wineries all around the county.  For more information on the Santa Barbara Wineries visit Santa Barbara Vintners.  San Luis Obispo Country also has great tasting rooms out at Avila Beach.  While we didn’t visit those areas this time, you can find more about them here at Crushed Grape Chronicles, just do a search!

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.

Day 2 takes us from Monterey to Napa and Sonoma!  Come back for more of the trip!

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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Scott Sampler of CCGP on White Hawk Syrah

Scott Sampler

Syrah Seminar 2016 Santa Barbara Vintners

Our Syrah Seminar Series continues with Scott Sampler of the Central Coast Group Project speaking on his “Names” 2012 White Hawk Syrah.  This is another Syrah from the Los Alamos Valley in Santa Barbara County.  This Valley lies at the mid point, North and South of the Santa Barbara Region.

The Central Coast Group Project

Scott Sampler, Central Coast Group Project

The first thing that strikes you about Scott Sampler is his humbleness. He is quiet and almost a little shy. Even the name of his winery “The Central Coast Group Project”, is not all about him, it’s meant to be inclusive of all the people that helped him along the way to bring this wine to fruition.  Of course once you get him speaking on wine…And today he was speaking on his White Hawk Syrah.

We met Scott at the beginning of the Spring Weekend at the Big Bottle Bash. We happened to be sitting with a friend of his, Eric, who helps him in the winery (again…another in the Group). Scott came by to pour some of his wine, and Eric had already prepared us for tasting something different. Scott is playing with maceration times. Typical extended maceration times are from 7 to 44 days, but Scott poured us a Grenache that had a 100-day maceration period and a GSM that had been 120 days in maceration.

We had an opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation with Scott at the Larner Fête, and there will be more on that to come!

Wendy Thies Sell shared one of my favorite quotes from Scott with us, and you will find it in the transcript below. Wendy said “The first time I met Scott…I was crazy enough to ask him ‘Are you like a mad scientist…?’ and without even blinking he said ‘No I prefer to think of myself as more of an alchemist.’”

Extended Maceration

Okay, so let’s delve into a little on this extended maceration thing.

First off, what is maceration? It’s the time during fermentation when the grape skins and colors are left in the juice. Dr. Vinny likens it to steeping tea. http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/42983

You also sometimes hear about “cold soak” or “cold maceration”.  That is when you leave the grapes on the skins in a cold temperature, this keeps them from going into fermentation.  Cold soaks pull color and flavor typically without pulling so much in the way of tannins.

Extending the maceration during fermentation you get more color and flavor from the grape skin and seeds. This can also change the wines texture. You can add complexity, but you can also overdo tannins, which can make the wine astringent where it will overly dry your mouth out. I did read about Polymerization, where the mouth feel is rounded because the tannins form a chain. (This is way sciency and I will do more research and speak more with Scott, because this kind of thing fascinates me).

So Scott, in April, still had grapes macerating from the 2015 harvest. I look forward to tasting these!

The Central Coast Group Project 2012 “Names”  White Hawk Syrah

At the seminar we tasted Scott’s 2012 “Names” White Hawk Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard in Los Alamos. This was his first vintage. He picked all of the grapes on the same day, but separated them into lots according to block and clone. This had a 43-day maceration time, and then aged 20 months in neutral French oak with 18 months on the gross lees and he produced 150 cases.

The Central Coast Group Project has a website at http://www.ccgpwines.com/

They are a working winery and do not have a tasting room, but…they can occasionally do a tasting by appointment. You can reach them at (805) 874-2316.

Be sure to try to get to the next seminar! The Santa Barbara Vintners will have one during the Celebration of Harvest Festival, which happens October 7-10. Here’s a link to more information. http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/

And check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on our visit to Santa Barbara.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 5: Scott Sampler – Central Coast Group Project on White Hawk Syrah

We broke the video of Scott’s portion of the Panel discussion into two parts and the Transcript holds extra information not included in the footage.

The Transcript (with extras)

Wendy Thies Sell: Next up is another wine sourced from White Hawk Vineyard in Los Alamos, Central Coast Group Project’s 2012 “Names” Syrah.

The first time that I met winemaker Scott Sampler was February 8th, 2014. Michael Larner had invited me to come to the Buellton Bodegas, where he and several others make wine. And he said, “You should go meet Scott, you should go taste his wines.” And the door had a big sign, “DO NOT ENTER and or Knock”, and I was afraid of what we were going to find in there. But it was February, and Scott still had Syrah cold soaking in bins in his winery that had not been pressed yet. His 2013 harvest, still wasn’t over in February. He pulled back the plastic covers and I was intoxicated by the aromas. And then we tasted from the barrels and I realized that he was on to something. That wine in the barrel is what we are tasting today. He believes that he is probably the only winemaker, anywhere doing this. 2012 was Scott’s first vintage with this wine label and this is his first time on a wine panel. So thank you so much Scott for debuting your wines with us.

Scott, tell us about this unique, labor-intensive way of making wine.

Scott Sampler: Well I wouldn’t say I’m the only person doing long maceration, skin post fermentation macerations, but now I’m doing 6 month, 7 month macerations and those are a little bit unusual, a lot unusual for red Rhone varietals or just about any varietals. It’s pretty unique in California. There are some crazy Italian wine makers that I’ve liked over the years and that’s kind of where I started, where I got the idea to experiment with this. I kind of like to say that my grandmother taught me how to make wine, ‘cause it’s like cooking sauce. It’s like something that you can understand after fermentation, you stir and taste and as the flavors develop over time then you develop structure and depth and balance and then you press.

Two weeks before the harvest in 2012, I didn’t have a project. The first project that I was in just fell apart and I didn’t have any grape sources and I didn’t have anyplace to make the wines. And so, I started telling people. People like Michael Larner, who I was getting fruit from previously, actually stepped in and figured out a way for me to get fruit. At White Hawk, fortunately it was a bumper crop in 2012. Some of the vineyard managers were able to sculpt areas out of sold out vineyards, where I could get my fruit. White Hawk was definitely one of my favorite vineyards. I’m kind of a younger, …well not in age, but in experience, wine maker and I’d been going to Silver Lake Wines when it opened, and there’s this cool guy, George, he used to be the sommelier at Campanile, the classic restaurant in LA, and he had this dead vintage White Hawk Wines, I mean, it was a dead label. They had made an estate wine and stopped making it. So he had these old vintages, 2002, 2001, and I was tasting these in 2010. I thought the fruit was amazing. It kind of had the structure and the spice and some of the more savory qualities that I like from the Northern Rhone, but it also had the California sunshine beaming through it. So when I came up here, I sought out this fruit. It’s really hard to find, because at that time I guess Mesa Vineyard Care didn’t even have a website. I finally found it and was just lucky that someone was just coming off the vineyard when I made the phone call and got on. The reason why I called it the Group Project was because of the generosity of all these people. I was in a different industry before this and what really struck me, was just how generous the wine culture is in this area, how generous winemakers are with each other in terms of the knowledge of making wine. I just feel greatly honored to be up here with my comrades.

WTS: Scott makes many, many different Syrahs and you’re really focused on Syrah, while you do make other varieties. Tell us about the other wines that you make. There are quite a few.

Scott Sampler: I do mostly red Rhones, so Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, some skin fermented Viognier and a have Merlot, Cabernet, Sangiovese, but this is all coming out later. The 2012 vintage, because I was just scrambling for fruit 2 weeks before harvest, is just all Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre. I essentially made 4 Syrahs from White Hawk. I picked all the fruit on the same day, and then vinified it separately. So different clonal selections, different blocks, all vinified separately, all native ambient yeast, meaning that I don’t inoculate, but you know there’s a lot of yeast floating around in the air. I used to joke that I used the PSA 246 (laughter from the room), Pea Soup Andersens 246 yeast strain, because where I was making the wine that year was very close to Pea Soup Andersens. It was really hot, that fermentation was really hot, and the 2012 ferments were really hot they got into the 90’s. Now I’m making wine at the Buellton Bodegas. I was making wine with Michael Larner at his first spot and then moved with him to the Buellton Bodegas so now my fermentations are a little cooler. This had a 3-day cold soak, it was 43 days on the skin pomace stirring every day and then pressing. Neutral oak 20 months, racked once at 18 and then bottled at 20. Sulfured twice, I don’t use any sulfur through these long extended macerations, I try to keep things alive for as long as possible.

WTS: Scott your 2015 Harvest isn’t over yet is it? (This is April of 2016 keep in mind)

Scott Sampler: No.

WTS: He hasn’t pressed the fruit that was picked yet in 2015.

Scott Sampler: No I’m still totally all in the 2015 harvest, just pushing (Chris Hammell “summer is coming”). I know. At first you start out with a lot of fear that your wine might turn, there’s a lot of risk of oxidation and other bacterial and microbial things that can happen. As I’ve been doing it, I’ve just been able to do it longer and longer and the wine goes through different cycles and so I’m trying to see how far I can go. I like where it’s going, it goes kind of deeper and deeper into the grape. We’ll see, maybe, I don’t know. I’m pushing it to the edge this year. We’ll see what happens.

WTS: The first time I met Scott I said, I was crazy enough to ask him “Are you like a mad scientist in here?” and without even blinking he said “No I prefer to think of myself as more of an alchemist.” So Scott does not have a tasting room but you’ll take people by appointment.

Scott Sampler: I’m happy to show people around if they give me a call and I’m around, I’m happy to introduce people to the winery.

WTS: Thank you Scott.

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Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 4 Larry Schaffer of tercero on White Hawk Vineyard

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 4

Larry Schaffer – tercero on White Hawk Vineyard

This episode of the Syrah Seminar in Santa Barbara includes the conversation with Larry Schaffer of tercero.  He speaks on White Hawk Vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley and his 2011 White Hawk Vineyard Syrah.

Larry is the President of the Santa Barbara Rhone Rangers Chapter, so he is obviously into Rhones. He is passionate about his wines and if you catch him in the tasting room or at an event, you are in for a Great conversation.  We had a chance to speak with Larry last year at the tercero tasting room, here’s a snippet of our conversation about Rhones. https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/terceros-larry-schaffer-love-rhones/

larry schaffer tercero

larry schaffer tercero

Larry sources from Vineyards all over the Santa Barbara area but today he spoke specifically about the Syrah he gets from White Hawk Vineyard.  He tells us about the vineyard and it’s soil, the 2011 vintage, how he makes this wine, as well as giving us insights on why Syrah is currently such a great value.  Below you will find the video and transcript from the Syrah Seminar.

White Hawk Vineyard

White Hawk is located in the Los Alamos Valley on the East side of Highway 101. It is in Cat Canyon in the Northern part of the valley East of Cat Canyon Vineyard. The vines here work extra hard because the soil is so sandy, cuasing low yields and intense berries. It sits at around 900 feet elevation, and the south facing slope gets lots of morning fog.

White Hawk Vineyard on the Santa Barbara Vintners Viticultural Map.

White Hawk Vineyard on the Santa Barbara Vintners Viticultural Map.

This 75 acre vineyard is mostly planted in Syrah with a little Chardonnay. The vines here are custom farmed for the many wineries who source fruit here, including: Herman Story, Longoria, Silver Winery, Wild Horse, Sea Smoke, Sine Qua Non and Andrew Murray, in addition of course to the two wineries pouring Syrah here today, tercero and Central Coast Group Project.

For more on Larry and tercero visit http://www.tercerowines.com/

His tasting room is in Los Olivos where you can find Mae Apple pouring his wines Thursdays through Monday 12 to 5 ish or by appointment.

You won’t find tasting notes here. They encourage guests to discover the flavors without being “lead”.

They are located at 2445 Alamo Pintado Ave, Suite 104, Los Olivos, CA 93441, (the entrance is actually located on San Marcos).

tercero Wines Tasting Room

tercero Wines Tasting Room

Be sure to try to get to the next seminar! The Santa Barbara Vintners will have one during the Celebration of Harvest Festival, which happens October 7-10. Here’s a link to more information. http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/

And check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on our visit to Santa Barbara.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend 2016

Episode 4: Larry Schaffer, Winemaker tercero

 

The Transcript

 

Wendy Thies Sell (WTS): Alright, our next area to visit is Los Alamos, home to White Hawk vineyard. We will taste 2 wines from Whitehawk. First up is tercero’s 2011 White Hawk Syrah.   Wine maker Larry Schaffer studied viticulture and enology at UC Davis. He began his career as the enologist at Fess Parker Winery, before starting his own winery tercero. Larry’s focus is Rhone variety wines and he told me that his goal with every wine is to have it be a transparent look at that vineyard, that vintage, that variety or blend. Larry, thanks for being here and tell us about this wine and working with White Hawk Vineyard fruit.

Larry Schaffer:  Well, thank you Wendy, and I want to thank all the other panelists, and thank all of you guys. It’s always a pleasure to have a number of people in a room talking about Rhone varieties. It doesn’t happen often enough. Before I get into this specific wine, I do think it’s important to give a nod to those that came before us and have really created the ability for us to be sitting up here, talking about these; definitely Bob Lindquist. I think, when you make wine you kind of think “I’ve arrived. I’m able to do what I want to do because I’m here” but really the only reason we’re here making Syrah is by the fact that people before us worked with this variety through thick and thin and have continued to work with this variety. People like Craig Jaffurs, people like Joey Tensley, Doug Margerum, Bob Lindquist and all the folks at Zaca Mesa. So I just kinda want to give a nod to all of them.

So my wine is my 2011 White Hawk Syrah. This is actually a future release. I kinda share the same, some of the same ideologies as Michael Larner in the fact that I like my wines to stay in oak for a long time. So 2011 was a really special vintage. I remember talking to winemakers up north, and by mid October they had picked everything. They got hit with massive rains. It was also a frost year so crop levels were quite low. But as the panelists before me were saying, when it rains in Paso and north, if it rains two inches, we might get a half an inch. We don’t get a lot of rain and one of the great things about Syrah, the clusters tend to be long, they tend to be relatively loose and any wind after a rain as long as its not humid, they’ll dry out, we’ll continue moving forward. So in 2011, I picked these grapes on October 28th, which was relatively late for this vineyard. I started working with this vineyard in 2010. In the one-acre block that I was working with, I got two and a half tons in 2010, in 2011 I got less than one. So I did not have to go through the vineyard like Chris and Trey and knock all the grapes off, there just wasn’t a lot of grapes there for me to work with. I brought the grapes in, partial whole cluster in the bottom of my fermenting bin and then crushed on top of that, cold soaked for a couple of days. I made this wine at Andrew Murray Vineyards production facility and it was a very cold year so the ambient temperature in there was really cold. I waited for about 4 or 5 days for it to kick off and then I inoculated. It was about a 2 week fermentation, manually punched down 2 to 3 times a day, pressed and settled and then barreled down to 3 to 7 year old French Oak barrels. Oak is not a bad thing and I agree with Chris. I personal don’t use new oak, I’ve never used new oak on any of my wines. The newest oak barrel I’ve ever used on my reds is 3 year old oak. I like everything else to shine through and the oak to be in the background. But that’s not to say that oak is a bad thing, I’m not saying that. So again, a cool vintage and what strikes me about this wine, is the acidity. There was great natural acidity in 2011, because of how cold the vintage was all the way though. And I think with Syrah especially, but with all red wines, I think acid is kind of the key to the longevity of it, the liveliness of it. One, more acid is going to mean a lower pH, it’s going to mean that that wine is going to stay fresher longer. The other thing, I don’t rack my wines, so this wine stayed in older French Oak for 30 months. So after it was put into barrel, it stayed in barrel. I topped it, I SO2ed it, but I did nothing else to it until right before bottling when it came out of barrel. By doing that theoretically I keep the wine tighter. You imagine if you take a wine out of barrel you’re decanting the wine. You’re going to move it into a different trajectory. It’s not a better or worse thing, it’s just different. I want to keep my wine as tightly wound as long as I can so that when it gets into bottle, it starts its aging process, because I will keep my wines in barrel for a couple of years and normally in bottle for a couple of years before releasing. Enjoy! Thank you.

WTS: Larry told me that for the price there is no better value in red wine, in California than Syrah. Tell me more about that.

Larry Schaffer: Without a doubt. I mean if you think of the fact, so a couple things. One, and Chris kind of alluded to this, Syrah is a relatively new variety in this country, compared to many other noble varieties that people drink. The first variety labeled Syrah in this country was in the mid 70’s. That’s not that long ago. A lot of the plantings that we’re tasting today were planted 20 years ago and less. And a lot of that is really…it stems from the fact that even in the Rhone, even in the Northern Rhone, the wineries we are talking about like Chave, those wineries were not known in this country very well until the 80’s and the 90’s, when reviewers like Robert Parker started really talking about that region. People had talked about Bordeaux, people had talked about Burgundy, had not really talked about the Rhone. So the Rhone region as a whole, Rhone varieties are still relatively new in this country. But in terms of value, you can certainly spend more than 35 or 40 dollars on a Syrah, you don’t really need to, to get a tremendous wine. And that’s throughout Santa Barbara County and really throughout the state of California and even into Washington. There are places where the prices are going higher than that, but Syrah, really both in Syrah and Syrah blends, offers great value in all different kinds of styles,not cooler climate or warmer climate per se, but everything in between. Because Syrah is a bit of a chameleon, it will grow well anywhere and it really comes down to site and winemaker in terms of determining style, in terms of how ripe they want to get those grapes and how ripe they want to make that wine.

WTS: Briefly tell us about White Hawk Vineyard. It’s very sandy, right?

Larry Schaffer: It is. I’m gonna let this guy next to me talk a little bit more about it, but it is sandy, it was planted in the 90’s. I believe Benjamin Silver of Silver Wines assisted in the planting of it. Similar to Larner, which I also get fruit from, it’s chalky sandy soil. If you drive up the vineyard, you better have a car that can get you through the sand and back down or else you’ll be stranded. It really is amazing, your feet kinda sink in. Because of that I tend to find the grapes have a lower pH higher acidity and lower yields naturally without them having to do too much to the vineyard. The vineyard was planted again in the mid 90’s, planted to a number of different clones of Syrah and that’s what Scott’s going to talk more about.

WTS: Thank you Larry. Larry has a tasting room in Los Olivos.

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April on the Central Coast

I love April. It is a month where Michael and I have a little time to travel. This year, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that we hit the Central Coast. This trip was about taking in all that the Central Coast has to offer. We visited wineries and tasting rooms, yes, but one of the great things about the Central Coast is that the ocean is right there. We had an opportunity to speak with Heather Muran of SLO Wine Country. You may have seen our quick video with Heather talking about the wrap up of the April month long anniversary celebration for “Roll Out the Barrels”. There will be more video with Heather giving us more insights to the SLO Wine Region, but she impressed upon us that one of the most wonderful things about this area is the lifestyle. Many of the winemakers, surf or hike, and Michael and I wanted to take this in. So on our trip we visited wineries, hiked the bluffs trail at Montana de Oro north of Morro Bay, drove the Pacific Coast Highway, stopped in at the Avila Beach tasting rooms and watched a cricket game on the beach!

You’ve seen the beginning of our trip. It started at Santa Barbara’s El Paseo , first with lunch on the rooftop patio of Nordstroms in the historic Presidio district, with a view of the shops, buildings and trailing bouganvilla. The blog post has photos and details of The Wine Collection of the El Paseo with details on tasting at the 6 tasting rooms; Jamie Slone Wines, Margerum, Au Bon Climat, MCW32, Happy Canyon and Grassini Family Vineyards.

After our afternoon at the El Paseo, we wandered back down through the funk zone and onto the pier. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is the perfect place to enjoy some wine and watch the sunset over the water.

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara
Central Coast Wine Country Spring at Tablas Creek

We also spent a bit of time in Paso Robles. Jason Haas, GM of Tablas Creek Vineyards was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to do an interview with us in the vineyard and the winery. It was a fascinating conversation that I look forward to sharing with you.

As I mentioned we did a great interview with Heather Muran the Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association at the beautiful Laetitia Vineyards which is the southern most end of SLO Wine Country. We did a tasting at Claiborne & Churchill where they were doing a “Roll Out the Barrels” Event called “Hit Me”. They are known for their Alsatian style white wines and did a blind tasting of 5 aromatic wines where you had to pick which variety matched each wine. We had a great lunch at Big Sky Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo, which is a great town to stroll through.

Claiborne & Churchill SLO Central Coast Wine Country
Kynsi San Luis Obispo Central Coast Wine Country

Kynsi has a beautiful tasting patio at their vineyard. Don Othman came to the area to start a company to design and manufacture wine making equipment. He created the “Bulldog Pup” which is a widely used racking wand for transferring wine from barrels. He later began making wine and now his daughter Kala and her husband also work in the winery.

We returned for a tasting and a short hike at Laetitia, where you can taste classic sparkling wines and hike part way through the vineyard and see the ocean views. Come through the week if you want to talk wine, the tasting room is bustling on the weekends!

These vineyards are just a few miles from the Central Coast beaches, so after your tasting you have time for a leisurely drive to Pismo or Shell beach to take in the sunset.

Laetitia Central Coast Wine Country
The Hike on the Bluffs at Montana de Oro

The Morro Bay area has a beautiful park that is just south of the Bay called Montana de Oro where you can hike the bluffs at the edge of the ocean. After a little exercise, a drive up the coast exploring the beach towns and catching lunch at a great little beach spot is perfect. We had lunch at Schooners at Cayucos. This place has great views and a very attentive staff. The food is fresh and easy going and if you are there around sunset there is a great view from the upstairs bar.

Schooner's Restaurant in Caucus on the Coast

Continue up the Pacific Coast Highway to Hearst Castle or Cambria or on to Ragged Point for some great views.

We turned around a little past Ragged Point and headed into Paso Robles for dinner at Artisan. You are likely to see a winemaker or two here. The sidewalk patio on the square is nice and it is a great local menu with artisan cheeses, small plates and more. You can enjoy great local wines and they also have flights. A couple of flights and some small plates make for a great evening exploring pairings! And don’t skip the dessert, the bread pudding was delicious.

Artisan Restaurant in Central Coast Wine Country

Avila Beach is a great little secluded getaway on the Central Coast. As you drive in, you pass Apple Orchards where you can pick your own apples, Hot springs where you can lounge at the resort or rent a hot spring tub by the hour. The Bob Jones trail runs from the springs to the beach and is busy on weekend mornings with bicyclists, walkers and dog walkers. Pirates Cove is said to be great for hiking and word has it the secluded beach that you must hike in to, is clothing optional. We parked ourselves at the in Avila beach to watch the ocean and suddenly a group of guys set up a cricket game on the beach in front of us.  Beyond them sail boats from San Luis Harbor were out. After a morning on the beach we had lunch at the Custom House, enjoying live music on the patio and then strolled to several of the wine tasting rooms nearby.

Avila Beach and it's Tasting rooms

The beautiful Peloton Cellars tasting room with it’s bicycle racing theme, attentive and informed pouring staff and really great afternoon light (oh and lovely wines) was our first stop. A little past them there was live music by A Simple Parade in the Morovino tasting room. This tiny tasting room has the winemaker pouring behind the bar, with wines that she makes because she likes them. She has recipe cards for pairing with each of her wines. The tasting room atmosphere was warm and friendly and the music filled the room and kept us all entranced. We headed around the corner to the downstairs Alapay Cellars tasting room with their large Aquarium behind the tasting bar. And our final stop was at Sinor La Vallee’s brand new tasting room. Mike Sinor has worked with Byron, Center of Effort and Ancient Peaks. He now owns the Bassi Vineyard in Avila Valley which is only 1.5 miles from the ocean. After a late day tasting we finished the day on a super casual note with pizza at Mission Pizza and sunset at the beach.

Of course the following weekend was the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring weekend, so we were back to dive into Santa Barbara County. We finally were able to get to the new Alma Rosa Tasting room, conveniently located next to Industrial Eats in Beullton. You are in an industrial area, but when you walk through the door you forget all of that. The center piece of the tasting room is Olivia, their olive tree. There are skylights, beautiful photos of the vineyards and casual seating. You are greeted at the door and your Wine Guide finds you a seat. This is not your typical wine tasting bar. And of course Richard Sanford’s wines are spectacular.

Another one of those iconic Santa Barbara spots that we had not managed to get to yet, was The Hitching Post II. So…we enjoyed dinner there. This place is like a time capsule. The way you saw it in “Sideways” is exactly how it is today. But the food, while in a style of times past, is delicious. The steaks here really are phenomenal. I can’t gush enough quite honestly.

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

We started Saturday bright and early at the Santa Ynez Marriott with a Wine Seminar by the http://www.sbcountywines.com/. Christopher Sawyer moderated a panel of current and previous winemakers at Zaca Mesa including Ken Brown, Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist and Eric Mohseni. We will have a multiple part series coming out with the full Seminar.

It was a grey morning and it rained right up until the Vintners Spring Festival tasting at River View Park in Buellton. The cloud cover kept us from getting sunburned and overheated as we tasted through wines and spoke with winemakers from all over the area.

After the tasting we headed to Los Alamos where Sonja Madjevski was releasing Sonja’s Sonnet at her Babi’s Beer Emporium next to her Casa Dumetz wine tasting room. This was a project with the Libertine Pub Limited release ale fermented & barrel aged in French Oak, brewed with Kiwi, hibiscus, & Mourvedre grapes. This was a great sour beer and the Turkey Buzzards were playing inside and the kitchen was open. We relaxed on stools by the bar on the fence, enjoyed the beer and watched the people go by.

Babi's Beer Emporium Los Alamos Central Coast Wine Country
Ful of Life Flatbread Central Coast Wine Country

Dinner called and when in Los Alamos what better place is there than Full of Life Flatbread. The place is small so there was a wait. So we bellied up to the bar and ordered a couple of glasses of wine. I ordered the Au Bon Climat Aligote that was on tap. Little did I know that when our table was ready, we would have a perfect view of the big wood fired oven and an entire table with Jim Clendenen and his staff behind us. This is Santa Barbara County. It’s rare that you walk into a restaurant and don’t see a winemaker enjoying wine “at table” as it is meant to be with friends or colleagues.

Our flatbread was great and we ordered 2 desserts since we couldn’t decide between them. Another perfect day in wine country.

Sunday had us out in Ballard Canyon doing another great interview with Michael Larner, of Larner Vineyards and Winery, this time focusing on the wines. (Look for that shortly). We then headed out to Sta. Rita Hills to the open house at Hilliard Bruce. I had a chance at the Festival to speak with the owners and winemakers Christine Bruce and John Hilliard, but they were out of town today, so we went to see their beautiful new winery. We had been to the vineyard before and did a post about their detailed viticultural methods, and wanted to see their new winery which is a blend of the practical and the artistically beautiful.

The new Hilliard Bruce Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara

We finished our day tasting in Los Olivos, at Stolpman, Longoria, and Blair Fox, all of which introduced us to more amazing wines.

On our final morning in wine country we headed out to see how the new chardonnay planting at Riverbench was coming along. When we were here last year in June we saw these vines before they went in the ground and have been following their progress. They were pulling off the tubes today and training them up on the trellis’. We drove out onto the Bench in Santa Maria and drove by the Bien Nacido Vineyards before heading back through Foxen Canyon to meet Larry Schaffer of Tercero in his Los Olivos Tasting room. We had a great interview with Larry that will come out shortly, talking about, screw caps, Roussanne, Rhones and so much more. It is always a fascinating conversation with Larry.

So as you can see, we have tons to tell you about our trip to the Central Coast! We will be releasing video’s as soon as they are ready, watch for the Wine Seminar to come out first! Stick with us on the journey..from dirt to glass!

Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

Non traditional Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

So we did a non-traditional Thanksgiving this year. We bagged the turkey and instead did a stuffed flatiron steak, and instead of potatoes for a starchy side, we went with a pumpkin lasagna. We of course tied in some traditional sides with cranberries in red Belgian ale, green beans almandine and a bright arugula salad with flavors of the season with apples, pecans, maple syrup and bacon. So what to pair with our eclectic Thanksgiving? We dug into the cellar and here’s what we decided.

Start with a sparkler!

It’s a celebration and I was ready to celebrate when we finally had dinner complete and ready to eat. We looked in the wine fridge and Michael pulled out a sparkling wine from a very (I mean VERY) small winery called Lumiére in Temecula, California. We did a blog post on them awhile ago which you can read here. Lumiére is only open on weekends and only once have we been able to stop by. The owner and winemaker’s mother, Martha was there pouring. They have a charming tasting room on a hill off of Calle Contento Road on the North side.(more on the winery here). One of the final things we tasted was their Voulez Vous Brut sparkling wine.

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This is a Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc and it was lovely with the salad of arugula, pink lady apples, pecans, maple brown sugar bacon and the dressing of maple syrup and yogurt.

Chardonnay with Pumpkin Lasagna

So an Oaked Chard with a rich cheesy pumpkin lasagna seemed the right choice and allowed us to relish some great memories at the same time. We pulled a bottle of 2011 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay. This Santa Barbara County Chardonnay comes from the Los Alamos Vineyard and was a gift when we stayed at the Clendenen Ranch in the spring. This vineyard is beautiful, take a look at the photo on our homepage. That was the view we were privileged to enjoy. The home is warm and obviously meant for relaxing and entertaining friends & family. There is history here also. The first Au Bon Climat Winery was in a small barn that you can see from the house. The story, as Marissa told us is, after long days of harvest the folks that owned the house on the hill and had the olive orchards would invite the entire gang up for dinner. When the owner was looking to sell the property,s Jim Clendenen quickly bought it up, as it was filled with so many fond memories. The previous owner still makes olive oil from the olives on the trees, which you can find in her olive oil tasting room in Los Alamos called Global Gardens.

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This Chardonnay is one of their Historic Vineyard Collection Wines. They harvest by hand, gently press and then ferment in 75% new French Oak and leave them in these barrels to age surlee for another year.  The amazing thing about this wine is that you get the richness of the oak and a full nose and then it is beautiful and bright on the palate. If you ever want to explain to someone what French Oak is…pour a glass of this and stick their nose in it.  Au Bon Climat has a tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara and a history that is as rich and exciting as their wines.

So as a pairing the richness of the nose of the Chardonnay, went beautifully with the lasagna and then the brightness of the wine on the palate kept you from getting bogged down in all of that glorious cheese! One sip had your palate reinvigorated for another decadent bite.  The Lasagna was more than just pumpkin too. We did 3 different types of puree, pumpkin, queensland blue and sweetmeat. Each got a layer in the lasagna between layers of ricotta, parmesan and fontina.

Stuffed Flatiron Steak Screams for a Red

This recipe called for a dry red wine. While it suggested a not too fruity Syrah or Zin…Michael found a beautiful 2008 Ferrari-Carano Merlot. We opened this way early to start cooking with it and give the wine time to open up. We have a history here too. While working on Smokey Joe’s Café in Reno we were at the El Dorado Casino, which is owned by the Ferrari-Carano’s and got hooked on their wines there. We have since made a couple of trips to their Northern Sonoma Vineyard and Winery.

So these steaks are flatiron steaks which are a shoulder cut. They are pounded out and filled with a stuffing of toasted bread in olive oil, prunes rehydrated with the red wine, rosemary, roasted chestnuts, pancetta, pecorino, salt, pepper & cayenne. The Merlot went beautifully with this.

So there you have it. A feast to be thankful for with beautiful pairings that brought back great memories of visits to 3 different areas of California Wine country.   Now that’s a perfect Thanksgiving.

For more information on these wine regions:

http://www.temeculawines.org

Santa Barbara Vintners

Sonoma.com

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You can find more great Farm to Table recipes on our sister site  4Farm2Mrkt

ABC and a stroll up State Street

Au Bon Climat

So…we had lunch out on Stearns Wharf and enjoy the view and then do a tasting at the ever so kitschy Municipal Winemakers and now we decide to head to Au Bon Climat or ABC as they call it here.

Jim Clendenen is well known in the wine world.  He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in Pre-Law in 1976 and the world should be very grateful that he found another path.  A “junior year abroad” trip to France had him falling in love with wine.   He was the Assistant Winemaker at Zaca Mesa for 3 seasons beginning in 1978.  (We will get back to Zaca Mesa later!)  Mr. Clendenen has been at the forefront of putting Santa Barbara County on the map as a wine region.  His restrained manner of making wines has given him plenty of ups and downs with reviews as tastes changed, but he has persisted and continues to make beautiful balanced wines that age well.  He looks like a bit of a hippy with his shoulder length hair, beard and typically a Hawaiian style shirt.  He founded ABC in 1982.

Au Bon ClimatTo get there from “The Funk Zone” I figured we would walk State Street.  I was a little nervous about having to get to the other side of the freeway, but there is a gorgeous underpass with bougainvillea to get you there past the Reagan Ranch Center.  State Street is a lovely walk with great shops, restaurants, Café’s with sidewalk seating and beautiful older buildings.  It was a great walk but we were not prepared for it to be as long as it was!  We found the 2nd Starbucks (the one on your right, not your left as the pourer at Municipal directed) and turned left on De la Guerra St.  A right on Anacapa put us in front of Au Bon Climate and Margerum.  With only time for one tasting room, we went into Au Bon Climat and stepped up to the tasting bar.  The tasting room is lovely with two tasting bars and a table with chairs, which when we walked it was strewn with AVA and vineyard maps (got to love that!). We tasted through the regular menu that is far more than Au Bon Climat wines.  On this day it included 3 other labels: ICI/ La-Bas, Clendenen Family Vineyards and Il Podere Dell’ Olivos.

Au Bon Climat Bar

Au Bon Climat Bar

The Tastings:

  • 2011 Clendenen Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. This Sauvignon Blanc was grown at Mesa Verde in the Santa Ynez valley.   After whole cluster fermentation it settled in 500 liter Hungarian oak with racked lees to add a bright clean finish.  A really lovely Sav Blanc.
  • 2009 Au Bon Climat Hildegard white table wine. This wine is 50% Pinot Beurot (a burgundian clone of Pinot Gris), 30% Pinot Blanc grown at Bien Nacido and 20% Aligote.   It was predominantly fermented in new Francois Frères barrels with malolactic fermentation.
  • 2010 Au Bon Climat XXX anniversary Chardonnay. They believe that the structured winemaking style behind this wine should make this age until their 50th anniversary.  The blend is 44% Chardonnay from Le Bon Climat & 56% from the Bien Nacido K block.  It is aged 18 months in new Francois Frères barrels and then is bottled with no filtration.
  • 2008 Au Bon Climat Los Alamos Pinot Noir.  These vines were planted in 1972 and with warmer days and cooler nights the grapes are able to reach incredible concentration and balance.
  • 2009 ICI La-Bas Pinot Noir is grown in the Anderson Valley in the Elke Vineyard in northern California near Mendocino.  This is aged in 75% Francois Frères new oak barrels.
  • 2005 Clendenen Family Vineyards Syrah/Viognier.  Grown in the Clendenen organic ranch near Los Alamos.  This low alcohol wine is co-fermented.
  • 2005 Il Podere Dell’ Olivos Teroldego.  This is an extremely rare world-class wine grape that makes a wine that is rich and darkly colored.  The grape originated in the grape-growing region of Rotaliano located in northeastern Italy.  2005 vintage is blue black in color dense and well extracted with blackberry and plum notes.  It has a full inky texture complimented by silky finesse.

All of the wines were wonderful.  Each balanced and with it’s own character.  Our pourer was happy to give us details on the wines as we tasted. He also gave us his card for a 2 for 1 tasting at Qupe where we were dashing off to next.  Jim Clendenen and Qupe’s Bob Lindquist are old friends both coming out of Zaca Mesa (we had a great Zaca Mesa Chardonnay when we ate at The Poppy Den) and both celebrating 30 years in winemaking this year.  Realizing we were running short on time, we made the trek back in cut time!  I look forward to coming back to Santa Barbara and spending a few days so we have time to stroll from tasting room to tasting room enjoying the sites.