Crawford Family Wines

Crawford Family Wines Tasting Room Los Olivos Santa Barbara County

Celebration of Harvest with the Santa Barbara Vintners is upon us and with the endless number of wineries in the Santa Barbara Valley, there are plenty to explore.  On our last trip we made a new discovery, as we visited Crawford Family Wines in Los Olivos.

Mark Horvath is the owner and winemaker at Crawford Family Wines.  That being so, you might ask where the name for the winery came from.  Well before Crawford Family Wines, Mark had another winery with Joey Gummere (who now runs his own winery Transcendence).  They spent a bit of time batting around names for their collaborative venture, mixing and matching their names and they came up with Kenneth Crawford.  Not names either of them were really known by, Kenneth is Joey’s first name, but he doesn’t go by it and Crawford is Mark’s mother’s maiden name but together…it sounded pretty cool, better than Gummere and Horvath or Mark & Joey, that was for sure.  So when opening his own winery Mark figured he would stick with the Crawford, and Crawford Family Wines was born.

Mark Horvath, Crawford family Wines speaking at the Santa Barbara Vintners Syrah Seminar April 2016

Mark and his wife Wendy have been in the wine industry for a while.  Spent time immmersed in the industry in Sonoma, with Mark working at Carmenet Winery, learning the cellar, the lab and then taking UC Davis courses.  It was at UC Davis, that he ran into a bunch of Santa Barbara Winemakers.  Mind you, back then there was not alot of buzz about Santa Barbara, but these winemakers had a passion and Mark and Wendy found themselves drawn to the area.  Mark worked at Babcock as the assistant winemaker, then started Kenneth Crawford with Joey Gummere and recently has worked at Tres Hermanas as the winemaker.Wendy has a background in the restaurant industry, she worked at The French Laundry and at Santa Barbara’s Wine Cask and has done work with a wine distributor.

The focus at Crawford Family Wines is Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills, many of which are vineyard specific.  They also do a Chardonnay from Rita’s Crown.  Outside of the Burgundian wines, they have an Albarino, a Rosé and a couple of Rhones.  We enjoyed a Syrah Seminar on the range of Santa Barbara Syrahs in April of 2016 and Mark spoke about the cool climate Syrah he was making from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

Crawford Family Wines Los Olivos Santa Barbara County Tasting Room

Tin Roof and all at the Crawford Family Wines Tasting Room in Los Olivos

The day we walked into the tasting room was a Monday and we were lucky enough to find Wendy manning the tasting room.  On the outside the building is rustic with a tin roof and wood siding, and beautifully manicured plants.  When you walk in the tasting room is clean and bright with white walls with large vivid photography gracing the walls.  While clean and sharp it’s also warm and welcoming.

We had a wonderful conversation with Wendy while tasting through their wines.

Speaking of the Wines….

 

Crawford Family Wines 2016 Albariño

Yeah, one of these things is not like the others…but this is a great wine and a great grape that is getting more traction in Santa Barbara.  The grapes for this particular wine come from Brick Barn Vineyard, which is located just outside the Sta. Rita Hills AVA in Buellton.  The entire vineyard is 50 acres on a former horse and cattle ranch.  This is only the 2nd crop of this grape.  It is fermented in Stainless steel and is bright and crisp with a some lemon, some peaches and florals.  This is what I would consider a Zesty wine.

$28.00

2015 Tin Shack Chardonnay

This wine comes from the Sta. Rita Hills, from Rita’s Crown.  As the name indicates this vineyard sits on the highest point in the region, the “Crown” in Sta. Rita.  The vineyard sits at 600 to 1000 feet and has diatomaceous soil.  Close to the ocean, you find fossilized seashells here.  It has southwest facing slopes and is surrounded by other well known, dare I say “famous” vineyards in the area, like Sea Smoke, La Rinconada, Sanford & Benedict and Fiddlestix.

This wine is called “Tin Shack” because it is fermented in Stainless Steel, then put into neutral oak for a year.  Only 180 cases were produced.  This is meant to get the best of both worlds with fermentation and winemaking technique.  The stainless steel fermentation captures the essence of the soil, the bright acidity and aromatics.  The year it spends in barrel on the lees softens it and adds some complexity giving you that baking spice on the nose.

The label for this wine as well as for the Walk Slow Pinot were done by Wendy’s Brother.

$42.00

2016 Rosé

This wine comes from probably the warmest vineyard that they source from.  It is a Grenache rosé from Mesa Verde Vineyard, which is one of the southern-most vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, sitting just west of Sunstone.  They picked early to keep the brightness, but because it is the southern part of the valley, the fruit developed some of those riper flavors.

$25.00

2013 Bentrock Pinot Noir

This is single vineyard wine from Bentrock Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.  Bentrock was formerly known as Salsipuedes.  This is the far South West corner of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation and is close to the ocean catching daily cold ocean winds (not breezes).  This is a lean and earthy Pinot Noir, with minerality.  This is a wine that has capture the terroir, you can taste the wind, the ocean, the reach for the warmth of sunlight.

$52.00

2014 Pinot Noir, Walk Slow

This Pinot is a blend of fruit from Bentrock and Babcock Vineyards.  It does 30% whole cluster fermentation and is 75% Babcock fruit which is clone 115 and 24% Bentrock which is clone 667.  Both vineyards are in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, but Babcock sits down in the valley on the route 246 where as Bentrock is up on the far west end of Santa Rosa Road.

This is 30% new french oak, which is the only new oak in his winemaking program.  It spends 16 months in barrel.  The fruit from these two different vineyards balance each other.  With a beautiful nose of black tea with woods and dark cherry and cherries and tart red fruit in your mouth.  (My mouth is watering just thinking about this wine and I’m kicking myself for not leaving with a bottle!)

The name of this wine “Walk Slow” is Mark’s reminder to himself to slow down and enjoy.  This is a wine that opens up with layer upon layer, you have to slow down and experience it as it changes in your glass.

$48.00

2014 Second Street Cuvée

The Second Street Cuvée is a GSM blend, in a Cotes-du-Rhone Style. It is named after the “Second Street” where their winery is located in Buellton.

It is 60% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre from Lavando and Shokrian Vineyards.  Lavando is a small vineyard that is planted at a friends ranch just outside the Ballard Canyon AVA.  Shokrian is in Los Alamos and is owned by Babak Shokrian and was previously Verna’s Vineyard, owned by Melville.  This vineyard sits across the road from White Hawk Vineyard on Cat Canyon Road.  So there is a bit of distance between where the fruit grew.  The fruit came from hillside blocks together give this wine an earthy fruit quality, that is very food friendly.

$32.00

This tasting room is not on Grand Avenue, the main road in town, but is a block over on the main cross street Alamo Pintado.  If you find your self at the flagpole, head east on Alamo Pintado (past Panino) and cross San Marcos Ave.  It will be on your left past Blair Fox Cellars.  It is well worth the stroll to the outer edges of the town.  If you are hungry after your tasting, I recommend the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe, where they often serve Crawford Family Wines by the glass.

Celebration of Harvest Weekend which is coming up September 29th through October 1st, is a great opportunity to taste a variety of the amazing wines from this area and get to meet some of the winemakers.  There is so much to this amazing area you could spend weeks here and not see it all (trust me, we’ve tried).  So take the weekend and learn about this amazing wine region that is practically in LA’s backyard.  There are beautiful wines being made here and there is something for everyone.

You can find out more on the Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest site, where you can see the entire schedule for the weekend, buy tickets for the events and purchase your passport for the weekend.

And be sure to stop back here!  We look forward to sharing with you all of our adventures during the Celebration of Harvest.

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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Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 5 – Santa Barbara County

Coast Oak Foxen Canyon road San Rafael Mountains Santa Barbara County

We are winding up our Flash Tour of the Central Coast and Beyond in Santa Barbara County.  This was our final day of fun, before we made the drive home to Vegas.  This final day allowed us a little less driving.

Day 5 Solvang, Santa Barbara County and Los Olivos

Solvang

Day 5 started with a stroll of the charming city of Solvang in the morning. The sun was out, the temperature was just right and it was the perfect way to start the day. Nestled in the middle of Santa Barbara County, Solvang feels like you have stepped into another world.  This historic Danish Village in the middle of California was founded by Danish-Americans in 1911.  Solvang translates to “sunny field” in Danish.  The town has embraced the Danish Architecture and the town is dotted with windmills.  The streets are enchanting and you can find aebleskivers (a Danish dessert that is like a donut hole) at many restaurants.  If you enjoy shopping or window shopping, you will be in heaven.  There is a store for everything here.  Walking the town you will find courtyards and corners to explore. Or you can rent a bicycle or a 4-wheeled surrey! They have an outdoor theatre, the Solvang Festival Theatre that runs productions throughout the summer.  Every Wednesday there is a Farmers Market in Solvang Park in the afternoons. There are great restaurants, wine tasting rooms and really, something for everyone.

Foxen Canyon to the Santa Maria Bench

We finished our walk and got in the car again to head up into Foxen Canyon.  With over 200 wineries, 6 AVAs, and over 21,000 acres of vineyards Santa Barbara County has quite a bit of area to explore.  We had limited time so we headed north from Solvang.  We took Ballard Canyon Road though the Ballard Canyon AVA which is known for it’s Syrah, and noticed that Larner Vineyard had netted for birds.  As the fruit starts to sweeten the birds like to feast so the green netting helps to keep them out and save the fruit.  At the top of the Canyon we stopped for another gorgeous view from above Saarloos & Sons beautiful Windmill Ranch Vineyard.

Foxen Canyon Road is a beautiful drive with the San Rafael Mountains on the right and views of Firestone, Curtis (where Andrew Murray has his winery) and Koehler Vineyards as you round the curve to meet with Zaca Station Road.  This is a perfect drive to get a sense of the sweeping area that Santa Barbara County covers.

We had some vines to visit at Riverbench to see how they were growing. Back in 2014 we watched as they planted a new front block.   Still in Santa Barbara County, this does take you into the Santa Maria AVA.  You can see below how much these vines have grown since we saw them as babies in 2014.

We continued into the Santa Maria AVA to see how Bien Nacido Vineyard was doing after the Alamo fire. The Whittier fire pulled much of the fire department away and vineyard staff worked very hard to keep the vines at Bien Nacido safe.  This is a revered vineyard and you will find it’s name on some of the best labels.  We met Chris Hammell their vineyard manager at a Syrah Seminar.  While they are known for their Pinot Noir, they are also growing some amazing Syrah.  You can hear Chris talk about it here.

Los Olivos

From here we headed back to Los Olivos where you can find the largest selection of Santa Barbara County Tasting rooms within walking distance of each other.  After a walk about town we headed to Crawford Family Wines for a tasting. We had met Mark Horvath, owner and winemaker a while ago at a Syrah Seminar at the Spring Vintners Festival and had wanted to get by to taste his wines. His wife Wendy was manning the tasting room and we had a great conversation and tasting with her.

We stopped at Larner for a tasting and to have lunch out front on the patio in front of the Los Olivos General Store.  This sits on the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Avenue by the flagpole in the center of town.  You get the view of Andrew Murray’s Tasting Room across the street among others.

Larner Tasting Room Los Olivos General Store View Santa Barbara County

The view from lunch with a tasting at Larner Vineyards Tasting Room in Los Olivos

We then finished out the day at the best place to finish your day in Los Olivos, Carhartt’s. It’s just down the block on Grand Ave.  They stay open a little later than the other tasting rooms and get pretty busy at the end of the day.  They have the tiniest tasting room (you can squish 5 people in if you try really hard, but the back patio here has a bit more space and is heaven.  Joe, as always, took great care of us.

Los Olivos Carhartt Tasting Room Santa Barbara County

Carhartt’s, the “World’s smallest tasting Room”.

As you can see, we had to gloss over most areas. You could easily spend 2 to 3 days or more in each area. We put almost 2000 miles on the Prius, but we tasted a variety of wines and saw an amazing portion of the beautiful state of California. Day 6 was the drive back to Vegas.  We soaked in as much of the coast as we could on the drive.  But this was just the quick version of the trip. Check back here as we delve into the details on each of the places we visited.

For more information on the wonderful wineries in Santa Barbara County visit http://www.sbcountywines.com/

The Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest is coming up September 29th to October 2, 2017 and it is a great time to visit.  You can attend the Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country Event and enjoy wines from 50 of the different wineries in the region on September 29th in downtown Santa Barbara.  And there are event all over the region during the weekend where you will learn more about the wines, wineries and winemakers.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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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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Larner Fête 2016, Santa Barbara County

Larner fete, how it came to be

Larner Fête 2016

A celebration with 7 Winemakers each making wine from fruit sourced from Larner Vineyard

fête

a celebration or festival

from the Old French feste and the Middle English feast.

Tables at the entrance to the yard held sparkling wine glasses for the guests

You could smell the smoke from the grill and the portable wood fired pizza oven followed by the aroma of things set to make your mouth water. The buildings remind you of a small western town, with the barn looming in the center, filled with tables, each with it’s own winemaker, each serving a wine they created from grapes grown at this vineyard.

The food by Autostrada Wood Fired Pizza & Amaranto Catering

The beautiful Larner Vineyard Grounds and barn make an enchanting and welcoming place for an event like this.

Click below to dive into the visuals of the event or scroll down below it to read the rest of the story!

Larner Fête 2016

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Casa Dumetz

Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz pulls Grenache from Larner. She brought a 2014 Larner Grenache, and then a 2014 Grenache that is blended from 5 vineyards, all in Ballard Canyon (including Larner). All the grapes were picked on the same day, did a 5 day cold soak, were treated the same and then blended. She also had a GSM made with Larner Grenache.

Casa Dumetz 2014 Larner Grenache, a Ballard Canyon Grenache and a GSM.

McPrice Myers

McPrice “Mac” Myers began winemaking in the Santa Maria Valley. When he moved his winery to Paso Robles (he’s in the Adelaida AVA now) he still felt the pull of the fruit in Santa Barbara.

“Hommage a Stevan Larner” was first introduced in 2006 to honor Stevan Larner who planted Larner Vineyard in 1998. 2012 marked the tenth year Mac purchased fruit from the vineyard and he brought back Hommage a Stevan Larner to commemorate this. Mac will continue to produce this wonderful blend every vintage going forth. This is a Grenache Syrah blend. He also does a Larner Syrah.

Central Coast Group Project

Scott Sampler is exploring extended mascerations. His winery is in the Buellton Bodegas that Michael Larner founded, and is called the Central Coast Group Project. He feels that his wines are not produced by only him, rather it is a group effort with all the people from growers to all the people involved in helping to get the fruit in, the wine made and beyond.

“at the Central Coast Group Project (CCGP), the goal is simple: we hope our love of wine, generosity of spirit and humble efforts in the cellar fully translate to your glass, transporting you, if only for a sip, to the golden age… scott sampler, winemaker/proprietor”

Kaena

Mikael Sigouin of Kaena has been pulling fruit from Larner since the beginning. He is known as the “Grenache King” and the fruit from this vineyard is his favorite.

It is incredibly hard to get into the Grenache blocks at Larner and Mikael shared with us the story of how he managed to get the “Primo” block.

It seems that in the hecticness of harvest, someone accidentally picked his block. He got there and all the fruit was gone. The Larners were devasted about this mistake and asked what they could do to make it up to him. He asked for their best Grenache block in the future and so it has been ever since.

This block is located at the highest and steepest section of this amazing site, where the soil is a 7-foot deep bed of sand and then the vines hit limestone. It has the lowest yielding clone of Grenache #362. Great fruit, makes great wine.

tercero

Larry Schaffer of tercero was pouring and speaking passionately about wine. Again, he was pouring wines made from Larner grapes. He has a stunning 2011 Grenache from Larner that he says is the best Grenache he has made to date. 2011 was a cool year and these grapes were ripening into November. He only produced 3 barrels of this amazing stuff and we were thrilled to be able to taste it.

Oh, and do you see that loaf of bread in front of Larry? Yeah, he bakes too. If you are lucky he might be in his tasting room with a loaf when you drop by.

Larry is a champion of Rhones and leads the Santa Barbara Rhone Rangers. Click through to hear Larry speak on his love of Rhones varieties.

The Craig Jaffurs story

He escaped from a life as a cost analyst in the aerospace industry. After 17 years of that, he started life again, as a cellar rat at Santa Barbara Winery, and ended up deciding on a career in wine. In 1994 he made a Santa Barbara County Syrah that got great reviews in both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate.

Craig himself was behind the table pouring the wines. This may have been a lucky last sighting, in August of 2016 he sold his winery in a rare (at least these days) family to family deal with Daniel Green. He is remaining with the winery through the first year of transition and then will sit on the board indefinitely. Perhaps he just needs a change every 17 years. Regardless it was great to have an opportunity to speak with him.

Larner Vineyard

Ah…then you have the Larner wines. Michael grows Rhone varieties, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier, as well as a little Malvasia Bianca. Michael was instrumental in the creation of the Ballard Canyon AVA which is becoming more and more well known for their world class Syrah.

Michael spoke with us about this gathering of winemakers after the party.

 

 

Music was by Ruben Lee Dalton Band

a stage was set for the band, that spilled over onto the back of a flatbed truck to provide enough space.

The beautiful Coastal Oak in the Larner Vineyard

Want to know more about the Santa Barbara Wine Region? You can find plenty of information on our website. And while you are at it, follow us on Facebook or Instagram for great information on wine and the people and places behind the wines.

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Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend 2016

Larner Vineyard

This past weekend was the time for our Annual trip to Santa Barbara for the Vintners Spring Weekend.  The weekend was filled with great food, great wine and great people.  We will start out with the overview here and then you can look forward to in depth posts on the winemakers we met and the events we attended coming up.

We started out early, the drive from Vegas is long, and arrived to the City of Santa Barbara in time for lunch.  The coastal winds were kicking up and we were probably some of the last diners of the day to be able to enjoy the outdoor patio at Moby Dick’s.  Then we took the beautiful drive up 154 through the San Marcos Pass to Los Olivos.  We did a tasting with Mae Apple at Tercero and picked up a Magnum of Larry’s Abberation for the Big Bottle Bash.  Larry was there and waxed poetic on Roussanne.  He is always fascinated to listen to.

The Big Bottle Bash

The kickoff event of the Vintners Spring Weekend was the Big Bottle Bash at Presqu’ile.  This event was sponsored by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce.  Presqu’ile is a beautiful Vineyard and Winery in the Santa Maria Valley with gorgeous views, beautiful gardens and amazing hospitality.  We had been lucky enough to attend an event here on the Key to Wine Country Weekend held up on the crush pad, where 4 winemakers compared wines that they had made from the Presqu’ile vineyards.  The Big Bottle bash began with a cocktail hour on the Presqu’ile members patio. There were lots of bottles open, a fire in the fire pit, blue skies and great conversations.  We tasted through a Transcendence Grenache Rose, a Sandhi Chardonnay and a Presqu’ile Pinot Noir before Matt Murphy of Presqu’ile welcomed us and ushered us into the Tasting room for dinner.

View of the San Rafael Mountains from Presqu'ile Winery

View of the San Rafael Mountains from Presqu’ile Winery

This dinner by Chef Nick Barainca was served family style at two long tables and the magnums of wine were poured by several amazing Somms, including Rajat Parr who is also the owner of Sandhi, Dustin Wilson (from the Movie Somm) and Eric Railsback, one of the founders of Les Marchands in Santa Barbara and a founder of Lieu Dit Winery.  There were amazing wines poured.. a Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc (they focus on Loire Valley style wines), a Le Bon Climat Pinot Noir (That is from the Clendennen Family Vineyards),  a Pinot from a Vineyard near Sea Smoke that Raj Parr was pouring that might have been from Sandhi, but I am not sure, a Chateauneuf de Pape that someone had amazingly brought with them and a Dragonette wine.  All of the wines were delicious and several were really interesting for a couple of reasons that I will elaborate on.  One of the guests at our table, Eric works with the winemaker at CCGP (Central Coast Group Project).  Scott Sampler of CCGP will be someone you will hear us speak more of here, and we look forward to following his wines.  Scott is playing with masceration times.  Masceration is the process of soaking the skins, stems and seeds to extract flavor and tannins at the beginning of the winemaking process.  Extended mascerations can be anywhere from 7 to 44 days.  Scott poured a Grenache that had a 100 day masceration period and a GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend) that had been 120 days in masceration.  I look forward to tasting his wines as they age and he experiments further.  Lastly we also tasted the wine we brought, Aberration from Tercero.  For this wine Larry was experimenting with how long you could leave a red wine in stainless steel.  This wine is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache & Mourvedre aged in stainless steel for 4 months.  This wine is fresh and bright and drinks a little like a deep rose.  It’s great slightly chilled and perfect for summer.  Dinner was dazzling and there will be more on that later.

Wine Seminar on Syrah

Saturday morning started off early with the Wine Seminar. This year the panel discussed Syrah in Santa Barbara County.  Wendy Thies Sell did a magnificent job moderating the panel of 7 winemakers, growers and owners from all over Santa Barbara.  We tasted 8 Syrahs from various areas within the Region, from cooler to warmer climates.  There were wines from SAMsARA and Crawford Family Wines in the Sta. Rita Hills, Central Coast Group Project and Tercero Syrahs from White Hawk Vineyard in the Los Alamos Valley, Bien Nacido and Qupe Syrahs from the Santa Maria Valley and Larner and Stolpman Syrahs from Ballard Canyon an AVA that identifies itself as “Syrah Territory”.  All the wines were wonderful and they were all different, some dramatically so.  Watch back for more details on this seminar and more information on the winemakers and wines.

Santa Barbara Vintners 2016 Wine Seminar on Syrah

Santa Barbara Vintners 2016 Wine Seminar on Syrah

The Grand Tasting

From the Seminar we headed straight to the Vintners Spring Weekend Grand Tasting at Riverview Park in Buellton.  This years event was set up by Wine Trails instead of alphabetically. For some trails this was great being able to taste wines from the same area made by different wine makers.  For other trails like Lompoc or Los Olivos which are not located by vineyards, you could enjoy the great diversity of wine styles in this area.  As always there was great food and music and so many winemakers to speak with.  Some highlights of our tastings included Ca’ Del Grevino, Demetria, DV8 Cellars, Ferguson Crest, Lieu Dit, Refugio Ranch Vineyards, Solminer, Toretti Family Vineyard and Transcendence.   We had been challenged at the Big Bottle Bash by Eric who we sat with to spend the Grand Tasting tasting with wineries that we had never tried before and we did this for the most part.  Check back as we delve further into some of our new discoveries.

Lunch at the 2016 Spring Grand Tasting with Santa Barbara Vintners

Lunch at the 2016 Spring Grand Tasting with Santa Barbara Vintners

Dinner out (at SY Kitchen)

After the Grand Tasting it was time to think about dinner.  Michael wanted to continue the trend of trying something new and challenged me to find someplace for dinner where we had not eaten before.  We ended up with fewer options than we expected (we’ve eaten at quite a few restaurants in the Valley).  We settled on SY Kitchen in Santa Ynez and were not disappointed.  Outside the restaurant is unassuming, but as you stroll through the gate you see cozy outdoor lounge seating all around the yard.  The entrance takes you to the bar area and from there you are ushered about the house to your seating area.  We were on the partially enclosed patio which was perfect.  We skipped appetizers to save room for dessert (Thank goodness!).  We shared the parpadelle special with scallops and asparagus paired with a Grimm’s Bluff Savignon Blanc and the Gnocchi alla Salsaccia with tomato, sausage and smoked ricotta with a 2007 Arcadian Syrah from the Santa Ynez Valley.  Both pairings were lovely and I was not familiar with either of these Wineries…so I have more research to do and you can look forward to finding out more about Arcadian and Grimm’s Bluff with me!  The pastas were delicious and not too heavy so we could dive happily into dessert!  We chose a glass each of the 2004 Vin Santo from Tuscany and the Passito di Pantelleria from Sicily. Then we asked our waiter for his help in pairing a dessert with these. He recommemded the Fresh Berry Plate with handmade coconut gelato, balsamic and hibiscus to pair with the Passito and the Home made Vanilla Panna Cotta with caramel and ladies’ kisses crunch with the Vin Santo.  So needless to say…you can expect a future post on Italian dessert wines!

Dinner at SY Kitchen with parpadelle and scallops and Gnocchi with sausage

Dinner at SY Kitchen with parpadelle and scallops and Gnocchi with sausage

Vin Santo, Passito di Pantelleria, Fresh Berry Plate and Homemade Vanilla Panna Cotta at SY Kitchen

Vin Santo, Passito di Pantelleria, Fresh Berry Plate and Homemade Vanilla Panna Cotta at SY Kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Larner Fête

Sunday we attended the Larner Fête out at the Larner Vineyard.  Vintners Spring Weekend is a great time for wineries to hold events, and Sunday is perfect as everyone is looking for a great way to spend the last day of the weekend.  This event brought together 6 winemakers plus Michael Larner tasting wines made from Larner Vineyard Grapes.  These winemakers included: Larry Schaffer from Tercero, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Mac Myers of McPrice Myers, Craig Jaffurs of Jaffurs, Mikael Sigouin of Kaena, Scott Sampler of Central Coast Group Project and of course Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard and Winery.  We had amazing conversations with all of the winemakers and you can look forward to posts on each of them coming up.   The event was held in the barn which hopefully one day will be converted into the Larner Winery.  There was food from Autostrada who did wood fired pizzas and an array of sliders from Amaranto Catering and it was all delicious. The Ruben Lee Dalton Band played original music on a stage and a flatbed truck bed in front of the barn with picnic tables and umbrellas for relaxing between tastings.

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We wrapped up our weekend with an interview with Michael Larner which will kick off an educational series on Syrah that will be coming up.

A weekend in Santa Barbara is always amazing. This place is filled with great food, wine and people.  Big shout out to Morgen of the Santa Barbara Vintners for putting together such a great Vintners Spring Weekend.  Keep in mind though, anytime is a good time to get to Santa Barbara Wine Country.  If you want a big event, the Celebration of Harvest Weekend will be coming up in the fall.  But don’t wait, there are Multiple Wine Trails and tasting rooms to be explored, pick a weekend…or there are many tasting rooms that are even open during the week.  Trust me, you will need years to explore them all.

We obviously have quite a bit more to share about this trip, so follow us on Facebook or Twitter to catch all of our posts!

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Tercero’s Larry Schaffer on his love of Rhones

tercero Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country

Santa Barbara Wine Country has a cast of wildly eclectic characters.  When you think of those characters, Larry Schaffer always comes to mind. Last year we had a wonderful opportunity to speak with Larry Schaffer who is the owner and winemaker at tercero.  It was the Spring Vintners Weekend and on top of everything else, Larry had an out of town wine tasting dinner to pour his wines at.  None the less, he made time for us.  We met Maeapple at his tasting room and she took us through a tasting before Larry arrived.  Larry is graduate of the UC Davis program for Viticulture and Enology.  He is passionate about many things; wine, of course, screw caps and as we discuss with him here, Rhones.

“So I started doing Rhones. My Masters thesis was on tannin development in Syrah. And so I fell in love with Syrahs throughout the state of California. Had a couple of Grenaches that really intrigued me. My favorite wines of all time have been old world Chateau Neufs. To me there is something magical aromatically about those wines and how they develop. I love gentle giant wines that continue to expand and twist and turn and I find Rhones do that more than other varieties do.

I’m also a fan of underdogs and making Rhones in a region that is not known for Rhones is basically being an underdog. Starting off making wine you kind of have to find a niche. It can’t be what everyone else is doing, so for me that’s kind of where I got my start. That’s why I started doing what I did. And the more I did it the more variety I saw in those varieties, the more I continue to fall in love with it. I’m on the board of directors for the Rhone Ranger, I’m the President of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Rhone Rangers.. Rhones are definitely my passion.

I hope to never get bored with doing it in Santa Barbara County. Such diverse soils climates terroir whatever you want to say. And our vintages have been so varied that there has been no similarity over the last decade of any individual wine that I have made. I enjoy that.”

You can often find Larry at his tercero Tasting room in Los Olivos.  It is off the beaten path at 2445 Alamo Pintado Ave, suite 104 (find the entrance on San Marcos).  They are open Thursday through Monday from noon to about 5 pm or you can call them at 805-245-9584 and set an appointment.  If Larry is not there Maeapple with take great care of you.  We did a pairing with the tercero 2013 Mourvedre Rose from Vogelzang Vineyard in Happy Canyon, that you can check out here.

One of the most beautiful things about Santa Barbara County Wines is that the winemakers are passionate AND accessible.  They love to speak about their wines and this region.  When you go to the Grand Tasting either in the Spring or at Harvest, you will often find the winemaker themselves behind the table pouring wine and speaking animatedly about these wines.  The wines are their children, and they love to tell you about them.  Just don’t ask for their favorite…you will always get the same answer  “And which of your children is your favorite? Don’t you love them all the same?”

If you want to meet some of these passionate people you should head to the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend and their Grand Tasting on Saturday April 23rd.  the links will take you to more information and tickets. You can also visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site for more details on this beautiful area and it’s wineries.

And of course, you will find plenty of information right here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.  Stop back and explore or follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Longoria Albarino and Shellfish

2014 Longoria Albariño

When we were in Santa Barbara last year I had a wonderful opportunity to speak with Richard Longoria of Longoria Wines at the Grand Tasting on the Santa Barbara Spring Vintners Weekend.  He is a truly lovely human being and we had a wonderful discussion on his current line up of wines, discussing the vineyards he sources from for the varieties that don’t grow well at his Fe Ciega Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills.

Rick Longoria at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Grand Tasting

Rick Longoria at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Grand Tasting

Later that day we stopped by his tasting room in Los Olivos.  This year we look forward to visiting the new winery in Lompoc!  We left Santa Barbara with a bottle of his 2014 Albarino from Clover Creek Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.

 

Longoria 2014 Albarino in the garden

Longoria 2014 Albarino in the garden

Rick Longoria established Longoria Wines in 1982.  He is actually a Vegas baby, born a military brat like myself at Nellis Air Force Base just outside of Vegas.  He ended up in Lompoc for High school and spent his college days at UC Santa Barbara and Berkley.  His degree was in Sociology.

He discovered the wineries of Napa and Sonoma and fell in love.  The law degree he had intended to get fell to the side after a trip to South America and he found a job at Buena Vista in Sonoma when he returned working as a cellarman.  Buena Vista had the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff as a consultant and he took Rick under his wing.  He helped get Rick to the new Firestone winery in Santa Barbara.  Rick met his wife Diana here.  He did move back north to Napa to work at Chappellet Vineyards for a year, but realized that the Santa Ynez Valley was the place he wanted to be.  He was hired as winemaker for J. Carey Cellars in 1979.  While working here he started Longoria to make Chardonnay and Pinot, two wines that J. Carey was not producing.  In 1985 he started working for The Gainey Vineyard and continued working there and running Longoria until 1997 when he and Diana decided to make Longoria their only focus.  They had a winery in the “lompoc Wien Ghetto” and a tasting room in Los Olivos.  In 2014 they moved into a brand new winery in Lompoc where they now have their tasting room.

The Longoria Tasting Room in Los Olivos

The Longoria Tasting Room in Los Olivos

Rick discovered Albarino on a trip to Spain in 1990. Albarino (or Alvarinho) is said to translate to “the white wine from the Rhine”.  Some sources believe is is a Riesling Clone from the Alsace or a close relative to Petit Manseng.  Monks were said to have brought this grape to Iberia in the twelfth century.  It now is primary grown in the Riax Baixas in Spain.

When he returned to Santa Barbara he wanted to make this wine and found a plot a Clover Valley Vineyard where they were growing Albarino.  This vineyard is in the South eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley between the Happy Canyon and Ballard Canyon AVA’s.

To make this wine Rick does a whole cluster press then lets the juice rest overnight before racking it into stainless steel to ferment.  He cold ferments at 60 degrees which he says helps to preserve those beautiful aromatics. This spends another few months in stainless steel before it is bottled.  Only 254 cases were produced

Longoria 2014 Albarino Clover Creek Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley

Longoria 2014 Albarino Clover Creek Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley

We opened this bottle last night to enjoy with some clams and mussels.  This wine has such a lovely nose, with beautiful soft white florals and a little bees wax.  The tartness was refreshing on the palate.

 

Steamed Clams to pair with Albarino

Steamed Clams to pair with Albarino

Steamed mussels to pair with Albarino

Steamed mussels to pair with Albarino

I am looking forward to seeing the new winery this year as we make our way to Santa Barbara for the Vintners Spring Weekend.  They will be holding an Open House at the winery on Saturday the 23rd from Noon to 3 and that evening will hold their Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn with the amazing Chef Budi Kazali preparing a 5 course meal to pair with their wines.  Visit their Longoria Wines event page for more details.

A great time to visit Santa Barbara is April 22nd through 24th for the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend.  Follow the link for more information.

And for more great information on wineries and winemakers come back and see us at Crushed Grape Chronicles!

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.

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!

A Conversation with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards & Winery

Larner Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country

While we were in Santa Barbara for the Vintners Spring Weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery.  He graciously took time to speak with us while he was setting up for the Grand Tasting.

Michael LarnerSo we are here with Michael Larner of Larner Winery and you are in the new Ballard Canyon AVA right?  That’s right. We formed last year. At harvest in October we were certified and approved. We are very excited.

Michael Larner was actually instrumental in the creation of the AVA.  After a visit from a group of Sommeliers sent by Sommeliers Journal in 2010 to taste Ballard Canyon Syrahs, he rallied the vineyard owners and contacted Wes Hagen who had put together the Sta Rita Hills AVA to get the ball rolling on creating this new AVA.

What wines are you making with your winery?  We are what we call Rhone Valley varietal specific, so we have Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, a little bit of an outlier of Malvasia Bianca. Of the 34 acres we have 23 planted in Syrah and that is really our champion of Ballard Canyon. Essentially all of us, Rusack, Jonata, Beckmen, Stolpman we are all really specialized in Syrah more than anything, so that really becomes the champion as well as also becoming the face of Ballard Canyon. We are actually going to do something unique creating a bottle mold that is specifically made for Ballard Canyon producers that says Ballard Canyon on the shoulder and that will be something we can take to the market. The only Caveat is that it has to be A. an estate and B. is has to be Syrah. So we want to go out into the market putting our best foot forward with Syrah. Because the AVA is 7600 acres with about 600 acre planted and over 300 in Syrah, it is definitely our Champion definitely what we want people to know about when we go out into the market.

Larner Winery

Larner Winery

The day before we had taken a vineyard hike at Beckmen’s Purisimo Mountain Vineyard which is North of Larner in Ballard Canyon.  I had an opportunity to speak with Steve Beckmen about how he had chosen to layout his vineyard.  The decisions on where to plant different varieties are based on so many variables, including soil, water, temperature, sun and even wind.  So I asked Michael about how he had made these choices for his vineyard.

Michael: At Larner Vineyard our slopes are south facing slopes and our Syrah is kind of in the middle section. We actually put our Grenache on top. We are always worried about ripening so we put it at the higher elevation to push it a little, and then on the lower elevations we do more of our whites. Most of our site is sandy compared to Beckmen, so because of that we match soils a little differently than they do. That is probably why we have more of our Syrah in the middle. We are on any given day maybe a degree or two cooler than them. The main thing for us is that Ballard Canyon is defined by the presence of chalk or limestone, and up at Beckmen, Stolpman it’s limestone, you come down to me on the south side and we are more chalk. It’s still the same material it’s just a little more friable in my neck of the woods, where it’s a little more compacted up on the north side. It’s still rendered from the same foundation of bedrock, but ours is basically overlaid by sand so it allows the vines to be stressed enough to produce low quantities, high concentration, but then there is a nice underlay of chalk in our case that also brings a minerality.
I think that was sort of the unique thing about Ballard, the way it formed was essentially 6 of us producers that were pouring wine for Sommelier Journal we tasted through all the wines and looked at each other and thought wow there’s a lot of similarities. We all have our different fingerprint in terms of oak use etcetera, but there was definitely a lot of very characteristic minerality, that we all picked up on. Then when we did the Q & A with these sommeliers, they said “Why aren’t you guys an AVA” and we said okay no brainer, why aren’t we an AVA. So we started forming it in 2010.

We let him get back to setting up as it was closing in the time to open the gates for the Grand Tasting and later came back to taste the wines.  His “Elemental” is a gorgeous GSM blend that is a favorite in many restaurants. They also have a 2012 Viognier that is brand new and a lovely GSM Rosé.

Larner Art

We also met his wife Christina later in the day.  She had a booth with her Wine Art and I picked up one of her stunning paintings of a cluster of Viognier on the vine, painted in Syrah.

They have a tasting room in Los Olivos attached to the Los Olivos General Store, right behind the classic Gas Pump!  You can stop in there and taste all of their wines.

Larner Wine    2900 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441

The 2014 Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend – My highlight reel.

Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner

Our trip to the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend was absolutly amazing.  The weekend was filled with events to suit any wine lover, and while there was no way that we could attend everything, I’ll give you the quick run down on the amazing events we did attend. This is just the quick version; you can look forward to more detailed posts on each of our adventures as well as photos and video.

Industrial Eats in Buellton CA

Industrial Eats in Buellton CA

Our weekend began Thursday night with the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner & Wine Pairing.  This event was held at the new Industrial Eats restaurant in Buellton. The dinner included hors d’oeuvres, 3 courses plus dessert, and included 10 wines. On hand to explain and discuss the wines and pairings were Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, Jeff Connick Assistant Winemaker at Dierberg Star Lane and Laura Roach, Enologist at Sanford. The evening was filled with great food, great wine, great people and great conversation.  For a brief view of our evening, check out the video here.

Friday morning we took a drive out Santa Rosa Road to explore the vineyards in this part of the Sta. Rita Hills. The drive begins just south of Buellton of the west side of the 101.  You pass Mosby where they primarily do Italian varieties and then come to Richard and Thekla Sanford’s Alma Rosa.

Alma Rosa sign

Alma Rosa in the Spring

It was picturesque with the sign and the orange poppies blooming all around.  Unfortunately the tasting room is currently closed as they do some expansion work.  But never fear they have a temporary tasting room open in Buellton on Industrial Way.  Past Alma Rosa you come to Lafond, and then finally to Sanford.

Sanford Winery

The Beautiful Sanford Tasting Room

The property here is stunning and the tasting room made of reclaimed wood from a Washington sawmill and adobe bricks made on premise is beautiful, yet understated. After a tasting here we headed back to do the vineyard hike at the Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard.

Beckmen Hike at Purisma Mountain

Hiking to the top of Purisima Mountain with Steve Beckmen

The Purisima Mountain Vineyard is located in the new Ballard Canyon AVA.  This area lies along the winding Ballard Canyon road. This vineyard is not located with the Beckmen Winery, which is one canyon over, but is their larger vineyard with 125 planted acres of world class Rhone varieties.  The vineyard reaches 1250 feet at the top of Purisima Mountain and that is where we were headed.  With Steve Beckmen as our guide we walked the vineyards, learned about the soil, the grapes, the viticulture…it was fascinating.  We did make a few stops along the way, two for food and wine and one for the view (that was from the top).  Steve was an unending resource of information and it made for a spectacular day.  I will share more of the wonderful insights I gleaned from him in another post, but for now, you can enjoy some of our hike here.

Following our hike we headed back to do one more tasting in Los Olivos.

Sandhi Wines at the Watering Hole at Matteis Tavern

Sandhi Wines at the Watering Hole at Matteis Tavern

Located in The Watering Hole at the historic Matteis Tavern, is Sandhi Wines tasting room. You will find it next to the tavern, over the lawn, under the water tank and in this lovely little cottage.  Rajat Parr, Charles Banks and winemaker Sashi Moorman founded Sandhi in 2010.  They wanted to produce wines of balance and the wines here are stunning with brilliant and elegant character.  And…the fact that they are served in the exquisite Zalto glasses doesn’t hurt a bit!  Sarah was a wealth of knowledge and was kind enough to stay late to answer all of our questions.  Be aware, they will be moving into the old Epiphany tasting room around the corner soon.  While they are moving (beginning May 1st) they will be available by appointment only.  Visit their website for Sarah’s contact information to set up an appointment to taste these amazing wines.

Now what we needed was big and easy food and we found Chomp in Solvang.  This place is diner style with burgers, fries and shakes.  They do serve local wines and have some good beers on tap, but we opted for a shake to split.  The place is comfortable and modern and was bustling when we got there.  Aaron the owner found us a seat at the bar, which was perfect. The food was outstanding, the service really good.

Panorama Carhartt Grand Tasting

Panorama of the Grand Tasting at River View Park in Buellton

Saturday was the day for the Grand Tasting located at the River View Park in Buellton. The tastings were set up around multiple tents with all the wineries conveniently in alphabetical order so you could easily find the wineries you were looking for.  Interspersed among the wineries in each tent you would find a restaurant station where you could grab a bite.  They also had Artists Alley where you could find wine inspired artwork, a massage station, a silent auction tent and Alan Hancock College had a space where they had information on viticulture and they were giving out wine grape cuttings. This year you could purchase wine at the festival and at the entrance was a large tent where wines could be picked up as you left.  The event was a wonderful opportunity to try some amazing wines from this area and to speak with many of the winemakers themselves. It was a very enjoyable day spent with lots of other wine lovers!

For dinner Michael was inspired by some delicious meatballs he had at the festival and we drove to Santa Ynez to have dinner at Trattoria Grappolo.  It was busy but they found us a spot at the pizza bar.  Dinner was delicious and watching the incredible staff work together seamlessly and so fluidly to create these beautiful plates of food was truly inspirational.  If you are in the area, go…and request a seat at the pizza bar!

abc-patio-open-house

Relaxing at the Au Bon Climat & Qupe Open House

Sunday was all about Open Houses.  I believe there were 61 different winery events happening in the valley.  We headed to the twice annual Au Bon Climat and Qupe Open House, which was way north in the Santa Maria Valley at their winery which is tucked way back down some back roads. If you want to find their tasting room…Au Bon Climat is in downtown Santa Barbara and Qupe is in Los Olivos.  Cheese, crackers and olives and the lunch table filled with home cooked food and Barbeque done by Jim Clendenen himself were found in the front room by their offices.  The barrel room was dotted with tasting stations for the 8 or so labels that Jim Clendenen and Bob Linquist have between them.  There was plenty to taste and it was all available for purchase on site, at least until it sold out.  After a bit we took our glasses and some cheese and headed out to the dock area outside and sat down at a barrel to enjoy the atmosphere and the view.

But of course, there was another open house to get to and it was in Lompoc!

Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Wes Hagen pulling Chardonnay from a barrel for the Clos Pepe barrel tasting

Clos Pepe has its winemaking facility in Lompoc outside the Wine Ghetto.  We made the trek from Santa Maria for their open house and for a barrel tasting.  Wes Hagen, as always, was full of fascinating information and was pouring delicious wine.  We had the lovely Sparkling Pinot and tasted through some Chardonnays, Pinots and his Rhone blend.  Then came the barrel tastings, with Wes coming around and filling glasses and explaining each wine and where it was in its journey.  Watch for another detailed blog post and movie on this.  Really, someone should just follow Wes around recording him, he is an encyclopedia of wine knowledge and he imparts his knowledge in the most entertaining way.

Fiddlehead Winery in Lompoc

Fiddlehead Cellars in Lompoc

After the Barrel Tasting we headed to the Ghetto for some corned beef sliders.  Oh…and some amazing wine and more inspiring wine knowledge from Fiddlehead’s owner and winemaker Kathy Josephs.  Fiddlehead does Sauvignon Blanc & Pinot Noir. She had two stations set up in the winery and got you moving back and forth between the two.  They were of course pouring 728, their Pinot from the Fiddlestix vineyard, which is at mile marker 7/28 on the Santa Rosa Road and the Doyle, which is their reserve Pinot that they do not make every year.  The wines were fantastic, we met great people there, and…yes we closed the place.  We were there to watch Kathy turn up the music and start dancing as cleanup began.

Matteis Tavern

The historic Matteis Tavern

So our tastings for the day were done, now it was time to enjoy our last dinner of the trip, so we headed to the newly renovated Matteis Tavern.  We had eaten at this historic venue a couple years ago and had a great meal.  It had since closed and then reopened in July of last year. The Tavern itself has been around since 1886 and is a historic Stagecoach stop.  Our dinner here was spectacular.  The food, service and surroundings all made for the perfect end to a day.  We will entice you with a photo here, but watch for a full blog post on this historic location.

salmon-and-corn

Red Trout and Creme Corn Brûlée

 

 

Presquille Vineyard

Presqu’ile Vineyard Tasting Room

 

Persquille view

The View from Presqu’ile

Our last day was just a partial day and we had a couple places we wanted to get to.  We began with a drive north headed to Presqu’ile North in the Santa Maria Valley. I often speak of beautiful properties, but…you know when you go to a parade of homes and get to the most beautiful house…well Presqu’ile is the winery equivalent.  “Presqu’ile” means “almost an island” in French and was the name of the Murphy Family property in Mississippi that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  The family looked for a place to rebuild their family gathering spot and came upon this property in Santa Maria.

 

The wines are unique and delightful and the place…well, let the pictures speak.

Our last tasting in Santa Barbara was at the tiny Larner Tasting room in Los Olivos.  They are located in the Los Olivos General Store (you will see the old gas pump out front).

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room in Los Olivos

The Larner Vineyards are in the new Ballard Canyon AVA and Michael Larner was the person who got the ball in motion to create the AVA.  We spoke with Michael at the Grand Tasting and did some tasting there, but wanted to see the tasting room and pick up some wines to take home.  Their entire selection is exceptional and the people are genuine and wonderful. This is their inaugural year of Larner Wines  being produced, they grow Rhone varieties: Viognier, Grenache, Mouvedre & Syrah as well as Malvasia Bianca. We will post our full discussion with Michael Larner in another post shortly.

With our tasting done, it was time to have some lunch before the drive home.  We had spoken earlier about trying the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café.  (photo of the restaurant) As Michael said, the patio is always full and that must be a good sign! Emily from Larner had recommended the Beets and Burrata appetizer and the Mykonos Pizza (with pesto, oven dried tomato, tapenade, feta, cucumber & four cheeses).  This 12” pizza was more than enough for the two of us.  The menu here is local, delicious and a little unexpected.  This is definitely a place that we will return to.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

So…that was our weekend and it doesn’t even begin to cover all the events that were happening with the Vintners Spring Weekend!  This area is producing astoundingly good wines and the fact that they are so laid back and you have so many opportunities to speak with winemakers makes it a truly exceptional place to visit if you are a wine lover.  Clear your calendars for October 10-13 and head up for the Celebration of Harvest Weekend!  Or visit anytime!  You can find information on the entire Santa Barbara region at the Santa Barbara Vintners website.

The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

It’s no secret, I’m in love with the Santa Barbara County Wine Region.  It is laid back with an incredible range of variety.  “Sideways” got it right.  This is the best up and coming wine area in our country.  Up and coming actually seems a little silly, the wineries and winemakers here have quite a history.  There are giants of winemaking here including: Richard Sanford, Jim Clenedenen, Bob Linquist, Richard Longoria & Bill Wathen. And the list of amazing winemakers continues to grow and the wines they are producing are varied and amazing.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Santa Barbara lies in a unique area that separated from the plates along the coast.  Over the past twelve million years this little section shifted and created a Transverse valley.  This means that the valley here runs east west as opposed to north south like all the other valleys on our coast.  The transverse valley and the microclimates within it lead to a place where you can grow an amazing variety of grapes in a relatively small area.  On the western edge the valley is cool and is perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As you move east the valley warms by a degree a mile!  This makes the middle section perfect for Rhone varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne and as you continue to the east side where Happy Canyon lies you have enough heat to support those Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc.

So if you are a wine geek like me…this is a great place.  But if you are not a wine geek and want to avoid the intimidation of wine talk and just enjoy a glass…well this is the right place too.

So…make your first stop in the Funk Zone near the beach in Santa Barbara on the Urban Wine trail.  Stop into one of the many great tasting rooms there.  Maybe hit Municipal Winemakers first and soak up some of the funky atmosphere.  Sit down at the picnic table and enjoy a glass of rose.

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Then if you are feeling like learning a little about where these wines come from head up the street to AVA Santa Barbara. Here you can taste wines from all the different regions in Santa Barbara County.  The entire wall over the tasting bar is a huge chalk mural by Elkpen that  shows the regions soils, microclimates and topography. The wines, by Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines are lovely and deliberately varied to feature the microclimates in this incredible area.

Au Bon Climate, Grassini, Margerum

If you head further North into downtown, you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat & Margerum to choose between for a tasting.

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Head back through the downtown shopping district and stop at  Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro for lunch.  Then take a stroll on the beach and finally enjoy a nice glass of wine at Conway Family Wines – Deep Sea Tasting room on the Santa Barbara Pier while you enjoy the sunset.

 

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Oh, but my friend, you are just getting started in Santa Barbara County.  Tomorrow drive into Solvang, the adorable little Danish town and get some aebleskivers for breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant.  You can then stroll this town and taste at several tasting rooms that you can walk to, or drive a little further into Los Olivos where you will find over 35 tasting rooms to choose from!  And…I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great place to dine at Side’s Hardware & Shoes.  Don’t miss Saarloos and Sons for a pairing with cupcakes from Enjoy Cupcakes.

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

They are there Thursday thru Sunday from 11-5 (or until they run out of cupcakes, so go early!) and one of my favorite tasting rooms, the tiniest one on the planet is across the street from Saarloos and Sons at Carhartt.  Carhartt stays open an hour later than the others and this often becomes quite the gathering spot on the beautiful but tiny back patio.

Are you overwhelmed yet?  There is more…I highly recommend Terrravant Winery Restaurant in Buellton for dinner and pairings.  They have an Enomatic wine dispensing system set up so you can try small tastes of many of the amazing local wines.  And the now World Famous Hitching Post II is also here in Buellton, made famous by the movie “Sideways”.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Tapas & Wine Bar Front Entrance

Tomorrow morning you have more wine country to explore!  There are amazing wineries outside of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley like Buttonwood Farms & Beckman.  Or travel up to Santa Maria through Foxen Canyon and enjoy the morning Vandenberg Fog.  Stop at Zaca Mesa and try their Rhones.  This place has been around a while and popped out some pretty amazing winemakers!  Further up the road, you can’t miss stopping at “The Shack” at Foxen.

Zaca Mesa chess set

Zaca Mesa Patio with the oversized chess set

And…then there is the Sta. Rita Hills. If you love Pinot or good Chard you want to drive through here.  Make an appointment and stop by Clos Pepe.  Wes Hagen has more vineyard and wine knowledge than you can imagine and a tasting with him is amazing!  Just past Clos Pepe is Hilliard Bruce.  John and Christine have an incredibly beautiful landscaped property and their vineyard management is state of the art.

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Keep driving down 246 to Lompoc and top into the Wine Ghetto.  Filled with small wineries working out of an industrial park you will find Flying Goat Cellars, Fiddlehead & Palmina as well as a host of others.  Check the hours though, because they are often just open on weekends for tastings.  Further into Lompoc you will find Brewer-Clifton, which again brought out my geeky side as we talked about stem inclusion and how they thin the vines to ripen the stems!

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Have I covered it all?  Not even close.  There is so much exploring I look forward to going back to do.  But…if you are short on time…The Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have all of these great wineries and winemakers in one place on April 12th.

Or at anytime for information visit Santa Barbara Vintners

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