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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A Sampling of the Incredible Wine Makers of Santa Barbara

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard

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


 

Kathy Joseph

Winemaker, Fiddlehead Cellars

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

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

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


 

Mikael Sigouin

Winemaker, Kaena Wine

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

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

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


 

Richard Sanford

Winemaker, Alma Rosa

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

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

Open Daily 11am – 4:30pm


 

Karen Steinwachs

Winemaker, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

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

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

Open Daily 11am – 5pm


 

Michael Larner

Winemaker, Larner Wine

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

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

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

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

Open Thursday – Monday, 11am – 5pm


 

Sonja Magdevski

Winemaker, Casa Dumetz

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

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

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

And that’s not all!

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

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

View Santa Barbara Video’s

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

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

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