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

2014 in Retrospect for Crushed Grape Chronicles

California Au bon climat

2014 was a big year for Crushed Grape Chronicles.  We honed our blogging and filming skills and got an in depth look at one of the most exciting wine regions in California, Santa Barbara County.

Our late 2013 trip to Santa Barbara got us hooked.  After visit with John and Christine at Hilliard Bruce and an exceptional morning harvesting pinot noir at Clos Pepe Estate for a sparkling project, we did a tasting with Wes Hagen and got a real look at the fantastic diversity and depth this area has.  Oh…and they have quite a few varieties of grapes too.

April 2014

We returned in April 2014 for the Vintners Spring Weekend.  We kicked off the weekend with dinner at Industrial Eats with the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Association.  Sta. Rita Hills is known for it’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and for it’s exceptional winemakers.  If you have not been to Santa Barbara, you may have a vision of this event in your mind of fancy people in suits at some fancy restaurant.  This is the glory of Santa Barbara.  Industrial Eats is a great restaurant in an Industrial area of Buellton, the city best known for it’s pea soup.  Here they source locally, so the menu changes depending on what is fresh and seasonal.  We did have uni and oysters…so the food was fancy, but you got to see and speak to the people who were making it.  The place is filled with community tables and it’s not very big.  The winemakers spoke about their wines in such humble tones.  This area is a community and they are happy to welcome you in.

We enjoyed a vineyard walk with Steve Beckman at the Purism Mountain Vineyard in Ballard Canyon.  I worked hard to keep up with Steve so I could ask some questions about this beautiful vineyard.  We have some great video’s posted as Steve talks about the soil at Purisma Mountain and gives us a little seminar on shoot thinning.

At the Grand Tasting we had the opportunity to speak one on one with so many of the amazing winemakers in Santa Barbara.

We had wonderful conversations with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery, Christine Bruce of Hilliard Bruce, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena.  Again you are surrounded by some of the most fantastic winemakers in California, but this is all about sharing and community there is no stuffiness here.

Our 4th day had us doing a round about trip around the northern part of Santa Barbara County.  We started the day in the Santa Maria valley at Au Bon Climat and Qupe at their twice annual open house, where Jim Clendenen can be seen cooking barbecue.  We then drove around the north end of the valley to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto for a barrel tasting at Clos Pepe’s Winery (which is not at the vineyard) and finished our tastings at Fiddlehead being entertained and fed sliders by the fabulous Kathy Joseph.  We then took the long way back driving up past the new Evening Star vineyard that Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman have started on the outside edge of the Sta. Rita Hills and then up to enjoy the view of Fiddlestix vineyard.  Dinner found us a Matteis Tavern enjoying a stunning dinner at this historic location.

On our final day we made our way to Presqu’ile up in the Santa Maria Valley. This beautiful winery produces some exceptional wines and blends clean beautiful modern architecture with a warm air of southern hospitality.  When we got home we tried a recipe for strawberry, citrus and avocado salad inspired by Ryan in their tasting room to pair with their rose.

June 2014

In June of 2014 we were invited back to Santa Barbara for the first ever Key to Wine Country Weekend.  This is a weekend filled with special events at many of the wineries designed to give you an inside look at this amazing region.

We were lucky to be able to schedule an interview and vineyard walk with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery at his Ballard Canyon Vineyard.  We had a great conversation with Michael which can be seen in a series of videos on our site.  Michael’s background is in geology so it was fascinating to hear his perspective on the Ballard Canyon soils.

We began events of the weekend with a vineyard walk at Riverbench Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, with their vineyard manager Rawley Hermreck.  We walked the vineyard, saw the new vines that were about to go in, waxed the top of a bottle of pinot and had a lovely lunch with Rawley and his dog Sadie.

That evening we attended the 1st annual Larner Winemaker Dinner held at the Ballard Inn and Restaurant.  Chef Budi Kazali created beautiful dishes to pair with the Rhone style wines of Larner Vineyards and Michael Larner spoke on each of the wines before each course.  It was an amazing evening filled with good food, good wines and great company!

Saturday morning brought us back to Presqu’ile Vineyards for an Taste through the vineyard event with 4 different winemakers all of whom were sourcing grapes from Presqu’ile. This eclectic group of winemakers from Storm, Luceant Luminesce, Labyrinth and Presqu’ile spoke on their wines and their methods and we were in wine geek heaven.  The setting was stunning also on the crush pad of the gravity flow winery at Presqu’ile.  There is a 4 part series on this conversation if you want to geek out also!

Then it was on to Cold Heaven for a Rhone-scent-ual experience.  Jars filled with white flours, olives, grapefruit, herbs, chocolate…and then some filled the tables, along with sheets for notes and aroma wheels.  Attendees were like kids in a candy store passing jars back and forth and making new scent memories, while tasting some amazing wines.

The day wrapped up at Imagine Wines in Santa Ynez, where they pair wine and art.  With beautiful sculptures, paintings and photos, live music, great wine, home cooked food and the ever entertaining winemaker Ross Rankin this made for a lovely evening.

While I had to head back to work, Michael was able to stay for a final event.  Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard did a vineyard hike and farm to table lunch. The hike was led by winemaker Karen Steinwachs and lunch followed a salad demonstration by Chef Pascale Beale with recipes from her cookbook “Salade”. All the items used were picked fresh from the gardens at Buttonwood which is a working farm.

July 2014

July 2014 found us in Santa Barbara again, this time for WBC14 (Wine Bloggers Conference).  This gave us another opportunity to see the area and talk with winemakers here as well as meet other wine bloggers.  We had a fantastic evening on a planned Friday night excursion planned by the Santa Barbara Vintners.  Various vehicles and buss’s rolled up to the Conference hotel and Bloggers piled in. Then the vehicles set off for mystery locations.  Our bus headed out to Sunstone Vineyard and Winery, where Michael Larner greeted us followed shortly by Bion Rice, the wineries President and CEO, in a t-shirt and jeans.  Bion gave us a tour of the stunning Villa at Sunstone, which is built from reclaimed materials from villages in Marseille and Provence.  We then gathered in the garden to sample wines and speak with winemakers from Larner, Core, Transcendence, Big Tar, and Sunstone.  Dinner family style followed and then a question and answer session with the winemakers refereed by non other than Keith Saarloos of Saarloos and Sons. The blog post on this fantastic evening is still to come so keep watching!

We also made a trip to see Bridlewood Winery just outside Happy Canyon where we enjoyed a stroll through the gardens, lunch by the creek and then a panel discussion with a sustainable theme. Moderated by Richard Martin from Food Republic with Bridlewood winemaker Mark Williams, Chris and Johanna Finley of Finley Farms Organic, Stephanie Mutz of Sea Stephanie Fish, Jake O’Francis of Valley Piggery, Jeff Olsson of Industrial Eats. This was an incredible discussion by the people who grow, raise or harvest our foods on their thoughts on sustainability and how they do what they do.  There were no easy answers here, but a heartfelt and honest discussion which was interesting and refreshing in such a large corporate winery (Bridlewood is owned by Gallo).

2014 the overview

So all in all, 2014 was a pretty amazing year!  I expect that 2015 will see us back in Santa Barbara (there is so much to explore there and more winemakers we would love to have an opportunity to talk with!) as well as exploring some other California regions, so expect more blog posts and videos on wineries and winemakers.

We will also continue our adventure in pairing wines and foods.  I am finding that the typical rules for pairing varieties is only the tip of the iceberg.  Wines are individual and change as they age, so a pairing is only for the moment and we look forward to more of those.  You will see more cooking videos here and on our sister site 4Farm2Mrkt and suggestions on pairings.

We also will probably dabble a little into things other than wine.  There is a post coming soon that is about chili and beer pairings.  As winemaker will tell you, it takes a lot of good beer to make wine.

And…if you have suggestions, on wineries or regions, restaurants or pairings…let us know!

Subscribe to our YouTube Channel to keep up to date on the Latest Video’s

In the meantime…find a good bottle of bubbly or whatever you prefer and share a toast to a wonderful 2014 and an even better 2015 to come!

 

Thanks,

 

Robin & Michael

Crushed Grape Chronicles

 

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

Larner Vineyard Syrah

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

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

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

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

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

Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Ave

Los Olivos, CA 93441

(805)688-8148

http://larnerwine.com

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

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

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

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

Larner Vineyard and Winery, the History

Larner Vineyard Sunset

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

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

Larner Vineyard Panorama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Larner at Larner Vineyard

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

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

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Larner Vineyard & Winery Tasting Room

2900 Grand Ave

Los Olivos, CA 93441

(805)688-8148

http://larnerwine.com

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

wpid-img_20140620_153158.jpg

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

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

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

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

Larner Vineyard Sunset

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

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

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

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

for more on Larner Vineyards

from Dirt to Glass

Larner Vineyard & Winery

Larner Vineyard Site

Ballard Canyon

From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on Syrah

Larner Vineyard Sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

2900 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos

(805)350-1435

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

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

Speaking with Michael Larner – Ballard Canyon AVA

Larner Winery

We had the opportunity to speak one on one with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery in Ballard Canyon, out at the vineyard. This beautiful property is at the Southern end of the new Ballard Canyon AVA.

In this Video Michael talks about the formation and the plans for the new Ballard Canyon AVA.

The AVA was established in October of 2013 and covers just 7,800 acres, sitting in the very center of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Planted primarily with Rhone Varieties with scatterings of some Bordeaux and Italian varieties. There area 600 planted acres of vineyard in Ballard Canyon and at least ½ of the planted vineyards are of Syrah.

The catalyst for the forming of the AVA came in 2010 when Ballard Canyon hosted a group of 100 sommeliers from Sommelier Journal. In a side by side tasting of the wines of Ballard Canyon there were nuances of minerality, clarity of fruit, structure and tannins that ran through all of the wines. Of course each had it’s signature from the winemaker, but side by side the similarities rang through loudly. This was a case where the vineyards were speaking louder than the winemakers. The sommeliers in the Q & A following the tasting asked why they were not an AVA? And so it began. This is a tight knit group of vineyards. There are only 15 vineyards in the AVA and they were focused. They brought in Wes Hagen, who had already written 2 AVA proposals. With a focus of purpose the AVA was established in 3 years.

Once established they returned to the idea of clarity of purpose. As I mentioned, over ½ of the vineyards planted are in Syrah. Much of this happened without the Vineyards speaking to each other. This grape grows well here and it became their Champion. As they move forward they have a special Rhone style bottle with “Ballard Canyon” in the glass on the neck that can be used only for Estate wines and only for Syrah. In this way they can focus on getting the word out about the new AVA with a focus on this variety.

Don’t get me wrong, the other Rhone Varieties that are grown here are spectacular they have Grenache and Mourvedre that will knock your socks off, but you should first and foremost taste their Syrah.

See our Video Series From Dirt to Glass to see all of the Videos with Michael Larner

The “Key” to Wine Country – an inside perspective on what Santa Barbara Wine Country is all about.


The Key to Wine Country event in Santa Barbara was created by the Santa Barbara Vintners to give you a chance to get to know a little more about the wineries. More than just discounted tastings, many of the participating wineries set up unique events to give you an insiders perspective on their wines, vineyards and styles.

 

Riverbench Vineyard

Riverbench Vineyard

Our Key Weekend began in the Santa Maria Valley at Riverbench Vineyard with a vineyard walk on Friday morning with Rawley Hermreck the Vineyard Manager. Rawley walked us into the vineyard and explained the planting and trellising techniques that they use.

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We were able to see the new vines that would be planted the next day in the front block (watch for some pictures of this process!).  Laura the tasting room manager set us up to  learn how to dip their pinot bottles in wax for the beautiful wax closure, and then we enjoyed lunch on the back patio with Rawley and his dog Sadie complete with a tasting of the Riverbench wines. They have a sparkling program and the Blanc de Blanc was really lovely.  Of course I left with that bottle of Pinot I dipped!

 

Bottle Dipping

Bottle Dipping

We had some free time before our next event and spent a little time wandering in Los Olivos, ending up in the tiniest tasting room and enjoyed the casual laid back atmosphere at Carhartt.

 

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Carhartt Tasting Patio

Our next event was the Larner Winemaker Dinner at the Ballard Inn. The Ballard Inn is a beautiful spot just south of Los Olivos. Chef Budi Kazali is also the owner of the the Inn, purchasing it in 2004. He blends Asian and New French styles with fresh local ingredients to create some captivating dishes.

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Ballard Inn, Ballard CA

Wine-pour600The evening began at 6 pm with Michael Larner pouring his Rose as well as the Malvasia Bianca and guests relaxed in the parlor or on the porch, watching the sun start to dip and the trees start to glow. Passed hors d’oeuvres kept our stomachs at bay as we waited for the main event. The pairings were beautiful and the intimate dining room made for a singular experience. Watch for the full blog post on this incredible evening as well as our series of conversations with Michael Larner.

 

Presquile Wine Event

Presquile Wine Event

Saturday our day began with a unique event at Presqu’ile Winery in the Santa Maria Valley. Presqu’ile gathered 4 winemakers, including their own Dieter Cronje, to taste through wines made from grapes from the Presqu’ile Vineyards.

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On hand were Ernst Storm of Storm Wines, Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce and Ariki Hill of Labyrinth. We tasted through 9 wines doing side by side comparisons and listening to the winemakers discuss their winemaking techniques and unique aspects of each vintage. The event took place on the crushpad of the winery, high above the tasting room in this gravity flow space. Matt Murphy, President of Presqu’ile is warm and welcoming and kicked off the event with an introduction and welcome. This was a fascinating journey to taste the differences in these wines and search for the underlying commonality that the soil and the site bring. It was truly an amazing event for a wine geek! I was in heaven and took page upon page of notes! Of course the atmosphere was stunning as you looked to the panel sitting next to the railing that looked down on the winery floor, the glassware, the charcuterie laid out with such care and the attentiveness to warmth and hospitality… it was a beautiful event.

 

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

We had to dash out sooner than I would have liked so that we could make it to Buellton for another unique event. Cold Heaven Cellars was holding a “Rhone Scentual” event. We arrived at the Buellton tasting room and were greeted by Kara and Liz.

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Coldheaven Rhone Scent-ual Experience

In the barrel room they had 2 tables set with tasting wheels, sheets for notes and lovely blue mason jars each filled with a different item to spark your aromatic senses. We began with the white wines (Viogniers of course!) and while we were all a little shy at first, this quickly became a case of grabbing for jars and then wanting to share the fragrance with the people around you. Conversations were animated and we all found that we were smelling things in a new way and with much more thought. It was a discovery each time you opened a jar. Kara and Liz had samples of diatomaceous earth, white pepper, white flowers, fresh peaches, grapefruit peal and so many others. For the Reds at the other table they had chocolate, leather, fresh berries, cinnamon, just to start, I can’t remember them all! Grapefruit peelThis was really a wonderful experience and Kara was there every step of the way encouraging you to make more discoveries and talk about other fragrances that you found in your scent memory. This event, broke down those barriers of intimidation from tasting notes. You may think that you can’t smell the habanero on that wine, but once you dip your nose in that jar, your memory is sparked and you can find it! Those tasting notes aren’t really as crazy and out there as people sometimes think. It’s just a matter of creating those scent memories and keeping them active!

 

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats

With a little time to kill before the evening event, we headed to Industrial Eats for lunch. Mention Industrial Eats to anyone in the valley and you will get the same response. People will often close their eyes briefly, envisioning the last thing they had there, and then will animatedly tell you about the amazing things you should order there. We had attended the Sta. Rita Hills AVA dinner here back in April and were excited to go try some wood fired pizza for lunch. The tables are long community tables allowing large groups to sit together or smaller groups to make new friends. The food here is phenomenal and the service is great. Don’t miss stopping here!

 

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Ross Rankin, Imagine Wine Maker

Our last event of the day was in Santa Ynez at Imagine Wine. They held an evening of Music, Art, Food and “Blogging”. I’m blushing a little, the “blogging” was added since we were attending. Located on the corner of Numancia and Edison this tasting room is also an art gallery that is flooded with natural light from 2 sides. For this event they featured the work of Robert Karl Vogel, as well as music from Jim Campbell and then of course the wines. Ross Rankin, the owner and winemaker had barrel samples out on the corner of the porch and took guests through the stories of each wine. Jim

Jim Campbell

Jim Campbell

Campbell performed “every song you know by heart (almost).” (really, I could sing along with everything!). Lyndee Rankin had great food set out to accompany the wines and you could wander and sip as you enjoyed the “En Plein Air” paintings by Robert Karl Vogel, landscapes and cloudscapes of California and the Sierras. Also sculptures by Blake Rankin, (son of the winemaker) dotted the tasting room. The centerpiece for the gallery is a sculpture called Wings, which is the inspiration for one of his father’s wines.

Ross’s wines are unique in that he believes in aging his wines before release. We did get to taste his new (Barbera)? which he created specifically to have a wine for a quicker release. It was a lovely evening with the art, music and wine inspiring great conversations among the varied guests. Watch for a video blog with insights from Ross on his wines!

 

I unfortunately had to fly home to Vegas, so Michael enjoyed the Sunday Vineyard Hike and Farm-to-table lunch at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard without me. So here…I’ll turn it over to him.

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

Buttonwood Wine Tasting with Karen Steinwachs

It was a great weekend for wine tasting and a beautiful morning. I was looking forward to seeing the Farm and tasting the wines. We had stopped by their booth at the grand tasting during the Spring Vintners Weekend event and their wines were amazing.  After tasting them again that still held true.  Karen Steinwachs, their winemaker told us during the tour, that they try to keep the wines affordable. This is possible because they do everything in house, but the wines really could sell for twice the amount they sell them for.  When you drive in you only see the tasting room and the surrounding farm, that is because the vineyard and winery are up on the plateau.  So we drove up the hill and started out the day at the winery at the top of the plateau where Karen poured our first wine  a 2013 “Zingy”, a Sav Blanc, and told us stories about how it was named.  She then gave us a tour of the wine making and storage facility, followed by a walk around the picturesque views of the vineyard. We made our way back to the winery tried another Sav Blanc, the 2011 Devin, we  then made our way back down the hill to the picnic grounds below,

where we were treated to a chef Demo by Pascale Beale and tasted various wines with fresh from the farm Salads.  We will have a more complete Blog post and video on this adventure at Buttonwood. This is a must stop, to see the combination of Farm and Vineyard.  If you can visit this Fall while they are doing their Harvest Tour, it should not be missed.

 

Stay Tuned, in the next couple of weeks we will be Posting Blogs and Videos on this amazing Weekend.  We will also be launching a Ballard Canyon Series, with Interviews with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery, and Steve Beckmen of Beckmen Vineyards. This will be a 4 week Series starting July 7th 2014. We will also be at the Wine Bloggers Conference in July to talk to with more winemakers and hear more stories from Santa Barbara.  So you can expect more information on this incredible region for wines.

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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