Santa Barbara with Top Chef from my living room

I was thrilled to hear that Top Chef would be traveling California this year, and was especially excited for them to get to my favorite region, Santa Barbara. So…we popped open a bottle (or actually 2) of Santa Barbara Wines and kicked back on the couch to enjoy.

As they pulled up at the beach at Santa Barbara, I mentioned out loud, that if they did seafood, I hope they got it from Stephanie. Sure enough the 1st challenge had them using some of Stephanie Mutz’ incredible sea urchins.

Sea Stephie Fish (.com)

Stephanie of SeaStephanieFish is a commercial fisherman as well as a part-time biology professor and is passionate about the local sustainable movement. We met Stephanie at the WBC14 (Wine bloggers conference 2014) held in Santa Barbara. She was part of a panel on sustainability held at Bridlewood Winery at the end of the conference. Stephanie is a well-known urchin diver in the Santa Barbara area.

Maybe you have tasted uni in a sushi bar in some landlocked area of the country and thought…what’s all the fuss, this really isn’t that good. You probably had Uni with alum. Fresh uni right out of the shell is a whole different thing. The meat in the urchin is typically referred to as roe, but it’s not exactly that. The part we eat are actually the reproductive organs, some people refer to them as gonads, but…we eat both the male and female organs. Fresh uni may ooze either an orange or white fluid which is the spawn (orange for females, white for males.), the alum keeps them from oozing.  Uni is meant to be eaten fresh. You want to see it being harvested from the spiny shells. The live fresh urchins will keep in their shells if you refrigerate them for about a day or two. Little known fact about urchins: Urchins eat kelp and in the past they were killed off to protect the kelp with teams going out to kill off the urchins. Thanks to the Japanese market for sea urchins, this changed in the 70’s.

I have twice enjoyed Stephanie’s uni. Once at a Sta. Rita Hills wine diner at Industrial Eats during the 2014 Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend. It was paired with a Clos Pepe Sparkling Blanc du Noir and the appetizer combined uni and avocado.

 

 

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You can see the video of the entire dinner here Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner 2014

The 2nd time I tasted Stephanie’s uni was at Bridlewood winery outside Happy Canyon following the Wine Bloggers conference in July of 2014. After lunch by the creek, we enjoyed 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.

Stephanie Mutz

Stephanie Mutz of SeaStephanieFish speaking at the WBC14 at Bridlewood Vineyard

 

 

The Quickfire Challenge has the chefs pairing Stephanie’s uni with a Sanford Wine.

Sanford and it’s history

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First…a bit of history.  Padma tells the chefs that Sanford was one of the first vineyards in Santa Barbara. The valley’s original winery was at the Santa Barbara Mission way back in 1782. Unfortunately, prohibition shut the wineries down and it wasn’t until the 1960’s that Uriel Nielsen & Bill de Mattei planted up in the Santa Maria Valley.

Richard-Sanford-Alma-Rosa-2014-spring

Richard Sanford and his daughter at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend Grand Tasting.

The first vineyard was planted in the Sta. Rita Hills in 1971, by Richard Sanford. Richard Sanford was a Navy officer who was on a destroyer during the Vietnam War. On his way home from the war he went to Nepal and began a spiritual quest. Coming home to California he sailed competitively for a bit and this allowed him to meet people who were interested in a vineyard.

He studied Burgundy and it’s weather reports and began driving California with a thermometer looking for property with a similar climate. He noticed that the area between Buellton & Lompoc rose by a degree for every mile inland you drove and the possibilities were wide ranging.

He teamed up with Michael Benedict, who was a botanist and they purchased 473 acres in Rancho Santa Rosa. In 1971 they planted the now famous 120 acre Sanford & Benedict Vineyard on Santa Rosa Road. They planted Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir & Riesling. They had open top fermenters, that Gary Gordon, a hot tub pioneer in Santa Barbara, helped them construct. Their first vintage was 1976.

Today Richard Sanford and his wife Thekla own and operate Alma Rosa. With a beautiful tasting room in Buellton right next to Industrial Eats.

Alma Rosa Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills

Alma Rosa Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills

A little background on the Santa Barbara Region

Sta. Rita Hills is just one part of the Santa Barbara Region.

Located North of Los Angeles and on the west side of California, Santa Barbara is generally thought of as a beach side resort, but it is so much more, it has a  growing winemaking community with unique and interesting diverse wines and tasting rooms.  The topography spans a East to West orientation forming valleys, allowing inland flows of fog and ocean breezes to shape one of the coolest growing regions in California.  The temperature increases by a degree per mile as you travel from the West end of the county near the shore to the East end of Happy Canyon. This allows for a wide variety of grapes to be grown. From Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the cool Sta. Rita Hills AVA to Rhone varities in the central area of Santa Ynez and the new Ballard Canyon AVA and then onto Bordeaux’s Cabernets and Sauvignon Blancs in the Eastern part of the region known as Happy Canyon.

So the wines from Sanford are not made by Richard Sanford, but are highly influenced by his history in the region. The two estate vineyards, Sanford & Benedict and La Riconada are widely respected in the region. The winery is now owned by Terlato.

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The Sanford Wines

Now lets talk a little about the wines for the pairings! I was able to pick out the La Riconada 2012 Chardonnay as well as the 2013 Vin Gris Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills. The lovely folks at Sanford were able to complete the dots for me. The 2012 Viognier was from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard (also used by Viognier Goddess Morgan Clendenen of Cold Heaven Cellars http://www.coldheavencellars.com/). The Pinot Blanc that Chad chose to use was a 2012 came from the Sierra Madre vineyard up in the Santa Maria AVA. Another AVA known for their Burgundian wines. And…there was a 2nd Chardonnay the 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay which is made from grapes from both La Riconada and Sanford & Benedict Vineyards.

The Chardonnays are different, the Sta. Rita Hills Chard is aged 14 months on 20% New French oak. They site “intriguing aromas of lemon peel, nectarine and toasted hazelnut, …bright fruit …and white flowers.” They also site this as a full bodied wine with nice acidity.  The La Rinconada is is whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented.  They site “aromas of citrus and hazelnut with hints of vanilla” with “minerality and crisp acid to balance the full palate”. Both Chardonnays had 100% malolactic fermentation. This is a secondary fermentation where malic acid is turned into lactic acid by bacteria.  This is what gives these chardonnays their rounded mouthfeel.

The Pinot Blanc from the Santa Maria Valley is their first release of this varieity.  It is aged 10 months on neutral oak to give it mouth feel. They say it has notes of apple, caramel and bits of lemon.

The Viognier from Sanford & Benedict goes 12 months in neutral French oak. You get all that lovely honeysuckle, jasmine and stone fruits on the nose and a richer mouth feel as you often do with Viognier.

There were quite a few pairings that had me intrigued! I’m right with the judges that simpler is better with uni. Grayson’s choice to pair with grapefruit I found interesting.   Frances’ choice to pair her coconut crème curry with the Viognier also seemed wise. If you don’t have a Riesling with a curry, Viognier is a good bet.

The boys who ran with the Vin Gris…

Vin Gris (Grey Wine??What?)

Okay… let’s pause briefly to explain Vin Gris. If you translate from the French, it means “Grey Wine”. Not so appetizing huh. This is done in the Saignee method (more great French terms, translation being “to bleed”). They do an initial pull of juice off the skins (red skins) and then treat this juice as they would with a white wine to keep it fresh and fruity. Then the rest of the juice is left on the red skins to further concentrate the flavors of the red wine.

So Vin Gris is a classic rose. This is a rose of Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills. After destemming they allow up to 18 hours of skin contact then they age in both stainless steel tanks and neutral french oak.  This is a dry rose with aromas of rhubarb, cranberry and orange blossom.

Amar paired this with sea urchin and Shitake tempura with lime ricotta cheese. Okay this sounded pretty amazing to me. The brightness of the rose with the lime ricotta playing against the earthiness (it is a pinot noir) of the mushrooms. I’d try that!

Isaac channeled spicy crab cakes and rose from his Louisiana roots and used the uni like he would roe. This too sounded amazing to me.

Pairings I wish I could have tried!

Other dishes I would have liked to try…Wesley’s cremed corn with uni, marinated fennel, salmon roe and scallops. And…while I think I would have paired with the La Rinconada…I bet both chards would be nice with it. Jason’s Salpicon Seafood salad, which I would have paired with the Sta. Rita Hills Chard (don’t know if he did) and Carl’s Sea Urchin omlette.

Okay, my mouth will just have to water thinking about them. I do believe that Grayson won because she went simple and let the uni shine. You don’t need to do much to uni, it’s delicious on it’s own.

Ostrich eggs?  What does that have to do with Santa Barbara?

So it was a sudden death quickfire and Grisselle and Angelina had to fight it out with Ostrich Eggs. So if you have not been to Santa Barbara, you might be thinking “what”? What do Ostrich eggs have to do with Santa Barbara. If you have been to Santa Barbara, you giggled and got it right away. Just a short drive inland from the Sta. Rita Hills you reach Buellton and as you drive through you will pass Ostich Land USA. http://www.ostrichlandusa.com/

This ostrich farm is right by The Hitching Post II made famous in Sideways. You can feed the ostriches and see the chicks, who grow a foot a month until they reach full size. Bit of trivia, Ostriches lay eggs until they are 40 years old. And while Angelina thought the one egg looked like a dozen chicken eggs, she underestimated. One ostrich egg is equal to 18 to 24 chicken eggs.

More great cooking…

Giselle wins…no one goes home in the Sudden Death.

Now onto the Elimination Challenge. They didn’t pair with wines, so I won’t elaborate here, except to say that they were at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara where the annual WOPN (World of Pinot Noir Festival) is held every year in March. The views were great. I was a little disappointed that they imported all of their chef judges from LA. Cat Cora lives in Santa Barbara, but she doesn’t have a restaurant there.

I will say how much I enjoyed the joyful and respectful camaraderie of Kwame & Chad. They will go far on good khama and joyful cooking!

Oh and if you are curious as to what we were drinking? They were both from Carhartt Winery & Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, a 2013 Carhartt Estate Grenache as well as a Carhartt late harvest Sauvignon Blanc. The Grenache was lovely, young, fresh and nuanced. The late harvest Sav Blanc went beautifully with our dessert of apple pie. The pie was unsweetened and paired beautifully with the wine, neither being overly sweet.

I’m sad that they only spent one week in Santa Barbara. There is so much more to explore! If you are intrigued by this area, read on…we love Santa Barbara and you will find plenty more about it here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.

To learn more about Santa Barbara Wines, visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site.

 

 

 

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.