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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Dedication Syrah from Larner Vineyard and Winery

Dedication Syrah

Dedication Syrah is a special wine from Larner Vineyards and Winery. It is a Syrah made in limited quantities only in special vintages when the Larner’s feel strongly that the wine is exceptional. Michael’s winemaking style is influenced by his time working in France and Italy. “Elevage” is very important to him. This is the french word meaning “to raise”. It refers to a wines adolescence, the time between fermentation and bottling, when the wine spends time in barrel. At Larner they put their Syrah in 30% new oak for 2 years. They also have a reserve which is put in 50% new oak for 3 years. If as they are tasting through the reserve, they find something that they feel is really special, they will age that in barrel for an additional year.

The 2010 was aged 4 years in 100% new oak and was limited to 1 barrel which is 20 cases.  The label for each is special and is designed by Christina Larner, Michael’s wife who is an artist.  Each is meant to capture a moment in time.  2010 saw the birth of Michael’s son and the label is a photo of Michael holding him, as an infant, Michael’s hands stained from harvest.

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2010

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2010

The 2011 label features a beautiful coastal oak in the Larner vineyard.  Michael speaks of the 2011 vintage during the Santa Barbara Vintners Syrah Seminar. The vintage was panned in California due to excessive rain in Northern California, but contrary to popular belief this was not a bad vintage everywhere.  The vintage in Ballard Canyon was cooler which adds a different expression to the wine than in a normal vintage and it was stunning.  The 2011 is currently available in limited quantities on the Larner website.

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2011

Larner Vineyards and Winery Dedication 2011

Syrah in Ballard Canyon is special. They call it Syrah Territory.  The Ballard Canyon AVA as a whole is dedicated to Syrah.  Michael refers to it as the “Goldilocks Syndrome” not too hot, not too cold.  Syrah in Happy Canyon, the AVA to the East is more fruit forward due to the the warmer temperatures.  The Syrah from Sta. Rita Hills AVA, on the other hand expresses itself with more pepper and herbs due to the cooler climate.  Ballard Canyon Syrah combines all of these elements creating a wine with a broad range of flavors and aromas.  Growers, Winemakers and Vintners alike agree that this Canyon, while it is good with many Rhones, is best suited to Syrah.

While Ballard Canyon as a whole has proven to be similar enough to be an AVA, there still exist differences between the vineyards, allowing each to be unique even before winemaker intervention.  The vineyards in the mid to upper part of Ballard Canyon have more limestone substrate, the lower vineyards like Larner have more chalk.  This changes the way the roots capture moisture and nutrients.  So there are differences between vineyards, and then within vineyards there are differences between blocks and even rows.  The Dedication Syrahs come from the best barrels pulled from the best blocks at the Larner Vineyard and again only on years when the vintage truly speaks to them.  These are precious bottles that capture a quintessential piece of a vintage.

Take a listen to Michael speaking about the 2010 Larner Dedication Syrah.

 

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Big Bottle Bash at Presqu’ile

Spring is a beautiful time in Wine Country. Each year in April, the Santa Barbara Vintners hold their Spring Weekend. The kickoff event this year was the Big Bottle Bash held at Presqu’ile Winery & Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.

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The evening began with the drive and the views. An hour or so before sunset we were driving through the vineyard to Presqu’ile with the vines bright green in the spring. Part way up you can see the Winery and tasting room. It’s a stunning design with the winery above and the tasting room below with its windows reflecting the light.

Presqu'ile view

The view of the Ocean from Presqu’ile Vineyard

San Rafael Mountains

The view of the San Rafael Mountains from Presqu’ile

The views from up here are vast and beautiful. In the distance you can see the ocean, closer to you are the vineyards and looking inland the San Rafael Mountains.   Presqu’ile wants you to enjoy this view, the terrace is expansive with nooks to sit in, enjoy a glass of wine and the view.

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As guests arrived we were directed to the outdoor lounge, usually reserved only for club members. The beautiful courtyard has a fire pit, as well as a foosball table and multiple cozy seating areas, but immediately everyone headed to the bar. Here smaller bottles were being popped, with something for everyone.

The entrance to the Member Lounge at Presqu'ile

The entrance to the Member Lounge at Presqu’ile

 

 

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As the sun began to set, we were ushered back into the tasting room where tables were set for the dinner.   The tables were dotted with the Magnums of wine that each couple were asked to bring and after a welcome from Matt Murphy, the co-founder and President of Presqu’ile the guest Sommeliers set about pouring wines.

 

The table, set in the tasting room for the 2016 Big Bottle Bash at Presqu'ile

The table, set in the tasting room for the 2016 Big Bottle Bash at Presqu’ile

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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.

Chef Nick Barainca's menu for the Big Bottle Bash

Chef Nick Barainca’s menu for the Big Bottle Bash

Dinner began with Gougeres (a savory choux pastry with cheese) , Comte (a French cow’s milk cheese), Aged Ham and Pickled mustard seeds.

Gougeres and Aged ham with pickled mustard seeds to start the meal

Gougeres and Aged ham with pickled mustard seeds to start the meal

Soon after a beautiful platter of Lacinato Kale Salad with fennel, bread crumbs and a verte vinaigrette arrived. Lacinato Kale is a Tuscan kale that is often called black kale.

Lacinato Kale Salad with fennel, breadcrumbs and a verte vinaigrette

Lacinato Kale Salad with fennel, breadcrumbs and a verte vinaigrette

The main dish came in a dutch oven and was smoked short ribs with spring barigoule, pea tendrils and ramps. A Barigoule is a traditional Provençal dish with braised artichokes and vegetables in a savory white wine sauce. Ramps…if you are not familiar with them are a wild onion, they tend to be smaller like a green onion, but with leafier tops.

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As the evening progressed and the wine flowed conversations and friendships were made.

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Dessert is Savarin with ripe and unripe strawberries and a brown butter crème fraiche. Savarin is dry brioche that is soaked in a syrup (often rum) and served with crème and fruits. The combination of the ripe and unripe berries added a depth to the dish. And…it’s so pretty.

Savarin with ripe and unripe strawberries and a brown butter crème fraiche.

Savarin with ripe and unripe strawberries and a brown butter crème fraiche.

 

The warm hospitality of Presqu’ile envelopes everyone you can hear it in the voices in bubbling conversations around the room.

This was a unique opportunity for wine to be shared at table. Magnums are something precious, so to share them is an honor and a joy. Winemakers mixed with wine enthusiasts to talk about wine and the world, to come together at table and share food.

The long tables and family style serving fostered a sense of community and got conversations going.

The long tables and family style serving fostered a sense of community and got conversations going.

 

This great event was part of the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend 2016.  The event was held at the beautiful Presqu’ile Winery in the Santa Maria Valley AVA.

Find more information on the Wineries of Santa Barbara at the Santa Barbara Vintners site and visit the Presqu’ile website at Presqu’ile Winery.

 

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

Big Bottle Bash

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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.

 

 

 

Ballard Canyon, Santa Barbara’s newest AVA

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Ballard Canyon is the newest of the AVA’s in Santa Barbara County, established in October of 2013.  This relatively small AVA encompassing only 7,800 acres sits at the center of the Santa Ynez Valley with Los Olivos to the North East and Solvang to the South. It produces Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Viognier.  Syrah accounts for almost half of the planting.

ballard canyon ava

ballard canyon ava

Ballard Canyon runs North-South, which protects it from the winds coming through the transverse valley than runs through the Santa Ynez Valley.  Happy Canyon is thought of as the warmest part of the region with daytime temperatures of 102, but it also drops to 48 overnight.  Ballard canyons highs are a little lower, but their nighttime lows are also a little higher, this allows the  grapes to stay warmer over night and warm up more quickly in the morning.

There are 18 Vintners and growers in the Canyon and 6 wineries:  Larner, Stolpman, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, Jonata & Beckmen.

The first vines were planted in this area in 1974 at the Ballard Canyon Winery.  Today this property is Rusack Vineyards.  The 17 acre estate was replanted in 2003 with varieties of grape that would capture the character of Ballard Canyon.  It is now planted in Sangiovese and Syrah primarily with bits of Savignon Blanc, Semillon and Petite Sirah.  Everything is farmed in small lots.

The Rusack’s bought this property in 1995 and in 2013 hired Steven Gerbac to be their winemaker. In addition to their Ballard Canyon property, the Rusack’s have a newly planted vineyard on Santa Catalina Island (but that story is for another day).

The winery is set back in on the property and you follow the winding drive through the old oaks to their tasting room. They have a lovely redwood deck on the front of the tasting room with tables and great vineyard views.  It is shaded by the oaks so it makes the perfect spot for a picnic.

Larner is on the southern end of Ballard Canyon.  When Michael and Christine Larner purchased the land in 1997 it was nothing but sage and chaparral with Texas Longhorns on the property.  Now the 34 acres of vineyard include 23 acres of Syrah, 6 acres of Grenache and smaller plots of Viognier, Malvasia Blanca and Mourvedre. For a number of years they sold fruit to wineries, but in 2009 they began making their own.

Michael Larner is also the instigator behind the Ballad Canyon AVA.  In 2010 the vintners in Ballad Canyon gathered to coordinate an event on Syrah.  Michael got them together again after the event and recruited Wes Hagen  of Clos Pepe to help them develop plans for creating the AVA.

You can visit the Larner Tasting room is located in Los Olivos.  They hope eventually to have a beautiful tasting room on their property in the old Ballard General Store.  (again, another story for another day)

Tom Beckmen purchased a 365 acre hillside property in 1996 that is now Beckmen Vineyards.  With elevations of up to 1250 feet, this property would become the Purisima Mountain Vineyard. Tom & his son Steve farm this property and  they are certified biodynamic. They vineyard is planted with seven clones of Syrah that fill 18 blocks, five clones of Grenache that fill 8 blocks and smaller plantings  of Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rousanne, Marsanne, Mourvedre and Sauvignon Blanc. The soils here are clay and clay loam with a limestone subsoil, which while typical of the soil in Rhone, is a rarity in California.

Their tasting room is at the winery and is south of Los Olivos.  Take a picnic and enjoy the views from one of the three gazebos at the duck pond after your tasting!

Stolpman was founded in 1990 by Tom & Marilyn Stolpman.  This vineyard in the limestone hills was turning out fruit for cult wines like Sine Qua Non & Ojai Vineyards, until in 1997 they started producing their own wines.  Their winemaker Sashi Moorman (who also works with Sandhi & Evening Land) joined them in 2001 and works closely with the Vineyard Manager Ruben Solorzano.  They have experimented with high density plantings and dry farming.  They produce Syrah, Roussane, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc with limited plantings of Grenache, Viognier, Petite Sirah and Chardonnay which they mostly use for blending.  Today Tom’s son Peter manages the vineyards and winery.

Stolpman's Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos on Alamo Pintado, in their little red cottage.  The cottage has fables. One says it was moved here from Arroyo Grande in the early 1900’s. Another claims it was built from scrap lumber from an old military barracks.  Regardless the Stolpman’s have filled it with a great staff and designed a Tuscan inspired bar. Plus they have a picnic area under the persimmon tree out front.  In the summer they even have a farm stand with local produce.

Jonata (pronounced Ho-na-ta, which is the Chumash word for “live oak”)has an 84 acre vineyard with sandy soil planted in Syrah, Sangiovese, and Sauvignon Blanc.

When they originally bought the property the French vineyard expert they brought in found only 5 acres of land on the 600 acre property that he felt were suitable to growing grapes.  Matt Dees joined them in 2004 as their winemaker and Ruben Solorzano is their vineyard manager.

Here there is extreme detail in the growing.  Each shoot and cluster is individually manicured.   Lots are separately pulled from each distinct part of the vineyard and put into different barrels or tanks before blending.  Well known French wine expert Michel Rolland comes in to check aging potential before bottling.  As a result of all of this extra attention and the fact that if a vintage doesn’t live up to their standards, they simply won’t produce a wine from it, these bottles can run up to $125 per bottle. Their 2010 La Sangre  de Jonata Syrah was given 97 points by Wine Advocate.

A little back story.  This winery is owned by Stanley Kroenke, a real estate developer who owns the Dever Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche.  He is also one of the leaders of the consortium that purchased Screaming Eagle.

Wines here are only sold through the mailing list. http://jonata.com

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Windmill on Saarloos & Son’s Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Last but not least I will mention Saarloos & Sons.  Their Windmill Ranch Vineyard lies within this AVA.

Saarloos & Sons is a family business that is 4 generations in the making.  Each of their releases is unique and is never duplicated.  Their goal is to capture the year in a bottle and bring you a high quality wine that they name in honor of a family member.  They have a 250 year plan, thinking not just for the next generation but for the next 50.  Their goal is “Honoring + Preparing”  and their wines are heartfelt and unique.  Their winemaker and resident chronicler is Keith Saarloos.  Check out the blog for amazing vineyard videos and for philosophic posts on life, family and farming (amongst other things).

And head to their tasting room in Los Olivos.  If you are lucky, Brad will be there and will fill your glass and your spirit as he passionately talks about the wines and his family that made them.

And…have to mention, if you are there on the weekend, try the cupcake pairings!

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons tasting room in Los Olivos

Over the upcoming Vintners Spring Weekend you will be able to taste many of these wines at the Grand Tasting on Saturday April 12th.  In addition, Steve Beckmen will be leading a Vineyard Hike with with wine at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard on Friday Spril 11th.  Larner will be pouring wines at the Barrel Toasting Seminar and Tasting at the Buellton Bodegas on Friday evening. Also Friday evening Beckmen and Larner will be pouring at the 90+ Wine & Dine event at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort in Santa Barbara.  Beckmen will also be pouring on Sunday at the Farm-to-Table Picnic at the Fess Parker Ranch.

2013 Spring Vintners' Festival at the Mission Santa Ines

2013 Spring Vintners’ Festival at the Mission Santa Ines

Visit http://www.sbvintnersweekend.com  for all the Spring Weekend Events or http://www.sbcountywines.com for anything you want to know about the Santa Barbara County vineyards or wineries.

“Take a trip up Happy Canyon”

Grassini Family Vineyard in Happy Canyon courtesy of Grassini Family
Westerly Vineyard Courtesy of SB Vintners

Westerly Vineyard
Photo Courtesy of SB Vintners

“Take a trip up Happy Canyon”  Yep, that’s how Happy Canyon got it’s name.  It was the place to sneak off to find a simple alcoholic beverage during Prohibition to “get Happy”, and the name stuck.

This AVA was established in 2009 and is the fourth to be established in Santa Barbara County.  It is on the eastern edge of the Santa Barbara region and being the furthest inland and warmest (average summer temps in the low nineties) it lends itself to Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah.

The soil here has a high mineral level and is loam and clay loam.  The lack of nutrients in the soil creates smaller vines with lower yields.

Happy Canyon AVA

Happy Canyon AVA

The AVA itself covers 23,941 acres and includes 6 major vineyards:  Crown Point, Dascomb, Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards, Grassini Family Vineyards, Happy Canyon Vineyard and Westerly. This is the easternmost part of the Santa Ynez Valley and sits Northwest of Lake Cachuma.

The first planting was done in 1996 with the first vintage here in 2001.  The fruit here is limited but produce complexity and depth.  You get natural acidity as well as ripe fruit flavors creating balance.

So the alcoholic beverages from Happy Canyon are no longer simple as they were in the day when it got it’s name.  Now you will find complex and expressive wines.  Feel free to take a drive through the beautiful area and see the vineyards, but unfortunately, you will not find any tasting rooms here.  Never fear!  Many of these wineries have tasting rooms conveniently located in downtown Santa Barbara, Solvang or Sta. Rita Hills.

Grassini Tasting Room, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Tasting Room, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

You can find Grassini Family Vineyards beautiful tasting room in Downtown Santa Barbara. Dascomb has a tasting room in Solvang.  Star Lane has it’s vineyards in Happy Canyon.  It’s sister Vineyard is Dierberg and you can taste Star Lane wines at their tasting room on their Sta. Rita Hills property on Drum Canyon Road.

 

As to the rest?  Well…the Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have them all available for tasting!  Or you can spoil yourself and plan to attend the Grassini Family Dinner Event with 6 wineries including Grassini, Sea Smoke, Margerum, Dierberg Estate, Kaena, Fiddlehead and Andrew Murray.

Grassini Family Vineyard Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Family Vineyard, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

They have an incredible event planned for after the Grand Tasting on Saturday night with Dinner lakeside under the oaks out on their Happy Canyon Vineyard.  They will have passed hors d’oeuvres and a four-course meal and of course, wine!

Find out all the details about the Vintner’s weekend at http://www.sbvintnersweekend.com 

Grassini Family Vineyard Pond Courtesy of Grassini Family

Grassini Family Vineyard Pond, Photo Courtesy of Grassini Family

 

Or visit Santa Barbara Vintners for information on things happening year round in Santa Barbara’s Wine Country.

Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County’s 1st AVA

Early morning fog in Foxen Canyon

Santa Maria Valley is the northernmost appellation in Santa Barbara County.  The average temperature here is 64 degrees.  The area is bounded on the north by the San Rafael Mountains and on the south by the Solomon Hills.  They get early bud break here and then a long ripening season with an average of 125 days from bloom to harvest.  The maritime fog keeps things cool here from sunset until about 10 am.  This AVA boasts Nielson Vineyard, the oldest commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara County that was planted in 1964.

The View from Zaca Mesa when the morning fog clears

The View from Zaca Mesa when the morning fog clears

The Santa Maria AVA was the 3rd established AVA in the United States. We think of this Santa Barbara region as being so new.  But truly AVA’s are new.  The Santa Maria Valley AVA was established in September of 1981.  To give a little perspective here, the first US AVA was established in June of 1980.  (And crazily enough that 1st AVA was in Augusta, Missouri!)  If you are like me, you won’t be able to read any further until you know where the 2nd US AVA hailed from…so….I did the research and it is the Napa Valley AVA which was established in February of 1981, just a scant 7 months  (or actually 6 and a quarter months) before the Santa Maria Valley AVA.  Are you still curious…you can find this info at The Wine Institute (http://www.iwineinstitute.com/avabydate.asp).  Feel free to search for AVA establishment dates to your hearts content.

There has been a massive replanting of the Santa Maria vineyards in recent years to varieties that are more suited to the climate and soil.  You will find lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here due to the climate, but you will find many vineyards expanding into cool climate Syrah as well as other Rhone varieties.

The Santa Maria AVA encompasses some incredible vineyards like Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, Julia’s Vineyard and Foxen Estate Vineyard.  As to Wineries… here you will find Cambria, Kenneth Volk, Riverbench and Tres Hermanas.  Fine wineries such at Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido, Byron, Qupe, Solomon Hills and others feature wines from Santa Maria.

To enjoy this area take a look at the Santa Maria Valley & Los Alamos Wine Trail that is listed on the Santa Barbara Vintners site  http://www.sbcountywines.com/tasting-routes.html#smv

Windmill on Saarloos & Son's Windmill Ranch Vineyard

Windmill on Saarloos & Son’s Windmill Ranch Vineyard

To fully experience this area I suggest that you start at the Saarloos and Sons Windmill Ranch Vineyard.  (Update…okay I made an assumption, because of the windmill, but clearly if you read the sign on the windmill, you will see that this is actually the El Camino Real Vineyard)  You can’t miss the landmark windmill if you are driving on the 101.  This is just their vineyard, you will have to head back into Los Olivos to do a tasting with them.  From here take Zaca Station Road out into the vineyards.  First on your drive you will pass Firestone (yes from the tire company).  They have a vineyard, winery and a brewing company.

Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard

Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard

Further ahead is Fess Parker (yes, Daniel Boone from the TV series)  Their winery is out here, but they also have a tasting room and Inn in downtown Los Olivos.  A little further on is Zaca Mesa.

The Patio at Zaca Mesa

The Patio at Zaca Mesa

This place really got things going out here.  Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat and Bob Linquist of Qupe both started out working here.  The property is lovely especially if you get there early and can watch the marine layer roll through from Vandenberg AFB, and then stay long enough to enjoy the views that it was hiding once it burns off.  The wines….I love their Rhones.  And on weekends they often have lunch available on the patio.  This place is really welcoming and….they have great trees.

 

Foxen  7600 - the Pinot House

Foxen 7600 – the Pinot House

A little further on you will come to Foxen.  Now you can go into the Pinot House at 7600.  It’s shiny and pretty and nice.  But I prefer stopping a little past there at “The Shack” .  This is their original tasting room and it is rustic and fabulous.  You look out the door onto the hills as you are tasting and often the girls in the tasting room will point out the resident mountain lion who hunts on the ridge.  The Shack pours their Bordeaux & Cal-Ital-style wines.  at 7600 you will find Pinots, Chardonnays and Rhone Blends.

Riverbench's tasting room a 1920's Craftsman style house

Riverbench’s tasting room a 1920’s Craftsman style house

Continue north and you will come to the cluster of River Bench, Cambria and Kenneth Volk.  I will give a shout out here to Kenneth Volk.  I have not been to this tasting room, but did taste at the tasting room with Lone Madrone in Paso Robles.

Kenneth Volk's old Paso tasting room

Kenneth Volk’s old Paso tasting room

He is another wine legend.  He was the winemaker at Wild Horse and now has his own winery where he gets to play.  He does Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Santa Maria and Bordeaux varieties from Paso Robles and then… he does Heirloom Wines.  This are rare varieties like Malvasia, Trousseau, Negrette, Touriga Nacional, Blaufrankish, Verdelho and Albarino.  This is a great place to go and explore varieties you may not have tried before.

Closer to Santa Maria you will find Cottonwood and Presqu’ile.  I have tasted at the old Presqu’ile tasting room in Los Olivos and look forward to an opportunity to see their beautiful winery!

Presqu'ile old Los Olivos tasting room

Presqu’ile old Los Olivos tasting room

And I know that I have skipped a few in here.  What can I say, I have more exploring to do myself.  This is a beautiful drive.  Start early and revel in the fog!

If you are heading up for the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend April 10-13 you can stop by Zaca Mesa on Saturday the 12th for a Hike with your Dog & Picnic with their winemaker!  In addition Chef John will be offering BBQ Steak Sandwiches all day, so if you are hunger before or after the Grand Tasting…. Also on Saturday night Foxen will hold their Spring Dinner at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Cottonwood Canyon will have a Cook Your Own event.  They have the venue the music and the wine, you just bring something to grill and a side to share!

Early morning fog in Foxen Canyon

Early morning fog in Foxen Canyon

On Sunday Au Bon Climat & Qupe will have their Semi-Annual Spring Open House with a myriad of wines from  Au Bon Climat, Clendenen Family Wines, Qupe, Verdad, Ici La-Bas….and more and a luncheon prepared by Jim Clendenen.  Now how can you pass that up!  Of course you will need to squeeze this in around the Farm-to-Table Picnic and Concert with Jamestown Revival at the Fess Parker Winery.  So much to do….so little time.

Head to Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend for all the details!

Santa Barbara Wines- the Highlight Reel!

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural Central Coast Wine Country

We are back from our trip to Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles and I wanted to quickly get the highlights out and give some shout outs to people and places that made this an exceptional trip.

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro SB

We started the trip in Santa Barbara, walking the beach, exploring the murals in the funk zone and then heading up to beautiful State Street for lunch and a flight at Wine Bistro Pierre Lafond.  This beautiful café has great sidewalk tables that let you take in the romance that is State Street while enjoying great food and wine.  There is great history here, more about that in a later blog.

 

Grassini Tasting Room

Grassini Tasting Room

Our next stop was Grassini Family Cellars.  This winery is located in Happy Canyon and they specialize in Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their tasting room is located in the historic El Paseo shopping center near Au Bon Climat and Margerum.  This is a beautiful space and Katie Grassini stopped in while we were there and we had a wonderful conversation about their wines, the winery and the sustainable practices they are using there.

 

Carr SB Tasting Room

Carr SB Tasting Room

From there we headed off the beaten track a little to Carr and we tasted through their line up.  The space here is a converted Quonset hut giving it a feel of the inside of a barrel.  They also have wines available here on tap.

 

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Now it was back into the Funk Zone proper to AVA Santa Barbara, previously known as Anacapa Vintners.  This beautiful tasting room features wines from each of the Santa Barbara AVA’s.  On the entire wall behind the tasting room bar you will find a huge Elkpen mural that shows the AVAs and describes the climates, soils and topography.  They have soil samples on the counter to look at and the staff is incredibly knowledgeable.  For wine geeks that get into the soil and climate this is heaven.

To finish our day we headed down to Stearns Wharf to Conway Family Wines Deep Sea Tasting Room.  This beautiful tasting room is on the 2nd level on the Wharf with beautiful views of the coast and the ocean.  Their Deep Sea Wines are made with coastal grapes.  Shout out to Lauren for a great tasting!

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

 

We finished the day with some sunset shots followed by dinner on the end of the Wharf at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company…tiny and perfect!

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

Santa Barbara Shellfish Co.

 

Just before bed I realized I had a message from Morgen McLauglin from the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, she had been searching to see if anyone was harvested so we could go get some harvest shots.  Well she found a small harvest happening at none other than Clos Pepe.  So we were up early the next morning to meet her at the vineyard at 5:45.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

This unexpected boon turned out to be so much more than we expected.  Michael jumped in getting shots and Morgen and I chatted and she walked me down to meet Wes Hagen, the winemaker.  Wes handed us gloves, clippers, a bucket and a head lamp and directed us on the finer points of harvesting pinot noir.  The harvest was for a sparkling project that he was working on with another winery. We spent about 2 hours helping to harvest 2 rows of beautiful tight clusters of pinot noir and watching the sun come up.  And…we were lucky enough that Wes invited us to tag onto a tour and tasting he was doing later that day.

 

Vines at Carhartt

Vines at Carhartt

After a quick cleanup and breakfast at Succulent in Solvang, we headed to Carhartt for a winery tour with Joe the new Wine club manager.  We got to see all the new buildings the harvest prep and then head up to the ridge to see the vineyards as well as the newly planned vineyard site.

 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

We headed back into Los Olivos for a little wine and dessert!  “Enjoy Cupcakes” has cupcake flights available daily to pair with Saarloos and Sons tastings.  If you are here on a weekend, this is really something you shouldn’t miss.

We managed to have time for one more shared tasting at Presqu’ile.  This is a stunning tasting room that they unfortunately closed after Labor Day.  Don’t be too sad though, they have a tasting room open at their new winery in Santa Maria.  Everyone I have spoken to says the new winery is beautiful.  The wines here I found to have a unique flair which seems to come from their winemaker.  I look forward to stopping by the winery on our next trip.

At this point it was time to head back out to Clos Pepe.  I will have an entire post about our visit here.  Wes Hagen opens his mouth and fascinating facts fall out.  The wines were spectacular and the information and knowledge shared was beyond expectations.  If you are in the area and love wine, you should schedule a visit with Wes.

We ended our day in the world’s tiniest tasting room at Carhartt’s which becomes quite the gathering spot at the end of the day.  They are open an hour later than the other tasting rooms and end up being quite the industry gathering spot. And then caught a light dinner at Avant in Buellton.

 

Hilliard Bruce

Hilliard Bruce

The next morning we were off to Hilliard Bruce.  As I was tweeting about our upcoming trip, I had a tweet from them saying, “If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  Well with an offer like that…  So we went.  This is a mind bogglingly beautiful property.  John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are both Certified Master Gardeners and they love their plants.  The entire property is beautifully landscaped and truly, the canopy management is beyond anything you will see anywhere else.  Again, you will get an entire blog post on this exceptional property, but let me say that between the wine, the property and the people this was really an amazing visit.

Lots more fascinating details to come as well as photos and video!