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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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

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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

Presqu’ile Winery – Taste through the vineyard

Presqu'ile WInery Hilltop, Santa Maria Valley


Starting the day driving north on the 101 to the Santa Maria Valley is never a bad thing. This section of roadway is lined with vineyards. Before you get to Santa Maria you take a right and drive out to the gates of Presqu’ile. Through the gate you see the expanse of rolling vineyards, you pass the Italian Villa of the vineyard next door and come up to the top of the hill where you find the elegant and modern Presqu’ile Winery and tasting room. Chances are you will be greeted by the winery dog as you walk in through the parking lot. Outside there are terraces overlooking a small amphitheatre, all set with comfortable seating perfect to curl up in with a glass of wine. The tasting room has a glass wall that slides open to make it open air during the day and as you look out when it’s clear you can see the ocean in the distance. The Tasting bar is spacious and dotted with bowls of seasoned pecans that came, like the owners the Murphy Family, from Mississippi.

“Presqu’ile” is the Creole word for “almost an island”. The Murphy family retreat on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi held the same name. Yes “held”, Hurricane Katrina laid waste to this place where the family had gathered for generations. So the family headed west to find a 200 acres of property in the Santa Maria Valley. Two generations of Murphy’s are now here and this new Presqu’ile has become the new gathering place for the family.

Tasting Room at Presqu'ile

Tasting Room at Presqu’ile

After we gathered in the tasting room, our group was escorted to the Key to Wine country weekend event, “Taste Through the Vineyard:  Explore Wines Sourced from Presqu’ile Vineyards Produced by Different Winemakers”. We were led back through the barrel tunnel. Cut into the side of the mountain this barrel lined tunnel is climate controlled (mostly naturally) and makes for a memorable entrance to the winery. We got into a shiny stainless steel elevator. I felt a little like I was going to a secret base in a James Bond film, but rather than heading to an underground laboratory, we headed up. The doors opened and we entered the sunlit crush pad. Glasses twinkled in the sunlight on sleek modern metal tables, set at the center with a thick wooden block abundantly piled with delicious charcuterie. At the front, just before the railing down to the tanks in this gravity flow winery, there were four smaller tables, each again bedecked with glasses and wines and behind them sat our four winemakers.

Key Weekend Glass Setting

Our host Matt Murphy stepped up to welcome us. He is genuine, warm, well spoken and his inherent sense of southern hospitality melded with the relaxed nature of the California that he and his family now call home. He set the stage for a wonderful conversation with these winemakers.
So we are in California in a winery owned by a Mississippi family…are you ready for it to get a little more exotic?
Our winemakers hailed from South Africa, New Zealand and the US. Presqu’ile winemaker Dieter Cronje and Storm winemaker Ernst Storm are both from South Africa, Ariki Hill of Labyrinth is from New Zealand and Kevin Law of Luceant Luminesce was exotic in that he was the only one without an accent.

Presqu'ile Wine Event

Presqu’ile Wine Event

We settled in, Matt handed things over to the winemakers and we did side by side tastings of wines from the Presqu’ile vineyards made by these different winemakers with different styles. I’ve spent some time as of late reading and listening to winemakers speak about growing grapes and making wine, but even the conversation here had an accent. There were terms that I knew well, but the direction that they brought to winemaking was fresh to me.
We spent the next couple of hours listening with rapt attention as these winemakers discussed their wines, their winemaking styles and the soils here at Presqu’ile Vineyards. Ernst Storm discussed his use of Acacia barrels, Dieter spoke to how he incorporates the concrete egg, we tasted with Kevin through his 2011 Pinot Noir to his 2012, two very different vintages and Ariki spoke about spoke of his love for one specific Cooper…I was so engrossed in the conversation that I almost completely missed the incredible charcuterie platter.
We drove back out through the rolling vineyards, feeling like we had not had enough time. I could have stayed all day talking with the winemakers, enjoying the wine and relaxing on this beautiful property. It’s okay…we’ll be back.

You can get an idea of what our day was like from the video here.  But…if you want to hear the full discussion, we will have it broken into 3 or 4 episodes and available in our “Dirt to Glass” series.

We also have  a great recipe for a Strawberry, citrus and avocado salad inspired by Ryan in the Presqu’ile Tasting room.  It is a great summertime pairing to go with their Rose of Pinot Noir .

Presqu’ile’s Winery, Vineyards and tasting room are located in the Santa Maria Valley at 5391 Presqu’ile Drive, 93455. You can reach them at 805-937-8110.

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

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.

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!

Hilliard Bruce Vineyards – Part 1: The People and the Place

Hillard Bruce Entrance

The start of a 4 part series on our trip to Hilliard Bruce in the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.

We had a trip planned to Santa Barbara to visit wineries and I had tweeted looking for great spots for sunrise shots etc.  I had a response from a winery that was not on my radar.  Hilliard Bruce tweeted “ If you can, you’ve got to see the canopy management at Hilliard Bruce Vineyards at least once before you die.”  And well, when you put it like that, how could we not!  So we scheduled a visit with the tweeter, who turned out to be John Hilliard himself.

 

John Hilliard & Christine Bruce

John Hilliard and Christine Bruce are peaceful, gentle and thoughtful people.  They are both certified master gardeners, and perhaps their demeanor comes from this connection with the soil and growth.

Christine is an avid horsewoman and raises Arabian horses on the property.   She also has an extensive background in music studying classical piano and then falling in love with contemporary jazz and working as a professional keyboardist after graduating from the Berklee College of Music.

John came from a background in finance and maritime insurance until he decided to take up painting full time.  In Houston he was the Director and President of Diverse Works and a panelist for the Cultural Arts Council of Houston.  Later he took over his family’s shipyard business. (Talk about diversity!)

They divide their time now between the vineyard in California and their home in Miami where they are still part of the art scene.

It’s a joy to meet them, their dogs Wiglette and Jackson are always with them. And they love to be out on the property.  The pride in this place is evident as they show you around.

As they drove us around the vineyard we passed a section where several birds were trapped under the netting.  They net over 2 rows, so you can go underneath and still work on the vines.  John noticed the birds and we stopped to set them free.  Yes I’m sure that this keeps the birds out so that they don’t eat the berries, but John was mostly concerned that the birds were not trapped.  The kindness that exudes from John and Christine I am sure makes their wines better.

 

The Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills

View of Pinot Vines

They found this property as they searched for a place to breed Arabian horses and plant a vineyard where they could grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  This location idyllic for this.  It is located on 101 acres on the Western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, with 21 acres planted with vineyards in 2004.  From the top of the vineyard the view is amazing.  You can see the ocean to the West, to the North you can see Gypsy Canyon and to the West, Kessler Haak, Clos Pepe, Melville, Babcock Vineyards.  They are directly across Rt. 246 from Dos Hermanas Vineyard (previously known as Ashley’s Vineyard).

The soil here is a sandy silk that is very low in organic matter making it extremely fast draining.

They have 17.5 acres of Pinot Noir with Calera, Pommard, 115, 667, 777 and 828 clones.  The Chardonnay covers 3.5 acres in 76 and 96 clones, but they are about to plant more Chardonnay.

The property is also a showcase for their love of gardening with 300 date palms, apple trees, an avocado orchard, hundreds of roses and a stunning cut flower garden.

Christine’s vegetable garden is beautiful, a photographers dream.  With her love of beauty and art, she admits to sometimes having trouble harvesting in her garden and upsetting the beautiful visual.

 

Tomorrow we will explore their approach to sustainability!

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!