Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 2

Larner Vineyard

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 2 – Michael Larner

The second episode of the Syrah Seminar from Santa Barbara features Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery. Michael has always been very gracious with his time when we are in Santa Barbara and you can see several video interviews we did with him in the vineyard and his office on subject such as the Language of the Vines , Heat spikes during harvest , his Malvasia Bianca , the Ballard Canyon AVA , the history of his vineyard and of course Syrah

Michael’s background is in geology so it will be no surprise that the discussion with him during the seminar focused on soil. His labels illustrate his love for the soil with his mono varietal wines featuring a soil column indicating the type of soil that these vines grow in within the vineyard and his blends featuring a fee scale, which is used to separate soil particles. In this conversation he also dives in a little on climate and how it makes Ballard Canyon “Syrah Territory”

Michael Larner speaking on Syrah.

Michael Larner speaking on Syrah.

Here is the video with the transcript below. You can look forward to more of Michael speaking on his labels and soil, as well as our latest interview with him following “The Fête” at Larner during this last Vintners Spring Weekend.

Be sure to watch the video or read the transcript below and try to get to the next seminar! They will have one during the Celebration of Harvest Festival, which happens October 7-10. Here’s a link to more information. http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/

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.

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend 2016

Episode 2: Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards & Winery

 

 

The Transcript (with a little more info than the video)

Wendy Thies Sell (WTS): Our next wine is also from Ballard Canyon. Michael Larner’s parents Stephen and Christine Larner founded the estate back in 1997. Most of their 35 acre vineyard is planted to Syrah. Michael and his sister Monica manage the property. Michael, a geologist, earned his masters degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. Michael tell us about the 2011 Larner Vineyards estate Syrah the #2 wine.

Michael Larner: Thank you, thank you for the introduction and thank you all for coming. It’s an honor to be up here for me because, in 1999 when our vineyard was planted we were Larner Vineyard, which basically meant, we sold fruit. And up until 2009 we sold 100% of our fruit, to folks like Scott, Mark, Larry, Chad…I think you two (Chris and Peter) are the only one’s who haven’t bought fruit from me.

Chris Hammel: I steal your clients to use on my slide presentation. (laughter)

Michael Larner: So it’s an honor because for us the brand really originated from winemakers who were talented and seeking out varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre that we have on the estate. And Wendy’s right, of our 34 acres 23 are planted to Syrah. So we knew, and heavily invested in Syrah for our Estate. Were 2 miles south of Stolpman and the climate is not that much different, but what does change is some of the geology. Pete has a little bit more limestone substrate, I have more chalk. So it’s the same sort of material, but just in a different physical state. Chalk is fractured and allows root penetration, allows sort of water get a little sort of perched situations. So it kind of creates a similar element which all of us have the same base material, but the nature that it’s in changes the dynamic, because what’s interesting for me is I have very sandy soils on top of that chalk and that forces the vines to be stressed out almost year round. So we essentially have to be very proactive in our farming. Luckily being a vineyard first we spent a lot of time dialing in the vineyard, making sure that the fruit was optimal, doing per acre agreements, getting clients up to speed to the best fruit possible. Then it was a natural step for us to branch out. So the first year I made wine was 2009. I had the good fortune to work for Guigal in France and Tenuta in Italy and something that was locked into my mind is allow the wines to evolve on their own, age them longer, release them later, so they are enjoyable to drink right off the bat. So actually my current release, which you are trying today, is 2011, and that’s by design, because I want that wine to be well integrated and velvety and soft. I also chose 2011 because when you get to California and the wine critics, basically everybody panned 2011. If you get rain north of Paso Robles everybody thinks California got hosed with water. But we didn’t get anything. Yes, it might have been a slightly cooler vintage, but that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to Syrah, it just changes the expression of the varietal and the wine. So I wanted to kind of showcase a vintage that I thought may not have been well received by the critics, to me it was well received because it shows a really nice elegance and balance.

WTS: It does. Michael, why do you think Ballard Canyon is so perfectly suited for Syrah?

Michael Larner: I jokingly call it the Goldilocks syndrome. Which, it’s not too cool and not too hot. When you try some of the wines from Sta. Rita you’ll find there are certain Syrah characteristics that are accentuated and almost define the wine. You usually see more pepper, pepper spices that kind of thing and then if you try a wine that’s more in Happy Canyon; Syrah grows in every AVA; you will find more fruit forward. But when you are in Ballard, you have all that. You have pepper, you have fruit, you have balance, you have good acidity. So to me it’s almost like the perfect place to grow Syrah. And one of the things that makes us, Pete and I, aware of that is that we don’t have to work really hard to make a good Syrah, it sort of does it for us and then we’re sort of there corralling it into making the styles that we want to identify with our brand. If we were in other regions we might have to do something to help get it right, if it’s too cool or pick early so we get away from the overly fruity tones or alcohol, but in Ballard Canyon it’s very much, we call it “Syrah Territory” it’s very comfortable in that domain.

More on Larner Vineyard & Winery

“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.

The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

It’s no secret, I’m in love with the Santa Barbara County Wine Region.  It is laid back with an incredible range of variety.  “Sideways” got it right.  This is the best up and coming wine area in our country.  Up and coming actually seems a little silly, the wineries and winemakers here have quite a history.  There are giants of winemaking here including: Richard Sanford, Jim Clenedenen, Bob Linquist, Richard Longoria & Bill Wathen. And the list of amazing winemakers continues to grow and the wines they are producing are varied and amazing.

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills

Santa Barbara lies in a unique area that separated from the plates along the coast.  Over the past twelve million years this little section shifted and created a Transverse valley.  This means that the valley here runs east west as opposed to north south like all the other valleys on our coast.  The transverse valley and the microclimates within it lead to a place where you can grow an amazing variety of grapes in a relatively small area.  On the western edge the valley is cool and is perfect for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As you move east the valley warms by a degree a mile!  This makes the middle section perfect for Rhone varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Roussanne and as you continue to the east side where Happy Canyon lies you have enough heat to support those Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Sauvignon Blanc.

So if you are a wine geek like me…this is a great place.  But if you are not a wine geek and want to avoid the intimidation of wine talk and just enjoy a glass…well this is the right place too.

So…make your first stop in the Funk Zone near the beach in Santa Barbara on the Urban Wine trail.  Stop into one of the many great tasting rooms there.  Maybe hit Municipal Winemakers first and soak up some of the funky atmosphere.  Sit down at the picnic table and enjoy a glass of rose.

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

Then if you are feeling like learning a little about where these wines come from head up the street to AVA Santa Barbara. Here you can taste wines from all the different regions in Santa Barbara County.  The entire wall over the tasting bar is a huge chalk mural by Elkpen that  shows the regions soils, microclimates and topography. The wines, by Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines are lovely and deliberately varied to feature the microclimates in this incredible area.

Au Bon Climate, Grassini, Margerum

If you head further North into downtown, you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat & Margerum to choose between for a tasting.

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Bistro Dining and Sunset Tasting at Deep Sea

Head back through the downtown shopping district and stop at  Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro for lunch.  Then take a stroll on the beach and finally enjoy a nice glass of wine at Conway Family Wines – Deep Sea Tasting room on the Santa Barbara Pier while you enjoy the sunset.

 

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Saarloos & Sons & Cupcakes

Oh, but my friend, you are just getting started in Santa Barbara County.  Tomorrow drive into Solvang, the adorable little Danish town and get some aebleskivers for breakfast at the Solvang Restaurant.  You can then stroll this town and taste at several tasting rooms that you can walk to, or drive a little further into Los Olivos where you will find over 35 tasting rooms to choose from!  And…I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a great place to dine at Side’s Hardware & Shoes.  Don’t miss Saarloos and Sons for a pairing with cupcakes from Enjoy Cupcakes.

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

Carhartt Patio Tasting Area

They are there Thursday thru Sunday from 11-5 (or until they run out of cupcakes, so go early!) and one of my favorite tasting rooms, the tiniest one on the planet is across the street from Saarloos and Sons at Carhartt.  Carhartt stays open an hour later than the others and this often becomes quite the gathering spot on the beautiful but tiny back patio.

Are you overwhelmed yet?  There is more…I highly recommend Terrravant Winery Restaurant in Buellton for dinner and pairings.  They have an Enomatic wine dispensing system set up so you can try small tastes of many of the amazing local wines.  And the now World Famous Hitching Post II is also here in Buellton, made famous by the movie “Sideways”.

Avante Front Entrance

Avante Tapas & Wine Bar Front Entrance

Tomorrow morning you have more wine country to explore!  There are amazing wineries outside of Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley like Buttonwood Farms & Beckman.  Or travel up to Santa Maria through Foxen Canyon and enjoy the morning Vandenberg Fog.  Stop at Zaca Mesa and try their Rhones.  This place has been around a while and popped out some pretty amazing winemakers!  Further up the road, you can’t miss stopping at “The Shack” at Foxen.

Zaca Mesa chess set

Zaca Mesa Patio with the oversized chess set

And…then there is the Sta. Rita Hills. If you love Pinot or good Chard you want to drive through here.  Make an appointment and stop by Clos Pepe.  Wes Hagen has more vineyard and wine knowledge than you can imagine and a tasting with him is amazing!  Just past Clos Pepe is Hilliard Bruce.  John and Christine have an incredibly beautiful landscaped property and their vineyard management is state of the art.

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Clos Pepe and Hilliard Bruce

Keep driving down 246 to Lompoc and top into the Wine Ghetto.  Filled with small wineries working out of an industrial park you will find Flying Goat Cellars, Fiddlehead & Palmina as well as a host of others.  Check the hours though, because they are often just open on weekends for tastings.  Further into Lompoc you will find Brewer-Clifton, which again brought out my geeky side as we talked about stem inclusion and how they thin the vines to ripen the stems!

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Lompac Wine Ghetto

Have I covered it all?  Not even close.  There is so much exploring I look forward to going back to do.  But…if you are short on time…The Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend will have all of these great wineries and winemakers in one place on April 12th.

Or at anytime for information visit Santa Barbara Vintners

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