2014 in Retrospect for Crushed Grape Chronicles

California Au bon climat

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

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

April 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2014

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

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

2014 the overview

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thanks,

 

Robin & Michael

Crushed Grape Chronicles

 

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.

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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Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail – Virtual Tour

Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail is unique.  Follow it and you get to explore Santa Barbara from elegant State Street and the historic El Paseo shopping center where you will find Grassini, Au Bon Climat and Margerum, to the outskirts of the Funk Zone where Carr resides in it’s Quonsit hut making you feel like you’ve walked right into a barrel.  Cross the train tracks and stop by AVA Santa Barbara where you can taste wines from all the AVA’s in the area and see the huge Elkpen mural mapping out the unique climate, soils and history of the AVA’s.  Stroll down the block and stop at Santa Barbara Winery one of the very first in this area.  Anacapa Street is teaming with tasting rooms like Oreana, Kunin and of course Municipal Winemakers which looks like a dive shop and has a wall of filing cabinets.   As you stroll between the tasting rooms take in the Funk zone with it’s murals and small artist shops and galleries.  The Santa Barbara Surf Museum is there as well as plenty of surfboard and dive shops.  Keep walking and you will hit the beach.  Grab a segway or a bike or just walk the beach.  Head out on to the wharf and visit the Aquarium or just enjoy watching the fishermen.  Stop by Conway Family Wines Deep Sea tasting room with a 2nd story patio to enjoy the view with a glass of wine.  Don’t miss sunset at the end of the wharf and the parade of boats returning to the marina.  It makes for a perfect day…although 2 would be even better.

ABC and a stroll up State Street

Au Bon Climat

So…we had lunch out on Stearns Wharf and enjoy the view and then do a tasting at the ever so kitschy Municipal Winemakers and now we decide to head to Au Bon Climat or ABC as they call it here.

Jim Clendenen is well known in the wine world.  He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in Pre-Law in 1976 and the world should be very grateful that he found another path.  A “junior year abroad” trip to France had him falling in love with wine.   He was the Assistant Winemaker at Zaca Mesa for 3 seasons beginning in 1978.  (We will get back to Zaca Mesa later!)  Mr. Clendenen has been at the forefront of putting Santa Barbara County on the map as a wine region.  His restrained manner of making wines has given him plenty of ups and downs with reviews as tastes changed, but he has persisted and continues to make beautiful balanced wines that age well.  He looks like a bit of a hippy with his shoulder length hair, beard and typically a Hawaiian style shirt.  He founded ABC in 1982.

Au Bon ClimatTo get there from “The Funk Zone” I figured we would walk State Street.  I was a little nervous about having to get to the other side of the freeway, but there is a gorgeous underpass with bougainvillea to get you there past the Reagan Ranch Center.  State Street is a lovely walk with great shops, restaurants, Café’s with sidewalk seating and beautiful older buildings.  It was a great walk but we were not prepared for it to be as long as it was!  We found the 2nd Starbucks (the one on your right, not your left as the pourer at Municipal directed) and turned left on De la Guerra St.  A right on Anacapa put us in front of Au Bon Climate and Margerum.  With only time for one tasting room, we went into Au Bon Climat and stepped up to the tasting bar.  The tasting room is lovely with two tasting bars and a table with chairs, which when we walked it was strewn with AVA and vineyard maps (got to love that!). We tasted through the regular menu that is far more than Au Bon Climat wines.  On this day it included 3 other labels: ICI/ La-Bas, Clendenen Family Vineyards and Il Podere Dell’ Olivos.

Au Bon Climat Bar

Au Bon Climat Bar

The Tastings:

  • 2011 Clendenen Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. This Sauvignon Blanc was grown at Mesa Verde in the Santa Ynez valley.   After whole cluster fermentation it settled in 500 liter Hungarian oak with racked lees to add a bright clean finish.  A really lovely Sav Blanc.
  • 2009 Au Bon Climat Hildegard white table wine. This wine is 50% Pinot Beurot (a burgundian clone of Pinot Gris), 30% Pinot Blanc grown at Bien Nacido and 20% Aligote.   It was predominantly fermented in new Francois Frères barrels with malolactic fermentation.
  • 2010 Au Bon Climat XXX anniversary Chardonnay. They believe that the structured winemaking style behind this wine should make this age until their 50th anniversary.  The blend is 44% Chardonnay from Le Bon Climat & 56% from the Bien Nacido K block.  It is aged 18 months in new Francois Frères barrels and then is bottled with no filtration.
  • 2008 Au Bon Climat Los Alamos Pinot Noir.  These vines were planted in 1972 and with warmer days and cooler nights the grapes are able to reach incredible concentration and balance.
  • 2009 ICI La-Bas Pinot Noir is grown in the Anderson Valley in the Elke Vineyard in northern California near Mendocino.  This is aged in 75% Francois Frères new oak barrels.
  • 2005 Clendenen Family Vineyards Syrah/Viognier.  Grown in the Clendenen organic ranch near Los Alamos.  This low alcohol wine is co-fermented.
  • 2005 Il Podere Dell’ Olivos Teroldego.  This is an extremely rare world-class wine grape that makes a wine that is rich and darkly colored.  The grape originated in the grape-growing region of Rotaliano located in northeastern Italy.  2005 vintage is blue black in color dense and well extracted with blackberry and plum notes.  It has a full inky texture complimented by silky finesse.

All of the wines were wonderful.  Each balanced and with it’s own character.  Our pourer was happy to give us details on the wines as we tasted. He also gave us his card for a 2 for 1 tasting at Qupe where we were dashing off to next.  Jim Clendenen and Qupe’s Bob Lindquist are old friends both coming out of Zaca Mesa (we had a great Zaca Mesa Chardonnay when we ate at The Poppy Den) and both celebrating 30 years in winemaking this year.  Realizing we were running short on time, we made the trek back in cut time!  I look forward to coming back to Santa Barbara and spending a few days so we have time to stroll from tasting room to tasting room enjoying the sites.

Municipal Winemakers and the “Funk Zone” wineries

Life is Better with Wine

I have wanted to visit Municipal Winemakers for a while.  We stopped in on our last trip through Santa Barbara a year and a half ago only to find that they were sold out and had no wines to taste!  Well, if you are going to have a problem in the wine industry, I think that is the one to have.  As we planned another trip through the area I did more research on the winery.

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara

They are kitschy, located in The Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail’s “Funk Zone”.  Their winemaker Dave Potter wants to get the wine to the people.  He loves making wine and meeting people who want to drink his wine.  Distributors and sales…that creates the distance between the grape and the glass and takes some of the heart out of the process.  So…Dave makes his wines and sells them in his tasting room.  Small lots, high quality and it’s working if he is selling out before he can release another vintage!

This is not your average wine tasting room.  Outside you have to see the sign on the sidewalk to realize that it is a tasting room, otherwise it looks like an old dive shop near the beach in Santa Barbara.  There are picnic tables set up in an area out front.  When you walk in you first notice the wall of stacked filing cabinets.

Municipal WineMakers, File Cabinet Wall

Municipal WineMakers, File Cabinet Wall

As we walked up for our tasting the person pouring pulled one drawer open and pulled out two glasses and oversized index card with a typed list of the tastings!

We tasted through the list, which included a dry, Riesling (Bright White), a Rose (Pale Pink), a Red Blend (Bright Red), a Pinot (Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir), a Cab and a sweeter Riesling (Sweetness).  The bottles have great labels and each bottle has a bottle number listed.  The rose was Grenache, Cinsault and Counoise and the “Bright Red” which I really enjoyed was the same blend with Syrah.  The Bright Red was light on the palate but with big flavor.  They do also have a “Wine Fountain” where they serve wine by the glass or in 1 liter refillable bottles.

We walked the neighborhood enjoying some more of the “Funk Zone” before heading up State Street.  Next door there is an old red phone box labeled “Book Exchange” and filled with books.  I had seen these on Facebook, but this was the first I had seen close up!  Need a book, take a book, done with a book, leave it!  It is a great concept!  Lots of other wineries have tasting rooms in the area.  Anacapa Vineyards is not even listed yet, they are so new!  They have a beautiful tasting room with big windows and chalkboards on the walls filled with all kinds of interesting information on their grapes and wines.  It is a regular wine education classroom!

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery

Oreana Winery up the street has old trucks painted with their logo out front and a juke box in the garage that is part of their barrel room.  Pali, which is next to Anacapa, has lots of windows and a patio on the side.  Santa Barbara Winery sits in a white washed building covered in vines.  In addition to the wineries listed on the Urban Wine Trail site, there are more popping up all the time.  We saw a side door on a building that said “Drake”.  This new little tasting room evidently recently opened.  When we were later at Sculpterra in Paso, the person pouring for us said his friend had just opened that tasting room (the wine world is a small world).

While we only had time to taste at Municipal, we will happily return to spend a day or two tasting in the area and enjoying the beach.  There are around 11 tasting rooms in “The Funk Zone” and another 9 or 10 within the downtown area, including Conway’s Deep Sea Tasting room out on Stearns Wharf.

For now…we were off to take a stroll up State Street and find Au Bon Climat (or ABC as it seems to be known here).

Springtime in Wine Country – Santa Barbara to Paso Robles

Santa Barbara
Stearn Wharf Sign

Stearn Wharf Sign

Drawn to the coast we began on the beach in Santa Barbara wandering Stearns wharf and then tasting at Municipal Winemakers on Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail in “The Funk Zone”.  Au Bon Climat called and we strolled up the beautiful State Street with bougainvillea petals blowing on the breeze to taste there. Jim Clendenen’s wines lived up to the hype in my book. Then it was just a beautiful drive up 154 to Los Olivos past Lake Cachuma to taste at Qupe/Verdad/Ethan in Los Olivos see some of the amazing wines Bob Lindquist creates.  A relaxing tasting on the back patio at Carhartt slowed our pace and had us waxing poetic on the glorious fragrances of Brooke Carhartt’s wines.  Dinner of small plates and a wine wall where I could enjoy tastings or a glass at Avant Tapas and Wine ended a perfect day one.

In the morning we caught the marine layer drifting through as we headed north into Foxen Canyon stopping for a great tasting at Zaca Mesa.  The property here is beautiful.  This is the winery that turned out both Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist as well as numerous other amazing winemakers.  After our tasting here, we headed North to Arroyo Grande and enjoyed a tour at Talley.  As we toured the winemaker Eric Johnson stopped by on a couple of occasions to say hello and answer questions.  Now it was on to our final destination of Paso Robles.  We tasted at Booker which is off of 46 West and were greeted by the winery dog who is the spittin’ image of our dear Mojo from Miramonte!

Day 3 began at Bella Luna, a tiny winery south-east of Paso, where Sherman, the winemaker was pouring their Italian style wines. Staying on the East Side we drove on to Sculpterra with their amazing sculpture garden live accordion music and lovely wines.  We made our way back to the West side of the 101 to Vines on the Marycrest where they were hosting a “Songwriters at Play” event.  The sun filtered through the tasting room windows and the music filtered in from the patio while we enjoyed a great tasting and conversation with Jennifer while Vic the winemaker and a sound engineer busily took care of cables, mic stands and making sure the sound system in the tasting room gave us the best mix.  Our day ended strolling downtown where they were having a wine and art event.  We were drawn into the Parrish Family Vineyards elegant tasting room where enjoyed tasting the Parrish Family wines with a cheese pairing from Vivant cheeses and I was treated to a wonderful conversation with winemaker David Parrish regarding yeast!

Another beautiful morning saw us enjoying a drive in on Vineyard Drive from the south. Shale Oak is a newer winery in Paso and I had been lucky enough to stumble across them on Cellar Pass.  The peacefulness of this spot in the morning with its stunning architecture topped by it’s eco friendly stance made for a beautiful start to the day.  We added a little adrenaline to the morning with a drive out Peachy Canyon Road.  The twists and turns put this West Virginia girl right at home.  We stopped at a small winery called Stacked Stone.  Winery owner and winemaker Donald Thiessen saw us pull in and came out to open the tasting room to pour for us.  The property is in a lovely wooded area landscaped with “stacked stones”.  Back up Peachy Canyon we headed toward one of the highest limestone plateaus on the West side of Paso Robles 1200 feet above the Salina Valley.  Here at Lloyd’s Lookout sits the Calcareous Winery and tasting room.  The views are amazing.  We enjoyed a tasting followed by a lunch pairing with food by Thomas Hill Organics.

Mid day saw us heading North and East to San Miguel and tasting at family owned and run Locatelli.  Raynette Gregory the co-proprietor poured for us.

From this small family owned winery, we headed further east to the big new tasting room on this block, Nigel Lithgoe’s Villa San Juliette.  The drive out is lovely with expansive views of the East side hills and the property itself is impressive.  Photo’s to come!  From here we were a little wined out…so time for a little pacific coast palate cleanser.  We headed to the coast and dinner at Moonstone beach.  We finished dinner and drove partway back to Paso to pull off and wait to watch sunset.

Our final day started with tour at Tablas Creek.  We are loyal members here and took a tour before our tasting.  The place has grown so much since our last trip here.  We saw Bob Haas arriving for the day, and while we did not see winemaker Neil Collins, we did get to hang with his dog Millie!  From here we had a little time before our tour at neighboring Halter Ranch and made a stop at Adelaida to taste the wines, the almonds, see the sheep and alpacas and meet Addy the vineyard cat.  We headed back to Halter Ranch to do our tour and tasting, and fell in love with the place.  The new winery here is state of the art and stunning.  We ended our trip here on a high note.

So that is the quick view, watch for detailed posts and pictures from these amazing wineries over the next few weeks.

Santa Barbara and it’s Urban Wine Trail

CGC logo

Tasting rooms, they come in all shapes sizes and locales.  If you are headed North from LA into wine country you might consider a stop for a day (or maybe two) in beautiful Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara County has become well-known for some amazing wines and winemakers, beautiful wine country and vineyards as well as beautiful shoreline and beaches and some terrific shopping in Santa Barbara itself.  So take some time and mix it up, a little beach time, some lunch, some shopping and some tasting, the wine here is just fine.

I have 3 tasting rooms on my list for my trip through Santa Barbara this time.

Au Bon Climat has opened a tasting room on Anacapa Street and I am very excited to be able to do a tasting of Jim Clendenen’s wines.  With 30 years in the industry his wines are noted for balance and restraint.  And…as the Bien Nacido Vineyard is primarily the source for their grapes…I mean, it’s really hard to go wrong.  So this is first on my Urban Wine Trail Tasting list.

They share a space with Margerum Wine Company and are next to The Wine Cask if you are looking for a delicious lunch or dinner, and the Grassini Family Vineyards tasting room is right there also.

Next on my personal list is Municipal Winemakers.  We tried to stop by here on our way home through Santa Barbara awhile back.  Unfortunately, they were sold out and bottling, so they had nothing to taste!  So…we will return again.  They had (I hope they still have) an iPad program for tastings which I was fascinated by and looking to check out.  Besides that, they are close to the beach and fun and funky!  They offer free wine delivery if you show up on a bike.  They are all about making interesting wines and I am all for that!  I fell in love with their feel and their site and expect to fall in love with their wines when I taste them!  Want to see why I’m infatuated even before I taste?  Go to their “about us” page and click the top photo for a video interview with the Municipal Winemaker Dave Potter and hear his perspective.

While in this neighborhood you can walk just a few blocks to taste at 7 other tasting rooms including Kunin Wines, Kalyra Winery, Oreana Winery, Cottonwood Canyon, Santa Barbara Winery and Pali Wine Company…but we are headed out onto the water for our last tasting when we are there.  Conway Family Wines has opened their “Deep Sea Tasting Room” out on Stearns Wharf with “360 views of the Pacific coastline, Channel Islands, and the Santa Barbara Harbor or Riviera.”  So before we head inland we will head out onto the wharf to enjoy some of their white wines and some ocean air. If the view itself is not enough to entice you into this tasting room perhaps their sustainable vineyard practices will or their use of cold-soaking or fermenting with indigenous wild yeasts.  Their Estate is located in Rancho Arroyo Grande and they are committed to protecting the land and wildlife there.  Okay…are you there yet?

And…that’s not all the tasting rooms!  Silver, Jaffurs, Carr, Sanguis, Whitcraft and Summerland are just a little ways away and… I hear that Anacapa Vintners just opened a tasting room.

If you want the shortcut to find all the details head to Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail’s site for maps and links.  And stay tuned for the details after we visit!

Santa Barbara and Los Olivos part 2

Carhartt Vineyard and Winery

We headed up the street again to Saarloos and Sons, only to find them closed on this weekday just before the holidays.  So…we took a leisurely walk around the town to see what else might be open.  We ended up coming full circle and stopping into Carhartt which is directly across the street from Saarloos and Sons.  Known as the “worlds smallest tasting room” they weren’t kidding!  This tiny tasting room had a couple at the counter, a big group on the back patio and us at the end of the bar squeezing in.  None the less Robin welcomed us immediately to the tasting room and got us set up.  The group on the back patio Robin told us were local kids back from College and Afganistan. They came in looking for Chase which is the owner’s son, and then she realized they were really looking for her son, whose name is also Chase.  He was not yet home from college.  They asked us to take a photo of them with Robin in front of the tasting room.  When they were gone Robin invited us to head into the back patio and be comfortable in the barrel chairs and she would bring us our tastings.

Carhart Winery

Carhart Winery

The barrel chairs were VERY comfortable and the wines..sublime.  The garden patio is beautiful.  The tiny tasting room filled up and another couple joined us on the patio.  All of the wines here were extremely nuanced and layered and many were surprising.  The 2010 Savignon Blanc from the Faith Vineyard at Carhartt has the expected bright grapefruit on the nose, but then is much smoother on the palate and slightly sweeter than you would expect.  The 2010 Pinot Noir from River Bench Vineyard….okay, we tasted several styles of Pinot Noir on this trip and I love the Bien Nacido Pinots that we tasted in Paso, but this, this is a completely different animal.  I am in love.  Elegant, sophisticated  it has lavender and forest floor on the nose, the mouth is butter and oak and lavender.  It is light in the mouth but sooooo complex!  This is a stunner.  The 2009 Estate Merlot from Rancho Santa Ynez was deep with licorice & tobacco.  The mouth feel was big at the top and then ends clean making it the perfect food wine.  Finally the 2009 Fourplay is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Merlot (a Meritage minus 1).  With a nose of dark berries, cedar and toasty oak this is balanced and beautiful.  I will admit that we had fallen in love with the place the people and the wines, and without a second thought we joined the wine club here.  Before leaving Robin told me that Pete would call me the next day to welcome me to the wine club.  He handles all the wine club stuff.  She also gave me a Carhartt business card, which has Mike Carhartt’s cell phone number on it in case we need anything.  This is truly a family run business.  Mike grew up raising cattle here and then turned the cattle farm into a vineyard.  Bill from Foxen encouraged them to make their own wine.  He had been buying their Merlot grapes for that great Merlot that I mentioned yesterday.  Mike’s wife Brook does the lab work creating the wines and their son Chase is currently going to Cal Poly studying Vinticulture and Enology, is home in the summer to assist in the vineyard.  All the grapes are manually basket pressed in small batches.  I look forward to finding a way to get out one of their pick up parties or the annual dinner that is held for members at the Ranch.

Okay, so that would be a pretty perfect end to the day, but…Matty’s Tavern was suggested to us for dinner and it was just up the street.  When we get there I find that this is actually Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern.  The building was originally built as a stagecoach stop then turned into a restaurant and hotel.  But the hotel always came first.  Inside it is warm and welcome with lit fireplaces everywhere.  We had a stunning dinner that was finished with a Gingerbread bread pudding that was spectacular.  No trip to this area should miss dinner here.  It was a perfect end to our last day of vacation.

 

Santa Barbara and Los Olivos Part 1

Los Olivos Central Coast Wine Country

When we got to this point in our trip we woke up feeling wined out.  So…we began the day with breakfast and Aebleskivers from the Solvang Restaurant.  Great service and we even ended up with an extra order of aebelskivers as the cook made one too many and our waiter didn’t want them to go to waste.  The aebelskivers are like a pancake donut served with powdered sugar and a house made raspberry jam.  So we filled our tummies and then decided to head to Santa Barbara and the ocean.  I think after so many days driving down the coast, we were experiencing withdrawal!

The drive to Santa Barbara is relatively short, about 45 mins.  It’s only about 15 min from Buellton (right next to Solvang) to Gaviota State Park and from then on you have a view of the coast for most of the drive.  We parked by the beach and went for a stroll, just soaking in the ocean on the final full day of vacation.  I will say that after enjoying the pristine coastline and whale watching at Big Sur, this part of the coast was disappointing.  Not because of the coastline, while it is different it is still beautiful, but because of the unsightly oil rigs.  The sight of them actually made me slightly nauseated.  I was longing to look for whale sign, but here, I want the whales to stay far away from the coast.  The thought of a spill in these waters where the grey whales migrate annually made me worry.

After our walk, we were ready for wine again.  We could have tasted in Santa Barbara but on a whim decided to head to Los Olivos and the tasting rooms there.  This little town has become a hub for tasting rooms interspersed with galleries and cafes.  We have never actually done a group downtown tastings, typically we head to the vineyards, so this was new.  The town is charming and welcoming.  We headed first to Consilience who now shares a tasting room with Tre Anelli.   Consilience produces Rhone Varietals and since we had tasted so many Rhones in Paso, we decided to taste at Tre Anelli who does Spanish and Italian grape varietals.  The wines here were all good.  From the 2010 Albarino with my favorite descriptor “languid” to the 2007 Langrein which had a deep deep nose but was surprisingly light on the palate, these were enjoyable wines with great layers.  Jim in the tasting room was terrific on sharing information on the vineyards and the wines and also on the growth of  Los Olivos.  Consilience was the 7th tasting room in town, when Tre Anelli opened they were the 15th.  Now there are over 30 tasting rooms in town.  Truly you could spend several weekends just here tasting in town.  Consilience and Tre Anelli are also Dog friendly, so feel free to come with your four legged friends!

From Tre Anelli we wondered up the street to Epiphany.  Michael had read about them, so we stopped in.  It’s a lovely tasting room and was getting busy as we arrived.  It was the type of place where conversations with other tasters was open and welcomed and we enjoyed chatting with the other guests in the tasting room while we all enjoyed the wines.  It’s interesting to discuss the wines and different interpretations when tasting.  Again, all the wines were good!  We felt like we were on a real roll for the day!  The owner and winemaker here is Eli Parker yes….his family does some other wines over at Fess Parker which can be tasted at their tasting room and hotel down the street.  I very much enjoyed their 2010 Grenache Blanc and 2009 Rousanne here and I loved the 2008 Santa Rita Hills Syrah.  We were lucky enough to have a taste of the 2004 Hampton Syrah which is one of their library wines that had been pulled out for a tasting for a wine club member.  Michael really enjoyed the 2007 Petite Sirah whose fruit is sourced from the Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa.