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!

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto

Breakfast at Sides

Day 3 in Santa Barbara wine country and breakfast at Sides Hardware and Shoes was in order.  I had a goat cheese and summer squash tart and a latte.  Michael had Challah toast with a blueberry compot.  Once our tummy’s were full, we headed on to the Lompac and the Wine Ghetto!

The drive to Lompac takes you out from Buellton along the 246 and you pass many of the well known Santa Rita vineyards on the way.  Melville, Sea Smoke, Fe Ciega…next time we will take the drive south and stop by Sanford where you have gorgeous views of the vineyards I am told.

 

Brewer-Clifton

I had been reading Steve Heimoff’s book New Classic Winemakers of California so tasting some of Greg Brewer’s wines were on my list.  Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton opened this winery in Lompoc to produce wines that were vineyard specific and to cleanly let the grapes of these vineyards express themselves in the wine.  They exclusively make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  We tasted 3 chardonnays and 3 Pinots in their beautiful modern tasting room at their winemaking facility which is outside of the “Wine Ghetto”.  The first wine we tasted was the 2010 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay which is a blend of Mount Carmel, 3-D, Gnesa, Sea Smoke and Zotovich vineyards they make 2500 cases.  This was followed by the 2010 Sea Smoke Chardonnay.  They are the only winery allowed Chardonnay grapes from this property (you will remember me mentioning earlier that only Foxen is allow access to their Pinot).  This single vineyard Chardonnay they only made 290 cases of.  Lastly we tasted the 2009 Gnesa Chardonnay.  This is a 4 acre vineyard that the Gnesa family planted in 1996.  This was my favorite…lime leaf, lemon curd, cardamom…

On to the Pinots.  The 2010 Santa Rita Hills is a blend of Mount Carmel, 3D, Machado, Ampelos, Zotovich and Sebastiano and they made 1850 cases of this.  The Single vineyards are 2010 Machado of which they produced 288 cases and the 2010 Mount Carmel of which they produced 864 cases. The Machado from a 15 acre parcel on their property and is made of 4 selections that were planted (Merry Edwards, Pommard, Mount Eden and 459).  The Mount Carmel is specifically from the Mount Carmel site and is spicy with dried orange peel, tart fruit like rhubarb and an earthiness.  All of these were beautiful.  One of the things I noticed while tasting was how subtle the tannins were.  I remembered that they believed in full cluster fermentation.  Stems are vital in their opinion to their wines.  Typically this adds tannins and a bit of vegetal quality to the wines and this was not their.  Our pourer explained how it is important to ripen the stem also. They thin leaves not only to ripen fruit, but to ripen the stems.  The result is beautiful.  This was a fascinating stop. I look forward to coming back and tasting at Melville and finding away to taste his diatom Chardonnays.  As to Mr. Clifton…well we are on to Palmina in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.

 

 

Lompoc Wine GhettoPalmina

Palmina Winery in the Lompac Wine Ghetto

 

First about the Wine Ghetto.  I understood that it was a group of wineries in an industrial area, all grouped together.  Cool…I pictured large warehouses where they had their tanks and barrels stored for aging.  The warehouses were much smaller than I had pictured.  Truth is crush facilities are typically elsewhere and bottling facilities, probably a truck that comes in when needed.  So the facilities are not that large with the front being the tasting room.  We only had time for one tasting since we needed to get to the airport for our flight home so we opted to try Palmina and taste some of Steve Cliftons wines.  These are a departure from what they are doing at Brewer-Clifton in that these are Italian varieties.  This tasting room was busier and the pourer seemed to be exclusively a pourer as opposed to the pourer at Brewer-Clifton who works at the winery and interrupted what he was doing to come down and help us in the tasting room.  As a result, we tasted but were unable to have the kind of great conversation and get great information as we did a Brewer-Clifton.  We did the traditional tasting and tasted the 2010 Tocai Friulano from the Honea Vineyard, the 2010 Malvasia Bianca from the Larner Vineyard, the 2010 Dolcetto which is a Santa Barbara County blend, the 2009 Alisos (a blend of Sangioves and Merlot) from the Alisos Vineyard and the 2007 Nebbiolo from Santa Barbara County.

Our drive back to Santa Maria took us up the coast a bit and then inland to the airport where the air show continued to entertain us as we enjoyed a mexican lunch before the flight home.  This is a beautiful section of California Wine Country with some amazing vineyards and terroir!