A REALLY Grand Tasting at the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend

SB Vintners Spring Weekend

Santa Barbara Celebrated the Vintners Spring Weekend in April and the crowning event for the weekend was the Grand Tasting held at Riverview Park in Buellton.

Presqu'ile at Grand Tasting

Presqu’ile at Grand Tasting

What I love most about Santa Barbara County is that the wines are amazing and the people are laid back and approachable. The Grand Tasting had something for everyone. For a start, this area because of it’s climate, is home to so many varieties. Sta. Rita Hills and parts of the Santa Maria Valley bring Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the central part of the Santa Ynez Valley is perfect for growing all the Rhone Varieties and further inland in Happy Canyon, the weather is warm enough to grow Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc.  That doesn’t even touch on the Italian and other lesser known varieties that are being grown. So a wine lover can taste the spectrum at the Grand Tasting.

Christine Bruce, of Hilliard Bruce

Christine Bruce, of Hilliard Bruce

When you taste, chances are the person pouring the wine is the winemaker, and you can ask them about the vineyard and their winemaking techniques first hand. I was lucky enough to chat with Michael Larner of Larner Wines, Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead, Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa, Christine Bruce of Hilliard Bruce and Mikael Sigouin of Kaena. They were all more than willing to take some time and answer all my questions as I tasted their wines.

There was plenty of great food to be enjoyed also!  Each of the tents filled with wineries also had at least one restaurant booth. Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley were serving up sliders from The Hitching Post II in Buellton, Trattoria Grappolo of Santa Ynez had meatballs, Babé Farms had fresh green salads, Avant Tapas and Wine Bar had a beautiful hummus, there was Prime rib at The Starting Gate, The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café had some amazing seasoned potatos…and that was just the few we had a chance to taste.

los-olivos-wine-merchantLive music filled the air from the stage at the far end of the tasting, inspiring many to kick off their shoes and dance. There were plenty of tables and grass areas to relax in, as well as an art walk. I bought an artwork by Christina LoCascio that was a painting of Viognier ripening on the vine, painted in Syrah.

The Alan Hancock College was also on hand with viticultural knowledge and free grapevine cuttings. If you got tired, there was a massage station, if you needed to tweet, there was a social media tent. They also had a silent auction to benefit the Alan Hancock College.

This year for the first time the wineries could sell wine at the event. There was a tent set up near the entrance where you could pick up your wine purchase on your way out.

The event was well thought out with water available everywhere to keep you hydrated. They also had a designated drivers tent with beverages for those who chose to not imbibe and there was a special ticket price for those folks. A bus service to and from the event available from local hotels for a fee and Uber the online driving service was available. This mobile app connects you with a driver and had just launched in the Santa Ynez Valley so there were lots of options for safe transportation.

The day was beautiful the wine was flowing and people were enjoying themselves all around. If you didn’t make it…don’t worry, you don’t have to wait an entire year. The Santa Barbara Celebration of Harvest will be happening October 10-13th. Visit the Santa Barbara Vintners site for details! http://www.celebrationofharvest.com/event-schedule.html

Watch for more Video’s on SB Vintners Spring Weekend in the coming Weeks, with some features on the Wine and Wine Makers and so much more.

Santé

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…yes Again!

Life is better with WIne

I know…we were just there in April, but ya know, the wines in this area are really amazing!  We are headed back first to the Funk Zone to visit some more tasting rooms. We have waxed poetic on ABC (Au Bon Climat) and Municipal Winemakers, now it’s time to explore some of the other Funky Wine Tasting rooms.

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

Au Bon Climate & Municipal

The plan is lunch at Pierre Lafond’s Wine Bistro on State Street for lunch and a flight.  In 1962 Pierre Lafond opened the first winery in Santa Barbara County since prohibition.  Mr. Lafond originally had a wine and cheese shop that became the place to be for Santa Barbara wine lovers.

Pierre LaFond's Wine-Bistro

Pierre LaFond’s Wine-Bistro

He started Santa Barbara Winery and later Lafond Winery.  So…we will taste some wine, have some lunch and maybe try a little of the new Kambucha made locally that is now on the menu.  And hopefully we will find a seat out on the patio where we can absorb some of the State Street atmosphere.

After lunch we will head to Grassini Family Vineyards to do a chocolate pairing. They have a tasting room near ABC and Margerum.  Their vineyards are located on the east edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in Happy Canyon.  Oddly enough for this primarily Burgundian style region, they are growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, all Bordeaux varieties.  I look forward to finding out why they decided to grow Cab and what makes their vineyard Cab friendly.  They also have solar panels and are a gravity flow winery so I look forward to finding out more about that!

AVA Santa Barbara

AVA Santa Barbara

Then we head to the funkier part of Santa Barbara and stop by AVA Santa Barbara where I need to check out the amazing Elkpen murals of the region.

This winery is a wine geeks dream, the murals are all educational with details on the climate in each of the regions AVA’s.  They have wines from each of the 5 AVA’s in the regions.  They are owned by Seth Kunin of Kunin wines.  This should be a great opportunity to get a little more of the details of the area under my belt, with a big map to guide me.

Conway's Deep Sea Winery

Conway’s Deep Sea Winery

After that we will hit as many other tasting rooms as is feasible and plan to get a nice sunset time-lapse out at the Deep Sea Tasting room on Stearns Wharf that night.  Kalyra, Santa Barbara Winery, Carr, Oreana, Kunin, Riverbench, and Pali…you could all see us knocking at your door!  We will try!

Next stop Los Olivos!

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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.

Pairings – Scallops w/ mango salsa and Sauvignon Blanc and more…..

On our recent trip to Santa Barbara we picked up a bottle of Carhartt’s 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.  On the tasting menu it suggested a pairing of scallops or  mango salsa, sooo last  Thursday night we combined both.

Carhartt Pairing W/Scallops

Carhartt Pairing W/Scallops

Carhartt 2012 Sav Blanc

Carhartt 2012 Sav Blanc

The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc is from the Santa Ynez Valley with 47% of the fruit coming from the Carhartt vineyard, 17% from the Faith Vineyard, 18% from La Pressa and 18% from Curtis. (This is the geeky stuff I love that Carhartt kindly puts on the back of their labels!  Ready to geek out some

more?) The wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock grown on a vertical trellis system.  This was whole cluster pressed and fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% neutral oak for 6 months.  Only 750 cases were produced.

The mango salsa I created was a simple recipe with mango, green onions, lime juice, cilantro and olive oil.  My mango was not fully ripe, so it had a little tartness to it.  Michael cooked the scallops in butter and olive oil with just salt and pepper.  We did a fresh herb salad from the garden with a sesame dressing, quinoa with herbs and some avocado/cucumber rolls from Whole Foods.

Michael remembered that we had 2 other whites open (we have a vacuum sealer and they had only been opened the day before!  Don’t worry!).  One was a Field Blend from Stuart Cellars.  This wine was 45% Chardonnay, 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Viognier and 5% Muscat.  The Muscat definitely adds a sweetness to this wine.  Stuart Cellars was a winery in Temecula California, they were bought out by a company an are now named Bel Vino.  We had a bottle of Bel Vino 2012 Viognier also open, so…we thought we would give them all a shot! The Viognier I had really enjoyed the day before and the Field Blend is Michael’s go to.

Tasting Notes:

Bel Vino Stuart Carhartt

Bel Vino Stuart Carhartt

Carhartt Savignion Blanc 2012-17% from the Faith Vineyard, 18% from La Pressa and 18% from Curtis.

  • This wine was lovely on it’s own.  When we opened it I got lots of tropical fruit on the nose.  A little citrus, not overly grapefruit.  Later on as it opened up I got more apple, and a softer apple like a Fuji apple or a macintosh.
  • Scallops/ Mango-The Sauvignon Blanc held up to the mango salsa, and slightly tempered the brightness of the flavors.  It would be interesting to see how it would taste with a riper mango.  The flavors were nice with the quinoa and salad (I think it played nicely off of the sesame dressing) but with the avocado/cucumber rolls it was really nice!
  • Avocado Cucumber Rolls– …by far the Sav Blanc was the best pairing here.  It enhanced the cucumber causing the flavor to burst in cool refreshment in the back of my palate!

Bel Vino Viognier 2012

  • Scallops/ Mango– With the scallops and mango salsa the Viognier was very nice bringing out the sweetness in the scallops, it held its own here.
  • Avocado Cucumber Rolls- the Viognier was better with the roll as it had a little less sweetness and held it’s own.

Stuart Cellars Field Blend-45% Chardonnay, 35% Sauvignon Blanc, 15% Viognier and 5% Muscat.

  • Scallops/ Mango- The Field Blend was the overall winner with the scallops and mango.  It brightened the mango and pulled out the sweetness in the scallop and while not an over the top OMG pairing, it was very nice.
  • Avocado Cucumber Rolls-The Field Blend was just a little sweet with the roll.  It picked up on the rice wine vinegar but it was a little sweet and heavy to pair with the cucumber/avocado. Had this been a roll with a little crab, the Field Blend would have probably been better, pairing with the sweetness of the crab meat.

This could become a Thursday event!  Look forward to some Pizza pairings and then possibly a take off on “The Taste” with spoon full tastings to pair.  This promises to make Thursdays my favorite night of the week!

Carhartt Winemakers Dinner

When we were traveling through wine country last year we made a brief afternoon stop in Los Olivos.  It was almost the end of the day and  we had stopped at 2 other tasting rooms and headed down to Saarloos and Sons only to find them closed.  Sadly we headed across the street and the gods were more than kind as we slid into the tiny little tasting room a Carhartt.  I’ve waxed poetic about them before so feel free to check out that blog post if you want more details on the tasting room.  For here, suffice to say we were in love and charmed and joined the wine club.  So…as folks who rarely have the weekend off, when we had a vacation the first thing we did was to check our wineclubs and see if any had special events.  Voila!  The Carhartt Winemakers Dinner fit perfectly!  The Dinner is held at the winery on Rancho Santa Ynez just south of Los Olivos.  Limited to 120 guests the event feels like a family affair with Brooke, Mike and Chase out greeting guests and pouring wine.  We began thinking it was going to be cold and in fact many people went to get coats.  I however had not thought to pack one…it didn’t matter with the food wine and conversation I never got cold. A band played jazz with a keyboard/trumpet player and a dog.  (yes keyboard with one hand, trumpet with the other). Lights were strung over the lawn and candles set on each table. A roving magician wondered entertaining guests.  Richard’s quick wit and ability to deal with hecklers was impressive.  He also helped a table of people who didn’t know each other to bond.  Dinner was great, the wine fantastic and we made 7 new friends!  The raffle ended the night and our table seemed always just a number away from a win.  Finally Michael’s number came up!  We won a bottle of 2009 Fourplay.  While it was a prize worth saving, the only way to finish this evening was to pop the bottle and share with all of our new friends.  It took some work!  They tried to talk us out of opening it and then when opened the pourer tried to tell us “Oh no, I think it’s corked!  I’ll take it home for you!” HA  we poured a glass for everyone at the table and enjoyed a charming moment of community with these other wine lovers.  A perfect end to the evening.