A Trio of Syrahs from California’s Central Coast

Syrah bottles Tablas Creek Carhartt Larner

I started out with a plan.  It actually wasn’t Syrah. The plan was dinner and a Roussanne.  We have spent a couple weeks doing research on Syrah and were almost complete.  Our next varietal to focus on is Roussanne and we were going to start with that tonight.  But…it got a little cloudy out and it was feeling a little cold and rather than the seafood companion to the Roussanne, we wanted something a little warmer and cozier.

I came across a post on my Twitter from Bonny Doon of two of their Syrah’s the 2013 Bien Nacido and the 2013 Le Pousseur.  I was inspired and pretty sure I had a Le Pousseur in the cellar, so I did a little pairing research on the Bonny Doon site, and Randall Grahm their winemaker, suggests lamb chops with chimichurri.  I don’t do lamb, (can’t eat baby animals) so I look a little further on the web for pairing advice and see sirloin as a pairing.  Off we go to shop for dinner.  We pick up a marinated sirloin with a chimichurri sauce!  Upon arriving at home, I head down to grab the wine, only to find, well, to not find, the Le Pousseur.  We must have already enjoyed that bottle!  Luckily, we have a few other Syrahs (that’s kind of an understatement).  So I debate between a 2013 Carhartt and a 2014 Larner Transverse.  Both are from Santa Barbara County.  Finally I decide that with a Tablas Creek 2014 Syrah already open, we might as well do a side by side with all 3.

Grilled sirloin & Syrah Tablas Creek 2014, Carhartt 2013 and Larner Transverse 2014

Grilled Sirloin with a chimichurri sauce, grilled eggplant and a salad to pair with our Trio of Syrahs.

The Syrahs

 

2014 Tablas Creek Syrah

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Syrah

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2014 Syrah

At Tablas Creek in Paso Robles they have 4 clones of Syrah that were brought from France, from Chateau du Beaucastel. They planted these in 1994, so the vines are almost in their mid 20’s.  The 2014 is the tenth bottling of this single varietal that they have done.  This was fermented in open-top fermenters and was aged in a mix of smaller newer barrels (note that they are “newer” not “New”) and Neutral 1200- gallon foudres for 20 months.  It is 100% Syrah and sits at 14.6% alcohol. If you are familiar with Rhône Syrahs, they say this wine is “more Cote Rotie than Cornas,”.  Only 800 cases were produced.  Visit https://tablascreek.com/ for all the details.

You will also find Vintage Charts (I love these) on their site, to let you know where their wines are at drinkability wise.  Many of the Tablas Creek Wines are meant to age. They taste through their wines and update the vintage chart annually.  The chart will let you know if the wine needs more aging, is drinking well but is youthful, is mature, is in a closed phase, if it’s time to drink it now, before it passes it’s prime or if you have waited too long.  It will also tell you if they currently recommend decanting the wine.

2013 Carhartt Syrah

Carhartt 2013 Syrah.

Carhartt 2013 Syrah.

This Syrah comes from Rancho Santa Ynez in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.  Carhartt prints all the good geeky details right on the back label and I love them for that!  This vineyard is just 10 acres and sits on a mesa in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The wine is 100% Syrah from clones 470 & 174 on 1103p Rootstock and 877 & Estrella clones on 5c rootstock. It is grown on vertical trellis.  It is sustainably farmed, and fermented in small lots with a cold soak, punch downs and pump overs & gently pressed.  It spends 17 months in barrel (35% new french oak).  It sits at 13.5% alcohol.  This wine is unfined and unfiltered and only 435 cases were made.

To learn a little more about Carhartt head to their website http://carharttvineyard.com  On the home page you will find a digital magazine, written by Chase Carhartt.  He will tell you the history of this small family business, where they produce only 5000 cases of wine per year and are dedicated making quality wine and treating customers like family.  Their tasting room in Los Olivos is only 99 square feet, making it the tiniest tasting room, but then there is the back patio, which is the best place to be a 5 pm in Los Olivos.

2014 Larner Transverse

Larner 2014 Transverse Syrah

Larner 2014 Transverse Syrah

Michael Larner has a background as a Geologist, so his labels and names for his wine stem from this background.  Transverse is the name for his Syrah that is not an estate wine.

“Transverse:  A geologic structure lying or extending across an area, in a cross direction to other distinguishing local features” From his blog post on this wine

This wine is a blend of Syrah from across Santa Barbara County.  The grapes come from 4 estates spread across the area: Verna’s vineyard is on the east side of the Los Alamos Valley, Coquelicot vineyard sits in the southern part of the Santa Ynez AVA east of Solvang,  Rodney’s vineyard is in the Northern part of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA on Foxen Canyon Road (at Fess Parker) and Star Lane vineyard is in the Eastern most part of the Santa Ynez Valley in the Happy Canyon AVA. So these vineyards span the area and all sit outside the Ballard Canyon AVA, where Larner Vineyard is located.

The grapes for this wine were harvested between October 1st and November 10th, 2014.  It was aged for 14 months in 100% neutral french oak puncheons and then spent 4 months in bottle before it was released.  It sits at 14.7% Alcohol.

“100% Syrah, 10% Whole Cluster. All vineyard lots were fermented individually, macerated for a total of 15 days, initiated fermentation using native yeast, later inoculated with BM 45 yeast and pumped over 1x per day plus punched down 3x per day. Peak Temp averaged 86˚F.”

All these details can be found on the Larner site at http://www.larnerwine.com/product/2014-Transverse

The Tasting

2014 Tablas Creek Syrah

As you pour this wine you immediately notice how dark and opaque it is.  The first thing I got when I stuck my nose in the glass was leather and earth, followed by dark fruit like black currants, folloowed by pepper and savory herbs.  When I went back to it later, I was struck by the salinity and minerality that it gave off as it opened up.  In my mouth it was tart blackberries with a bit of cranberry, you know that extra tartness and tannin you get from cranberries.  It made my mouth water and my teeth dry just a little.  It was mellow and the most food friendly of the wines.

2013 Carhartt Syrah

This wine was decidedly lighter as I poured it, and more translucent in the glass.  The first thing I smelled here was wet straw and barnyard, followed by cranberries, red currants and brighter spices like white pepper.  There were also light floral notes like violets.  In my mouth it was a much lighter wine than the others and tasted of tart red apple skin and dark red berries.  It numbed my gums a little without drying them.  It had a strong medium finish.  It heightened the spice in the chimichurri sauce without making it too hot.

2014 Larner Transverse

This wine was darker, like the Tablas Creek.  Was this due to the 2014 Harvest?  It also sits at 14.7 alcohol (the Tablas is 14.6 and the Carhartt 13.5), so perhaps the depth of color has something to do with the hang time?  The nose was pepper and spice immediately followed by Eucalyptus, black currants and leather.  In my mouth it was all rich red and black fruit with spice and bright bold pepper.  The bright red fruit really hits you mid palate.  It was tangy on the sides of my tougue and had a sweetness on the finish.

After tasting the wines, I was fascinated by the differences.  Were the differences due to wine making techniques, the location of the vineyards, the vintage year and it’s weather?  So I did a little digging and here is what I found out about the harvests.

About the Vintages

Paso Robles 2014 Harvest

2014 was the 3rd year of drought in Paso Robles.  The yields across the area were down, although Tablas Creek’s Syrah Harvest yields were up by 13% over 2013.  The year was noted for depth and concentration in the berries.

Santa Barbara County 2013 Harvest

While 2013 was the 2nd year of drought it was also the 2nd year of ideal growing conditions.  It was a warm, dry growing season without any considerable heat spikes.  It was an early harvest, starting on August 14th and like 2014 it was a fast harvest.  A typical harvest is spread out over 3 months, 2013’s harvest lasted only 7 weeks.  Yields were above average, with an early bud break and large fruit set.

Santa Barbara County 2014 Harvest

In Santa Barbara they had a shorter growing season.  The winter was mild and harvest for many was the earliest ever.  Harvest was also fast, with vineyards bringing in lots of fruit at the same time putting wineries into quite the scramble.  For all intents and purposes it was a solid crop and the fruit had good intensity.

The Regions

Map of California's Central Coast with Paso Robles and Santa Barbara Highlighted

Paso Roble and Santa Barbara Regions in California’s Central Coast  Map by GoogleMaps

The areas that these wines come from spans around a hundred miles on California’s Central Coast.  Tablas Creek is in the Paso Robles Region, while the Carhartt and Larner Syrahs are from the Santa Barbara Region.

Tablas Creek, Paso Robles, Adelaida AVA

Tablas Creek Vineyards is located in the Western Portion of the Paso Robles wine region in the Adelaida AVA.  The elevations in this AVA are between 900 and 1200 feet for planted vineyards.  Because they are the closest AVA to the Ocean, hot summer days are typically tempered by the Maritime influences.  Warm days and cool nights are an ideal growing condition.

For more on the Adelaida AVA you can watch our interview with Jason Haas.

Carhartt Vineyard, Rancho Santa Ynez, Santa Ynez AVA

Carhartt Vineyard is located in Santa Barbara County.  It is in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, which is a larger AVA encompassing most of the southern part of Santa Barbara County.  Within this AVA you find the Sta. Rita Hills AVA to the West, Ballard Canyon AVA in the Central part of the area and the Happy Canyon AVA to the East.  Carhartt Vineyard sits in Rancho Santa Ynez on a hill top.

Larner Wines Transverse, Santa Barbara County

This wine is called Transverse because it comes from 4 estate vineyards that span the Transverse Valley of the Santa Barbara Area.  So…as you can see from the Map above it takes in multiple regions.

Verna’s Vineyard is in Los Alamos off of Cat Canyon Road.  The vineyard was planted in 1999 by the Melville family and is now owned by Cat Canyon / Shokrian Vineyards.  It is a or 100 acre parcel east of the 101 with warm winds and cool nights.

Rodney’s Vineyard is on the Fess Parker Ranch which is on the east side of Foxen Canyon Road. It is included in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA in it’s Northernmost region.  Fess Parker, so well known as “Daniel Boone” bought the property in 1988.  The vineyard is named after his late son-in-law.

Coquelicot Vineyard is in the Santa Ynez Valley, just east of Solvang.  It is one of the Southern most vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. This 58 Acre vineyard is Certified Organic.

Star Lane Vineyard is located in the Happy Canyon AVA which is the furthest West region of the Santa Barbara area and as such the warmest.  It sits north of Happy Canyon Road.

So, the differences in the wines?   It could be the growing season and the fact that it was just the 2nd year of drought was part of what made the Carhartt a bit lighter.  Or perhaps it was the wine making style.  Or the type of soil in the vineyards (we didn’t even really talk about that variable!)  And don’t get me wrong, the fact that it was lighter than the other two was not a bad thing.  It was lighter on my palate, but it was still full of flavor and nuance.  This whole side by side tasting is about finding the nuanced differences in the wines and enjoying each for their uniqueness.  There are differences in soils, in weather, in the clones, in the yeasts…Michael mentions inoculating with BM 35 yeast after the initial fermentation was started with native yeasts.  Tablas Creek is all native yeast and I actually don’t have the details on the yeasts used on the Carhartt, as this is one of the few details that they don’t include on this label.  The choice of when to harvest is dependent on the winemakers preference for ripeness typically, but for Michael Larner was harvesting from 4 vineyards that were not his own, which often can mean that you are subject to being harvested a little earlier or later than your preference depending on who else the vineyard is harvesting for at the time.  Then there are the subtle differences of where the block is located within the vineyard and what time of sunlight and wind it gets.  Really, there are just so many variables.

And that is what makes this beverage so fascinating. The variables all add up to a complex story in the glass.  It’s a story of the place, of the soil, of the season, of the people… and it’s a delicious story.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

Syrah – a Rhone Grape

Panorama of vineyards at sunrise time, Beaujolais, Rhone, France

Originating in Southeastern France, Syrah was cultivated during the Roman Rule.  It is the child of two not so well know grapes, Dureza and Mondeuse Blanche.

Where it’s Grown

First grown in France, and found in particular in the Rhône Valley, it has spread globally and can now be found in Australia, where the call it Shiraz, as well as California, Washington, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy, South African, Spain, Switzerland, Chile and, as I just discovered, Tunisia.

 

(side note on Shiraz…the story goes that the grape was brought to Marseilles in 600BC by the Phocaeans from Shiraz, Persia. Another story has it coming from Sicily with the Roman Soldiers, but UC Davis DNA testing say it was born in Southeastern France)

Climate

Syrah thrives in warm climates where it’s canopies reach for the sky, but it can be grown in cooler climates where it will express itself differently in the glass.  The canes on this vine grown long and will grow down, making it impossible to head train.  It is the one Châteauneuf-du-Pape variety that is allowed to be trellised, otherwise the grapes would be on the ground. The leaves often need to be thinned to let the berries get some sun so they can ripen. In the vineyards it is said, “Syrah likes a view”. Because it is such a vigorous vine, planting it at the top of a hill with poor soils helps to concentrate the berries and temper the rigor of the vines.

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Larner Vineyard Syrah

 

Berries and Bunches

The grapes are typically small clusters with small dark (almost black) berries, but this vine produces them in abundance. The skins are typically thick. Because there are many small berries, when you crush the grape you have lots of skin contact, which can give you bold tannins, and pair that with thick skins and you have a very dark, sometimes almost opaque wine.

Syrah Grapes

Syrah Grapes

Home in the Rhône

Syrah is one of the noble grapes of the Rhône and is second only to Grenache in acres planted in the Southern Rhône. It is of course, the S in a GSM. You find it in the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape,  and it is the only grape allowed in the famous Côte Rôtie & Hermitage wines in the Northern Rhone. In the Northern Rhone they co-ferment Syrah with small bits of Viognier, adding the beautiful Viognier aromatic and creating a rounder mouthfeel for the wine.

Winemaking Techniques

Syrah is often given an extended maceration, meaning it is often cold soaked for days or longer. This mitigates some of the harsh tannins from those thick skins. It also increases the color, due to the extra time with skin contact, and brings forward the fruit flavors while tempering the herbaceous notes.

 

Oak Aging

Like most reds, Syrah is typically aged in oak.  In American they lean toward French Oak for this, in France and Australia it is often American oak.  In the Rhône, it is more often aged in larger Foudres so it has less oak contact, although sometimes blended with lots that have been aged in small oak barrels.  Quite honestly, this is a beautiful wine and often doesn’t need much oak addition.

 

How long to hold a Syrah?

Typically you can hold a Syrah for up to 10 years.  There are those who will tell you not to even look at the bottle for 5 years, and of course a well made Syrah from the Hermitage might age beautifully much longer, up to 30 or almost 40 years.  And keep in mind that wines can go through closed phases as they age, opening up again later.  This is where owning a Coravin comes in handy.

Tasting…

Adaptable as it is, this grape expresses itself differently depending on the climate. Cooler Climates produce Light-Bodied Syrahs that can have savory notes as well as Olive and Plum. Warmer Climate produce more Full-Bodied Syrahs and you get Cocoa, Licorice and Mint.  But let’s break this tasting down a bit.

Sight

A Warmer Climate Syrah will be dark purple/black and almost opaque.

A Cooler Climate Syrah will be a deep purple burgundy with some translucency.

Aroma

Here we have to break it down a little further.

Primary Aromas (those are the ones that come with the grape which include the terroir)

  • Fruits like Blueberry, Blackberry, black currants or prunes.
  • Spices like black pepper, clove, anise (black licorice) or thyme
  • Floral notes like voilets, geraniums or roses.
  • Herb notes like cedar, eucalyptus, sandalwood or green olive

 

Secondary Aromas (these come from the winemaking techniques)

  • From Oak: Vanilla, tobacco, cocoa, smoke, coffee or coconut.
  • From Fermentation: Rubber, tar, solvents or stem

 

Tertiary Aromas (these come from aging)

  • Leather, cigar box, earth, spices and even truffle

 

Taste

Syrah is considered to be a full bodied wine and is supple.  The tannins (that dryness that you get on your teeth) are medium and it has a medium acidity.

Warm Climate Syrah

  • Dark fruits like blackberry or cherry, smoke, meat, leather, white pepper, licorice, earth.

Cool Climate Syrah

  • Dark Fruits, green olives, black pepper and spice.

Finish

Typical finishes are medium to long in length (that’s how long you can still taste the wine in your mouth)

Pairing Syrah with food

Most often when I have Syrah, I crave bacon.  Salty pork just loves this wine.  Want to have it with desert? I paired a Syrah with dark chocolate bark with fresh rosemary, bacon and a coffee infused sea salt and it was heaven! Pork barbeque is a good bet and if it is a bold Syrah, don’t be shy with the pepper. Stews and braised meats are good if you are drinking Syrah in a blend like a Rhone blend or a GSM.

If you have a lighter Syrah, like one from Washington or Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria Valley (where yes it grows very well), think a little lighter. The wine will likely have a bit more acid and can pair with lamb or grilled eggplant.

 

Need a cheese platter?

With a full bodied Syrah look to harder cheeses or stinky cheeses. Bleu cheeses like Gorgonzola, or Stilton and hard cheeses like Parmesan or asiago. Smoked Gouda is one of my favorites with this wine, since the smoke in the cheese often is great with the smoke on the wine. And then charcuterie…well Bacon, and then all sorts of smoked meats.  If you are drinking a Cool Climate Syrah, you might pull out the olives if you get a little of that on the wine’s nose.

 

Quick summary for pairing…

  • Red meats, things that are grilled, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, peppers, black pepper and hard or stinky cheeses!

Syrah is a perfect winter wine, as fellow wine lovers will attest. The kind of wine that you can curl up with. Maybe a nice rich stew, while curled up in a comfy chair, under a blanket with a fire in the fireplace, and a nice book to read. Of course you can enjoy Syrah all year, in the summer with Barbeque is divine, but I love having my nose in a glass, and quietly contemplating it over the course of an evening all by myself.

If you are looking for a Syrah:

  • In France, look to the Rhône:  Côte Rôtie, Hermitage, Châteauneuf du Pape, Languedoc-Roussillon
  • In Washington State, look to Walla Walla, Yakima and the Columbia Gorge
  • In Oregon check out the Rogue Valley
  • In California check out the Russian River Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Paso Robles, and then Santa Barbara from the Santa Maria Valley to the Santa Ynez Valley and Ballard Canyon where it is the flagship wine.
  • In Australia you’ll find it in the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.
  • In Spain in La Mancha
  • In Italy in the Basilicata Region in Southern Italy
  • In Chile try Elqui and San Antonia for Cool Climate Syrah and The Colchagua Valley for a mild climate Syrah.
  • In New Zealand on Waiheke Island near Auckland then on the Coast in Hawke’s Bay and a little further south in Wairarapa and Martinsborough.
  • In South Africa you will find it in Paarl, Stellenbosch, Swartland and Robertson.
  • And in Switzerland in Valais.

Collage of Maps

There are tons of wines out there, but just with this one variety you can explore much of the world.  It’s on my list to do this year.  Check back with us for more information on wine and grapes as we continue our journey, learning and chronicling the journey of the grape from dirt to glass!

Want to know more about Syrah?  Try some of the links below. We attended a Seminar on Syrah in Santa Barbara County and listened to wine makers from across the area (and climates) speak.

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

The Syrah Clones at Larner Vineyards

Larner Vineyard Syrah

Michael Larner has helped to champion Syrah in Ballard Canyon. He got the ball rolling on the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara.

We spoke with Michael last year about the Syrah planted on Larner Vineyard. We had discussed the different rootstocks that they chose for the vineyard and then went deeper into the Syrah clones that were grafted to those various rootstocks.

There are 23 acres of Syrah planted at Larner Vineyard, broken into 11 blocks of around 2 acres each. With his 3 root stocks he pairs a Syrah clone, so he has 11 different mixes of clone/root stock.

Blending a monovarietal Syrah from different Syrah clones

For his Estate Syrah he has a blend of Clones 877, Estrella, 174 and Clone 3. Each of these clones brings something different to the wine, the Estrella brings a Velvety softness, the 174 pulls up mid-palate strength, and the 877 and Clone 3 give you full body. So in essense he is making a mono-varietal blend. Add to this the variation in rootstock, in the placement in the vineyard and you have quite a bit of variety.

A little geekiness on these Syrah clones

Estrella: Gary Eberle of Eberle wines in Paso Robles planted suitcase cuttings from Chapoutier in Hermitage (in the Rhone Valley in France) This clone has become one of the most widely planted in the Central Coast region.

 174: This came in from France in 1995. It is a low yield clone which gives balanced aromatic fruit.

 877: This French clone brings in tannins that hit the mid palate.

Each year one of the clone/rootstock variations will stand out. This is where the Reserve wines come from, and the Dedication which is all Clone 3.  But all the blocks are treated as if they could be stand alone wines. These stand alone wines would be a wonderful expression of one thing…mid palate tannins or velvety softness.   The blending of these is what creates the depth and layers within the wine. The idea is to pull together the ultimate expression of Syrah in this vineyard to make a complete wine that fires on all synapses.

We spoke with Michael about this once before and at that time he shared with us the details of his experimental Syrah block.

You can taste some of Michael Larner‘s exceptional wines at their Los Olivos Tasting Room at 2900 Grand Avenue.

For more on the wines of  Santa Barbara visit Santa Barbara Vintners.

They will be holding their Vintners Spring Weekend April 20-22, 2017, where you can attend the Grand Tasting and taste wines from all over this amazing region.

And you will find plenty of information here at Crushed Grape Chronicles and lots of videos on Santa Barbara, it’s wines and people. As well as information on previous Vintners Spring Weekends.

And stop back to visit us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Crushed Grapes & Open Minds – The Event

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds

an interactive experience

Last August we held an event entitled “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds”. My friend RuBen with Act2Art by RuBen is an accomplished artist and created some works specifically for this event. The idea connected scent memory and art, both in the creation of the pieces and peoples reactions to them.

We chose 5 wines, a Champagne (A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru), a Sauvignon Blanc (Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand) a Syrah (Carhartt 2013 Estate Syrah Santa Barbara), 2 Zinfandels (Tobin James 2010 Fat Boy & French Camp Zin) and a Dessert wine (Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 2010)

There was a station for each wine, with a pairing, aroma jars, the wine and of course the associated work of art. Cards to explain the pairings were located at each station.

Individuals bring their personal experiences and memories as they interpret a work of art. Scent memories are similar, an aroma can trigger a very personal memory. Mixing the two and stirring in a little wine and good food can make for a powerful experience.

We asked guests to smell the aroma jars, taste the wine, and look at the art, then jot down a word, a phrase or a memory that came to them.

A.J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru

 

We chose this Champagne for the bread on the nose. When we were sampling Champagnes, Cremants and Sparkling wines, we dipped our nose in this glass and got hamburger buns. Yep, hamburger buns. That yeasty smell of bread came across in a very approachable way that we thought would make this wine less intimidating for those new to finding aromas in wine, so it made a great start. This Champagne is mostly Pinot Noir so you also get berries on the nose and so there were scent jars of hamburger buns and berries for people to smell. For a food pairing we matched it with Salty potato chips. The salt and fat are a perfect pairing, the salt making you crave another sip of the champagne and the champagne’s bubbles and acid clean the fat off of your palate after each bite, making every bit as delicious as the first.

 

The Art – Champagne

Champagne Painting by Act2Art

Champagne

Some of the responses to this piece:  “A perfect first date” “Crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon” “Happy – like a picnic at an apple orchard” “Fields of dandelions – fresh grass” “A beautiful sun shower in late April or Early May”

 

 

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds w/ Crushed Grape Chronicles.com

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc w/ Crushed Grape Chronicles.com

We had a bunch of Sav Blancs to choose from, but the nose on this one was just captivating! This wine, is not fancy, you can find it in your local grocery store. We had jars of lime, grapefruit, cut grass, stone fruit, and lemongrass and everyone found something different in the wine. We paired this with Guacamole and chips. The avocado is fatty which is nice with the acid in the wine and goes well with the lime and fresh greenness of the wine.

 

The Art – Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc Painting by Act2Art Ruben Permel

Sauvignon Blanc Painting by Act2Art Ruben Permel

“Blowing out candles on your birthday cake” “Very content and peaceful – smells like our smoothie day” “Blood splatter on the grass from when I split my lip” (I love this childhood memory)

 

Carhartt 2013 Estate Syrah Santa Barbara

We love the wines from this Winery and Syrah from Santa Barbara is almost always wonderful. These are the same “Carhartts” that make the work clothes. They owned a cattle farm in Santa Barbara that Mike Carhartt turned into a vineyard. His wife Brooke and their son Chase now make the wines and they have my favorite tasting room on the planet in Los Olivos.

Carhartt Syrah at Crushed Grapes & Open Minds

Carhartt Syrah

This wine has quite a bit going on with aromas of Black berries, dirt, allspice, tobacco, vanilla bean and beef jerky and we had scent jars with all of these. As to a pairing? Well there is a pig on the label, so bacon was the perfect pairing.

 

The Art – Syrah

Carhartt Syrah Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

Carhartt Syrah Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

“The calm after a winter storm – perfect tranquility” Dark – cosmos – blanketing” “Thirsty – the kind of thirst when flying” “A very tempestuous sunset”

 

Tobin James 2010 Fat Boy and French Camp Zinfandels

Tobin James Zin at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Tobin James Zin at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

We were members of Tobin James for a while and pulled these two older Zinfandels from the cellar to try. Tobin James is in Paso Robles California and their wines tend to be pretty big. The aromas on these were earth, pepper, fruit jam, leather and chocolate. We paired them with chocolate fountain mini cup cakes from Retro Bakery.

 

The Art – Zin

Zinfandel Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

Zinfandel Painting by Act2Art.com Ruben Permel

“Making a picnic lunch for the family” “Costy – like a warm blanket wrapped around me during the winter” “tobacco warmth – a little earthy – comfortable”

 

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Aszu 2010

Chateau Megyer Tokaji at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Chateau Megyer Tokaji at Crushed Grape Open Minds Event

Tokaj is an area in Hungary and this wine is made from a grape called “furmint”. This is a wine made through “noble rot” or “botrytis cinerea” a fungus that shrivels the grapes like raisins. The raisins are then made into a paste which is added to a dry base wine. This is a sweet wine with citrus, apricot and honey on the nose. We paired it with Brie and Comte cheese.

 

The Art – Tokaji

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Painting by Act2ARt.com Ruben Permel

Chateau Megyer Tokaji Painting by Act2ARt.com Ruben Permel

“Oceanside Cliffs on a summer evening” “My first visit to Montreal – wonder and excitement – Christmas eve” “Tending to my fathers garden”

 

In addition to the wine stations, there was more to eat with a table filled with delicious things with notes to suggest pairings to try with the wine as well as more of RuBen’s beautiful art around the space.

Perfect pairings with wine at Crushed Grapes Open Minds Event

Perfect pairings with wine at Crushed Grapes Open Minds Event

This was an evening of exploration, discovery and animated conversations.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on wine and the people behind the wines!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

To have an evening like this created for you, contact 42Aspens Productions at…. 702.463.4242

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Red wine..not too dry

I often have friends come and ask me for wine recommendations.  Mind you, I love wine, but I am not a Somm.  My thoughts and recommendations come from the wines that I have tasted and most of those come from places I have traveled.  And for me, the story behind the wine is part of what makes it taste special to me.  But when you just need to go out and pick up a bottle and you don’t have the luxury of being anywhere near a vineyard as you are landlocked in Las Vegas…well, you have to look at this in a different light.

Most often people tell me that they like red wine, and quite often I also here that they don’t want it too dry.  For me of course dry is the opposite of sweet in a wine, but I think they often mean more than just that.  Often they are talking about astringency and tannins that “dry” your mouth out.  So, I’m hear to brainstorm on what type of wine they would like.  I know they often wish I could give them a name of a bottle to search for at the wine or liquor store, but usually I end up giving them a grape variety to look for.  California wines were where I first started delving into my wine education, so grape varieties are my way into deciphering what a wine will taste like.

Zinfandel

Typically I start with Zinfandel.  California grows alot of Zinfandel.  Paso Robles Zins can be warm and jammy (and likely high in alcohol) with blackberry jam, chocolate and smoky tobacco.  It is big and fruity and a crowd pleaser, medium bodied, but it does have medium tannins, so I thought I would dig deeper to find a few other suggestions.

Gamay

There is Gamay for a lighter fruitier wine, with berries on the nose this is the primary wine from Beaujolais in France and you can find this almost anywhere.

Barbera

Into medium bodied wines Barbera is a good bet.  It can be rich with cherry, blackberry, plum and licorice.  If it has been aged in oak you will also get some chocolate in there.  Of course the oak may strengthen the tannins also.  If you like all that big fruit, go with a Barbera from a warmer climate like California or Argentina.

Malbec

When you move into fuller bodied reds most have pretty heavy tannins.  Malbec often is a little lower in tannins and has delicious red plum, blackberry and blueberry notes.  Look for these with little to no oak aging to keep them juicy. Most of the Malbec in the world comes from Argentina, and much of that from the area around Mendoza.  Higher end Malbecs “Reserva” will have time in oak and you will get chocolate, darker fruit and tobacco notes on these.  I say grab one of each style and try them together!  See what you think!

Petite Sirah

I often mention Petite Sirah, which yes, can be high in tannins, but it’s just so tasty!  The blueberry and chocolate notes blend with black tea and make such a delicious wine to pair with cheese.  I say take the plunge, see if you like it!  And those tannins are healthy and full of antioxidants!  If you are looking at a big wine store (big box wine store), you will likely find these with “alternative reds”.  I had an amazing Petite Sirah in Paso at Vina Robles. If I close my eyes I can still taste it!

Syrah

Now onto Syrah.  This wine can be made in so many different styles (see our series on the multiple styles of Syrah in Santa Barbara County)  It is typically lower in tannins and a warm climate Syrah is rich and jammy.  You can find many of these from California, Argentina and then of course the Shiraz from New Zealand.

There are lots of wines out there.  Dive into the comments and give me your suggestions for your favorite “red wines that are not too dry”.

And stop back to visit us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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The Art Installation – Crushed Grapes and Open Minds

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds, with Crushed Grape Chronicles and Act2Art

A few days before the “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds” event.  The Artist RuBen Permel came by to install the art works.  He brought the 5 paintings inspired by the wine, as well as a selection of other pieces.  Including his Upland Flight series, “Three Angles Walking”, “Landscape Series 6” parts of the “Whispering Goliath Series” and the beautiful “Open Minds”.  We spent the morning finding just the right spot for each work.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

RuBen Permel – Act2Art – Wine Inspired Art

Crushed Grapes & Open Minds with Act2Art.com

RuBen Permel of Act2Art is an accomplished artist.  He’s actually quite the renaissance man, he is an actor and dancer, a puppeteer, a costumer, a painter, a writer, a film maker….and lucky for me, my friend.

Last year we worked together on a project called “Crushed Grapes and Open Minds”.  I had this idea of finding wine that would pair with some of RuBen’s beautiful art.  RuBen, ever the overachiever, decided he would paint a piece for each wine we chose.  We chose 5 wines and he painted a piece to pair with each.

We spent an afternoon with RuBen while he painted, actually priming a canvas for what became the signature piece for the event.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

So you are heading to Santa Barbara and want to know where to taste wine…

Sunset Au Bon Climat

I was asked recently about insights into visiting Santa Barbara. My brain goes a little crazy then, filled with all the wonderful options. It’s no secret that I love this area and it’s people. As I set out to jot down some notes, it occurred to me that I am asked this quite often. And while Crushed Grape Chronicles has loads of information on Santa Barbara, I do not have one concise blog post that details the highlights as I see them today. So here I am, putting together my SBC highlight reel. Keep in mind that there will be omissions. Some because there is only so much room in a highlight reel and some because I have yet to discover them. So if you come across one of these omissions, please feel free to add your SBC favs in the comments section!

When you say Santa Barbara, the first thing that comes to mind is the beach, and the city of Santa Barbara. So we will start there. Just know that Santa Barbara is so much more than that.

The City of Santa Barbara

Stearns Wharf and the Beach

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara

 

 

Go straight to the beach. You know you want to. You can head out onto Sterns Wharf where there are restaurants and a tasting room. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is a great place to start. They have a variety of wines that they source from coastal vineyards and you can’t beat the ocean view, I mean you are ON the ocean, not just on the beach looking at it! And a meal at The Santa Barbara Shellfish Company is perfect, especially on a cloudy day. If you can manage to pack into this tiny place at the far end of the wharf you will indulge in some soul warming seafood.

The perfect place for a quick overview: The Valley Project

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

AVA Santa Barbara Elkpen Mural

But the city beckons and I suggest your first stop be to the The Valley Project– AVA Santa Barbara
This project started by Seth Kunin will give you an overview of Santa Barbara County. This county contains multiple AVA’s (American viticulture Areas), which differentiate climate and soils within wine growing areas. The beautiful Elkpen chalk mural that spans the entire wall behind the tasting room bar will give you an overview and the pourers are there to discuss the differences in the wines and areas with you. Expect them to pull out soil samples to show you.

Super quick tutorial on Santa Barbara County

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 led 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. Read more about it in The varied and amazing wines and wineries of Santa Barbara County

The Funk Zone and Urban Wine Trail

So now that you are armed with a little background, you can decide where to go next. The Funk Zone is home to lots of little urban tasting rooms. If you are looking to just hang and drink wine and enjoy the sunset in a set of board shorts barefoot, you can march right down to Municipal Winemakers . The funky laid back atmosphere here is ultra relaxing. If this is your style, you can check out our article Municipal Winemakers and the “Funk Zone” wineries

Wine Collection of El Paseo

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If you are not in your board shorts there is the El Paseo further up State Street. Here you will find the tasting room for one of the grand daddies of Santa Barbara Wine Au Bon Climat (ABC to those in the know, which now you are!). Margerum Wine Company  is located here also, along with Doug Margerum’s restaurants the Wine Cask and the Intermezzo Wine Bar. Grassini, known for Happy Canyon Bordeaux style reds and gorgeous Sav Blancs is also here as well as  Jamie Sloane Wines, where you will often find Jamie himself behind the tasting bar pouring.   There are a few more tasting rooms here that I have yet to visit.

You can read more about the El Paseo in our post Santa Barbara’s Wine Collection of El Paseo

Into Wine Country

While you found tasting rooms, I bet you didn’t see any vineyards here in town. That’s because you have to drive inland to get to wine country. You have two options, you can take the 101 and head to Buellton or you can take the 154. The 101 will stick to the coast line until Gaviota State Park and then head north to Buellton. The 154 takes you up into the hills above the City of Santa Barbara and along Lake Cachuma bringing you out in Happy Canyon. From there you can choose to head to Solvang (the little Danish town, that is very quaint and contains most of the areas hotels) or to Los Olivos, a town of tasting rooms. Both are pretty drives, the 154 is quieter (and faster and my favorite).

Places to Taste:

Regulations in Santa Barbara are still quite strict in many areas, so you will find many tasting rooms in towns like Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton & Lompoc, some of these are wine makers sourcing fruit and some are vineyards and wineries, who according to current regulations are not allowed to have a tasting room at their vineyards. Below is a short list of some of my favorites in each of the areas. As I mentioned before, I have yet to drink through all 300 wine tasting rooms in the valley, so please add your suggestions in the comments section below!

Quick note on tastings:

Many of the places listed below are not open 7 days a week, in fact some are only open on weekends. I have provided links to their websites so you can check on the days and hours before you go as they typically change seasonally. And, always be responsible. Drink lots of water, limit the number of tastings you do in a day (4 is really max) and spend some time in each tasting room. Michael and I typically share a tasting, we make sure we have snacks along the way (pack something!) and don’t be afraid to use the spit bucket! They are there for you to use. You can swish and spit or if that is uncomfortable, you can use it to empty your glass after you have “tasted”. If you walk into a tasting room and find the spit bucket is a tip bucket? You have come to the wrong place, and you should turn and find the door.

Los Olivos

The main drag of this small town circles around it’s flagpole. The streets are lined with tasting rooms as well as shops and some restaurants. If you are looking to stroll from tasting to tasting, this is the place I suggest.

 

Larner

Larner Tasting Room

Larner Tasting Room

Michael and Christina Larner are some of our favorite people in Santa Barbara. Michael championed the Ballard Canyon AVA and he is the founder of the Buellton Bodegas a Wine Cooperative space where wine makers have their individual space but can share some of the big wine making equipment. Their tasting room is on the corner by the flagpole (behind the antique gas station) next to the Los Olivos General Store, a gift shop that Christina runs. During the day you can grab a sandwich from Panino next door and get a glass of wine from the Larner tasting room and enjoy lunch on the patio. Michael has a background in Geology and as such he is an expert on soils. You will find a long list of interviews on many fascinating wine related subjects here we have discussed with him here Larner Vineyard

 

Tercero

tercero Wines Tasting Room

Larry Schaffer loves making wine and talking about wine. He especially loves Rhones. Typically you will find Maeapple pouring in the tasting room (she is a joy to chat with), but sometimes Larry will roll in from a busy day going in a million directions and will hold court in the tasting room. He is active in the Rhone Rangers, a passionate supporter of screw caps and footstomps his grapes.  Oh and he loves baking bread, so if you are exceptionally lucky, you might come in on a day when there is a loaf being shared in tasting room.  (the ultimate breaking bread!)
https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/video/tercero-wines-larry-schaffer/

Blair Fox

Blair is the Winemaker at Fess Parker. But here he makes his own wines and they are spectacular, with many single vineyard wines. His tasting room staff is well versed in the wines and the local vineyards.  We had an exceptional tasting here, talking with the staff as well as several other guests in the tasting room.  One guest had a special reserve bottle and busted it open to share tastings of.  Yep, it’s that kind of atmosphere here. They mostly produce Syrah, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Vermentino and Viognier. Alright…Vermentino & Viognier?  That makes me very happy.

Crawford Family Wines

Okay, I have yet to visit this tasting room, but I met Mark Horvath the winemaker and tasted his Sta. Rita Hills Syrah (cool climate Syrah) and really enjoyed it. Here he is on the Syrah panel this past spring speaking about this wine. Mark Horvath, Crawford Family Wines on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

Saarloos & Sons 

Saarloos & Sons

Saarloos & Sons

Follow their blog. This place is all about family and Keith Saarloos is a joy to read. The wines here sell out fast, so if you like something, better buy it while you are here.
AND they have cupcake pairings on the weekends! Check out the video here https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/video/saarloos-sons-paired-withenjoy-cupcakes/

Bien Nacido & Solomon Hills Estate Wines

Bien Nacido has been providing extremely sought after fruit for a while. Au Bon Climat & Qupe built their winery (that they share) on the property to be close to this fruit. If you have ever tasted a Bien Nacido Pinot, you will remember it and be able to pick out this fruit regardless of the winemaker using it. It is distinctive. And now, they not only grow this prize fruit but they have begun making their own wine with Winemaker Trey Fletcher. They also make Syrah. Here is Vineyard Manager Chris Hammel talking about their Syrah and Bob Lindquist’s Qupe Syrah from their vineyards. Syrah Seminar 2016 SB Vintners – Episode 3 Bien Nacido

Kaena

Beautiful Tree outside the Kaena Tasting room in Los Olivos

Mikael Sigouin is also the Winemaker at Beckmen Vineyards (notice a theme?) He is originally from Hawaii and is known as the Grenache King, so I guess you know what you will be drinking here!  His tasting room is full of Aloha, I always end up having great conversations with other guests there.  Last time, we met some folks from Hawaii tasting, who lived near where I did when I was there growing up.  They knew dear friends of ours from when we lived out Makaha way.  Small world syndrome at it’s finest.  We included Mikael in our Sampling of the Incredible Winemakers of Santa Barbara

 

J. Wilkes

This is another tasting room I have yet to visit, but it is on my list for our next trip. Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe is now the winemaker and brand ambassador.  He can wax poetic on many topics, and is fascinating.  I was able to pick Pinot with him during an early morning harvest a few years ago at Clos Pepe.  He has helped create an educational tasting room for J. Wilkes and quite honestly I can’t wait to see it! Typically just open on weekends, Wes posts on his and J. Wilkes facebook pages and on Twitter other times when he will be in for tasting and teaching. You can Make a Reservation on the website ahead of time also.

Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

Los Olivos Carhartt

This is where you finish your day. It is the tiniest tasting room in the world they claim, with just 3 stools at a small bar. Luckily, the back patio opens up (and fills up) at the end of the day. The Carhartts, yes, they are those Carhartts, of work clothes fame, grow grapes and make wine as a family affair. This place is casual though, as handsome young men often pad around the back patio barefoot pouring wines. Here is a throwback piece from way back in 2011 when we first discovered them. https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/santa-barbara-and-los-olivos-part-2/

Buellton:

If you have seen Sideways, you will know Buellton. The restaurant Miles meets Maya in, is none other than The Hitching Post II. (They, by the way make their own Hitching Post wines). There are several tasting rooms in the area here are two of my favorites.

Cold Heaven

Coldheaven Winery

Coldheaven Winery

This is the place if you like cool climate Viognier. Morgan Clendenen (yes, you recognized the name, she used to be married to Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat) pioneered cool climate Viognier, and she also makes Pinot Noir. We had an extraordinary visit with them with  Cold Heaven Cellars – Rhone Scent-ual Experience

Alma Rosa

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

The Sta. Rita Hills wine growing region was pioneered by Richard Sanford. While he no longer owns and runs Sanford Winery, this legend in this area now has a new winery called Alma Rosa. The tasting room is conveniently located next to Industrial Eats, off of Industrial Way in Buellton. Get a little bit of his history here.

Lompoc:

This place looks as different from Wine Country as you can get.  When you drive out 246 toward the ocean and Vandenberg Air Force Base, the vines end and you run into an Industrial Park Area.  This is the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  The beautiful irony is that Lompoc was first founded as a Temperance Colony back in 1874.  The Ghetto has lots of wineries, but further into Lompoc you will find more wineries and tasting rooms.

Longoria

Longoria 2014 Albarino in the garden

Rick Longoria is quiet, soft-spoken and decidedly unpretentious. He quietly tries to blend in with the crowd at the Grand Tastings in Santa Barbara. A couple of years ago I had a lovely conversation with him at his table there.  And he is a joy to speak with.  He beams while telling you about his wines. His vineyard is Fe Ciega in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. In addition to his award-winning Pinot Noirs (Lovely Rita is one of my favorites…a wine that once you taste it, you long for), he also makes a wonderful Albarino sourced from Clover Creek Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.
https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/little-longoria-albarino-shellfish/

Brewer-Clifton

Founded by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton in 1995. Back then they were working at other wineries. In 2005 they started growing their own grapes and 2012 was their first estate vineyards vintage and their 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot was named the #8 Wine in Wine Spectator’s Topp 10 of 2014. Here you will taste Sta. Rita Hills Pinot & Chard. Ask about stem inclusion. You will find an older piece I wrote about a tasting we did at Brewer-Clifton here.

Transcendence

We met Kenneth “Joey” Gummere at an event at Sunstone Winery sponsored by the Santa Barabara Vintners. He and several other wine makers were there showing off some of their wines. He and his wife Sarah are dedicated to making cool-climate Syrah, Pinot and Chard. I had a fascinating conversation with him about temperature control with his wine making process. He’s a really nice human, who is a joy to speak with AND he makes great wine. I will admit that I have not been to the tasting room, but I look forward to getting there!

Sandhi & Piedrassi

It’s time to go ghetto, Wine Ghetto that is. In a semi-industrial area of Lompac on the road in from Sta. Rita Hills you will find warehouses with roll up doors housing wineries. The office space next to each warehouse becomes the tasting room. Sandhi and Piedrassi share a winemaker Sashi Moorman, who also is the head winemaker for Pence Ranch and Stolpman. Sashi’s wife Melissa makes bread which is available (and in demand) in the tasting room. Sandhi is a project he works on with Sommelier Rajat Parr and Charles Banks. You will need to make an appointment but it is worth it. While I have not tasted in this tasting room, I was blown away by the elegance of the Chardonnays that I tasted back when they had a tasting room tucked away behind Matteis Tavern in Los Olivos.

Stoplman

Stolpman's Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman’s Little Red Cottage tasting room in Los Olivos

Stolpman has their vineyards in Ballard Canyon, but they have a tasting room here in the Lompac Wine Ghetto as well as one in Los Olivos. Tom Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. His son Peter manages the vineyard. Sashi Moorman as I mentioned before, is their winemaker and the Grape Whisperer himself, Ruben Solorzano is their Vineyard Manager. This vineyard did a lot of the beta testing of grapes for Ballard Canyon. They planted everything and waited to see what worked. There’s a lot of patience that goes into that. They found Syrah was the perfect match and indeed Syrah has become the flagship wine for Ballard Canyon. They are not afraid to experiment and they have some huge concrete tanks that they use for wines. Give them a taste and ask for stories and make sure to taste “Ruben’s Block”. In this post on the Syrah Seminar, Peter speaks about the Estrella River Clone from the Zaca Mesa Black Bear Block that is used in the Stoplman’s 2013 Original Syrah.

Foxen Canyon & the Santa Maria Valley

When you hop on Foxen Canyon Road you get more than Foxen Canyon. This road takes you all the way up into some of the great vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley.

Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa pathway

Zaca Mesa pathway

Before Au Bon Climat, before Qupe and so many others, there was Zaca Mesa. Many of the greats in Santa Barbara Wines did a stint here before opening their own wineries.  You can see more about that  in Zaca Mesa University” Santa Barbara Wine Seminar Spring 2015 – The Highlight Reel

Zaca Mesa is beautiful early in the day. When the fog weaves through the big coastal oaks it’s either ethereal or creepy (I vote for ethereal, cause after all, they have wine!)
They are dog and kid friendly and on Saturdays they have baguettes. There is a giant Chess set in the courtyard to play.
What to expect to taste: Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Syrah (the Syrah from the Black Bear Block is highly sought after and well respected), Grenache, Mourvedre…yep, are you sensing a Rhone theme? And they do have a Pinot.

Foxen & 7200

The valley side of Foxen 7200 “The Shack”

This is the same winery, just with two tasting rooms, steps from each other. 7200 also known as “The Shack” is in an old blacksmith shop and was the wineries original tasting room. Foxen is at the top of the hill, their solar powered tasting room, where you will find their Rhone & Burgundian style wines. “The Shack” is the place to go for atmosphere. You are open to the elements and often can see the resident bobcat prowling the hill outside. Bill Wathen and Dick Dore founded this winery back in 1985.

Riverbench

The Vines we watched being planted at Riverbench are getting bigger!

Riverbench is on Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Maria Valley. They grown Pinot and Chardonnay Pinot Meunier and a little Albarino for Kenneth Volk, who is just a stones throw away. Clarissa Nagy is their winemaker. In addition to Pinot and Chard they craft sparkling wines. We spent a morning at Riverbench doing a vineyard tour with Vineyard Manager Rawley Hermreck and learned how to hand dip bottles for the wax cap, which Rawley does mostly himself. We also watched a new block of vines put in out front and have been able to continue to watch these grown. You can read about our tour here https://www.crushedgrapechronicles.com/riverbench-vineyards-winery-tour/ They also have a tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

Presqu’ile

The Presqu’ile Tasting Room

Presqu’ile Winery has grown to be one of our favorite spots in the Santa Marie Valley. The winery sits up on a hill and is a gravity flow winery.  The view here is stunning, on a clear day you can see the ocean, and this place does hospitality right. If you have an electric car that needs charging, never fear, there are two charging stations. And they have a wonderful light food menu with truly spectacular cheese and charcuterie boards to enjoy with the wine. We spent a morning here for an event which brought together 4 winemakers all making wine from fruit from these vineyards. The event was held on the crush pad at the top of the winery (remember gravity flow). We again attended the Big Bottle Bash at the winery during the 2014 Vintners Spring Weekend in Santa Barbara.

Santa Rita Hills:

This is the Western part of the area, where the climate is cooler and Pinot and Chardonnay thrive.  You will find vineyards on both sides of the 246, but for a more complete look at this area, make sure to take a drive on Santa Rosa Road, where the first vineyard in this area Sanford & Benedict was planted.

Sanford WinerySanford Winery

I spoke about Richard Sanford earlier with Alma Rosa. Here is an opportunity to see the amazing winery he built before Alma Rosa. Now owned by the Terlato Family, the winery retains the beautiful buildings and exceptional vineyards that Richard Sanford built. The tasting room is in the middle of the La Riconada Vineyard on Santa Rosa Rd. Made to be sustainable the walls are adobe bricks and are 30 inches thick to keep the interior temperature cool. The lumber is from recycled timber.
Just down the way you will find the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard. The vines here grow some of the most prized fruit in these hills. Sanford & Benedict Vineyard was first planted in 1971 and is home to some of the oldest Pinot Vines in Santa Barbara County.

Hilliard Bruce

The new Hilliard Bruce Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills of Santa Barbara

This stunning tasting room is appointment only, but it is well worth it. John Hilliard and Christine Bruce beautiful wines (John handles the Pinot Noir & Christine the Chardonnay). Be in touch a few days in advance. We had a wonderful visit with them before the winery was even built. The start of the series is here

Santa Ynez Valley/Los Olivos District:

The Santa Ynez Valley, actually covers quite a bit of space!  The AVA itself encompasses the entire lower section of Santa Barbara County.  Within this AVA you will find the Sta. Rita Hill AVA, Ballard Canyon AVA, Happy Canyon AVA and the newly approved Los Olivos District AVA.  The 3 wineries listed below are actually within the Los Olivos District.

Buttonwood:

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

Buttonwood is not just a vineyard, it is a farm. They have a farmstand with seasonal fruits and vegetables next to the tasting room. Michael spent a day on a winery & vineyard tour with winemaker Karen Steinwach, followed by chef demo and lunch with Chef Pascale Beale.
Buttonwood Farm, a Hidden Gem in Santa Barbara County

Beckmen

Beckmen Tasting Room

Beckmen Tasting Room

We did a vineyard walk with Steve Beckmen at the Purisima Mountain Vineyard. The event walk us through the vineyard with a bit of education on soil & vine thinning. I was lucky enough to have a great conversation with Steve as we hiked up to the high point. He gave me a run for my money, he is obviously used to climbing these hills! You can see an overview of the hike here, but there are additional videos with Steve speaking on the soils and shoot thinning also.

Sunstone Winery

Wine Dinner Sunstone

Wine Dinner Sunstone

This is a stunning (no…REALLY stunning) property. I mentioned earlier our visit to this winery when we met Joey Gummere at an event here. This was a Santa Barbara Vintners event for WBC14, with multiple wine makers. We were given a tour by Bion Rice, the wineries President and CEO, 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 the wine makers followed by a family style dinner. This is a premium place for Weddings and the location is stunning (did I say that before?)

Los Alamos:

Michael and I were lucky enough to spend a weekend in the Los Alamos Valley. That gorgeous photo on our homepage and as the feature image on this page, we took from the top of the Rancho La Cuna Vineyard.

Casa Dumetz

Casa Dumetz Winery

I first learned of Sonja Madjevski when she I came across “The Wine Down” a video series on The Lip.tv where she would have conversations with wine makers and farmers and other interesting Industry people. I loved the show. Sadly, it is no more, but go look it up, there are plenty of old episodes that are fascinating! She is the owner and winemaker at Casa Dumetz Wines as well as running Babi’s Beer Emporium here in Los Alamos.  She does a wonderful “Words to Live By” speaker series on Friday’s nights at her tasting room. I have had a few opportunities to speak with her, most recently at the Larner Fete in April (she sources grapes from Michael Larner). Her tasting room is a wonderful welcoming place.

Municipal Winemakers

(Yep you can find a location here too, if you didn’t already visit them in the Funk Zone, or if you just need more of their wine)

Places to Eat:

We published this article in April of 2014 and it is a great reference.
9 Great Places to eat in Santa Barbara County
Since then we have enjoyed a few more spots so I’ll include them below. Also, sadly Matteis Tavern is closed and is only available as an event venue.

Buellton:

The Hitching Post II

The Old School Steakhouse that you got to know in Sideways is here putting out classic steak dinners. You are likely to see Frank Ostini the owner and chef and a local personality in his pith helmet.

Industrial Eats

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Industrial Eats in Buellton

Jeff and Janet Olsson own New West Catering Company and they have been a stable for farm to table catering in the area for a while. Industrial Eats is their fast casual restaurant where they write the daily menu on the butcher paper hanging from a spool on the wall. The menu changes daily depending on what is fresh and available. It’s great for lunch (and it’s right next to Alma Rosa if you want to do a tasting there!) For a sampling of some of the amazing catering they do, check out the Sta. Rita Hills AVA Dinner that was set here.

Los Olivos:

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Great spot in the center of town for lunch or dinner and you can always pick up a few bottles of local wine. You are very likely to see wine makers here with friends or family. It’s elegant without being stuffy.  The patio is covered in wisteria and they do have outdoor seating available.  Inside is a wall of wine, a beautiful U shaped bar and fireplace.  They serve California/Mediterranean cuisine.  They also have a blog where they do interviews with local wine makers that you can find here.

Sides Hardware & Shoes

This building was previously a hardware and shoe store owned by Milburn Sides. The Nichols Brothers opened this restaurant with a made from scratch local menu.  They cure their own bacon here.  You can sit inside or on the front or back patios. They are open for lunch or dinner, but plan ahead, because it gets crowded.  The do have a larger restaurant in Santa Ynez called The Red Barn.

Santa Ynez:

Trattorio Grappolo

Michael tasted a bite of food from this restaurant at the Grand Tasting one year and we decided to head there for dinner. We were not disappointed. They do great Italian dishes. Skip the table and sit at the bar where you can watch the kitchen bustle! These guys make hustle in the most beautifully choreographed manner around the small kitchen.

SY Kitchen

Dinner at SY Kitchen with parpadelle and scallops and Gnocchi with sausage

A newer restaurant, having opened in April of 2013, SY Kitchen serves modern Italian in a beautiful farmhouse.  You can dine in the Front room, the porch or the Dining Room of the house. They also have an outdoor Courtyard which is great for cocktails.  Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli was born and raised in Verona Italy. His dishes take the inspiration from Italy and compose them from local fresh ingredients.  Ask the servers for wine pairings, they will be happy to assist.  In addition to lots of local wines, they have an innovative cocktail program and a great selection of dessert wines.

Ballard Inn and Restaurant

Ballard Inn

Ballard Inn & Restaurant

Well, it’s really in the lower part of Ballard Canyon, but that is considered the Santa Ynez Valley. This is the place for a special occasion dinner. We enjoyed the first annual Larner Winemakers Dinner here with Chef Budi creating dishes to perfectly pair with each wine. Again a place you will find tons of local wines.

Solvang:

CHOMP

A great place for burgers, fries and shakes. All-American, kid friendly and locally owned (you will probably see the owner out managing the plethora of teenage staff he teaches and employs as wait staff.)

Los Alamos:

Full of Life Flatbread

Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, where you are bound to run into a winemaker

This bakery becomes a Restaurant on the weekends, and is a frequent gathering place for wine makers. You will find lots of local wines here.

On Crushed Grape Chronicles you will find information on the area and wineries as well as interviews with Winemakers. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

See some of the Video’s we have made on Santa Barbara here.

The Santa Barbara Vintners website is the ultimate comprehensive place for information on the areas wineries. http://www.sbcountywines.com/

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The power of Wine Aromas

Aroma Scent Jars

A few years ago we had attended an event at Cold Heaven in Santa Barbara. It was called “a Rhone Scent-ual Experience”.. You can visit the blog post and see the video here “Cold Heaven Cellars – Rhone Scent-ual Experience”.

I was amazed, not only at how wonderful it was to find these aromas from the jars in the wines, but also how excited everyone became.   People who had just met (or not even) were excitedly sharing the jars and asking what other people smelled. Inhibitions were gone and people joyfully bonded and shared the experience.

Cold Heaven Rhone Scentual Experience

Wine Event

We had done a small event after that with a friend and found again that people loved the scent jars. Putting together these aromas of things they were familiar with and then finding them in the wine glass made people so excited. I remember people speaking for weeks about the wet stones that we had with the Tablas Creek 2014 Vermentino. (check out the blog post on this party here   “Wine with friends – A California Tasting & Pairing”)

Tablas Creek Vermentino
Tablas Creek Vermentino
Cut Grass Scent Jar
Cut Grass Scent Jar

Creating Scent Jars

So I knew we wanted to do scent jars again for our “Crushed Grapes & Open Minds” Event and I did some further research on how other people do them. My go to for stuff like this is Madeline Puckett of Wine Folly and I found a great article here http://winefolly.com/tutorial/make-wine-aroma-kit-30/

I took her advice on the jars and I did find them at Cost Plus. I opted out of the small jars and went for one size larger (which were a dollar more), because they would give me more room for fresh fruit and better visuals. And I did not blend any wine into the jars, I wanted the fresh scents.

We did some shopping and some scrounging to fill the jars. The Champagne had some bread and yeast on the nose that we found reminded us of hamburger buns (I know, right?). And it was a mostly Pinot Noir based Champagne so you got berries and cherries. So our jars here were filled with hamburger buns, fresh & dried berries (I used sliced strawberries, blueberries and dried cranberries) and then cherries, which were defrosted from frozen, because they were out of season.

Hamburger Buns
Starbourgh Sav Blanc and Scent Jars

Starbourgh Sav Blanc

The Sauvignon Blanc had grapefruit, lime, lemongrass, stone fruit and grass. We did slices of the citrus, cut up the lemon grass to release it’s scent.  We chopped up a peach for the stone fruit and Michael headed with the scissors to the local park for the fresh cut grass.

Syrah & Scents
Syrah & Scents

Carhartt Syrah

The Syrah had jars with Black Berries, Allspice, dirt (we used a little potting soil here, since backyards in Vegas are not filled with very happy soil), tobacco (I found a smoke shop and got pipe tobacco, which worked but wasn’t exactly what I wanted), vanilla bean and beef jerky (for smoky meat).

Tobin James Zinfandel and Scents

Tobin James Zinfandel

The Zins had jars of earth, pepper (black & white peppercorns), fruit jam, leather (we hit the craft store, chopped it into pieces and added a little water to bring out the fragrance), and chocolate (we used a broken up dark chocolate bar)

Tokaji & Scent Jars

Tokaji

Lastly our dessert wine was a Tokaji. It was just 3 Puttonyons so on the less sweet side. We had aroma jars of dried apricots, citrus (thinly sliced lemon and lime) and a jar of honey.

You don’t have to invest in jars though, you can use wine glasses. If you are doing this with friends, it’s fun to find wines that have unexpected aromas.   We had a Magerum Rose that had Watermelon Jolly Ranchers on the nose! The important thing is to have fun with it. Which is what we did, and the people at our Crushed Grapes & Open Minds Event did.

Behind the scent jars in each of the photos you can see a bit of each of the beautiful paintings that RuBen did to pair with each wine.  More on that to come.

Check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more on the details on the wines we paired with the Art and our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event!   You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And you can find RuBen and his gorgeous art at Act2Art or on Facebook

Chad Melville – SAMsARA Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

Melville Vineyard

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 7

The last of the winemakers to speak at the Syrah Seminar was Chad Melville of SAMsARA. He spoke on his 2012 SAMsARA Syrah from Donna’s Block at Melville Vineyards that Chad helped plant back in 1998.

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Melville to SAMsARA

When you hear the name Melville you think Sta. Rita Hills. Chad Melville worked with his father and brother to plant and build Melville Vineyards and Winery. He continues to work with Melville as their head winegrower. With his own label, SAMsARA, Chad is able to do small batches and take a few more chances in the wine making process. The winery is garage/warehouse in Lompoc. Their home page gives you the definition of their name, it is originally Sanskrit and in Buddhism speaks of “the process of coming into existence as a differentiated moral creature” and in Hinduism of “the endless series of births, deaths and rebirths to which all beings are subject”.

The SAMsARA Syrah from Melville Vineyards

The Syrah Chad had with him was a 2012 Melville Vineyard Syrah. This was pulled from 5 rows of Donna’s block at Melville.  Donna’s Block is in the Northwest section of their Estate Vineyard and is planted on 20 feet of sand.  It was 50% whole cluster which will give you more tannins and structure, native yeast, basket pressed and in barrel for about 2 years. I will mention that this is a current release that you won’t find on the website. They have a Priority Release list, followed by a Mailing list and if there is any wine left over after that, then they are posted on the website.

You can find SAMsARA online at http://www.samsarawine.com/ They have a tasting room in Los Olivos at 2446 Alamo Pintado Avenue that is open Thursday to Monday from 11 am to 5 pm and by appointment on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Be sure to try to get to the next seminar! The Santa Barbara Vintners 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

The Video!

The Transcript

WTS: All right staying in Sta. Rita Hills for our final wine, number 8 the 2012 SAMsARA Syrah, Melville Vineyard, located along highway 246 near Lompoc. Planted in 1996, by Ron Melville and his sons, Melville Vineyards grows Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. The Syrah Block is 9 different clones planted in 1998 has deep light textured sandy loam soil. Chad not only makes this wine, he grows it. Tell us about what goes into a bottle of SAMsARA Syrah.

Chad Melville: Thanks. This is such a pleasure to be here and to listen to all these great winemakers and growers and to be able to taste through these fantastic wines and to see the differences of the climates and the soils and how they impact. The SAMsARA…I only work with Syrah from cool climates. Sta. Rita Hills that has been touched on is a very extreme cold climate. If you guys are familiar with the Davis program with the way they dissect the regions, one through five with five being the hottest, one being the coldest, there are some years where Sta. Rita Hills doesn’t even register one. So it’s that cold, right? What makes it really unique as well is that we have really early bud break. So we typically get bud break in Syrah in early March, which makes for a really long growing season, given that we are picking Syrah typically in the middle of November. Some years we even go to December. So it’s crazy right? The idea that growing Syrah is easy in a cold climate is completely false. It requires just as much time and effort to grow Syrah as it does Pinot Noir, so our farming costs are essentially the same. It’s a late ripening varietal, so it’s DNA, its propensity is to just naturally ripen late. You put that in a cold climate, you’re asking for a little bit of trouble, right? It’s also a very friendly forgiving grape. It will always produce a lot of fruit. You can plant it in the concrete outside and you would have a vineyard. It will grow anywhere. So it requires you to drop a lot of fruit in a cold climate to insure that you can get it ripe, and again, we’re still picking it quite late in the season. So there’s a lot of risk there, right? But there is also a lot of reward and with cold climate Syrah you tend to get; I love when Mark said this “quivering tension”. You get that fruit; you get that Syraness that’s there, that tannin, the deep dark richness. You also get this vibrant quivering acidity that’s there. It just makes it really unique and different. It doesn’t make it better than anyone else’s it doesn’t make it a better climate than anyone else’s; it just makes it different and unique. With this wine in particular, it’s 50% whole clusters, so there’s kind of an additional layer or integration of tannin. It’s completely neutral wood, so the idea was to get little tiny slivers of blocks within Sta. Rita. So this is five rows of our Donna’s Block at Melville, which is in, as well as Zotovich, pure sand. So neutral wood, 50% whole cluster, bright acidity, bright fruit and this kind of extra layer of tannin.

WTS: Chad told me he likes to push the envelope with SAMsARA. What does that mean?

Chad Melville: I do it all natural, so it’s native yeast, it’s basket pressed, and it’s in barrel for 2 years. It goes to bottle unfined and unfiltered and it’s in bottle for 1 year. So this is the current release here. It’s really about procuring really beautiful clean concentrated fruit and then kind of getting out of the way. So for those of you who know much about the winemaker process, it’s a pretty non-manipulative approach. And in terms of pushing the envelope, you know those are things that you can typically do when you are producing smaller amounts. It’s a lot risky and maybe even partly crazy or non-advisable to be doing native yeast with big fermentations. Basket pressing just simply is inefficient if you have a lot to do, so it typically something that you find with smaller productions. But also the wine sits in barrels almost 20 months without any SO2, but it’s in a really cold environment. So by controlling the cellar it allows me to take that risk. All those little things are really pushing it. I mean I only make 125 cases of this wine, so you can sleep a lot easier when you are making smaller lots. If I approach it this way at Melville, it would be a little nerve wracking.

WTS: SAMsARA has a tasting room in Los Olivos and all of these wineries will be pouring today at the 34th Annual Santa Barbara County Vintners Festival Grand Tasting at Riverview Park. I hope you all will be going. It’s from 1:00 to 4:00 this afternoon and all of these wineries will be represented there.

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Mark Horvath, Crawford Family Wines on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

Syrah Panel Santa Barbara Vintners April 2016 Episode 6

This Episode of the Seminar takes us West toward the coast to the chilly area of Sta. Rita Hills.   Winemaker, Mark Horvath speaks about his Sta. Rita Hills Syrah from Zotovich Vineyard.

Crawford Family Wines

Crawford Family Wines produces small lots of Pinot, Chardonnay and Syrah in the “garagiste” style of winemaking all from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. They pull from vineyards like Babcock, Bentrock, Radian, Rita’s Crown and Zotovich.   They recently started a Rhone program from the Ballard Canyon appellation, but today we are diving into their Sta. Rita Hills Syrah. While working in Sonoma, Mark took UC Davis extension classes which introduced him to a group of energetic and enthusiastic Santa Barbara Winemakers. An opportunity arose at Babcock and Mark joined as Assistant Winemaker. While there he met Kenneth “Joey” Gummere and the two formed Kenneth-Crawford Wines. They produced wines together for 10 years. Mark and his wife Wendy now have Crawford Family Wines (read the transcript or watch the video to find out more about the name)

Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

When you hear Sta. Rita Hills you usually think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This AVA is cool climate and these Burgundian grapes do well here, but so does Syrah. Most of the area is planted to Pinot Noir (2100 acres) or Chardonnay (500 acres) with the remaining planted 140 acres divided between such varieties as Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Syrah.

Syrah here buds early and harvests late, so there is a lot of hang time. Mark speaks of March bud break and November or December Harvests. This allows for elegant Syrahs with bright acidity.

Crawford Family Wines has a tasting room in Buellton in the Zaca Creek Industrial Park at 92 Second Street Suites G & H. They are open Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm and by appointment the remainder of the week. Visit their website at http://www.crawfordfamilywines.com/   or give them a call at 805.698.3889.

Be sure to try to get to the next seminar! The Santa Barbara Vintners 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 April 2016 Episode 6: Mark Horvath on Sta. Rita Hills Syrah

The Transcript

Wendy Thies Sell: Okay. “Go west young man!” they said and so west we shall go, to the Sta. Rita Hills. Mark Horvath of Crawford Family Wines makes small lots of wine, focusing on fruit from the Sta. Rita Hills. He sourced his Syrah for this wine from Zotovich Vineyard, with it’s deep sandy soils on the 246 corridor between Buellton and Lompoc. The fruit here ripened slowly in the cool foggy climate. Mark, tell us about this wine and why you are so passionate about Sta. Rita Hills.

Mark Horvath: Sure. First of all, thanks for coming. I appreciate everybody being here, thanks for inviting me. I’m really proud to represent the Sta. Rita Hills up here today. I moved here and started making wine here in 1998. No one was really making Syrah from the Sta. Rita Hills then. There were a few isolated plantings. I was working for Bryan Babcock at the time and we had a section of Syrah that he really hated. He never wanted to put much effort into it, he just didn’t feel like it was the right place. But every year we made the wine, I was struck by how interesting it was, how it held onto it’s acidity. We’ve been talking about how in these cool climates Syrah really hangs on to it’s acidity and there was a freshness and a vibrancy about that wine. It would be big and rich on the one hand but then have this tremendous backbone of acidity that would keep it fresh and bright. It was very peppery, it was very spicy, it was not his cup of tea, but for me it really ignited this curiosity. I had a project for a number of years called Kenneth Crawford Wines that some of you may remember, and our goal out the gate was, we always knew we would make some Pinot and some Chardonnay and some other things from the area, but our goal out the gate was to make some Sta. Rita Hills Syrah, and as much of it as we could. At the time there was even a bit of resistance, in the Sta. Rita Hills to us championing Syrah, because the focus of the area at the time, trying to establish itself in the marketplace was very specific to Pinot and Chardonnay. We really felt like we were bucking the trend, by promoting Syrah, but we were convinced that Syrah in the Sta. Rita Hills, in that climate, was special and unique and worthy of that attention. So I’ve been making Syrah from the area for a very long time. I don’t think I’m as brave as Scott. You’re drinking the youngest wine here is mine. Partly purposeful, partly the dynamics of a very small winery, in needing to get wine out into the market. I bring the fruit in, it cold soaks for a few days, it is then inoculated and spends a good 14, 15 days during fermentation, pressed off, I use only neutral barrels for this wine, because again, like these other guys, I really want to let the fruit shine through. I want you to smell and taste Sta. Rita Hills fruit. I agree, I’ve made wine from fruit from Ballard Canyon from the Los Alamos area, they are all excellent Syrah producing areas. What I love about the Sta. Rita Hills is the really dark earthy qualities we get in the Sta. Rita Hills, that tar and creosote, maybe fresh tobacco leaf, that kind of thing that comes out of the wines. But I’m really most struck by the structure of the wines from the area. That sort of quivering tension we get between rich ripe fruit and striking acidity and a bit of minerality that we get in the core of that wine. That’s what I love about the Sta. Rita Hills. There it is.

WTS: Mark also produces Pinot Noir. Can you compare and contrast, producing Syrah with Pinot? What are the differences for you?

Mark Horvath: Well, comparing and contrasting Syrah and Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills in particular, is really interesting because I think Pinot Noir has a lot of the same characteristics in the Sta. Rita Hills that Syrah has in that, it is such a cool and challenging area to grow grapes in. Same thing happens with Pinot Noir, I think Sta. Rita Hills is rather famous for making somewhat dark, rich, but definitely spicy Pinot Noir. Our Pinots are known for being on the spicy side, and I think that’s very distinctive about the area. Syrahs are the same way. I think there’s a lot of sandy soil. You know Zotovich Vineyard is a really interesting vineyard in the fact that it’s not a very interesting vineyard to look at. It’s a very flat, very simple deep sandy vineyard, and yet the fruit that comes out of there is just extraordinary. You know, I source from these really dramatic hillsides in a lot of different areas in the Sta. Rita Hills that are really amazing to look at and as a winemaker, you stand there and go “Wow, this is going to make something interesting, I mean, look at this soil, look at this aspect, and the wines are awesome. Then you go over to Zotovich and you stand there and it’s like “Hmm.” , you know, I hope this does what I think it’s going to do, and it does every time. It’s really interesting and unique. I think its…Larry touched on it, there’s all this sand on the surface and it is like beach sand at Zotovich, it’s probably 12 to 15 inches of just beach sand. But then below that you’ve got all this ancient seabed, you’ve got sedimentary rock, you’ve got all this really interesting stuff, that I think the vines really dig deep for. And it’s what ends up making the wines so unique from there. I think the Sta. Rita Hills has this great, I use the word “tension” and probably too much, but I just feel like between ripe rich fruit and vibrant fresh acidity, both the Pinot Noirs and the Syrahs have that same characteristic, obviously different flavors and aromas, but that structure, that tension, that freshness in the wines, I think holds through whether it’s Pinot, Chardonnay as a matter of fact as well and Syrah. I think the area is known for that.

WTS: Can you tell us where the name Crawford Family comes from?

Mark Horvath: So my middle name is Crawford. My first project with “Kenneth Crawford”, it was our middle names, it was better than Mark and Joey’s wine. That just did not have the right ring. I told my dad early on “Horvath is not going on a label, it just doesn’t work for a wine label.” I had to deal with Horvath my entire youth and so I wasn’t going to put it on a label. It’s also my Mom’s maiden name and my Mom was instrumental when we moved here in helping finance a young winery and so it’s sort of an homage to Mom as well. So, yeah, Crawford is my middle name.

WTS: Thank you for sharing, I didn’t know that. And so Crawford Family Wines tasting room is in Buellton.

Mark Horvath: That’s it! Right around the corner, right by Pea Soup Andersen. I use a little of the PSA yeast as a matter of fact. It’s been known to float around my winery too.

WTS: His lovely wife Wendy, gotta love a Wendy, she is at the tasting room today.

Mark Horvath: Yep, she’s there manning the fort.

WTS: Thank you Mark.

Mark Horvath: Thank you.

Scott Sampler of CCGP on White Hawk Syrah

Scott Sampler

Syrah Seminar 2016 Santa Barbara Vintners

Our Syrah Seminar Series continues with Scott Sampler of the Central Coast Group Project speaking on his “Names” 2012 White Hawk Syrah.  This is another Syrah from the Los Alamos Valley in Santa Barbara County.  This Valley lies at the mid point, North and South of the Santa Barbara Region.

The Central Coast Group Project

Scott Sampler, Central Coast Group Project

The first thing that strikes you about Scott Sampler is his humbleness. He is quiet and almost a little shy. Even the name of his winery “The Central Coast Group Project”, is not all about him, it’s meant to be inclusive of all the people that helped him along the way to bring this wine to fruition.  Of course once you get him speaking on wine…And today he was speaking on his White Hawk Syrah.

We met Scott at the beginning of the Spring Weekend at the Big Bottle Bash. We happened to be sitting with a friend of his, Eric, who helps him in the winery (again…another in the Group). Scott came by to pour some of his wine, and Eric had already prepared us for tasting something different. Scott is playing with maceration times. Typical extended maceration times are from 7 to 44 days, but Scott poured us a Grenache that had a 100-day maceration period and a GSM that had been 120 days in maceration.

We had an opportunity to have a more in-depth conversation with Scott at the Larner Fête, and there will be more on that to come!

Wendy Thies Sell shared one of my favorite quotes from Scott with us, and you will find it in the transcript below. Wendy said “The first time I met Scott…I was crazy enough to ask him ‘Are you like a mad scientist…?’ and without even blinking he said ‘No I prefer to think of myself as more of an alchemist.’”

Extended Maceration

Okay, so let’s delve into a little on this extended maceration thing.

First off, what is maceration? It’s the time during fermentation when the grape skins and colors are left in the juice. Dr. Vinny likens it to steeping tea. http://www.winespectator.com/drvinny/show/id/42983

You also sometimes hear about “cold soak” or “cold maceration”.  That is when you leave the grapes on the skins in a cold temperature, this keeps them from going into fermentation.  Cold soaks pull color and flavor typically without pulling so much in the way of tannins.

Extending the maceration during fermentation you get more color and flavor from the grape skin and seeds. This can also change the wines texture. You can add complexity, but you can also overdo tannins, which can make the wine astringent where it will overly dry your mouth out. I did read about Polymerization, where the mouth feel is rounded because the tannins form a chain. (This is way sciency and I will do more research and speak more with Scott, because this kind of thing fascinates me).

So Scott, in April, still had grapes macerating from the 2015 harvest. I look forward to tasting these!

The Central Coast Group Project 2012 “Names”  White Hawk Syrah

At the seminar we tasted Scott’s 2012 “Names” White Hawk Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard in Los Alamos. This was his first vintage. He picked all of the grapes on the same day, but separated them into lots according to block and clone. This had a 43-day maceration time, and then aged 20 months in neutral French oak with 18 months on the gross lees and he produced 150 cases.

The Central Coast Group Project has a website at http://www.ccgpwines.com/

They are a working winery and do not have a tasting room, but…they can occasionally do a tasting by appointment. You can reach them at (805) 874-2316.

Be sure to try to get to the next seminar! The Santa Barbara Vintners 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 April 2016 Episode 5: Scott Sampler – Central Coast Group Project on White Hawk Syrah

We broke the video of Scott’s portion of the Panel discussion into two parts and the Transcript holds extra information not included in the footage.

The Transcript (with extras)

Wendy Thies Sell: Next up is another wine sourced from White Hawk Vineyard in Los Alamos, Central Coast Group Project’s 2012 “Names” Syrah.

The first time that I met winemaker Scott Sampler was February 8th, 2014. Michael Larner had invited me to come to the Buellton Bodegas, where he and several others make wine. And he said, “You should go meet Scott, you should go taste his wines.” And the door had a big sign, “DO NOT ENTER and or Knock”, and I was afraid of what we were going to find in there. But it was February, and Scott still had Syrah cold soaking in bins in his winery that had not been pressed yet. His 2013 harvest, still wasn’t over in February. He pulled back the plastic covers and I was intoxicated by the aromas. And then we tasted from the barrels and I realized that he was on to something. That wine in the barrel is what we are tasting today. He believes that he is probably the only winemaker, anywhere doing this. 2012 was Scott’s first vintage with this wine label and this is his first time on a wine panel. So thank you so much Scott for debuting your wines with us.

Scott, tell us about this unique, labor-intensive way of making wine.

Scott Sampler: Well I wouldn’t say I’m the only person doing long maceration, skin post fermentation macerations, but now I’m doing 6 month, 7 month macerations and those are a little bit unusual, a lot unusual for red Rhone varietals or just about any varietals. It’s pretty unique in California. There are some crazy Italian wine makers that I’ve liked over the years and that’s kind of where I started, where I got the idea to experiment with this. I kind of like to say that my grandmother taught me how to make wine, ‘cause it’s like cooking sauce. It’s like something that you can understand after fermentation, you stir and taste and as the flavors develop over time then you develop structure and depth and balance and then you press.

Two weeks before the harvest in 2012, I didn’t have a project. The first project that I was in just fell apart and I didn’t have any grape sources and I didn’t have anyplace to make the wines. And so, I started telling people. People like Michael Larner, who I was getting fruit from previously, actually stepped in and figured out a way for me to get fruit. At White Hawk, fortunately it was a bumper crop in 2012. Some of the vineyard managers were able to sculpt areas out of sold out vineyards, where I could get my fruit. White Hawk was definitely one of my favorite vineyards. I’m kind of a younger, …well not in age, but in experience, wine maker and I’d been going to Silver Lake Wines when it opened, and there’s this cool guy, George, he used to be the sommelier at Campanile, the classic restaurant in LA, and he had this dead vintage White Hawk Wines, I mean, it was a dead label. They had made an estate wine and stopped making it. So he had these old vintages, 2002, 2001, and I was tasting these in 2010. I thought the fruit was amazing. It kind of had the structure and the spice and some of the more savory qualities that I like from the Northern Rhone, but it also had the California sunshine beaming through it. So when I came up here, I sought out this fruit. It’s really hard to find, because at that time I guess Mesa Vineyard Care didn’t even have a website. I finally found it and was just lucky that someone was just coming off the vineyard when I made the phone call and got on. The reason why I called it the Group Project was because of the generosity of all these people. I was in a different industry before this and what really struck me, was just how generous the wine culture is in this area, how generous winemakers are with each other in terms of the knowledge of making wine. I just feel greatly honored to be up here with my comrades.

WTS: Scott makes many, many different Syrahs and you’re really focused on Syrah, while you do make other varieties. Tell us about the other wines that you make. There are quite a few.

Scott Sampler: I do mostly red Rhones, so Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, some skin fermented Viognier and a have Merlot, Cabernet, Sangiovese, but this is all coming out later. The 2012 vintage, because I was just scrambling for fruit 2 weeks before harvest, is just all Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre. I essentially made 4 Syrahs from White Hawk. I picked all the fruit on the same day, and then vinified it separately. So different clonal selections, different blocks, all vinified separately, all native ambient yeast, meaning that I don’t inoculate, but you know there’s a lot of yeast floating around in the air. I used to joke that I used the PSA 246 (laughter from the room), Pea Soup Andersens 246 yeast strain, because where I was making the wine that year was very close to Pea Soup Andersens. It was really hot, that fermentation was really hot, and the 2012 ferments were really hot they got into the 90’s. Now I’m making wine at the Buellton Bodegas. I was making wine with Michael Larner at his first spot and then moved with him to the Buellton Bodegas so now my fermentations are a little cooler. This had a 3-day cold soak, it was 43 days on the skin pomace stirring every day and then pressing. Neutral oak 20 months, racked once at 18 and then bottled at 20. Sulfured twice, I don’t use any sulfur through these long extended macerations, I try to keep things alive for as long as possible.

WTS: Scott your 2015 Harvest isn’t over yet is it? (This is April of 2016 keep in mind)

Scott Sampler: No.

WTS: He hasn’t pressed the fruit that was picked yet in 2015.

Scott Sampler: No I’m still totally all in the 2015 harvest, just pushing (Chris Hammell “summer is coming”). I know. At first you start out with a lot of fear that your wine might turn, there’s a lot of risk of oxidation and other bacterial and microbial things that can happen. As I’ve been doing it, I’ve just been able to do it longer and longer and the wine goes through different cycles and so I’m trying to see how far I can go. I like where it’s going, it goes kind of deeper and deeper into the grape. We’ll see, maybe, I don’t know. I’m pushing it to the edge this year. We’ll see what happens.

WTS: The first time I met Scott I said, I was crazy enough to ask him “Are you like a mad scientist in here?” and without even blinking he said “No I prefer to think of myself as more of an alchemist.” So Scott does not have a tasting room but you’ll take people by appointment.

Scott Sampler: I’m happy to show people around if they give me a call and I’m around, I’m happy to introduce people to the winery.

WTS: Thank you Scott.

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