2017 The year in retrospect

Wet West Virginia moss

I’ve started this post at least 3 times.  How to sum up a year?  My tendency is to go analytical and spin out the year chronologically.  But remembering a year doesn’t really work that way.  Even scanning through my Instagram feed, I found my mind drifting, one memory taking me to another, rarely chronologically and I would swipe from one end of my feed to the other as the thoughts took me.  The visuals, the photos, were the things that drew me in, so that is what I want to share with you.

A Year of #_______Strong and of people coming together

2017…It’s been a year. It was the year of #(currentdisasterousevent)strong. There were so many, it was overwhelming at times. These events, that used to happen in some far away place, to people we didn’t know, suddenly, as we become a global community, have become things happening to people we know in places we have often seen. I had friends in Florida, Houston, in Sonoma, in New York City, in the Dominican Republic. And then of course there was Vegas. That’s home, and while I was not on the strip that night, many people that I work with daily and care for deeply, were. It was a year of stress and struggles, but also a year of people coming together. These events reminded us what is important, they caused us to be in touch with people who are dear to us and let them know they are dear to us.

Nature and home

As I sifted through the photos from this year, the ones I found the most moving, were those I took on our family farm early this spring.  No, they have nothing to do with wine, but returning to this place during some torrential spring rains, brought some perspective to the year.  The day was wet and rainy, but it only drizzled a bit while we were there.  We watched the creek rush overflowing it’s banks, and trudged from the ridge to the meadow and were soaked to the bone by the the dripping trees and wet underbrush by the time we left, but bits of astounding beauty were everywhere.

Fungus on the Farm

Fungus on the Farm

My Waterfall.

My Waterfall

Friends and Wine in Virginia

While we were on the East Coast we were able to catch up with friends and spent a weekend with my best friend and another friend from college as well as their husbands and did a bit of exploring of Virginia Wine Country.  A few years ago, we did a girls weekend in Virginia wine country and this was a great opportunity to do  Wine Country II,  Electric Boogaloo tour with the boys.

I did a bit of research on the history of Virginia Wine Country before we traveled, and we tried to take in a few different areas starting at Chrysalis and Stone Tower in Northern Virginia.  Chrysalis Vineyards is the Champion of the Norton Grape, a grape native to North America and have their tasting room at the Ag District Center.  The Winery is the vision of Jennifer McCloud who started Chrysalis in the late 1990’s.  This is a from scratch business. In Todd Kliman’s book “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine” he talks about meeting Jennifer at the Vineyards and riding out with her in her pickup to see the vines.  She is the heart and soul of this winery.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Stone Tower Vineyards, is something completely different.  You drive up Hogsback Mountain to find an impressive Estate with a “stone tower” hence the name.  Part of the property had been in the family for 40 years and in 2005 they added to the property when a neighboring farm was available.  Many of their vines are still too young to yield fruit, so their winemaker brings in juice from California for some of their wines, which are labeled under “Wild Boar Cellars”.  Regardless, the wines were all beautifully made and the Estate wines made from grapes grown on site are really exquisite.  The tasting room at the vineyard in Loudoun County is expansive and beautiful and as such is overflowing with wine tasters from the DC area on the weekends, so go early!

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

We ventured south from here to meet my dearest friend at Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.  This Vineyard is on a historic estate between Monticello and Montpelier. On the property lies the remnants of the home designed for James Barbour by Thomas Jefferson.  In 1976 the Zonin Family, who command a portfolio of 9 wineries in 7 regions of Italy, acquired the property.

Barboursville Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

We then headed to Charlottesville (this was early in the year, before they needed a #CharlottesvilleStong).  We had a great dinner on the Historic Downtown Mall and then planned our morning trip to Monticello.

Jefferson wanted so desperately to grow grapes and make his own wine.  He was a renaissance man and as such tended to get wrapped up in some things to the detriment of others.  The property is beautiful, the house unique and quirky, with it’s wine elevator among other things and the gardens are lovely, if filled with non native species.  The vineyards speak to the longing to make his own wine and on this spring day, in the mist, they seemed to echo this.

 

Monticello

Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

We had lunch at the historic Michie Tavern and visited a few other wineries, a standout being Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Matthews.

How much California Wine Country can you see in 6 days?

August took us on a Flash Tour of the California Coast and it’s wine regions.  We spent 6 Days traveling the coast hitting Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, the Livermore Valley, and Santa Cruz. You can check out our travels here. The trip was amazing, here are some visual highlights.

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Other highlights

Those are the big highlights, but we were busy all year.

At the beginning of the year I did a tasting of Natural Wines with Matthieu at the farmers market.

We did a Superbowl Wine Party How to pair with Everything!  And we did pair with everything!

In April we did a Virtual trip to the McLaren Vale in Australia with our friend Dean being our Wine Reporter at Large

In May and June we dove into Rosé with some basics and tastings.  July saw us drinking lots of bright whites, as you would expect in the summer in Vegas, and then

We found ourselves back in Santa Barbara again in October and spent time in Lompoc in the Wine Ghetto, Solvang and downtown Santa Barbara.

Beyond that we traveled closer to home and did some amazing at home pairings.  Including a wonderful Grenache Vertical and some Wine and Chocolate bark pairings.

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Onward to 2018

And what about 2018? I love the New Year. It always feels like a clean slate. Will there be good wine and some wine travel? Yes! Adventures and meeting new people and sharing their stories is what we are all about, and we get better at this all the time. Plans are in the works for this year, but who knows where the wind may blow us. I look forward to more spontaneous trips this year.

And I have been inspired seeing people post their “power words” for the new year.  Mine…”Exploration”.  I love research and if I want to be more spontaneous this year, it actually probably means chasing tangents down the research rabbit hole, and I’m okay with that!  I do have a few things on my list.  Expect to see more on French wines and wine regions this year.  Between trips to wine regions, we will be taking some virtual trips to France and digging in deeper to it’s wine regions. There is a reason that when people think of wine, they first think of French wine.  I am also anxious to search out more “natural wines”.  I know, I know, it’s a really open term, but I love pét-nat and I want to explore deeper into this movement and I’m anxious to see how this category of wines develops and evolves.  And then of course there will be the tangents.  I always start the year with plans, and I will be sitting down soon to create my list for 2018.  By the end of 2018 I am sure that I will have happily strayed from it.

Happy New Year!  I’m off to make my exploration planning list.  I should probably pour a glass of wine as I head down the rabbit hole.

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Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 1

6 days…where to go in wine country?

Well if you have a Prius and can get to California fairly easily, you don’t have to choose.  Join us on our journey through California’s Central Coast Wine Country and a little beyond.

Day 1 Las Vegas to Monterey

We left Vegas before dawn and drove to the coast. We skipped LA and hit the coast in Ventura County. Day 1 was mostly driving with a bit of sightseeing along the way, with the final goal being Monterey.

Santa Barbara – the city

We took a break in Santa Barbara by Sterns Wharf to soak up some of the ocean and the morning. Santa Barbara, the city, has plenty to do for an entire vacation and if you love wine, we can enjoy plenty here without leaving the city on the Urban Wine Trail. Sterns Wharf is home to The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting Room; The Funk Zone (the hip area close to the beach) has lots of great laid back tasting rooms and the El Paseo further in the historical district has even more tasting rooms.

Los Olivos

On this trip however, we kept driving. We took the 154 into Santa Barbara Wine Country. We drove through Los Olivos, with the plan to return. This town houses multiple wine tasting rooms and some great restaurants. It is a great place to park and walk, taste and eat. You are highly likely to run into winemakers in the tasting rooms and restaurants.

Los Alamos

We drove onto the 101 from here, heading north past Los Alamos, which is another great spot to do weekend tastings. There is another Municipal Winemakers tasting room in town as well as Casa Dumetz Wines. Full of Life Flatbread is a great dinner spot and if you need beer, Babis Beer Emporium (same owner as Casa Dumetz) is a perfect spot to sit outside and enjoy some really great local brews. On the weekends there is often music and Casa Dumetz has a Friday night “Words to Live By” speaker series which covers a wide range of topics with an eclectic group of speakers! But yeah, we didn’t have time to stop here either….on we drove.

SLO – San Luis Obispo

Next to drive through is SLO (San Luis Obispo). You begin by passing Laetitia where they do Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and have an amazing sparkling wine program that is Méthode Champenoise (that’s the really good tiny bubbles). Further in you will find more wine trails and downtown SLO which has beautiful tree-lined streets, lots of art and great food.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles is up next and there are so many wineries here that I won’t even try right now. They recently divided into 11 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Before dividing, this one area was the Paso Robles AVA and covered about 614,000 acres. (for some perspective, Napa is only 1/3 of that size). This place deserves a bit of your time. Take all 6 days here. It’s close enough to the beach that you can spend a day tasting and a day on the coast and then back. We do stop here on our way back…we’ll get there on day 4.

Monterey

We kept driving to arrive in Monterey for the first evening and with limited time, we went to Cannery Row to enjoy the view, taste some wine and have a bite at A Taste of Monterey. You can taste at the bar or get a table and do a flight and order food. We found a great table with a view (and a seagull companion) and enjoyed a couple of flights along with some bacon wrapped dates and…pardon me I drool when I talk about these… Inzana Farms Almonds & Pistachios, which are roasted in olive oil, brown sugar, cayenne, thyme.

This is a flash trip so there are more areas to discover and explore that we passed by.  Yep, the Central Coast is full of great wine country.  In Santa Barbara County you can also visit, Buellton, Lompoc and it’s Wine Ghetto, Santa Ynez and then the many wineries all around the county.  For more information on the Santa Barbara Wineries visit Santa Barbara Vintners.  San Luis Obispo Country also has great tasting rooms out at Avila Beach.  While we didn’t visit those areas this time, you can find more about them here at Crushed Grape Chronicles, just do a search!

The Santa Barbara Vintners Celebration of Harvest is coming up September 29th to October 2, 2017 and it is a great time to visit.  You can attend the Taste of Santa Barbara Wine Country Event and enjoy wines from 50 of the different wineries in the region on September 29th in downtown Santa Barbara.  And there are event all over the region during the weekend where you will learn more about the wines, wineries and winemakers.

Day 2 takes us from Monterey to Napa and Sonoma!  Come back for more of the trip!

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Wine with friends – A California tasting & pairing

After our trip to the Central Coast, my friend RuBen asked if we wanted to do a wine & cheese party with him at his house.  Well of course!  RuBen is the hostess with the mostest and has a beautiful backyard.  He also knows wonderful people, who are always a joy to talk to.  So….RuBen planned the decor, the people and the over-all menu and I planned the wines and pairings.  I spent several days going through and picking wines from our cellar and then finding interesting facts about each and pairing ideas.  Here’s what I settled on…

Laetitia Brut Cuvee

We needed to start with something bubbly, so we pulled out a bottle of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery Brut Cuvee.  The winery is in the Arroyo Grande AVA which is just south of San Luis Obispo. We had recently done an Interview on their beautiful property  with Heather Muran of the SLO Wine Association.  Starting with bubbles is always a great celebratory way to start any event and it’s a great palate cleanser.  This wine is made in the Champenoise method and the winemaker says his favorite pairing with this is potato chips!  So…that’s what we paired it with.  It was fun to talk to people about this wine and have people share with me their knowledge of sparkling wines.

Tablas Creek 2014 Vermentino

Next we moved onto a white wine, but I didn’t want to do a typical Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  Instead we did a Vermentino from Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles.  This winery is known for their Rhone Varieties, and while Vermentino is a little out of the Rhone (although it is grown there under the name Rolle) it is a variety of grape that thrives in the soils and climates you find at Tablas Creek.  It is bright and minerally and we put a jar of wet stones next to it for people to smell.  It was amazing to see people dip their nose into the glass then into the jar and watch the look of realization and surprise come across their faces.  People always think that tasting notes sound so snooty with the wild things sommeliers say they can smell in a wine.  Having it right there and smelling it opened their noses to trying to smell other things in the wines!  Vermentino pairs great with many things, but unlike so many other wines, it is great with green vegetables, so we paired this with a pesto.

Margerum 2014 Riviera Rosé

Onward now to a Rosé.  Rosés are coming back into vogue and you find them popping up everywhere.  While you can find rosés made from Pinot, Zinfandel,  and even Merlot…I love a Rhone or Grenache Rosé best, with a little watermelon and strawberry on the nose, but dry.  That is what we got with the Margerum Wine Company 2014 Riviera Rosé. This Rosé is Grenache with a little Counoise and Cinsault.  The Grenache for the most part is done in the saignee method, then a bit of Counoise and Cinsault are added as well as a little barrel aged Grenache.  As Rosés notoriously go well with anything pink, we paired it with a prosciutto.

Carhartt 2012 Pinot Noir

It was time now to go a little darker.  We pulled out a 2012 Pinot Noir from Carhartt in Santa Barbara. The Carhartt’s are the same Carhartt’s you think of with work clothes. The family owned a ranch in Santa Barbara where they raised cattle for years.  Mike Carhartt and his wife Brooke planted grapes on the land and now it is a family affair with son Chase studying wine making and assisting in the process. This particular wine is not grown on their estate but comes from Riverbench Vineyard up in the Santa Maria Valley where they grow some amazing Pinot Noir.  We paired this with cheeses; goat cheese, gouda and baked brie!

Carhartt 2012 Sangiovese

We continued with a little more robust red with a Carhartt Sangiovese.  This wine was estate grown and smells of cherry, fig, cola, all spice, sweet oak and rose petal.  I had a fresh burrata from the Downtown Summerlin Farmers Market that paired perfectly with this!

Tobin James 2009 Fat Boy Zin

I must admit that we don’t drink alot of big reds these days.  Most are just a bit too big to pair with a meal.  At one time we were members of the Tobin James wine club and we have a bunch of great big fat Zins from them, that I have not yet opened.  So…here was an opportunity to open one and see how it was.  Did it mellow with age or would it have gone flat and passed it’s peak?  We opened a 2009 Tobin James Fat Boy Zin.  It is an over the top Zin that Tobin says is “like the best friend you had as a kid; big brash and maybe slightly obnoxious, but always loved!”.  This is definitely big with the alcohol level sitting at 15.8%.  But indeed, this big boy was loved by many at the party.  We paired this with Smoked Gouda, but truly this big Jammy Zin would go best with bold bold BBQ.

Carol Shelton 2008 Black Magic

We ended the eveningstepping a little further north, with a late harvest Zin by Carol Shelton her 2008 Black Magic from Sonoma County.  Late harvest wines are those that are left on the vine to let their sugars develop and often they will leave them to raisin on the vine concentrating the sugars even further.  This dessert wine screams for chocolate and indeed we paired it with that, but also with a lovely Stilton. The sweet wine and the savory cheese are a perfect combination for finishing an evening.

This was an amazing evening with around 20 people just mingling talking about the wines and whatever else came up and meandering around RuBen’s beautiful backyard with little seating areas tucked here and there.  We enjoyed the wine, the company and conversation as the sun set and the stars came out.  Yep, wine with friends…what could be better?

Wine Party with Friends

Wine Party with Friends

April on the Central Coast

I love April. It is a month where Michael and I have a little time to travel. This year, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that we hit the Central Coast. This trip was about taking in all that the Central Coast has to offer. We visited wineries and tasting rooms, yes, but one of the great things about the Central Coast is that the ocean is right there. We had an opportunity to speak with Heather Muran of SLO Wine Country. You may have seen our quick video with Heather talking about the wrap up of the April month long anniversary celebration for “Roll Out the Barrels”. There will be more video with Heather giving us more insights to the SLO Wine Region, but she impressed upon us that one of the most wonderful things about this area is the lifestyle. Many of the winemakers, surf or hike, and Michael and I wanted to take this in. So on our trip we visited wineries, hiked the bluffs trail at Montana de Oro north of Morro Bay, drove the Pacific Coast Highway, stopped in at the Avila Beach tasting rooms and watched a cricket game on the beach!

You’ve seen the beginning of our trip. It started at Santa Barbara’s El Paseo , first with lunch on the rooftop patio of Nordstroms in the historic Presidio district, with a view of the shops, buildings and trailing bouganvilla. The blog post has photos and details of The Wine Collection of the El Paseo with details on tasting at the 6 tasting rooms; Jamie Slone Wines, Margerum, Au Bon Climat, MCW32, Happy Canyon and Grassini Family Vineyards.

After our afternoon at the El Paseo, we wandered back down through the funk zone and onto the pier. The Conway Family’s Deep Sea Tasting room is the perfect place to enjoy some wine and watch the sunset over the water.

Evening view from the Conway Family Vineyards Deep Sea Tasting Room on the pier in Santa Barbara
Central Coast Wine Country Spring at Tablas Creek

We also spent a bit of time in Paso Robles. Jason Haas, GM of Tablas Creek Vineyards was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to do an interview with us in the vineyard and the winery. It was a fascinating conversation that I look forward to sharing with you.

As I mentioned we did a great interview with Heather Muran the Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association at the beautiful Laetitia Vineyards which is the southern most end of SLO Wine Country. We did a tasting at Claiborne & Churchill where they were doing a “Roll Out the Barrels” Event called “Hit Me”. They are known for their Alsatian style white wines and did a blind tasting of 5 aromatic wines where you had to pick which variety matched each wine. We had a great lunch at Big Sky Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo, which is a great town to stroll through.

Claiborne & Churchill SLO Central Coast Wine Country
Kynsi San Luis Obispo Central Coast Wine Country

Kynsi has a beautiful tasting patio at their vineyard. Don Othman came to the area to start a company to design and manufacture wine making equipment. He created the “Bulldog Pup” which is a widely used racking wand for transferring wine from barrels. He later began making wine and now his daughter Kala and her husband also work in the winery.

We returned for a tasting and a short hike at Laetitia, where you can taste classic sparkling wines and hike part way through the vineyard and see the ocean views. Come through the week if you want to talk wine, the tasting room is bustling on the weekends!

These vineyards are just a few miles from the Central Coast beaches, so after your tasting you have time for a leisurely drive to Pismo or Shell beach to take in the sunset.

Laetitia Central Coast Wine Country
The Hike on the Bluffs at Montana de Oro

The Morro Bay area has a beautiful park that is just south of the Bay called Montana de Oro where you can hike the bluffs at the edge of the ocean. After a little exercise, a drive up the coast exploring the beach towns and catching lunch at a great little beach spot is perfect. We had lunch at Schooners at Cayucos. This place has great views and a very attentive staff. The food is fresh and easy going and if you are there around sunset there is a great view from the upstairs bar.

Schooner's Restaurant in Caucus on the Coast

Continue up the Pacific Coast Highway to Hearst Castle or Cambria or on to Ragged Point for some great views.

We turned around a little past Ragged Point and headed into Paso Robles for dinner at Artisan. You are likely to see a winemaker or two here. The sidewalk patio on the square is nice and it is a great local menu with artisan cheeses, small plates and more. You can enjoy great local wines and they also have flights. A couple of flights and some small plates make for a great evening exploring pairings! And don’t skip the dessert, the bread pudding was delicious.

Artisan Restaurant in Central Coast Wine Country

Avila Beach is a great little secluded getaway on the Central Coast. As you drive in, you pass Apple Orchards where you can pick your own apples, Hot springs where you can lounge at the resort or rent a hot spring tub by the hour. The Bob Jones trail runs from the springs to the beach and is busy on weekend mornings with bicyclists, walkers and dog walkers. Pirates Cove is said to be great for hiking and word has it the secluded beach that you must hike in to, is clothing optional. We parked ourselves at the in Avila beach to watch the ocean and suddenly a group of guys set up a cricket game on the beach in front of us.  Beyond them sail boats from San Luis Harbor were out. After a morning on the beach we had lunch at the Custom House, enjoying live music on the patio and then strolled to several of the wine tasting rooms nearby.

Avila Beach and it's Tasting rooms

The beautiful Peloton Cellars tasting room with it’s bicycle racing theme, attentive and informed pouring staff and really great afternoon light (oh and lovely wines) was our first stop. A little past them there was live music by A Simple Parade in the Morovino tasting room. This tiny tasting room has the winemaker pouring behind the bar, with wines that she makes because she likes them. She has recipe cards for pairing with each of her wines. The tasting room atmosphere was warm and friendly and the music filled the room and kept us all entranced. We headed around the corner to the downstairs Alapay Cellars tasting room with their large Aquarium behind the tasting bar. And our final stop was at Sinor La Vallee’s brand new tasting room. Mike Sinor has worked with Byron, Center of Effort and Ancient Peaks. He now owns the Bassi Vineyard in Avila Valley which is only 1.5 miles from the ocean. After a late day tasting we finished the day on a super casual note with pizza at Mission Pizza and sunset at the beach.

Of course the following weekend was the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring weekend, so we were back to dive into Santa Barbara County. We finally were able to get to the new Alma Rosa Tasting room, conveniently located next to Industrial Eats in Beullton. You are in an industrial area, but when you walk through the door you forget all of that. The center piece of the tasting room is Olivia, their olive tree. There are skylights, beautiful photos of the vineyards and casual seating. You are greeted at the door and your Wine Guide finds you a seat. This is not your typical wine tasting bar. And of course Richard Sanford’s wines are spectacular.

Another one of those iconic Santa Barbara spots that we had not managed to get to yet, was The Hitching Post II. So…we enjoyed dinner there. This place is like a time capsule. The way you saw it in “Sideways” is exactly how it is today. But the food, while in a style of times past, is delicious. The steaks here really are phenomenal. I can’t gush enough quite honestly.

The Beautiful Tasting Room at Alma Rosa in Buellton

We started Saturday bright and early at the Santa Ynez Marriott with a Wine Seminar by the http://www.sbcountywines.com/. Christopher Sawyer moderated a panel of current and previous winemakers at Zaca Mesa including Ken Brown, Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist and Eric Mohseni. We will have a multiple part series coming out with the full Seminar.

It was a grey morning and it rained right up until the Vintners Spring Festival tasting at River View Park in Buellton. The cloud cover kept us from getting sunburned and overheated as we tasted through wines and spoke with winemakers from all over the area.

After the tasting we headed to Los Alamos where Sonja Madjevski was releasing Sonja’s Sonnet at her Babi’s Beer Emporium next to her Casa Dumetz wine tasting room. This was a project with the Libertine Pub Limited release ale fermented & barrel aged in French Oak, brewed with Kiwi, hibiscus, & Mourvedre grapes. This was a great sour beer and the Turkey Buzzards were playing inside and the kitchen was open. We relaxed on stools by the bar on the fence, enjoyed the beer and watched the people go by.

Babi's Beer Emporium Los Alamos Central Coast Wine Country
Ful of Life Flatbread Central Coast Wine Country

Dinner called and when in Los Alamos what better place is there than Full of Life Flatbread. The place is small so there was a wait. So we bellied up to the bar and ordered a couple of glasses of wine. I ordered the Au Bon Climat Aligote that was on tap. Little did I know that when our table was ready, we would have a perfect view of the big wood fired oven and an entire table with Jim Clendenen and his staff behind us. This is Santa Barbara County. It’s rare that you walk into a restaurant and don’t see a winemaker enjoying wine “at table” as it is meant to be with friends or colleagues.

Our flatbread was great and we ordered 2 desserts since we couldn’t decide between them. Another perfect day in wine country.

Sunday had us out in Ballard Canyon doing another great interview with Michael Larner, of Larner Vineyards and Winery, this time focusing on the wines. (Look for that shortly). We then headed out to Sta. Rita Hills to the open house at Hilliard Bruce. I had a chance at the Festival to speak with the owners and winemakers Christine Bruce and John Hilliard, but they were out of town today, so we went to see their beautiful new winery. We had been to the vineyard before and did a post about their detailed viticultural methods, and wanted to see their new winery which is a blend of the practical and the artistically beautiful.

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

We finished our day tasting in Los Olivos, at Stolpman, Longoria, and Blair Fox, all of which introduced us to more amazing wines.

On our final morning in wine country we headed out to see how the new chardonnay planting at Riverbench was coming along. When we were here last year in June we saw these vines before they went in the ground and have been following their progress. They were pulling off the tubes today and training them up on the trellis’. We drove out onto the Bench in Santa Maria and drove by the Bien Nacido Vineyards before heading back through Foxen Canyon to meet Larry Schaffer of Tercero in his Los Olivos Tasting room. We had a great interview with Larry that will come out shortly, talking about, screw caps, Roussanne, Rhones and so much more. It is always a fascinating conversation with Larry.

So as you can see, we have tons to tell you about our trip to the Central Coast! We will be releasing video’s as soon as they are ready, watch for the Wine Seminar to come out first! Stick with us on the journey..from dirt to glass!

Wine Pairing: Cod, Clams & roasted citrus avocado salad with a 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. 

Steamed Clams with Butter and Herbs

I was going through our wine selection trying to find a wine that I could find a great pairing to go with. So I went through our Tablas Creek Wines. The great thing about Tablas is that they set you up for a great wine pairing.  They have a vintage chart on their site, so you can see which wines are ready to drink. Tablas Creek does mostly Rhone varieties in the French style, so most of their wines are meant to age. I found a 2012 Patelin de Tablas in the rack in the dining room that was ready to drink and found a recipe and pairing ideas on the Tablas site (yep, they usually have one or 2 recipes to pair with each of their wines, as well as some additional suggestions…it’s really foodie heaven).

There was a fish with fennel recipe and suggestions for citrus avocado salad, fish with tropical salsa and Mussels or clams cooked in butter and wine. We determined we would do the citrus avocado salad, fish with tropical salsa and the clams. We thought we would go to whole foods for a good citrus selection, but since I wanted clams and I wanted them to be easy, we stopped first at Trader Joes.

Foodies might be appalled, but while I wanted clams, I didn’t want the worry of cleaning them, so we picked up a box of TJ’s steamer clams, which are frozen and have an herb butter sauce already. We picked up some frozen Alaskan Cod, a mango, limes, a red bell pepper, a red onion, Meyer lemons, blood oranges, a Minneola, arugula and mint. I had an avocado at home from the farmers market. This was probably a Zutano or a Pinkerton avocado and it was a little different from the well-known Haas. It was smooth skinned and green with a pear like shape with a smooth light flesh.

Cooking

So now it was time to cook. We started by making the salsa, dicing ½ of the red pepper, the mango and ½ of the onion then squeezing the juice of 1 lime over it and seasoning with salt and pepper. Mix this up early if you want and toss it in the fridge to let all those flavors meld.

Next we sliced up our citrus into rings. In retrospect I could have sliced them thinner. They get tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and go in the oven at 425 for 10-15 minutes to roast and caramelize. While they were in there, I tossed my arugula and some fresh mint together and mixed a dressing of small diced red onion and the juice of 1 Meyer lemon.

We started the clams at this point and Michael seasoned the cod. The box of clams went into our preheated pan and then instead of the water called for on the box, I went to add the white wine… only it was red. Silly me…I saw the label and didn’t look to see if it was the white or red Patelin de Tablas. So, Plan B…I grabbed a bottle of 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc and tossed in a bit of that.

Michael got some butter (by that I mean almost a stick) going in a skillet and added the cod pieces, these cooked while I sliced the avocado for the salad and pulled the citrus from the oven to top it. Last the dressing of Meyer lemon juice and onion went on.

The Wine Pairing

The fish was plated and topped with our salsa and we were ready to eat! Our wine pairing wasn’t what we originally expected, but we enjoyed the Esprit de Tablas Blanc with dinner and then enjoyed a glass of the Patelin de Tablas after. While the Patelin de Tablas Blanc would have potentially made for a better wine pairing with the mango salsa and with the citrus salad, the Esprit went very well. The difference? The Esprit is a blend of 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc & 5% Picpoul Blanc, where the Patelin Blanc would have been 52% Grenache Blanc, 27% Viognier, 16% Roussanne & 5% Marsanne. That Viognier would have lended itself nicely to the tropical salsa, but regardless the Esprit was wonderful with it!

The fish and clams were delicious. The salad…the peel and pith were a little bitter. Perhaps if I had sliced these more thinly, it would have soaked up more of the olive oil and been a little sweeter, less chewy and caramelized a little more. It was beautiful though and the mint and arugula were nice with it.

All in all, this was a pretty simple dinner. It took us about 35 to 40 minutes total, but that was with shooting while we cooked. You could multitask and complete the whole thing in about 20 minutes.

So dive in! A fantastic looking dinner doesn’t have to take hours in the kitchen; in fact the best stuff usually is simple and cooks up pretty quick. And even an accidental wine pairing can turn out to be delicious!

À la Vôtre!

A harvest vineyard walk at Tablas Creek Vineyards

Tablas Creek Wine Walk

We gathered in the shade just outside the Tablas Creek tasting room.  You could tell why we were here by our sturdy shoes.  Yes it was almost 100 degrees, but we were wine lovers ready to brave the elements to find out more about this wonderful winery with a vineyard walk and tasting.

Levi Glenn, the Tablas Creek Viticulturist gave us some basics on the winery history before we got started.  The Perrin and Haas families joined to find vineyard land here in California to grow the Rhone varieties that the Perrins’ have long grown at Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley.  The Tablas Creek property is on the same latitude, the climate and soil are both similar and when they bought this 102 acre property in 1989 they began the process of bringing the traditional Rhone varieties grown on the Perrins’ estate to this country.  The cuttings from France had to go through a three year process to be sure that they were virus free.  In order to have enough vines to actually make wine, they started a nursery, bench-grafting vines to plant on the estate and enough to sell to other vineyards.  While they no longer have the nursery, they partner with NovaVine in Sonoma to create Tablas Creek clones from grafted vines and bud wood.  Many wineries are now raising Tablas Creek clones to create their Rhone style wines.

They grow sustainably, organically and use biodynamic practices.  There is a compost tea that they use to fertilize the vines and they plant sections of the vineyard with insectaries to encourage beneficial insects.

We headed down the drive then past the head-pruned Mourvedre by the gate and continued down to the lambing barn and barnyard.  Levi talked about the animals, they have 2 donkeys and 5 alpacas that guard the herd of 40 sheep. The sheep are primarily used to mow down the cover crops.  Over the season they can cover 30-40 acres of vineyard.  In addition they fertilize as they mow.  Once the vineyards are growing the sheep have to be moved elsewhere and still need to be fed.  Typically they grow legumes as cover crops to add nitrogen back into the soil.  They had some vines that were showing a little too much vigor so instead they planted barley as their cover crop.  This works beautifully as they can then harvest the barley to use as feed for the herd.

While here they poured us a cool and refreshing glass of the 2012 Vermentino, one of only 2 non Rhone varieties grown on the estate.  This was the wine that got me hooked on Tablas Creek when I recieved it as a gift from a friend.  Enjoying this wine as the sun came dappled through the poplars, we took in the animals, the view of the cutting shed and the beautifully ripening Grenache.

Refreshed, it was time to move on up the long hill to the top where Chef Jeff Scott waiting under the oak trees.  The vineyard views are beautiful.  At the top of the hill you have a view of the las tablas creek area including Halter Ranch next door.  Reveling in the shade they poured us glasses of the 2011 Estate Rose, a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Counoise. We enjoyed the view and Chef brought out a tray of figs topped with goat cheese to pair.

We headed back down the hill to the  head pruned Roussanne block.  We believe these are the only head-pruned Roussanne vines in the state. The 2009 Roussane is a gorgeous golden color.  Rousanne is often very difficult to grow (NovaVine calls it “the princess”).  This is the backbone to the Esprit du Beaucastel Blanc their flagship white wine adding richness, weight  and honey with a nice salinity on the backend.  Chateau du Beaucastel makes their Roussanne Vielles Vignes which is considered one of the greatest white wines in France. “Roux” is the French word for “russet” which describes the color of the grapes when ripe and gives us the base for the name “Roussanne”.  This is the latest ripening white Rhone varieties that are grown at Tablas Creek.  The vines respond highly to sunlight and bunches that get sun on the western side will ripen faster than those on the eastern side.  This is also a wine that will age well, case in point we were drinking a 2009 and it was rich and stunning.  After Levi gave us the run down on the grape, Chef Jeff pulled out the pairing.  This was a crostini with fresh ricotta and thyme roasted golden beets topped with a piece of candied bacon.  Beets and bacon pair well and both were gorgeous with the wine.

Across from the Roussanne there are scattered fruit trees including some Quince.  Levi supplied me with a quick recipe for quince paste.

As we had walked down I noticed a large rack with netting and asked Levi when they netted before harvest.  He said that they no longer net.  There are so many vineyards locally that the birds no longer descend and feast, but rather just stop in here and there for a snack which is not an issue.  They still have air cannons when needed.

We headed back up the hill to the head trained Tannat.  This is the other non Rhone variety grown on property.  Levi said that it has been called Tablas Creek Zin, as it is so rich, deep and flavorful.  This grape thrives in the Tablas Creek climate and soils.  Levi says that it takes almost no work and produces consistently good fruit.  Tannat is found most notably in the Basque country on the Spanish border.  Growing this at Tablas Creek was actually a little bit of an accident.  The Perrins’ French nurseryman included cuttings when he packed up the Rhone varieties in 1990 even though it was not requested.  His instincts told him that this grape would do well in Paso Robles and I for one would like to thank him!  The berries have very thick skins which add to the tannins in the wine.  It is fermented open top to allow more oxygen to soften the tannins and then is aged in small barrels again to introduce more oxygen.  In 2010 most of the 248 acres of Tannat planted in California came from Tablas Creek cuttings.  This wine is beautifully balanced with acid, fruit and tannin.  Chef Jeff Scott then had to figure out a way to do a cold red wine pairing out in the vineyard!  He succeeded overwhelmingly with this small bite, which still makes my mouth water whenever I think of it (and I think of it often!).  He prepared Rillettes in the style of the south of France. The pork is slow cooked for 6 hours in it’s own fat then sits in olive oil, thyme and garlic to soak up some more goodness.  This is placed on crostini topped with caramelized onions, drizzled with a pommerey mustard aioli and sprinkled with fleur de sel and black pepper. The fat in the rillettes paired with the acid and tannins in the wine were perfect.  We enjoyed the wine, watched the sun set, had some great conversations and suddenly turned around to find that only 1/3 of the group was left!  We headed back down to the winery and tasting room in the slowly dimming light, sated and fulfilled.  There’s really nothing like being part of the Tablas Creek family.  The staff was incredible and the other wine club members we met share our love for great wine and fascinating wine facts.  Levi was extremely patient as we all pummeled him with questions, answering and enlightening us.  All in all it was a glorious evening.