A little Sleight of Hand with dinner at Doubleback

As we rode in the van, I tried to figure out which direction we were heading, watching the rolling brown hills outside of Walla Walla roll by. The anticipation was intoxicating. Then I stopped trying to figure it out, and I surrendered to the journey.

I’ve always liked surprise trips. I am a planner and this throws my plans to the wind. It’s freeing. Sometimes Michael will head out to the car, and I will just follow, climb in, let him drive and see where we end up. I relish these trips.

This time there were a few more people involved. Typically this is everyone’s favorite event at the Wine Bloggers Conference. When we picked up our badges for the conference we were given a colored ticket. Mine was a golden yellow. A golden ticket. We gathered in the side lobby of the Marcus Whitman, lining up behind signs whose color matched our ticket. One by one the groups headed out the door. One group I think was in antique cars.

We were one of the last groups. As we headed out we were told to load into either the limo or the two luxury vans. We popped in a van (I’ve been in my share of limos and with a bunch of people never actually found it comfortable, usually just awkward). The van had “Bottleshock” playing on the screen. Conversations bantered around the van and we headed off into the Walla Walla Hills.

The Doubleback Winery

The Doubleback Winery

At last we seemed to be arriving. The winery as you pull up looks like a big barn. Dark wood and the name Doubleback on the side. As we pulled in and disembarked, we were greeted by a food truck. “Andrae’s Kitchen” was cooking away. This was Andrae of the “gas station” that Thaddeus, of the Minority Wine Report, (Yeah, that’s a shout out to you Thad) had been raving about. You could tell this was all set to be a great evening.

Andrae's Kitchen

Andrae’s Kitchen of the Gas Station fame in Walla Walla

The landscape here was stark and stunning. While we were a chatty bunch, it made me go quiet. The rolling hills with their severe browns and blacks, scorched and sepia tones, demanded a reverence. This evening the sky was washed in grey. The view is wide and it makes you feel very small. One should be silent with nothing but the sound of your own breath, with this view, at least for a moment.

The starkly beautiful hills of Walla Walla as viewed from Doubleback Winery

The starkly beautiful hills of Walla Walla as viewed from Doubleback Winery

After taking in the hills, I turned to look again at the winery. The building is beautiful but understated. Clean lines and rustic wood blend to create a place that is elegant and welcoming.

Inside large glass garage doors keep the space open to the view. We passed though the room set with tables, were handed a glass of wine and proceeded into the winery itself where we met our hosts. Josh McDaniels the Winemaker and General Manager for Doubleback and Jerry Solomon and Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars

 

Trays of Grilled flatbread with babaganouj, charred tasso, parsley and picked fresh chili and Tuna tartare, sesame ailo, picked cucumber, wonton chip, with shaved endive paired with Underground Wine Project’s 2017 Mr. Pink Rose and Bledsoe Family Winery: 2017 Elizabeth Chardonnay.

I have to take a moment to tell you a bit about the Underground Wine Project.  This is a collaboration between Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars and Mark McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery.  These guys have been friends for a while and collaborated to make a 100 cases of a wine called Idle Hands back in 2009.  It became a cult favorite and caused the creation of the Underground Wine Project.  They now make 4 wines, including the Mr. Pink rosé.

Doubleback Dinner with Friends

A table set for 8 with soooo many glasses! Wine would flow in abundance!

We headed back in to dinner and we were lucky enough to sit with Sleight of Hand Winemaker Trey Busch, as well as Thaddeus of Minority Wine Report, Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life, Miki & Tom Joe of The Vineyard Trail and Leeann Froese of The Vineyard Birder, and I’ll admit, I think we were the rowdy table. Regardless, we had fun and enjoyed the wines, and were close enough to the plating table to get the scoop (and some great photos) of Chef Andrae and his team putting together the exceptional dinner that we enjoyed.

Doubleback Dinner with Friends

Doubleback Dinner with Trey Busch winemaker at Sleight of Hand, Thaddeus Buggs of the Minority Wine Report and Leeann Froese of the Vineyard Birder

Are you ready to drool?

Doubleback Dinner Menu

Doubleback Dinner Menu

1st course: Smoked pork belly rillette, banana bread pudding, shaved fennel, watercress and maple mustarda. Sounds a little weird? Weirdly and amazingly delicious. Go ahead, get a napkin, and maybe a snack, you are going to get really hungry as you gaze at these photos.

Smoked pork belly rillette, banana bread pudding, shaved fennel, watercress and maple mustarda.

Smoked pork belly rillette, banana bread pudding, shaved fennel, watercress and maple mustarda.

2nd course: This was the pièce de résistance. Ask anyone at the dinner.

Lobster bisque, parsley and sunchoke

Lobster bisque, parsley and sunchoke

Everything was amazing, but this….

Lobster bisque, parsley and sunchoke.

…..lobster roe dried, baked and ground to add that punch. This was a thin milky broth that was so infused with flavor…I was sitting with Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life http://www.thelushlife.xyz/ and we both ate this almost silently, except for the quiet groans of pleasure and with our eyes closed. We savored ever single drop and are still talking about this bowl of heaven.

3rd course: Poached pear and frisee salad, goat cheese, roasted lemon vinaigrette.

 Poached pear and frisee salad, goat cheese, roasted lemon vinaigrette

Poached pear and frisee salad, goat cheese, roasted lemon vinaigrette

This was the perfect contrast to the bisque, a brightness, with a softness that set us up for the …

Entrée: Seared lamb loin, local corn succotash, butternut squash pave.

Seared lamb loin, local corn succotash, butternut squash pave

Seared lamb loin, local corn succotash, butternut squash pave

Succotash, seems like a homey comfort food, and it was, but elevated.

Finally and sadly, it was time for dessert: huckleberry upside down cake with corn and cashew gelato.

Opal Blackberry upside down cake with corn and cashew gelato

Opal Blackberry upside down cake with corn and cashew gelato

The Chefs!

Through out the evening, the wine was flowing. Michael and I shared glasses, because dumping one to make room for the next just didn’t feel right. The wines were spectacular. From the Sleight of Hand 2014 Archimage Cab Fran/Merlot to the Doubleback: 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon….I remember looking at the menu card and trying to figure out which wine we were on. Trey said something about the wine listed not being the one that they were pouring. The one problem with a wine dinner is with all the wine, you often lose track. I look forward to returning to revisit all of these wines.

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The evening ended, with new friends made, an extraordinary meal and tons of great wine. Mystery Dinner Win!

And we left with tunes! Sleight of Hand Cellars puts out their +Sub Pop music download annually. “Punk Rock Wines for Punk Rock Minds” oh, and the remnants of a bottle of the Doubleback Cab Sav, that we in turn took to share at an after party back at the hotel.

Oh, and I think I neglected our celebrity link. Doubleback winery is owned by former NFL Quarterback Drew Bledsoe. But you will have to wait for the story about that. Watch for additional pieces on Doubleback, Sleight of Hand and Andrae’s Kitchen.

Don’t forget to check back with us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more great wine country experiences in Washington, Oregon and beyond. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

How to find them

Doubleback Winery is located at 3853 Powerline RoadWalla Walla, WA 99362 They are open for tastings by appointment only. This is an allocation winery, so if you want a bottle, you will need to join The List.
[email protected]
509-525-3334

Sleight of Hand Cellars has 2 tasting rooms

Walla Walla

1959 J B George Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362

(509) 525-3661

Where they are open Saturday to Thursday from 11-5 and Fridays when they stretch it a little further from 11-6.

In Seattle you can find them at

3861G 1st Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98134

(206) 582-1878

Where they are open Thursday to Sunday from 12-5 and Friday and Saturday from 11-6.

Andrae’s Kitchen can be found at the Gas Station at

707 Rose Street, Walla Walla, WA

They are open daily from 6 am to 8 pm, with the exception of Sundays when they close at 4 pm.

Go to his site and check out the video! http://andraeskitchen.com/

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* We attended the Wine Bloggers conference and promised to do 3 posts on the events. Whatever…I will only post about things I enjoyed, so there will be dozens of posts on the things I enjoyed from this trip. Washington is a wine region to visit.

Don’t forget to check back with us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles for more great wine country experiences in Washington, Oregon and beyond. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

You can look forward to more in depth pieces on the 3 wineries that we featured here in the future!

On A Cheerful Note with Ariel Eberle

A cheerful Note 2013 Pinot Noir Bottle Label

Ariel Eberle is a native Oregonian, and the founder/winemaker for A Cheerful Note.  She spends her days as the winemaker for Yamhill Valley Vineyards, so you would think she would have been a shoe in to the wine industry, but she came the long way around to wine making.

Ariel Eberle

a Cheerful Note, Ariel Eberle

a Cheerful Note, Ariel Eberle

Ariel’s background is in biology and chemistry from Oregon State, where she was Pre-med, and working at a hospital and a clinic.  It wasn’t clicking.  Looking for adventure she ended up in Korea teaching English.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and so it was for her.  She found herself missing and appreciating Oregon. Having always been drawn to vineyards, where the wild bits of nature are set into an organized fashion, she looked that direction.  The aesthetics appealed to her.  She applied at Yamhill Valley Vineyards and did a harvest with them.

“I didn’t have any wine making experience at that time. But I met with their then winemaker, Stephen Cary and I said, I’m a quick study and I’m interested in this and I’ll work hard.  He hired me on and I am now going to be celebrating 10 years with them in October.  I’m now their head winemaker.  So that’s how it happened and the rest is history.”

The Lakeview Vineyard Block

Ariel started at Yamhill in 2008 for harvest and the next year it was decided to plant the last plantable place on the site.  Te area was a really high slope at the top of the vineyard.  So right at the top of her time with Yamhill, she helped to plant this vineyard.

“There’s a huge sentimental connection, when you crawl around on the ground and you’re with your crew.  We put those babies in the ground together and 2013 was the first year that came off of that.  I could have worked with different fruit from our site, we are all estate there, but I wanted to work with that site because the one thing that I was lacking with my experience at Yamhill was the ability to grow with a vineyard, because the rest of our vineyard is so well established. So, this was my opportunity to kind of see a vineyard come from it’s infancy and go through the same stages that people go through, that awkwardness through their adolescence and learn those lessons along the way.”

The 2013 A Cheerful Note Pinot Noir

 

A Cheerful Note Cellars, 2013 Pinot Noir

A Cheerful Note Cellars, 2013 Pinot Noir

Lucky for us, it was the 2013 vintage that she was pouring, because it is her favorite.

“A funny thing that happens with the vines so far, is that in their infancy they show really well and then they kind of go through that awkward phase.  So I would say that probably the 15 vintage is the one that I struggled with more, just because there were some heat spikes during that year so a little more acidity, kinda let it age a little bit longer, and I decided to bring the 13, it’s just showing really well it’s a very acid driven site, so it’s benefited from the bottle age and I’m really happy with the direction that it’s gone.”

If you have tasted Yamhill Valley Vineyard wines, you will note that these are made in a different style.  Her gratitude for Yamhill indulging her in this side project, and allowing her to make this wine at the winery is evident and she chooses to make this wine differently so as not to directly compete or imitate the Yamhill wines.

To keep this wine different, she does 10 to 30% whole cluster, a different yeast selection and pump overs instead of punch downs.

“It’s it’s own little bin that sits in a sea of Yamhill bins and the things that I do differently are I do whole cluster, depending on the year, it will be between 10 to 30% whole cluster,  This 2013 was 20% whole cluster because it was a little bit of a cooler year so we didn’t want to get too much extraction of stems that are not lignified,  so it was really careful selection of what was going in as the whole cluster component.  But those lignified stems really contribute a very woody character, almost like a barrel would contribute with some of the same spicy characteristics that a barrel can contribute, but I’m actually aging it in neutral oak barrels.  So, a lot of people get vanilla and different unique characteristics that are associated with barrel, but it’s a neutral oak barrel.  That was intentional, because I didn’t want to overwhelm that fruit and just see what that fruit was that first year. 

I also use a different yeast selection, so I’m using a 3001 yeast and that really highlights the fruit characteristics.  You get a lot more of the red fruit and the brightness, than what we use at Yamhill, which tends to be what I refer to as more masculine flavors, a lot more spice, earth those kind of components, whereas this tends to be more fruit forward. 

And then we are also doing pump overs instead of punch downs.  So really gentle on the fermentation, good at extracting color but not over extracting  the skins and the seeds and just being gentle, getting it mixed up but letting it do it’s thing and tasting every day and deciding, where’s that sweet spot.”

As I stuck my nose into the glass, I mentioned how you really do get that cinnamon on the nose, and she gave me some great insights into on the crazy things we smell in wines and the difference stem inclusion can make.

“Yeah it’s interesting that all those flavors come from the grape itself and I just find that so fascinating.  Especially with the invent or the application of high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) they can actually go in and sample the fruit or sample the wine, measure different chemical components and constituents that are actually that blackberry flavor or that cinnamon flavor and it’s this graph. So it’s not just in our heads, it’s there and it’s from the skin of the grape. 

I love that you can utilize the stem and get those cinnamon and other flavors without having to add that through the barrel aging.  It’s a whole different component.  And then it also offers you some whole berry clusters and what that does for you is it gives you that carbonic masceration, which gives you that nice, lifted, bright, juicy confectionary kind of style.  But it really helps to give you that complexity.”

 

The stories behind the label

A Cheerful Note’s wine label is filled with stories.  The name itself comes from an adorable love story…

The name “A Cheerful Note”

“The name “A Cheerful Note” was inspired by a fortune cookie. My partner and I started dating 2013 and he lived in The Dalles and I was here.  I was actually living in Tigard at the time.  He opened a fortune cookie and it said “A Cheerful Note is on it’s way to you.” I was going to visit him that weekend.  He took a picture of it and sent it to me. We had bottled our Pinot Gris at Yamhill Valley without labels, we were going to label it later. So I took one of those bottles to give to him and I put a little sticky note on it that said “A Cheerful Note” to make the fortune come true and the name just stuck.”

The beautiful handwritten font

The font that is used for “a cheerful note” is based on her mother’s actual handwriting.  She dedicated this wine to her mother who passed away in 2012 to melanoma (she reminded me to wear my sunscreen as I was pink from being sunscreen free the night before watching sunset).

A cheerful Note

A cheerful Note

“I wanted to dedicate it to her and have it be a reminder of her, because she was always so supportive and told me I could do anything. Even when making wine back in 2008 was really a challenge, she was really supportive.  So that’s her handwriting.  She actually did write this, because I told her about the idea, but I couldn’t find the paper, so I had a graphic artist take her journal and piece together her handwriting from the journal and was able to make this in her perfect handwriting which her handwriting is just beautiful.”

The girl on the label

Yep there’s more, artwork of the girl on the label was done by Tracy Hayes, an artist and graphic artist in McMinnville.

a cheerful note image

a cheerful note image

“We worked together, she drew this and what it represents, is what’s in the bottle.  So I talked a little bit about masculine verses feminine flavors in wine and if you were to anthropomorphize the wine and give it human traits, this is the girl, this is the wine itself, very elegant, very classic So that’s what she is, she is the embodiment of the wine.”

The back label, a way to give back

The last story on the label is on the back.  The logos there represent the way Ariel gives back.

A cheerful Note 2013 Pinot Noir Bottle Label

A cheerful Note 2013 Pinot Noir Bottle Label

“So I had an ethical dilemma about 2 years into making wine because I was like “I’m making booze for a living”, what am I doing?  What am I giving back to society?  With Yamhill I had partnered with a non-profit and done some fundraising with them.  I had a great experience and ended up donating 10% of my profit to Boys and Girls Aid Society, so they are right in Portland and they have been around for over 130 years.  They basically help children find their forever homes.  They give them therapy, because a lot of them have been through the foster system, so they help them to be able to have trusting relationships with adults again.  They have an afterschool program, some of them stay at the facility there. I just fell in love with what they do and now it makes me feel better about what I do.”

 

You can find Ariel’s wines on her site A Cheerful Note

And you can find her on social media on facebook, Instagram & twitter.

For more information read our piece on the Uncommon Wine Festival, with our interview with Dave Pettersen the Winemaker and CEO of Vista Hills who founded the event, and check out another interview we did at the festival with Ryan Pickens of Esther Glen Farm and Winery. We look forward to bringing you interviews and discussions with all of the winemakers from this event, as well as details and visits with wineries in each of the Willamette Valley AVAs.  So check back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles  and don’t forget, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

And if you want to dive into details on the Willamette Valley, you can read our recent post Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVAs – a Primer

A Day in Sonoma County

We spent a day in Sonoma.   I suppose that’s a pretty vague statement when you consider the size of the area, so let me be more specific.  We spent a day in the Southern part of Sonoma County, starting our day in the Carneros region and finishing in the City of Sonoma.

When you find yourself in this area, it is tempting to try to take in as many wineries as possible.  I would encourage you to select just a few and soak up each.

We started our day with a visit to Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards, enjoying the views and tasting sparking wines.  We continued to see the amazing landscape around Viansa just south of them.  Our day finished in the city of Sonoma with a visit to the beautiful Sonoma Plaza and an amazing tasting and cheese pairing at Corner 103 across from the Plaza.

Take the visual journey with us here.

If you want to know more of the details visit Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and Beyond – Day 2 Sonoma

This was one of the two “Beyond” days where we enjoyed a little of the North Coast.

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

Blenheim Vineyards in Virginia Wine Country

Blenheim Vineyards Patio space

The day started as overcast.  We began with the amazing views from Monticello, without the sun, but without actual rain also.  The world was covered in the gorgeous bright green of spring.  It’s that shade that pops against the gray, turning even a completely overcast day into something bright!  It was spring in Virginia, with the ground covered in pink petals washed from the trees.  It’s especially magical for those of us who have been so long away from the green.

That changed as we drove our way to Blenheim Vineyards.  The sky started to leak.  Not a full on rain storm, just steady inconvenient rain.  But that was okay. We didn’t get to sit outside at the outdoor tasting bar at Blenheim, but wandered down into the main tasting room.  It is an A-frame building with the front full of windows as well as windows along the peak of the room. When you walk in you can also look down through the glass floor at the center to see the winery, it’s tanks and barrels.  The windows here allow for natural light even on this rainy day.

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The end of the tasting room holds the bar so you can enjoy your tasting looking out through the huge windows overlooking the vineyard.  The bar was full, so we were guided to a table.  I asked if we needed to go to the bar for our tastings and was assured that we did not.  They have pourers assigned to the tables who come around.  The staff, which seemed to be all female were helpful, friendly and knowledgeable about the wines and the vineyard.  Out came the glasses and the tasting menu.

The pours here were generous and the atmosphere was relaxed.  It was a place you could come and enjoy a tasting with friends, which was what we were doing.  Those types of tastings lean more toward conversation with your friends, and less about in-depth tasting and contemplation.  This of course is rather new to Michael and I, wine geeks who typically taste with just the two of us and take copious notes.  I did manage to scribble a few down and when I did ask about the blends, the staff were quick to pull out the vineyard map and show us where each block was located.

– A map of the vineyard blocks with all the varieties at Blenheim Vineyards

The grapes of Blenheim Vineyards

They are growing 13 varieties of grapes here.  You have the standard Cabernet Franc and Viognier which are the varieties that seem to grow best here in Virginia.  In addition they grow, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Roussanne and then surprisingly (at least for me) Pinot Noir.  Yes, I’m still two short.  They also have a block of Teroldego and a block of Garganega which are new and have only been in the ground for 3 years.  Teroldego is a deeply colored red grape from northern Italy in the Province of Trentino.  Garganega is a white grape also from Northern Italy from the Provinces of Verona and Vicenza.  It will be interesting to see how these grapes do.

The tasting at Blenheim Vineyards

I fell in love with the Rosé ’16.  It does 48 hours on the skins.  This is a blend of 46% Merlot, 31% Cab Franc, 12% Pinot Noir and 11% Syrah.  It was complex on the nose and tart on the palate. ($17)

The Chardonnay ’15 was partially (30%) aged in Hungarian and American Oak for 5 months.  While you got a little oak on the nose, the palate was clean and bright. ($17)

The 2015 Painted white has a totem on the label.  It is 58% Chardonnay, 21% Viognier, 12% Albarino, 9% Sauvignon Blanc aged for 9 months in French and Hungarian oak with 35% tank aged. ($25)

Petit Verdot ’14 was 10 months on mixed oak; 75% American Oak and 25% French Oak.  It had a yummy nose, was milder on the palate with a quick finish but was very nice. (My dear friend Mess, has discovered that she likes Petit Verdot and after searching for a term, decided that they were chewy!)($24)

The Painted Red ’15 also features a totem.  The Painted Red 2015 was 44% Cab Franc, 31% Petit Verdot, 13% Merlot, 12% Cab Sav, 76% aged for 10 months in French, American and Hungarian Oak. This was very nice but our favorite of the reds remained the Petit Verdot. ($30)

They also sell “growlers” here.  Yep, they have 2 wines, the Claim House White (83% Chardonay, 10% Pinot Noir and 7% Viognier (un-oaked) and the Claim House Red 84% Cabernet Franc, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot (un-oaked) that are available at $6 per glass or you can buy a growler for $7 and fill it for $19. The growlers are becoming popular in this area.  You buy the growler itself once and then can return to have it refilled!  These wines are not all estate, but include fruit from some other vineyards.  Both are NV (non vintage).

Doesn’t Somebody Famous own this winery?

So here I am two thirds of the way through this post and I have just gotten around to telling you that Dave Matthews owns this vineyard.  I am a Dave Matthews fan from way back and was lucky enough to see them play on Brown’s Island in Richmond with Widespread Panic back in the ’90’s.  Dave draws the totems on the labels for the blends.

Blenheim Vineyard

The posters of the labels for the Blenheim Vineyard blends, drawn by Dave Matthews

Dave designed the winery with William Johnson and finished it in 2000.  The winery, that you see though the glass floor in the center of the tasting room is nestled into the hillside to help with climate control.  The place is made from reclaimed wood and those south facing windows mean that they don’t need to use lighting in tasting room at all in the summer.

Dave Matthews moved to Charlottesville when he was 19.  He formed the Dave Matthews band here.  Did you know their first concert was on Earth Day in 1991?  Without knowing the connection we had dinner (and great burgers and beer) at Miller’s in Charlottesville where he bartended before he started the band.

The Vineyard and Winery were meant to make good wine, not necessary to make money.  Success had hit and they had the luxury of not needing the money.  So they focused on the wine, and in my opinion succeeded.  Inspired by Farm Aid, he started out with the BOWA (Best of What’s Around) farm outside of Charlottesville that they rehabilitated and had certified organic. He planted Blenheim Vineyards on the remnants of an old vineyard that was on the property.

But why is it named Blenheim Vineyards?

Ok, while it seems like this should be an easy question, I found the answer to be a bit ’round about.

So…John Carter was the Secretary of the Colony of Virginia.  In 1730 he obtained a large parcel of land in what is now Albemarle County Virginia.  His son Edward, of Blenheim built the first Blenheim house, which was named for the Duke of Marlborough who won the War of the Spanish Succession for Britain.  The Duke’s family seat was Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.  Blenheim Farm & Blenheim Vineyards are located on this property.

It is said that Thomas & Martha Jefferson stayed here when their coach had to stop nearby in a snowstorm.  The house burned down in the mid 1840’s.

The Women of Blenheim Vineyards

I mentioned that the tasting room staff was primarily women.  Well the winery staff is also female dominated, which is a rarity these days.  Their Winemaker and General Manager Kirsty Harmon, graduated from UVA with a degree in Biology in 1998.  She apprenticed with Gabriele Rausse (who has his own winery in Virginia and was the director of gardens and grounds at Monticello and is often referred to as “The Father of the Modern Virginia Wine Industry”).  She then studied at UC Davis in California getting a degree in Viticulture and Enology in 2007.  She spent a bit of time in France and New Zealand working in the industry and then became the Winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards in 2008.

The remainder of the major members of the staff are also female (I’m lovin’ the girl power!).  Tracy Love runs the Sales department, Ellen Houle is the tasting room manager, Amanda Gray is the Event Manager & Mimi Adams is the Vineyard Manager.

So if you are an environmentalist, a feminist and like good music, good people and good wine (like me) than you should definitely stop by Blenheim.  If it is a pretty day you can see the grounds, but even if it’s raining, it’s well worth the trip.

Blenheim Vineyards is located at 31 Blenheim Farm, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902

They are open daily from 11 am to 5:30 pm, tastings are $7 per person and you can bring your dog, as long as they are on a leash and friendly.  They are on the Monticello Wine Trail

It is well worth it to make it a day!  Visit Monticello in the morning, stop at Blenheim Vineyards and have lunch at the Historic Michie Tavern.  Find another winery (there are plenty in the area) and then go for dinner downtown in Charlottesville.  We had amazing burgers the first night at Miller’s (you remember I mentioned the Dave Matthews connection there earlier) and the 2nd night we had an amazing meal at the Downtown Grill  (and a great bottle of Frank Family Pinot Noir from Carneros) followed by drinks upstairs at the Sky Bar.  This is a college town so it is eclectic and busy.  If the weather is nice I highly recommend enjoying a table out on the Downtown Mall which is one of the longest pedestrian malls in the country.  It is located on Main Street and the center is set with tables for outdoor dining for all of the restaurants.

We will be posting more on our trip and of course on lots of other wine related things so stop back here at Crushed Grape Chronicles.  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

 

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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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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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From Dirt to Glass – Michael Larner on Syrah

Larner Vineyard Sunset

Syrah. You know it. You have heard it called Shiraz and made into lush giant styles from Australia.  Maybe you have had it in a GSM, that Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Chances are you have even tried it as a single variety wine, perhaps a French wine from Chateauneuf du Pape. It’s not the nation’s top variety sitting behind the Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay that made Napa what it is. Syrah however is extraordinarily expressive. In Ballard Canyon it is the most widely grown grape. Much of that happened by accident. Growers didn’t plant Syrah because they heard about someone else planting it, it was just simply the right grape to plant in this soil and this climate. Then it thrived. Syrah composes more than half of the planted vineyard acres in the Ballard Canyon AVA, so it’s no wonder that they chose this variety as their Champion as they tell the world about Ballard Canyon.

Recently while we were in Santa Barbara, Michael Larner took the time to show us the Syrah in the Larner Vineyard, explain how they chose their clones and the future of Syrah at Larner Vineyard.

Of the 33 acres of vineyards at Larner, 23 acres are planted in Syrah. When they began planning in the late 90’s there was only so much information on this variety available at the time. They searched for the top three clones of Syrah from France, Australia and California and then laid out their 11 blocks. They also created an experimental block with clones that they were interested in but didn’t want to commit to a full 2 or 3 acres. There are 6 different rows of an experimental selection of clones. These rows can then be looked at from a purely viticultural perspective. This gives Michael the opportunity to see how the different clones work and decide if he might want to use them in the future. The property is 130 acres and they have another 30 acres that they will eventually plant with grapes, so this block has become their training ground for grapes.

In addition they will be doing some Massale Selection in an area of the property. This is a process of pulling canes when the sap has started to move back into them and then planting them to let them root. They will then allow these vines to go to seed and start propagating off the seeds. They do that a couple of times to speed the acclimation process of these vines that are all still relatively new (by Old World Standards) to California.

There are enough rows in the experimental block to harvest grapes and separately ferment, but you would be fermenting in 5 gallon lots. Michael used to sell these to small home winemakers who were very excited that Larner would sell as little as ¼ ton of grapes, but now they harvest all of these together and co-ferment them for the estate wines.

Ironically the experimental block has become their Cru. This spot has about 7 feet of sand and is probably the worst soil on the site. Even the weeds don’t like this spot. Surprisingly it has been beneficial, forcing these vines that would normally be vigorous to not overproduce. Almost every cluster here is picture perfect, making it the place for beautiful shots of Syrah grapes and vines.

At a recent event we had the opportunity to taste Syrahs from 7 of the Vineyards in Ballard Canyon. The styles vary dependent on the winemaker and the site, but there is an underlying similarity from the AVA that cannot be dismissed. In Michael’s words “You know you have a good vineyard when the vineyard speaks louder than the winemaker.” This is the case with the Ballard Canyon AVA. The underlying similarities in these wines shine through past the voices of the winemakers. The next bottling of the Larner Syrah will be in the new Ballard Canyon bottles. (Stolpman has a beautiful post and photo about the new bottles.) These bottles are reserved for Ballard Canyon AVA Estate Syrahs and have the Ballard Canyon embossed on the neck of the bottle. Watch for these, the new voice of Syrah will be coming from Ballard Canyon.

 

 

Larner Vineyard & Winery has a Tasting room in Los Olivos attached to the Los Olivos General Store. They are open Thursday to Monday from 11am to 5pm.

2900 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos

(805)350-1435

You can learn more about the new Ballard Canyon AVA at their new site or on our Ballard Canyon Page here on Crushed Grape Chronicles.

For more information on the entire Santa Barbara Wine Region visit the Santa Barbara Vintners.

Speaking with Michael Larner – Ballard Canyon AVA

Larner Winery

We had the opportunity to speak one on one with Michael Larner of Larner Vineyards and Winery in Ballard Canyon, out at the vineyard. This beautiful property is at the Southern end of the new Ballard Canyon AVA.

In this Video Michael talks about the formation and the plans for the new Ballard Canyon AVA.

The AVA was established in October of 2013 and covers just 7,800 acres, sitting in the very center of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Planted primarily with Rhone Varieties with scatterings of some Bordeaux and Italian varieties. There area 600 planted acres of vineyard in Ballard Canyon and at least ½ of the planted vineyards are of Syrah.

The catalyst for the forming of the AVA came in 2010 when Ballard Canyon hosted a group of 100 sommeliers from Sommelier Journal. In a side by side tasting of the wines of Ballard Canyon there were nuances of minerality, clarity of fruit, structure and tannins that ran through all of the wines. Of course each had it’s signature from the winemaker, but side by side the similarities rang through loudly. This was a case where the vineyards were speaking louder than the winemakers. The sommeliers in the Q & A following the tasting asked why they were not an AVA? And so it began. This is a tight knit group of vineyards. There are only 15 vineyards in the AVA and they were focused. They brought in Wes Hagen, who had already written 2 AVA proposals. With a focus of purpose the AVA was established in 3 years.

Once established they returned to the idea of clarity of purpose. As I mentioned, over ½ of the vineyards planted are in Syrah. Much of this happened without the Vineyards speaking to each other. This grape grows well here and it became their Champion. As they move forward they have a special Rhone style bottle with “Ballard Canyon” in the glass on the neck that can be used only for Estate wines and only for Syrah. In this way they can focus on getting the word out about the new AVA with a focus on this variety.

Don’t get me wrong, the other Rhone Varieties that are grown here are spectacular they have Grenache and Mourvedre that will knock your socks off, but you should first and foremost taste their Syrah.

See our Video Series From Dirt to Glass to see all of the Videos with Michael Larner

Crushed Grape Chronicles YouTube Channel

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Introducing our New YouTube channel.  Join us as we explore these stories through AVA’s and vineyards and the eyes of the winemakers.

Wine it’s simply crushed and fermented grapes.  The variations and the stories are what make it so fascinating.

The variations in wine are beyond comprehension.  The stories behind the wines are as lush and beautiful as the wines themselves.

Our goal at Crushed Grape Chronicles is to explore and chronicle the grape it’s many stories and it’s journey from dirt to glass.

Visit our YouTube Channel at CrushedGrapeChron or click on the link

http://youtu.be/9hlsW7W7vGU

Our Next video will be on Temecula Valley Wine Country,  followed by video’s on the individual wineries that makeup Temecula AVA

Lumiere – a truly beautiful small winery

Lumiere Winery

Continuing on with our Wine country adventures, About a year ago a co-worker came back from a trip to Temecula Wine Country and told me that they had tasted at Lumiere Winery.

Lumiere Banner

Lumiere Banner

The friend he was traveling with knew the winemaker.  I, being a Temecula wine  junkie, researched the winery to find that they are very small, family run and the tasting room is only open on weekends.  Our last trip allowed us to be in Temecula on a Friday, so we took a chance and drove up to the tasting room, which is on the North side of Calle Contento Road.  There is a banner for Lumiere posted at the end of their drive.  It’s a beautiful drive up to the ridge that the tasting room and winery sit on.  The tasting room is a beautifully renovated 3-car garage.

Lumiere View from Tasting room

Lumiere View from Tasting room

It has windows on both sides looking out onto the vineyards.  We didn’t see anyone and stepped around outside to see the view outback, when a back door opened and a woman asked if we needed some help.  This woman is the owner, Martha Kleiner.  She and her husband bought the vineyard in 1987 from the Barlin Family who planted Sauvignon Blanc here in 1980.  Her son Andrew grew up coming out to the vineyard every weekend and is now the winemaker.  He and his mother run the entire place.

They are doing landscaping and putting in a small deli so people can grab something to eat on the weekends.

The tasting room view as you stand at the bar is through the eucalyptus trees and out onto the vineyard.  It’s really peaceful and beautiful. They have picnic tables on the patio, so it’s perfect for bringing a picnic and buying a bottle of wine.

Lumiere Cork Art on Wall

Lumiere Cork Art on Wall

The tasting room itself it beautiful with clean lines and beautiful woods and a lovely piece of cork art created by a local artist, that they submitted in the cork competition for the annual WOW (World of Wine) weekend.

Lumiere Winery Patio

Lumiere Winery Patio

We began wine tasting and Martha told us a little about the vineyard and the plans they have for it.  Being small, growth is slow.  As she told us about purchasing and working the vineyards back in the early 80’s I mentioned that I had just picked up a book on Temecula wine country.  She remembered writing and essay and giving pictures to the author.  Michael ran out to the car and brought the book back in for her to see.  At the time they started the vineyard, the valley was much smaller in a community sense and everyone knew everyone.  She knows Vincent and Audrey Cirluzo as well as Bud and Maurice Van Roekel.  They were all starting out at the same time.  Soooo much history here.  It was truly an honor to speak with her.

The wines are unique.  They have a Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc as well as a late harvest Sav Blanc.  Their “Bail out Blanc” was made in 2007 and has 1% residual sugar.  We also tasted their 2006 Merlot.  In making this wine they did punch downs by hand then it was 2 years in the barrel.  This is free run juice; the skins and seeds are not pressed.  They use barrels with French and American oak staves.  Their 2006 “Romantic Fantasy” is 90% Merlot and 10% Cab Franc.  It is hard pressed with the skins and seeds.  Their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is done in new American 70 Gallon Barrels.  It was the top choice in a blind tasting at a local vineyard meeting.

The 2006 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc was picked at 27 Brix and has 4.5% residual sugar.  It was fermented in steel at 29 degrees for 6 months and it has a lovely brightness.  The “Voulez Vous” their sparkling Sav Blanc has a nice tartness.

This is really a wonderful peaceful stop.  If you are in Temecula on a wine travel weekend, don’t miss it.  And tell Martha that we say hello!

Robert Renzoni, Spring time in Temecula

Robert Renzoni sign

Winemaking in the Renzoni family dates to 1886, when Robert’s great grandfather Federico worked in the vineyards near Fano, a small Italian village on the shores of the Adriatic Sea. Federico and his father began making wine for family and friends. At 18, Federico immigrated to America and after two years working as a commercial Fisherman in Connecticut, he decided enter into the cordial business with his brother-in-law, Romeo Battistoni. Prohibition in 1918 forced them out of business.

Federico and Romeo began  a wine distributing business when Prohibition ended in 1933.   Robert’s grandfather Domenic joined them in 1934 and they began importing wines from Italy and France. It was at this time that the trio began doing business with a number of Italian immigrants who had settled in California, including August Sebastiani, Lorenzo Cella (Roma Wines) and Cesare Mondavi (Charles Krug).

Robert’s father Frederick assumed control of the family business, then known as Italian and French Wine Company, in 1972. The business prospered as a wholesale wine and liquor distributorship and eventually covered all of Upstate New York.
Robert formally entered the business in 1989, spending five years in various roles, the last of which was in the sales department. In 1994, the family decided to exit the rapidly consolidating wholesale business and the business was sold. In 1996, Robert opted to relocate to California, and worked in the wine and liquor industry in Los Angeles for several years.
After many years apart, parts of the family were once again reunited in Temecula, when Robert and his parents each moved here in 2004. Once here, the muse of winemaking again beckoned. They purchased a beautiful property on De Portola Road in Temecula, and supplemented the existing vineyards with additional plantings in 2006.

The Robert Renzoni Vineyard & Winery of today is a tribute to Federico, Romeo, and Domenic.

Thornton Winery – Jazz, Bubbles, great food and atmosphere!

Thornton Sign

 

Thornton winery is one of the first wineries that greet you as you drive into Temecula Wine Country.  A Champagne house this French style chateau sits on a hill on the South Side of Rancho California Road.  Opening in 1988 they create premium wines as well as Sparkling wines done in the Methode Champenoise.

As you walk in through the entrance at the side of the complex you pass the herb gardens that will awake your senses with all the aromas and prepare you to find all those frangrances in the wines.  Past the herb garden it opens out into the Fountain Terrace where outdoor events and concerts are held.  The fountain dominates the center of the courtyard providing a soothing sound.  A large tree shades the terrace providing a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.  If there is not an event, stroll over to the stage area on the far side of the terrace and enjoy the view.   You can also enjoy the view from Café Champagne which rims most of the terrace. Café Champagne is the perfect place for lunch or dinner or brunch on Sunday.  The menu includes pairing suggestions for each dish, and flights are available.  And check out their entertainment schedule! World renowned Contemporary Jazz artists perform here on weekends throughout the summer.

The Champagne Lounge allows you to sit at a table and enjoy a flight of 4 wines or champagnes.  They have several suggested flights or you can create your own.  They also offer a Bistro menu with suggested wine pairings.

The winemaker here is David Vergari.  A native of Sonoma County who studied at UC Davis, he began his career in wine at Sonoma-Cutrer and The Hess Collection in Napa then traveled to work at Coldstream Hills in Austrailia and Covisa in Spain.  He did further work as a research enologist at Joseph Phelps vineyard and then moved to Rutz Cellars in the Russian River Valley as winemaker before joining Thornton.

We have enjoyed both lunch and dinner here at Café Champagne and were never disappointed.  When we are back I look forward to enjoying a flight and a bite at the Champagne Lounge and perhaps coming on a weekend in the summer to enjoy one of the amazing Jazz concerts.