After the two-hour-plus drive - which included the customary stop for a bagel in Camarillo - our first stop in wine country was off the 101 Freeway west of Buellton. We hit a couple of wineries there which have nice tasting rooms. Then, after lunch, we finished on “tasting room row” in Los Olivos. It’s the standard structure for our Santa Barbara County road trips, and it offers plenty of flexibility so we can keep our itinerary as fresh as we like.
The vines at Sanford Winery and Vineyards were planted at a time when that was considered a bit of a weird thing to do in Santa Barbara County. It doesn’t seem so strange now, with the Sta. Rita Hills claiming a rightful place in the handful of great Pinot Noir regions.
The tasting room is housed in a big, beautiful hacienda with a walk-around porch that offers several serene views of the grounds. The crew is fantastic: just as helpful and knowledgeable as you want a tasting room crew to be. I’ve been to other tasting rooms where questions about the wines went unanswered - or worse, unrecognized. That is never the case with the attentive pourers at Sanford.
2011 La Rinconada Vineyard Chardonnay - $40
Even though sparkling wine is often made with Chardonnay grapes, Chardonnay wine almost never reminds me of sparkling wine. This one does. A lovely pear and vanilla nose opens to a toasty palate that shows the nine months in oak (40% new) beautifully. The great acidity is a hallmark of Sanford wines.
2010 La Entrada Chardonnay - $55
A little more oak influence in this one, with 50% new oak for nine months. It’s slightly toastier with a really delightful showing of oak on the nose and palate. Only nine barrels were made.
2012 La Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir - $64
The 15 months aging in oak, fully half of which is new, does not seem the least bit overdone. The nice cranberry and raspberry nose announces the flavors of the palate aptly. There is a slightly toasty note in there and the acidity is superb.
2012 Sanford and Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir - $64
This, we were told, was the first Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County. It was made by Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict in 1971 and is still going strong today. Oak is again a 15-month process, and it shows a bit more here. Red berries and chocolate aromas lead to a fruity palate that offers a little toasty mocha on the finish.
Pierre Lafond pioneered the modern era of winemaking in Santa Barbara County. He started the region’s first winery after prohibition, back in 1962. He spent a lonely decade as the county’s only winemaker before planting 65 acres of vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills in 1971. It is on this property where the Lafond wines are poured in the wine country tasting room. The Lafond production facility is in downtown Santa Barbara, with another tasting room attached.
2012 Chardonnay Stainless Steel - $32
This one of those Chardonnays that straddles fence and offers a taste of both sides. The wine has a great, crisp acidity, yet it's very full, even though no oak is used. At least they tell me no oak is used. From where, I wonder, does that oak spice on the nose and palate arise? It would come from the nine months aging sur lie - meaning "on the lees." Lees are the old yeast cells that gave their lives turning the fruit’s sugar into alcohol. Leaving the wine in contact with them during aging lends weight and texture to the wine. It fooled me into thinking it surely must have been oak-aged for at least a bit. Those yeast cells worked overtime in this wine, leaving an alcohol content of 14.6% abv. 169 cases were made.
You don’t see a lot of Riesling grown in the SBC, but this is estate fruit from 40 year-old vines that are growing in a meadow in the sun. The nose give a beautiful note of white flowers and white nectarines, with peach and nectarine flavors following on the palate. More great acidity in this one.
2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir - $27
70% estate fruit, 30% from a nearby vineyard. It’s a fresh, bright Pinot with a nose of lavender and mocha and flavors of cranberry in a toasty setting.
2010 Arita Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir - $48
The grapes for this wine come from a plot just a half mile east of the estate vineyard. This is a real treat, with an unusual, distinctive nose of orange tea. The palate boasts orange tea, raspberry and a brilliant acidity.
2011 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah - $23
70% estate fruit here, 30% from a hilltop vineyard. Pepper and blackberry grace the nose, with dark fruit flavors embedded in very firm tannins.
older vines, more new oak than the SRH Syrah, at 37.5%. Aromas of bright coffee and mocha mocha lead to a huge baker’s chocolate note layered over the cherry flavor.
Cimarone's vineyards are in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County AVA, while their tasting room is on the main drag in Los Olivos. They produce 2,500 cases of wine each year and specialize in grape varieties of the Bordeaux region.
2012 Sauvignon Blanc - $16
This is the one and only white wine Cimarone makes. It spent 17 months in French oak twice-used. You'll get a nose full of nice floral notes while the palate brings green herbs, big fruit and zippy acidity.
2012 Cilla’s Blend - $18
The blend belongs to Priscilla, and it mixes Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. It is bright and cheery, as its name suggests it should be.
Only 111 cases of this interloper were made - a Rhône grape amidst the Bordeaux. It is a warm-climate example of the great grape, with a floral nose, great acidity and sweet cherry on the palate.
2009 Gran Premio - $30
This Italian grape earns its place with the others. The Happy Canyon Sangiovese is bright and fruity, and demands one more sip. It goes great with pasta or pizza, by the way.
2011 Cabernet Franc - $30
This bright, peppery Cab Franc is a delight, with wild cherry flavors and a nice, red finish.
2012 Cabernet Franc - $30
A bit brighter than the '11 due to the warmer vintage. A spicy nose and palate shows good acidity and a fabulous finish.
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon - $35
This is an unusual cab, very bright, with not too much typical Cab-like flavor showing. It is cheery, red and ripe.
2010 Le Clos Secret - $40
It's no secret that this wine sports all five Bordeaux grapes. It was the first wine produced by Cimarone, and it still offers plenty of ripe, red fruit and savory cherry.
At the Cimarone tasting bar, I overheard a conversation between the pourer and a couple who were tasting next. To us. The gentleman was asked, "You do reviews for her and she does reviews for her?" He responded, "Yes, and she tells me I don’t know what I’m talking about” Don't let her dissuade you, fella. Your palate is your own. Trust it.
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