We made a trip out of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County wine country recently. My wife and I, along with our good and dear friend Guido love this trip. We pass the roughly two hours in the car by making our own little version of the Algonquin Round Table. Bon mots and witticisms are the rule. And one of them would stop me here to note that a bon mot IS a witticism. Touché. The stop in Camarillo to have a bagel and coffee is mandatory and the Trader Joe’s on Milpas provides our picnic lunch. Usually it’s a loaf of bread, some cheese, avocados and olives.
This short series will describe some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms we visited.
Koehler Winery is just north of Los Olivos, at the very beginning of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. This route winds through the hilly terrain from Los Olivos all the way to Santa Maria. There are around 18 wineries through this stretch, so it makes sense to divide it up over two or more visits You can start from Los Olivos on one visit, then go up the 101 to Santa Maria and head back down on the next.
Ten different grape varieties are grown on the 100-acre Koehler estate. Winemaker Colin Murphy and vineyard manager Felipe Hernandez work together to ensure grape quality and make the best wine possible.
Koehler’s rustic tasting room is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Two tasting menus are offered, one featuring limited production wines for $15, and the other showing estate selections for $10. The tasting includes a complimentary Koehler Winery logo glass. Tastings for groups of eight or more require reservations. Tasting Room Manager Dan Zurliene can help you reserve a group tasting.
I was tasting only whites and rosés on this trip, in preparation for summertime, and I thank the tasting room staff for accommodating me.
Koehler’s 2013 Savignon Blanc is a stainless steel delight. The nose is aromatic with herbs and fruit, while the palate shows wonderful tangerine and lemon notes amid the minerals. It is a clean and brisk wine with great acidity and it sells for $19.
Their 2011 Grenache Blanc comes from what they call their “one-acre patch of paradise.” As expected with the variety, the nose offers savory notes with great fruit and acidity. There is a nutty quality, and the finish is decorated with salinity. $24 retail.
More great savory notes come in the Koehler Viognier 2012. A slightly floral nose gets a nice peach element, too. Melons and peaches are on the palate, and the fabulous salinity noticed in the Grenache Blanc makes an appearance, for a delightful nutty, salty experience. The wine sells for $25.
The Koehler Chardonnay 2012 is a 50/50 mix of oak and steel aging. It spent six months getting older and more nuanced. The nose shows those oak notes just right, with the savory aspect of Koehler’s fruit in play once again. There is a very nice level of acidity and lots of savory notes in the flavor profile. The impact of the oak on the palate is pitch-perfect, while tropical fruit and lemon peel last into the finish. The $24 price tag seems a bargain.
Guido loved this wine and paused to ask why are there so many bad Chardonnays. I have seen before how boring it is for someone on the peripheral of the wine world to suddenly be given what is charitably known as "too much information." I gave the short answer, "That’s a good question!"
The ‘14 vintage of Koehler’s Rosé of Grenache is the third vintage of this saignée pinkie. The salmon tint is gorgeous, as are the lovely cherry and herb aromas. The palate displays beautiful strawberry and cherry tones while a fantastic acidity keeps this far away from cloying sweetness. Retail is $22.
Blends are always interesting to me, and Koehler’s 2012 Quartette White is a doozy. The grapes include 37% Riesling, 28% Chardonnay, 28% Sauvignon Blanc and 7% Viognier. The nose is wonderfully funky - like a Grenache Blanc - while the palate follows suit, more savory and nutty than fruity. Again, an outstanding acidity makes the wine a refresher. Retail price: $30.
Wrapping up the tasting on the sweet end, the 2012 Riesling actually shows only one percent residual sugar. Light fruit on the nose is met with that Koehler salinity and the savory nutty notes appear on the palate as well, cloaking the beautiful peach and pear fruit. There is great acidity in this wine. It’s very good, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was not a Riesling.