Showing posts with label Santa Maria Valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Santa Maria Valley. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Jaffurs Wine Cellars In Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara wine country stretches county-wide, and it is a big county. The vineyards north of the city are a great place to hang out, but there is plenty of wine tasting to be done in town. 

Jaffurs Wine Cellars is located in downtown Santa Barbara, an easy walk from the beach and from Stearn's Wharf, close to Trader Joe's and reasonably near to La Super-Rica Taqueria, a great stop for lunch.

They have been making great wines at their facility on Montecito Street for more than two decades, specializing in Rhône varieties grown at some of Santa Barbara County's most notable vineyards. Bien Nacido, Thompson, Larner, Stolpman and Kimsey vineyards regularly contribute fruit to the Jaffurs cause.

I paid a visit to Jaffurs on an October trip to Santa Barbara, one which yielded some bakery stops for the wife and wine tasting for me. It was a great day, in large part because the winery was buzzing when I arrived at 11:00 a.m. Winemaker Stephen Searle explained, while hustling from sorters to destemmers to huge bins, that they had just received a load of Petite Sirah grapes from Thompson Vineyard. The tasting table was set up for me right in the middle of the action. It was all I could do to stay out of the way so the crew could work. I was even offered a taste of the raw fruit, a first for me in all my many tasting sessions.

Here are the wines that were poured for me:

Jaffurs Viognier 2022

Sourced from Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley AVA, this wine was vinified half in oak and half in steel.  The floral nose is beautiful and the marvelous salinity on the palate is breathtaking. There is a very nice acidity level here, too.

Jaffurs Roussanne 2021 

Grapes from Stolpman Vineyard in Ballard Canyon make up this wine. It has a wonderful, nutty salinity to go with the prettier fruit and floral descriptors. It was aged in French oak, 17% of which was new. I am told that the next vintage will come from their concrete tank.

Jaffurs Grenache 2020

This wine got ten months in neutral French oak. The fruit was taken from Ballard Canyon. The graceful nose shows roses and the palate is full of cherry flavor.

Jaffurs Santa Barbara County Syrah 2021

Half the grapes came from Bien Nacido Vineyard, along with half from several other vineyards. Aromas of flowers and cherry lead to flavors of cherry and raspberry.

Jaffurs Kimsey Vineyard Syrah 2019

Done up in new French oak, this Syrah has violets, black fruit and that awesome salinity.

Jaffurs Bien Nacido Syrah 2019

This one is made Côte-Rôtie style, with a little Viognier in the blend. It has a sweet floral and fruit nose and a savory taste.

Jaffurs Petite Sirah Thompson Vineyard 2021

A bold nose here, due to the new American oak in which it was aged. The wine has a beautiful sweetness and gorgeous black fruit. It was presented last in the tasting lineup, as a “dessert,” although it is certainly not a dessert wine.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Bien Nacido And Solomon Hills Wine Estates

One of my favorite vineyards is Bien Nacido, in the tiny Santa Barbara County town of Santa Maria. The wines made from those grapes speak to me like few others, and they speak of earth and and sun and fog. And earth. The Miller family sells 99% of the grapes they grow, keeping only the scant remainder to bottle for themselves. Their tasting room is well south of Santa Maria, in Los Olivos, the bustling little town that seems to be made up of only wine tasting rooms and restaurants. And that's okay with me.

The tasting menu opened with a Rosé of Pinot Noir, a Vin Gris, which was a very light salmon color with a somewhat oaky nose.  It belies the six months the wine spent in new French oak. Earthy and herbal on the palate. It was a great wat to shake off the heat of a sweltering late summer day.

2014 Bien Nacido Chardonnay $45 - Big, full fruit, with pronounced oak.

2014 Solomon Hills Chardonnay $45 - Very earthy minerals. Both Chardonnays were big, but not fat.

2013 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir $60 - Strawberry and black tea on the nose, with a floral elegance. The palate shows delicate tea notes, too. Not at all what I expect from a California Pinot. Very graceful.

2012 Bien Nacido Grenache $60 - Big minerals in this one, with a floral touch. Great acidity and mouthfeel.

Friday, September 1, 2017

California Pinot Noir From Dierberg

Jim and Mary Dierberg feel this wine is one that is worthy of their "250-year plan." The couple owned a winery in Missouri and looked at properties from France to the Napa Valley before deciding that Santa Barbara County was right for them. The Dierberg Vineyard is home to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines, while the warmer Star Lane vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley has Bordeaux varieties.

Winemaker Tyler Thomas says he is "thrilled" to be working with fruit from Happy Canyon, the Sta. Rita Hills and the Santa Maria Valley.

This Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir is medium-dark in the glass. It brings aromas of earthy raspberry and black cherry, with coffee grounds and a heavy mineral angle. On the palate, it has a boatload of acidity and tannins, with dark berry flavors and hints of black tea. It's a huge Pinot with a distinctive flavor, probably a bit brawnier than my taste likes, but still has an elegant side. It is unapologetic in its California-ness, even from a cool-climate region like the SMV.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Wood You Like Some Chardonnay?

Dierberg Vineyard is just 14 miles from Pacific Ocean, in the southern part of Santa Maria Valley. Mary and Jim Dierberg came west from Missouri, where they had made wine for decades. They landed in Santa Barbara County in 1996 and grow some fine grapes in the Dierberg and Drum Canyon vineyards as well as the warmer Star Lane Vineyard.

The 2013 Dierberg Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, Dierberg Vineyard sets alcohol at a very California-esque 14.6% abv. It sells for $32, which isn’t cheap, but isn't exactly the high limit for a good Chardonnay, either. It aged for 16 months in French oak, only 15% of which was new. The 2013 vintage was warm and dry with an early harvest period from August into September.

This golden Chardonnay is more than three years old, something I don't get to sample too often. I'm usually asked to taste newer vintages. A little age goes quite well on this grape, though. It smells of almost pungent tropical fruit - guava, mango, pineapple - and has a good deal of vanilla spice in there, too. Over-oaked? It's not shy, but you be the judge. I can take it fairly well from either end of the spectrum, but this much oak generally hits me better in cooler months. The palate gives a nice framework for the apples and pears and peaches to be dunked in vanilla, too. There's a great savory aspect to the wood that keeps it from being "ordinary," and places it in an arena where the $32 price tag looks like bargain hunting.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Santa Barbara County Wine: Presqu'ile

Driving California's Central Coast offers so many great places to stop and enjoy life that volumes have been written about them. The wineries of the region are just one facet of the joy of the Central Coast. On a recent long weekend that found us staying at Cambria's Moonstone Beach, I sampled the Presqu'ile white wines in their gorgeous and elegant Santa Maria tasting room.

I had tasted some of winemaker Dieter Cronje's bottlings before, but only his red wines. Sticking with the whites on this occasion gave me a chance to try the other side of his talents.

Their 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Maria Valley is made from estate fruit and vinified in three cuvées, in steel, oak and concrete egg.  The nose is fresh and a bit grassy with a palate full of minerals and citrus.  $22

The 2014 Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley was aged for 12 months in oak and six months in steel.  The nose features lemon and vanilla while the flavor profile shows Meyer lemon and creme brulée. It's absolutely gorgeous.  $35

The Presqu'ile 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir gives off lovely strawberry, citrus and a tiny bit of grapefruit. It's an earthy wine, and got a rave review from Karen MacNeil, who called it "refrigerated sunlight." It's a superior California rosé.  $20

Two single vineyard Chardonnays really steal the show.  The debut vintage of the 2013 Presqu'ile Vineyard has a nose of lemon chess pie and a palate of vanilla and lemon zest. It's aged for 18 months in oak and features great acidity yet a very soft mouthfeel.  $45

The 2013 Steiner Creek Vineyard Chardonnay is from San Simeon, just up the coast a bit. It's very much like a Chablis, with soft citrus and tropical fruit and a mineral-driven palate.  $40

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Santa Maria Valley Pinot Blanc

A New Year's Eve day trip to Santa Barbara County brought us, once again, to Sanford Winery's outpost west of Buellton. It was raining in L.A. when we departed in the morning, but the day turned amazingly beautiful once we arrived in wine country.

Sanford's Pinot Blanc is a bit of an oddity on their menu, in that it's not Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. This 2013 was the first vintage of the wine, made from a grape they say can be as hard to manage as the Noir variety. The wine retails for $34.

This wine carries a 14.5% abv number and had no malolactic fermentation at all. Still, it has a nice, full mouthfeel due to the aging in neutral French oak. The Sierra Madre Vineyard, from which the grapes come, is in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. It's one of my favorite wine regions, as the earth and mineral aspects always seem to come through so strongly, especially in the whites.

The cool climate of the Santa Maria Valley also makes for a delightfully refreshing acidity. This one actually is somewhat reserved in that department, but it has enough acid to make for a good pairing with food. The nose and flavors are quite dark and earthy, with a savory mask placed over the fruit to give great complexity.

Friday, January 6, 2017

X Marks The Spot For Syrah

I'm sure you have a particular wine brand, or winemaker, to which you gravitate. You can circle around, spinning through wine space, trying every other planetary grape concoction that orbits close enough so you can grab it. You can make as many landings as you like on other wine label asteroids. You always come back to planet Earth. It's a safe harbor, hospitable, a place where you know there may be surprises but they won't be unpleasant.

Mine is Bonny Doon Vineyards. CEO and "president for life" Randall Grahm earned his "Rhône Ranger" stripes years ago when he gave up on Pinot Noir and went after the grape assortment from the Rhône Valley. If anyone ever made a good move, he did right then and there. His wines are dear to me, they speak to me, they're different every year and I can hardly wait to taste whats next.

The 2012 Bonny Doon Syrah from Bien Nacido Vineyard, Block X, is special. Grahm says it’s "one of the best iterations of Bien Nacido Syrah in recent memory." That's really saying something, too. There was a "substantial percentage" of whole-cluster grapes used and it shows with some herbal, minty notes. It carries a wonderfully respectable alcohol level of 13% abv and retails for $50. Only 313 cases were made.

This dark, brooding wine is savory, savory, savory. It's nose gives off aromas of meat, black olives, black fruit, coffee, herbs and a minty note that's downright wispy. Flavors are dark as well, with maybe a little more fruit coming through than in recent vintages, but still dominated by savory notes of bacon, coffee grounds, black tea and licorice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Santa Barbara's L.A. Road Trip: Rhône Varieties

Living in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is "our" wine region. A mere two hours north of L.A., Santa Barbara wine country offers nearly 200 wineries producing truly world class wines. We take a lot of road trips up there to visit Santa Barbara Vintners, so it was nice of them to return the favor and come down here.

Santa Barbara County is home to the only transverse mountain range in North America, where the wind from the Pacific Ocean is channeled right across the Santa Barbara County Appellation.  The sub-appellations - Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara and Los Olivos District are distinct and varied. The region is also home to an unrivaled growing season with the aforementioned coastal influences giving great grapes a place to thrive.  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and more are found in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara Vintners brought their best to Los Angeles for four days in May. Instead of overwhelming us with close to 50 different varieties at one tasting, each day was broken down into a specific wine theme for more focus. Monday was given to Chardonnay, Tuesday Pinot Noir, Wednesday featured Rhone varieties and Thursday gave us the Bordeaux grapes.

Wednesday, May 18 - RHONE VARIETALS

Doug Margerum stole the show this time. His 2015 Margerum Riviera Rosé, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county, are a Grenache blend, bone dry and beautiful with big cherry notes. The 2014 Margerum M5 Santa Barbara County shows ripe red fruit with an herbal quality running underneath. Margerum served it chilled and showed how great this wine would be for summer BBQs.

At the Core table, Becky Corey poured for me. She poured when I visited the tasting room, too. I don’t know if husband Dave is avoiding me, or what. Their wines are riddled with lovely floral, lavender and clove notes. The 2008 Core Mister Moreved is 94% Mourvèdre and 6% Grenache from Santa Barbara County.  It’s smooth, dark and musky.

The Fess Parker table is always a great stop. The 2013 Fess Parker Viognier, Santa Barbara County shows some fantastic earthy tones. The 2012 Fess Parker Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah, Santa Barbara County is smokey, earthy.

Ross Rankin's Imagine Wines have a non-vintage Melange that is awesome, full of spice and red fruit. The 2007 Imagine Winged Paradise Mountain Syrah, Santa Barbara County got a one-word explanation in my notes: "Silky!"

Jaffurs Wine Cellars' Craig Jaffurs poured his 2015 Viognier Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley, displaying grapefruit and flowers. The 2013 Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara County is elegant.

The Central Coast Group Project is headed up by Scott Sampler and he has produced a very pretty 2012 Santa Barbara County GSM and a 2012 Names Syrah from White Hawk Vineyard. He produces his wine at a collective in Buellton, the Buellton Bodegas.

Andrew Murray again has scored with his Esperance GSM. It is extremely elegant.

The 2013 Foxen Syrah shows a funky nose, and a palate that is excellent and very smooth.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Santa Barbara's L.A. Road Trip: Chardonnay

Living in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is "our" wine region. A mere two hours north of L.A., Santa Barbara wine country offers nearly 200 wineries producing truly world class wines. We take a lot of road trips up there to visit Santa Barbara Vintners, so it was nice of them to return the favor and come down here.

Santa Barbara County is home to the only transverse mountain range in North America, where the wind from the Pacific Ocean is channeled right across the Santa Barbara County Appellation.  The sub-appellations - Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara and Los Olivos District are distinct and varied. The region is also home to an unrivaled growing season with the aforementioned coastal influences giving great grapes a place to thrive.  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and more are found in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara Vintners brought their best to Los Angeles for four days in May. Instead of overwhelming us with close to 50 different varieties at one tasting, each day was broken down into a specific wine theme for more focus. Monday was given to Chardonnay, Tuesday Pinot Noir, Wednesday featured Rhone varieties and Thursday gave us the Bordeaux grapes.

Monday, May 16 - CHARDONNAY
Tuesday, May 17 - PINOT NOIR
Wednesday, May 18 - RHONE VARIETALS

Here's what I found at the Chardonnay tasting.

Jim Clendenen’s Au Bon Climat Chardonnay stole the show.  I don't remember what Clendenen's quote was about, but he said, "Only cuz I can," which is a great winemaker quote, even taken out of context. His 2013 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Nuits-Blanches Au Bouge, Santa Maria Valley has a full mouth and great flavor. The Los Alamos and Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnays are sublime.

Brewer Clifton's wines all had great acidity. Their 2012 Brewer-Clifton 3D Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills is a standout, with tropical fruit and lemon showing prominently.

Foxen's Jenny Williamson Doré was kind enough to pour for me her 2013 Foxen Chardonnay Tinaquaic Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. A dry farmed, Wente clone with amazing salinity and minerality.

Cambria Winery's 2014 Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley had its lees stirred and shows some pretty funky, savory minerals.

The Cambria table also tasted me on the ‘93 Byron, still very nice with a Sherry-like taste coming out, and the ‘87 Talbot, also tasting quite nice

The 2014 Pence Sebastiano Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley shows some great, savory fruit.

Qupé’s Bob Lindquist wowed the crowd with his 2013 Qupé Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Reserve, Block Eleven, Santa Maria Valley. It's very savory, has a lovely salinity.

The 2013 Sanger Family Chardonnay, Santa Ynez Valley is perhaps a little unusual coming from the warmest part of Santa Barbara County. Aged 16 months, the wine has a really nice, savory edge.

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Friday, July 24, 2015

The North And South Of Chardonnay With Castello di Amorosa

The Napa Valley winery known as Castello di Amorosa is fashioned after a Tuscan castle. It fits that a good number of the wines produced there are made using grapes of Italian heritage. They do a pretty mean Chardonnay, too, though. In fact, they do three Chardonnays that show how terroir and aging both have such dramatic effect on the grape.

These three different Castello di Amorosa Chardonnays from the 2013 vintage showcase the grapes’ origins, the different production methods employed.and the versatility of the variety. The trio include the Napa Valley Chardonnay from their estate vineyard in Los Carneros, and two from the historic Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. Director of Winemaking Brooks Painter writes that, “By using these two cool-climate vineyards, we hope to showcase the unique terroir of each of these Chardonnays.” One of the Bien Nacido wines was aged in oak, while the other was aged in a concrete fermentation egg at the Napa Valley winery. That, according to Painter, allows the yeast cells to remain suspended - which makes for a creamier finished product. Winemaker Peter Velleno and Vineyard Manager David Béjar bring plenty of experience to the winery, too.

Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Barbara County 2013

The Castello has plenty of great grapes in Napa Valley, but they went south for this one, to Santa Barbara County’s Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. This single-vineyard, 100% Chardonnay is aged ten months in French oak barrels, half new and half seeing their second use. About 40% of the juice undergoes malolactic fermentation and the wine is aged with the spent yeast cells still in the barrel, with stirring to keep the yeast suspended. Both of these features contribute to the wine’s creamy texture and full mouthfeel.

Velleno produced a little over 450 cases of this wine, which has a 14.8% abv number and sells for $38 per bottle.

The oak plays quite a strident melody here; its effect seems rather brutal to the fruit from this iconic vineyard. Vanilla and oak spice lead the aroma profile, with the gorgeous tropical fruit scents dragging behind. Oak is also a big factor on the palate. If you like 'em big and buttery, this Chardonnay is for you. The wine feels nice and full in my mouth - as it should - yet the acidity comes through in fine fashion. It's a great choice to pair with roasted chicken, even pork. A nice, creamy risotto would be a fine match, too.

Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay La Rocca, Bien Nacido Vineyard 2013

This one is fermented in a single egg-shaped concrete vessel. Aging occured in contact with the spent yeast cells - lees - for 10 months. The richness comes completely from the aging on the lees, rather than from oak barrels. This preserves the fruit flavors. It was not allowed a secondary malolactic fermentation, so the acidity remains somewhat lively.  177 cases were produced, alcohol is at 14.8% abv and the retail price is $38.

This wine features a light golden straw tint with a nose of apples, pineapples and peaches. Big, pure fruit is what is showing here. The palate has a gorgeous mouthfeel, silky and creamy without the wood. The acidity is subdued, but still enough to handle pairing with a salad or seafood. Peach and apricot are foremost with a light touch of earth, but the fruit is the show.

Castello di Amorosa Chardonnay Napa Valley 2013

Back to the Napa Valley here, as the grapes for this one are harvested from the Los Carneros estate vineyard, where the cool breeze from San Paulo Bay keep things Burgundian. The wine gets full French oak aging, half new and half neutral, with about 40% of the wine undergoing malolactic fermentation. Aging is done sur lie - in contact with the spent yeast cells - for ten months. 827 cases were produced, with alcohol very ripe at 15.3% abv. Retail is $29.

This wine has a beautiful color, like solid gold. Peaches, nectarines and oak grace the nose, with a nice, soft vanilla layer. The oak is not over done. On the palate, peach, apricot and earth dominate, with the oak aging apparent. The wood effect is not full-on buttery, but close to it. The acidity is magnificent. Get some shrimp, crab or lobster - nice with mussels or clams, too. It may be lobster roll time! The finish leaves the buttery vanilla trace of oak along with that earthy fruit.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Riverbench Mesa Pinot Noir 2011

Riverbench Vineyard was established in 1973, and for decades it supplied great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to Santa Barbara County wineries.  In 2004 the winery was born, as the new owners decided to start their own label.  The vineyard is SIP certified, Sustainable In Practice.

2011 was a difficult growing season in the Santa Maria Valley, cooler than usual.  Crop yields were down about 30%, so the normally small batches produced at Riverbench got even smaller. Only 395 cases of the '11 Mesa Pinot were made.

The wine is all Pinot Noir - the Martini clone, if you're scoring at home.  The vines are among the oldest at Riverbench, from a four-acre block called "The Mesa."  Alcohol is pretty restrained, at only 13.7% abv.  This makes for a more elegant wine than is sometimes found in California Pinot.  The retail price is $48.  It is splurge-worthy, and gift-worthy, too.

Clarissa Nagy (pictured) became the Riverbench winemaker after Chuck Ortman retired in 2011.  She is perfect in this role, as she is quite a fan of Santa Maria Valley grapes.

The Mesa Pinot is a very dark wine, especially for Pinot Noir.  The Santa Maria Pinots I have sampled always seem to come on a little darker and a little heavier than other Pinots, especially those from Burgundy.  Acidity is usually quite good in Santa Maria Valley wines, too.

The nose gets down to business right away, and it stays busy.  What are your favorite Pinot smells?  They are here, in abundance.  Blasts of cola, black tea, black cherry and raspberry arise, all clamoring to be smelled first.  The palate offers a similar bounty, with the aroma package copied and pasted into the flavor profile.  Spices add to the taste bud workout, with nutmeg and cinnamon playing a big role.  A great minty note ties the tastes together with a bow on top, delivering them to a holiday table near you.

Great acidity means it's food-friendly, and the flavors are at least as festive as homemade cranberry sauce.  I would love it with roast or rack of lamb.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Clos de Gilroy 2012 Central Coast Grenache

Randall Grahm is known more for his Rhône varietal wines - he is, ya know, the original Rhône Ranger - but he does a great job with any grape he chooses to crush.  He shows his minimal-intervention winemaking skills here with The Wine Formerly Known as Clos de Gilroy - TWFKaCdG.  It's still actually still known as Clos de Gilroy, since the lettering on the label for the other part is in small, scripted font and rather hard to read.  
Clos de Gilroy offers a tip of the winemaker hat to the town of Gilroy, CA, known more for its smells than its sights.  Gilroy is the scene of the annual garlic festival, owing to its prodigious garlic crop.  They also grow a lot of mushrooms there, but you wouldn't know it from the smell.  It is not, however, the source of the grapes - hence the TWFKaCdG tag.  Clos de Greenfield simply didn’t have the requisite ring to it.
On the label, Clos de Gilroy is denoted with the inscription, "Le Gil des Rois, Le Roi des Gils."  My high school French tells me that means "the Gil of kings, the king of Gils," but I cannot stand behind that translation.  I was a C-student in foreign languages.
Gilroy is here.
The wine is made from 84% Grenache grapes - from the biodynamically-farmed Alta Loma Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County - along with 11.5% Santa Maria Valley Syrah and 4.5% old-vine Mourvèdre grapes from the Sacramento Delta.
Grahm says the 2012 Grenache crop was surprising for its quality and quantity.  He intended these grapes for his Le Cigare Volant wine, but they ended up here instead. 
This fresh red sees no wood at all, 1,444 cases were produced, and it sells at retail for $18.  Alcohol ticks the abv meter at 14.4% and the wine comes bottled under a screw cap.
Grahm's label notes say that the "Grenache's exceptionally lovely strawberry-rhubarbarity is complemented by delicate notes of raspberry, kirsch, red currant and white pepper."  He recommends pairing with anything garlicky. 
The Gil - pardon my familiarity - is a fresh tasting wine with lovely red fruit oozing from its little red molecules.  The bouquet comes on a little tart - must be the "rhubarbarity" - but carries strawberry, cherry and a nice herbal note with it.  Great acidity and a cherry flavor on the palate set the table for a wonderful and long finish. 
The Clos de Gilroy takes a chill well, if you need it to.  In fact, after some time open and a little cooling, it takes on a grapey atmosphere and reminds me quite a bit of a Beaujolais or even a Lambrusco.  If there's still a balmy evening remaining where you are, keep that in mind.

Friday, August 9, 2013

White Wines Of Santa Barbara County

It was so nice to be included in the #winechat on July 17th, 2013, the subjects of which were some amazing white wines of Santa Barbara County, wines that are perfect for helping to beat the heat of the warm weather of summer.

For the uninitiated, #winechat is a weekly gathering of wine lovers on Twitter, directed by Protocol Wine Studio.  You don’t need an invitation for this affair, simply search “#winechat” and you are seeing the live stream.  Join in if you like, or just drop in to see what people are tweeting about on Wednesday evenings at 6:00 p.m. PT.

On this particular #winechat, moderator Bill Eyer (@cuvee_corner) was joined by Morgen McLaughlin (@sbcwinelady).  She is the recently installed Executive Director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association.  The SBCVA was kind enough to provide me and about ten other wine writers with a battery of six white wines from Santa Barbara County for the purpose of the event.  Further disclosure: I am a huge fan of Santa Barbara County wines and love having such a great and diverse wine region in my backyard.

Santa Barbara County gets a lot of attention for its Syrah and its Pinot Noir, but there are some world class whites there, too.  All four of Santa Barbara County’s AVAs got into the act.  Represented on the #winechat were Chardonnays from the Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, Sauvignon Blancs, Viognier and Arneis from the Santa Ynez Valley and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA.

Santa Barbara County Vintners Association

The SBCVA was established in 1983 and currently has over 100 wineries and more than 20 vineyards as members.  Sporting over 20,000 acres of vineyards and 65+ varieties, Santa Barbara County's wine industry has gone from next-to-nothing to a billion dollar business in less than 35 years.  As you might expect from an organization of wine people, the SBCVA has a big heart, too.  They have helped raise more than $40 million to aid folks around the world.


What makes Santa Barbara County unique among California wine regions are the transverse mountain ranges which make for distinct microclimates.  The ranges run east and west, rather than north and south, so the cool marine influence of the Pacific Ocean is channeled inland across the county.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are the three top varieties in SBC, particularly in the western part of the region closest to the ocean.  In the eastern part of the county, Rhône and Bordeaux varieties do quite well.


Winemaking in Santa Barbara County began in 1782 when Father Junipero Serra brought for planting cuttings of what would come to be known as Mission grapevines from Mexico.  Sacramental wine was the impetus, but Spanish rancheros also grew grapes and made wine for less lofty purposes.

In 1884 Justinian Caire imported vines from France and planted a 150-acre vineyard on Santa Cruz Island, just off Santa Barbara's coast. He made award-winning wines there until 1918.  Prohibition ended his efforts and stymied the entire wine industry in California and the rest of the US.

After Prohibition, a couple of UC Davis viticulture professors tabbed SBC as one of the state's potentially great grape-growing areas.  It was not until the 1970s that grape-growing and winemaking really took off in SBC. Through the '80s, experimentation pinpointed which grapes did their best in which locations.

The Wines

Here is what all the fuss is about, the beautiful and varied white wines of Santa Barbara County.  This selection of six wines shows the diversity of SBC's terroir.

Brewer-Clifton Gnesa Chardonnay 2010

Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton use grapes from the Sta. Rita Hills to make their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Lompoc.  Brewer is also winemaker at Melville and has his own label, diatom.  Clifton owns Palmina Wines.

Brewer and Clifton made 288 cases of this stunning Chardonnay, which retails for $48.  Lee Gnesa (knee-sa) planted his sandy, four-acre plot in 1996.  It has been farmed by Brewer-Clifton's vineyard team since 2009.

This wine's bouquet is a beautiful example of earth and oak playing off the lemony fruit.  It appears as a lovely yellow-gold in the glass and tastes of sweet citrus, cantaloupe, herbs and spices.  The acidity is fantastic and there is a touch of chalky salinity that shows on the palate.  At 14.5% abv, it's a fairly hefty white, but the Gnesa Chardonnay does not mimic the old-line "big California Chardonnay" stereotype.  It's a lean, mean Chardonnay machine.

Summerland Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2012 

Part of Summerland's Single Vineyard Collection, these Chardonnay grapes come from the Sierra Madre Vineyard, one of the oldest vineyards in the AVA.  The wine turns in a 14.1% alcohol number and retails for $35.

Summerland Winery sources grapes from up and down the Central Coast AVA and produces the wine in Santa Maria.  The cute little seaside cottage tasting room is in Summerland.  Owner Nebil "Bilo" Zarif and winemaker Etienne Terlinden produce some outstanding boutique wines, some of which are popping up on Los Angeles restaurant wine lists with increasing regularity - usually the Pinor Noir.

Upon first tasting, I thought, "this Chardonnay is for those who like a good deal of oak influence in their wine."  From the golden color, to the rich and spicy nose to the buttery palate, every stave of oak seemed apparent to me.  It turns out the wine didn't really see that much oak, though - fermented and aged six months in French oak barrels, one-third new.  Malolactic fermentation was not completed and the lees were stirred every couple of weeks.

The nose is bursting with pineapple, lemon and tangerine aromas while an undercurrent of vanilla oak spice carries the sideshow along.  The palate boasts tropical fruit and citrus layered with some herbal elements and a bit of oak spice.  Putting a chill on the wine reduces the effect of the oak in both aroma and flavor.  There's also acidity a-plenty, so it is definitely a food wine.

Palmina Arneis 2011

Steve Clifton and his wife Chrystal make wine from Italian grape varieties, and the Arneis grape hails from Piemonte.  Translated variously as "whimsical," "rascally" and "a little crazy," it seems to have been named as a winemaker's grape.  Not to mention that it is sometimes ornery and difficult to grow.  This Arneis is grown in the sandy soil of Honea Vineyard, in the Los Olivos district of the Santa Ynez Valley.  Alcohol registers at 13.5% and this wine retails for $20.

The Palmina website extols some of the virtues of Arneis as: "a delightful aperitif, but also a wine with enough body and personality to hold its own with a wide range of strongly flavored food – prosciutto, pesto, grilled seafood.  Arneis is also a white wine that will continue to evolve with a few years of cellar aging."

It gives a golden straw hue in the glass and smells quite interesting.  Floral?  Yes, but it's more like the flowers and their stalks.  Citrus?  Yes, a nice spray from an orange peel.  There are scents and sensibilities of herbs and spices, too, with a mineral undercurrent.  On the palate, apricots hit me first, with a dash of green tea in tow.  Minerals are even more noticeable here, and a vibrant acidity runs through the sip just like it belongs - which it does.  It finishes with a gorgeous salinity.

Imagine Pearl Paradise Mountain Viognier 2010 

The grapes are from Paradise Road Vineyard - they call it Paradise Mountain - in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley.  At a thousand feet in elevation, the vineyard gets three times the rain of the valley floor.  Winemaker Ross Jay Rankin began producing in the late 1990s at the lovely Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  He now operates in the state-of-the-art Terravant facility in Buellton.

This $24 wine blows a 14.5% abv number  and it experienced 100% malolactic fermentation, imparting a rich creaminess.  It was fermented in steel, then half was aged in new French oak for three months, the other half in steel.

The Imagine Viognier leaves little to the imagination.  Lovely golden in the glass, its sweetly floral nose is laced with the aroma of nectarines.  On the palate are peaches and melons.  The lovely smell and taste of the wine are supported by a delightful acidity that refreshes and makes for great food pairing.  I liked it with kernel corn and peas, buttered and lightly dusted with sea salt.

Baehner Fournier Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2012 

The names belong to Dr. Bob Baehner and Vickie Fournier Baehner.  Their Bordeaux grape varieties grow on 16 acres of hillside vineyards in the east side of the Santa Ynez Valley.  Oaks, chaparral and purple sage dot the countryside.  Their vineyards are named for the natural events they both see unfolding on their estate - Sunshine, Rainbow, Moonglow, Misty and Northstar.

From Happy Canyon's Vogelzang Vineyard, these Sauvignon Blanc grapes thrives in the warm eastern end of the Valley.  They say they try for more of a Loire expression than New Zealand, but I find the reverse is true.  This Sauvignon Blanc experiences two-thirds of its fermentation in steel, then finishes in oak, where it stays for six months aging on the spent yeast cells - the lees.  There is a 13.5% abv number, and a retail price of $20.

Steve Clifton - see him in two other wines here - is the consulting winemaker at Baehner Fournier, but the label lists Nick de Luca as winemaker on this white wine.

The nose gives off a lively grassy aroma, with beautiful notes of tangerine, grapefruit and melon.  On the palate, the grapefruit comes forth in mighty fashion and carries some orange peel along with it.  The acidity is very nice, but it doesn't break out the razor blades.  It's more of a lush experience imparted by the wine's time spent resting on the lees.  The wine is as fresh as can be, with a touch of creaminess that lasts into the finish.

Fontes & Phillips Sauvignon Blanc 2010 

Another husband/wife team, Alan Phillips and Rochelle Fontes-Phillips started this Santa Barbara County small-lot venture in 2008.  Their separate wine paths crossed in the Santa Cruz Mountains - he in the cellar, she in the office.  Their Sauvignon Blanc is whole cluster pressed, steel fermented and aged, with a 13.8% abv number.   They say the wine is made to emulate the Sauvignon Blanc of New Zealand, using grapes grown in the Santa Ynez Valley.  Only 112 cases were made, and it sells for $18.  The only label on the bottle is a pewter tab, hand-made in South America.

This strikes me as a California Sauvignon Blanc rather than one done in the New Zealand or Loire style.  Pale gold in the glass, aromas of peaches, pears and apricots lie under an herbal blanket without a trace of grassiness.  Fantastic acidity is right up front, while the flavors are mineral-driven fruit with a melon-like herbal sense.  Tangerine lingers on the finish, with a bit of the peel.

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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Three Syrah Wines From Bonny Doon Vineyards

Bonny Doon Vineyards’ chief Randall Grahm has made wine from many different grape varieties during his illustrious career, but the ones with which he really resonates are the grapes of the Rhône Valley.  He has been labeled "the original Rhône Ranger" for his pioneering effort of making Rhône-style wines in California.  Grahm supplied me with samples of three of his Syrah wines, which demonstrate his ability to choose vineyards and do the best work possible with the fruit found there.

It is this connection to the sense of place - terroir - offered by different vineyards that has captured Grahm's fascination.  He considers his winemaking efforts now to be vins de terroir - in which the grapes do the work - rather than vins d'effort, in which the winemaker does the work.  Grahm described his laissez faire methods in a recent article, "We spend more time in the vineyard so we don't have to spend so much time in the cellar."

Bonny Doon Le Pousseur Central Coast Syrah 2009

This is the entry-level Syrah from Bonny Doon.  The grapes are 56% Alamo Creek Vineyard, 32% Bien Nacido Vineyard and 12% Chequera Vineyard.  A blurb addressing Grahm's hands-off style of winemaking, with minimal intervention, adorns the label.  The alcohol content is a restrained 13.5% abv and the wine retails for $25.

The wine is inky black, no light gets through.  The bouquet is as dark as the color, showing black fruit and bacon fat.  Plums and blackberries define the palate, but the fruit has to coexist with dark, savory notes.  Everything meshes seamlessly in a wave of minerality.  This is entry-level wine at its highest order.

Bonny Doon Alamo Creek Syrah, San Luis Obispo County, 2008

Grahm calls this one "intensely concentrated and mineral-rich."  The vineyard is located northeast of the town of Santa Maria ("where the wild things roam") and where rock outcroppings of the Alamo Creek Valley indicate the minerals to come.  At 13.5% abv, the wine retails for $35.  Again, decant before enjoying.

The wines of the Santa Maria area are among my favorites in California, mineral-driven and dark, with great complexity.  This wine is dark in appearance, and sports a dark nose of blackberry and black currant.  Gobs of tar aromas make it hard to stop sniffing.  The palate, once decanted, is extremely smooth with fine tannins.  Flavors are dark and rich, with a full ripeness that just explodes on the palate.

Bonny Doon Bien Nacido Syrah, Santa Maria Valley, 2008

Grahm's label notes: "The Syrah from Bien Nacido Vineyard is most evocative of the character of the genuine Northern Rhône article of any Syrah we see, likely owing to the exceptionally cool climate, the age of its (X-block) vines and calcareous soil."  The wine has a 13.9% abv number and retails for $40.  Grahm recommends decanting an hour or two for best effect.

Inky black, the wine is just as dark on the nose.  Minerals come forth strongly, with hints of tobacco under the black plum aromas.  Nice, chewy tannins decorate the palate, with extremely dark and savory fruit flavors.  There is a smattering of pepper and roast beef, with a beautiful minerality.  Pairing with dark chocolate and sea salt is magnificent.  It is quite possibly the best California Syrah I've had, and easily rivals the top French entries.

For something to drink right away, any one of these Syrahs beats the label off a cult Cab on the experience alone, not to mention the lower price points.  All three are the kind of wines you'll want to pop open for special occasions - but life is short.  Don't wait.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer Wine: Andrew Murray Viognier 2011

Viognier is a great choice for a summertime beverage.  I had the pleasure of finally getting around to opening a bottle of Viognier that I purchased on my most recent visit to Los Olivos.  Andrew Murray’s Viognier is great as a summer sipper, but it also carves out a place at the dining table.

It’s a product of the Santa Maria Valley.  The grapes come from a block of Viognier planted especially for Murray.  The cool days and foggy nights which are common at the vineyard help get the grapes ripe without going crazy with the alcohol.

The grapes are whole-cluster pressed and the vinification takes place in stainless steel. The lightly tinted Viognier shows a fruit basket on the nose, with pineapple, mango, apricot and citrus fighting for attention.  Minerals are certainly present, as expected in a wine from the Santa Maria Valley.  The palate really shows the minerals, as well as the wonderful herbal edge attained through the whole - cluster press.  The sweetness of the fruit is tempered by lime zest.  There’s good acidity and a tart, pleasing finish.

I’d suggest that you run out and pick up a bottle, but that’s not possible.  The 2011 yield was limited and only 50 cases were produced - those are now sold out, according to the Andrew Murray website.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are You Ready For Some Chardonnay?

The variety that wine has to offer appeals to me so much that I often find myself passing up the standard stash of grape varieties in favor of more exotic treats.  It's not that Cab, Pinot and Chardonnay are boring - not by a long shot - but the thrill of getting off the beaten path sways me time and time again.  That's why I like a good reason to get back on the road more traveled every so often.

Those who cry "anything but Chardonnay" may be exploring new things - and that's good - but they are also unfairly turning their backs on a grape variety which has a lot to say.

Foley Estates Vineyard and Winery has their first annual Celebration of Chardonnay coming up on Saturday, June 9, 2012.  California's favorite white grape will also be celebrated at the upcoming Chardonnay Symposium at the end of June in the Santa Maria Valley.  I was in the right place at the right time on a visit to the Sta. Rita Hills, stopping in at Foley's tasting room west of Buellton to sample a variety of their Chardonnay offerings.  The ranch lingo used in naming their vineyards is Bill Foley’s tip of the Stetson to his cattleman days.

2010 Chardonnay, Steel
The Rancho Santa Rosa vineyard gives the fruit for this one, and it is kept in its purest state, without the influence of wood.  Tropical citrus and pineapple meet a lively spiciness and a zesty acidity.

2009 Chardonnay, Rancho Santa Rosa
The golden tint tips off the presence of oak, but Dave, who poured the samples for me, hit the barrel stave on the head when he said, “It’s doesn’t spend a lot of time in oak, so it’s creamy rather than buttery.”  The oak isn’t overdone in any of these Chardonnays.  Here, the pineapple and minerals come through beautifully.

2009 Chardonnay, JA Ranch
Aged in 35% new, French toasted oak, this is what California Chardonnay should always be about.  A smoky nose introduces a gorgeous palate of apricot tinged with caramel.

2009 Chardonnay, T-Anchor
A touch of smokiness on the nose doesn’t obscure the rocks and citrus aromas.  There’s a bit more oak on the palate here, too, with a huge fruit expression to offer.

2009 Chardonnay, Bar Lazy S Ranch
The minerality is the star here, but there a strong supporting cast of varied fruit flavors.  Toasty oak spice and zippy acidity complete the big mouthfeel.

2009 Chardonnay, Two Sisters
From the Rancho Las Hermanos vineyard, This is Foley’s top of the line Chardonnay.  With 20 months in all new French oak, I would expect a disturbingly wooden touch to this one, which is not the case.  50% malolactic fermentation increases the creaminess.  It’s smoky, creamy and rich, but clean tasting, not buttery.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010


Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Guide

If you want to go wine tasting in the Santa Maria Valley, but don't know too much about the area or the wineries found there, here's a good find for you.   The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor and Convention Bureau have a free, 16-page booklet with all the information you need to do a tour of the Santa Maria Valley wine country.

You can order "
Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Booklet " from the Chamber, but it's a lot handier - and greener - to access it on the web and download it.   You can print it yourself or keep it bookmarked on your smartphone.

Gina Keough, manager of the Santa Maria Valley Visitor and Convention Bureau, recognizes that the interest in the area's wine country has grown in recent years.   "This booklet is a significant expansion on our previous wine touring literature," Gina says.  "It is a helpful resource for visitors and locals alike."

In addition to a winery map and a description of the wineries of the Santa Maria Valley, you also get lists of area restaurants and other shopping destinations, tasting tour information, even wine pairing suggestions for that good ol' Santa Maria-style barbecue.

Even if you have been to the Santa Maria Valley before, you might want to take a look at the book.  Gina points out that several new wine tasting rooms may have opened since you last visited.