Showing posts with label Sta. Rita Hills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sta. Rita Hills. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Fiddling Around In Santa Barbara County

One of Santa Barbara County's treasures is Fiddlehead Cellars, which I like to think of as the little winery that could. Kathy Joseph owns the place - an industrial-style facility, the kind that's easy to find in Lompoc. She also makes the wine, pulling Santa Ynez Valley grapes from wonderful sites in the cool Sta. Rita Hills and the warmer Happy Canyon region.

It's a family affair for Joseph, with Mom and Dad given honorifics on the labels and sister Jody providing the artwork for the bottles.

The 2017 Grüner Veltliner Estate is the third vintage of a truly wonderful wine. The fruit of this typically Austrian grape variety was taken from the Fiddlestix Vineyard, which Joseph planted back in the ‘90s and later sold. The wine was fermented in a combination of French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. Alcohol sits at 13% abv and it retails for $32.

The pale yellow wine smells beautifully savory, with a flowery nose which is joined by a big whiff of white pepper and earth notes. The palate carries the earthiness to a ridiculous extreme - and be glad of that. There is a sense of apricot, lemon curd and peppers on the palate. The acidity is just right and a blanket of salinity runs through the sip and into the lengthy palate. If you are searching for a white wine to put on your holiday table, this one would be a great fit.

The 2015 Bebble Grüner Veltliner Sta. Rita Hills comes from the Fiddlestix Vineyard as well. Joseph describes Bebble as her premier, reserve release of Grüner Veltliner. She writes that the wine was named to honor her "ever-elegant mother, Babette, whose name around the house adorns this bottle." The bottle also features her sister's artwork. 

"Following an atypically warm winter that gave way to an early March budbreak, dry and consistent temperatures allowed for an even growing season. Acids remained vibrant due to the cool maritime-influenced temperatures native to our area." Alcohol checks in at 13.5% abv and the wine sells for $42.

This is also a pale wine, with a nose that is minerality personified. There is wet sidewalk, seashore, apricot, white pepper and lanolin in the aroma package. The palate brings all those savory notes in the form of flavors, with a big dollop of salinity. The acidity is fresh and the finish is long. White wine lovers will love this savory Grüner from the Sta. Rita Hills.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Los Alamos: Casa Dumetz Tasting Room

Casa Dumetz Wines is a boutique producer of wines featuring Rhone grape varieties sourced from Santa Barbara County locations.  The tasting room on Bell Street in Los Alamos is situated right next door to their Babi's Beer Emporium, where ciders are also on tap.  Sonya Magdevski is admittedly in love with Grenache, an often misunderstood grape that is sometimes bashed for not being elegant enough. While trying to put some blends together a couple of years ago, Magdevski discovered that she was trying to do something the fruit "didn't want to do." She then realized that "you can't control nature." She decided to concentrate on varietal wines, often single-vineyard efforts that showcase the diversity of Santa Barbara County's various climates and terroirs. 
Magdevski says she sources "such small amounts that the fruit has to be great." As for working in an area that sports at least 50 different grape varieties, she says "I can't even name 50 grapes."
Casa Dumetz Rosé is all Grenache, from the Tierra Alta Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. The wine now wears the Clementine Carter label. Sonja says it's "almost dangerously good." The nose shows rose petals, strawberry and citrus. On the palate, cherry, citrus and a slightly savory tomato. Great acidity. 
Casa Dumetz Grenache Blanc was made in a mix of neutral oak and stainless steel containers. It has a nutty aroma and a savory palate that also reminds me of nuts.
Casa Dumetz Roussane hails from the La Presa Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. I smell lilac and anise, and I taste nuts, lemon citrus. It's zippy, but has a full mouth. Neutral oak, 
Casa Dumetz White uses grapes from the Santa Ynez Valley: Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, all cofermented. The nose has a nutty, citrusy aroma and the palate is a dry, refreshing, lemon delight.
Casa Dumetz 2015 Grenache was grown in the Flower and Vine vineyard in Los Alamos, a single vineyard Grenache. Medium tint, beautiful cherry nose, earthy and elegant. The fresh and vibrant palate shows youthful cherry in a "soil-heavy" manner.
Casa Dumetz Late Harvest Viognier rocks. Sweet, not cloying, with earthy apricot and floral elements.
Casa Dumetz Pinot Noir 2014 is from Mormann Vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills. It's as elegant as California Pinot gets.
This Casa Dumetz Grenache comes from five different vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. Medium-dark with a cherry and strawberry nose, great acidity and a mouthful of cherry and earth. Delightful.
Cider was a surprise. Grenache rosé and apples pressed together. What a lovely mix. There's a slight fizz and it's very pink and quite refreshing .

Monday, March 6, 2017

California Pinot From The North And South

They say Adler Fels is German for "Eagle Rock," which plays into their location "high in the Mayacamas Mountains." From there, they look across California, spyglass to eye, searching for the great grapes they want to use. Of course, nobody needs a mountaintop watchman to find those locations. Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Monterey County, Santa Barbara County - they are hardly off the beaten path. Those grapes make what they term, "artisan wines with intense varietal character."

The Alder Fels 2014 The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir, made by winemaker Aaron Bader, is a beauty. Bader calls the making of good Pinot "both a physical and mental exercise." He’s not shy about tooting his own bottle. "It's sexy, luscious, with that sweet perfume, a hint of maple syrup, and lush fruit." Wait a minute. Maple syrup? I can have that for breakfast!

For this wine, he blended three-quarters Sta. Rita Hills Pinot from Santa Barbara County and one-quarter grapes from the Russian River Valley. It checks in with 14.4% abv and retails for $28.

The Pinot is hefty and dark, with a nose that exudes black raspberry, black olive, coffee, tea and anise. Maple syrup? Well, now that it's in my head, it's in my nose. On the palate, wow. Ripe fruit, those olives, black tea and black pepper. The savory angle continues into the finish and carries plenty of sweet oak spice with it.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Santa Barbara County Riesling - Why Not?

Pierre Lafond started the first winery in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition. He did that in 1962, and the second one wouldn't come for another decade. So, Lafond is a big name in Santa Barbara County wine. It's always worth a visit when the car is anywhere near Buellton.

The 2013 Lafond SRH is a lively Riesling, from a land known more for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This Sta. Rita Hills Riesling comes from the cool part of Santa Barbara County, so Riesling should figure bigger here than it does, I've always thought.

The grapes were grown in the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley, in the transverse valley that sucks in the cool Pacific air and shuttles it inland. The winery says the Sta. Rita Hills region is the southernmost cool-climate region in the northern hemisphere

If this one is any indication, a lot of winemakers are missing the boat.

The pale wine gives a beautiful apricot and peach aroma on the nose, with just a touch of gasoline coming on. I love that part of Riesling with a few years under its belt. The palate has stone fruit, too, and some truly edgy earth from the Lafond estate.

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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, February 12, 2016

Santa Ynez Valley Wine: Gainey Vineyard

Dan Gainey runs the wine business that was started by his father, grown grapes on land first farmed by his grandfather.  The Gainey Vineyard operation is located at their Home Ranch Vineyard in the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley.  They also farm the Evans Ranch and Rancho Esperanza vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills.

The Gainey land is farmed sustainably, using cover crops, compost, natural soil conditioning while eschewing pesticides and herbicides to protect their workers and the ground water.  Gainey winemaker Jeff Lebard and director of winemaking John Falcone together have four decades of experience in Napa Valley and the Central Coast.

Looking around the tasting room, it’s pretty and well stocked with wine and other related items. My wife commented on the great restroom, "literally nicest I've seen," she said. They say you can tell everything about a restaurant by the way the restroom looks. Maybe it holds true for tasting rooms, too. One of the more intriguing purchase options I noticed was the Zinfandel garlic salsa. It smells great. There’s plenty of garlic in there.

Once in the cave tasting room, we got down to the good stuff. Eric the pourer told me they are in the process of replacing the vineyards on the estate property. The Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling vines are being replanted.

The Wines

2014 Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc  $19 - About a 30/70 split on steel and barrel fermentation, with seven month of French oak aging. Alcohol is at 14.1% abv. The flavors are clean and fruity and the grapefruit note is soft while the mouth is full.

2013 Limited Selection Chardonnay $38 - This wine uses fruit from Rancho Esperanza and Evan’s Ranch Vineyard, the Santa Ynez winery’s Sta. Rita Hills property. It is nearly fully barrel fermented - only 2% in steel - and aged in French oak for nine months, 25% of which is new oak.  Alcohol hits 14.1% abv, and full malolactic and sur lie fermentation offer this wine a full and creamy feel in the mouth. It’s a big, fat chardonnay with lots of oak. coconut and tropical flavors.

2013 Limited Selection Pinot Noir  $55 - for wine club members only. It is 100% Pinot Noir from the Home Ranch Vineyard. Aged 17 months in 27% new French oak, the alcohol is a lofty 14.1% abv.  Pepper comes across very strongly on the nose, with a palate that is full of rich raspberry and cherry, not too tart. Very fruity, but the tea notes show well and the acidity is very fine.

2013 Limited Selection Syrah  $32 - 72% Home Ranch fruit and 28% Evan's Ranch. 14.1% abv with 16 months in 45% new oak (54% French, 23% American & 23% Hungarian.)  The nose on this one shows the funk for which the Rhône variety is known, stridently.  The palate is full of dark fruit in a savory mineral setting.

2012 Patrick’s Vineyard Selection $60 - 86 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 % Petit Verdot and 2 % Merlot, aged 22 months in 66% New French oak. At 14.5% abv, it’s a powerhouse. The wine is  named for the owner’s son, no doubt destined to take over the winery at some point.  Muted nose, sweet/tart red fruit.

2014 Limited Selection Riesling $15 - This wine sees no oak. It comes in at a moderate 13% abv and is off-dry, with less than 1% residual sugar. The grapes were taken in an early harvest from the Home Ranch vineyard.  The nose shows a nice petrol note while a slightly sweet sensation comes on the palate. The acidity is good, but not overpowering. It’s a great sipper, and would hit it off nicely with a salad.

After the wine tasting, we crossed Highway 246 for a stop at the Vineyard House for lunch, in the cute and rustic downtown area of Santa Ynez. It had come highly recommended by a friend, so we had to try. They have a great outdoor seating area, but plenty of room indoors if the weather’s not nice. My chicken and brie sandwich was fabulous. The venison chile verde was a little soupier than I had hoped it would be, but the tomato soup is delicious, even if it was served a little less than piping hot.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Lafond Winery And Vineyards

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 with small talk and jokes. 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 describes some of the wines we sampled in the various tasting rooms visited.

Lafond Winery and Vineyards

The Lafond Sta. Rita Hills tasting room is a one-stop shop for wine accessories, exhibiting a “no chotski left behind” approach to stocking the tables with coasters, openers, funny wine signs and food products. The room is decorated with some lovely artwork by local artist Karin Shelton.

I tasted a range of whites and reds on my visit, and was impressed by them to different degrees. The whites seemed a little bit full and oaky, while the reds showed their stuff very well. Three were from Lafond's SRH line of Sta. Rita Hills wines and three were vineyard designates from the Lafond estate vineyard.

SRH Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay 2013  $23 About three quarters of the grapes in this wine are from Lafond Vineyard, while a quarter come from their neighbor, Hilltop Ranch. Aromas of tropical fruit and oak meet the nose, and the palate is also marked by oak. It's buttery and has a good weight, but there is really a lot of oak here.

Lafond Vineyard Chardonnay 2011  $40 - Fruit and spice dominate, with less oak influence than the SRH. Peach and lemon on the palate.

SRH Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2013  $27 - Seven Clones of Pinot Noir were used, from 6 blocks in the Lafond and Burning Creek Vineyards. A beautiful nose of roses and lavender leads to a palate of pomegranate and raspberry. Slightly tart and very elegant.

Lafond Vineyard Pinot Noir Martin Ray Clone 2010  $50 - This wine comes from vines planted in 1982. It was the first varietal that Lafond requested be planted there. The vines were cut from the Sanford+Benedict Vineyard, and the Lafond website reveals that Michael Benedict refers to the clone as Martin Ray, while Richard Sanford calls it Mount Eden. Who's right? Who cares? It tastes great. There is a lot of fruit in the nose, with a strong raspberry slant to the flavor. Nice tannins, but still pretty and elegant - just a little sturdier andmore peppery than the SRH.

SRH Sta.Rita Hills Syrah 2010  $23 - The nose shows big fruit and a slightly funky, earthy edge. Black pepper, blackberries and cassis on the palate.

Lafond Vineyard Syrah/Grenache  2011  $38 - This is a gorgeous 60/40 blend of cool-climate Syrah and Grenache. Big dark fruit on the nose leads to black and white pepper notes on the palate with black and blue berries.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

SBC Tasting Room: Dierberg/Star Lane

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 two-hour trip. 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.

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.

Their tasting room is contained in a big, green barn on the Santa Rita Hills property, Drum Canyon Vineyard, on Drum Canyon Road. They pour  a flight of six wines featuring both the Dierberg and Star Lane wines for $15. Let them know if your group is eight or more. The amazing staff can handle numerous tastings at once, indoors and out.

Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2014: Fresh green apple on the nose with a trace of herbal and flowers. Great acid. Beautiful apple and citrus fruit with a good minerality. $22

Dierberg Chardonnay Drum Canyon 2013: Buttery oak, creamy quality from 3/4 malolactic fermentation. Great acidity and green apple notes. Available through the tasting room and wine club only. $45

Dierberg Pinot Noir Drum Canyon 2012 : Aged in neutral French oak. Just an absolutely lovely nose. Roses, cherries. Delicate and elegant. The palate shows raspberry, cherry and rhubarb. $44

Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir 2012: This is from the dark side. Great earthy texture, nice nose of black cherry and raspberry. The palate shows the wonderful SMV terroir. Finishes slightly tart. $37

Dierberg Santa Maria Valley Syrah 2012: Explosive nose, big jammy berries with notes of orange peel and smoke.  Earth minerals with a touch of orange zest on the palate. Nice tannic structure. Tasting room only. $65

Star Lane Cabernet Franc 2011: Influence of 35% new French oak shows in the nose of bright fruit and pepper. Red fruit flavor shows pizzazz with a streak of white pepper. Tannins don't weigh down the sip but provide plenty of bite for a steak. $52

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Red and ripe fruit, pepper and pencil lead on the nose. Great acidity and bright red cherry flavors. $46

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Holiday Wines 2014: Wes Hagen

It's October now, which means the Halloween decorations have been in the seasonal display racks at your local merchant since the glow wore off of "Back To School."  I'll take that as a cue that it is not too early to start thinking about holiday wines.  I think about them all year long.  As the months pass, I make little lists of the wines I want on my holiday table, with my holiday feast.  I know I'm not alone in that little obsession.

The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays traditionally involve lots of family, so whatever wines you choose to highlight will be special, owing to the simple fact that they were along for the ride.  It's nice to put a little thought into it, though.  I have asked some wine folks to help me do a little less thinking this holiday season by outlining which of their wines they feel are special.  The requests went out right about the time harvest was getting underway - great timing! - so I really appreciate the effort the responses required.

The very first response I received was from a Santa Barbara County winemaker who has become indispensable to his industry.  When he's not making some of the best Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills, he's busy drafting the papers to make a new American Viticultural Area happen, or working to prevent an existing AVA from being expanded.  Wes Hagen, of Clos Pepe Vineyards, has some very specific ideas about a holiday feast and the wines that go with it.  I'll let him explain:

"I think a West Coast Christmas should start with a few dozen Morro Bay oysters and a bottle or three of chilled Axis Mundi Mourvedre Rose!  Another great match is Dungeness Crab with garlic butter.  This is a bone dry rosé with low alcohol, which will help your traveling guests get home safely."

"Ham or turkey matches beautifully with a 2011 Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noir, which just won a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.  Pinot noir has bright acidity that can cut through gravy or a glaze, and the bright fruit will refresh the palate and charm the soul."

"Thinking of something a bit richer, like lamb or ribeyes on the grill?  It’s not Santa Barbara, but the Olin Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is our sister brand and we can’t get enough of this balanced, sumptuous offering.  And the price is hard to beat!  Big red meats love the tannin structure of Cab."

"And don’t forget to make the Spirits Bright with our 100% pinot noir grappa!  Great to drizzle in coffee, on top of some apple sorbet, or straight up sipping!"

Wes Hagen, Vineyard Manager/Winemaker

Learn Wine: Clos Pepe Vineyards and Estate Wines:
Buy wine:  email Wes after setting up an account to get best pricing

Vineyard:  4777 East Highway 246, Lompoc, CA 93436
Office:  (805) 735-2196     Cell: (805) 886-0325  FAX: (805) 736-5907
National Sales Manager: Andrew Turner 310-486-2080,
Twitter:  @weshagen, @clospepe, @staritahills
Facebook:  Wes.Hagen

Tasting Room:  Taste of Sta. Rita Hills (Thursday-Sunday)
1505 East Chestnut (Back of the Wine Ghetto), Lompoc, CA (805) 735-8774

“Every wine deserves an hour at table, delicious food and two people in love.  Wine cannot be fully understood unless all three of these conditions are met."  --WD Hagen

Monday, September 29, 2014

Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills 2011

The 2011 Brewer-Clifton Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay was only $10 by the glass at Westside Tavern, downstairs from the Landmark Theater in the big mall on Pico.  It's $40 per bottle retail, and the winery website shows that it is sold out.

On the nose, citrus, floral, pear and peach aromas put on a show, while the palate has all that lovely fruit plus a slight touch of oak.  The smoky vanilla flavor is fantastic.  There is also a savory aspect which reminds me a little bit of an Italian wine.  The acidity is bright and fresh, and the wine finishes very cleanly and briskly.

That savory touch is described by Brewer-Clifton this way: "a saline quality that promotes an age worthy structure, the uniqueness of a wine region bordered on two of its four sides by the Pacific Ocean is clear."  And, it is true that Santa Barbara County is two sides to the sea, so a maritime influence should be expected.

Three vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills contributed grapes to this wine, 3-D, Sweeney Canyon and Gnesa.  The winery says their goal was to put forth "a comprehensive expression of the appellation," which it seems has been accomplished.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Foley Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills 2009

Here is another example of waiting a tad too long to enjoy a white wine.  In this case, the forgotten bottle of Foley Chardonnay 2009 has felt the effects of age, but it actually appeals to me greatly in its present state.

From Santa Barbara County's Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard, this Chardonnay was wonderfully fruity in its youth.  Today, the years have left their mark.  I'm not disappointed, though, and I'm glad the bottle languished in the rack so long.

Owner William Foley II is living the dream, and the dream is "to produce world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County."  His Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard is a former thoroughbred horse ranch in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation of the Santa Ynez Valley.  It is planted primarily to the two grapes that capture his fascination, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Winemaker Leslie Mead Renaud gets the most out of the grapes produced in the limestone soil of this vineyard.

This Chardonnay has a gorgeous golden color, rich and inviting.  The aromas of pineapple and apricot are just touched by oak.  A nice vanilla note is a testament to that, and minerals are in abundance.  On the palate, the apricot is pronounced, and a smoky note is draped over it.  I am reminded of the wonderful white wine of Spanish producer Lopez de Heredia, whose whites are routinely aged for decades before release.

The alcohol content of 14.3% packs a bit of a wallop, but it's not an unusually high number for this area.  The wine's gorgeous palate is complex, the acidity is lively, the minerality is rocky and the finish is long and savory.  Oak treatment involves new French oak for 16 months, and 75% of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation.  Holding back a quarter from malo preserved acidity while still allowing for a nice, creamy mouthfeel.

It's hard to forget a wine like this is waiting to be opened, but it can be a good thing if it does slip your mind for a bit.

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Santa Barbara Wine Country: Dierberg And Star Lane Vineyards

Santa Barbara County offers so many great areas for exploring wine, but I am drawn over and over to Highway 246 west of Buellton.  My most recent stop at the Dierberg/Star Lane tasting room revealed some outdoor tables which indicate they are expecting plenty of visitors.  That's not surprising, considering the quality of the wines they make.

Dierberg is in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, while the Star Lane vineyards are in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, in the eastern part of the Santa Ynez Valley.  They pour both at the tasting room.  is it worth a visit?  The last time I was here, there was a gentleman tasting with me who was in Los Angeles for a seminar.  He bailed on his final meetings to drive up for a swig and buy a few cases.  The tasting cost $10

Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc Happy Canyon 2011  $22
Estate grown grapes, a grassy nose with tropical fruit and oranges.  Fresh, vibrant palate with tropical fruit and a great acidity level, belied by the very mellow mouthfeel.  Fermented 100% in steel, on the lees.  Excellent.

Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley  $32
Estate grownfruit, oak fermented - 1/3 Hungarian, 2/3 French, 1/3 new - on the lees.  The nose shows smoky pears, while palate deals with similar fruit in a creamy context.

Dierberg Drum Canyon Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills 2010  $44
Estate grown and locked away for 16 months in new French oak.  The nose of red fruit and smoky coffee notes lead to a nice, light palate of spice and raspberry - not too tart, not too sweet.  Not an over-the-top California Pinot - the alcohol is a restrained 13% abv.  Excellent.

Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2009  $44
My server called this estate grown wine the "James Bond of Pinot - elegant and complicated."  The nose displays spicy dark fruit, while raspberry and strawberry appear on the palate. Great acidity.  A little more alcohol, but still light on its feet and dancing.

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon Happy Canyon 2008  $44
Estate grown, 18 months in oak, four years bottle aged.  Really interesting nose of spicy tobacco and incense.   Easy drinking Cab, with lots of spices and a great finish.

Star Lane Estate, Happy Canyon 2007  $44
All six of the varieties they produce in Happy Canyon are used in this wine.  54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 7% Syrah, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec.  The nose is full of big red fruit, with huge fruit and floral perfume on the palate.  Great acidity.

Star Lane Astral 2006  $80
A extra poured by my server, this top-shelf wine is made from 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Cabernet Franc and 19% Petit Verdot.  It has the nose of a dessert wine, showing dried grapes. Nice spices and beautiful fruit on the palate. Very smooth.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Santa Barbara Wine Country: Babcock Winery And Vineyards

One of the nice things about having an L.A. screenwriter as a friend is the fact that they can often drop whatever they happen to not be doing and run off to wine country for the day.  Denise and I picked up Guido and we hit the freeway for Santa Barbara County.

We had hit Los Olivos hard the last couple of visits, so we opted for a change of pace in the Sta. Rita Hills.  At Babcock Winery, we had the Royale Tasting Flight for ten bucks.

Bryan Babcock makes wine from the grapes grown on the property his father bought in the 1970s.  It was just supposed to be a hobby, but the younger Babcock left his path of higher education to make it a career.
He is not only still making wine, he’s changing the way it’s made.  Babcock has come up with a new way of trellising his vines which has lowered his farming costs.  He also has developed a clone of Pinot Noir.  You can read about both of those developments in Santa Barbara’s Independent.

The Babcock tasting room is part wine bar, part accessory shop.  The big barn door and concrete floor give the feel of a garage.  Tables and merchandise are scattered along the way to the back, where the bar is located.

Identity Crisis Syrah 2011  $12

This interesting blend of 85% Santa Ynez Valley Syrah from Estelle Vineyard, 14.5% Cabernet Sauvignon from the same place and a smidge of Pinot Gris from the Sta. Rita Hills estate.  It’s an unusual blend for a white wine - rather a rosé or blush, actually - white Syrah? - but much more complex than those terms might indicate.  The nose shows herbal strawberry while the palate has a great acidity level and mineral profile.  The wine goes through full malolactic fermentation, which gives it such a creamy feel that I asked about the oak treatment.  There is none, though - 100% steel.  There’s no maceration at all, either, which accounts for the hint of color.

Chardonnay Santa Barbara County 2011  $25

This easy-drinking, easy-priced Chardonnay is labeled as SBC, although the grapes come from two vineyards in SBC - Babcock estate and Radian - and one in the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County.  The wine is 100% stainless steel.  Again, however, I was tricked.  I felt sure I got some oak on the nose and a touch on the palate.  All the butter and vanilla that join the pears and apples make it hard to believe there’s no oak.  Again, we have full malolactic fermentation to thank.  The wine has a great weight.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012  $25

This wine is made of 100% homegrown estate grapes.  There is a touch of grassiness, but it’s the lime zest and pear that steal the show.  The palate is clean and full of citrus, with an easy acidity.  No oak here, and no malolactic fermentation, either.  Babcock says he picked the grapes very ripe to avoid herbaceousness - which accounts for the alcohol level of 14.8% abv.  The wine is very fresh and has an old world feel to it.

Red Table Wine  $9

This surprisingly good bargain wine is a non-vintage blend of “eight or nine varieties,” according to my server.  There’s a very nice funk to the nose, with a mouthful of cherry and red currant.  Really nice acidity, too.

Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2011  $25

It is Pinot Noir for which the Sta. Rita Hills are known, and this Pinot is all SRH - 67% from The Yard and 33% estate fruit.  The wine sees 16 months in neutral French oak, with an oak “tea bag” used during fermentation.  A nice floral nose leads to ripe berries and cherries on the palate.

Cabernet Sauvignon Classic Rock 2010  $16

The rock referenced in the name isn’t music.  The moniker is inspired by the brilliantly colored stones found in the vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley.  From that region’s Estelle Vineyard come the grapes for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose is really funky, almost oddly so, and bright red fruit mingles with an oaky note on the palate.

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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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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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Thursday, January 26, 2012


Cimarone Gran Premio Sangiovese 2008

Italian grape varieties are among my favorites from around the world, particularly Sangiovese.  Whether it's the fresh, youthful Chianti or the grizzled old Brunello, I love what this grape does when it's wine.

Gran Premio is an estate-grown Sangiovese from Cimarone’s Three Creek Vineyard in Santa Barbara County’s Happy Canyon AVA.  Happy Canyon is in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, which is protected from the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean by the same Mountain range that channels that cooling effect into the Sta. Rita Hills.

Cimarone's Gran Premio is a blend of two clones - there are are 14 clones of the Sangiovese grape - which were picked before full ripeness.  This allows for the exclusion of excessive sugar and a resulting wine which is quite dry.  The wine is fermented in open-top wood barriques, and the wood has quite an impact on its aromas and flavors.  

Doug Margerum was the winemaker for Gran Premio.  Effective with the 2011 vintage, Margerum's purple shoes will be filled by Andrew Murray, who has taken over as winemaker for Cimarone.  According to the label, I had bottle 36 of 600!  That means only 50 cases made, so you'd better grab fast. 

Gran Premio shows a medium dark hue in the glass.   The nose exudes blackberry and tar.  Very dark flavors of earthy plums and blackberry show up on the palate, with that tar angle coming in just behind the fruit.  What the label calls "fine tannins" means that this is a very smooth wine.  You can add several "o"s to "smooth" if that helps convey the message.  

This wine drinks not like a fruity, young wine, but more like a brunello, laden with the tarry notes that years can bring to this grape.  It's great tasting and very easy drinking.  With smoked Gouda on rosemary bread the taste is amazing.  I'd love to try it with lamb, or merguez sausage.  Premio retails for $40 and carries a 14.5% abv number.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Cotes-du-Rhone at L'Epicerie

L'Epicerie Cafe and Market is a good stop for a bite and a sip anytime you find yourself in the vicinity of Culver City, California.  It's right across Culver Boulevard from the Sony studios, which makes it convenient to a taping of Wheel Of Fortune or Jeopardy.

A friend of ours became the announcer for Wheel Of Fortune recently, and he finagled us a couple of VIP admissions.  He joined us afterward and we got to catch up a bit.  I've known Jim for around 20 years, but most of the contact we've had has been over a telephone or a two-way radio, so a little face time with the voice guy was welcome.  Denise gets to see him pretty regularly across the console at the Los Angeles news powerhouse, KNX 1070.

We ordered some oysters, some mushrooms, a pork belly confit, a savory crepe and maybe some other stuff, too.  It was all delicious.  So was the wine.

I opened with a Big Vine Pinot Noir 2009, a Central Coast effort combining grapes from the Arroyo Grande Valley and the Sta. Rita Hills.  Bacon on the nose mixes with dark, earthy fruit and the palate is a riot of cola, meat and cassis.  It is $10 by the glass and went very well with the garlicky mushrooms.

The oysters were nicely abetted by the Côtes-du-Rhône Maison Arnoux Vieux Clocher.  This blend of Grenache Blanc and Viognier offers floral and citrus aromas and a rather full mouthfeel with a decent level of acidity.  At $11 by the glass, it actually favored the pork belly better than it did the oysters.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011


Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Tasting Event

California's Santa Barbara County offers some tremendous wines, many of which come from the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.  The area lies between the small towns of Buellton and Lompoc, and is cooled by winds from the Pacific Ocean which blow along the Santa Ynez River.

The winegrowers of this region gathered recently at Palate Food + Wine in Glendale, California to pour some of their best.  The public packed the house on Sunday April 3, 2011.  I attended the trade tasting event the following day.

The Sta. Rita Hills region is home to big names like Longoria, Sea Smoke, D'Alfonso-Curran, Cargasacchi and Foley, as well as rising stars like Zotovich, Weber and Flying Goat.  I sampled the wines of ten Sta. Rita Hills producers at this event.

The Winemakers

Peter Cargasacchi planted the Cargasacchi and Jalama vineyards in the late 1990s.  His Italian and winemaking heritage are points of pride, as are his wines.  Peter was manning his own table and poured some exceptional wines for me.  His '09 Jamala Vineyard Pinot Noir is rich and dense, while the '07 Pinot Noir shows nice minerals and spices with a good acidity.  The Cargasacchi Pinot Grigio Dessert Wine is succulent.  Peter explained that he gambled on good weather and left the grapes on the vines an extra ten days for additional ripening, harvesting them at 40 brix.

Wes Hagen advises you lay down his Clos Pepe Estate Pinot Noirs for four or five years to get maximum expression from them, but nobody will fault you if you can't wait that long.  Wes and his wines always draw a big crowd at every event where I've seen him pouring.  His Pinots show great minerality with hints of chocolate peeking from behind the fruit.  As a treat, Wes was pouring his Clos Pepe '01 Estate Pinot Noir in addition to more recent releases.

Morgan Clendenen's Cold Heaven Cellars poured several Viogniers, as she's best known for her work with that variety.  Her Le Bon Climat Viognier shows off a lush mouthfeel and an abundance of honeysuckle aromas with plenty of minerals on the palate.  Cold Heaven's '09 Viognier from the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard has a great citrus zest profile, while the Santa Ynez Valley Viognier is produced using a Viognier clone that was once thought to be Roussanne.  One taste will show you why that mistaken identity came about.  Her gentle Pinot Noir, "Nevertell," is grown in a Sta. Rita Hills vineyard - which one?  She'll never tell.

Kris Curran and Bruno D'Alfonso, of D'Alfonso-Curran Wines, have many fans, myself included.  D'Alfonso's history with Edna Valley Vineyards and Sanford Winery and Curran's with Sanford, Cambria, Koehler, Sea Smoke and Foley form a pedigree that would be difficult - if not impossible - to match.  The D'Alfonso-Curran 2008 Chardonnay from White Hills Vineyard was one of the hits of the event.  Big, buttery and smokey in the tradition of California Chardonnay, this wine also has a zippy acidity.  A trio of '06 Pinot Noirs on this label hail from different vineyards but show a high level of winemaking skill.  On the Badge label, the '06 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir is loaded with minerality and great acidity.  The latter quality is a hallmark of the duo's wines.

Norm Yost's Flying Goat Cellars poured a couple of winners.  The '09 Goat Bubbles is a rosé of Pinot Noir sparkling wine, light and airy with tons of summery flavors.  Flying Goat's Pinot Noir Rancho Santa Rosa Sta. Rita Hills is rustic and earthy.

Norman Huber is not only a winegrower, but a woodworker, too.  His handiwork is on display aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, as he headed up the restoration of the grand lady of the sea.  His custom-built bars grace the tasting rooms of fellow SRH winemakers Longoria Wines and Fiddlehead Cellars.  Huber's '08 Chardonnay is steely with plenty of bracing acidity and tropical flavors.  The '08 Huber Pinot Noir has a beautiful bouquet and feels lovely on the palate.  It's a pity they ran out of his Dornfelder.  He devotes a portion of his vineyard to that grape as a tribute to his German upbringing.

Dan Kessler of Kessler-Haak Vineyard and Winery poured his 2010 Rosé of Pinot Noir made from the grapes of the estate vineyard.  It's lush, and you'll want more.  Kessler-Haak specializes in the main grapes of the Sta. Rita Hills, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  They also do a fine Syrah with Turner Vineyard fruit.  It's bold and spicy.

Rick Longoria started making his own wine in 1982 and opened Longoria Wine in '98, the first winery to locate in what would come to be affectionately known as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Longoria sources his wine from choice locations in Santa Barbara County, including the Sta. Rita Hills.  His '07 Tempranillo was one of my favorites at this event.  The grapes come from the Clover Creek Vineyard and the wine is edgy with a great mineral presence on both the nose and palate.

Pali Wine Company scored with their '08 Fiddlestix Vineyard Pinot Noir, sporting cinnamon, raspberries and strawberries.  Pali's '08 "Huntington" Pinot Noir has 60% Sta. Rita Hills fruit, 35% Santa Maria Valley grapes and 5% sourced elsewhere in Santa Barbara County.  It's nice and earthy.

Weber Wine Company sources fruit from the Sta. Rita Hills as well as Paso Robles, Sonoma Coast and Dundee Hills in Oregon.  Their '09 "Mishelle" Pinot Noir is from Babcock Vineyard.  Earthy notes dominate the nose while the palate is a bit tart, yet smooth as silk.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Alma Rosa Chardonnay 2008

The Now And Zin household is undergoing a bit of a "wine clearance," with some neglected bottles getting their propers of late.  Besides, Mrs. Now And Zin - sometimes known as Denise - is always suspicious of exactly why we need another bottle of wine when the rack is already laden with them.  My hope is that thinning out the crowd may just provide the opposite reaction: "Mr. Now And Zin, you're almost out of wine!"  I feel a wine shopping trip impending.

But back to the clearance.  Here's one of those half-bottles I purchased in the event we were suddenly in need of a picnic-basket-sized wine.  We haven't needed that convenience since then, so let's unscrew the top on an Alma Rosa.

The Alma Rosa website tells the story that it was owner and winemaker Richard Sanford who discovered that the Sta. Rita Hills were good for growing grapes, due to the traverse mountain range that pulls in the cooling ocean influence from the west.  It tells further that it was Sanford who planted grapes in the region when it was unheard of to do so.  This was in 1970, a Pinot Noir vineyard.  A sale of the original winery put him in business a little to the southwest of Buellton.

Sanford's wines generally are very well constructed with wonderful acidity, and this Chardonnay is no exception.

It sits golden in the glass, giving floral and tropical aromas to the nose.  The palate detects a bit of oak but actually, more minerality is present than those big buttery notes one might expect in a California Chardonnay.

The wine is crisp and clean, bone dry,  with just a hint of oak and a trace of candy-like fruit presence.  Winemaker Sanford says his Chardonnay has a lot in common with French Chablis, and I can taste the resemblance.  It retails at the winery for $19 per bottle.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Enjoying the fruits of your labor, as the saying goes, is alright.  But it's not as good as enjoying the fruits of someone else's labor.  Especially when that someone has a 40-year track record of turning out some exceedingly good fruit for his effort.

Alma Rosa Winery is owned and run by Richard and Thekla Sanford.  Richard Sanford planted grapes in the Santa Rita Hills in 1970, according to the winery's website.  That made him a true pioneer, and it may have made him a lonely guy, too.  He was one of the only grape growers in the SRH back then.

Sanford's estate vineyards were the first ones in Santa Barbara County to receive organic certification from the California Certified Organic Farmers.  His wines are said to be known for their high acid and great structure.

Alma Rosa's Santa Rita Hills Pinot Blanc shows a soft golden hue in the glass.  It sees brief oak in used barrels, so the oak influence is somewhat restrained.   

I get honeysuckle on the nose.  Nectarines are there, too, with a bit of wet rock, but just a touch. Some vanilla and spice notes dance around in the background.

This Pinot Blanc has a very creamy mouthfeel, and buttery, too.  Quite full and mellow it is, and yet the acidity is bracing at the same time.  Flavors of pears and a hint of citrus are in the taste, with a trace of cantaloupe.

There is no malolactic fermentation used in the production of this wine, which is usually used to produce a full feel in the mouth.  This wine certainly fills the mouth nicely on its own.  On the palate, the texture of the wood is noticeable, but not bothersome at all.  It's at 14.3% abv and sells for $18 at the winery, where I bought mine.

By the way, serve it next to a bowl of nuts.  It's great with peanuts.