Being at the Wine Bloggers Conference in the Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County) this past weekend got me thinking about our long ago time living in the area and tasting Santa Ynez Valley wines. Lori and I lived here from 1982 – 1985, and again 1990-1991. We came here with one son, born just before moving here the first time, with the second one born in the middle of our first stay in the area.
There are many memories from our stays, but one that stands out is our first time tasting Pinot Noir. Not just our first time tasting Pinot Noir in the Santa Barbara area, but our first time ever tasting Pinot Noir.
While I started drinking good wine relatively young – thank you Father and Uncle – most of the wine was Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals and blends. Pinot Noir, even though it was being grown in California, in the Carneros district, just wasn’t around. Then, when Lori and I were living in upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes region, we enjoyed the cold weather white wines that are made there. Still no Pinot Noir.
Sometime early in that 1982-1985 period we visited the Sanford and Benedict Winery, which was the only winery on the west side of the 101 highway, closer to the ocean, in what is now the Santa Rita Hills (SRH) AVA. We rolled up, put the baby (the future Winemaker B) in the baby carrier on my back, and walked into the barn that served as their winery. There was no electricity, and so wines were made strictly with gravity flow techniques, with the barn kept cool by running water over the roof of the barn. Michael Benedict was there, and walked us through a couple of fantastic Pinot Noirs, teaching us about Pinot Noir in general, and their Pinot Noir specifically.
It was romantic and idealistic in a back-to-nature sort of way, the wines were wonderful, and we had spent an hour chatting with a winemaker instead of at the counter of a tasting room. Voila! Pinot Noir was added to the range of wines that were really special in my heart.
By the way, that area, the SRH AVA, has now become one of the best areas for Pinot Noir in the world. See my Pinot Noir Heaven post.