Tag Archives: Santa Barbara County

Qupé Is Central Coast Syrah

Family legend has it that my parents used to trade Dodgers tickets for Qupé wine. According to Bob Lindquist, owner/winemaker of Qupé Winery, there was at least one discussion about that, but it never happened. So it’s just legend. We do know that my parents met Bob just after he started Qupé, while he was still working at another winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. Lori and I will take credit for that, since we were living in Santa Barbara at the time, and took my parents to that other winery. Shortly after, my job took us to the East Coast, but my parents kept up the relationship with Bob over the next 30+ years.

30+ years of wines in the Qupé library.

30+ years of wines in the Qupé library.

In that 30+ year interval, all Bob did was to build Qupé into the leading producer of Syrah on the Central Coast of California, establish the Central Coast as a valid and valuable growing region for Rhône varietals and establish himself as one of the godfathers of those varietals in the state. That’s quite a résumé. We reconnected with Bob at last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, and he was our first call when we starting planning our trip to the Santa Ynez Valley this year. He didn’t have a lot of spare time, so he invited us to come to the winery and share their daily staff lunch. As befits a godfather, he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: Come to the winery, located in the middle of the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard, taste Qupe and Au Bon Climat (ABC) wines (Au Bon Climat, headed by Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and Chardonnay pioneer Jim Clendenen, shares the winery with Qupe), and have lunch with Bob and the winery team.

This was one of the most memorable meals we’ve ever had. Kudos to Enrique, Bob’s cellar master, for the meal: flank steak, spare ribs, fava beans and kale, braised cabbage, salad and garlic bread, served buffet style in the winery. Aside from Bob and Enrique, joining us for lunch were Katie, their marketing person, Marc Piro, who while he has no official title is essentially the assistant winemaker, and Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, Bob’s wife. As we sat down at the table we noticed the line up of wines:

The lunch table at Qupé Winery.

The lunch table at Qupé Winery.

Qupé 2012 Syrah Central Coast
Verdad 2012 Tempranillo, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard
Armida 2013 Parmelee-Hill Zinfandel
Armida 2013 Il Campo, Dry Creek Valley (field blend of about 80% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, estate grown)
Qupé 2011 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, Highland Bench

Since they had to work after lunch, and we had to drive, there were individual spit cups lined up on the table, as well as larger buckets. You’ll notice some white wines in the photo, but since this was really a red wine meal, I quickly skipped and spit through the whites to get to the reds.

The Central Coast Syrah from Qupé is their largest production wine. Grapes from all three vineyards that they source from are included. This is a really nice Syrah, and at $20 per bottle it’s a great value.

Verdad Wines is Louisa’s brand. She’s been in the wine business for decades herself, starting on the sales and marketing side of the business. The Tempranillo grapes come from a vineyard Louisa and Bob planted in the Edna Valley area, closer to San Luis Obispo than to Santa Ynez. The vineyard, the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, is farmed biodynamically. Tempranillo is an underappreciated varietal in California, with our abundance of great reds. But Tempranillo, cared for properly, can have complexity and subtlety and can age well. I’m not sure how the Verdad wines will age, as we were drinking fairly young wines, but this was among the best Tempranillo we’ve had from California. While we drank and enjoyed the 2012 Tempranillo with lunch, we bought a bottle of both the 2012 and 2011, so we could compare vintages at some point in the future.

Armida is the winery our son, Brandon (Winemaker B), works for. We figured that a) bringing wine for lunch would be a good way to pay for lunch, and b) that bringing Zinfandel, the flagship grape for Armida, would be the way to go. Also, while there is Zinfandel grown in the Paso Robles area, there’s really none in Santa Barbara County, so Bob and team don’t get to try to many Zinfandels. The Il Campo was as expected, fruity and big, with the Petite Sirah boosting the body of the Zinfandel as it’s supposed to. The Parmelee-Hill was as we expected, but not what Bob expected. This vineyard is in Sonoma County, not too far from the Carneros region, and therefore is a much colder vineyard for Zinfandel than usual. And it produces a much more nuanced Zinfandel than most in California. Delicious.

One block of Bien Nacido Vineyard, near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County

One block of Bien Nacido Vineyard, near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County

The Qupé 2011 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, Highland Bench is the flagship wine for Qupé. Bob doesn’t make a huge amount of this wine; he can’t, there aren’t enough grapes in the block. But this wine gets special care, and it shows. This was Syrah with restraint, Syrah that was showing off its style on the catwalk and you wanted to see it from all angles, noticing the little touches and subtle flair in the execution. This was Syrah produced by an experienced hand, comfortable in his own skin, not trying to impress anyone but just making the wine he wants to make.

Best. Lunch. Ever.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Carr Winery Shows Off Area Varietals

Carr tasting room in Santa Barbara

Carr Winery in Santa Barbara

We met Ryan and Jessica Carr last year at the Wine Bloggers Conference, and enjoyed talking with them and drinking their wine. Actually, I only got to try the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir as part of the Pinot Noir Heaven tasting night, and their Pinot Gris was worthy of special mention that night. Ryan started out doing vineyard management and still does that, and Carr Vineyards & Winery gets their grapes from vineyards Ryan manages. This knowledge of the grapes shows up in their wines. A good example of the old adage that the first job of the winemaker is to get out of the way of the grapes.

Painting on display at Carr Winery

Painting on display at Carr Winery

Carr was our last tasting stop on this trip. Their bottle storage, and a tasting room, is in the Santa Ynez Valley, and the wine making and another tasting room are in downtown Santa Barbara. It was the Santa Barbara site that we visited. Small facility, but they have a nice tasting bar and can accommodate more than a few people for tasting. They also feature a couple of local artists in the Santa Barbara tasting room, with different artists each month.

Jessica was in the tasting room, and led us through their wines. The Pinot Gris that I liked so much a year ago was great again, now in the 2014 vintage. We bought a couple of bottles of this, and opened one the next night with a Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup.

In addition to the Pinot Gris, we really liked their Rhône varietal wines. The 2014 Crosshatch white blend (70% Viognier, 30% Marsanne) was very nice, as was their 2012 Syrah (Morehouse Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley). Our favorite was their 2012 Grenache, with the grapes coming from the Paredon Vineyard in Carpenteria, just south along the coast from Santa Barbara, and not from the Santa Ynez Valley. The vineyard is high up, at 1200 feet, so above the fog and direct marine influences, but still a cold climate vineyard. The Grenache was deep red, full bodied, fruity and just plain delicious.

Oil companies self-promotion at a Santa Barbara beach park

Oil companies self-promotion at a Santa Barbara beach park

As we were leaving the Santa Barbara area, we stopped at a beach park that we had never seen before. It appears that the park was built by the oil companies that support the offshore oil rigs and other oil activities in the area. Seems to me that building a small park is an absurdly low price for them to pay for the environmental damage they’ve inflicted on the Santa Barbara coast and channel. But maybe those oil execs feel better now, and can sleep at night.

Oil rigs off the coast of Santa Barbara

Oil rigs off the coast of Santa Barbara

L’Chaim,

Larry

Dierberg and Star Lane Make a Great Pairing

Dierberg and Star Lane share a beautiful tasting room in the Santa Rita Hills area.

Dierberg and Star Lane share a beautiful tasting room in the Santa Rita Hills area.

The Santa Barbara County area – Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria – is known for producing very good Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah (and other Rhône varietals). So we went to the Dierberg – Star Lane tasting room, in the heart of the Santa Rita Hills AVA, the original Pinot Noir growing region in the Santa Ynez Valley, with an eye to taste the Pinot Noir.

The garden at Dierberg Estate Vineyard.

The garden at Dierberg Estate Vineyard.

Dierberg Estate Vineyard and Star Lane Vineyard are the two brand names that the Dierberg family uses for their wines, with the Dierberg label used for the Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah, and the Star Lane label used for the Sauvignon Blanc and red Bordeaux varietals grown at the Star Lane Vineyard in the warmer Happy Canyon area of Santa Ynez Valley. The tasting room serves wines from both brands, and is located at their Drum Canyon Vineyard. They also have a third vineyard, producing grapes for the Dierberg label, in the Santa Maria area.

Bean bag toss at Dierberg.

Bean bag toss at Dierberg.

As I said, we were looking to taste their Pinot Noir, and we got to do that. But we were also able to taste the Star Lane wines, and these were a revelation. An excellent Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc, really well balanced, led off the tasting. (Yes, bought a bottle of the Sauv Blanc.) After going through some of the Dierberg Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, we went to the Star Lane Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignons. They make a few variations on these, ranging from a Cabernet Franc at about 90% Cab Franc, to a standard Cabernet Sauvignon (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec), to a high end Cabernet Sauvignon (called “Astral”, with just Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), to the “Roots” Cabernet Sauvignon. This last has just a bit of Merlot blended in (4%), with the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes coming from a block of the Star Lane Vineyard that was planted with actual Cabernet Sauvignon root stock instead of the usual American grape root stock with grafting of the Cabernet Sauvignon. The Astral was very good, very balanced, as one would expect from their high end wine. But the Roots caught our attention. There was a lot going on there, from the fruit in the nose and the entry, to the big body, to the tannins on the finish. Loved it, had to buy a couple of bottles.

We were seated outside for the tasting. Beautiful day, beautiful wines. Our tasting was led by Megan, who has already passed her first level sommelier exam and is studying for the second level. She was incredibly knowledgeable, and responded to both our basic and advanced questions with easy to understand answers. So a great tasting experience also. Megan thinks the Astral will age better than the Roots, but I put my money (literally) on the Roots Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ll check back in 10 years or so and see where we are on this one.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Mirabelle Tasting Menu Including Wine Pairing

While Lori and I were in the Santa Ynez Valley for the Wine Bloggers Conference, we took ourselves out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. My brother and his wife recommended the Mirabelle Inn Restaurant, in nearby Solvang, where they had eaten within the last year. With no other information to go on, and because our tastes are similar, we went with it. Great choice.

mirabelle_menu
Mirabelle Tasting Menu

It turns out that the Mirabelle has a tasting menu, including wine pairings. The menu for our meal is shown above, including the wine pairings, which we had. Photos of the individual dishes are below. Each dish and wine were great individually and paired together. It’s hard to say which would be my favorite. Maybe the ceviche, as I’ve long held that I could live on ceviche and margaritas and nothing else. But the duck was so good, not too sweet, and they gave us a spoon for the sauce. The lamb was cooked perfectly, and I didn’t care how fancy the restaurant was (maybe 8 on a 10 scale), I was going to gnaw on the bones. I’m not a real lover of white chocolate, nor of flan, but perhaps the best course was the dessert with the Muscat.

The Mirabelle dining room is quaint and small, with only about 12 tables. If you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend making a reservation at the Mirabelle for dinner.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Our First Time Tasting Pinot Noir

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.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Whirlwind Trip to the Central Coast

My head is still spinning! We are back in Dublin, getting back to our regular routine after having a whirlwind 5 day trip down to the Central Coast wine region. We left last Thursday morning and drove about 2 hours south and found our first winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands wine growing region of Monterey County. We stopped at Pessagno Winery in Gonzales just outside of Salinas. Then we drove about 10 minutes farther south to Hahn Estates in Soledad. Both of these tasting experiences will be written in a future blog. We stopped for lunch in Soledad and had a delicious Mexican meal.

We then hit the road for our destination of Buellton which is about 1/2 hour south of Santa Maria and about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara, smack dab in the middle of the Santa Barbara Wine Country. We checked into the Marriott Courtyard and had just enough time to unpack and change into something nicer for our anniversary dinner we were about to venture on.

We went to Mirabelle Restaurant located at the Mirabelle Inn, just off the main highway in Solvang. Larry and I were celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary a couple days early due to the fact that we were going to be busy at the Wine Bloggers Conference on the actual day of our anniversary. We looked at the menu and decided to go with the Chef’s Tasting Menu with with the wine pairing. This turned out to be a very delicious meal, and however great the service was, it was a bit rushed and we found ourselves done with our 4-course meal in 1-1/2 hours!

It turned out to be alright since we still had quite the agenda ahead of us with registration and expo with wine tasting back at the hotel. We even had an excursion at 10:00 that evening to Standing Sun Wines where there was a wine tasting of that winery but also over a dozen other wineries were represented there from the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association. They had a beautiful display of desserts of which I passed on since we had just had dessert with our meal. After we sampled wines for awhile we then sat outside around their fire pit and enjoyed meeting fellow wine bloggers.

The next two days were filled with wine tastings, both from the U.S. and from around the world; food pairings, seminars, workshops, keynote speaker, excursions to wineries, blog awards, etc. When Sunday morning came around and we finished the last 2-hour workshops we were ready to start heading back north. We only had to go one hour as we were heading to San Luis Obispo. We were going to be staying right in town at a very nice boutique hotel, the Granada Hotel and Bistro. Our room was ready and they let us check in at 1pm! We ordered in room service to our room and watched the final game of the World Cup. We enjoyed this very much as we had been watching a great deal of the games throughout the world cup series. After the game was over we walked around town, did some shopping and found a nice restaurant, Luna Red, where we ordered happy hour snacks and sangrias.

The next morning we left to head back to Dublin with stops at 3 wineries in Paso Robles, lunch and a massage. The wineries we stopped at were Niner Wine Estates, Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden and Derby Wine Estates. Each of these were very different from each other and we really enjoyed our experience at each of them. We had lunch at Berry Hill Bistro in the square. We left Paso Robles around 4pm strategically planned so we would miss most of the work traffic up in San Jose. We got home around 7pm. All the animals were good and very happy to see us. We brought in all the literature and business cards that we acquired over the long weekend and now need to decipher through it all. That will take some time. Keep posted as I will be writing more details about the specific wineries, restaurants and highlights from the Wine Bloggers Conference, #WBC14.

Cheers,

Lori

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014

We are getting ready for another road trip. This time we are heading down south to Buellton which is in Santa Barbara County. It’s about 1/2 hour north from Santa Barbara. We are heading there specifically to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014, #wbc14. We went to the first and second wine bloggers conference when they were held up in Santa Rosa. The first year, 2009, they concentrated on the wines from Sonoma County and in 2010 they concentrated on the wines from Napa Valley. We had so much fun and met so many nice and interesting people. This year we are very much looking forward to learning more about the Santa Barbara County wines. We will be doing a lot of tasting wine, pairing wine with food, wine blogging, learning and networking with other wine bloggers.

We are leaving Dublin on Thursday and stopping along the way at two wineries in the Central Coast region. More on those in a later post. We are going to be staying at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott and going out to dinner at Mirabelle Restaurant in Solvang. This restaurant was suggested highly to us by my brother-in-law. After 2-1/2 days at the conference we will end our stay in Buelleton by watching the final Wold Cup game. Once that game is over then we will be heading up to San Luis Obispo to the Granada Hotel. This is a small boutique hotel near the center of town. There we will be celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary. We will most likely have dinner in the bistro at the hotel. On Monday we will drive back up to Dublin stopping at one or two wineries along the way.

Cheers,

Lori