Tag Archives: Santa Ynez Valley

Santa Cruz Thanksgiving

Lori and I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Aptos, a little town just south of Santa Cruz (actually it’s east of Santa Cruz, but you have to go “south” on Highway 1 to get there), in our vacation house just a 10 minute walk from the beach (Seacliff State Park). It was a great week from a weather point of view, with only one day of rain. There were great sunsets, as you see above, and great ocean views.

We were joined there for the holiday, and a couple of days on either side of it, by Winemaker B and his family. This meant some interesting wines for the meals, from his cellar and ours. Here’s a quick rundown:

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Buena Tierra Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Crosshatch (Carr Vineyards & Winery) 2010 white blend, Santa Ynez Valley
Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Old Vines, Lodi

This doesn’t include the wines for the Thanksgiving meal, which won’t be talked about here. (We opened a vertical of Syrah from a single winery, and it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Nice to have opened the bottles, and they were quite nice with the turkey, but not a highlight to spend time on.)

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead 2005 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Buena Tierra Vineyard

Woodenhead Pinot Noir: This is a small winery in the Russian River Valley (RRV), specializing in Pinot Noir. We did an interview with Zina Bower, the co-owner, in the early days of the ViciVino.com website. This bottle was what I like to think the RRV does best, Pinot Noir with some restraint, delicacy and subtlety. After 10 years this wine was all we expected, balanced from nose through entry through mid-mouth through finish. Not real heavy bodied, it went great with a shrimp stir fry we cooked on the barbeque. We have consistently liked their Pinot Noir; unfortunately this was our last bottle. Time to go up and buy a few more.

cross_hatch_white_blend

Crosshatch: This is the brand name for some interesting blends from Carr Vineyards & Winery in Santa Barbara. We enjoyed our visit to their tasting room this past summer, and really loved how they handle Rhone varietals. The reds we bought — Syrah and Grenache — will sit for another few years, but this white was ready now. The Crosshatch white blend is 70% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, and was delicious. Definitely ready to drink.

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards 2006 Zinfandel, Lodi Old Vines, Schmierer Vineyard

Soquel Vineyards: We’ve mentioned Soquel Vineyards a few times before in blogs, including writing about the 2004 vintage of this same Zinfandel. Soquel consistently produces excellent wines, and their tasting room is a great experience. The 2006 Zinfandel was lovely, sort of the “Mama Bear” wine: Not too big, not too soft, aged just right for drinking over the holiday.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Harrison Clarke for Rhônes

At the Wine Bloggers Conference last year, one of the sessions was on Ballard Canyon AVA Syrahs. Ballard Canyon is one of the newest AVAs in the Santa Ynez Valley, and has made its reputation based on the Syrahs and other Rhône varietals that are typically grown there. I tried Syrahs from 7 different wineries in that session, with typically two vintages per winery.

Panel on Ballard Canyon Syrahs at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

Panel on Ballard Canyon Syrahs at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

One winemaker on the panel described Syrah by comparing the wines from this varietal to the dancing hippos from the movie Fantasia, but substituting the dangerous animals of the Nile for the cute animated hippos. (The music to that scene is Dance of the Hours, by Amilcare Ponchielli.) Not a bad analogy: Syrahs can be big and bold and graceful, and dangerous to novice winemakers.

Regarding the wines from the seminar, my favorite was the 2010 Syrah from Harrison Clarke Vineyards. It was still a bit young, but to my tastes a better balanced wine than any of the others, one that would have been great with a meal. So when Lori and I went to Santa Ynez Valley in July, a visit Harrison Clarke was high on our list.

We started with a tour of their vineyards, about 12 acres currently planted, with Roger Harrison. An interesting walk, as we seemed to stop every 5 steps for another 2 minutes of discussion about one aspect or another about the vineyard: differences between the top of the hill and the bottom, differences between the edge of the vineyard near a tree and the middle of the vineyard, differences between newer and older vines, differences between the Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre that they have planted their. Roger is in the vineyards every day, and his love of the grapes was obvious. By the way, they’ve also got a great view from the vineyard down Ballard Canyon.

Hilarie Clarke outside the Harrison Clarke winery.

Hilarie Clarke outside the Harrison Clarke winery.

We then adjourned to the winery and tasted with Hilarie Clark, whose love for her wines was as compelling as Roger’s love for his grapes. She’s no novice; the wines were big and bold and graceful, as I remembered from a year ago. Not only are they growing other Rhône varietals, they are making those wines. So we tasted Syrahs, and GSM (Grenache / Syrah / Mourvèdre) blends. There was also a very nice rosé of Grenache. We liked it all, but choices had to be made. In the end, the wines that made the cut and got taken home with us were

2011 Eve e Marie (70% Syrah, 30% Grenache blend)
2011 Cuvee Charlotte Syrah

Now we have a dilemma: We want to open these wines, but we also want to let them age for a few years or more. It’s a tough problem, but somehow we’ll face up to the challenge.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Mosby Features Italian Varietals

Mosby Winery

Mosby Winery

Why Italian varietals? Why Italian varietals in the Santa Ynez Valley, when other grapes grow so well? Sorry, I don’t know, but I do know that I enjoy going to Mosby Winery and tasting Bill Mosby’s Italian varietal wines, like Pinot Grigio, Cortese, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Lagrein and more. Most of the grapes are grown by Mosby, but a few wines are imported from Italy.

The last time we visited Mosby was 2003, on a visit to Santa Barbara to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday. There’s a photograph that was taken on that visit that is etched in my mind, of my father, myself and my two sons lined up at the Mosby tasting room bar. Unfortunately, I can’t find the photo, and I’m pretty sure it was taken with film and not on a digital camera. (Remember those days of old?) Probably in a box in the garage.

Lori and Larry (right) with our cousins at Mosby

Lori and Larry (right) with our cousins at Mosby

On this visit my cousins met us at Mosby. We went through a number of the Mosby wines, with Louise helping us through the tasting. We really enjoyed the Pinot Grigio and the Cortese of the whites, and all of the reds we tasted. Our favorite was the 2008 “La Seduzione”, made from Lagrein grapes. We bought a couple bottles of this, and opened one of these just the other night with a dinner of homemade falafel, tabbouleh (a salad of parsley, mint, bulgar, feta cheese, and whatever else you’d like) and halva for dessert. The La Seduzione was a great complement to the middle eastern flavors of the meal, with a relatively light body but nice fruit flavors.

Mosby 2008 La Seduzione (Lagrein grapes)

Mosby 2008 La Seduzione (Lagrein grapes)

In addition to making excellent wine, the Mosby labels provide some of the best art in the wine world. Almost worth the visit just to see all the labels.

Vineyards at Mosby.  The flag on the right is a pre-revolution "Sons of Liberty" flag.

Vineyards at Mosby. The flag on the right is a pre-revolution “Sons of Liberty” flag.

Mosby flies a U.S. flag at the winery and vineyards, and also a second flag. This second flag gets rotated every few weeks we were told. When we were there it was a variant of the Sons of Liberty flag, a pre-revolution flag of the U.S.

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

Central Coast Wine Trip Itinerary

Lori and I just completed a short trip to the Central Coast of California (Santa Barbara through Paso Robles) to celebrate our anniversary. While more details about each winery will be provided in future posts, here’s the itinerary we followed:

Monday 13 July

Drive from home to Paso Robles
Lunch at Basil, Paso Robles (on the main square)
Chronic Cellars, Paso Robles
Presqu’ile Winery, Santa Maria
Dinner at Succulent Cafe, Solvang
Kronborg Inn, Solvang

Tuesday 14 July

Qupé, tasting and lunch at the winery in Santa Maria (not tasting room)
Mosby Winery, Buellton
Dierberg / Star Lane, Lompoc
Dinner at Industrial Eats, Buellton

Wednesday 15 July

Zaca Mesa, Los Olivos
Foxen Winery, Santa Maria
Lunch at Los Olivos Café, Los Olivos
Harrison Clarke, Solvang
Dragonette Cellars, Los Olivos
Dinner at Ballard Inn, Ballard

Thursday 16 July

Lunch at Cold Springs Tavern, Santa Barbara
Carr Winery, Santa Barbara

For a wine tasting trip like this, I highly recommend the sniff/swirl/spit technique. Although all tasting rooms have dump buckets for extra wine, these can be awkward for spitting, so bring a paper cup (one for each day) for spitting. Doing this will keep you able to drive, keep your taste buds fresher, and leave you with more energy at the end of the day.

Wine on the floor of the hotel room

Wine on the floor of the hotel room

Some of the places we had visited before (including 25 years ago when we lived in the Santa Barbara area), some of the winemakers we had met at the Wine Bloggers Conference last year (WBC posts), some we had tasted wine from at some time in the recent past, and some were chosen just on reputation. We had set ourselves a budget for the wine we were going to buy on the trip, not in terms of dollars but in terms of numbers of bottles. With a budget of 2 cases, we bought 2.75 cases (33 bottles). It will be tight, but I know I can fit the extra 9 bottles into our wine refrigerator.

When we had previously lived in the area, our favorite restaurant was the Cold Springs Tavern. This is a 100+ year old stagecoach stop at the top of San Marcos Pass, between Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley. It looks essentially the same as 25 years ago, which is probably pretty much the same as 100 years ago. They have a reputation for game meats. Lori had the venison sausage burger, which was great. I had the chili sampler, which included cups of their original chili (beef/tomato), pork chili verde, and black bean and game (buffalo, rabbit, venison) chili. Wonderful. One of those rare places that was just as good revisited as it was in our memory.

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