Tags Posts tagged with "Santa Barbara County"

Santa Barbara County

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I spent over a month deep in harvest this year here on the West Coast of the United States.

First, I did a journalistic deep dive following the team led by Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman in Lompoc for nine days through harvest getting first hand insight into the winemaking that goes into their three labels – Domaine de la Cote, Sandhi, and Evening Land – and a little bit of Piedrasassi and Combe as well. It was an incredible opportunity to truly see how they make their wines, shadowing the team in every stage of harvest from calling picks all the way through barreling down after fermentations are complete. The first seven days were spent with their team in their winery in Lompoc processing fruit from Sta Rita Hills. Then for two days Sashi and I went to the southern part of Willamette Valley so I could shadow the team there working with fruit from the Seven Springs Vineyard for their Evening Land project. The nine days were non-stop busy with full harvest hours.

After checking out the Seven Springs project, we flew back to Santa Barbara County and I drove from Lompoc to the northern part of Willamette Valley to work as an intern at the Carlton Winemakers’ Studio. More on that later.

I’ll be writing over the next months in a few different ways about my time with Sashi and Raj, but for now, here’s a look back at the Instagram collection from harvest with them and their team to give you a better sense of what harvest looked like. Integral to their philosophy about wine and winemaking is tasting wines from around the world that connect to the wine type or variety they are making, as well as enjoying wines that they admire, so there are also photos of some of those wines we tasted along the way.

 

Owning Trousseau. @rajatparr @duncanarnot @ownrooted

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Syrah? Yes.

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Chardonnay juice fresh picked this morning for Sandhi. #santabarbaracountywine @sandhiwines

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The actual wines from the 2011 Syrah blind tasting? … @sashimoorman @rajatparr

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There are clear reasons someone like Raj Parr has risen to such prominence and regard in the world of wine. The wines he has tasted repeatedly at different ages and stages in his life is one. His tasting experience revolves around the finest, rarest and oldest classical wines of the world. The memory he has for what truly seems like any wine he tastes is another. He can readily recount what wine he was drinking in what year and talk easily about how it tastes that time versus another time when he drank it again. The incisive clarity with which he combines these assets of tasting history and memory for it though ultimately deserves the regard he’s gained. It’s a level of insight few have. Last night he let me read through his November 1998 notebook written during his first trip to Burgundy while working as a sommelier at Rubicon as the assistant to Larry Stone. In the back were also loose pages of other wines tasted in the same time period. There I found this tasting note for the 1865 Lafite, a wine he has enjoyed again many times since, and continues to view as one of the best wines he has had in his life. Just his description here of the wine and his response to it captures for me so much about how Raj views wine, what he values in it, what he loves and that coupled with following the Domaine de la Côte crew this week has shined a light into what this Pinot project is about. The conversations with Raj, Sashi and John have been invaluable and their kindness in letting me do grunt work and be part of everything. It’s been a huge honor to have this time and I am super grateful for being given these glimpses, like this notebook, of lives lived in pursuit of beauty, taste, service and excellence. @rajatparr @sashimoorman @domainedelacote

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Oh, Pierre, you big tease. I love you. #champagne

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Holy moly this is good. Indian street food from Bollywood Theatre, Portland. #indianfoodforthewin

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Strange beauty full of intrigue and so alluring. Wonderful wine. #champagne

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Rain in Willamette Valley. #willamettevalley

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Walking Seven Springs Vineyard #Repost @sashimoorman

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To check out how my harvest in the Willamette Valley went, read about it here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2016/10/18/harvest-in-willamette-valley/

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Understanding California Nebbiolo in Wine Business Monthly, August 2016

Wine Business Monthly

California Winemakers Trying to Make Sense of the Variety in Differing Conditions

In California, a small cadre of producers have been striving to understand the particular needs of Nebbiolo in their home state. Among them are Jim Clendenen of Clendenen Family Vineyards and Palmina owner/ winemaker Steve Clifton, who have worked with the variety the longest.

Nebbiolo’s potential quality is celebrated in the great wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. Along with aging requirements in cellar, the cultivar’s response to very particular soil types and climate conditions legally define quality desig- nations for Nebbiolo in Italy, differentiating from the highest designations like Barolo or Barbaresco, to the broader regional designation of Langhe. Vine age also proves relevant. The variety’s combination of high tannin and elevated acidity tends to be unruly in young vines, showing finer balance as the vineyard ages.

“The most important thing I ever did was learn from the guys in Piedmont,” Jim Clendenen said. He’s referring to his time spent in Piedmont to hone his Clendenen Family Vineyards Nebbiolo, which is based in Santa Barbara County. “You don’t have to copy them when you learn from them,” he said. Copying Italian techniques to Nebbiolo has its natural limits with the differing conditions found in California.

While Clendenen made his first Nebbiolo in 1986, planting his own site in 1994 to better control the farming, Clifton began making Nebbiolo in 1997, farming multiple sites in Santa Barbara County for the cultivar. Palmina focuses entirely on Italian varieties, and, like Clendenen, Clifton has spent time learning techniques directly from producers in Piedmont. He also emphasizes that the techniques he relies upon for Nebbiolo differ from those suited to any other variety with which he’s worked, including other Italian cultivars.

California Nebbiolo in the Vineyard

Though the variety arrived in California in the late 1800s, today 162 acres of Nebbiolo are established, according to the latest Grape Acreage Report compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service. Vineyards growing the grape are dotted throughout California but few existing today were planted before the 1990s.

To continue reading this article check out the August 2016 issue of Wine Business Monthly. The article is available beginning on page 32 of the print edition. Or, if you’re interested in reading the magazine electronically you can find it as a downloadable PDF or in a scrollable format.

You can check out the online edition here: http://www.winebusiness.com/wbm/?go=getDigitalIssue&issueId=8599

Cheers!

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Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the vineyards of Adelaida estate

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the Adelaida Cellars vineyards, July 2015

Last year I fell in love with the wines of Jeremy Weintraub. Though I’d enjoyed his wines from Seavey before, I’d done so unwittingly, drinking them simply for pleasure without knowledge of the winemaker. Then last summer I had the good fortune of touring Adelaida Cellars in the historic Adelaida District on the western side of Paso Robles, enjoying vintages early in its history, then forward again to the first of Weintraub’s. After the visit I continued tasting newer releases of Adelaida wines, and discovered too his own Site Wines label.

Last month Weintraub hosted me again for a unique opportunity to discuss his work across labels, tasting current releases of Site, Adelaida, and an older vintage of Seavey (2009) side by side. What proves central to Weintraub’s approach to winemaking is a quest for intimacy with the vineyard rooted in an eye towards refinement.

Weintraub began consulting with Adelaida’s Cabernet program in 2012 and became winemaker in 2013, moving from his winemaking position at Seavey in Napa Valley that he’d started in 2008. As he began at Adelaida he also started his own small production Site Wines label, focused on vineyards of Santa Barbara County. Weintraub’s experience is extensive. Prior to his work at Seavey he had already worked in both Paso and Santa Barbara County, interned in Tuscany, Central Otago, Martinborough, and Long Island, and earned an MS in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.

Seavey 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

It is Weintraub’s previous position as winemaker that makes the sense of refinement central to his approach most obviously visible. Prior to Adelaida, Weintraub led the winemaking team at Seavey, one of the most under appreciated estates of Napa Valley. It’s one of those vineyards that reminds us of the very specific value of site, showcasing a quality that surpasses that of its neighbors.

The Seavey’s dry-farmed, hillside vineyards, in the heart of Napa’s Conn Valley, are well-placed to absorb ample sun, delivering dark flavor characteristics and abundant tannin. Yet it sits close enough to the cooling and mineral influences of Conn Creek and Lake Hennessey to also intimate notes of rose, violet, iron and spice, a complexity infused with dusty elegance. Picked to celebrate the wash of acidity possible with the site, vinified for judicious tannin management, and clothed by just a sheer chiffon of oak spice, Weintraub’s 2009 Seavey Cabernet reminds us what Napa Valley does at its best is seamlessness. It’s one of those rare wines that brings a pinching sting to remember, the thought that I might not drink it again.

But, while Weintraub’s time at Seavey clearly showcases the refinement of his approach, it is perhaps in his current work at Adelaida that his talent for it becomes most apparent. When a winemaker is lucky enough to work with a site like Seavey it can be easy to mistake the important synchronicity of winemaker to vineyard as either based all in site quality or all in winemaking. Through his work at Adelaida, a more complicated and varied site than his prior home in Napa, the skill of his craft becomes more apparent.

Established in 1981, Adelaida began farming and planting its own vines in the early 1990s, having sourced fruit prior to then. The site now includes a unique range of varieties from the high elevation Cabernet of their Viking Vineyard, to the steep, rolling knoll of Michael’s dry-farmed, head-trained Zinfandel; the limestone established Rhone varieties that sweep the property, and the swailed chute of historic Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay in the 1960s-planted HMR Vineyard. All together Adelaida’s estate vineyards include 145 planted acres, one-third of which is dry-farmed while the rest is being weened over to dry farming, a shift made in response to the recent California drought and in conjunction with hiring Weintraub.

Adelaida HMR Pinot

Adelaida HMR Pinot from 2013, 2009, 2002, 1995; HMR was planted in 1964 in a distinctly cooler microclimate on the western side of the Adelaida estate

Tasting through vintage verticals of Adelaida wines, most particularly the famous HMR pinot, Weintraub’s shift in quality becomes apparent. Established in the mid-1960s, then purchased by Adelaida in 1991, the earliest vintages of Adelaida’s HMR Pinots have aged beautifully, picked for freshness and woven through with accents of American oak. By the early 2000s, the winemaking has shifted entirely to French oak but also to greater extraction and apparently less age-ability. Then in 2013, like an optometrist flipping the lens in an eye exam, the wine moves into clear focus and the vineyard character reads distinctly, a wine fine-boned and persistent with creamy cherry blossom, and spicy crunch, nice tension and length.

The HMR also offers another revelation.

Adelaida 2014 Gamay

Part of the uniqueness of the HMR Pinot rested in its inter-planting of 51-year old Gamay vines, by far the oldest Gamay in California and an unheard of gold mine hidden in the hills of western Paso Robles. Prior to Weintraub’s arrival, the Gamay had been vinified into the HMR Pinot. By 2014, Weintraub convinced the Adelaida team it was time to uncover their treasure and take the Gamay seriously as its own wine. Borrowing a guiding insight from Cru Beaujolais, they foot stomped their Gamay with 50% whole cluster inclusion. The result is an energetic, pleasantly structured, earthy wine with hints of spice, a wash of minerality, and just enough fruit, with the lifted aromatics of a pretty Brouilly.

Current Release Site Wines

Site Wines 2013 Roussanne, 2012 Grenache, 2012 Syrah, 2012 Red blend

Weintraub’s work in his own project, his small production Site wines, makes clear his ability to read a vineyard. The quality of winemaking for his own label thus confirms the promise of his on going work with the Adelaida estate. In sourcing fruit from a range of sites in a region in a committed fashion, a winemaker is given the best opportunity to get to know the distinct overall characteristics of that region, but also to express most clearly his or her own winemaking aims.  Here, Weintraub has chosen to focus on Santa Barbara County. The result is a collection of five distinct Rhone wines, two varietal whites and two varietal reds and a red blend.

My favorite of the Site wines proves to be one of the prettiest Roussannes in California in both the 2012, and especially the 2013 vintage, sourced from the Stolpman Vineyard of Ballard Canyon. He also produces a Viognier that, in both 2012 and 2013 by avoiding the exuberant aromatics commonly found in California Viognier, masquerades as delicate until its persistent, while still subtle, expression across the palate becomes apparent.  And finally also two concentrated while still mouthwatering Rhone reds, a Grenache from Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon, and a Syrah from Bien Nacido of Santa Maria Valley, plus a Rhone red blend from Larner, each with the promise to age.

The Site wines are delicious and freshly energetic but it is also in speaking with Weintraub about each of these vineyards that his perspective shines. The intimacy Weintraub shows with the sites is impressive and detailed, the insights of a winegrower with as much a love for biology as beauty. The same balance shows in his on going familiarity with Adelaida’s vast vineyard holdings.

Adelaida Current Release Wines

Adelaida Cellars new look: 2014 Picpoul, 2014 Gamay, 2013 Viking Bordeaux blend, 2013 Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet

Weintraub’s winemaking at Adelaida produces a broad range of delicious and drinkable wines, but it is also an enormous estate with a vast range of plantings. In practical terms, such a large site also takes time for any winemaker to know, whatever their depth of talent. It can also mean some of the vineyards’ wines seem to have greater synchronicity from vine to wine through winemaker than others.

While each of the wines of Adelaida today is far more than drinkable, I find that synchronicity most elegantly through Weintraub’s 2014 Adelaida Gamay and Picpoul. While the 2013 Picpoul was a lovely wine, the balance of mouthwatering acidity to pretty fleshiness in the 2014 is inspiring. As paradoxical as it can seem when considering Paso Robles heat, it is the Adelaida whites, especially the Rhone varieties, and lighter reds I find most thrilling. In these I eagerly await seeing how they develop with on going vintages.

Turning to the more robust wines, the recent release of the Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet, the 2013, is not yet showing what it has to offer – currently feeling sweet and simple on the palate as it finds its way through its first years of baby fat while also promising to become more lithe and agile with age. The Viking Bordeaux blend from 2013, on the other hand, delivers an earthy grace that by the third day open is singing, an early indication of where it will get with age.

Speaking with Weintraub about his ongoing intimacy with the estate, I am excited to continue following the development of the Adelaida Rhone wine and Cabernet program. While the Adelaida Estate will never deliver a wine like Seavey that is also its gift. Paso Robles carries vastly different character than Napa Valley. In the respectful hands of a winemaker like Weintraub its a character he’ll continue to hone with refinement.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Santa Barbara County Wine Country

At the top of Tierra Alta with Sonja Magdevski, John Belfy and Greg Brewer

As previously mentioned, some readers asked me to compile some of my Instagram photos from intensive regional visits here for easier access. This last week I made a three-day return to Santa Barbara County to do follow-up visits with a few producers I have had on going conversations. This summer I also traveled the region for eight days focusing most specifically on the Ballard Canyon sub-zone. With the dynamic intersection of varied soils, climate variation, changing terrain, etc, it is an interesting area for me to spend time tasting and wrapping my head around. I learn a wealth of insight every time I manage to walk a vineyard in Santa Barbara County (SBC).

Following is the Instagram photo collection from my eight days in SBC this summer, followed by photos from the recent three days. The timing also happens to coincide with a collection of tasting notes from Santa Barbara County that were just published on JancisRobinson.com. Between the two — the tasting notes and the photos here — there is a ton of information about SBC.

Thank you to those that have been following along there on Instagram and asked me to make the images available here!

If you’re interested in keeping up with my persistent wine travels and tastings, you can find me on Instagram as @hawk_wakawaka. Cheers!

First Stop Santa Barbara Wine Country: Casa Dumetz & Babi’s Beer Emporium


Deovlet Wines


Duvarita Vineyard: West of Santa Ynez Valley & Sta Rita Hills (that is closer to the ocean)

Rain storm in Santa Barbara County.

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Heading into Ballard Canyon: Tierra Alta Vineyard


Stolpman Vineyard

Peter + Jessica Stolpman standing in some of their Syrah growing at Stolpman Vineyards in the Ballard Canyon AVA of Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara. The earliest vineyards came to Ballard Canyon in the mid-1970s establishing a melange of varieties unsure of what would work. The Stolpman were the first of the second wave to plant in the small + distinctive region beginning at the start of the 1990s. Their plantings helped establish Syrah as the superstar of Ballard Canyon thanks to the work of early winemakers Ojai + Sine Qua Non, who in turned also secured the reputation of Stolpman Vineyard. In 2001, the family decided to also launch their own Stolpman Vineyards label. Today Peter + Jessica lead the management of the project working w Ruben Solorzano as lead viticulturist, Maria Solorzano as Vineyard Foreman + Sashi Moorman as Head Winemaker.

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Ruben Solorzano’s farming is highly regarded as much for its success in growing distinctive quality fruit as it is for his highly intuitive understanding of the vines. Here, on a narrow hillside planting of Syrah on Stolpman Vineyard, Ruben explains the benefits of their planting the vines w meter-by-meter spacing w the vines head trained, every other at an opposite angle leaning towards its neighbor so every two vines meet at the top to form a point. The unusual planting produces dappled sunlight while also creating a more insulated canopy since the vines effectively protect + shade each other. Only leaves face outward w the bulk of the vine inside the two-vine pyramid. As a result, the vine as a whole gets less direct sun exposure but with still ample photosynthesis. The result is less water stress thanks to less heat stress + more flavor development at lower sugars. Brilliant.

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Beckmen Estate Purisima Mountain

Steve Beckmen established his Beckmen Vineyards label in the early-mid 1990s initially making wine from a 1980s planted site in the recently proposed Los Olivos AVA while also sourcing fruit to get to know other vineyards through Santa Ynez Valley. After getting turned on to fruit in Ballard Canyon + really loving its distinctiveness (especially in the Syrah), he began looking for land to plant in the region. He began planting his Purisima Mountain Vineyard in Ballard Canyon in 1996, establishing it mainly to Syrah but also Grenache, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc + Sauvignon Blanc. Today, Steve leads the farming of the site himself with Demeter certified biodynamic practices. Sitting on the Northside of Ballard Canyon, Beckmen Vineyard (like Stolpman) grows almost entirely from Linne Clay mixed through w limestone gravel + sitting on limestone. Here we look South across Ballard Canyon from the very top of Beckmen Vineyard at 1200 ft elevation.

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Farming Grenache can be an incredible challenge. It likes to throw tight, very big clusters + lots of fruit but it also has rather sensitive skin compared to other Rhone varieties. Its tight clusters make it easy to get rot. It’s big clusters and lots of fruit make it harder to ripen but if a vine has too little fruit it likes to develop high sugars (which means high alcohol). Its sensitive skins make it prone to sunburn or color bleaching. As a result, vine balance + farming Grenache can be incredibly tricky. Even so, some of the most beautiful wines in the world are from Grenache. Here, Steve Beckmen has found Grenache on his Ballard Canyon Beckmen Vineyard thrives head trained w a low fruit zone. The bushy canopy shades the fruit + the challenge of growing in low vigor limestone w a daily cooling wind keeps cluster sizes generally low. Lower fruit zones in the right conditions also mean less stress on the vine + less water need.

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Jonata Estate Vineyard

Jonata winemaker Matt Dees takes me on a walk through Jonata Vineyard in Ballard Canyon. Planted at the start of the new Millennium, Jonata Vineyards proves unique for Ballard Canyon. It is the only Estate in the appellation focused on Bordeaux varieties, while also growing Syrah. The sandy soils of Jonata behave very differently than the Linne Clay north of Jonata. Sand includes significant drainage. In the case of Ballard Canyon, the sand also allows ripening of Bordeaux varieties where the clay would not. One of the advantages of clay also restricts its potential varieties. Because clay absorbs + holds moisture readily, it also absorbs Ballard Canyon’s cold night time fogs from the ocean. As a result, vineyards in clay take longer to warm in the day + also lock in more humidity. The ample drainage of Jonata’s sand allows the vines to receive the ambient temperature change at night without elongating the cold + humidity in the morning after the fog has cleared. With the slightly warmer + drier conditions, Cabernet Franc + Cabernet Sauvignon ripen on the site. The sand gives them ample while melting tannin while the cool nights give them mouth washing acidity. What is fascinating to me tasting Jonata wines is how utterly Jonata while still distinctly Ballard Canyon they are. That is, the site, Jonata Vineyard, has a unique recognizable signature in the wines while still carrying the character of the AVA. Jonata was planted by John Belfy + today is farmed by Ruben Solorzano.

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Saarloos & Son Watermill Ranch

Touring the Watermill Ranch, Saarloos + Sons’s terraced, dramatic hillside Ballard Canyon site, on ATV-quad (my favorite) w Keith Saarloos. The Saarloos family purchased the property originally to be Apple farmers as the site was previously planted w apple trees but after discovering the challenges of the apple industry they switched over to wine grapes in 1999. Farming the site themselves, the Saarloos have chosen to cultivate Syrah + Grenache. The vineyard grows between 750 + 1150 ft with a cold air drainage along the bottom that pulls cooling wind coming over the hills at the Northern boundary of Ballard Canyon through Saarloos + into the Southern half of the small AVA. Being in the Northern portion, their site rests in Adobe type clay, which carries tons of water holding capacity + cools the fruit further into the day. Windmill Ranch includes the most dramatic rolling hills of the appellation, which Keith describes as “like farming on a roller coaster.”

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Rusack Vineyards

Steve Gerbac has been part of the winemaking team for Rusack in Ballard Canyon since 2003 + leading it since 2012. Rusack Vineyards grows at the upper boundary of the Southern half of Ballard Canyon just below where the appellation becomes more predominantly sand. The vineyards grow between 600 + 700 ft in elevation well within the cooling fog + potential for spring frost or winter freeze. As a result the site has proven not quite warm enough for Sangiovese or Cabernet Franc but very good for Ballard Canyon’s signature grape, Syrah. The site does also still grow Merlot, Petit Verdot + Petite Sirah, as well as a fresh balanced Zinfandel. The Rusack site was previously home to the first vineyard in this area of the Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon Winery established in 1974. That first vineyard in the area was planted to a melange of varieties both warm + cool climate. When Rusack was established the vineyards were replanted. However, thanks to the historic winery location, today Rusack offers the only winery + tasting room in Ballard Canyon.

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Steve Gerbac, head winemaker of Rusack, has been keeping a steady hand at Rusack while also doing small scale experiments to shift the style towards greater freshness + clarity w still plenty of flavor. I asked him to talk about how he has approached exploring the change while finding balance w making a change over time. He offered some examples in the winemaking process. Here is some of what he had to say. “We’ve been shifting the wine style [at Rusack] in the last couple years to doing less to the wines. We’re bottling our first unfiltered Chardonnays now. You have to really change everything from how you grow the grapes to when you pick them to not filter the wine. You kind of have to rethink everything from the beginning or you run into trouble. You just do what you can + clarify the wines as you can [before bottling]. We’ve started fermenting Syrah [differently]. I don’t really like fermenting one clone at a time anymore. I pick [a few together] + co-ferment. I think it adds complexity. We’ve been playing w stems in Zinfandel + Petite Sirah. It’s a lot of little things that aren’t that much on their own that add up to a lot. I’d always been against stems coming from a [particular view of a] Pinot background. Now just a little bit here + there. I still don’t want to be able to pick it out in the finished wine but I don’t want to pick it out any more than I do any other thing either. It is just to add a little range + aromatic lift.” – Steve Gerbac

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While Rusack’s primary Estate rises from the soils of Ballard Canyon, they also farm, own + bottle wine from the one + only vineyard on Catalina Island of the coast of Los Angeles County. The site grows utterly distinctive Chardonnay, Pinot Noir + especially unique Zinfandel grown against the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Recently Rusack has been able to harvest fruit from cuttings of Zinfandel taken from Catalina Island now grown in Ballard Canyon. Tasting the two Zinfandels side by side is remarkable for how utterly distinct they prove to be. One concentrated, dense, + charismatic w the power of a life on the Pacific Ocean. The other dusty, mouthwatering + zesty like the terrain of Ballard Canyon. The Catalina Chardonnay is deceptively delicate, an almost lacey body of flavor somehow still powerful + mouthwatering w tons of length. The Pinot all savory + wild w windy freshness + saline crunchy length.

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Larner Vineyard

Standing at around 700 ft at the highest point of the Larner Vineyard property w Michael Larner we survey the Southern stretch of Ballard Canyon. The Southern portion (which include both Larner + Kimsey Vineyards) are within direct exposure to the cooling afternoon wind that blows off the Pacific across the extended east-west running Santa Ynez Valley. North of Larner, Ballard Canyon runs North-South still receiving an afternoon wind but at a different angle along the canyon floor, which is a bit protected by the Canyon’s more exposed hilltops. Michael’s professional training as an academic geologist served in researching the conditions of Ballard Canyon to prepare a petition for AVA status, which was approved in 2013. As Michael explains, the relatively small AVA shares in calcareous bedrock, which appears as fractures of chalk in the southern portions (more available to vine roots) + becomes more compressed into limestone in the northern portions. On the surface, sand occurs to varying degrees throughout the AVA, with it appearing as virtual beach sand in some sections or mixed w clay in others. Calcareous rock or gravel increases, mixed into the clay, in the northern sections. The result of the calcium rich bedrock + surface soils of Ballard Canyon throughout the wines of the region is a dusty floral lift followed by elongated mouth stimulating palate tension + sapidity across a range of wine styles.

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Larner Vineyard Producer Tasting

Getting to taste a mix of primarily red Rhone wines from across vintages (as well as some crisp aromatic whites) of Ballard Canyon over the last few days + previously, it is fascinating + delicious how clearly Ballard Canyon distinguishes its wines. While many of its varieties successfully grow elsewhere in Santa Barbara County + of course beyond, the Ballard Canyon signature appears across winemaker + wine type whether white or red. That said, each site too seems to prove distinctive from its neighbors while still recognizably Ballard. On red wines, the sandy soils + cooling winds of Larner seem to offer a concentrated, often opaque, core of earthy fruit flavor rubbed through w resinous forest notes in a structure of supple to melting while persistent tannin + a wash of balancing acidity.

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One of the Realities of Summer-time Vineyard Travel

I decided to go for a fresh tartan look.

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The Vine Whisperer of Ballard Canyon: Ruben Solorzano

Dohmeyer Vineyard

Standing in the North of Ballard Canyon next to Dohmeyer Vineyard looking South across the Vineyards of the region w Ruben Solorzano. From the spot it is possible to look the full length of the Santa Ynez Valley from Happy Canyon to the East to Santa Rita Hills in the West + here Ballard Canyon in the middle. It is hard to over estimate the role Ruben Solorzano has had in shaping the quality of wines from Ballard Canyon. He has farmed all but a couple of sites in the appellation. More than any other viticulturist I have been lucky enough to travel with, Ruben’s work is consistently lauded + admired by the producers he farms with as well as other viticulturists of the region. He began farming in Santa Barbara County in 1989, starting at Stolpman in Ballard Canyon in 1994. Since he has helped establish Larner, Kimsey + Boa Vista while also farming Jonata, Rusack, Dohmeyer + others. While his work is centered in Ballard Canyon it also extends to sites throughout the county.

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Kimsey Vineyard

Overlooking Kimsey Vineyard in the Southern most stretch of Ballard Canyon w Ruben Solorzano. Kimsey grows a little bit cooler than vineyards to the north in Ballard Canyon. The site sits between 400 + 500 ft in elevation, lower than other vineyards of the region. In the southern most reach of the canyon it is perhaps the only current planting not partially protected by a hill to the west. As a result, the daily ocean wind blowing east through Santa Ynez Valley moves through the vines of Kimsey w regular direct influence. Thanks to the lower elevation, ambient temperatures are lower + thanks to the wind, vines are cooled even further. Planted in 2006, the vineyard architecture has benefited from the accumulation of viticultural knowledge gained through all of the previously established sites throughout the Canyon. Planted primarily to Rhone varieties, particularly Syrah, Kimsey includes a selection massale field blend of each of the clones of Syrah planted throughout Ballard Canyon.

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Boa Vista Vineyard with Ruben Solorzano & Jeff Newton

 

The Fog of Ballard Canyon

 

Sonja Magdevski checks her rows at Tierra Alta

 

Casa Dumetz Wines

 

Goodland Wine

 

Potek Wine

Potek Winery Grenache + Syrah from Tierra Alta Vineyard == Delicious. Enough said.

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Kimsey Wine

 

Site Wine Co

 

Combe

 

Santa Ynez Valley with Jeff Newton

The Santa Ynez Valley proves to be one of the most nuanced + diverse regions of any I have visited. I’ve returned to it again + again over the last several years + always find more to learn + appreciate. This trip I have focused primarily on the Ballard Canyon AVA, an incredibly tiny appellation half between Sta Rita Hills on the western edge of the Santa Ynez Valley + Happy Canyon on the eastern. What Santa Ynez Valley as a whole shares is tons of fruit clarity w mouthwashing acidity. Whatever style a producer takes to their winemaking, that acidity is there to water + water + water your palate. It allows a huge range of styles to work. Coastal Vineyard Care, started in 1984 by Jeff Newton (shown here), farms sites throughout the Santa Ynez. Earlier this week Jeff Newton + I were able to spend a day driving sites the length of the Valley from the town of Lompoc (west outside the AVA) all the way to Happy Canyon. What a fantastic experience + perspective. Here, Jeff + I walked the rolling hills of Lindley Vineyard on the western boundary of Santa Ynez Valley + Sta Rita Hills. The site (like much of the area) sits in a bird fly over zone + so is kept netted. We walked the rows + checked fruit bent over as shown here. With its proximity to the ocean + wind, the site produces tiny berries + clusters giving lots of natural fruit concentration well framed by its structure. It’s a site at the edge of ripening – it’s the edge where many of the best wines are made.

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Samsara Wine

Chad Melville started making wine under his Samsara label in 2002, initially focusing on Rhones from what is now Ballard Canyon + now making Syrah + Pinot from Sta Rita Hills + Grenache from Ballard Canyon. In his 20s, Chad spent a year on the road in Africa + India making his way essentially through the kindness of strangers, staying in the homes of people he met along the way. The experience deepened his appreciation for community + connection through those sorts of direct experiences. Through Samsara, Chad produces small lot wines each foot stomped + slowly basket pressed for a sense of vibrancy, energy + incredible purity. The wines are special. The name Samsara comes partially from his experience traveling + the renewal process that happens again + again in the cycle of vines.

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Richard Longoria

Rick Longoria has worked w over 50 vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County from the length of both Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley + between. He has been the first to work w fruit from a huge list of iconic sites including Stolpman in Ballard Canyon, Buttonwood in Santa Ynez Valley, Sweeney + then later his own Fe Ciega in Sta Rita Hills + so many more. His intuition on the marriage of variety to site has helped encourage new plantings through the region + he has helped start + develop now well known labels throughout the region. It is hard to over emphasize the role he has played in Santa Barbara County wine serving as one of the region’s first winemakers + making wine still today through his own Longoria label. Beginning his work in wine in 1974, Longoria began his work in Santa Barbara County wine in 1979 serving as winemaker at both J Carey Cellars + Rancho Sisquoc simultaneously. Later he would help bring acclaim to Gainey, consult at Rusack + finally turn his attention full time to Longoria Wine in 1997 after starting it in 1982. Longoria wines begin w tenacious purity in their youth + age into some of the most beautiful wines I have had anywhere. Here Rick shows me his Fe Ciega Vineyard off Santa Rosa Rd in Sta Rita Hills. Today only Qupe + Ojai also make Fe Ciega Pinot Noir. For both it is among the best of their vineyard designate Pinots.

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Longoria 2000 Pinot Noir made w the first fruit of Fe Ciega Pinot (originally named Blind Faith Vineyard). Beautiful.

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Palmina

Having spent time in Northern Italy Steve Clifton felt he recognized conditions in the Santa Ynez Valley hospitable to a range of Italian grape varieties. By 1995 he was able to find growers willing to plant Italian varieties in Santa Ynez for him to launch his entirely Italian variety focused label Palmina. In doing so, Palmina became the first Italian-variety-only label in California post-Prohibition. Eventually he would also instigate the first post-Prohibition Italian-only vineyard in the state. This summer Palmina celebrates 20 years having not only succeeded as a winery for 2 decades but also effectively paving the way for newer labels also focused entirely on Italian varieties to succeed. While the earliest vitis vinifera plantings in California included high proportions of Italian vines, after Prohibition vineyards shifted to a French focus. The Cal-Ital movement of the 1990s consisted entirely of producers that only dabbled in varieties like Sangiovese while primarily making wines like crowd pleasing Cabernets. In only few parts of the world do the two grape types grow happily side-by-side. Cal-Ital wines from the 1990s faced at least 2 significant issues: (1) the Sangiovese was planted in the wrong place + (2) producers didn’t know how to work w the grape on its own terms. Critics skewered Cal-Ital wines as a result + consumers turned away from Italian wines made in California. By the year 2000 it became almost impossible to sell wines of California made w Italian descent fruit. Steve persisted developing new ways to connect w buyers + somms around the country hosting blind Nebbiolo tastings w top Italian producers included. Palmina stood up. In the meantime he also happened to befriend highly respected Barolo + Barbaresco producers from Piedmont that mentored him while also lauding his work. Over time, Palmina successfully built strong relationships w wine lovers, winemakers + members of the wine industry effectively eroding the barrier to US grown Italian varieties. (He’s also just fucking cool. Congratulations, Steve + Chrystal on 20 years. So psyched for you.)

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The Return to Santa Barbara County in February

Byron Wines

In 2001 winemaker Jonathan Nagy began making wine at Byron Winery in the Eastern side of Santa Maria Valley. At the start, Byron made single vineyard wines from sites throughout the Santa Maria. In a few years the Byron program would shift to an appellation focus. In 2013 Byron relaunched their single vineyard program beginning w iconic sites of the SMV. Here Nagy describes the unique growing conditions + best blocks of the historic Nielsen Vineyard. Planted in 1964, Nielsen is a founding site of Santa Barbara County wine, the first commercial vineyard in the region. It sits on bench land above the Santa Maria River + here in Nagy’s favorite block is fed colluvial soils, decomposing rocks + elder-series soils from the foothills that border the vineyards Northern side. The persistent cold Pacific breeze through the Valley intensifies flavors, thickens skins + encourages smaller, concentrated clusters. The nightly fog helps keep a guaranteed wash of mouthwatering acidity in the wines. Santa Maria Valley offers a hallmark savory spice character in not only its Pinot but also its Chardonnay. In returning to a single vineyard focus Nagy is getting to showcase the unique character of the Valley’s iconic sites, here at the Nielsen, down the road in Julia’s Vineyard + at the also-historic Bien Nacido.

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In 2014 Jonathan Nagy was able to take Byron Winery’s return to single vineyard wines into the Sta Rita Hills. Raised in Santa Maria Valley, Nagy got his start in wine in the North Coast (after first working in tasting rooms in Santa Maria) + didn’t expect to return to his home region. Eventually though he found himself called back to making wine from Santa Maria. His winemaking career since has primarily focused on finding the elegance possible from the savor-spice of his home valley. However, when he started at Byron 15 years ago, the facility was also working w Sta Rita Hills fruit for another project. Making those wines Nagy saw the intensity offered in Santa Maria’s sister appellation. In guiding the single vineyard program to Sta Rita Hills as well, Nagy + his assistant winemaker Ryan Pace (shown here) are able to work w iconic sites throughout Santa Barbara. The rolling terrain of Sta Rita brings power, tenacity + a black tea flavor to the Pinots of the region. Inundated w a nightly fog + daily cold Pacific wind, the wines of Sta Rita include mouth clenching acidity. Thanks to the varied aspects + protected pockets vs exposed slopes, the vineyard expressions Nagy is exploring w Sta Rita Hills carry a regional expression across a distinctive range. Here the Byron duo stand near the top of John Sebastiano Vineyard, at the Eastern boundary of the appellation, the site is a warmer spot in a cool region. Byron now also bottles single vineyard designates from the iconic challenge of the steep sloped Rita’s Crown + the moonscape variations of La Encantada along the AVA’s Southern boundary.

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Bien Nacido Vineyard

Geese + ducks also help w controlling the cover crop at Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley. (Seriously.)

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True Believer, Hammell Wine Alliance

Tasting through a vintage vertical, 2011 through 2014, of Chris + Dayna Hammell’s Hammell Wine Alliance Grenache-based wine True Believer, along w the 2015 True Believer rosé + 2014 Syrah. Chris has been managing the Bien Nacido + Solomon Hills Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley for 2-plus decades working w the top winemakers in Santa Barbara County + beyond to deliver farming excellence for a huge range of winemakers’ goals. Over the years he continually returned to a spot at Bien Nacido that he believed would be perfect for Grenache. When he + Dayna decided to launch their own label they planted the site to a head-trained Grenache-based Rhone field blend that they now coferment to make their wine True Believer. (Insider secret pro-tip: the 2013 is something special. It carries a harmonious complexity of savory herbs, earth + spice w profound density on a body of supple tannin + mouthwatering length. The rosé is the savory freshness you enjoyed in your dreams.)

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Casa Dumetz Grenache 

 

Sashi Moorman

Walking the steep slope of Domaine de la Côte w Sashi Moorman in the far western portion of the Sta Rita Hills on the Southern side of the appellation. Santa Barbara County continues to call me back again + again seeking to understand the complexities of the region for just that reason, the complexities. More than any other region I have studied Santa Barbara County offers massive variation of soil, of climate, of slope, of elevation, of aspect. As w wine in all of the United States, the region is young but in its intersection of profound variation across so many factors it includes the possibility for true distinctiveness. As Moorman explains, it is such distinctive he believes shows in the Sta Rita Hills. His + Raj Parr’s Domaine de la Côte project one such example, a high density planting in the extreme portions of a cool climate w soils that seem to give the happy mid-zone of reducing vigor while offering enough life to avoid hydric stress.

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Baby Sheep

 

Solminer Wines

 

Tatomer 

 

Lo-Fi Wines

 

Site Wine Co

 

Habit Wines

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

The Santa Barbara County Collection

From JancisRobinson.com… This is the first of a series of articles about the exciting wines of Santa Barbara County. 

Santa Barbara County (SBC) wine country lies within geographical features unique to North and South America. A coastal mountain range runs north-south along the entire west coast of the Americas. However, in one location, halfway down the length of California, the range makes a brief turn east. The vines of SBC, then, sit within the only transverse mountain ranges of the two continents. One frames the wide, open Santa Maria Valley and the other hugs the north and south borders of Santa Ynez Valley, within which also sit the Sta Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara appellations. Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys, as a result, face the Pacific Ocean open-mouthed, unprotected by a mountain barrier. Both therefore receive a wash of maritime influence through nightly fog and a regularly timed afternoon wind. The combination also keeps SBC wine country relatively cool. In most of the county, then, cooler climate varieties do better, though the further east (or inland) one goes, the warmer it gets. As a result, some warmer-climate varieties dot the region as well. [See Elaine’s beautifully drawn map below.]

Santa Barbara Wine Country

Over on JancisRobinson.com, this piece continues in a series of three articles that survey the wines of Santa Barbara County via (1) Chardonnay, (2) Pinot Noir, and (3) the Rhones of Ballard Canyon. You can check out each of the articles in full there at JancisRobinson.com. The links to each of the three articles are below. 

Santa Barbara County: kicking off with Chardonnay: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-kicking-off-with-chardonnay

Santa Barbara County: Pinot Noir: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-pinot-noir

Santa Barbara County: Ballard Canyon’s Rhone varieties http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/santa-barbara-county-ballard-canyons-rhne-varieties-wip-tc

Later this week I’ll also be sharing the Instagram collection from the in-depth trip I did to Ballard Canyon this summer as we saw here last week from Paso Robles. 

Cheers!

1

Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

Grimm's Bluff olives + vines looking into Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard & olive grove from the hilltop above, Nov 2014

Before he and his wife Aurora planted it, “this was all native grasses,” Rick Grimm tells me as I step onto their ranch, Grimm’s Bluff. Grimm’s Bluff stands at the southern most boundary of the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA in Santa Ynez Valley. At 859 ft, the property lifts above the Santa Ynez River to the south, the rest cupped by the rolling hills of Happy Canyon.

We pass a large-ish personal garden as we head towards the vineyard. It looks to be a mix of flowers, and vegetables — aesthetic and produce plantings. A comical mix of spotted hens cluck after us briefly as we walk but stop before we reach the vines.

Establishing a New Vineyard

“We knew what type of wine we liked,” Rick Grimm explains, “but not how to grow it.” Happy Canyon itself proves one of the younger zones for vines in the county and includes an array of aspects, and elevations thanks to the varied hills and peaks that surround the canyon. Prior to establishing their site, the Grimm’s subzone of Happy Canyon had no vineyards.

Even vineyard companies through the region “didn’t know what would grow best,” Grimm explains, “since they hadn’t grown in this area.”

The Grimm’s reached out to celebrated winemaker Paul Lato for winemaking. His own label, Paul Lato Wines, has earned him regard from critics and wine lovers alike. Then they also connected with Philippe Coderey to help establish the vineyard. Coderey’s well-respected work in biodynamics includes tenure at sites ranging from Domaine M. Chapoutier in France, to Grgich Hills Estate in Napa, Tablas Creek in Paso, and Bien Nacido in Santa Maria Valley, among others.

Together, the team discussed their goals for style and expression while studying the property. They chose Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon as their varieties — two grapes that have done well in the appellation — then researched to best match clones and rootstock to site and intention.

“Paul had been tasting different clones,” Grimm says. “We researched what rootstocks would do well here. Then, it was, head trained, or, VSP? We chose both with some clones of each, and both rootstocks on both sides.” By diversifying planting within the property vintners mitigate their risk while also increasing knowledge of the site over time.

Biodynamic Farming 

Wishing to create the highest potential for quality through the health of the vines, the team established Grimm’s Bluff using biodynamics. While other vineyards in the region are farmed biodynamically, Grimm’s Bluff remains one of the few done so from the start. Integral to biodynamic principles is biological diversity.

“We have chickens.” Grimm says, referencing the hens that greeted us when I first arrived. “They’re part of our biodiversity element, but then Aurora turned them into pets so we’ve been considering other birds,” Grimm laughs. “Birds are like a walking insecticide.”

Besides vineyard, the Grimm’s have also planted olives, a personal garden, and wild flower insectariums. “Aurora does a lot of gardening,” Rick tells me. “She is good at seeing every part, and how it will fit into the big picture.” Her vision has helped guide the overall design for the property and their family home.

They’ve also kept both untouched and pasture land. By leaving uncultivated, and wild plant zones including forest, and natural transitions of scrub brush and grasslands, greater insect, and animal stability is held through greater plant diversity. The increased health of insect and animal populations helps balance the health of the vines as well. It’s a focus on the biology of not just the vine but its surrounding environment.

Pasture land with cattle helps the team’s need for organic compost. “We make all our own compost.” Grimm explains. “We started from day one making our own. It is difficult to make sure [purchased] manure is all organic with no antibiotics.”

The Stages of Light

RickGrimmsBlufflooking north into Happy Canyon from the top, with Rick Grimm, Nov 2014

Exploring the property with Rick Grimm, gives glimpse into intimacy with a special site. We stand now on the highest point of the site on a hill looking over the vineyard to our east, and the rest of Happy Canyon to our north. The view leaves us dumb for a time. Then, reflecting, Grimm slowly names four stages of the Bluff’s day.

“There is early morning mist on the lake, animals and birds everywhere,” he says, describing the ranch as the sun comes up. “Then, low morning light. The animals have left. There is still a lower, clear light but no mist.”

Finally we come to afternoon when the direction of everything switches in the Santa Ynez Valley. Thanks to the transverse mountain range that defines the valley with an open mouth to the ocean, the region’s wind moves in and out in regular daily rhythm. You can almost set a clock by when the coastal influence reaches your portion of the valley.

“Around 1 PM,” he says, “it’s the heat of the day, and the wind picks up. Then, there is evening. It’s totally clear. There are tons of stars. At night we’ll build a bonfire and just see the clear sky.”

The Wine the Site Gives

Rick and Aurora’s time with Grimm’s Bluff has begun to give fruit. The Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc marks the first release for the project. They have also harvested and vinified their first Cabernet Sauvignon in 2014, yet to be released.

Descending the hillside back towards the vineyard, I ask Rick how he enjoyed bringing in the Cabernet for its first fruit.

“I’d never tasted Cabernet right after it’s been pressed, before it goes into barrel. Is it supposed to taste good?” He responds smiling. “When Paul offered me a taste, I thought he was joking. Then I tasted it and I thought, you know what? I could drink this.”

Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc


Grimms Bluff 2013 Sauvignon click on image to enlarge

Grimm’s Bluff
Sauvignon Blanc
Grimm’s Bluff Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara

13.8%
3.27 pH
0.696 TA

all organic & biodynamic farming
clone 1 & musque clone, first fruit

$40
90 cases

Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvignon Blanc delivers lifted aromatics, and a palate of mixed citrus — kefir lime, grapefruit, and hints of mandarin — in both fresh fruit and blossom all carried on a nice backbone of mouthwatering acidity, crushed oyster shell, and saline accents. Winemaker Paul Lato weds crisp focus with a creamy midpalate for a beautifully balanced wine — both refreshing and giving, lithe and supple. Ultra-long finish. Nicely flexible with food. Recommended.

***

To read more about Paul Lato, check out my previous interview with him: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/01/15/living-courage-paul-lato-wines/

I had the most striking photos of Grimm’s Bluff — it is a beautiful site — and of Rick and Aurora. Then my computer crashed and I lost them. Remember to back-up, dear ones.

Copyright 2015 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

13

TTB Notice to Open Comments on the Proposed Expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA

It was announced today (August 6, 2014) that the TTB will open comments tomorrow in approving a petition to expand the Sta Rita Hills AVA. The comment period will open for exactly two months allowing interested parties to submit information and perspective on the matter until October 6, 2014. Information on how to submit comment, as well as the full press release from the TTB are copied below.

The proposed expansion of the Sta Rita Hills AVA has proved a hugely controversial topic. The Sta Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance has publicly declared its opposition to the proposed expansion. Alliance members include producers growing and/or sourcing fruit from throughout the appellation, as well as many of the individuals that worked on and submitted the original AVA proposal for the Sta Rita Hills.

The petition for expansion of the AVA was submitted March 2013 by Patrick Shabram on behalf of both John Sebastiano Vineyards, and Pence Ranch Vineyards. Shabram works as an academic geographer with a background in the study of viticultural areas. Notably, he helped define and submit the successful AVA proposals for Fort Ross-Seaview and Moon Mountain AVAs in Sonoma County.

In the discussion back and forth around the issue, Pence Ranch Vineyards has received the most direct criticism for the proposed expansion. However, John Sebastiano Vineyards would also be directly affected if the boundary change is approved as the vineyard currently is bifurcated by the Northeast appellation boundary. Visiting the site one can stand at the top of the hill and literally jump in and out of the Sta Rita Hills while still surrounded on all sides by Pinot Noir. The economic value of clusters from just inside the boundary far outpace those from those just outside of it (even with them growing mere feet apart) thanks to the high dollar value placed on Sta Rita Hills fruit.

Defining the Sta Rita Hills

Wes Hagen stands as the most vocal proponent of preserving the current definition of the American Viticulture Area (AVA), Sta Rita Hills. Hagen helped successfully define and submit the original proposal.

In considering the value of the appellation itself, Hagen names topography as the definitive element of Sta Rita Hills growing conditions. The Sta Rita Hills are defined by a unique East-West transverse mountain range that sits open-mouthed to the Pacific Ocean, effectively funneling maritime elements inland. It is this topography that generates unique temperature, wind, and fog throughout the growing region.

Hagen describes the shape of the Sta Rita Hills as essentially closely spaced hills that concentrate ocean influence. What is important in this account is the manner in which the landscape of the region intensifies the cooling–both in terms of temperature and air flow–and humidity of the growing region when compared to areas through the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley. As you drive over the crest of the hill on Highway 246 that delineates the Northeastern boundary of the AVA, the topography changes from the closely spaced hillside-to-valley proportion that holds in the ocean influence, to the much more open valley formation of the greater Santa Ynez Valley. For Hagen, this geographical change illustrates the features central to the growing style of the Sta Rita Hills versus the Santa Ynez Valley more broadly.

Studying the Expansion

Together John Sebastiano Vineyards and Pence Ranch Vineyards hired geographical consultant, Patrick Shabram to do a thorough going study of the Sta Rita Hills and the area just outside its Northeastern boundary, as well as portions of the Santa Ynez Valley more broadly. The purpose of the study was to determine whether or not it was reasonable to consider a possible expansion to the AVA.

Shabram drew on data from weather stations throughout the appellation in comparison to similar data from further east in the Valley, soil analysis from within the AVA and to the East of it, and on vegetation patterns (both vines and otherwise) from throughout the region as well in order to determine the best recommendation for articulating a coherent appellation boundary. An important difference from Shabram’s study versus the definition of the original AVA proposal rests simply in access to an increase in information today.

Since the original Sta Rita Hills appellation approval in 2001, there has been a significantly large increase in vineyard plantings through the region. One of the affects of such a change includes the increase in weather stations collecting climate data throughout the region. The volume of information available today about the area, then, proves to be significantly greater. According to Shabram, access to such data legitimates the currently proposed expansion of the AVA.

Climate Considerations

Sta Rita Hills Vineyard Map

Sta Rita Hills Vineyard Map found: http://www.staritahills.com/appellation/

Temperature changes and wind patterns prove central to both sides of the Sta Rita Hills debate. Hagen points out that the Northeastern boundary delineates a climate change for the Santa Ynez Valley. In Hagen’s view, overall temperatures increase past the crest of the hill on Highway 246, and wind patterns dissipate lessening the concentration of maritime influence through the rest of the Valley. It is not that fog or wind disappears beyond the crest of the hill–spend any significant time in the region and it quickly becomes clear that a daily pattern of both stretches all the way to the warmest reaches of Happy Canyon–according to Hagen it is that they become measurably less concentrated. For example, according to Hagen, the temperatures to the West of the Northeastern boundary of the appellation is measurably less than those East of the boundary.

According to Shabram, the relevant temperature features are more subtle than that. The Sta Rita Hills appellation is essentially bifurcated into two unique subzones. On the Southern side, the Santa Rosa-to-Sweeney-Rd portion of the Sta Rita Hills is separated from the Highway 246 corridor on the Northern side by a central hill formation. Shabram points out that those central hills generate two unique wind patterns with one funneling in from the ocean on the Santa Ynez River on the Santa Rosa-to-Sweeney Rd portion, and the other funneling in over the Highway 246 corridor.

Within the existing appellation, Rio Vista Vineyards sits at the central-Eastern boundary of the appellation along the Santa Ynez River. According to temperature data studied by Shabram, temperatures just prior to Rio Vista Vineyards, within the current appellation boundaries, are actually noticeably warmer than those within the proposed expansion area.

Looking at the wind patterns through the region explains the temperature comparison. According to Shabram, Hagen is right that ocean winds dissipate towards the Eastern side of Sta Rita Hills. The warm zone prior to Rio Vista Vineyards reflects this reduced wind pattern. However, according to Shabram, right around Rio Vista Vineyards, the Santa Ynez wind pattern combines with the Highway corridor wind pattern effectively increasing the overall wind effect, and decreasing overall temperatures. The result is that within the proposed expansion area temperatures are lower, and wind is higher than the zone to the southeast within the current appellation boundary.

To the extent that the question of a proposed expansion rests in temperature and wind patterns, then, the area within the proposed expansion area, outside the current Northeastern boundary, would seem to be consistent with the current appellation conditions. However, the appellation expansion is not dependent only on wind or temperature. As Hagen explains, the appellation is more centrally about overall topography. Topography directly impacts temperature and wind patterns but does not reduce to these elements.

Questions of Soil Consistency and the Now Proposed Eastern Boundary

Soil series types within the Sta Rita Hills are notoriously varied. Extensive discussion of the value of the mixed loams, Diatomaceous Earth, and shale on the Santa Rosa-to-Sweeney Rd side, versus the more consistently sandy loam of the Highway side has occurred. The well known soil differences through the Sta Rita Hills illustrate the peripheral nature of soil in defining what is key to the Sta Rita Hills appellation. Both Hagen and Shabram agree that soil is not central to the definition of the appellation.

The area within the proposed expansion of the boundary carries soil series types consistent with those directly West within the current appellation. In doing the regional study, Shabram did analysis of the series types throughout Sta Rita Hills, in the proposed expansion, and within the areas East within Santa Ynez Valley more broadly. What he found was that the six soil types within the proposed expansion area show as generally consistent with those to the West within the appellation. Moving East into lower elevations towards Buellton, however, the soil series types begin to change with proportions of some types greatly reducing compared to within the appellation, and the appearance of others that do not appear at all with the Hills.

Shabram emphasizes that soil types analysis does not play a central role in the new expansion proposal, but the analysis is included in the proposal. One reason for including the analysis is that the change in soil types assisted in delineating the Eastern boundary of the proposed expansion. Shabram suggested the expanded boundary in relation to higher elevation areas that include consistent soil series types.

The Value of a Name

Central to the question of expanding the Sta Rita Hills AVA stands the concern for integrity of the name Sta Rita Hills. Such issue is not trivial convention. Behind the project of the American Viticultural Area branding program is the articulation of a signature quality of grape growing uniquely generated by the overall conditions of the named region. What characteristics prove most central to that signature depends on the dictates of the region itself. The list of elements relevant for consideration, however, remains generally consistent and include historical precedent and practice, climatic conditions (including wind, fog, light, temperature, etc), topographical formation, and soil type.

According to the Sta Rita Hills original proposal, topography as it operates to concentrate the maritime influence on the growing conditions of the region centrally defines that region. In suggesting an expansion of the Eastern boundary along the Highway 246 corridor, the new proposal focuses in on the details within the topography bringing questions of temperature, wind, and fog, that is overall climate, to the fore.

Members of the Sta Rita Hills Winegrowing Alliance are adamant that the expansion should not occur. Their arguments against the expansion rest largely in the continued integrity of the appellation itself. The question of integrity here assumes the original articulation of the growing region is the more clear, appropriate definition of what makes Sta Rita Hills fruit unique.

Hagen points out that his fight against the proposed expansion is in no way a matter of whether or not an estate like Pence Ranch Vineyards is growing quality fruit. Instead, it is a matter of whether or not it is growing fruit consistent with that of the Sta Rita Hills. His view is that it is not. For Hagen, the topographical change does not reduce to whether or not wind and fog conditions show within the proposed expansion area. He expects that they do. Instead, it is a matter of their concentration in relation to the overall topographical layout of the Sta Rita Hills. For Hagen, the question of topography stands at the top of a defense for the maintenance of the original appellation. Historical precedent, and the concentration of plantings through the region also support his view.

Shabram, on the other hand, believes the proposed expansion offers a more coherent account of what is uniquely the Sta Rita Hills. In his view, by capturing the climate details, and, peripherally, recognizing the soil consistency, a more thorough going understanding of the signature growing conditions for the region has been made. Shabram points out the intuitive strength of the original proposal. In his view, at a time when thorough going climate data was not available, the original AVA writers did a brilliant job of defining the growing region. For Shabram, the new expansion simply fine tunes that.

***

The TTB’s press release announcing movement forward on the proposed expansion follows. The expansion has not currently been approved. However, the TTB has taken a step closer towards finalizing this process. The key point is that the comment period on the matter is now open and will remain open until October 6, 2014.

The comment period allows interested parties the opportunity to weigh in on offering historical information, interpretive data, personal opinion, and social consensus that the reviewing committee might not otherwise be aware of, and can have a great impact on how the process moves forward.

Information on how to comment follows at the bottom of the original press release.

Updates on this issue including comments from other relevant parties will appear here.

***

TTB PRESS RELEASE:

Proposed Expansion of the Sta. Rita Hills Viticultural Area

Washington, D.C. — The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on Thursday, August 7, 2014, proposing to expand the existing 33,380-acre “Sta. Rita Hills” American viticultural area in Santa Barbara County, California, by approximately 2,296 acres. The existing Sta. Rita Hills viticultural area and the proposed expansion are located entirely within the established Santa Ynez Valley and Central Coast viticultural areas. TTB is making this proposal in response to a petition filed on behalf of several local wine industry members. TTB designates viticultural areas to allow vintners to better describe the origin of their wines and to allow consumers to better identify wines they may purchase.

You may submit comments on this proposal and view copies of the proposed rule, selected supporting materials, and any comments TTB receives about this proposal at the “Regulations.gov” website (http://www.regulations.gov) within Docket No. TTB– 2014–0007. A link to that docket is posted on the TTB website at http://www.ttb.gov/wine/wine-rulemaking.shtml under Notice No. 145.

Alternatively, written comments may be submitted to one of these addresses:

•    U.S. Mail: Director, Regulations and Rulings Division, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street NW., Box 12, Washington, DC 20005; or

•    Hand delivery/courier in lieu of mail: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 1310 G Street, NW., Suite 200–E, Washington, DC 20005.

Comments on this proposal must be received on or before October 6, 2014.

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This write-up appears as a follow-up to a previous article on Santa Barbara County wine growing.

Santa Barbara Wine Country

For more information on over-arching growing conditions for the region, such as climate and weather patterns, please see that article, which appears here: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/05/20/understanding-santa-barbara-county-wine/

Santa Maria Valley

Driving South through California on Highway 101 the sand dunes begin to appear as the road comes closer to the ocean. By San Luis Obispo (SLO) county (home to Paso Robles, San Simeon and its famed Hearst Castle, as well as Morro Bay) ocean succulents, and cypress dot the roadway, growing from sandy loam of the seascape. The highway hugs ocean through Pismo Beach, then cuts inland again lifting over a slight climb in elevation, through the drop on the other side. You’ve arrived in Santa Maria Valley.

Santa Maria Valley proves the second oldest appellation in California, after Napa Valley, and includes some of the oldest contemporary vineyards in Santa Barbara County (SBC), as well as some of the most distinctive Chardonnay plantings in the state. However, the area has received historically less attention for wine than its Southern siblings such as the Sta Rita Hills.

The Agricultural Richness of Santa Maria Valley

The Northern most appellation in Santa Barbara County, the land formation as well as the appellation of Santa Maria Valley include sections of San Luis Obispo county. From the North, it is the San Rafael Mountains that circumscribes the Valley floor, and the intersection of the Santa Maria River with the water flowing through North Canyon from Twitchell Reservoir that marks the SLO-SBC border. Bien Nacido Vineyards, for example, sits just inside the North-western edge of SBC while its strawberry fields on the flats sit just inside the South-eastern rest of SLO.

Santa Maria Valley proves one of the most agriculturally diverse, and active regions of North America hosting a range of berries, avocado, spinach, beans, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and even a cactus nursery. With avocado entering the region in the 1870s, this section of California quickly became the primary supply for North America. It still hosts (one of) the largest groves in North America.

Grape growing through the region reaches back to the 1830s, with more contemporary vineyards being established beginning in the 1960s, many of those early own root vines still giving fruit. As a result of such agricultural diversity, the area includes one of the more residential farming communities in the country, with farm workers able to remain year round as they rotate between crops.

Local cattle ranching and indigenous beans find focus through the tradition of Santa Maria BBQ. It appropriately claims the title of Best BBQ in the West, offering a local-oak fired tri-tip that proves more spice-rubbed than sauced, coupled with a side of pinquinto beans. The beans stand as a reminder of the relevance of land formations in agricultural development. The small pink morsels originate from and grow only within this area of the Central Coast.

Winegrowing Santa Maria Valley

SMV map

click on image to enlarge

Santa Maria Valley AVA offers the only valley in North or South America with unhindered ocean influence. No hillside formations rise within the center line of the appellation to shade or shield portions of the valley floor. The mouth of the valley opens to the Pacific, with the West-East narrowing funnel of the region cut by the San Rafael Mountains to the North, and the Solomon Hills to the South squeezing together near Sisquoc. The center of the valley is defined by the open pull of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc river bench.

The shape of the valley generates a clockwork regularity of fog at night through morning, then wind by afternoon. It is the wind that balances disease pressure from the ocean humidity. Open valley floor also means temperatures average one Fahrenheit degree warmer per mile driven East. Some slight nooks along the river bench, or canyon formation along the Northern mountain and Southern hills offer variation.

Considering Soils

Soil variation within the valley can broadly be cut into four types. Along the Northern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River colluvial soils cover slope sides giving rocky freshness to grapes grown throughout. Moving towards riverside, soils become unconsolidated as mixed alluvial soils appear from old wash off ancient mountain rains.

Bien Nacido, for example, grows vines from hilltop, through slope-side, and into the rolling flats approaching Santa Maria Mesa Road. The absolute flats they reserve for other crops. Walking the midslope vineyards of Bien Nacido offers a mix of rocky soils rolling into Elder Series, and then finally sandy loam near the bottom. Bien Nacido, and Cambria (growing directly beside Bien Nacido to the East) both contain a mix of colluvial and Elder Series soils, with some dolomitic limestone appearing near the tops of slopes, and shale in mid-slopes further East in the Valley. By riverside, soils are entirely unconsolidated giving a mix of some Elder series, and some sandy loam.

Across the street from Bien Nacido, the soils change, becoming unconsolidated alluvial soils. Rancho Viñedo grows in entirely unconsolidated soils, Pleasanton Clay Loam. In broader context these sorts of unconsolidated soils are often treated critically when it comes to grape growing. After rains soils like Pleasanton Clay Loam act like cement, as the soils do not absorb water easily crops grown in such ground tend to flood. However, in a region where rain is rare, thanks to the rain shadow effect of the San Rafael Mountains, such concerns become almost irrelevant. The rare cases when flooding does occur in the region come from ocean storms hitting so hard and fast the question of soil has little to do with the result. Flooding would have happened anyway.

On the Southern portion of the Santa Maria-Sisquoc River soils dramatically change. The Western portion of the appellation rises from ancient sand dunes, once part of the sea floor. Sections of the valley, then are almost pure sand mixed through in areas with silt from mountain erosion. The South-western quadrant of SMV moves from almost pure sand, into sandy loam as you travel North-east, or silty loam as you move into the Solomon Hills.

Sections of the newer Presqu’ile Vineyard, for example, appear as incredibly sandy giving a sense of suave tannin to red wines. By the time you reach the Dierberg planting a touch closer to the river, however, it has become more sandy loam. On the plateau of the Solomon Hills North of Cat Canyon, overlooking the valley, Ontiveros Ranch grows in unconsolidated silty soils.

Moving East along the Southern side of the river, the valley squeezes closer to the river bench, and the ground changes to predominately mixed cobbles and rocky loam. Riverbench Vineyard, for example, includes blocks on rocky clay loam, approaching Foxen Canyon, or more rocky plantings approaching the riverside.

While the North-eastern section of Santa Maria Valley contains a predominance of colluvial soils and Elder Series from the Mountains, sandy soils appear mixed throughout Santa Maria Valley with some sections of these vineyards including sandy loam.

Though the valley’s soils can be described through four major types, and the region’s climate has an overall sense of regularity, throughout the appellation there are subtler distinctions within sites that must be expected. As examples, thanks to the ocean influence salinity plays unexpected while sometimes significant role in vine vigor. Slight rolling character in what might seem an otherwise flat vineyard site can create slight air pools that change growing temperatures for vines in those sections. Individual vineyards, then, have significant internal variation.

Establishing Santa Maria Valley Wines

Modern day viticulture appeared in Santa Maria Valley in 1964, with the planting established by Uriel Nielsen in what is now the Byron Winery and Vineyard facility. The area benefits from the cool climate of SMV while hosting the slightly warmer day time temperatures that give darker red fruit in comparison to plantings on the Western side of the Valley.

In 1972, Louis Lucas and Dale Hampton would establish what would become the famous Tepusquet Vineyard, simultaneously pronouncing the great viticultural promise of the region shown through the cool climate, the ocean influence, and the water availability even in desert conditions. The Tepusquet Vineyard now stands in the Cambria Winery and Vineyard facility at the Northern side of the Sisquoc River.

Soon on the heels of the Nielsen and Tepusquet plantings, in 1973 the Miller brothers would begin one of the most influential vineyards of the valley, Bien Nacido. The site would establish itself as what was at the time the largest certified nursery-service-plus-vineyard in the state. By maintaining soil testing on a regular basis and ensuring the health of the vineyard through FPMS certification, Bien Nacido could not only generating crop for area winemakers, but also vine material for future regional vineyards.

These three early vineyards served as what were essentially viticultural test plots surveying what grape varieties, clonal types, and rootstocks could prosper in the region. Figures such as RIchard Sanford, while known more for his original plantings in Sta Rita Hills, also played key roles in helping to identify the appropriateness for Pinot Noir in the region, the valley’s signature variety.

Other vineyards, such as SIerra Madre originally planted in 1971, would prove influential for their later replants. Santa Barbara County includes a long history of influence on the more well-known Napa and Sonoma counties. Well established winemakers known for their North Coast wines utilized grapes grown in SBC to blend and bring added dimension to their North Coast wines. Off paper, then, SBC’s grape quality has been long established.

In the 1990s, however, that reputation was backed up by a series of purchases from big name wineries such as Robert Mondavi, and Jackson Family. In the 1990s, Robert Mondavi took interest in the Sierra Madre site, and decided to use portions to graft newer Pinot and Chardonnay clones in order to study their viability. The unique quality of the site became inspirational force for a range of winemakers both within the region and without. Mondavi’s clonal changes predominately remain within Sierra Madre, some of which offer fruit unlike that seen anywhere else in the state.

Newer vineyards such as Solomon Hills, or Dierberg both planted in the 1990s, and Presqu’ile in the 2000s, expand insight on ripening in SMV. Set near or on the Western boundary of the appellation, each receives cold air, and afternoon ocean wind bringing ultra cool climate focus to their fruit development.

Pinot Noir of Santa Maria Valley

Pinot Noir proves Santa Maria Valley’s signature grape. The valley’s signature marks its Pinot with red fruit character integrated through with the classic blend of Chinese Five Spice and tons of juicy length. The subtle complexity of this flavor study, coupled with the region’s mineral tension, and juiciness give it a profile distinctive from its Pinot Noir neighbors to the North and South.

Within the appellation, soil and temperature changes give fine-tuned distinctions to wines grown from different vineyards. Fruit from the South-western quadrant, for example, consistently carries the suave tannin of sandy soils, and a brighter red profile than the wines of the warmer North-eastern section. The sandy soils have also shown the ability to manage a high portion of whole cluster during fermentation to good effect.

With older vineyards such as Bien Nacido still showcasing own-root original plantings of Pinot Noir, now inter-planted with comparatively younger grafted vines of the same vine material, SMV also offers unique opportunity for winemakers to experiment with fruit from older and younger vines grown side by side. At Byron, sections of the original clonal and rootstock experiment planting are maintained allowing winemakers there the opportunity over decades to separately vinify fruit by clone-to-rootstock combination.

The best Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley has also proven its ability to age well. The subtlety of the valley offers its Pinots what is an almost brooding even while red fruit character, that turns outward again as it ages giving slightly older examples a beautifully surprising energy and lift.

Chardonnay of Santa Maria Valley

While Pinot stands as Santa Maria Valley’s best known variety, some of the most distinctive Chardonnays of California herald from the region. Unique clonal material grows through SMV offering distinctive flavor profiles from vineyards such as Sierra Madre.

The underlying Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay character shows up as Meyer lemon curd on toasted croissant with a long ocean crunch finish. Depending on area of the valley you can imagine that profile dialing down towards more mineral at the Western-reaches, or up towards riper in areas like Cambria. The ocean influence often gives a distinctively pleasing saline crunch or slurry to the white wines, in some of the cooler and sandier vineyard sites it verges into olive.

The mineral presence plus ample juiciness of the fruit give a lot of room for successful oak integration, and/or more reductive character. The two techniques give breadth and length of presence to the juiciness of the region’s fruit without having to dominate its flavor.

Other Varieties of Santa Maria Valley

Rhone varieties appear in small but successful portion through Santa Maria Valley. Most famously, Syrah has done well through the Northern-middle portions of the appellation with producers like Qupe bringing attention to the quality possible from the grape grown in the valley.

At the furthest Eastern side of SMV, Rancho Sisquoc grows a range of grape types successfully producing the range of Bordeaux varieties in warmer pockets near the close of the SMV funnel, as well as unexpected successes such as Riesling and Sylvaner.

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Santa Barbara Wine

As some of you know, I’ve worked on a series of maps looking at growing conditions of Santa Barbara Wine Country. (the first of these SBC map can be found here: http://bit.ly/1nLhy1m ) There has been a delay getting back scans of some of the other maps so I’m not able to post those yet.

In the meantime, cdsavoia sent me their video interview of Greg Brewer. (You might recall they released a video of Abe Schoener here in the Fall. Here’s that link: http://bit.ly/1kAlUFq )

Cdsavoia produce short documentaries on work done in design, fashion, wine, and art. Their series is brilliantly done, offering several minute glimpses of the thought behind peoples’ work. Be sure to check out their site if you haven’t. Here’s that link: http://www.cdsavoia.com/

They read my work with Greg Brewer posted here previously and asked if I’d like to share their interview with him as well. It’s embedded below.

Talking Wine with Greg Brewer

Greg Brewer is one of the more fascinating winemakers I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with. His views of wine are synthetic, seeing thematic links between wine and other arts. He also brings a wonderfully open view of how style interplays with quality valuing difference more than dogmatism while maintaining refinement. It’s a view that proves refreshing.

Sitting down to listen to Greg Brewer inevitably includes discussions of art, light and space, music, and if you’re really lucky saké and food in Japan.

Brewer’s work both with Chad Melville at Melville Winery, and Steve Clifton at Brewer-Clifton brings admirable focus to social sustainability. Both wineries keep vineyard and winery employees year round, a reality that is uncommon in California. Their commitment is to making wine in a manner that allows not only the wineries to succeed, but their employees to comfortably subsist.

The film of Brewer made by cdsavoia gives beautiful glimpse into the complexities of Brewer’s approach. Check out it out below.

Please enable Javascript to watch this video

Cheers!

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Thank you to Miguel De La Torre.

To read my previous writing on Brewer’s work in wine:

Diatom: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/02/07/escaping-convention-calibrating-to-stark-conditions-a-conversation-with-greg-brewer/

Melville: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/01/29/a-glimpse-of-sta-rita-hills-highway-corridor-melville-estate/

Brewer-Clifton: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/02/19/the-taste-of-sta-rita-hills-tasting-with-over-200-years-of-winemaking-experience/

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Traveling Santa Barbara County Wine

As some of you know, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling and tasting Santa Barbara Wine Country. The area grabbed my fascination for multiple reasons. It’s a region doing a big range of interesting (and tasty) things in wine, that also has fantastic long-term potential for continued evolution of both style and quality. Still, the area has been comparatively under regarded.

Talking enough with people throughout Santa Barbara County wine, what becomes apparent is not only the passionate commitment that people in the area hold for the place. There is also a sense of historical necessity pushing the region forward.

Winegrowers there now can be seen as riding a sort of third-wave of influence through the area. Modern vines first started going into the region in the early 1970s in a try-and-see-what-grows crazy quilt of plantings. By the 1990s appellations were being defined and people had articulated general swaths of guidance like Cabernet and its kin needed to be further inland, whereas Burgundian varieties could sustain closer to the coast.

Today, wines of Santa Barbara County benefit from the work of those previous decades to now produce wines on the backbone of such established knowledge with the flesh of experimentation and fine-tuning pushing forward quality.

Part of my interest in Santa Barbara County rests too in its geographical complexity. Comprehending the wealth of environmental, geological, historical, and climactic influences factoring into winemaking in the region is no small feat. How these factors intertwine in Santa Barbara County wine differs significantly from other regions of California.

After returning from my most recent visit in March I began drawing a series of maps that compile information about the unique characteristics of the region. The originals are wall size pieces that I’ve had professionally scanned to present here (they’re too big for my little home scanner).

As a first installment in a series on the region, the following map of Santa Barbara County represents crucial climactic and geographical influences on the region’s growing conditions with a presentation of the County’s AVAs.

The Growing Conditions of Santa Barbara County

Click on the image to enlarge. You can then zoom in further with your browser. One small error on this map — I wrote “Alluvial Soils from the Mountains” along the Northern rim of Santa Maria Valley, and the Southern Rim of Sta Rita Hills. Properly speaking alluvial soils are left by water in riverbeds. Colluvial soils are dropped from erosion off mountainsides. The areas marked with this notation does have some of each but I should have been clearer in how it was noted.

The Role of Rain

Santa Barbara County (SBC) receives very little rain through not only the growing season, but the year in general. While it is possible to dry farm in the county, sites must be carefully selected to do so. In Sta Rita Hills, for example, some people have been able to dry farm along the Santa Ynez River. In Santa Maria Valley, some have been able to dry farm along moderate elevation areas of mixed loam.

The lack of rain occurs for multiple reasons. Storms from the North travel through Northern California into San Luis Obispo (SLO), then hitting the Sierra Madre and San Rafael Mountain Ranges at the boundary between SLO and SBC. The mountains effectively stop rains from the North in a rain shadow effect before they ever hit Santa Maria Valley or the rest of SBC.

Storms from the South will occasionally bring rain North from Mexico, but only on occasion. Such events can be problematic, however, as these usually represent hot rain and warmer temperatures that can cause trouble for agriculture.

The County stands unprotected from storms off the ocean as the Coastal mountains turn East through SBC leaving valleys open-mouthed to the Pacific. Ocean storms rush in quickly bringing intense weather conditions that often pass just as fast. The intensity of these storms comes partially from the weather effect hitting mountains on the Eastern side of SBC, as well as the North-South oriented range in SLO, then rushing skywards as a result. As the storms impact the mountains and rush upwards, water falls from the cloud fronts creating flash flooding through the region. Such occurrences happen only on occasion, however, as usually such storms will have resolved over water before arriving on land.

The Turn of the Coastal Range

Santa Barbara County represents the only place in North or South America where the Coastal range turns fully from a North-South orientation to an East-West one. (There are, of course, other American regions that have some maritime influence through gaps in the mountains.) While other major wine growing regions along the Western side of the two continents tend to be shielded from ocean influence by their Coastal range, SBC instead hosts direct maritime relation.

As the mountains turn East they create open-mouthed valleys through the county that effectively act as funnels bringing maritime influence from the Pacific inland in a consistent breathing pattern through the day. As inland temperatures rise, cool air from the ocean is pulled East over SBC. Westerly winds start just after lunch time on a daily basis, as a result, so that even on higher ambient temperature days vines are cooled by the breeze effect. As inland temperatures cool through evening, fog sets in all the way to the far Eastern side of the County.

With the ocean influence temperatures increase traveling East through the region. On average the thermometer can be tracked at a degree Fahrenheit increase per mile traveled East, though of course geographical variation creates more subtle differences in specific locales.

Fog Blankets and Wind

With the Eastern-oriented mountain ranges fog and wind both play significant influence through the region. With the predominately open-to-the-ocean valley formations throughout SBC, fog and wind reach all the way to the far Eastern areas of the county. As a result, even the warmer Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara appellation at the inland side of Santa Ynez Valley still receives that daily cooling influence, for example, though less directly than plantings on the Western end of Santa Ynez Valley.

Ballard Canyon, on the other hand, stands partially defined by its unique position within a North-South facing notch between Buellton and Los Olivos in the Hills that run East from Sta Rita Hills AVA through the Santa Ynez Valley. Thanks to nestling into the North-South notch, the fog and winds impact on the appellation is softened slightly, and some plantings at higher elevation in the Canyon receive less of the fog.

Fog generally increases disease pressure, raising worries of mold and mildew. Within nestled Western pockets of the area growers must especially track for disease. However, at the same, thanks to lack of rainfall, overall humidity levels remain lower thus keeping disease pressures lower than other regions with comparable levels of fog.

Fog also coincides with diurnal shift, appearing as a symbol of the cooler nights of the region that support up-acidity for super juicy wines.

Pacific Ocean Currents

Proximity to ocean as well as particular placement along the Pacific offer moderate temperatures throughout Santa Barbara County. The California Current carries a strong cooling influence along the coast to the North.

SBC is the Southern most part of the State to receive direct influence from the California Current as below the County the North American land mass cuts further East with the current moving back out into the Pacific. Instead, coming up from the South, the more moderate Davidson Current brings warmer water temperatures September through February. The two currents meet and mix along the beaches of SBC creating a mild climate, and nutrient rich waters.

Soil Variation

Soil types vary significantly through the County with a full range from beach-type sands or sandy loams, abundant clay or clay loams, to unconsolidated rocky soils the result of mountain erosion, as well as rocky shale or Diatomaceous Earth. Limestone and chalky bands also paint through sections of the county visibly appearing in swaths of Ballard Canyon, for example. Even within single AVAs very different soil types appear, sometimes side by side.

Within the Sta Rita Hills, for example, overt soil changes visibly appear along roadside with more sandy loam showing through the Highway 246 corridor, and completely different profiles appearing on the Sweeney-to-Santa Rosa Road side. There, soils change by elevation with clay loam along the riverbed, shale appearing through the mid-slopes, and Diatomaceous Earth at higher elevation. Sta Rita Hills may be the only wine growing region in the world that plants in Diatomaceous Earth as the rock is rare on the planet (if not the only such growing region it is one of the few).

The soil variation through SBC supports a huge range of planting choices and wine styles.

What This Means for Growing Grapes

The reality of grape growing in Santa Barbara County is admirably varied. The region as a whole carries impressive up-acidity through the wines, meaning even naturally richer profile grapes grown in the warmer inland temperatures offer the promise of real juiciness.

Taking a simple one-hour drive West to East through any portion of the County will result in significant viticultural change. At the far Western portions of SBC even cool climate grapes like Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay can struggle to ripen. Cool climate Rhone varieties do beautifully through the area, as do warmer style Rhone wines further inland. At the far Eastern sides of the County, Bordeaux varieties prosper, with most appearing through Santa Ynez Valley, though some also showing in the Sisquoc section of Santa Maria Valley.

The viticultural variation of Santa Barbara County offers growers and winemakers the opportunity to work with a range of wines in short distance, a situation unique in the state. While many winemakers in California currently produce wines of similar grape types grown from a range of terroirs, or wine styles grown in differing conditions, few are able to do so in such compact driving proximity.

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To read more on Santa Barbara County conditions:

Eric Asimov’s look at Chardonnays of Santa Barbara County: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/dining/reviews/rehabilitating-the-image-of-chardonnay.html?_r=0

RH Drexel’s excellent first volume of Loam Baby, entirely on Santa Barbara County wine: http://www.loambaby.com/v1.html

Richard Jennings on Santa Barbara County: http://www.rjonwine.com/santa-barbara/exploring-terroir-and-balance/

Climate in the County, and Ocean Influence: http://www.countyofsb.org/pwd/pwwater.aspx?id=27904

Sashi Moorman on the importance of Soils of Sta Rita Hills: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2014/01/28/a-glimpse-of-sta-rita-hills-climbing-the-mountain-w-sashi-moorman/

Stay turned for more on Santa Barbara County with hand-drawn maps…

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Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews remains ad-free without a pay wall, and takes hundreds of hours a month to research and write. If you enjoy and value the work you find here, please consider supporting this project with a monthly donation, or one in any dollar amount via the form below. Your support is greatly appreciated.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Thank you!

 

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com