Category Archives: Wine

WBC14: Panel of Santa Barbara Winemakers

Santa Barbara/San Ynes/Santa Rita are among some of my favorite California regions — I’ve never had a bad wine from this place — so it was both a pleasure to know that the Wine Blogging Conference 2014 would be held here, and also that they kicked off Friday with a panel of Santa Barbara winemakers.

Poor Larry Schaffer had a TERRIBLE time with his slides but had an incredibly legit panel of first-generation, super-famous Santa Barbara winemakers: Bob Lindquist of Qupé, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines, and Richard Longoria of Longoria Wines. Lots of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara of course, and over 50% of the grapes they grow here aren’t vinified here.

Panel question the first: Why Santa Barbara?

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Richard Sanford studied geography in college, came back from Vietnam War wanting to get into agriculture. A bottle of Volnay inspired him to find a place to grow Burgundy-style wine. He thought the places that were growing CA Pinot Noir were too warm, so he wandered around with his themometer in the coastal valleys near San Luis Obispo and bought some land and started a vineyard. The land had never been electrified, and he used gas lights for 6 years. In 1976, they had their first production, and the wines were so well received that they sold out their vintage. They were the first vineyard to grow their grapes organically. He’s super-serious and adorable.

Side note: winemakers are not accomplished conference speakers.

Ken Brown started in sales in IBM and real estate of Sacramento with a degree in finance, but his love for wine started taking over his life, so he went back to school at Fresno State and studied both viticulture and microbiology. His love was Pinot Noir, and he headed up the school vineyard. One of his assignments was to prove the market viability of Santa Barbara wines (guess that worked out). He then herd about this vienyard doing this great Pinot Noir: he headed up there, met Richard Sanford and tasted the best Pinot Noir he’d ever had. Ken was hired by Zaca Mesa winery out of college, and then started his own winery (Byron) in 1984 while he was still the winemaker at Zaca Mesa. Byron Wines was sold to Mondavi in 1990, and planted a 17 acre of experimental Pinot Noir in 1991 to assess all the different clones they had planted. Working with the Mondavis was really important to the development of Santa Barbara County, and in 1993 Ken and his wife opened Ken Brown Wines.

Rick Longoria was taken under the wine by Andre Telecheiff at Buena Vista, who also told him about a new area he was excited about: Santa Barbara County. Firestone was looking for a cellar master, and Rick was hired in 1976 and met his wife there — she was the winery tour guide — and they married in 1977. There were only about 5 wineries in the county. “Napa was becoming Napa in 1978,” but Santa Barbara/San Ynes was still laid back. Longoria, their own brand, stated in 1982 part-time, and not until the 90s did they start doing it full-time. They make a diverse portfolio of wines, because they can — the climate here lets them grow diverse grapes, like Albariño and Tempranillo. Rick describes himself as a restless winemaker, and so what he loves about this region is that he can grow lots of different grapes.

Bob Lindquist has been in the wine business his whole adult life — got the wine bug when he was 25 in the 70s, and got excited about wine at this great wine store, High Times Cellars. He wanted to be a wine retailer at the time: worked for a wholesaler in Ventura for a time, and one of his customers was a little store in Los Olivos and got hired to manage the store in 1979. It was owned by the son of the owner of Zaca Mesa, so he got to know the local winemakers, and fell in love with the area. In late August in 1979, he got fired from the store, and got hired by the owner of Zaca Mesa as a tour guide there. In his spare time, he worked as the cellar rat, working under Ken Brown and Jim Clandenon. A few years later he started Qupé (at the age of 29), making the wines at Zaca Mesa and paying to use their equipment with sweat equity. He fell in love with Syrah, and bought his grapes from Paso Robles but had to add acid to those grapes which told him that Paso Robles was too hot for Syrah. Europeans are always amazed that they can grow excellent Syrah and Pinot Noir so close together here, but that’s the climate.

Panel question the second: Why are you still here?

Richard Sanford says the best is yet to come for Santa Barbara. What excites him is that so many young winemakers have chosen to make wine in the Santa Rita hills.

Ken Brown says once he really began to understand this region that things took off, and he says since vineyards here are only 15 years old, and so he’s excited to see what wines can be made as the vineyards age further.

Richard Longoria is building a new winery so he’s not going anywhere.

Bob Lindquist likes that you don’t need an air conditioner if your house is built the right way, and all his family has set down roots here, so he’s here to stay.

It was such a pleasure to listen to these trailblazing winemakers talk about how they got started in this superb region

WCB14: liveblogging whites and rosés

10 wines in 50 minutes! WAT.

Urban Legends Cellars 2013 Grenache Blanc: oodles of lime, floral notes, quite a whang on the palate with honeydew and lazy peach, not as much of the acidity I was looking for. Fermented stainless with some lees stirring in tank.

Uproot 2012 Grenache Blanc: trying to attract 20somethings, funny little card showing flavors. Kick-ass opulent stone fruit nose here, with pretty high alcohol. Good melon and lemon on the palate. Not completely off-balance, but it tilts much farther away from acid than Urban Legends did.

photo 4Charles Krug 2013 Sauvignon Blanc: WOW. Seductive muscat and passionfruit on this nose, addicting. Crisp and bright on the palate with melon and lime notes and a long, caressing finish.  About $18 retail. Stainless fermented, with about 18,000 cases made. This wine has the widest distribution in their portfolio. BEST WINE OF THE TASTING.

Oro Bello 2103 Chardonnay: 80% fruit from monterrey with malolactic, 20% from napa in stainless. Under $20 retail. Big oak and butter on the nose, with some Granny Smith also. Buttery appley palate but not heavy. Good mouthfeel (lees aging), long finish.

Maryhill 2012 Aurelia: Meyer lemon and nectarine with some forward white flowers on the nose. I don’t love Marsanne’s palate, honestly, but this is variety-correct: peaches, white nectarine, with that dirty acidity I associate with white Rhones.

Yorkville Callars Cuvee Brut: strong strawberry and mineral on the nose, great petillance, tart, fresh apple on the palate with a light yeastiness on the finish. Over two years on the lees.

photo 5Gypsy Canyon Winery NV Ancient Vines Angelica: burnt sugar and stewed golden raisins on the nose. Amber color, with a palate of caramel, baked apples, and a bit of preserved lemon and walnut. Longer finish. 100% Mission grapes.

Aridus 2012 Chardonnay:  grown in Santa Barbara, vinified in Arizona! Nothing wrong with it — apples and lime zest on the nose, pears and good acidity on the palate. For $35 per bottle, I’d expect a slight bit more, but I’m a cheapskate.

Bianchi 2012 Pinot Grigio: Santa Barbara! Pretty nose of honeysuckle and mineral, with some margherita limeyness. I’m tired of tasting wines now. :)

Live Wine Blogging to commence on Friday July 11

I’ll definitely be live-blogging my tastings at the Wine Bloggers Conference next weekend, using the WordPress iOS app. Unsubscribe if you don’t want to hear about all the cool juice I’ll be sampling in Santa Barbara County! :)

Oh those Dundee Hills

Tom and I took a little overnight trip to the Dundee Hills, our first since having kids over 5 years ago. Tasting notes to come (when I find my notebook), but here’s some of the beautimousness.

Tasting 2008 Methven Family Vinyards Pinot Noir Reserve

This is a really great wine, but this tasting record is from after letting it sit in my fridge for a week. :) Sorry, wine! I have a terrible time drinking up a whole bottle by myself. Sorry to disillusion you, but I have to be quasi-alert at 4pm for a 2yo, so…

Opulent, intense plum on the nose, with a fair amount of heat from the alcohol. Warm spices and a slightly stewed scent that I associate with Ripasso. That’s probably from sitting in the fridge for a week, alas.

The palate has amazing body: structured but silky, though I’ll admit much of the fruit is muted by the time this has been gently decaying in my icebox. Still a real pleasure to drink, though, with some zingy cranberry and black tea on the finish.

I got this as a gift, but it seems to run about $22-25 per bottle; very much worth the price.

Tasting Black Mountain Pinot Noir 2012

Black Mountain Pinot Noir 2012I can’t find my good wine key. I have had to use this crappy, only-in-case-of-an-emergency one for weeks now, and it’s incredibly annoying. Using a good wine key is a simple pleasure – it’s a unflashy, elegant way to open a bottle, and it sets the tone for what follows.

So, Black Mountain Pinot Noir is a $6.99 wine from Trader Joe’s. Really, for under seven bones you shouldn’t hear much guff from me about this wine, right? Because Pinot is expensive to make – the damned vine is persnickety as hell – and anyone buying a cheap-ass bottle of PN should know what they’re getting in to. The glass in this picture cost more than the entire bottle of this wine.

That being said, if this wine were any good at all, you know I would not have kicked this review off with two long sentences about my lost wine key. I hesitated – I did! – when I pulled this bottle off the shelf at TJ’s, because I *thought* I remembered this wine being unredeemable plonk.  But toddler-related sleep deprivation screwed me yet again, and I did not feel my memory was as reliable as it really, truly was.

It’s sharp and lemony on the nose, with notes of histrionic, under-ripe cranberries and, ok, some not-unreasonable spice and black tea. Unfortunately, it really falls apart on the palate. Tart yet flabby and muddy, this is not a pleasure to drink. For the record, if you spend another $2-3 at TJ’s, you can buy a fairly competent Pinot Noir.

Andrea. Remember. YOU DO NOT LIKE THIS WINE.

Tasting Middle Sister Drama Queen California Pinot Grigio

My dear friend spent a decompression day at my house after SXSW Interactive, and brought me this wine, which she says someone dropped off at the WordPress booth.

Free!  Free wine is my favorite price.

I confess that the marketing of this wine has me on the fence. I like accessible, approachable wines that straight-up tell you what to expect. I especially like them when they’re affordable and easy to find. I feel happy when they help people feel more comfortable with drinking wine, a beverage that so often is perceived as exclusionary and snobbish.

But I don’t like it when I feel I’m being pandered to, and I recognize it’s a fine line. The Middle Sister wine brand is one of  ten brands developed/owned by Canopy Management. Their brands all “tell a story,” which to my ear means that what’s selling the wine is the marketing/packaging, and not necessarily the wine’s flavor or quality.  Which, to be fair, could be said about nearly any foodstuff or beverage that I have not tried already or researched before buying. So, OK: hall pass.

Canopy Management also owns a company (site? group? concept?) called Wine Sisterhood, which describes itself as “celebrating and sharing the world of wine from the female point of view,” and encourages people (women people, presumably), to “actively participate in the creation of the next new hot wine brand.”

All this is prompted by the fact that women drink more of the wine in this country.  Plus, we do most of the shopping.   The wine industry wants to figure out how to get women to buy their wine, stat.

Enter Canopy Management and their Middle Sister brand.  It’s ingenious in many ways; it fulfills the consumer’s need for personalize-able variety.  It appeals to the oft-ignored middle sister, and every woman, no matter her birth ranking, has felt like the ignored girl.  Each wine has its own “personality;” what’s more, on their website, you can take a Cosmo-style quiz to see “which middle sister you are.”

It’s been a while since I’ve done a magazine quiz… and guess what?  My Middle Sister Wine Personality is actually the wine that had randomly been brought to me!  Spooky! Fate!  Something!

Here’s my Middle Sister Wine Personality synopsis (with comments):

Drama QueenYou’re a Drama Queen. Nobody does quite like you do.* You like to make an entrance. You know the best color/cut/face/eyebrow/wax lady.** You are friends with the bartender, the chef, the kid who started Face Book and the mayor.*** You’re a social butterfly.**** When it’s time to land, it’s poolside in South Beach with a glass of Middle Sister Drama Queen Pinot Grigio. And a cabana boy.*****

This actually describes some women I love dearly, who wish I would buy sassier shoes and less schlubby clothes (and probably, secretly, that I would wax my eyebrows).  I like to take them shopping with me, because then I look much more elegant than I would if I dressed myself.  But I have yet to discover what this persona has to do with Pinot Grigio or those who like it.  And, while I enjoy being arbitrarily how fabulous I am by a quiz just as much as the next gal, it’s a reach to connect gender to personality to wine preference, if you ask me.

Anyhow, let’s taste what’s IN the bottle, shall we?

Pale straw yellow in the glass.  Nose of pear, lime and melon.  Very heavy honeydew on the palate, with a spritz of lemon and a white grape juice finish.  Not frightfully… dramatic per se, but quite pleasant and easy to drink.  Keep it cold – when at a cool room’s temperature, it gets a little clunky.

Brass tacks: if you like kitschy wine labels or gimmick names, I can extrapolate from this one wine’s quality that Middle Sister makes drinkable, uncomplicated wines which will not let you down. The Drama Queen is very pleasant.  I will mention that when I want a wine to “tell a story,” I prefer the story to be about a region, a grape or a winery’s vision.

*(thanks, that’s very kind and pretty much true of everyone)

**(Actually, I don’t know any of these people; I go to the salon about every 6 months, and have never waxed anything, ever.)

*** (Except for the last three.)

****(more of a groundhog – oops! shadow!)

*****(If his name is Tom.)