Viewing entries in
Faces Behind the Wine

Real Men Cook, SYV's beloved benefit for Arts Outreach, returns Oct. 21

 

 Arts Outreach photo/Some of the chefs from a previous year's event. Longtime participant Pete Fohl, second from left in front row, will be honored at this year's event.

Arts Outreach photo/Some of the chefs from a previous year's event. Longtime participant Pete Fohl, second from left in front row, will be honored at this year's event.

 

Real Men Cook, the annual dinner showcasing culinary talents by more than 50 amateur male chefs, returns to Buellton’s Flag is Up Farms Saturday, Oct. 21, for its celebration of food, wine and fun.

The October event is a fundraiser for Arts Outreach of the Santa Ynez Valley, the nonprofit community arts organization founded in 1980 as an educational program that brings together artists and students for teaching and performances.

Real Men Cook unites chefs, local winemakers and brewers, live music and an auction in what has become the valley’s party of the year.

The participating chefs will demonstrate their culinary skills to the crowd in the form of small bites. Many chefs return year after year, delighting the crowd with dishes such as Southern Fried alligator, BBQ Chicken Strips, Black Bean and Chorizo Stuffed Chiles and Killer Brownies.

Among the various food categories are hot and cold appetizers, entrees, salads, breads and desserts.

Arts Outreach, according to its executive director Sandie Mullin, focuses on “bringing art to life and life to art.” Program activities include elementary school classroom workships and ongoing art curriculum led by artists in residence, summertime arts and drama programs; after school art; semi-monthly Elder Arts entertainment; and the annual Applause Young Artists program.

This year’s program will be dedicated to Pete Fohl, a longtime Real Men Cook participant and resident of Solvang. Fohl passed away after a short illness in July.

Arts Outreach serves more than 3,000 students, as well as Santa Barbara County residents of all ages.

This year’s event will take place from 6 to 10 p.m.

For more information, call (805) 688-9533, email info@artsoutreach.com, or visit http://artsoutreach.com/

 

 

The (debut) Winemaker Series: James Sparks, Kings Carey

 Sparks at Liquid Farm's Lompoc winery slash tasting room, where he also pours Kings Carey by appointment.

Sparks at Liquid Farm's Lompoc winery slash tasting room, where he also pours Kings Carey by appointment.

Winemaker James Sparks, one of 10 children raised in a Mormon household in Idaho, radiates kindness and humor, making him very easy to like.

His Kings Carey wines — two grenaches and a rosé — display a similar grace and spirit and are luminescent on the palate.

I first met Sparks in Los Olivos when we worked next door to one another in Los Olivos — he at Dragonette Cellars’ tasting room, and I at Tercero Wines.

After a fashion, Sparks shifted from sales to the cellar, and it was during harvest 2013 that he became winemaker for Jeff and Nikki Nelson’s Liquid Farm, which at the time shared space with Dragonette in Buellton.

Since Liquid Farm is predominately chardonnay (only recently did it release two pinot noirs), Sparks knew the focus of his own label would need to be different, and he chose grenache.

“My focus is a single varietal, small production and wine that is expressive of a particular vineyard,” he said.

 

Grenache has rocketed to prominence from the “G” in GSM blends to a standout red reknowned for its essence of fresh strawberry and watermelon on the palate and food-friendly structure.

Sparks noted that his preference is grenache that is “both light and heavier” on the finish, as well as “a combination of both.”

 The Kings Carey 2016 grenache rosé was sourced from Brick Barn vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. It is an all-season pink, perfect for pairing or sipping alone.

The Kings Carey 2016 grenache rosé was sourced from Brick Barn vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. It is an all-season pink, perfect for pairing or sipping alone.

He and his wife, wine and food publicist Anna Ferguson-Sparks, christened Kings Carey in honor of their hometowns: Carey, Idaho, for Sparks, and Kings Point, New York, for Sparks-Ferguson.

The first Kings Carey’s vintage was that of 2014, but the couple held off releasing both it and the 2015 until last spring so that Sparks could focus on Liquid Farm production and the relocation of that label from Buellton to Lompoc.

Both vintages spent about 16 months in barrel, Sparks said, and while the 2015 is very light, the 2014 is bigger, a “more typical” grenache. The grapes for both vintages hail from John Sebastiano Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills.

The grenaches retail for $29 each, and the rosé for $20, Sparks said. “I wanted to make wine that I could afford to drink myself,” he quipped.

Kings Carey’s case production is small and will remain so, since it’s only Sparks at the helm and Liquid Farm is still his day job.

The total number of cases of his 2016 Kings Carey Rosé was well under 100, he said. Therein lies the fine line small producers walk; a first vintage must be small enough to sell out yet large enough to fund the business and grow the name.

In order to make their label stand out, he and Sparks-Ferguson enlisted Hawk Krall, a Philadelphia-based illustrator and artist well respected for his food illustration. The artist’s work has been showcased in street murals, in clients’ homes and businesses, on posters and menus, and on packaging, according to the Kings Carey website.

During the harvest just past, Sparks broadened his scope to include Semillon grapes, which he brought in from Happy Canyon’s Vogelzang Vineyard. That wine will be released in 2018.

Sparks and Sparks-Ferguson reside in Solvang with their daughter, Bea, 2.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

 

 

Central Coast winemaking pioneer Ken Volk retires and lists winery for sale

  After four decades of winegrowing on the Central Coast, industry legend Ken Volk has announced his retirement and put his winery and brand up for sale, according to a news release Monday in Wine Business

The listing price, according to real estate Broker Jenny Heinzen, is $3.7 million. More details and photos are available at http://www.jennyheinzen.com/winery-buyer-registration

Kenneth Volk Vineyards is located in the original Byron Winery on Tepusquet Road in the Santa Maria Valley AVA. Founded by Dale Hampton, John Donovan and partner Ken Brown, the property and brand were acquired by Robert Mondavi in 1990.

The landmark, 25,000-plus case winery and tasting room are located at the same site, 5230 Tepusquet Rd.

Volk, most notably the founder of Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards in Templeton, purchased the Tepusquet Road property 12 years ago after he sold the Wild Horse property and brand to Peak Wines International (a subsidiary of Jim Beam Brands Worldwide Inc).

Long dedicated to the Central Coast wine growing region, Volk has been instrumental in putting the region on the world’s viticulture map, and bringing international awareness to the unique grape growing climates hidden within Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and San Benito Counties.

Volk has an extensive legacy in the Central Coast wine world, having been the first president of the Paso Robles Grape Growers Association in 1982. He also served as chairman of the board of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance from 1997 to 2001.

Ken-Volk-Overview.jpg

.

A wine and viticulture education advocate, Volk also helped fund the pilot winery at his alma mater, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and served as the Chairman of the Industry Advisory Council for 10 years.

He has trained and mentored countless successful winemakers and industry professionals over the past four decades.

Of his retirement, Volk said: “It’s really two-fold. After suffering a stroke three years ago, I continue to face some on-going challenges with my health that prevent me from going to the winery on a daily basis.

“Additionally, like many of my colleagues who started family-owned wineries, my children have their own successful careers outside of this industry. I look forward to seeing a buyer take the brand to the next level.”

In addition to the winery and tasting room, the Kenneth Volk Vineyards property includes native gardens, a tranquil creek, event areas, a commercial kitchen and extensive office space. More than four acres of adjacent fallow land would be ideal for pinot noir and chardonnay.

Volk attributes the success of his flagship wine grapes, chardonnay and pinot noir, to the coastal maritime climate of the Santa Maria Valley, the resulting longer hang times, and the region’s well-draining soils.

Solvang's Wandering Dog Wine Bar celebrating 10-year anniversary

Solvang’s Wandering Dog Wine Bar, one of the region’s first to focus on wines from the Central Coast and around the world, will celebrate its 10th anniversary this month with various promotions and events. Charles "CT" Williams and his wife, Jody, co-own Wandering Dog with his parents, Susan and Jack Williams. CT and his parents, residents of the Santa Ynez Valley since 1988, are longtime champions of the regions’ two main businesses — wine and tourism.

They established the bar to support and showcase winemakers with limited production and labels who could not afford their own tasting room. The "Dog's" location was chosen to fill a void in what then was the quiet "west end" of Solvang, they  said.

Wandering Dog Wine Bar has made a name for itself by carrying under-the-radar labels, and by specializing in boutique wines. As Santa Barbara Wine Country expanded and evolved, so has Wandering Dog’s business: Today the bar offers international wine imports, domestic wines from areas other than Santa Barbara, craft beers from all over the world, as well as the Williams’ private label wine program – one that started with only four labels, and now boasts a line-up of 12-14 wines at any given time.

Starting this month and continuing through 2017, Wandering Dog will offer $10 by-the-glass wine specials, each month featuring a different wine. The first month’s special will be Wandering Dog’s proprietary 2014 "Leila" Pinot Noir, the first wine that Wandering Dog ever produced under its private label program.

 Some of the wines produced by the owners of Wandering Dog Wine Bar in Solvang.

Some of the wines produced by the owners of Wandering Dog Wine Bar in Solvang.

The first vintage of the "Leila" Pinot Noir was 2005, crafted for Wandering Dog by winemaker Norm Yost of Flying Goat Cellars, who remains the winemaker for the label.

This Saturday, April 8, Wandering Dog will host its official anniversary party at Solvang’s Hans Christian Andersen Park (633 Chalk Hill Road). The family-friendly barbecue will include children’s games and a kids' menu, as well as food, wine and beer for the "bigger kids." Reservations are required, and tickets tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite, at www.eventbrite.com/e/wandering-dog-wine-bar-10-year-anniversary-party-tickets-32546874578The cost is $10 per person and $5 for kids ages 2 to 10.

The event begins at 1 p.m. and will last until 4 p.m.

Starting in 2016, bar patrons were able to enjoy o-owners Jody and CT Williams’s newest venture, "Broken Clock Vinegar Works," a line of drinking vinegars, available at the bar as a tasting or as individual-purchase shrub “cocktails.”

The story I wrote for Noozhawk.com about Broken Clock is available here

Daily offerings also include a dozen wine flights ranging from local favorites to sparkling and sweet wines, to reserve flights featuring wines that retail for more than $100 per bottle. Beer fans may partake in Wandering Dog’s offering of craft brew bottles. The bar also features gourmet cheese and charcuterie platters available in a variety of sizes, along with local olives and fine chocolates.

Knowing how the bar’s knowledgeable staff encourages guests to try new wines, I learned years ago to tell CT only to "surprise me" when he took my order. Through his expertise, I sampled sauvignon blanc from Oregon, Italian Barolo and many a terrific syrah.

The longtime "Blind Tasting" from 4 to 7 p.m. every Thursday challenges patrons to match up regions, varietals, alcohol percentages, price points and vintages of four featured red wines.

Another regular feature is the bar's Wine-by-the-Glass loyalty card program (buy 10 glasses; get one free) and often, wine classes. Wandering Dog also arranges wine travel tours open to its dedicated wine club members, as well as to the general public.

New to Wandering Dog is the Monday "Game Night" from 4 to 7 p.m., during which guests may relax with $5 specials on a select white wine, select red wine, select "shrubtail"  and select beer, while they entertain themselves with games like Yahtzee, Backgammon, Chinese Checkers, Dominos and more.

CT Williams recalled that, in 2007, when the Williams’ family opened Wandering Dog, "Solvang had numerous empty storefronts, and the food and wine scene was not nearly as thriving as it is today. But we felt that our wine bar model could be just what was missing, and we bravely opened in the hopes that we might spur more business in our corner of the (Santa Ynez) Valley."

His wife, Jody, director of events and marketing, continued: "We love this location. The majority of our business is tourists, and this end of town has a heavy concentration of hotels. Guests looking for something to do in the evenings need only walk a few steps to Wandering Dog. Even from our early days, we’ve been open later than a good portion of Solvang businesses, which has also helped to build our local following and our fan base from within the wine industry."

Wandering Dog Wine Bar is located at 1539-C Mission Drive (next to Paula’s Pancake House).

Its hours are from 1 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; from 1 to 10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Phone: (805) 686-9126. Web: https://www.wanderingdogwinebar.com

Women winemakers, chefs to celebrate International Women’s Day with dinner

Tenley Fohl Photography/ Karen Steinwachs, general manager and winemaker at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyards and winemaker/owner of Seagrape Wine Co., is organizing the March 8 event at K'Syrah Catering in Solvang. On Wednesday, March 8, more than a dozen of Santa Barbara County’s women winemakers will gather around tables in solidarity and camaraderie to celebrate International Women’s Day with wine, cuisine and good company.

The evening runs from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at K’Syrah Catering & Events’ new venue, 478 4th Place in downtown Solvang.

Tickets, at $75 each, are all-inclusive and available via https://womenwinemakersdinner.eventbrite.com

Only 75 tickets will be sold, which guarantees attendees and intimate evening with winemakers and chefs.

The evening will benefit the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County.

The dozen-plus female winemakers will be joined by some of the Santa Ynez Valley’s most inventive female chefs, who are creating a five-to-seven course meal to pair with their colleagues’ wines.

Among the wineries participating as of today are Buttonwood, Cambria, Casa Dumetz, Cebada, Dreamcote, Fiddlehead, Harrison-Clark, Kitá, La Montagne, Lepiane, Lumen, Nagy, Rideau, Rusack, Sanford, Story of Soil and William James Cellars. Additional wineries are expected to join up in coming weeks.

Creating the menu will be Chef Pink of Bacon & Brine, Chef Brooke of the Union Hotel, Cheese monger Janelle McAtamney and Baker Amy Dixon of The Baker’s Table.

While the national percentage of female winemakers is about 10 percent, Santa Barbara has a much higher rate of women winemakers — nearly double the national average.

Despite its reputation as a glamorous and romantic industry, winemaking is hard, dirty work.

A typical day during harvest requires rising before the sun, hauling wine hoses and wrangling barrels in the cellar, all the while utilizing sensory skills to craft balanced and elegant wines.

At day’s end, winemakers swap boots and jeans for business attire and hit the road to sell their wares across the nation Many women winemakers accomplish all of this while raising families and staying active within their communities.

“International Women’s Day has traditionally focused on labor and work conditions,” said participating winemaker Karen Steinwachs, general manager/winemaker at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard, and the owner/winemaker of Seagrape Wine Company.

She anticipates that the March 8 dinner will be “a kinder and gentler protest” against the current administration.

The theme for the 2017 International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change,” according to the website.

“During these turbulent political times, we believe people can come together if we simply sit down at a table with wine and a meal,” said Kathy Joseph, owner and winemaker at Fiddlehead Cellars. “

The beneficiary, the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County, a giving circle whereby individuals combine money and/or time so that they can have a bigger impact on the causes most important to them – more so than they would by donating individually.

Since its inception in 2007, the organization has given an average $104,000 back to the community every year, according to its website.

International Women’s Day has been celebrated since 1911.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

 

Lompoc's Lepiane Wines honors owner Alison Thomson's Italian heritage

Alison Thomson with her wines at JCR Winery in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.
Alison Thomson with her wines at JCR Winery in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.

Following in the footsteps of her great grandfather, an Italian immigrant, Alison Breazeale Thomson produces small lot wines using locally grown Italian grape varietals.

Her label, Lepiane, (“Lay-Pee-on-ay”), translates to “the plain” in Italian, Thomson said.

Her winery honors her great grandfather, Luigi A. Lepiane, a native of Piane Crati in Calabria, Italy, who brought his family to California in search of a better life.

He put down roots in California’s Central Valley town of Hollister, where he founded a grocery and, in 1935, a winery, L.A. Lepiane, Thomson notes on her website. During his years as a vintner, Luigi Lepiane produced as many as 1,000 cases of wine each year, Thomson said.

After his death, Thomson’s relatives found blueprints for the construction of both grocery and winery, as well as letterhead for the winery, she said.

Thomson studied biology and Italian at UCSB, and spent a semester abroad in Siena, Italy, where “my love for Italian food and wines turned into a healthy obsession,” she notes on her website, https://lepianewines.com

After graduating from UCSB, Thomson worked at Sunstone Winery, and up in Napa at a tasting room.

From 2004 to 2007, she attended UC Davis to pursue a master’s degree in viticulture. During her studies, Thomson interned for a top winery in Barolo, Italy, further deepening her love of all things Italian.

In the ensuing years, back on the West Coast, Thomson married George, and in 2008 was hired as assistant winemaker at Palmina Wines in Lompoc, where she remained until 2011.

Thomson and her husband are parents to Julia and Mick.

Later in 2011, Thomson migrated to SAMsARA Wines for an assistant winemaking position, and honed her winemaking skills with owner/winemaker Chad Melville.

Italians endeavor to marry food and wine and conversation. It’s obvious speaking with Thomson that the years she’s spent focused on Italian varietals have influenced her winemaking style.

Lepiane-Bottles-11.2016.jpg

In 2013, using Barbera grapes purchased from Palmina owner Steve Clifton, Thomson launched Lepiane Wines. Today, she produces small amounts of the Italian grape varietals Barbera and Nebbiolo, as well as grenache.

“Barbera is a great grape because of its acidity and versatility,” she noted.

She would like to pursue bottling an Italian white wine — with either Fiano or Greco grapes — as well, Thomson said.

“Santa Barbara County is great for growing these Italian varietals,” she added.

Her Barbera grapes hail from Walker Vineyard, located on Alamo Pintado Road across from Honea Vineyard, Thomson said. The grenache she sources from Black Oak Vineyard, and Nebbiolo from Sisquoc Vineyard.

Thomson’s 2013 Nebbiolo was bottled just last August; she plans to release it early this year. I found this wine to be an intriguing mix of rose and floral perfume notes, yet also very masculine on the palate.

With total production of less than 300 cases annually, Thomson can easily be considered the smallest of the small labels in Santa Barbara County.

She utilizes some whole cluster fermentation, neutral oak and only native yeasts in her production, she said.

Her wine barrels share the Lompoc Ghetto winery facility of Jalama Cañon Ranch Vineyard, where Thomson is also the vineyard manager and winemaker.

In addition, she oversees another vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, and winemaking for a client in Montecito.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

Deborah Hall of Gypsy Canyon Winery initiates Indiegogo campaign to rescue Thailand's abused dogs and cats

Deborah Hall of Gypsy Canyon Winery initiates Indiegogo campaign to rescue Thailand's abused dogs and cats

ting-ground-boots.jpg

  Facebook is full of sad stories about humanity and homeless animals, so when Deborah Hall of Gypsy Canyon Wines first read about Thailand-based Soi Dog’s plea for funds to help it rehome abused dogs and cats, she was skeptical.

At first, “I didn’t trust the legitimacy of the organization,” she said.

But Hall spent time researching the nonprofit organization, headquartered in Phuket, and was so moved by its efforts to save animals destined for the meat industry that she and friend traveled to Phuket for two weeks last year to lend a hand and learn more.

While in Thailand, “we toured the worst shelter in the world — in Bangkok,” Hall explained. Dogs and cats were packed like sardines into cages that hung from the ceiling, their feces and urine covering the floor in a fetid mess that one needed heavy boots to navigate.

And so was hatched Hall’s own effort to save Thailand’s animals, one dog or cat at a time.

“I named it ‘Ground Boots’ because we needed boots to walk in the filth,” she recalled. Her inspiration: “You put on a pair of boots and get to work. And make a difference.”

Ground Boots’ mission statement is clear: “Drink great wine, change the world.”

Working with Soi Dog in Phuket last year, Hall encountered a young male dog that had been rescued from the streets. He had suffered broken bones nearly too numerous to count, including his left hip, both legs and his pelvis. His right rear leg, shattered beyond repair, had to be amputated at the hip.

Hall rescued Ting from Thailand last year. Despite having three legs, Ting is cheerful and happy to have found his forever home with Hall

Hall named him Ting, and when she returned to her Sta. Rita Hills home, so did Ting.

To call Ting her daily inspiration would be underestimating Hall, for she exudes passion and a calm, fearless determination to help. “I wanted to do something from home,” and to make a difference, “you always start in your own backyard,” Hall told me.

In her backyard, Ting has blossomed into a outgoing pooch and plays with Hall's three other dogs, two of which sat on either side of me on Hall's couch during our interview.

Throughout this month, Hall and Ground Boots have a campaign via the “food” link on https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/drink-great-wine-change-the-world#/story

In 17 days, 60 people have helped raise more than $10,000, according to the web page this morning. The goal is $25,000.

The featured wine is a 2012 Santa Barbara County pinot noir bottled by Hall specifically for Ground Boots. Its label features whimsical artwork of a dog and cat, entitled “Jack along with Cookie and Judy,” donated to the effort by artist Donald Roller Wilson, Hall said.

Wilson’s offer of the use of his art was a lesson for Hall in the graciousness of humankind, she recounted: “You don’t know unless you ask.” And asking Wilson “was a shot in the dark.”

The purchase of one bottle of Ground Boots' pinot noir will fund spaying or neutering and vaccinations for three dogs or cats

Hall will donate 100 percent of the profits beyond her costs, which include the wine itself, the printing of the labels, the bottles and corks, she said.

The funds from the sale of one bottle ($70) will fund a spay/neuter session, vaccinations and medicine for three dogs or cats rescued by Soi Dog.

One case of wine will pay for an undercover effort by Soi Dog to bust and arrest those who traffic dogs for the meat industry, Hall said.

The purchase of five cases will make an ever bigger dent: “That money will sponsor a week-long effort by Soi Dog to hold a spay/neuter clinic within a village, and cover the costs of two veterinarians, two nurses and two dogcatchers,” Hall explained, adding that such clinics are typically held within a temple.

She plans to return to Phuket and Bangkok this fall to give Soi Dog the funds from her campaign, and to once again lend a hand in the shelters.

Hall is well aware that her Ground Boots is not the greater wine industry’s first attempt at raising funds for nonprofits, but pointed out that most others don’t donate 100 percent of their above-cost profits, only a portion.

As founder, proprietor and winemaker for Gypsy Canyon Winery, Hall keeps production for that label below 500 cases annually. Her estate vineyards comprise nine acres; total acreage of her property is 130.

After buying the remote Gypsy Canyon site in 1994, Hall and her husband, William, and their two young children relocated from Los Angeles to the property in 1997. William long had dreamt of planting a small vineyard on their property, Hall recalled.

A healthy cluster on one of the ancient Mission grape vines on Hall's Gypsy Canyon property. In the left foreground is the trunk of a nearby vine; many have grown parallel to the ground over time

After buying the property, but before moving to it fulltime, the family discovered a three-acre hillside vineyard buried beneath an overgrowth of sagebrush on the southern edge of their property.

In 1996, the Halls, still commuting back and forth between their home in Los Angeles and the property, began to restore the vines.

In 1997, Bill succumbed to multiple myeloma, but Hall continued to pursue her husband’s dream of a small vineyard, and in 1999, she and her children planted pinot noir in a flat site below the vineyard of ancient historic vines.

After initially believing the hillside vines to be zinfandel, Hall had them DNA tested, and discovered that the head-trained vines, which today are nearly 130 years, old grow Mission grapes — the oldest grapes in Santa Barbara County.

She named the hillside of gnarled vines Marcelina’s vineyard to honor the first woman winegrower in Santa Barbara County, Dona Marcelina Felix Dominguez. In researching the history of her vineyard, Hall learned of the pioneering female grower, and of the Mission padres and their attempts at making wine from Mission grapes, as well.

In the early years following the first harvests of both the new pinot noir and Mission vineyards, Hall said she sold all of the fruit to other area winemakers. But more than 10 years ago, decided to follow her heart and funnel her passion for the canyon land into the label she named Gypsy Canyon.

In addition to using the Mission and pinot noir grapes, Hall makes chardonnay sourced from Bien Nacido and Brewer-Clifton vineyards, she said.

From the Mission grapes, Hall produces about 50 cases of Ancient Vine Angelica ($150 per bottle) that she ages in barrel for five years. She bottles the beautiful, amber-hued dessert wine in hand-blown, half bottles adorned with a hand-made paper label, and seals them with beeswax harvested from the bees on her ranch.

Copyright by Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

 

Ron Hill of Orcutt-based a-non-ah-mus wines only thinks he's anonymous

Ron Hill of Orcutt-based a-non-ah-mus wines only thinks he's anonymous

rh-2015.jpg

Although he is currently in the thick of harvest with most of the Central Coast’s other winemakers, Ron Hill took time early in August to taste me through his new releases. Hill is the owner and winemaker of a-non-ah-mus Wines, based in Orcutt at C2 Cellars. I last wrote about Hill prior to the March 2014 Southern Exposure Garagiste Festival.

Photo by Jane Kennedy Adams/Ron Hill at a private tasting earlier this summer.

After he increased the a-non-ah-mus case production from about 340 cases in 2013 to 500 in 2014, Hill now is content to “stay small.” That way, he can keep overhead and labor low (or non-existent, if he utilizes the help of friends), and enjoy total quality control over his wines from vine to bottle.

That said, Hill has plans to open his first tasting room, in hip Los Alamos, by year's end.

In August, we sat out on Hill’s back patio with his two Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Jack and Lily.

His newest releases include a 2014 viognier, 2014 grenache blanc, 2014 rosé of syrah and a 2013 pinot noir. Still available are older vintages of syrah and grenache; visit http://www.anonahmus.com

If you’ve met Hill, I’m sure you’ll agree that his personality — humble and serious with a side of playful — means that he’s a lot of fun to interview.

Which means that I’ve won the lottery, story-wise, as Hill last week agreed to let me “shadow” him for the next year, harvest to harvest.

I hope these series of stories will be as fun for you, gentle reader, as they are for me to turn out. My goal is to share a glimpse into the true life of a smaller-production winemaker, mud, sweat, tears and all.

But back to those new vintages:

Bottled in June, the 2014 a-non-ah-mus Viognier, sourced from Curtis Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, is elegant and displays vanilla and rose on the palate. Hill aged this wine in all stainless steel and allowed it to go through partial malolactic fermentation. It’s a beauty. Only 44 cases produced.

The 2014 a-non-ah-mus Grenache Blanc is a beauty of a wine, and pairs smashingly with cheese.

If his new viognier numbers just 44 cases, Hill’s 2014 a-non-ah-mus Grenache Blanc production is only slighter higher, at just 48 cases, also roughly two barrels’ worth. So I have five words for you: “Get. It. Before. It’s. Gone.”

I’m a fan of stellar Grenache Blanc, having cut my teeth on Kris Curran’s trail-blazing version of this Rhone grape varietal many years back. I think Hill’s 2014 comes closest to the distinction that Curran’s still showcases, vintage after vintage.

Hill is pleased at this, his first attempt. “I’m very happy with this style of grenache blanc,” he said.

The vineyard from which Hill sourced this wine is a small one across from Larner Vineyard in the Ballard Canyon AVA. Rancho Boa Vista grows only grenache, syrah and grenache blanc, Hill noted.

This wine displays one of the longest and prettiest finishes I’ve encountered in quite some time. When Hill offered me half a bottle to take home after our tasting, this wine was my choice.

Hill, who notes on his website how, years ago, he was “taken under the wing of a group of winemaking cicerones” when he lived in San Jose, relocated to the Central Coast to focus on wine and landed an internship at Babcock Winery in 2001.

He stayed there 10 years, he wrote, having “gained the knowledge that in the craft of winemaking, there is always more to learn.”

Hill founded his own label in 2007, and utilized Babcock’s equipment and space to produce his wines there through the 2010 vintage, he said.

The third wine we sampled is Hill’s 2014 Rosé of Syrah, of which there are 41 cases. I’ve enjoyed several vintages of this rosé, having first tried it at a Garagiste Festival, and am just as enamored with this new vintage.

To me, rosés are more than “summer” wines: They represent everything that’s wonderful about life — time with friends enjoying cheese and crackers before a great meal. Because of their natural higher acidities, Rosés also pair well with rich meals, such as those we eat at Thanksgiving.

Last in our lineup was Hills’s 2013 a-non-ah-mus Pinot Noir. It stands out for many reasons, not the least of which is the label: It’s white (all other a-non-ah-mus wines sport a black label), and there’s a twist on the name — it’s “Anonymous.” By a-non-ah-mus.

On his website, Hill writes: “Grapes sourced from a vineyard that must remain anonymous are in our first release of our white label.”

Hill was offered leftover pinot noir grapes from a prominent vineyard. How could he say no? He said yes, and produced this gorgeous pinot noir. My notes: “Fruity, lighter, sexy and pretty.”

The wine is clone 667, and Hill fermented it utilizing 15 percent whole clusters and aged in for 20 months in 25-percent new French oak barrels.

He made 76 cases of this pinot noir, and sells it for $29 per bottle.

So there you have it: Four new releases from Ron Hill of a-non-ah-mus wines. How long can Hill remain anonymous?

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

Wine & Fire 2015 highlights Sta. Rita Hills' chardonnay, pinot noir and grilled meat

Wine & Fire 2015 highlights Sta. Rita Hills' chardonnay, pinot noir and grilled meat

wf-2014-photo-1.jpg

Wine & Fire, the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers’ Alliance annual event, returns to the AVA this weekend, Aug. 14-17, with a barn party Friday evening, a namesake “fire” barbecue seminar Saturday morning and the grand tasting at La Purisima Mission late that afternoon. More than 40 of the SRHWGA vineyard or winemaking members will participate in the three main events, and most will also offer open houses and special tastings throughout the weekend.

The AVA comprises 30,720 acres, with 2,700 acres planted between 59 vineyards. Most common are pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, but 18 other cool-climate varietals also thrive. Visit http://www.staritahills.com/appellation/ for a map of the appellation.

Kimberly Spies Photography/ Guests at the 2014 Wine & Fire Barn Party relish the gorgeous view of the Sta. Rita Hills from the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard historic barn

Wine & Fire 2015 opens Friday evening with the Barn Party, held for the third year in a row at the old Sanford & Benedict barn, standing on a hillside in the historic vineyard on Santa Rosa Road. The venue offers a breathtaking view of some of the most celebrated vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

Friday’s event will feature large format and library wines from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, as well as fire-grilled pizzas from Bello Forno, and music by the Caverns.

Putting the “fire” back in Wine & Fire is the debut Saturday morning of the “BBQ Blast” seminar, also at the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard barn.

That event will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Joe Padilla of Terravant Wine Company is the master of ceremonies, said Barbara Satterfield, executive director of the SRHWGA. With the weekend’s renewed focus on grilling, four of the region’s hottest barbecue chefs will share with seminar participants their hot tips on four different wood-fire cooking techniques. The four are Steve Clifton, Rodrigo Gimenez, Frank Ostini and Matt Toll. Following the “fire” presentation, “wine” will be added to the mixture as select SRHWGA members team up with the four chefs to pair their wines with the barbecue for seminar guests.

The four teams:

Steve’s Rogue Vineyard Team: This team will be led by Clifton, the area’s local expert on everything Italian (via Palmina Wines), as well as world-class pinot noir and chardonnay (via Brewer-Clifton Wines), will “rock the art of wood-fired flat breads” with the use of his pizza oven, Satterfield noted. Pairings: Selected wineries.

Clos Pepe Vineyard Team: Born and raised in Mendoza, Argentina, Rodrigo Gimenez grew up enjoying fire-roasted meats. The Argentine barbecue technique was cultivated over hundreds of years by that nation’s gauchos. Pairings: Clos Pepe Vineyard wines produced by Ken Brown, Clos Pepe and Liquid Farm. Gabe Saglie, noted TravelZoo editor and writer and one of my wine-scribe compadres, will round out the team.

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Team: Frank Ostini, owner and chef at the Hitching Post II Restaurant, specializes in open-pit red oak barbecue, a Central Coast classic style that is gaining attention nationwide. Ostini, co-owner with Gray Hartley of Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wines, travels the country representing our local food and wine mecca when he’s not making wine or fantastic barbecue. Pairing: Wines from Stanford & Benedict Vineyard, led by winemaker Steve Fennell of Sanford Winery; Shawn Burgert, Wandering Wino blogger and radio host; and the wines from Hitching Post Wines.

Zotovich Vineyard Team: Matt Toll of Tollhouse BBQ focuses on the long, slow cook with his own dry rub spices and a big rig smoker. Timing is everything when it comes to smoking, Toll believes, and he’ll share with guests the trade secrets of the closed smoker, Satterfield said. Pairing: Zotovich Vineyard wines from Zotovich Cellars, and Transcendence Wines

Cargasacchi Vineyard Team: Cargasacchi Vineyard will feature Cargasacchi, Loring Wine Company and Siduri Wines to accompany winemaker Peter Cargasacchi’s barbecue sliders.

Kessler-Haak Vineyard Team: Representing this team will be Kessler-Haak and LaMontagne and its grilling team, headed by LaMontagne’s Theron Smith, who plans to serve up tasty treats. Joining this team will be Michael Horn from CRN Radio. Pairing: Kessler-Haak Vineyard wines produced by Kessler-Haak and LaMontagne wineries.

Kimberly Spies Photography/ Wines poured during the 2014 Wine & Fire Barn Party. This year's Friday event will feature large format and library wines

The band The Luck will provide music following the education seminar and during the tasting portion of the event.

One of my favorite spots, the beautiful and peaceful La Purisima Mission, will once again host Saturday evening’s grand tasting, which runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Join more than 40 winemaking members of the SHRWGA, sizzling local chefs and farmers for an evening of chilling and grilling

Avant, Babe Farms, Campbell Farms, Central Coast Specialty Foods, Homegrown Cowboy, The Hitching Post II, Los Amigos BBQ, RGC Argentine BBQ, Tollhouse BBQ, Scratch Kitchen and the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers will offer an amazing selection of local food favorites.

Providing live music will be father-daughter duo Country Heart.

Many SRHWGA members will also offer open houses and specials throughout the weekend. See http://www.staritahills.com/wine-fire for complete details on ticket sales, participating wineries, restaurants and food vendors, a list of open houses and more.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

PROTOCOL Wine Studio illuminates both the business and passion of wine

Imagine a place where one can not only taste and buy wine, but also study and learn about wine, meet winemakers and delve into the soul of the California, U.S. and global wine industry. Such a business does exist: PROTOCOL wine studio, located in a San Diego business park.

Eric Guy and Tina Morey, the brains and passion behind PROTOCOL in San Diego

Calling itself “True Wine Culture,” PROTOCOL is the brainchild of business partners Eric Guy and Tina Morey, and operates as a parent company to four endeavors: #Winestudio Project, WineStudio, Wine Intel and Le Metro Wine.

First, Le Metro Wine: Its owners call this “the world’s most cutting edge wine club,” which is led by a team of wine professionals, writers and artists.

Each of the six-bottle wine collections focuses on a theme.

Along with Guy and Morey is Aaron Epstein, who is described on the website as a “writer, dreamer, wine geek and stay-at-home dad.” After “studying, selling and writing about wine since before he could legally drink it” and traveling around the globe to work in nearly every facet of the wine industry, Epstein in 2012 moved to San Diego, and teamed with Guy and Morey to create Le Metro, where his role is “curator.”

He continues to write, contributing to Edible San Diego and Riviera San Diego, and writes his own blog, winedad.com, full of his adventures as a stay-at-home dad.

Epstein was recognized in Imbibe’s 2015 “Imbibe 75,” a list honoring “People, Places and Flavors that will shape the way you drink in 2015.”

Epstein’s big news, which I stumbled across visiting his blog, is that he, his wife and their son are moving to Shenzhen, China, at month’s end. “Big changes this way come; thanks to Wifey’s consulting gig, we’re preparing to embark on a yearlong family adventure,” he wrote. Alas, he will bid farewell to Le Metro Wine.

But before he does, enter “Rosé on Midsummer’s Eve”, coming to San Diego’ Westgate Hotel from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 20, promoted by PROTOCOL and hosted by Le Metro Wine.

The goal: Sipping rosé wines from around the world, and watching the sun set on one of the longest days of the year from San Diego’s most glamorous outdoor patio, The Westgate Hotel’s Riviera Fountain Terrace. A selection of Provençal-style charcuterie – cheeses, meat board, garden-fresh vegetables and potato bar — will be available for nibbling, while San Diego’s funk and soul 14-piece band “Bump N Brass” will entertain guests all night — wear your dancing shoes!

Tickets are $55 for Le Metro subscribers, and $75 per person (through June 12) and then $89 the week of the event.

The backstory:

I met Guy and Morey in late summer 2013 when I accompanied two Santa Barbara County winemakers down to PROTOCOL Wine Studio to attend a winetasting featuring a handful of small producers. The space itself resembles an artists’ studio slash gallery slash classroom, with a small office off the far end. No glamour; pure utility and function.

Like many I’ve profiled in the wine industry, both Guy and Morey segued into wine education and retail from other careers. I’ll let them tell their stories …

Eric Guy: “Mine was a path with no heart. After 12 years in the banking and investment industry, I was well on my way to achieving everything I desired. And yet as I entered the decade of my 30s, I was completely miserable.

“So I stepped out of the relative comfort of white-collar existence and dared to ask the question, “What if I gave up everything in the pursuit of something meaningful?  And more importantly, what could that be?

“Not long after I sensed a life change was due, I found myself on a trip to San Francisco and onward through wine country.”

During this journey, Guy noted, he caught the flu, and …

“Through two nights of alternating between shivering and sweating, the spirit of the vines enveloped me. As I walked from the Eagle & Rose Inn, my refuge from this strange affliction, a seed was planted in my mind. It was a simple and casual thought, not the life-altering gong one might expect from an idea that would change my life. The thought was simply, “I wonder what working in the wine business would be like?”

I’ve spent the last decade of my life pursuing that question by unrolling my passion for wine and all that lies beneath it from culture, to history from science to socializing. Since entering the wine business I’ve worked as a retail floor grunt, wine buyer, retail manager, wine storage coordinator and Sommelier. The adventure has been worth every minute.  For me this is a business with heart, one that enables me to cultivate a life that I truly love.

Guy leads the West Coast workings of PROTOCOL wine.

Tina Morey:

“Wine was always at the family dinner table, especially the extended family. Even when I left home after college, wine was on someone else’s table and although I drank it and wonderful times were had, there was yet to be that wine “epiphany” everyone describes. So I went about my life: technical writer, pastry chef, caterer, wedding cake company chef and owner.

“It was a last-minute reservation at The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington, that did it for me. We sat at a communal table, spoke and laughed with folks from all over the country, listened to a classical guitarist.

“The highlight for me was the professionalism and ease that each and every staff member elicited. I wanted that confidence, that knowledge, that sense of complete trust of each member’s ability at any given time during the evening. The wine was part of the entire experience, but it fit so seamlessly it never stood out, but floated from course to course — a tightly choreographed play where guest was center stage.

“That was 2005, so just two years later I sold the cake business and enrolled into the first Court of Master Sommeliers Education Program in the United States.

“Now a Certified Sommelier, I’m on the long and winding path toward Master of Wine. And that’s when I met Guy, who was a fellow employee at a local wine retail shop where I was hired as “lowly floor employee.”

There I had the opportunity to connect labels with actual winemakers and experience my first communal tasting glass experience with the other shop employees. During my time in the business, I’ve met the craziest and most sincere people I’ve ever known and I’m lucky to have called them colleagues and friends.

Today, Morey spends most days nurturing PROTOCOL’s East Coast clientele.

Both Guy and Morey are down to earth but full of knowledge and experiences about every aspect of wine, a fact that makes them a joy to be around. “Taste it, share it, live it!” is how they view their lives in wine, and I’d call that a most appropriate motto for the wine life.

Wine Intel. Sounds intriguing, yes? Think of it as intelligent solutions to wine management, especially the financial aspects of collections, and answers to questions ranging from transportation to liquidation and more. In addition, Wine Intel offers sommelier skills, for events and overall education, as well as wine consulting, retail services development and wine-list creation.

Finally, #WineStudio: This is PROTOCOL’s online Twitter-based program to “engage palates and brains.” It’s a combination of instruction and tasting, with a focus on producers, grape varietals, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food matching — and how this affects wine imbibers, say Guy and Morey.

Earlier this year, Morey graciously included me during a month-long focus on select bloggers, asking each of us to share how we came to write about wine and winemaking. Those of you Tweeters know that the Twitter-sphere is rapid-fire quick and demands concise language (skills I was forced to relearn during the evening I participated in #WineStudio).

I bemoan the fact that a lengthy drive separates me from PROTOCOL's home base, but someday, I will return for a dose of wine education, or a special tasting.

Information and contact details:

Here's more about PROTOCOL, straight from the heart of Morey and Guy:

PROTOCOL wine studio: Five Years On - A Start-up just Starting

http://protocolwinestudio.com

Eric Guy GUY@protocolwine.com

Tina Morey tina.morey@protocolwine.com

Location: 4186 Sorrento Valley Blvd., Suite H, San Diego CA 92121

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure in Solvang March 27-29: Best of the smallest

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure in Solvang March 27-29: Best of the smallest

syv-gf-2015.jpg

  SYV GF 2015The weekend described as “wildly exuberant and fun” by the Los Angeles Times returns to Solvang at the end of March with wine from cutting-edge micro-production wineries, a new winemaking symposium, winemaker mixer and Big Red “Shoot Out.”

Tickets for the weekend’s events, held at the Veterans Memorial Hall, remain available, but are very limited and Garagiste Festivals always sell out. For the full Southern Exposure schedule, seminar details, participating hotels and to buy tickets, visit http://garagistefestival.com

Proceeds from the weekend will once again benefit the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Wine and Viticulture program.

New this year are two new events kicking off Southern Exposure on Friday, March 27:

  •  Happy Yeast Make Better Wine: This educational (but fun) winemaker symposium features Cal Poly professor and winemaker Matt Brain of Baker and Brain. Time: 5 to 6:30 p.m.
  •  No Repeats: Rare & Reserve Winemaker Mixer: Winemakers will bring out the best of their best for attendees, including Club Only, Library and Pre-Release bottles, and compete in the “Big Red Shootout,” a friendly competition in which they blind-taste each other’s wines and vote for the best red in the room. Time: 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Come Saturday and Sunday morning will be Garagiste’s signature tasting seminars, which will be moderated by Stewart McLennan, radio host and co-founder of the Garagiste Festival with Doug Minnick.

On Saturday, March 28, will be “The Diversity of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA: It's Not All Pinot & Chardonnay,” featuring Dan Kessler of Kessler-Haak, Chad Melville from SamSARA Wine Co. and Peter Work from Ampelos Cellars.

On Sunday, March 29, comes “The Elephant in the Bottle: The Great California Alcohol Debate,” with panelists Norm Yost from Flying Goat Cellars, Keith Saarloos from Saarloos & Sons and Stillman Brown from Zeppelin Winery.

“We could not be happier to be back in Solvang for the third year in a row with yet another extraordinary slate of 60 talented and innovative micro-production winemakers from Santa Ynez and Santa Barbara, over 20 of whom are pouring at the festival for the first time,” said co-founder Minnick.

“More and more winemakers are telling us that The Garagiste Festivals are the only wine events they participate in because they are so full of passionate, knowledgeable (but decidedly un-snobby) fans of these very special handcrafted wines."

Aaron Watty's label is Big Tar Wines, and this year's Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure will be his first.

One of those winemakers is Aaron Watty, whose small label is Big Tar Wine Company. I met Watty in 2007 in classes at Allan Hancock College, when he worked in the tasting room of a Santa Ynez Valley winery.

This festival will be Watty’s first foray into Garagiste, and he’s excited to introduce the public to his wines, which include cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, sangiovese and pinot noir.

He has spent the last six harvests working with fruit from Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, and calls that AVA “the perfect place to grow Bordeaux varietals. I am making this my focus, because its what I know and love.”

At a private tasting in December, where I tried his wines for the first time, Watty told me that his production is between 400 and 500 cases. His first vintage was 200 cases, in 2012.

Watty made only one barrel of his 2012 pinot noir, and it’s a blend of three vineyards: Rio Vista, Sebastiano and La Encantada.

“I think the Garagiste Festival is a great event for small winemakers who do not have an outlet to show their wines,” he told me in a recent e-mail.

“The amount of people and press that the group provides let the small wineries get together and ‘show off.’ There are not many opportunities to pour like this.” Like most of the winemaking participants at Garagiste, Watty doesn't have a tasting room.

He does have an extensive background in restaurants, including at Gotham Bar and Grill and Picholine in New York City, and Moody’s Bistro in Truckee, which he opened and managed. He continues to keep a foot in the restaurant business, he said, working a few shifts per week at bouchon in Santa Barbara.

Watty worked with Rick Longoria in Lompoc during the last harvest, learning more about pinot noir and chardonnay, he said.

Participating Saturday in the Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure are: Apical Cellars, Archium Cellars, Baehner Fournier, Bellissimo Cellars, Bradley Family Winery, Brophy Clark, Carivintas Winery, Carucci Wines, Clos Des Amis, Cordon Wines, Cotiere, Crawford Family Wines, Dascomb Cellars, Ferguson Crest, Kessler-Haak Vineyards, LaMontagne Winery, Larner Vineyards, Levo Wines, No Limit Wines, Pence Ranch, Press Gang Cellars, Roark Wine Co., SamSara Wine Co., Scott Cellars, Seagrape Cellars, Section Wines, Solminer Wines, Turiya Wines and Weatherborne.

Winemakers on Sunday include Alta Colina Vineyards, Ascension Cellars, Barbieri Wines, Big Tar Wines, Central Coast Group Project, Center of Effort Wines, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Conarium Wines, Dilecta Wines, Dreamcote Wine Co., Falcone Family Vineyards, Graef Wines, Imagine Wines, J. Brix Wines, J. Ludlow Vineyard, Mattina Fiore, MCV Wines, Mount Dorado Winery, Old Creek Ranch Winery, Pace Family Wines, Ryan Cochrane Wines, STANGER Vineyards, Tercero Wines, Tierra y Vino, Vines on the Marycrest, Vino Vargas, Wandering Dog Wines, Workman Ayer and Zeppelin Winery.

Launched in Paso Robles in 2011, the non-profit Garagiste Festivals were the first to shine a light on the American garagiste winemakers, commercial artisan winemakers who handcraft less than 1,500 cases a year and pay close, hands-on attention to every wine they make.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for centralcoastwinepress.com

 

Local women winemakers celebrate Women's History Month with March 28 tasting

Women winemakers, winery owners and managers, viticulturists, enologists and cellar hands will gather on March 28 to taste and toast in celebration of Women’s History Month. “Long before Congress designated March as Women’s History Month, women have been making wine history here in Santa Barbara County,” said Sonja Magdevski, owner/winemaker of Casa Dumetz, who will host the tasting at her two Los Alamos tasting rooms (Casa Dumetz and Babi’s Beer Emporium).

“Whether at the helm of winemaking, as pioneers Lane Tanner and Kathy Joseph have always been, coming up through the cellar ranks like Lorna Kreutz or, like Megan McGrath, moving into our area because of the allure of Santa Barbara County, our winegrowing region has always included women in winegrowing,” she said.

Karen Steinwachs, winemaker for Buttonwood Farm Winery, with Al Harry tasting, right

The tasting will feature a broad array of wines made by Santa Barbara County’s women, including those from Bonaccorsi, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard, Cambria, Carhartt, Casa Dumetz, Cebada Vineyard, Cold Heaven, Foley, Harrison-Clarke, Kitá, LaMontagne, Lucas & Lewellen, C. Nagy, Rideau, Riverbench and William-James Cellars in a casual and convivial environment.

“Of the more than 3,400 wineries in California, approximately 10 percent have a woman as their lead winemaker,” said Clarissa Nagy, winemaker for both Riverbench and her own C. Nagy wines.

“We believe the percentage here in Santa Barbara County to be much higher, and we also believe that women supporting our winemaking efforts in the office, the market, the cellar and the vineyard are just as important to the success of our region.  Let’s all stand up and be counted on March 28!”

The public is invited to the tasting, which will be held beginning at 6 p.m at Casa Dumetz, 448 Bell Street, in Los Alamos, CA 93440. The event is free of charge, and will include live music.

For more information, please contact winemaker Karen Steinwachs (Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard) at karen@vintegratedsolutions.com or 805.350.0257.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

Steeped in history, Zaca Mesa celebrating 42 years as Rhone powerhouse

Steeped in history, Zaca Mesa celebrating 42 years as Rhone powerhouse

cropped-dc-9-6-13-vogelzang-1.jpg

  Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyard, one of Santa Barbara County’s oldest vineyards, ranks high in local winemaking lexicon, and this year will celebrate its 42nd anniversary.

It is the vineyard that experimented with various grape varietals to test vineyard suitability, the training facility for some of the area’s most successful winemakers and the first vineyard in the county to plant syrah.

Winemaker Eric Mohseni and Brittney Burrows, Zaca Mesa’s public relations/communications and social media specialist, recently spent a morning tasting me through current releases and leading a tour of the facility.

Los Angeles native Mohseni, who graduated from California State University, Long Beach, with a food science degree and chemisty minor, started his extensive wine career in retail as a wine buyer at Wine Country in Long Beach.

In 1997, Mohseni took a harvest job at Enda Valley Vineyards, and got bit by the proverbial wine bug. In 1999, he traveled to Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, for a second harvest, this one at Esk Valley. He credits his time there with honing his love for sauvignon blanc. His own wine label, Osseus, comprises 300 cases of that varietal.

In 2001, Mosheni joined Zaca Mesa as enologist, working his way up to assistant winemaker, associate winemaker and, in 2008, to winemaker.

Today Mohseni’s associate winemaker is Kristin Bryden, and the duo team to produce Zaca Mesa’s current annual production of approximately 35,000 cases of wine.

* * *

The Foxen Canyon Road ranch that houses the vineyard, winery and tasting room is approximately 750 acres, said Mohseni, and is planted to 178 acres — 86 of which are syrah.

Six friends invested in the original property in 1972, and began planting the vineyard in 1973.

Today, just two of the original six remain owners: Brothers Lou and John Cushman, Mosheni said. Ruben Camacho has managed the vineyards for 37 years, Burrows said.

Since few other vineyards existed when Zaca was first planted, the owners experimented by planting many grape varietals to determine which would thrive. The original vineyard included cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, riesling, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, grenache, chardonnay and syrah.

After two decades of research into the best varietal-by-vineyard match, Zaca Mesa now focuses on the Rhône varieties of syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and roussanne because they flourish, block by block

“Now, we’re all planted to Rhônes, but for chardonnay,” Mohseni said; that chardonnay now is under contract to another buyer, and the 2013 Zaca Mesa chardonnay is the last vintage bottled from estate chardonnay.

Zaca Mesa's Homage Collection of wines includes this sauvignon blanc from McGinley Vineyard in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

The 2013 vintage includes five whites and eight reds, both estate and the “Homage Collection” bottling, Mohseni said. The Homage line comprises wine from fruit sourced from other vineyards in 2013: Sauvignon blanc (McGinley Vineyard); pinot blanc and pinot noir (Bien Nacido); and cabernet sauvignon (Vogelzang). The whites are available for tasting and purchase; and the reds will be released in coming months.

The Zaca Mesa winery, visible from the road, was built in 1978 — the same year that vineyard crews planted syrah, making the site the first in Santa Barbara County vineyard to put that varietal into the ground.

The rest, one could say, is history.

Ken Brown was Zaca Mesa’s first winemaker, and among the others who worked at Zaca Mesa are Adam Tolmach (Ojai Vineyard), Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat), Daniel Gehrs (Daniel Gehrs Wines) and Bob Lindquist (Qupe).

Using cuttings provided by Gary Eberle, another syrah pioneer, Brown planted syrah in the section of the vineyard known today as Black Bear Block — named for the black bear (or bears) frequenting that area over the years, Mohseni explained —and Lindquist produced Zaca Mesa’s first syrah from that block in 1995.

Because of the syrah grape’s history at Zaca Mesa, and the fact that Santa Barbara County’s cool-climate syrah remains so highly regarded, Mohseni invited the region’s top syrah producers to a clone-based syrah “bull session” Jan. 15 at Zaca Mesa. Read all about it here

I tasted through 10 wines with Mohseni. In order:

2012 Viognier: All neutral oak makes this a lovely mix of melon and minerality. Mohseni utilizes two picks of estate viognier, one at 20 to 21 brix and the second between 22 and 23, and blends the two.

2012 Grenache Blanc: This estate wine comes from the 3-acre block along the road leading to the winery, and shows nice acidity.

2011 Z Blanc: Honey and light spice. This blend of 78 percent roussanne, 17 grenache blanc and 5 viognier showcases the varietals; “these three will always be the base of this wine,” Mohseni said.

2010 Roussanne: Complex, lovely and rounded after barrel aging. Mohseni, like some other winemakers, fondly describes roussanne as “the red wine drinkers’ white wine,” one that “really opens up in the bottle.”

2013 Sauvignon Blanc (Homage Collection): Light and classic.

2010 Z Cuvee: True story: This particular blend is what introduced me to Zaca Mesa more than 16 years ago. This vintage is 54 percent grenache, 34 mourvedre, 6 syrah and 6 cinsault. This cuvee’s varietal ratio varies by vintage, based on the “best and most available” varietals, Mohseni noted. He’s a fan of blends that bring out the best in each varietal.

2012 Grenache: Light and bright with essence of plums. From the Tablas Creek clone — a “workhorse” — this contains about 12 percent viognier, Mohseni said.

2012 Mourvedre: Packed with pepper and smoke, this is another winning expression of this classic Rhone grape. Growing it takes patience, as it’s “slow to ripen.” Zaca farms 15 acres each of grenache and mourvedre, Mohseni said.

2010 Syrah: Big mesquite smoke, and, no doubt, a big seller. This wine represented 10,000 or 12,000 cases of Zaca Mesa’s total that vintage, he noted.

2011 Chapel G Block Syrah: Pure elegance, and Mosheni recommends cellaring until 2023.

Visit zacamesa.com Tasting daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. (805) 688-9339.

 

 

The Top 22 Wines I tasted during 2014

The Top 22 Wines I tasted during 2014

wf-seminar-1-2014.jpg

Let me be the first to acknowledge that yes, I need to venture further afield, because all of these wines hail from Santa Barbara County grapes — not that there's anything wrong with that fact — and yes, I'm posting this list late, as it's already 2015. Oh well.

My disclaimer: I have personally tasted all of these wines, either by the taste, glass or bottle. Naturally, I sampled other wines throughout the year, but only the following made my cut for this list.

Taking good notes does pay, for I can share where and (sometimes) even when I came to taste these particular beauties. Comments appear where I remembered to jot them down … but in many cases, I was too enamored of the wine to do more than just sip.

In no particular order:

Discovered this at BubblyFest, and have since enjoyed it several times

Mosby Wines Stelline di Cortese: (“Little Stars of Cortese”), California (estate) sparkling, NV (BubblyFest, October)

2013 Dreamcote Wines Malvasia Bianca: Lively. And, as the label states: “Life’s short; Drink what you like.” (Private tasting, December)

2012 Cholame Vineyard “Summer Shade,” Grenache Blanc: La Presa Vineyard. Crisp and complex.(Garagiste Festival, Southern Exposure, March 2014). Cholame Vineyard features longtime local winemaker/vineyard manager Andy Ibarra as winemaker.

2012 Dragonette Cellars Sauvignon Blanc: Vogelzang Vineyard. Straw colored, and more viscous, less brisk. (bottle purchase)

2010 Clos Pepe Barrel Select Chardonnay: (bottle purchase)

This wine strengthens my vow to consume more Italian varietals.

2010 Ethan Wines Nebbiolo: Stolpman Vineyards (bottle purchase)

2011 Sillix Wines Syrah:  (first tasted at Garagiste Festival, Southern Exposure, March 2014), (bottle purchase)

2013 Lindley Wines Chardonnay: estate (private tasting, December)

2102 Carucci Wines Viognier, White Hawk Vineyard: (Garagiste Festival, Southern Exposure, March 2014)

True confession: I've had a lot of this wine over the years. A LOT. And it never loses its allure.

2010 Jalama Wines “El Capitan:” (Blend of syrah, mourvedre and cabernet sauvignon) (bottle purchase)

2013 Alta Maria Wines Carbonic Pinot Noir: whole cluster, 100 percent carbonic maceration, bottled four months after harvest (tasting room)

As you can see, I couldn't choose just one pink wine. Here are my three dead-heat favorites: Hitching Post, Dragonette Cellars and Andrew Murray Vineyards.

2013 Hitching Post Rosé; 2013 Dragonette Cellars Rosé (Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara); and 2013 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Esperance Rosé. (Bottle purchase, all three; the HP is pinot noir and the other two are Rhone blends)

2010 Samsara Wine Grenache: Spectacular. (bottle purchase)

2009 A-non-ah-mus Grenache: D’Vine Wine Bar, by the glass

2009 Stolpman Vineyards L’Avion: Roussanne, (bottle purchase)

2012 Stolpman Vineyards Estate Grown Syrah: (Wine Bloggers’ Conference seminar: “Syrah Terrority, Ballard Canyon,” July; and again during Celebration of Harvest seminar, October)

2011 Brave and Maiden “Union:” Blend of syrah, merlot and cabernet franc. Beautifully dusty. (Wandering Dog Wine Bar, by the glass)

2010 No Limit Wine “The Nutz” Syrah: (private tasting, December)

2012 Big Tar Wines Cabernet Sauvignon: Winemaker Aaron Watty’s goal is food-friendly wines, and he nails it with this silky beauty. (private tasting, December)

While I tasted all four of these Rack and Riddle bubblies, the Blanc de Noirs gets my top vote

Rack and Riddle North Coast Blanc de Blancs: (100 percent chardonnay, NV) (BubblyFest, October)

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for centralcoastwinepress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writer Laura Sanchez appointed marketing manager of Thornhill Companies

Writer Laura Sanchez appointed marketing manager of Thornhill Companies

cropped-dc-9-6-13-vogelzang-1.jpg

The Thornhill Companies, a Santa Barbara-based company owned by the Miller family, has appointed Laura Sanchez as marketing manager, the company announced today. Laura SanchezAmong the Thornhill Companies' holdings are Bien Nacido Vineyards, Solomon Hills Vineyards, French Camp Vineyards, the Bien Nacido Estate Program, Central Coast Wine Services, J. Wilkes and Turn Key Wines.

In her new role, Sanchez will assume marketing strategies and initiatives across all Thornhill Companies brands, and will work at the Thornhill offices in downtown Santa Barbara.

Sanchez, who grew up on her family’s California avocado ranch, graduated from Cate School, studied Spanish literature at Middlebury College and was first introduced to wine while working as a sous chef on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

Her first editorial position was at the Center for Peace and Conflict Research in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is passionate about wine and food and has worked in the publishing industry since 2003 as a writer and editor of both print and online media.

She is the former managing editor of Destination Wine Country Magazine and has covered the Central Coast wine scene for a variety of trade and consumer publications, most recently Edible Santa Barbara.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press

Fourth-annual Garagiste Festival returning to "home base" in Paso Robles Nov. 6-9

  More than 70 artisan “garagiste” winemakers will pour their wines at the only festival devoted to the smallest-of-the-small producers — many of whom produce just one or two barrels.

California’s Garagiste Festivals debuted in Paso Robles in November 2011, and two years later expanded to Solvang via “Southern Exposure,” held in late March at the Veterans Memorial Hall. This year a third Garagiste festival, “Urban Exposure,” debuted in Los Angeles on July 12 at Union Station.

2014PasologoFor the return of the flagship event in November, more than 70 artistan winemakers will pour their wines. Of those, more than 50 hail from the Paso Robles area, and 90 percent of those pouring do not have tasting rooms.

Despite its growth and prominence among aficionados of fine wine, founders of the Garagiste Festival stay true to their roots and continue to direct a share of proceeds to the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Program in San Luis Obispo to support future winemakers.

Garagiste (“garage-east”) is a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate small-lot wine producers who often produced wine in their garages. Today the term is used to describe those who produce some the best wine in the world — just in small lots. The annual Garagiste Festivals limit participation to winemakers who make less than 1,200 cases per year.

For the upcoming Paso Robles event, which has relocated this year to the Ponderosa Pavilion at the Fairgrounds, organizers have added new events; click here http://californiagaragistes.com/2014-paso-fest/

Returning from previous years are “Shiners, Samples and Secrets,” where winemakers share barrel samples and other rarities; the “Opening Round,” which spotlights garagistes from Northern California; two wine tasting seminars; and the festival’s signature “Rockin’ After Party. All events will take place in Paso Robles or at the historic Carlton Hotel in Atascadero.

After their successful foray into Los Angeles, the co-founders and organizers of Garagiste Festival are eager to come home, so to speak, to Paso Robles.

“This has been a banner year for Garagiste Festival — a greatly expanded and sold-out Solvang event, and our premiere festival in Los Angeles (also sold out), and now a new and more central venue for our Paso festival, with four days of our most popular events returning,” said Doug Minnick, co-founder of the Garagiste Festival with Stewart McLennan.

“And while we are offering wine lovers even more opportunities to taste these fantastic wines, we continue to keep our attendee to winemaker ratio low because we believe that one-on-one interaction is the best way to make new wine discoveries … and it is what our attendees expect."

Sign up for The Dirt at http://garagistefestival.com/sign-up/, or follow Garagiste on Twitter (@GaragisteFest) or via Facebook, where organizers offer profiles of participating winemakers in the weeks leading up to the festivals.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for centralcoastwinepress.com

 

The CCWP Wine Week: Alma Rosa, Whitcraft Winery and BUBBLYFEST

The CCWP Wine Week: Alma Rosa, Whitcraft Winery and BUBBLYFEST

cropped-dc-9-6-13-vogelzang-1.jpg

Alma Rosa adds to team Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, located in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, has added two new employees to its team.

They are Tom O’ Higgins, general manager, and Elaina Kroll, national sales director.

O’Higgins most recently worked for V. Sattui in the Napa Valley, and Kroll in national sales for Domaine de Cristia, and represented McPrice Myers and the Barrel 27 line.

O’ Higgins has deep roots in the wine business, having enjoyed stints in France, both in Bordeaux and in Epernay, and with several Napa Valley and Central Coast wineries. He will oversee daily operations at Alma Rosa, working closely with the Sanford family, Richard, Thekla and their daughter, Blakeney.

Kroll will manage national sales for the Alma Rosa brand, and work closely in tandem with the Sanfords, ‘O Higgins and winery owner Robert Zorich to elevate the Alma Rosa portfolio.

Drake Whitcraft leading Whitcraft Winery

It’s official: Drake Whitcraft is now full time winemaker and visionary behind Whitcraft Winery, founded by his father, Chris Whitcraft, in 1985.

Chris Whitcraft died earlier this year.

Since its inception — long before the now-popular Funk Zone in Santa Barbara, which houses it — Whitcraft has built its reception on small-lot pinot noir and chardonnay.

In 2006, barely into his 20s, Drake Whitcraft started making wine full-time at the family-owned winery. In more recent years, his father took more of a back seat to Drake’s growing love and obsession for what he considers to be his vocation: “If I weren’t a winemaker, there is nothing else I would want to do, save perhaps make music. My band mates and I have our instruments set up in my cellar, so between jamming with them and making the kinds of wines I want to make and drink, I’m probably the most blessed guy on Santa Barbara’s beach front.

From left are Burt Williams of Morning Dew Vineyards, Drake Whitcraft and the late Chris Whitcraft.

“It’s been hard going on without my dad here, but my main focus is to make wines he’d want to drink and be proud of, and that speak to our vineyard sources.”

Whitcraft has worked with new vineyards in recent years, including Presqu’ile and Pence in Santa Barbara County, and Morning Dew in Anderson Valley. He is also sources from the same vineyards his father utilized, including Melville in Sta. Rita Hills.

"It's refreshing to see a young winemaker like Drake Whitcraft making great wine while still following the concepts his father established, which set Whitcraft apart as a unique winery,” said mentor and family friend, Burt Williams, of Morning Dew Vineyards.

Information: www.whitcraftwinery.com.

BUBBLYFEST nearly sold out

Listen up! Since the inaugural sparkling wine festival, BUBBLYFEST by the Sea, has nearly sold out, organizers are urging would-be attendees to buy tickets NOW.

Already snatched up by your friends and neighbors are the three-day weekend VIP tickets and Sunday’s Funday Champagne Brunch. Nearly sold out are Friday evening’s Cocktail Mixer and Saturday’s Grand Tasting.

Brisk sales have surprised even veteran event organizer Holly Holliday, who attributes the scarcity in tickets to the fact that her Create Promotions’ event is the only one of its kind in the nation.

“Sparkling wine is experiencing a resurgence,” said Holliday. “It peaked in the 1920s, when champagne became the drink that embodied the lightness and frivolity of the era. Now, it is rising again on more of a craft cocktail and artisan wine level. The movement has gone beyond traditional varietals, and is driven by creative producers and mixologists willing to take risks and invest themselves in the process.”

For tickets and more information, visit www.bubblyfest.com.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

CCWP on Winemaking: Meet Kyle Knapp of Press Gang Cellars in Lompoc

CCWP on Winemaking: Meet Kyle Knapp of Press Gang Cellars in Lompoc

kyle-knapp-7-3-14.jpg

Kyle Knapp at Beckmen Vineyards, where he works as assistant winemaker to Mikael Siguoin This is another in my ongoing series about our region’s smallest winemakers. They may not yet have tasting rooms, and their case production is easily less than 1,000 cases. But hunt them down, either via phone, email or web: You can thank me later.

Lompoc native and avid surfer Kyle Knapp was working as a butcher in the meat department of Los Olivos Grocery when the winemaking bug first bit.

“I worked with high-end meats and cheeses, and (the chance to produce) quality wine seemed like a natural progression,” he recalled.

Knapp’s first harvest was in 2005, at nearby Beckmen Vineyards. Like others who thrive on the arduous but rewarding experience, Knapp was hooked. Immediately following that harvest, he traveled to Australia for his second round, and enjoyed some surfing there when he was finished.

His first vintage under his label, Press Gang Cellars, was in 2007, but then he took a break. “I skipped 2008 and 2009 to travel,” Knapp, now 33, recalled. “At the time, I was keeping my priorities straight, I thought.”

Despite having wines from 2007, Knapp calls 2010 his “coming out” — the year when he put travel aside and began to focus on making wine. In January 2011, he began working alongside winemaker Mikael Sigouin as assistant winemaker at Beckmen.

Knapp says he chose the name “Press Gang,” from a song by the Murder City Devils, because “music inspires me in most things I do.”

The song is about the press gangs of the British Navy in the 18th and early 19th centuries — sailors would round up young men, sometimes from bars, and force them to work on navy ships, he said. Impressment, or the press gang, refers to the act of taking men by force and without notice.

“I like the play on words: We press grapes to get wine,” Knapp said.

Since the inception of Press Gang Cellars, Knapp has focused his efforts on syrah, grenache and roussane, but in 2013 also produced some tempranillo and sangiovese, he said.

Knapp sources fruit primarily from the Santa Ynez Valley and Ballard Canyon, and tends to pick “when flavor is optimal.” His methodology includes a cold soak and letting native yeast kick start the fermentation process.

“I like doing some whole cluster, like 25 percent,” he added. His wines undergo extended barrel age, “around 25 to 28 months.”

His current rosé, named for his wife, Savanna Rhea, combines partial oak and stainless steel, and enjoyed a two-day cold soak before being pressed into a bottle of Press Gang Cellars.

Press Gang Cellars has grown to about 300 cases; Knapp says his goal is a maximum of 2,000 per year.

I met Knapp through mutual friends several years back, but only tried his wines during the 2013 Garagiste: Southern Exposure tasting in Solvang. With Savanna at his side, Knapp poured his syrah, Grenache and rosé to acclaim.

Knapp told me he enjoys participating in the Garagiste events, which highlight uber tiny producers, but realizes he needs a tasting room for increased follow through with consumers. Such a site — as well as a wine club — is in the works within the next year, definitely in Lompoc, he said.

Knapp resides in Lompoc with Savanna and their son Milo, who is 9 months old.

Information: (805) 291-3141 or pressgangcellars@gmail.com

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

Thursday's Bottle returns with Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post "Pinks"

Thursday's Bottle returns with Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post "Pinks"

cropped-dc-9-6-13-vogelzang-1.jpg

  It’s been months since I posted a wine for the weekly “Thursday’s Bottle.” I have no excuse — especially since I still drink a lot of wine, even on Thursdays.

Tonight, to honor the hundreds of writers descending on Buellton for the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, and because it’s a lovely warm summer evening, I offer up a rosé.

Pretty in pink is Pinks, by the gentlemen behind Hartley Ostini Wines, Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini

Those of you who follow my writing know that I just switched my “Wine Country” column from the local newspapers to Noozhawk.com. My first column, July 2, focused on 11 locally produced rosés.

I inadvertently overlooked this one, and I’m here tonight to tell you that it ranks right up with my favorites noted in the Noozhawk column.

The rosé is the 2013 Hartley Ostini Hitching Post “Pinks,” a luscious blend of grenache, pinot noir and valdiguie. It smacks of fresh, juicy pink grapefruit with an undertone of ripe strawberries.

I’m told it retails for $15 — what a steal!

Case production: Update! The always gracious and bubbly Gray Hartley said tonight that the 2013 Pinks includes 2,400 cases. The wine is available in retail outlets, at the restaurants or online: http://www.hpwines.com/HPWines.html

 

 

Meet two local Garagistes: Ron Hill and Angela Soleno

Let me introduce two of the winemakers participating in the March 29 and 30 Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure: Ron Hill, owner and winemaker of a-non-a-mus of Orcutt, and Angela Soleno, owner and winemaker of Turiya wines, based in Lompoc. Hill pours during the grand tasting Sunday, and Solena on Saturday. This is his second trip to Southern Exposure, but her first.

Ron Hill, left, and friend Andrew, at the recent Rotary Winetasting event in Lompoc

First, I’ll let Hill tell his tale, outlined to me via e-mail:

“My case production in 2013 was 340 cases, and consists of small lots of rosé, viognier, syrah, grenache and pinot noir.

“I make my wines in a small corner at C2 Cellars in Orcutt, and I would like to give a big shout out to the Cuevas Brothers and crew for putting up with me these last three years.

“I live in Santa Maria and have two Rhodesian Ridgebacks — Jack and Lily — that have appeared in more wine-related publications than I have (how’s that for being anonymous!).

I asked Hill, a native of Kansas, how he came up with the name of his label, which, to be honest, is quite unusual.

“When I started the task of coming up with a name for label, back in 2008, I never thought that an original name would be so difficult to come up with,” he said. “I spent countless hours thumbing through dictionaries and thesauruses looking for a name that was “catchy” and wasn’t either trademarked or already in commerce, thus making it unusable.”

Like many others, Hill wanted his label to “be about the wine” and not simply the name on the bottle.

Choosing “a-non-ah-mus” turned out be “as close to ‘anonymous’ as I could get,” Hill reflected. With the help of a good trademark attorney, “now I own them both.”

Hill has started a wine club for a-non-ah-mus and hopes to grow slowly, with a goal of 500 cases by next year, he noted. In addition, he wants to start sourcing grapes from “unique little vineyards that aren’t that well known, and plans to bring grenache blanc, mourvèdre and a blend into his line up.

Without a tasting room, Hill offers tastings only by appointment.

Hill left a long-term career as a respiratory care practitioner, both in Kansas and — seeking a warmer climate — Arizona, followed by California. (Note: When you meet Hill, ask him about the incident involving a long scarf and a snow blower).

After about 20 years working in hospital ICUs, Hill, now 53, wanted a change.

He caught the winemaking bug “quite by accident” from a neighbor when he lived in San Jose.

“He ran with a group of five close friends, and they all made their own wines — which all were very different,” Hill recalled. “I actually learned a lot from observing them make their true “garage wines.”

Years later, Hill recalled, “I took a bottle of my neighbor’s garage wine and ran every test I could in the lab at the winery where I worked.

As is often the case with the tiniest of wine makers, who are meticulous in crafting wine, Hill’s friend’s “garage” wine had “perfect numbers” despite never having been tested with a pH meter or ebulometer, he said.

In 2001, Hill began his winemaking career in earnest as a harvest intern at Babcock Winery, where he worked his way up to associate winemaker. He remained at Babcock until 2011, when he left to focus on being, well, a-non-ah-mus.

Angela Soleno and a bottle of her "Perpetual Bliss," a blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah

I caught up with Angela Soleno at Corner House Coffee in Los Olivos early in March. Several years ago, I met Soleno in her previous life — working in marketing and shipping at Consilience Wines in Los Olivos, “wearing many hats,” she recalled. She worked there for about six years.

Now she wears just one hat — winemaker — and, in fact, has just left her “day job” of two years, as caretaker at Figueroa Mountain Ranch.

“I’ve found my calling! I’m done,” Soleno laughed, obviously excited about what lies ahead for her label.

Like Hill, Soleno, 34, made her first vintage in 2008, choosing to call it Turiya, which means “a state of consciousness wherein reality and truth are harmonious.”

Her first vintage was three different wines, all reds, with a total production of 96 cases. Soleno’s focus is “mostly Bordeauxs and some sangiovese,” made with grapes from one of the region’s best sangiovese sites, Stolpman Vineyard, on Ballard Canyon Road.

Because she started small and has stayed that way, Soleno still has some of her initial vintage left for tasting – and sales. Like her 60/40 cabernet sauvignon and syrah blend, “Perpetual Bliss,” with grapes sourced from Camp 4 Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Again, like Hill, Soleno doesn’t have a tasting room, but is more than happy to allow by-appointment tastings inside the winery space she shares with Peter Scott of Scott Cellars on F Street in Lompoc.

A single mother of two children, Veronica, 17, and Trenton, 11, Soleno has a firm grip on her future:

When I ask, any future plans for a tasting room? “No, never!”

Do you plan to grow above 500 cases? “No, I only want to produce enough for an allocation list, so that I can sell out every vintage.”

And, while she likes white wines made by other winemakers (Tessa Marie Parker’s sparkling vermentino, for example), Soleno vows she’s “never gonna make a white wine” herself.

Soleno is a big fan of the natural acidity in wines, especially reds, especially Italian reds, and looks forward to getting her hands on some Aglianico, perhaps from French Camp Vineyards outside Santa Margarita in San Luis Obispo County, she said.

“The more obscure the varietals, the better.”

Before she releases them, Soleno ages her wines in barrel for 36 months, and then for an additional year in the bottle.

“I like ‘finished’ wines. I wait until the wine tells me it’s ready, and then I go from there.”

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press