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Vineyards and Viticulture

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

 

 

 

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.

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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

Several of Santa Barbara County's pioneering winemakers to participate in panel at Museum of Natural History

Six of Santa Barbara County’s pioneering winemakers will be panelists this Sunday afternoon during the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s final wine event of 2016. “In the Beginning: The Early Years in the Santa Barbara Wine Country,” will feature winemakers Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat); Fred Brander (Brander Vineyards); Ken Brown (Ken Brown Wines); Bob Lindquist (Qupe); Lane Tanner (Lumen Wines) and Rick Longoria (Longoria Wines)

The moderator will be Antonio Gardella, a longtime Santa Barbara resident who has devoted much of his life to selling wine and educating the public about the joys of the vine.

Following the hour-long Q&A session will be socializing and tastings from 10 local wineries, as well as food from six vendors. Guests will have the opportunity to mingle with participating winemakers.

Clendenen: Robert Parker named Clendenen to his short list of “Best Wineries in the World” in 1989 and 1990, and in 1991, the latter was selected by Oz Clark as one of 50 creators of the world's “Modern Classic Wines." In the years since, multiple other awards have followed, and Clendenen continues to produce ABC, as well as several smaller labels, from the production facility he shares with Lindquist on Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria. Clendenen’s tasting room is in Santa Barbara.

Brander: While he is well documented as producing the best sauvignon blanc in California, Brander puts as much effort into small lots of several red Bordeaux grape varietals, among them cabernet sauvignon and merlot. He recently celebrated the 40th harvest at his estate vineyard/winery/tasting room in the new Los Olivos District — Santa Barbara County’s newest American Viticultural Area — and yes, he was a driving force behind getting recognition for that appellation.

Brown: This vintner was among the first to recognize Santa Barbara County’s potential as a powerhouse for pinot noir and chardonnay, especially in the cooler Santa Maria Valley and Sta. Rita Hills’ AVAs. That was in the mid- to late-1970s. Brown and Lindquist were also the first to plant and produce, respectively, the syrah grape, in this county (at Zaca Mesa). Brown’s tasting room is in Buellton.

Lindquist: This winemaker has been producing award-winning Rhone grape varietal wines on the Central Coast since the early 1980s, among them grenache, viognier, roussanne, marsanne and, of course, syrah. Lindquist and Brown earned reputations for being the earliest winemakers to believe that syrah would become one of this county’s most widely planted varietals. A longtime Los Angeles Dodgers’ fan, Lindquist bottled a chardonnay and a syrah for the team and the public, releasing them to accolades and national press early this year.

Tanner: Along with Clendenen, Brown and many others, Tanner believes that the Santa Maria Valley is one of the hottest cool-climate spots for pinot noir and chardonnay wines — those that make the world sit up and pay attention. Tanner’s first vintage was in 1981, as an enologist for Firestone. Later winemaking gigs included Zaca Mesa and the Hitching Post, and in 1989, she founded her own Lane Tanner Wines label. Tanner’s latest project is Lumen Wines, a label she co-owns with Will Henry, owner of Pico in Los Alamos with his wife, Kali Kopley.

Longoria: “From the very beginning of my career,” Longoria says, “I felt that the Santa Barbara wine region had the potential to produce world-class wines, and it’s been very gratifying to see that belief realized over the more than 30 years I’ve been here. It’s also been very rewarding to have had the good fortune over the years to have some of my wines contribute to the acclaim of our wine region.” Longoria’s winery and tasting room are located in Lompoc.

Details on Sunday: Event takes place from 1 to 5 p.m. in the Fleischmann Auditorium at the Mission Creek campus of the museum, located at 2559 Puesta del Sol in Santa Barbara.

Tickets, limited to 100, are $75 for museum members and $100 for non-members, and remain available at www.sbnature.org/tickets

For more information, contact Meridith Moore, (805) 682-4711, Ext. 112, or mmoore@sbnature2.org

About the museum: Founded in 1916, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History reconnects more than 100,000 people each year to nature both indoors and out. The Museum has 10 indoor exhibit halls that focus on regional natural history, including astronomy, birds, insects, geology, mammals, marine life, paleontology, plant life and the Chumash Indians.

The museum is also home to the only full-dome planetarium on the Central Coast, a research library, and the John & Peggy Maximus Art Gallery.

The Museum’s outdoor exhibit experiences include a nature trail, the Chumash Sukinanik’oy Garden, The Museum Backyard & Nature Club House, the Butterfly Pavilion — and a real 74-foot Blue Whale skeleton, which is visible from the road and turns quite a few heads.

The Museum’s outdoor nature experience at its Sea Center located on the historic Stearns Wharf. This facility provides the nearly 100,000 people who visit it annually a window to ocean life in the Santa Barbara Channel via interactive exhibits and close-up, hands-on encounters with sea creatures.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

San Luis Obispo County’s wine industry to honor leaders at California Mid-State Fair

  The wine industry in San Luis Obispo County comes together every year to recognize members of the region’s wine and viticulture community, and this year, awards will be presented Friday, June 22.

Wolff

Peck

Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2016 San Luis Obispo County Wine Industry Awards will be given to Jean-Pierre Wolff, Wolff Vineyards, Industry Person of the Year; Steve Peck, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Winemaker of the Year; and Bob Thomas, Mesa Vineyard Management, Winegrape Grower of the Year.

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance — in partnership with the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association, the Independent Grape Growers of the Paso Robles Area, the Vineyard Team and past award recipients — worked together to identify the 2016 honorees.

His or her peers voted on each nominee for respective leadership and accomplishments across the county, recognized as the state’s third largest wine region.

“Each year the wine community looks forward to the Mid-State Fair as a time we can join our fellow agriculturalists in recognizing our leaders, innovators and visionaries,” said Jennifer Porter, executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

“We are excited to honor these three men whose passion for San Luis Obispo County wine and quest for quality in the vineyard and winery is to be celebrated.”

The San Luis Obispo County Wine Industry Awards event takes place at 5:30 p.m. Friday, July 22, within the Mission Square at the Mid-State Fair.

The event is free (with paid admission to the Mid-State Fair) and the public is encouraged to attend.

Visit www.midstatefair.com for more information.

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance represents wineries, growers and businesses in Paso Robles Wine Country, which comprises more than 40,000 vineyard acres and 200 wineries. For more information, visit www.pasowine.com

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

 

Popular Bacon & Barrels makes San Luis Obispo debut this weekend, July 15-17

Bottle Branding photos/Would you like bacon with your drink? Bacon & Barrels celebrates four years of bacon-inspired food and barrel-aged libations with its San Luis Obispo County debut this weekend, July 15 to 17.

Holly Holliday, founding queen of Bacon & Barrels and owner of San Luis Obispo’s Create Promotions, parent organizer of this event and BubblyFest, relocated the popular event north from its early locations at Saarloos & Sons’ field in Los Olivos in 2013 and 2014, and last year, at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard outside of Solvang.

In 2014, just one year after launching Bacon & Barrels in Los Olivos, Holliday added a sister event every May since, in San Diego.

Bottle Branding photos/ Like creative food made with bacon? Bacon & Barrels is your new heaven

While general admission tickets remain available for this Saturday’s event at Madonna Inn Meadows, the coveted VIP (all-weekend access) tickets just sold out.

In the case of Bacon & Barrels, VIP stands for “Very Important Pig,” and guests who partake in that status take it Very Seriously.

VIP attendees will enjoy all three sections of Bacon & Barrels: Friday evening’s kick-off dinner at Biddle Ranch Vineyard House; early admission (noon) to Saturday afternoon’s festival at Madonna Inn Meadows with exclusive access to the lounge; and finally, the Buffet & Bloody’s Sunday Brunch at Sidecar, 1127 Broad St., also in San Luis Obispo.

The tickets that are still available (get yours today, as they will not last) include early-admission (noon to 5 p.m.) for the festival Saturday ($80); general admission (1 to 5 p.m.) ($60); and both categories of the designated non-drinker tickets ($30), for early and regular entry to the Saturday event.

All Saturday tickets include parking, a glass, live music, live chef and mixology demonstrations, and all food samples — while supplies last. You won’t leave hungry.

Those who pay to sample the libations get all of the above — plus everything alcoholic.

About those live demonstrations: Chefs from the hottest restaurants will prepare and proffer small plates starring the most creative forms of (what else) — bacon and pork belly. To pair with the nibbles will be drinks from brewers, winemakers and mixologists, who will offer bacon-inspired and bacon-based libations. You really cannot go wrong here, folks.

The Spazmatics will provide live music Saturday.

For more details on the entire weekend, visit http://www.baconandbarrels.com/schedule-slo/

Holliday notes that Bacon & Barrels is proud to support the Create Community Foundation, which provides grants and assistance to organization that serve at-risk youth. In addition, the festival makes it an annual goat to divert 95 percent of its trash from landfills via cutlery, napkins and cups that are biodegradable and compostible.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

Larner Fête to feature food, music and seven wines from iconic Ballard Canyon vineyard

Winemaker Michael Larner and his family will open their private Ballard Canyon Road estate vineyard from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 24, for the 2016 return of Larner Fête. Providing the food will be Autostrada Wood Fired Pizza and Amaranto Catering, and musical entertainment will be by the Ruben Lee Dalton Band.

Tickets are $60 and available via www.larnerwine.com

The 2016 Larner Fete will feature seven wineries that source Larner Vineyard grapes. Pouring their wines will be Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz Wines; Scott Sampler of the Central Coast Group Project; Craig Jaffurs of Jaffurs Wine Cellars; Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine; Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery; McPrice “Mac” Myers of McPrice Myers Wines; and Larry Schaffer of tercero wines.

All proceeds from the event will benefit the Viticulture & Enology Program at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria.

Since it was planted in 1999, the Larner Vineyard has provided grapes to winemakers across the Central Coast and beyond. Most of the wineries that purchased fruit as early as 2001, when the vines were first mature, remain clients of Larner Vineyard today.

More than two dozen winemakers produce wines sourced from the syrah, grenache, mourvedre and viognier grapes grown on the 34-acre estate vineyard.

Larner Fête attendees will be shuttled to the vineyard property from pick-up locations in Solvang and Buellton. Location details will be e-mailed to guests with confirmation of ticket purchase.

For more information, e-mail Emily Shirley Dixon, Emily@larnerwine.com

 

 

 

Winter Restaurant Week bringing dining specials to Lompoc Valley Feb. 21-27

Restaurants in the Lompoc Valley will showcase their food and drinks during the inaugural Winter Restaurant Week, Sunday, Feb. 21, through Saturday, Feb. 27. The Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau (LVCC&VB), the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance (SRHWA) and Shop Lompoc, Shop Small (SLSS) teamed to sponsor the seven-day celebration of culinary creativity in junction with the city’s restaurant and winery owners.

For $20.16, plus tax and tip, Winter Restaurant Week will allow dining patrons an opportunity to choose from a prix-fixe meal, a two-for-one dining option or a special event. Some eateries may also offer wine or beer pairings for an additional charge. Some will offer lunch and dinner, but others only one or the other.

We want people to come out to eat and enjoy themselves at a historically slow time for the restaurant industry,” said Ken Ostini, president/CEO of the LVCC&VB.

“Lompoc has some really unique restaurants with a wide variety of cuisines. We would love for out of town folks to come try us out and taste what Lompoc has to offer.

“There will also be opportunities to win a $25 gift certificate, as each participating restaurant will be awarding one at the end of the week to a lucky diner,” Ostini said.

For more information, contact the LVCC&VB at (805) 736-4567, Ext. 223, or email chelsea@lompoc.com

View the menus from restaurants at http://www.lompoc.com/restaurant-week.html

Restaurants confirmed to participate include:

Alfie’s Fish & Chips

Bread Board Deli

Central Coast Specialty Foods

D’Vine Wine Bar and Bistro

Floriano’s

Herb Home

Jalama Beach Café

La Botte Italian Restaurant

Mi Amore Pizza & Pasta

Nikka Fish Enterprise

Pizza Garden

PJ’s Deli

QQ Aloha BBQ

Scratch Kitchen

Sissy’s Uptown Café

Tom’s

Village Burgers

Village Coffee Stop Cafe

Wild West Pizza & Grill

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

 

Garagiste Festival 'Southern Exposure' returns to Solvang Feb. 13 & 14

  The Garagiste Festival, founded in Paso Robles in 2011 to introduce small-production, cutting edge winemakers to the public, returns to Solvang’s Veterans’ Memorial Hall Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 13 and 14, with two days of grand tastings, as well as signature tasting seminars on mourvedre and — to honor Valentine's Day on Sunday — sparkling wines from the Central Coast.

“We are proud to continue our mission of bringing the best new garagiste winemakers to our audience and, just as importantly, bringing the story behind the wines straight from the winemakers themselves,” said Doug Minnick, Garagiste Festival co-founder.

The founders focus their efforts on winemakers who produce fewer than 1,500 cases of wine per year.

Featured will be ‘garagiste’ winemakers from the Santa Ynez Valley, Paso Robles, Napa and other regions. Proceeds benefit the Garagiste Festival Scholarship Fund at Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Department.

Garagiste (or “garage-east”) is a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot winemakers, sometimes working in their “garages” (anything considered not a chateau), who refused to follow the “rules.”

Today the descriptor is a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the best wine in the world.

New this year is a drawing for two VIP tickets for Sunday, ($95) and a room on Valentine’s Day night at the Landsby, Solvang’s new luxury hotel. To participate, visit http://on.fb.me/1ZHwbpa

Tickets are available at http://garagistefestival.com

Early-access tickets for either day are $75 and provide entry at 1 p.m. General admission tickets to either day’s Grand Tastings are $55 each; the tastings run from 2 to 5 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

For general information, visit http://www.garagistefestival.com

The Saturday (mourvedre) and Sunday (bubbles) tasting seminars will be moderated by Stewart McLennan, Garagiste Festival co-founder and radio host.

Saturday’s seminar, led by winemaker Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines, will explore a variety of interpretations of an underdog grape beloved by many winemakers on the Central Coast. Other participants will be Bob Tillman of Alta Colina Wines, and Eric Moshseni of Zaca Mesa Vineyards. The three will explore the different styles of the Rhone grape varietal, and discuss why it’s one of the world’s most widely planted.

Sunday’s seminar, sponsored by BubblyFest, will focus on sparkling wines, aka ‘bubbles,’ and will feature three winemakers: Halcyon Wines’ Tyler Elwell; Dan Kessler of Kessler-Haak Vineyards; and Norm Yost of Flying Goat Cellars.

Each seminar will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tickets to either seminar are only available as part of the VIP All-day Ticket, which includes a box lunch and early access (1 p.m.) to the grand tasting. VIP tickets are limited.

Winemakers already scheduled to pour include: Archium Cellars, Ascension Cellars, Baehner Fournier Vineyards, Bevela Wines, Brophy Clark Cellars, Carucci Wines, The Central Coast Group Project, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Clos des Amis, Coda Wines, Cordon Wines, Dascomb Cellars, El Lugar Wines, Graef Wines, Halcyon Wines, Iter Wine, Kessler Haak Vineyard, La Montagne Winery, Larner Vineyard, Levo Wines, Mallea Wines, MCV Wines, Millesime Cellars, C. Nagy Wines, Pace Family Wines, Press Gang Cellars, Rhythm Wines, Ryan Cochrane Wines, Scott Cellars, Seagrape Wines, small + tall wines, Stirm Wines, STANGER/JP3, Tercero Wines, Travieso Winery, Trojak-Knier Winery, Weatherborne, West of Temprance and Workman Ayer.

Garagiste Festival Sponsors are Tonnellerie St. Martin, Glenn Burdette and Farm Credit West; hotel sponsors are VisitSYV.com and the Hamlet Inn.

 

"Winemaker as Chef" Aaron Watty displays duel talents in kitchen, cellar

"Winemaker as Chef" Aaron Watty displays duel talents in kitchen, cellar

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  I’ll be honest: I’ve enjoyed multiple winemaker dinners this year, and each one was first-rate. But the most recent meal was made extra special by the fact that the winemaker, Aaron Watty of Big Tar Wines, was also the chef.

On Dec. 7, at the cozy Montecito Events Center (a former restaurant), Watty and his adorable mother, Kathleen Watty (aka “Momma Watty”), and guests enjoyed a multicourse “Winemaker as Chef” dinner and appetizers paired with Watty’s wines.

Watty, a native of San Luis Obispo, has a curriculum vitae that impressed me back when we first met in 2007 at Allan Hancock College in a enology class.

Growing up, Watty resided in Tahoe and Paris, and graduated from UCSB. While still a student, Watty worked in the fashion business in New York City, Milan and Paris. And then came many years in the restaurant industry, first in New York City and Miami, and then on the West Coast, in Truckee.

Upon his return to Santa Barbara County, Watty began waiting tables at Santa Barbara’s famed bouchon in 2006. To this day, he still works several shifts a week — that is, when he’s not making wine for himself or another producer.

Also in 2006, Watty began at Sunstone, where he worked in sales until 2008. Then he worked a year as wine director at the Wine Cask, and with Doug Margerum, making wine for Margerum Wine Co., for two vintages. Following came harvest and cellar stints with a custom crush, Sans Liege and Longoria Wines.

12.7.15 BT Char

Watty launched Big Tar in 2012 with an emphasis on bordeauxs from the Happy Canyon AVA: A Three Creek (3C) Vineyards sangiovese, sauvignon blanc from McGinley Vineyard and cabernet sauvignon from Happy Canyon, and pinot noirs from both Rio Vista and La Encantada vineyards.

I tasted through his wines a year ago this month at a private tasting for small producers, and I was eager to see how they’d matured and developed in one year.

I know several winemakers whose talents in the kitchen match their skills in the cellar, and Watty is on that short list.

Sardines on toast paired with a Big Tar sauvignon blanc

On Dec. 7, dinner guests gathered to sample appetizers: Bouqerones with peppers and olives, smoked sardines with cumin crema, olive, pepper and salami. Paired with these delights were Watty’s 2012 Three Creek Sangiovese and 2014 McGinley Sauvignon.

When guests seated themselves for dinner, Watty and his wait staff poured another sauvignon blanc, this one another 2014 from McGinley Vineyard, aged in neutral oak and bottled just three weeks prior to our dinner. It was paired with local black cod.

Watty purchased all of the meal’s vegetables from the Saturday Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market. From the arugula beurre blanc and white beans served with the cod, to the wild mushroom encrusted Alaskan Arctic Char, served on a bed of spinach, all the vegetables were first rate.

Chef turned winemaker turned fashion industry employee turned entrepreneur, Aaron Watty

The char was delightful with the 2012 Big Tar La Encantada Pinot Noir, with the wine able to stand up against the spice of the mushroom crust.

The third course was three plates, and paired with three red wines: Roasted pork loin with prunes and potato gratin, paired with 2012 Happy Canyon cabernet sauvignon; char grilled leg of lamb with lentils francaise and carrots, paired with 2012 Cuvee Jean Murphy (named for Watty’s late grandmother); and to finish, Basque sheep cheese with membrillo and honey with black pepper, paired with the 2012 Rio Vista pinot noir.

Our table agreed that the lamb with lentils and the cuvee scored for best pairing, hands down.

Watty’s 2012 cuvee is 70 percent sangiovese from Three Creek, and 30 percent Star Lane Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, and very limited, as he produced just one barrel, or approximately 28 cases.

For more information on Big Tar Wines, e-mail Watty, aaron@bigtar.com, or visit http://www.bigtar.com

Precision Ag Consulting, Wine Communications Group finalize deal for Central Coast's WiVi Industry Conference

  The owners of Paso Robles’ Precision Ag Consulting, who co-founded the WiVi Central Coast Wine Industry Conference and Tradeshow, announced Tuesday that they have finalized a buyout with The Wine Communication Group, owner of Wine Business Monthly, for the annual March event.

The two companies founded WiVi in 2012 in an effort to create a regional wine industry conference and tradeshow on the California Central Coast, and it has grown into the largest industry event south of San Francisco. Lowell and Becky Zelinski own Precision Ag, a viticulture consulting company.

The partnership between the two companies was formed in an effort to expand the Zelinski's former viticulture production conference into an industry-wide event, according to a news release.

The fourth-annual WiVi Central Coast Wine Industry Conference and Tradeshow will be March 15 and 16, 2016, at the Paso Robles Event Center.

“This buyout is the fulfillment of a plan we put in place with Becky and Lowell over three years ago,” said Eric Jorgensen, president of Wine Business Monthly. “We are thrilled with the success of WiVi. Becky and Lowell have done a remarkable job and we thank them for their efforts.”

Becky Zelinski noted that it was always the intent of both companies that Wine Business Monthly would ultimately buy the show.

“We are pleased with the success of WiVi and excited that our collaboration with Wine Business Monthly allowed us to achieve our goal of creating a premiere educational forum for the Central Coast wine industry. We have always considered Wine Business Monthly our industry’s premiere trade publication and knew that teaming up with them would be a win-win situation. We know that WiVi is in good hands with Wine Business Monthly at the helm. We will continue to work with them to grow and promote the show and plan to remain advocates for WiVi because we think it is a great resource for our industry,” Zelinski said.

The transaction is expected to close in November and terms were not disclosed, according to the news release.

Wine Communications Group Inc. is an information and services provider for the global wine industry. As publishers of www.winebusiness.com, the leading website for the trade, and two of the industry's leading print publications, Wine Business Monthly and Wines & Vines, they are dedicated to meeting the wine industry's needs for information, analysis, resources and tools.

The Zelinski’s Precision Ag Consulting is an agricultural consulting company that specializes in vineyard management, viticulture production consulting, soil fertility and irrigation management, and ag waiver compliance on the California Central Coast.

The company is owned by Lowell Zelinski, who has doctorate degree in soil-plant-water relations from the University of California, Davis, and more than 35 years of experience in agriculture. Becky Zelinski manages the business. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications and more than 25 years of experience in business administration, marketing, public relations and event management.

As a two-day conference, WiVi includes educational seminars with a regional focus on viticulture, winemaking and DTC/winery marketing addressed by today’s top industry leaders, as well as a one-day tradeshow featuring nearly 200 exhibits showcasing new products and innovative tools.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

Dreamcote Wine Co. releases hard cider by the growler, plans cider expansion

Dreamcote Wine Co. releases hard cider by the growler, plans cider expansion

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  Winemakers Anna Clifford and Brittany Zotovich always have something new up their collective sleeves.

The two, the minds behind Dreamcote Wine Co., this year produced small batches of hard apple cider, which will be formally released this Sunday, Oct. 4, at the Dreamcote Fall Wine Release party, along with a new grenache, sausages and small-batch mustards and yes, guests wearing lederhosen.

In North America, “cider” is unfiltered apple juice. Beverages such as Dreamcote’s are known as hard cider, as they are fermented. While alcohol levels vary, they're usually below 10 percent. Dreamcote's is at 7 percent.

I caught up with the ever-affable Zotovich earlier this week in Buellton at Terravant Wine Company, where she is senior director of sales/winery services.

Dreamcote's cider is available at select eateries and via the Los Olivos tasting room and can be purchased by the bottle or growler

For several months, Dreamcote's 100-percent apple cider has been available by the bottle, but only recently have Clifford and Zotovich also made it obtainable via 2-liter growlers, poured straight from the keg.

The Dreamcote cider can be found at Scratch Kitchen in Lompoc and Industrial Eats in Buellton, as well as at a couple of Los Angeles accounts, where sales “are cranking,” Zotovich said.

She and Clifford are enthusiastic about experimenting with “cider trials” when they produce another batch in the next few months, and, Zotovich added ,“we hope to evolve into a line of seasonal and fruit ciders,” such as one made with apricots.

She discovered new inspiration by attending the Cider Summit in Portland last June. The Northwest Cider Association sponsors the two-day event in the food/wine/craft beer/spirits-savvy city. Zotovich returned home full of ideas and with a bright tank (vessel for secondary fermentation of beer or cider) in the back of her truck.

While Portland is a metropolis, it showcases an entrepreneurial spirit reminiscent of a smaller town, and encourages hand-crafted goods of all types. The earnest and enterprising Zotovich took note.

“I want to bring Portland down here as much as possible!”

Dreamcote's Fall Wine Release Party will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Los Olivos, 2933 San Marcos Ave. (down the street from the corner of San Marcos and Alamo Pintado avenues).

 

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for 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

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  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

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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

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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

 

Lompoc's Scratch Kitchen debuts winemaker dinners with Kessler-Haak Wines

Lompoc's Scratch Kitchen debuts winemaker dinners with Kessler-Haak Wines

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Augusto Caudillo and winemakers Dan and Ellen Kessler-Haak collaborated July 19 for the first-ever winemaking dinner at the Lompoc eatery Caudillo co-owns, Scratch Kitchen. Scratch Kitchen started service in early May, just three months ago. The chefs and co-owners, Augusto Caudillo and Gonzalo Pacheco, opened their doors to a lot of anticipation in this town — one that’s primarily working class and woefully light on quality food that isn’t Mexican or Thai.

Lompoc residents, starved for the innovative slash healthy cuisine easily found in other nearby cities, descended upon Scratch en masse, especially during lunchtime and for Sunday brunch.

For years, Caudillo, a 2006 graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Las Vegas, and chef Gonzalo Pacheco, his business partner and brother-in-law, had tossed around the idea of opening their own restaurant.

Caudillo is the youngest of eight children, and was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and raised on the Central Coast, according to www.scratch-kitchen.com He has worked at various restaurants around the country, including Lucky’s in Montecito, and as a personal chef.

Pacheco, born and raised in Mexico, moved to Santa Barbara in 1991, where he was introduced to the local restaurant industry. He graduated from the Hotel, Restaurant and Culinary Program at Santa Barbara City College in 1997, and worked in restaurants as varied as the Wine Cask, Fess Parker’s Grand Hotel in Los Olivos, and, like Caudillo, at Lucky’s.

* * *

On Sunday, July 19, arriving patrons were handed flutes of Kessler-Haak’s sparkling wine and pointed to a buffet of fresh fruits, crackers, breads and cheeses.

“I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d pick for a first-time winemaking dinner than Dan and Ellen of Kessler-Haak,” Caudillo said.

Once guests were seated, Caudillo, coordinating an eight-person wait and bar staff, put plates down in front of the 20-plus guests simultaneously, an impressive feat, and our meal began.

All of the courses and wines were well timed and the plates full of color and the food artfully arranged.

Pickled beets, watermelon and more comprised "Sottaceto," paired with chardonnay

Leading off was “Sottaceto,” meaning “pickled” in Italian, a plate featuring medallions of fried goat cheese, beets, chives, cucumbers and watermelon radishes paired with Kessler-Haak’s 2013 Estate Chardonnay.

Next up was a strawberry confit and herb salad served with the Kessler-Haak 2014 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir. The salad featured Iberico cheese, which balanced the bright-fruit acidity of the wine.

Roasted Tasmanian trout with pancetta and basil paired perfectly with Kessler-Haak's 2011 estate pinot noir

My favorite pairing was the choice by the chefs/winemakers to pair roasted Tasmanian trout, served ratatouille style with pancetta and basil, with the KH 2011 Estate Pinot Noir. The fish was perfect in flavor and texture, and the pancetta brought an elegant level of smoke to the table — but did not overpower the wine.

The fourth course featured a pistachio-crusted lamb loin served with a delicious cauliflower au jus with a smidge of mint jelly. Accompanying this was the 2013 KH Lafond Vineyard Syrah.

Lamb loin with cauliflower, mint and lamb jus

True story: I scraped clean my plate; I’ve never tasted better flavors of cauliflower.

Our meal ended with a dessert trio: A cheesecake bite, homemade Snickers-style chocolate bar, suitably melted in the heat of the night, and a tiny cheese board canapé. Accompanying these small-but-mighty-rich desserts was the Kessler Haak 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Star Lane Vineyard in Happy Canyon.

Three small but mighty desserts were paired with Kessler-Haak's 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Star Lane Vineyard

Scratch Kitchen is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m., also Tuesday through Saturday. Sunday Brunch: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sunday dinner, 5 to 9 p.m.

Details: 610 North H Street, Lompoc, 809.0829

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for www.centralcoastwinepress.com

 

Paso Robles Wine Festival: Four May days celebrating Paso Robles' wine country

Paso Robles Wine Festival: Four May days celebrating Paso Robles' wine country

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Coming in a few weeks is the 33rd annual Paso Robles Wine Festival, a four day-event showcasing wine country — and one that attendees will find educational and full of wine, food and music. What organizers call the “quintessential Paso experience” will culminate Saturday, May 16, in the tree-shaded Paso Robles City Park, located downtown and surrounded by tasting rooms and restaurants.

The long weekend kicks off Thursday evening with winemaker dinners, followed on Friday evening by the RESERVE event, which features culinary bites from local chefs along with an auction that will benefit various San Luis Obispo County nonprofit organizations.

Note: Tickets to Friday’s RESERVE event and Saturday’s Grand Tasting are sold separately, and, like all tickets, available via www.pasowine.com As of this morning, tickets remain available for all three ticketed events.

Saturday opens with an educational winemaker seminar featuring five panelists discussing five grape varietals/wines: Grenache Blanc, panelist Steve Martell, winemaker at Sextant; Chardonnay, panelist Rich Hartenberger, winemaker/owner, Midnight; Tres Violet, panelist Jason Joyce, winemaker, Calcareous Vineyard; Reserve Zinfandel, panelist Chris Rougeot, winemaker, Opolo Vineyards; and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, panelist Matthew Glunz, winemaker, Glunz Family Winery & Cellars

Seating is limited, and organizers expect the seminar to sell out.

Saturday afternoon’s Grand Tasting will showcase current vintages from more than 60 wineries. New this year is the chance for guests to purchase a picnic lunch from one of five food purveyors. They are Cass Café, Gusto on the Go Bistro, Red Scooter Deli, The Pairing Knife and Thomas Hill Organics. Each lunch comes with a Paso Robles Wine Country reusable lunch bag.

Each lunch is $10, and must be purchased in advance. Only 200 lunches will be available. For menu choices, and to purchase, visit http://www.pasowine.com/events/wine-festival-tickets.php

More details about the festival’s three ticketed events:

Friday, May 15 — RESERVE:

This outdoor tasting will feature winemakers pouring two wines within the categories of “Reserve,” “Library,” “White/Rosé” or “Futures.”

Saturday, May 16 — Winemaker Seminar: 

Each of the winemaking panelists will share and discuss one wine indicative of the Paso Robles region.

Saturday, May 16 — Grand Tasting

Beginning at noon, this event offers wineries arranged by varietal “zones” featuring Rhône-style, Bordeaux-style, Italian varieties, Burgundian-style, Zinfandel and “Other Wild Wines.” Pop-up seminars sponsored by the Paso Robles CAB Collective, the Rhone Rangers and ZAP will take place in the park’s bucolic gazebo.

For more details on the Grand Tasting, including a list of participating wineries, visit http://www.pasowine.com/events/wine-festival-wineries.php

 

 

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

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  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

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  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.

 

 

Zaca Mesa invites local winemakers to focus on syrah during technical symposium

When I tasted with Mohseni on Jan. 7, he, Burrows and Matt Mauldin, Zaca Mesa’s California sales manager, were eager to share what they had in store on Jan. 15. Given the vineyard’s history with syrah, and Mohsenti’s desire to brainstorm fresh ideas on how to market syrah to consumers, he and his staff had organized a “Syrah Bull Session.” Invited were Santa Barbara County’s syrah legends, among them Bob Lindquist, Craig Jaffurs, Bill Wathen of Foxen and Chad Melville of Melville and Samsara.

Since Hospice du Rhone relocated to Tennessee, and the the Rhone Rangers’ closest event takes place in San Francisco, Mosheni hoped today’s inaugural tasting would kick start other sessions throughout the year, and he plans to host a second seminar later this spring, with a date to be determined.

Syrah samples from the winemakers participating at Zaca Mesa's "Bull Session" on Jan. 15

On this morning, we were seated around tables in the cellar, ready to taste more than syrahs, and talk clones, climate and consumers.

Santa Barbara County syrah is a force with which to be reckoned, with 8 percent of the county’s vineyards planted to syrah. That compares to 6 percent of vineyards throughout California.

In addition to Zaca Mesa, those participating were the winemakers from Casa Dumetz, Fess Parker, Blair Fox Cellars, Firestone, Foxen, Jaffurs, Melville/Samsara, Municipal and Qupe.

Each winemaker poured two or three wine samples, and discussed clones, rootstock, barrel aging and winemaking techniques.

One of Mohseni’s wines, for example, was a barrel sample of 2013 Syrah, Estrella clone, planted on 37-year-old own rooted vines that grow in sandy loam soil.

Representing Coastal Vineyard Care Associates were Jeff Newton, Ruben Solorzano and Ben Merz.

A representative from Sunridge Nurseries was invited but unable to attend, Mohseni noted, as were a few other local winemakers.

The Estrella clone was one of the stars of the day, for as Chad Melville pointed out, “there’s more Estrella planted here (Santa Barbara County) than throughout Northern California.” Other clonal discussion boosted the merits of 470, 877, 383 and 174.

Despite Estrella’s prevalence, it seems that no one clone is more “popular” than another. When asked to define the clone most in demand, Newton responded: “Our criteria is to follow the lead of the winemaker.

In addition, multiple syrah clones on own-rooted rootstock in a particular block “creates an interesting mix” in a wine, Newton said.

Lindquist, whose Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in Edna Valley was planted in 2005, favors terroir over clonal choice, noting how his site resembles “coolness” found in the Santa Maria Valley, where “cool climate syrah” really shines.

Santa Barbara County as a whole has “uniqueness” not found in other nearby regions because of the overall coolness found here, Lindquist said.

The winemakers present agreed that a tasting of library wines and a syrah “site tasting” would be educational, and that “banding together to get wine out there to the sommeliers and press” would benefit producers across the board.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press