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The Top 22 Wines I tasted during 2014

The Top 22 Wines I tasted during 2014


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



















Chardonnay Symposium Update: SMV Wine Country Association disbands

Chardonnay Symposium Update: SMV Wine Country Association disbands


The recent news that the popular Chardonnay Symposium would no longer be held in Chardonnay-ville, aka the Santa Maria Valley, now makes a little more sense. In a news release Tuesday, the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association, founder in 2010 of the Chardonnay Symposium, announced that it will dissolve, and has handed over ownership of the annual event to the Dolphin Bay Resort and Spa in Pismo Beach.

The SMVWCA plans to give its “website and collaterals” to the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, publicist Sao Anash (Muse Management) announced in a news release.

Taking over for the association is a “think tank” of industry volunteers, who will promote the Santa Maria Valley in ways that “are not hemmed in by the restrictions associated with many advocacy group models,” said volunteer member Dayna Hammell.

The Santa Maria Valley was recognized as an American Viticultural Area in 1981, making it Santa Barbara County's first appellation.

Among the members of the think tank are Nicholas Miller (Bien Nacido Vineyards); vineyard manager Jim Stollberg (Maverick Farming Company); winemaker James Ontiveros (Alta Maria and Native 9); Matt Murphy (Presqu’ile); Katy Westgaard (Presqu’ile Winery); Laura Booras (Riverbench), winemaker Clarissa Nagy (Nagy Wines); Dayna Hammell (Thornhill Companies); winemaker Paul Lato and Anash.

While “ … many of us here in Santa Maria Valley will remain avid supporters and engaged members of the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association,” said Presqu’ile’s Murphy, adding that members intend to more “closely align our AVA’s interests with SBCVA, (which is) a testament to the revitalized leadership and vision at the association.”

Morgen McLaughlin, new executive director of the SBCVA, calls the Santa Maria Valley a “jewel in the crown of the Santa Barbara County wine region. As the SBCVA continues to work towards its strategic mission of raising the visibility of Santa Barbara County and its five AVAs, the ideas and input from this new think tank will be vital in assisting our efforts.”

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press

New CCWP feature: Wine Week

New CCWP feature: Wine Week


The week just past produced some changes in Santa Barbara County's world of wine, and so it seems a good day to debut a occasional feature: Central Coast Wine Press' Wine Week: Here are but a few of the highlights:

Bank projects up to 10% sales growth in U.S. wine industry

Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), a commercial banker to many wineries, especially in Napa and Sonoma counties and the Pacific Northwest, Thursday released its annual "State of the Wine Industry Report."

Based on the bank’s survey of nearly 650 West Coast wineries, as well as ongoing research, the report outlines trends and issues in the United States' wine industry.

"Despite news to the contrary in recent months, wine supply is in balance heading into 2014 and we expect the highest rate of sales growth since the recession, despite a tough economy,” said Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division and author of the report.

“News is good for the consumer: Demand is up, supply is in good shape and pricing is stable. For the winery, however, increased grape costs and flat consumer pricing means lower profitability.”

Central Coast Wine Press file

Some key points:

In the short term: Look for continued growth in the demand for wine and limited pricing power for producers;

In the long term: Baby Boomers’ declining demand for wine will not be immediately replaced by Millennials’ demand. This may affect wineries’ ability to sustain their current rate of growth;

Supply: Expect final numbers on the 2013 harvest to reach 3.94 million tons — the second largest harvest on record in California after the 4 million tons harvested in 2012;

Sales Growth: In the realm of fine wine, sales are predicted to rise by six to 10 percent in 2014, which is the first increase in three years;

Pricing: Bottle prices will remain stable, as the increase in grape and bulk wine costs are not being passed on to the consumer. This means that gross profits will be down, however;

Demand: The greatest increase in demand will be in the range of bottles that cost $10 to $18;

Wine deals: Consumers can expect to find slightly better deals on merlot, zinfandel and chardonnay, as producers have slightly more inventory with these grape varietals;

M&M: Mergers and vineyard acquisitions will continue at a record pace.


Speaking of mergers and acquisitions … let’s segue to Alma Rosa, whose owners this week welcomed the financial support of Houston businessman Robert Zorich.

Richard and Thekla Sanford, who founded Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyard in 2005, have an investor in Zorich, a graduate of UCSB with a lengthy career in banking and oil exploration.

The Sanfords, who in 2012 filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors who threatened to take the pioneering winemakers off the map, are no doubt thrilled by Zorich having stepped up to pay off their millions in debts.

This news does indeed mean Sanford is now Zorich’s “employee,” but luckily the well-loved winemaker is still the man behind the Alma Rosa label and in charge of the vineyards and production.

The same year the couple filed for bankruptcy, Sanford was named to the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame list.

“These inductees are the leaders who helped California become the center of the American wine industry while producing some of the best wines in the world, CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan noted at the time (in a story I wrote for my “Wine Country” column for Lee Central Coast Newspapers).

Zorich is the managing partner of EnCap Investments LP, according to his biography at Prior to founding EnCap, he was senior vice president of Trust Company of the West, also in Houston.


Moving eastward into the greater Santa Ynez Valley, a long-rumored change in occupancy and management at another winery was announced Tuesday: In a pact with the Firestone family, Andrew Murray, longtime proprietor of Andrew Murray Vineyards, will lease the Curtis Winery vineyard, winery and tasting room.

Under the direction of President Adam Firestone, the Firestone family will continue farming its 200-acre estate vineyard for Curtis, Jarhead and Andrew Murray Vineyards, and Murray will take the reins as winemaker.

Winemaker Ernst Storm, who has produced the Curtis label under general manager Chuck Carlson since summer of 2011, has left Curtis Winery, the former said Thursday.

The South African native will continue making his own label, Storm Wines, at either Area 51 or the facility on the Curtis property formerly used by Doug Margerum, Storm noted.

Storm hopes to boost his own production to about 2,000 cases beginning with the current vintage, he noted.


And finally: Longoria Wines broke ground early this week on its owners’ long-held dream of owning their own winemaking facility.

Rick Longoria, who opened both his Los Olivos tasting room and current winery in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto in 1998, is anticipating a showpiece of a facility at the corner of East Chestnut Avenue and North D Street.

On the lot is a structure built in 1913 as a farmhouse. Its long history includes ownership by Johns-Manville, later Celite World Minerals, and use by the companies as a clubhouse, union meeting hall and site for training seminars, Longoria said.

Inside, some of the floors slope and creak and windows need replacing, but the building exudes charm and Lompoc history.

Longoria said he hopes to move his entire winery from the Lompoc Wine Ghetto in the Sobhani Industrial Park by July, just in time for the harvest of 2014, which could begin as soon as mid August.

The former farmhouse, now white with blue trim, will be repainted a classic “barn red” with white trim, which Longoria said he hopes will pair with his new winery facility, to be constructed of metal at the north side of the lot.

San Luis Obispo-based Rarig Construction is the builder. Among that company’s former clients are Sea Smoke Cellars, Foxen Winery’s newer facility, the Central Avenue facility that houses both Loring Wine Co. and Pali Wine Co., and Buellton’s Terravant Wine Company, Longoria said.


VINTAGE 2014: A tale waiting to be told needs a kick start . . .

VINTAGE 2014: A tale waiting to be told needs a kick start . . .


Wil Fernandez has a terrific story to share, but he needs your help. Fernandez, founder of Central Coast Wine & Food, in November launched a Kickstarter campaign for VINTAGE 2014: The Stories Behind the Vines. Fernandez and the team plan an "interactive documentary," the first ever to follow a vintage from start to finish — from bud break on the vines to the barreling of the juice.

His team will interview vineyard managers and winemakers during the 2014 vintage, produce short films on key events, such as netting and pruning vines, and harvest, produce time lapse videos of the season and graph key data points — air temperature and brix levels.

Fernandez took Central Coast Wine & Food on the road last summer and traveled across part of the United States, offering pop-up tastings that featured wines from Santa Barbara County.

Viewers of VINTAGE 2014 will be able to follow one vineyard's changes month by month, or observe changes in different vineyards at the same time, Fernandez said.

But back to the money: Innovation such as this doesn't come cheap. There's aerial photography of vineyards, audio podcasting and web development.

This is where you come in.

Fernandez and his team launched a Kickstarter campaign in November to fund the project. Fernandez told me earlier today he'd like funding in place by Jan. 17 so that the team can begin.

With Michelle Ball, production director; Jeremy Ball, director of photography; Jonathan Baudoin, editor; Katie Falbo, events coordinator; and Robert Girvin, operations, Fernandez will offer wine tasting in various cities, a chance to question participating winemakers and, all the while, observe footage from the featured vineyards.

For sure, Fernandez has several winemakers already participating, including Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe, but he wants more to step up and join the team.

To donate or for more information:

Here are a few of my favorite things: Chardonnay

We're less than 30 hours away from the kick-off of the Fourth Annual Chardonnay Symposium, which opens Friday evening with a tribute dinner honoring the work and wine of Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat. The symposium continues Saturday morning with a panel tasting that will target clones of chardonnay, and is followed by the grand tasting.

Yesterday I offered to share a few of my favorite chardonnays from grapes produced throughout Santa Barbara County, and specifically in the Santa Maria Valley, where chardonnay — and pinot noir — rule.

I've enjoyed many a chardonnay during my time in Santa Barbara County; I'm sure I cannot list them all.

Following are some producers with chardonnays that please my palate. They may not be your favorites, but remember: Your palate and my palate are different.

Tickling my fancy are the chardonnays from Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Costa de Oro Winery, Dierberg Vineyard, Ken Brown Wines, Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Wines and Sierra Madre.

I have one or two other favorite chardonnay producers among the list of those pouring Saturday afternoon, but they hail from outside of our county.

See you Friday evening!

Chardonnay is the star of the show in the Santa Maria Valley this weekend

I started to create an acronym using the word "chardonnay" — you know: "C" is for "chardonnay," "h" is for "historic" grape, "a" is for "aroma" ... but I ran out of descriptors starting with the "r" and the "d." No matter. It's best to speak plain about chardonnay: It's just good wine.

Chardonnay reigns in popularity across America, both with an older generation of wine drinkers who gravitate toward traditional, oak-infused chardonnay, and those who prefer stainless-steel aged — or a blend of the two styles.

At this weekend's Fourth Annual Chardonnay Symposium, "America's Sweetheart" grape is the star of the show.

This will be my fourth symposium in four years, but while looking over the list of participating winemakers earlier today, I found there are still several I have yet to try.

What are some of your favorite California, Central Coast and Santa Barbara County chardonnay producers?

CCWP Tasting Panel reconvenes to partake of the perfumed pink: rosé

The first time I tried a pink wine, it was just that — pink — and it probably was poured from a half-gallon jug into a red solo cup. But over several decades, pink evolved into rosé, and since has eclipsed any memory of the essence of overripe strawberry dripping from a green-tinted bottle.

The sticky-sweet pink wine I remember from my youth bears absolutely no resemblance to today's rosés. They are refreshing, crisp and produced from all sorts of red grape varietals, from pinot noir to mourvedré, syrah, grenache and even cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon.

A modern rosé (rosado in Spanish, or rosato in Italian) is crafted either by the traditional saignée style (saignée is French for "bleed") — the process by which the juice is bleed off the grapes — or via skin contact with the skins of red grapes. Naturally, the longer the juice "sits" on skins, the darker the color of the final rosé product.

The sixth adventure of the Central Coast Wine Press' tasting panel focused on rosé. A handful of members met at the home of Michelle and Jeremy Ball March 8.

Participating were Michelle and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding; Ashley Costa, Lompoc City Council member and tasting room manager at Loring Wine Company; myself, and for the first time, Matt Mauldin, wine sales professional and blogger; and his financeé, Melissa Miller, developmental analyst at UCSB. The size of our group likely will fluctuate in coming months.

Because were so few this time around we tasted just two rosés. The Ball's provided charcuterie, pulled pork sandwiches and slaw. We never leave the Ball's home hungry.

Comments about the wine, in the order we sampled them:

Wine One: "Tart, some spice, no strawberry, very little sweetness (this taster had the first pour and later noted that it "sweetened" up as it got air); low acid, even (more so) on the nose; salty, with mouth-smacking acidity; big and rich, zero minerality, strawberry, watermelon; (like a) basket of eggs on the nose, a little barn-y on the ending, soft on the palate."

Wine Two: "The fruit shows — cherry, strawberry, less so on the watermelon; the tannins make you salivate; floral, tropical, grapefruit on the nose; real floral, perfume-y; if I didn't know this was a rosé, I'd think it was a sauvignon blanc; banana; they must have blended some white wine into this; crisp (with) integrated, lighter minerality; like grenache with a sauvignon blanc; all back, no front palate; lean and mean, on the extreme side of racy, and juicy on the finish, although the fruit is more of a sensation; it doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up; piercing fruit on the front palate when paired with the proscuitto — the food equation opens up variables with feel … it's almost too acidic (on its own), and has no balance. It needs the fat (of the proscuitto)."

The wines:

Wine One: 2011 Carhartt Vineyard & Winery, grenache rosé, $21 per bottle but sold out, according to

Wine Two: 2012 Domaine de la Fouquette Cotes de Provence Cuvee Rosee d'Aurore, Provence, France. This vintage is comprised of Cinsault, grenache, syrah and rolle. Most interestingly, Michelle Ball let the cat out of the bag: While it's known as rolle in the south of France, it's vermentino in Italy and other nations in Southern Europe. And it presents like sauvignon blanc, with lots of bright acidity. $14 per bottle, according to

Wednesday at Unified: Wine and sales meet social media's tricks of the trade

After Moderator Andrew Healy introduced the panelists presenting New Technologies and Social Media session today at Unified Wine & Grape Symposium (#UGWS), Ashley Teplin, the first panelist, jumped in head first with advice for winemakers. Tell the world who you are, she said, or details about your brand: "Tell. The. Story."

"There's a lot of wines out there, and you need to make sure that your brand resonates with the people who will consume it."

Teplin is the owner and co-founder of Teplin+Nuss.

Outline your brand via a six-month plan, and stick to it, she said.

And jump in.

"Everyone notices, and everyone notices everything you say" on Twitter, or Facebook. So be yourself, she said, but draw a line between your brand and who you are when you're not making wine. Be careful not to cross that line too often, or do so with care.

Her tips:

— Befriend your local journalists. Be their plus-one and a wine event. (And, I might add: Ask your new journalist buddy to explain how journalism works so you'll understand more about ethics, and what Off The Record really means).

— Less is more. Do not take on more social media than you can reasonably accomplish in a given time frame. Stay on it, or don't take it on.

— Don't be out of line, or in poor taste, in posts on your Facebook page.

— Ask for help from social media experts and continue to educate yourself.

The second panelist to speak was Kristy Sammis, funding partner of Clever Girls Collective.

Know your market; who will you target? "When the 'how' and 'who' come together, that's when you'll actually see traction," in your social media efforts, she said.

Social media is just one channel of marketing, Sammis said, and not an end in itself. It's just part of a larger plan.

That said, blogs are much more influential than ads in print media, Sammis said. Viewers may not purchase because of an ad on a blog, but they are "influenced" by the blog. In other words, social media resonates with viewers.

"Content is king." Use your content — your story – in a unique fashion. And then make it easy for your target audience to find you.

Reach out beyond wine bloggers: Find crafters who blog about, say, knitting and drinking wine. Or beer. "Use your social media outreach skills for good and find who is willing to talk about your product," Sammis said.

Mark Gordon, the third panelist, is direct social media manager at Jackson Family Wines, and opened with "the best places to be" on social media.

Number one choices: Facebook and Linked In. "Nice to have" is Twitter. But it takes time. Instagram would be his fourth choice, followed by YouTube, Google+ and a blog — if you're ready and have the time. Pinterest, again, if you have the time. And vimeo, for its quality.

He echoed Teplin by reminding audience members not to open an account in any of the above if "You don't have the time to maintain it."

Time your posts around the holidays, and what might be seasonal in the vineyard — harvest, pruning, even planting, he said.

Gordon shared several ideas for winemakers' best use of the various social media outlets:

For Facebook: In your posts, use 80 characters or less, for fewer words pack more clout than paragraph after paragraph. Be mindful that people don't read as much as they once did.

Pose your questions so that viewers can respond to you with yes or no or very short answers: Facebook users favor "like," "share," and the ability to comment very quickly.

Best time to post: 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday are considered the "best days," he said, citing research. Posts that include photos receive more attention than those that do not.

Twitter: Retweet regularly. Follow others, especially those in your industry. Tool up. Hook up, but don't sell. Reply when you are mentioned. Use #hashtags. Use Instagram to tweet your photos. And finally, engage people directly.

Panelist and musician Alan Kropf, founder of "Mutineer" magazine, opened up with a bugle call that got everyone's attention and laughs — and underscored his point: Winemakers have a battle for the mainstream consumer.

Viewers crave a personal connection to your brand; without that "hook," your brand is just that: Yours.

This goes back to Teplin's advice to tell your (own) story. Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.

Many distributors, he noted, tell small producers looking for help that "you're too much like everyone else." Find what sets you apart Kropf said, and run with it.

"We're going through something of a Wild West period (as far as social media), and you don't want everyone else to discover the results when you're still waiting to get on the train," he said.

Healy and all four panelists all live and work in Napa or Healdsburg.


At Unified: Globalization of wine and how that affects U.S. production

In experts' opinions, what in recent years was the biggest trend affecting the U.S. wine production market? The rise of imported bulk wines, giving consumers decent to good wines for great values.

Bulk wines took center stage Tuesday during the first general session at Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, "How the Global Wine Market Affects U.S. Production."

Panelists were Kym Anderson, Greg Livengood, Stephen Rannekleiv and Mike Veseth (details on each follow).

From margins, to production to wages, "globalization is a two-way street," said Mike Veseth, writer for The Wine Economist and an instructor at the University of Puget Sound in Washington.

Down the line, it's packaging and how the wine itself is shipped around the world.

What is another product like wine that is a little further along the route of globalization — one that those in the wine industry can learn from? Veseth: "Apples."

Or: "Juice boxes." Read the ingredient list, he urged the crowd. Apple juice comes from the "U.S.A, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Austria, German and Turkey."

And: This means apple juice sources are "interchangeable and highly sensitive to exchange," and can this be the future of "basic wine?"

Or, a step further, the future of branded wines?

The next speaker was Kym Anderson from the University of Adelaide in Australia. While the latest wave of wine globalization began in the mid-1980s, it was in the 1990s that the share of the global exportation rose in the Old World to 25 percent from 15 percent, he said.

In the New World, the rate rose from 3 to 20 percent within that same decade, he noted.

And that New World increase was a "big challenge to Old World wines."

Moving along, the exports of bulk wines from today's biggest players — Australia, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand — have obvious consequences for grape growers and winemakers in the United States.

Retail buyers, for one, have access to better wines at lower costs, and in turn offer those benefits to supermarket consumers, Anderson said.

Nations with the largest increase in consumption are Northern Europe, and Asia.

In the latter, especially in the "developing" regions, Anderson said, dollars (billions) spent on wine consumption are forecast to rise from 11 to 28 percent between 2007 and 2030.

Residents of China, in particular, are forecast to represent the world's largest jump in consumption, which means countries such as Italy, Spain and Australia are spotlighting China for export, he noted.

Third to speak was Steve Rannekleiv of Rabobank in New York.

Fresno has seen the most explosive growth, followed by Lodi, and then Napa, he noted.

On the North Coast, sales of bottles priced $20 and above show the most increase, and that demand, he said, matches middle-class income — families making around $90,000 per year.

How will this improve in 2013? Consumers are making strides paying down debt, the banking system has recapitalized, and both the housing and labor markets have improved, he told the audience.

In Fresno, the supply of both grapes and prices of wine are increasing, which, by itself, doesn't make a lot of sense, but when we factor in globalization of bulk wine, then, yes, it does, Rannekleiv said.

Global inventories have tightened, but Fresno continues to outpace, if you will, the world, as far as total inventory. This is quite the opportunity for Fresno, and for California, Rannekleiv noted.

"California is very price competitive," he said.

That said, however, he expects that the weak U.S. dollar will remain weak — but stable — for the immediate future.

The session's final speaker was Greg Livengood of California' Ciatti Company, a global brokerage company.

Imports, he said: Who wins? Who loses? Who are the importers?

They are either foreign-based and foreign-owned companies, or U.S. companies with value brands or potential line extensions, such as with muscato, Livengood said.

Why go overseas? Price, for one. Consumers want deals. Second, in search of a pecific varietal, such as pinot grigio, which is enjoying an upswing. Third: Consumer-driven demand, such as that of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, for example.

Grape varietals most commonly imported: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, muscato, malbec and sauvignon blanc.

Livengood said that of the 347 million cases of wine sold in the United States in 2011, 61 percent was California-grown, and 34 percent was wine imported to the U.S.

Looking ahead, California had a big crop in 2012, which is good news all around.

On the other hand, grape and bulk prices could have reached greater heights (in certain varieties) without foreign competition, he said.

Since wine consumers will continue to drive global competition, Livengood urged winemakers and growers to "have a global strategy."

A member of the audience questioned the panel about how and if future water needs will affect global grape production, and in particular, the conditions faced by China.

Anderson noted that the vineyard regions of China are quite similar in size of those of Australia, and while water is plentiful in sections, water rights are issues in others.

Another question: What country is poised to be the next "wine nation" as far as promoting an identity for itself?

While the name on everyone's lips might be China, Livengood said, Spain has recently moved a lot of its wines to overseas' consumers after Chile "opened the door" with its lower-priced wines.

This morning's panel was moderated by Jeff O'Neill, O'Neill Vintners & Distillers of California.

Third public hearing on Winery Ordinance draws crowd concerned about special events

Mid-way through Thursday's Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department's third public hearing to gather input for revisions to the Winery Ordinance, one participant raised a point that momentarily silenced the crowd. "Why don't we consider pulling special events out of the (proposed) winery ordinance and include them in a county-wide ruling" that is not specific to wineries?" asked Michael Dobrotin.

Many in the standing-room-only audience murmured or nodded in agreement with Dobrotin, who is involved in a vineyard project outside of Buellton.

Facilitating the two-hour hearing was Susan Klein-Rothschild, and in attendance were Dr. Glenn Russell, Planning Department director, as well as Deputy Director Jeff Hunt, Assistant Director Dianne Black and Stephanie Stark, agricultural planner.

Thursday's hearing, the third of five scheduled during which county planners hope to gather public feedback on the ordinance before it heads to the County Board of Supervisors for revision, was devoted to Special Events, and drew approximately 65 participants.

The planning staff encourages those interested in participating in the input process to attend a hearing and speak, fill out a comment card at a meeting, or comment via the department's web site. Comments emailed must be received within two weeks following each meeting date — by Jan. 24 in the case of the Jan. 10 meeting.


The planners define special events, Stark explained, as those lasting less than one day, with 80 or more people in attendance on winery/vineyard property, having concerts with or without amplified sound, and include weddings, advertised events, fund raising events and winemaker dinners open to the general public.

Clearly defined in the existing Winery Ordinance, created in 2004, are three tiers of "maximums" that limit wineries' events. A Tier 1 Winery is limited to four special events per year, and each event must not exceed 150 people. Tier 2 wineries can have eight events and 150 people at each, and Tier 3 wineries 12 events per year, and 200 people at each.

In order to host any kind of special event, a winery/vineyard site must be at least 20 acres in size, Black said.

Attendees Thursday spoke up either in support of rural wineries' attempts to hold special events — especially fundraisers — or complained that the ensuing noise, lights, traffic, dust and parking make their neighborhoods unbearable.

Phil Bond, who said his Santa Ynez Valley home of 20-plus years is located five miles from Gainey Vineyard, described hearing "significant" noise whenever the winery hosts an event. "Sound travels, especially at night," he said. He and other opponents present emphasized to the planners that it was the "cumulative" effect of several events throughout the years, not isolated concerts, weddings or benefit dinners, that have urging stricter rules.

In the hour-plus leading up to Dobrotin's comment, representatives of local nonprofit groups that have benefitted from special events spoke in favor of allowing winemakers and wineries to extend community goodwill by, well, throwing a party or two.

Bruce Porter, board chairman of the Santa Barbara County chapter of the American Red Cross, told the planning staff that "it's so important that we have access to wineries because they are our theaters" when it comes to events.

Many wineries throughout Santa Barbara County need special events to boost sales, said Kady Fleckenstein, executive director of the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association. Smaller wineries and winemakers often cannot afford to utilize brokers and wholesalers to sell wine, and so rely on "direct-to-consumer sales out of necessity," she said.

"There's so much competition in the industry, and wineries need that connection to consumers" that special events offer.

Lisa Bodrogi, newly appointed executive director of the Central Coast Wine Growers Association, threw her support behind wineries' events because, in turn, those parties benefit florists, caterers, graphic artists, wedding staff, lighting companies and more. "As an industry, we bring business to Santa Barbara County," she said.

As the hearing entered its second hour and Klein-Rothschild pushed to keep speakers to the agenda, some in attendance grew slightly impatient, but the overall tone remained congenial.

When former county supervisor and longtime cattle rancher Willy Chamberlin urged the planning staff to not regulate events "simply because they exist," the pressure in the room eased slightly. "Negative impacts (of events) must be shown to exist," Chamberlin emphasized, and several others agreed.

Representing the Santa Barbara County Cattlemen's Association, Chamberlin stood to hand to the planners a copy of a "white paper" drafted by the association and its attorneys. A white paper is typically used to help better define rules, organization and authority.

Chamberlin suggested that "rules for (wineries') special events can be included in this good-neighbor ordinance, and hopefully the two can be melded together."

It was Chamberlin's presentation that appeared to trigger Dobrotin's suggestion to pull "special events" out of the revision to the Winery Ordinance and into documentation better suited to businesses at large.

The next public meeting about the ordinance is from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, in Stacy Hall at St. Mark's-in-the-Valley Church in Los Olivos. The topic: Neighborhood Compatability.


SYVVA's Restaurant Week returns to entice diners with $20.13 prie fixe meals

Restaurant Week, the foodie's version of heaven, returns to the Santa Ynez Valley Jan. 20. through 26.In conjunction with California's Restaurant Month this month, the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association is offering another six days of unbeatable prices at several of the valley's hottest eateries. For complete details about participating restaurants, click on

Chefs, managers and owners will offer special three-course meals for the price of $20.13 — which does not include tax, tip and beverages — but is still a simply unbeatable deal, and a way to round up friends and try new restaurants.

Restaurant Week, the foodie's version of heaven, returns to the Santa Ynez Valley Jan. 20. through 26.

As of Jan. 11, those eateries participating include the Ballard Inn Restaurant, Avant Tapas & Wine, the Starting Gate Restaurant at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton, Bell Street Farm Eatery, the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe, Petros at Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn, Dos Carlitos Restaurant & Tequila Bar, the Ranch and Reata Roadhouse, Trattoria Grappolo, the Willows at the Chumash Casino Resort, Fresco Valley Cafe in Solvang, Hadsten House Inn Restaurant, Mirabelle Inn & Restaurant, Root 246, Solvang Brewing Company and the Succulent Cafe & Trading Post.

To view individual menus, and days each restaurant is offering its prie fixe menu, visit each site's own link via the SYYVA main page.


CCWP Tasting Panel Number 5 savors sauvignon blanc from around the world

Once upon a time, I worked full-time as news editor at a local daily newspaper. Every night, I beat deadline, and made sure those working around me did as well. Today, my sole limits on time are random days of my own choosing, but for the life of me, watching them drift slowly past is often all the effort I can muster.

Which means there's forever a jumble of words cluttering my mind.

To my credit, a large freelance writing gig consumed most of my word smithing time until quite recently. Beyond that, I have absolutely no excuse.

But if the world pops tonight, at least I've got this done.

Today, nearly three months after the fifth meeting of the Central Coast Wine Press Tasting Panel, I've collected my pile of words into working order.

* * *

On a very warm evening in late September, panel members regrouped at the Lompoc home of members Jeremy and Michelle Ball to taste sauvignon blanc.

Followers of my wine tales know that this white Bordeaux grape is without fail one of my favorite varietals, and I do recall being very excited about what wines awaited us.

As a refresher, we are: Michelle and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; Anne and Jason Burns, software entrepreneurs; Mark Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; myself and author Laura Sanchez, chronicler of wine and food for various local and national publications. Joining us this evening was Ashley Costa, Lompoc City Council member and tasting room manager at Loring Wine Company.

Michelle Ball is but one of a handful of friends who can prepare and present food like nobody's business. We enjoyed varieties of fine cheeses, breads, fruit and creamy homemade spreads designed to pair with the wines. And fried chicken. Just because Michelle is Michelle.

The Balls had bagged seven wines, but divulged that they hailed from Sancerre, Chile, Marlborough, Mendocino County, the Santa Ynez Valley, Monterey County and the Edna Valley.

I love the essence of "cat pee" that's often strongest in some of Marlborough's finest sauvignon blancs. That characteristic is strongest in cool-climate terroir, i.e., Marlborough versus the Santa Ynez Valley.

And we were off.

Wine One: "Not my favorite (said two tasters); falls flat mid-palate; easy drinking fruit, sort of between the $8 and $10 or $12 range; not enough 'there, there': a good value wine; a hot day wine; would make a nice Sangria; something to serve to my friends who don't drink a lot of wine; elegant, balanced but with a bite; Monterey? Mendocino?"

Wine Two: "Chilean? Has riper pear; warmer and more tropical; colder climate, which tends toward 'cat pee,' versus hotter climate, which tends toward 'tropical'; slight banana, especially on the palate; like the core of a pineapple — not quite ripe, and not quite sour; not complex enough, unilateral; one trick pony; roller coaster of a palate ride; I say Chilean, or this county's?"

Wine Three: "Cuts the fat of the food well; nice balance of 'pee'; barrel flavor; more spice; Edna Valley?; local, California for sure; Edna Valley; nice; definitely not Santa Ynez Valley."

Wine Four: "Just on the nose (alone), this is Marlborough; wow!; New Zealand; unabashedly New Zealand; guava; a grassy classic; good vegetal; Marlborough!; yummy."

Wine Five: "Is this corked?; pineapple; Santa Ynez Valley?; Chilean?; this is my number two favorite, so far; tarragon; grapefruit pith; citrus; more of a 'tongue biter'; has pyrazines, like licking the inside of a jalapeño pepper; mmmm, balanced."

Wine Six: "I'm sooo done with sauvignon blanc!; I think this is Monterey, 2009 or 2010; pine tree and tangy cat pee; not a lot of depth."

Wine Seven: "Blue fruit; like snozberries; Happy Canyon vegetal; pink grapefruit; not much more than grapefruit, really; one trick pony; a hot tub sauvignon blanc; is this a Brander?"

The wines:

Wine One: 2011 Veramonte, "La Gloria," Chile; $11

Wine Two: 2010 Patianna Estate, Ukiah, Mendocino County, organic; $17

Wine Three: 2011 Gainey, Santa Ynez Valley; $14, but sold out

Wine Four: 2011 Villa Maria Winery, Cellar Selection, Marlborough, New Zealand; $12-$15

Wine Five: 2010 Tangent Wines, Paragon Vineyards, Edna Valley; $13

Wine Six: 2011 Pascal Jolivet, Appellation Sancerre Controle; average $21

Wine Seven: 2011 Wrath, Ex Anima ("From the Soul"), Monterey County. $15-$20, but sold out


The Tasting Panel relishes Bordeaux, barbecue on a summer night

Back in early July, when summer was still young, the tasting panel gathered at the rustic home of winemaker Mark Cargasacchi for an evening of bubbles and Bordeaux blends. Cargasacchi outdid himself with both wine and food to accompany the libations, serving us seared scallops, creamed spinach, salad and rack of lamb in a North African herb marinade — by itself naturally the sweet spot for heartier reds.

Because it's been a while, here's a refresher — we are: Michelle Lee and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding Inc.; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; new panel members Anne and Jason Burns, software entrepreneurs; Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; and myself. (Missing this evening was Laura Sanchez, wine journalist for several local and national publications).

The six wines, Cargasacchi noted beforehand, hailed from California, Washington, the Santa Ynez Valley, Napa, France and Israel.

Wine One: "Wow — tannic; this is a cabernet franc; short finish; tart cherry; love this; a great meat wine; little bit of Brett (brettanomyces)."

Wine Two: "This is all cab sauv; elegant; 'wet dog'; like Red Camel cigarettes, possibly the Israeli cabernet sauvignon?"

Wine Three: "Coffee on the nose; unripe; this must be the Washington wine; beefy, meaty; like a dirty Indian food restaurant with pureed plums and yellow curry; sour; oily butternut."

Wine Four: "Elegant; expensive; hot; from the Santa Ynez Valley; spicy; cabernet franc."

Wine Five: "Big-time Brett (brettanomyces) — way more than number one; corked."

Wine Six: "Butter on the nose; spice — kind of like a Christmas (cookie) spice; musky, dark; lighter; I like this; black plum and black cherry; more cabernet sauvignon-like; cocoa powder."

The wines:

Wine One: 2008 Carhartt Fourplay: a blend of Carhartt estate fruit and that from other sites — 43 percent estate merlot; 36 percent cabernet sauvignon, Paso Robles; 16 percent cabernet franc, Rock Hollow Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley; and 5 percent petit verdot, Paso Robles. Price: $40 (According to, that's the 2009 price, and since 2009 is sold out, I assume that 2008 is, as well).

Wine Two: 2010 Gamla, from Galilee, Israel, Golan Heights Winery; 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. Price: Approximately $13.

Wine Three: 2006 Col Solare, Columbia Valley, Wash. Contains 72 percent cabernet sauvignon, 19 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petit verdot and 2 percent syrah. Price: $75 at

Wine Four: 2007 Star Lane Happy Canyon Estate Red Blend: Contains 75 percent cabernet sauvignon, according to Price: $44.

Wine Five: 1994 Chateau Corbin Michotte Grand Cru Classe, Saint-Emillion Grand Cru. Price: Approximately $40, according to

Wine Six: 2007 Miner Oracle, Napa Valley Red Wine, comprised of 55 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent cabernet franc, 15 percent merlot, 5 percent malbec and 5 percent petit verdot. Price: $90. Sold out;


Wine girl steps out for Portland beer

Six beer samplesIn the spirit of sampling the drink for which Portland is really famous, tonight I turned my back on wine and hoofed it to Deschutes Brewery & Public House. I chose Deschutes because it's a known entity for me — I am pretty sure one of the last craft beers I really enjoyed was the brewery's Inversion IPA, so that one was one of the six 4-ounce samples I ordered tonight.

The other five beers I chose randomly.

Disclaimer: I don't know beer like I know wine, so my descriptors are likely to be those better suited to describing the beverage I more frequently imbibe.

With sweet potato fries slathered in honey mustard, and a salad of butter lettuce, dried cherries, goat cheese and salmon, I sampled, in order:

The Red Wheat (4.8 percent ABV): Pleasant and mild, shorter finish, a touch of cloves.

Inversion IPA (6.8 percent ABV): Bigger but tart with citrus and carmel on the finish. Nice color.

Twilight Summer Ale (5 percent ABV): Light. I first called it more "elegant" than the first two, but then decided its flavor didn't suit me.

Flagline Ale (4 percent ABV): Simple but light fruitiness. Best of the four ales.

Green Lakes Organic Ale (5.2 percent ABV): Light in taste but rich amber in color, which confused me. Also not a favorite.

Deep Red Belgian Specialty Ale (8.9 percent ABV): Should I have tried this first? By the time I reached it, I considered this ale to be the "cabernet sauvignon" of the lineup because of its boldness and higher percentage of alcohol.

The neuroscience of tasting wine

Wine tasting: It's all in your eyes — and in your head. That's what Tim Gaiser, master sommelier, teaches people who want to learn more about tasting wine.

Gaiser led an Aug. 18 seminar at the Portland, Ore., Wine Bloggers' Conference entitled "The Neuroscience of Wine Tasting: Unlocking the Tasting Strategies of Genius."

When we examine, smell and taste a glass of wine, our eyes access cues stored as an "internal image map or grid" etched our memory, he explained.

Those who taste wine for a living — judges, sommeliers and master teachers — employ such cues and imagery at an unconscious level. The rest of us, Gaiser said, have these tools at our fingertips — but may not know how to put them to use.

As he opened the seminar, Gaiser described wine education as very "rewarding," but, at the same time, teaching others about the nuances of wine "can be one of the most frustrating" things wine experts encounter.

The challenge lies in "trying to give students our own experiences and vocabulary of wine while knowing that everyone has different neurologies, memories and life experiences," he said.

Gaiser, former education chairman and director of the Court of Master Sommeliers of America, led a 2009 study that included Karen MacNeil; Evan Goldstein, MS; Tracy Kamens, Ed.D., DWS, CWE; Emily Wines, MS; Doug Frost, MS MW; Peter Marks, MW; and Brian Cronin, MS.

The most intriguing result of the group's research was that each of the expert tasters employed the same eye positions and patterns as they sipped through wines, Gaiser told our group of WBC seminar participants.

In other words, the position of our eyes — whether we look upper left and right, center, or down to the left or right — is key to how and what imagery we "see" when we taste wine.

Each of us "pulls up" images that form the basis of "internal road maps" of what we see, smell and taste in wine. Quite simply, we taste by unconscious association, and at the speed of light, Gaiser told the WBC seminar.

That includes those who taste wine for pleasure, as wine buyers or reviewers, to practice for exams and for the purpose of teaching others, he said.

Crucial for wine tasting are adequate light, a quiet environment with no odors, tasting via bathes, wines at proper temperature and good glassware.

When tasters eyeball a glass or wine, they study its appearance for color, which builds instant expectations, and then, via internal "color swatches," pinpoint the shade to further identify the wine's age, variety of the grape and the winemaking style, Gaiser continued.

Back to how we "position" our eyes: All of his research project participants used a "consistent starting eye position or pattern when smelling the wine."

For example, study participant Emily Wines focused her eyes at a spot about three feet ahead and straight and slightly down, while Doug Frost used a pattern of several very rapid eye movements: down, centered and moving left to right. Gaiser himself revealed his position: down and to the left.

When Gaiser instructed those of us in the WBC seminar to stand up and hold our wineglasses, each containing about 4 ounces of 2008 John Duval Plexus, Barossa, naturally, we were skeptical.

I relaxed and let my eyes "focus" into my natural position, which for me turned out to be about two feet straight out and slightly down.

Gaiser asked each of us to form a visual image of what we smelled in our glass. I visualized black cherries. So far, so good.

Then, the experiment: Gaiser told us to move our eyes to a new position — "hold your head and glass steady, but move your eyes in any another direction — up, down, left or right — and pay attention to what happens."

I looked straight up at the ceiling, and immediately the nose of black cherry was gone. As a group, we gasped in surprise. I dropped my eyes back to "my" center, and gradually the black cherry nose returned.

Gaiser then directed us to pair up: One student would dictate what images he or she "saw" while sniffing the wine while the other took rapid notes. We had one minute.

I closed my eyes and got images of cherries evolving into a bramble of blackberries, and then, in order, I visualized a chocolate bar, a patch of damp ground and finally, long-stemmed English roses, dried and lying in a stack.

The dried roses stayed front and center in my mind while the chocolate, dirt and blackberry bramble floated like a mirage. I continued to take in a nose of black cherries.

Gaiser then instructed each of us to alter our predominant image from color to black and white. I switched my stack dried roses to black and white — and voila — my nose of black cherries vanished once again.

During Gaiser's 2009 research, participants found that as a wine's flavors fluctuate in intensity, the structure of the image each person visualized also changed. Furthermore, "stronger intensity of the palate vs. nose equals the image increasing in size, brightness or closer proximity or location, and less intensity on palate vs. nose equals image decreasing in size, brightness or a more distant proximity or location," Gaiser wrote in his presentation.

Between 2003 and 2011, Gaiser was both education chairman and education director of the Court of Master Sommeliers of America. He holds two degrees in music: a bachelor's in music history and master's in music in classical trumpet. He had a short career as a freelance musician before segueing into the restaurant industry from 1972 to 1993, and in 1992 he earned his MS diploma.

Information:; blog:


Toasty Portland welcomes traveler packing wine for weekend of education

Hello from the air-conditioned cool of my hotel room in Portland, Ore., where I've traveled to participate in the Wine Bloggers' Conference ( After being delayed till 7:30 a.m. today in Santa Barbara because of thick fog blanketing San Francisco, I arrived late at SFO but hustled and made my connection with minutes to spare.

However, my checked wine box and suitcase were not so lucky, and both missed the connecting flight to Portland.

United rose to the occasion and stashed them on the very next flight north, which meant I had the box in hand at 12:50 p.m., 90 minutes after I arrived at PDX, and boarded the Max line for the hotel downtown.

When my bottles and I left PDX, the outside temperature was well into the 90s.

The backstory: These six bottles — one white, one rosé and four reds — had been refrigerated at 50 degrees for several days in preparation for my trip.

I fully intended to ship the bottles Tuesday afternoon via FedEx until a friend cautioned me that the bottles would likely sit in a carrier transit center in Sacramento or Redding. Better — and, as it turned out, less costly — to check a six-bottle shipper as a second piece of "luggage."

Right now, at 7 p.m., I would describe the wine as chilled, but no longer "cold."

I pulled the box from a friend's refrigerator at 5 a.m. this morning. I should note that until 10 p.m. yesterday, only the bottles had been chilled for days; the styrofoam remained at room temperature.

Late last night, my gracious friend and host Merilee helped me pack the bottles with bubble wrap to reduce movement inside the molded styrofoam, and we duct taped the box and stashed the entire "kit" into her fridge.

For the sake of this story line, let's say the bottles transitioned from 45 or 50 degrees fahrenheit at 5 a.m. to 63 degrees at 6:30 p.m.

The white and rosé will obviously need further chilling early tomorrow; the white is headed to "The Night of Many Bottles" conference event tomorrow night, as is at least one of the reds.

Was keeping these six Santa Barbara County gems (relatively) cool worth me lugging their box, a suitcase and a computer case from PDX to the hotel via the Max line, all by my lonesome? You betcha.

Fellow Wine Bloggers' Conference attendees, come up and introduce yourself to me and these wines tomorrow night, and together, let's see how they stood the test of travel and heat. Cheers!

Our panel's third tasting report: Grenache

As it is one of the world's most widely planted wine grapes, one might assume that grenache has cultivated more prominence in the New World.

I feel silly even writing those words, for grenache is hands down my favorite red grape varietal. Perhaps I have France in my bones, for while grenache is a key component in some Northern Rhône reds, and the lead varietal in nearly all Southern Rhône red blends, it's famed for being the base varietal for Chateauneuf du Pape, Côtes du Rhône and Gigondas. Grenache is also used to produce the rosés for which the Tavel district of Côtes du Rhône is known.

Grenache, however, has its roots in Spain, where it is known as garnacha, or garnacha tinta, and nearly three times as much grenache grows in Spain as in France.

Grenache thrives throughout California, especially in the interior valleys, since this state's conditions match those in the hot and driest regions of Spain and France.

I tell people who are newer to grenache to look for flavors of bright strawberry, raspberry and blackberry, with a dash of black pepper on the finish. Grenache is supple but bold, and sassy like a playful cat. Michelle Lee Ball aptly described grenache as the Rhône sister to pinot noir both in color and on the palate. Think light and bright.

Anyone who farms grenache understands its virility; viticulturists routinely thin shoots and drop fruit clusters throughout each growing season. The shoots of the grenache vine in my yard wave in the Lompoc wind like the arms of an octopus.

On May 25, members of the tasting panel gathered round to taste grenache. We were short one panelist, but general rakishness — the theme that unites us — kept us in stitches throughout the night.

During this, our third tasting (the first two being malbec, in January, and chardonnay, in March) our hosts raised the bar considerably by providing six grenaches, which they described as two from the Central Coast, and one each from Australia, France, Italy and Spain.

Who we are: Michelle Lee and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding Inc.; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; Mark Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; and myself. (Missing this evening was Laura Sanchez, wine journalist for several local and national publications).

Over cheese and crackers, home-pickled snap peas and spicy beef sliders, we blended our trademark hilarity with the six wines. It was a Friday night, and we let loose.

Wine One: "Fruity; moderate alcohol; chalky, with viscosity; definitely from Ballard Canyon; very little acidity; balanced; not flabby; austere and basic; good, but not balanced; definitely 'local' fruit; pairs well with the cheese; lovely nose."

Wine Two: "Has a slight menthol-like taste; oak; could be from the Barossa Valley (Australia); I don't know how to describe this, but it's intriguing; this is a superior food wine; elegant; spicy; has an aftertaste; probably made with neutral American oak barrels, or maybe Hungarian; a great wine; this is a nice European wine — if this is from the Central Coast, I'll be surprised; this is lighter and fruitier, but it eases off at the end."

We jumped back and forth between wines one and two, sipping each repeatedly. We took a poll, and both wines one and two were in a dead heat for first. One panelist described wine one as more masculine, and two as more feminine, and in general, we agreed, describing two as full of intrigue.

Wine Three: "Sweet; almost Australian; it's got candy-like sweetness, and I like it — but after a while, it would get on my nerves; lovely; short finish; jammy, sweet and short; not much here, taste wise."

Wine Four: "Chocolate nose; inky; oaky; alcohol, sweet ethanol; California; no, Australia; has a little bit of funk."

Wine Five: "Definitely from the U.S.; coconut flavors, which I take to mean American oak; just really drinkable." (Note: This wine was decanted).

Wine Six: "It sucks; we love it — not; definitely French (three panelists agreed); no, it's Italian (in the end, all four were wrong); stinky sweet on the nose, but better on the palate."

The wines:

Wine One: 2007 Herman Story, Larner Vineyard, $38.

Wine Two: 2009 Argiolas Costera, Sardinina, Italy; blend of 90 percent cannonau (described as a descendant of grenache), 5 percent carignano and 5 percent bovale sardo; $25.

Wine Three: 2008 Kenneth Crawford, also from Larner Vineyard; $12.

Wine Four: 2009 Pertuisane "Le Nain Violet" Maury Rouge; 100 percent grenache from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France; $20.

Wine Five: 2008 Alto Moncayo garnacha, $50.

Wine Six: 2008 Yalumba Bush Vine, Barossa Valley, $17.


Our panel's second report: Chardonnay

In March, the tasting panel of met for the second time, and sampled six chardonnays in a blind tasting. Since nearly four months have passed since I posted about our debut tasting (malbec, viewable at, Feb. 8, 2012), the panel, again, includes Michelle Lee and Jeremy Ball, Bottle Branding; Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, professor, UCSB creative writing program, and online marketing specialist, respectively; Mark Cargasacchi, winemaker/owner, Jalama Wines and Joseph Blair Wines; Laura Sanchez, wine journalist for several local and national publications; and myself.

On March 24, we gathered around a table laden with cheeses, crackers and other edibles designed to enhance the traditional flavors of chardonnay — green apple, pear, honeydew, citrus, vanilla, honey and oak.

Chardonnay is considered by experts to be one of the more difficult wines to pair with food, in part because of the length of time it traditionally ages in — and is seasoned by — oak.

Chardonnays produced with little or no oak are more crisp and frankly, more balanced and elegant. Just my opinion.

The hosts shared only that wines number one and two were from the same region, and that two others were different vintages from the same producer.

Our comments:

Wine One: "Oak; petrol; some butter; really nice balance between acidity and butter/fat; elegant; excellent finish; and racy." After a repeat taste, one panelist found a hint of sulphur and "earthiness."

Wine Two: "Stainless; lovely ride; spice; light; elegant; lovely finish; and flows nicely with food." One of the hosts noted that both wines one and two "were not meant to be consumed for many years," which turned out to be a salient point.

Wine Three: "Yellow; more butter; full mouthfeel; lemon chiffon but no butter; dessert-like; and Cougar Juice." Used in the context of our group, that descriptor is negative; however, I must emphasize that a majority of consumers prefer "Cougar Juice"-style chardonnays. (Translation: Full, voluptuous, buttery).

Wine Four: "Less butter; more structure; elegant; more stainless than oak, or a half-and-half split; and more butter on nose."

Before we got to wine number five, our hosts divulged the identity of the final two, which, under the circumstances, was fine.

Wine Five: While described as "lighter and elegant," this wine, a 2010 Longoria Wines Cuvee Diana, got overshadowed by Wine Six, which the hosts unveiled as a 1995 Longoria Wines Sta. Rita Hills (Santa Ynez Valley at the time, since it pre-dates the Sta. Rita Hills' AVA).

The hosts had received the bottle as a gift from winemaker Rick Longoria.

While the 1995 chardonnay displayed light caramel in color, the panel agreed that "time was in its favor, and the palate bright." One taster described the 17-year-old wine as "Betty White in a glass when she was on "Golden Girls" ... she just keeps giving."

Identities for remaining four chardonnays:

One: 2008 Melville Winery Clone 76, stainless steel

Two: 2009 Clos Pepe Estate, stainless steel, and the most popular among the panelists

Three: 2010 Riverbench

Four: 2009 Talley Vineyard Estate

Growing wine — and progress — in Santa Barbara County

It's no secret that the plan by Michael Larner and his family to open a tasting room and hold special events on their Ballard Canyon Road property has fueled existing controversy between the county's wine industry and the property residents who fear their bucolic roadways will degenerate into speedways full of drunken drivers.

Larner, who with his family owns 134 acres at 955 Ballard Canyon Rd., applied in April 2010 to develop a winery, remodel an existing structure into a small tasting room, and host special events amid the 34-acre vineyard. All facets of this family's project follow the guidelines listed in the current winery ordinance for a Tier 2 winery, Larner noted. The ordinance was adopted by the County Board of Supervisors in 2004.

Controversy is inevitable when those who favor progress and business expansion come up against others who prefer the status quo. And that is exactly what some residents of Ballard Canyon Road and the surrounding rural areas don't like about the Larner project: It equals change.

Several of Michael Larner's opponents have emphasized to me that their biggest concern is not the winery project itself, but the fact that Larner wants to host several special events that would feature his estate wines. His opponents fear that narrow, winding Ballard Canyon Road will not be able to handle increased traffic from attendees at such events, and that guests will be over the legal alcohol limit when they drive away from his property.

Following two hearings during which Larner's opponents voiced their dismay about his proposal, county Zoning Administrator Jeff Hunt Dec. 5 effectively derailed the project by ordering the family to submit an environmental impact report (EIR) for its proposal.

Larner told me he wishes Hunt had taken into account the Larner family's "willingness to utilize shuttles for all events to address the neighbors' concerns" about increased traffic on Ballard Canyon Road, as well as the possibility of motorists driving while impaired.

Last week, Larner said his family plans to "resubmit our project to the zoning administrator, removing all but six events at 80 people or less (each)." But the family will continue its desire for an on-site tasting room, he noted, because "the preservation of our future tasting room is the single most important aspect of our project, and we will fight for this as long as it takes!"

I'd like to address the concerns of some valley residents who believe the Santa Barbara County wine industry — and projects such as the Larner's — will turn our area into "another Napa."

In particular, I want to refute some unbalanced claims made by columnist Pat Murphy in the Santa Ynez Valley News on Dec. 22.

As an aside, and to be fair to Murphy, what she wrote was clearly marked as a column, in which she is entitled to her opinion, just as I am here, posting under "commentary" on a blog that is mine alone. For example, my "Wine Country" column published in the Santa Maria Times and Lompoc Record is just that — a column — and it affords me the chance to share my opinion.

News reporters, however, are not entitled to let their opinions seep into stories. A fair, balanced news story presents both sides and does not include the author's opinion.

In her column, Murphy noted that "the time has arrived for individuals with over-inflated ideas of finding wealth in the wine business to get cranial lap-bands. They need to reduce their unrealistic ideas for a business that is starting to flounder here."

I can say with certainty that the winemakers with whom I am acquainted did not enter the wine industry to "find wealth." They work long hours to support themselves and their families by making wine, and, while there are exceptions, most I know turned a passion for good wine into a job, and didn't fund their company with millions of dollars.

Murphy continued: " … for a business that is starting to flounder here." My response: Show me proof.

If the wine business in Santa Barbara County was floundering, why would the Lompoc Wine Ghetto now have 16 tasting rooms when 18 months ago there were just six?

Additionally, a third wine bar has opened in Solvang, and scenic Foxen Canyon Road between Los Olivos and Santa Maria is lined with successful wineries located within world-renowned vineyards. Santa Barbara's "Funk Zone" contains more than 10 tasting rooms on the "Urban Wine Trail." The town of Los Olivos offers more than 25 opportunities for wine tasting.

Suffice to say, Santa Barbara County's wine industry is booming, and employs people who might otherwise be out of work.

In addition, the county's wine industry attracts thousands of visitors each year, and those tourists also pay for lodging, gas and restaurants. They shop for groceries and clothing, and visit our beaches and parks. As a whole, wineries and winemakers on the Central Coast sponsor festivals, winemaker dinners and events nearly every weekend all year long.

The second point I want to address is Murphy's claim that "permanent Valley residents are determined not to let this become another Napa, with all its uncomfortable and unhealthy side effects. Statistics for DUI convictions in Napa are astounding."

First, most winemakers in this county are also "permanent" Valley residents, just as you and I are, Pat. They live near us, their children attend local schools, they also pay taxes and spend what they earn here in our county.

But let's talk about the DUI statistics in Napa being "astounding."

To be honest, Napa's DUI statistics matter little here, as Santa Barbara County is not Napa County. This region has earned its own stars, and doesn't "survive" in Napa's shadow.

Murphy didn't provide her readers with any statistics for DUI arrests and accidents in Santa Barbara County, but I will. Following are statistics from the recent holiday season:

A Santa Maria Times story published during the first week of January noted that "the 'AVOID the 12' campaign arrested 154 people over the 17-day holiday period from Dec. 16 to Jan. 1 for driving under the influence in Santa Barbara County.

"There were 21 alcohol-related traffic collisions throughout the county, with four of those causing injury to at least one person, according to a release from AVOID the 12," the story noted.

"The New Year’s weekend resulted in 49 people arrested for suspicion of driving while impaired. DUI-related arrests by agency (over the 17 days) are California Highway Patrol/Santa Maria area, 10; California Highway Patrol/Buellton-Solvang area, 10; California Highway Patrol/Santa Barbara area, 44; Santa Barbara police, 32; Santa Maria police, 17; Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, 21; Lompoc police, 15; Guadalupe police, three; UCSB police, two.

How many of these arrests are directly related to the wine industry? There's no way to tell, unless one were to look up all the reports submitted by the respective law enforcement agencies,. I'd venture a guess, since the arrests occurred during the holiday season, that several were linked to companies' holiday events.

Larner said his family contacted the California Highway Patrol to obtain details about DUIs on Ballard Canyon Road during the past 10 years. The report, which I have seen, includes the substance in question, as well as age and residence of each arrestee. The data shows that 80 percent of the DUI arrests were alcohol-related incidents; 40 percent involved under-age drivers and 60 percent involved "valley locals," Larner said of the report.

Before I continue, let me make very clear my core belief: If you drink enough alcohol to force your blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0.08, and then attempt to drive a vehicle, motorcycle or water craft, you deserve to be stopped and arrested for driving over California's legal limit. Period.

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) is the agency that licenses and monitors wineries that offer on-site tasting, as well as the off-site tasting rooms owned by wineries. In conjunction with local law enforcement agencies, the ABC offers classes for tasting room employees, teaching them vital pointers, among them the risk of serving under-age customers and how to determine if a guest has already consumed too much alcohol. Everything I'm sharing is easily accessible via

Having poured tastes of wine for a handful of winemakers since 2007, I do have experience following the law as set forth by the ABC. But let me quote Katie O'Hara, partner at Bedford Winery in Los Alamos, who is more eloquent than I:

Speaking at the second Larner Project hearing Dec. 5, O'Hara said: "The (wine) industry as a whole is very, very responsible as far as overseeing guests" who visit the county's wineries and tasting rooms. "Servers are responsible," and the majority of guests "are coming in to taste, not to drink."

Jim Fiolek, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association, also spoke during the hearing, emphasizing to Hunt that, "No winery will survive selling to customers who are inebriated."

That's because the fines are steep, and the consequences severe.

On its website, right off the bat, the ABC notes that the goal of its disciplinary procedures is to secure "voluntary compliance among licensees," and the consequences for non-compliance include administrative penalties.

Continuing: "Any person licensed by ABC, and his employees, must abide by all the laws of the State. If ABC has evidence of a violation involving a licensee or a licensed premises, it will file an administrative complaint, called an accusation. An accusation, if proven, will lead to the suspension or revocation of the license. An accusation is in addition to, and not a substitute for, possible criminal and civil penalties that local city and district attorneys may bring against the licensee or employee who committed the violation.

"Criminal penalties can result from violations that are criminal offenses. For example, the sale or service of alcoholic beverages to a minor or an obviously intoxicated person is not only grounds for an accusation, but constitutes a criminal offense. Thus, the seller/server could be arrested, charged with a crime, and face a fine, community service work or imprisonment in county jail."

We who work in the business of wine tasting take our service seriously. At Qupe, I "carded" visitors who appeared to me to be under age 21. Their reactions ranged from delight (especially when they were well over the legal age) to annoyance, but I didn't pour until I had proof each guest was of legal age.

The penalty for serving alcohol to a minor is "a minimum $1,000 fine and 24 hours of community service," according to the ABC. "If a person buys alcohol and furnishes it to a minor who consumes it and causes great bodily injury or death to himself or others, the furnisher faces a minimum 6-12 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. (Sections 25658(a), 25658(c) and 25658(e)(2)(3))."

As the ABC notes, "every person who sells, furnishes, gives or causes to be sold, furnished or given away, any alcoholic beverages to any habitual drunkard, or to any obviously intoxicated person, is guilty of a misdemeanor. (Section 25602).

And that, folks, is the responsibility we bear when we pour you a taste of wine. The legal definition of a single taste of wine, the ABC notes, is one ounce.

Disclaimer: I, Laurie Jervis, editor of, have worked in local tasting rooms. This commentary is my opinion, and in no way reflects on my news stories published about the Larner project for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Contact me at or

Behind the (wine) bar: Keeping open bottles fresh

By Kari Ziegler, special to Wine bars are popping up all over the place. They are, it seems, the new "Starbucks," as even Starbucks is thinking about serving wine and beer. So if anyone can open a wine bar, then having something special — something unique — is what is going to set each wine bar apart from the rest of the five others on the block. What seems to be the big "bravado" trend is having 300-plus wines open for the customer to choose from. Costco and BevMo have now hit the quaint local wine bar circuit.

So, 300 open wines ... I first stare with glee like a kid in a candy store when I am presented with the iPad menu of wines, and then the reality hits. Is this too much?

Open wines all have different aging issues, and there are lots of determining factors. listed two that were very important for serving wine by the glass on its site:

• How old the wine is • How much wine is left in the bottle further explains why how much wine in the bottle is the main factor to opened wine going bad: It's called oxygen. The website gives a few hints for how to keep open wine good, but it all comes down to the amount of oxygen touching the wine. Red wine will keep its character for up to 48 hours corked and refrigerated, while white should maintain its form for up to four days.

Gassing can preserve the wine up to two weeks, but remember that each wine will age differently when opened, just like it does before the cork was popped, just on a faster scale.

The questions start whirring in my brain while I stand in the mega wine bar. Yes, they have a gassing system, but with ranges of prices from $5 to $100 a glass — is each wine being "tasted out" on a regular basis? Does the staff even know what the wine tastes like if it is good, bad or not representative of the wine? Do employees record when each bottle is opened, or last poured? How were these 300 chosen? Oh, I think I just got dizzy thinking about it!

Think about it. You walk into a tiny wine bar, with 15 seats, two employees and 300 open wines.  The employees need to pour 1,200 glasses of wine in, at most, a two-week window (with some wines really needing to be poured in a much shorter time).

Continuing with 1,200 glasses, with each customer drinking an average of two glasses, that's 600 seats that need to be filled every 14 days. So, will 43 people a day come in to your favorite wine bar and drink from the open wines, two full glasses across the entire list to keep the wines moving and fresh?

With 15 seats, that means that the bar is packed with people continuously for four to six hours, with each customer sitting for one to two hours sipping their two glasses of wine. As a restauranteur, that means you flip every table three times in the night. Drive by a particular place on a Monday or Wednesday — do you see that happening?

If you do, then your wine has a chance of tasting just like the winemaker expects. Do the math, for most establishments the wine just can't be consumed in time for it to be fresh.

So when you see hundreds of wines available by the glass, look for the following before you buy:

• The establishment needs to have some sort of gas preservation system (simply pulling air out of the bottle cannot pull out all of the air — so oxygen remains to do its dirty work in the bottle) • All wines, both reds and whites, need to be gassed • Wine needs to be tasted daily by trained staff to ensure its freshness • Wine needs to be dated when open and thrown out when not good • Wine bar employees need to let you get a taste before you buy — it's the only way you will know for sure you are getting your money's worth.

Full disclosure: I own a wine bar (with 30 open wines at any time, and 35 seats) and I am incredibly picky about the experience I am looking for when I go out, so I may be a bit extreme. 

It's an awesome experience for me to see what people have done to project and complete their idea of what a wine bar should be, and I appreciate them all for their uniqueness. However, when it comes to wine quality at my bar, I have a high standard.

We taste every day, we know about the wines, the winemakers and, in some cases, have actually worked to help produce the wines in order to gain even more knowledge about the work behind making wine.

I loathe hearing stories from friends about how they entered a place, ordered a wine and got something else entirely. I hear stories like this all the time. Go out and have fun — but be informed on what you are drinking — and how long it's been opened.

(Copyright by Kari Ziegler)

Kari Ziegler is the owner of Gather Wine Bar in Arroyo Grande and can be reached at