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The Business of Wine

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story I wrote for about Broken Clock is available here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, 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.

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Stagecoach Wine Tours Inc. awarded TripAdvisor's "Certificate of Excellence" for five consecutive years of great reviews

Stagecoach Wine Tours Inc. awarded TripAdvisor's "Certificate of Excellence" for five consecutive years of great reviews


Babcock web vineyard 2011 Stagecoach Co. Wine Tours Inc., where yours truly is a proud tour host, today announced that it has been recognized as a TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence Hall of Fame winner. The Certificate of Excellence award celebrates excellence in hospitality and is given only to establishments that consistently achieve great traveler reviews on TripAdvisor.

TripAdvisor (NASDAQ: TRIP), the world's largest travel site, has inducted Stagecoach Wine tours into its "Hall of Fame," which honors businesses that have earned a Certificate of Excellence for five consecutive years, the organization noted in a news release.

Winners include accommodations, eateries and attractions located all over the world that have continually delivered a superior customer experience.

Being awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence five years in a row and inducted into the ‘Hall of Fame’ is a true source of pride for the entire team at Stagecoach Co. Wine Tours Inc., and we’d like to thank all of our past guests who took the time to complete a review on TripAdvisor,” said Eric John Reynolds, co-owner with Tyler Tomblin of Stagecoach.

The company has been based in the Santa Ynez Valley since opening for business in 2001.

“There is no greater seal of approval than being recognized by one’s customers. With the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence based on customer reviews, the accolade is a remarkable vote of confidence to our business and our continued commitment to excellence," Reynolds said.

Marc Charron, president of TripAdvisor for Business, echoed Reynolds’ comments.

"Winning the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for five consecutive years is a remarkable feat. TripAdvisor is pleased to induct five-time award winners into the ‘Hall of Fame.’ By putting a spotlight on businesses that are focused on consistently delivering great service to customers, TripAdvisor not only helps drive an improvement to hospitality standards around the world, it also gives businesses both large and small the ability to shine and stand out from the competition.”

When selecting Certificate of Excellence winners, TripAdvisor uses a proprietary algorithm to determine the honorees that takes into account the quality, quantity and immediacy of reviews and opinions submitted by travelers on TripAdvisor during a 12-month period, as well as business’s tenure and ranking on the Popularity Index on the site. To qualify, a business must maintain an overall TripAdvisor bubble rating of at least four out of five, have a minimum number of reviews and must have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least 12 months.

TripAdvisor enables travelers to plan and book the perfect trip, using trusted advice from travelers and a wide variety of travel choices and planning features with seamless links to booking tools that check hundreds of websites to find the best hotel prices. TripAdvisor also includes TripAdvisor for Business, a dedicated division that provides the tourism industry access to millions of monthly TripAdvisor visitors.

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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 or 805.350.0257.

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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

Third annual WiVi will cater to industry professionals during two-day conference next week in Paso Robles

Third annual WiVi will cater to industry professionals during two-day conference next week in Paso Robles


Organizers of WiVi plan a “session for every wine profession” at next week’s industry conference and tradeshow in Paso Robles. The WiVi Central Coast Wine Industry Conference and Tradeshow on March 17 and 18 will offer 20 sessions to educate and entertain anyone involved or employed in the business of wine, organizers say.

WiVi will hold several industry sessions during the Tuesday, March 17, portion of its two-day conference next week

Now in its third year, WiVi has grown into California’s largest industry networking opportunity south of San Francisco, with social events like the WiVi Launch Party, an exhibitor-sponsored luncheon, and the grand finale industry tasting and reception, Celebrating the Artisan Winemaker, hosted by The Garagiste Festival.

Tickets for the two-day event remain available online at Questions: or (888) 974-WIVI (9484).

unnamedScheduled for the Paso Robles Event Center, the conference includes educational seminars Tuesday and Wednesday, with a regional focus on viticulture, winemaking and DTC/winery marketing that will be led by today’s top industry leaders, organizers said.

Wednesday will also bring a one-day trade show packed with more tha 170 companies showcasing new products and innovative tools.

WiVi Central Coast is hosted by “Wine Business Monthly,” the magazine/website that provides resources for the wine industry, as well as Precision Ag Consulting, a regional viticulture-consulting business.

A full schedule of Tuesday's sessions can be found at

Among the sessions scheduled are:

  • “Manage and Control Trunk Diseases,” presented by Douglas Gubler, professor of plant pathology at the University of California, Davis. Gubler will offer preventative and cultural methods to minimize the spread of trunk diseases such as bot canker and eutpya.
  • “A Snapshot of Regional Harvest Chemistry: Seven Years of Wine and Grape Quality Analysis,” presented by Brenda Baker, chemist and owner of Baker Wine and Grape Analysis.
  • “Measuring the ROI of Social Media” presented by Steven Cuellar, Ph.D., of Sonoma State University’s School of Business and Economics. Cuellar will use data and case studies collected from some of the wine industry’s most successful campaigns to assess social media’s effect on the bottom line.
  • “Salary Survey: How Do You Measure Up?” is a presentation by Steve Treder, senior vice president, and Donna Bowman of Western Management Group, in which salary information specifically for the Central Coast wine industry will be extracted from the Wine Business Monthly’s annual salary survey, removing some of the mystery for both employees and employers on the Central Coast.
  • “Top 10 Tips for Success for Better Tasting Room Sales” presented by WISE (Wine Industry Sales Education) Academy Chairman Lesley Berglund, is based on the WISE Academy Tasting Room Best Practices Seminar, including relevant lessons for local tasting rooms taken from Berglund’s secret shopping program and the Wine Business Monthly Tasting Room Survey.
  • During his “2014 Year-in-Review & Update on Recent Changes in Ground Water Rights,” Lowell Zelinski of Precision Ag Consulting will look back at the 2014 winegrape-growing year. Chris Scheuring, legal counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation, will discuss the monumental changes to come with the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (aka Pavley-Dickenson).
  • “The Effect of Water Availability on Property Value,” to be presented by JoAnn Wall, appraiser, founder & CEO of Central Coast Ag Appraisers, will explore the influence that water availability has on property values.

On Wednesday, March 18, the WiVi Trade Show will feature more than 170 exhibitors with products and solutions for the modern winemaker, grape grower, or member of winery management, including companies whose innovations were voted as the “coolest new products” by Wine Business Monthly. 

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Fig Mountain Brew Co. opens Santa Maria taproom on Betteravia Road

  Four years ago, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company was a new operation named after a local mountain favored by hikers and bicyclists.

Today, Santa Barbara County locals know “Fig” as the place to meet for a cold one after work, for Quiz Night or for televised sports. From the original taproom on Industrial Way in Buellton, to the second site in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone to the smallest and newest site in Los Olivos, “Fig” rules.

The newest to open its doors is the Santa Maria taproom, located at 560 East Betteravia Road at College Avenue. The new site shares space with Me-n-Ed’s Pizza —once inside, go left for Fig and right for Me-n-Ed’s — and patrons can order Fig beer from the Me-n-Ed’s side, and pizza from the Fig side.

Kady Fleckenstein, Figueroa Mountain’s brand manager, and Jaime Dietenhofer, CEO and president, detailed the brewery’s expansion into the North County during a lunch at the taproom Nov. 13.

Spicy tater tots are on the menu at the new Santa Maria Fig Mountain Brew taproom

Santa Maria is short on night life, said Fleckenstein, and Fig hopes to fill that void. There will be football every Monday, Thursday and Sunday, and doors will open at 11 a.m. daily. On the menu are beer floats and beer cocktails, and a menu specific to Santa Maria, such as a tri-tip beef sandwich and tri-tip tacos.

“We want to make this a local place,” Dietenhofer said.

The taproom offers its own Mug Club for residents from Los Alamos to Nipomo. Among the perks are a discount card, field trips and chances to meet other folks who favor Fig Mountain beers.

Members of the military will receive a 10 percent discount on all orders, Fleckenstein said.

Fig Tri tip tacos

The Santa Maria taproom features bar and table seating with all of the core beers — among them Lizard’s Mouth, Imperial IPA, Hoppy Poppy and Davey Brown — on tap, as well as seasonal and special brews. And the menu features “bar bites” — delicious tri-tip tacos, a burger, tri-tip sandwich, spicy tater tots and chicken wings.

Lizard’s Mouth continues to be Fig’s most popular beer: “We can’t make it fast enough,” said Dietenhofer.

Early next year, Fig Mountain will continue its expansion with taprooms in both Arroyo Grande and Westlake Village, Fleckenstein said, and both of those sites will also contain breweries just like the original Buellton taproom.

Giving Fig’s booming expansion some scale, Dietenhofer noted that the company’s current overall production is between 15,000 and 20,000 barrels per year, and “we’re headed toward 60,000,” he said.

In 2010, when Fig opened its doors, production was 100 barrels and there were just five employees. Now Fig employs 100 people, Dietenhofer said.

Even with booming growth, however, the owners will never mess with a good thing: the beers themselves. Once the Arroyo Grande and Westlake Village sites open, Fig will have a total of seven brewers on staff, Fleckenstein said.

“Our beer recipes always stay the same, and all of our brew staff gets trained in Buellton.”

This weekend, Figueroa Mountain will celebrate its fourth anniversary from 2 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, at the Buellton facility. Featured will be live music from Stiff Pickle Orchestra and the Molly Ringwald Project, good eats from the Pairing Knife food truck and games and contests,

“This is an extra special year for us,” said David Esdaile, Buellton taproom manager, referring to the brewery’s skyrocketing growth. “We consider ourselves a family, and we’ve grown substantially this year with new employees, Mug Club members and customers.”

The anniversary beer to be released Saturday will be a Belgian-style Abbey Quadrupel that was aged in oak barrels with figs.

“This massive dark beer is heady with dark fruit aromas along with deep caramel notes and a deep malt backbone,” noted Mike Hastings, director of brewing operations.

Jim and Jaime Dietenhofer, father and son, founded Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. in 2010, paying homage to the Santa Ynez Valley with handcrafted beer and labels featuring hand-drawn artwork depicting the local landscape.

Learn more about @FigMtnBrew or where to find the beer at

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press







Writer Laura Sanchez appointed marketing manager of Thornhill Companies

Writer Laura Sanchez appointed marketing manager of Thornhill Companies


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

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

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

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

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

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The Business of Wine: Vinous, another sell-out Garagiste Festival and Paso Robles partners with Cambria, San Simeon for new festival

Vinous buys Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar Vinous announced Tuesday that it will acquire Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (IWC).

IWC, founded in 1985 by editor and publisher Stephen Tanzer, is the oldest independent, American-owned wine journal.

Tanzer will join Antonio Galloni, Vinous’ CEO and founder, as a partner of Vinous, and will be actively involved as editor-in-chief and a lead critic.

According to a news release from, Vinous will add IWC’s entire archive to its library of content, making the combined site home to more than 180,000 professional wine reviews and more than 1,000 articles.

In an email to his subscribers, Tanzer said he believes Galloni and his team at Vinous “will quickly become the single most informative website for wine lovers in the U.S. and around the world.

“Best of all, Antonio clearly shares my focus on providing high-quality, totally independent wine criticism,” he added.

“I have known Steve Tanzer and have been a subscriber to IWC for over a decade,” Galloni said. “In addition to being one of the world’s preeminent wine critics, Steve is an even better person. When it came time to choose a partner with complementary strengths and shared values, Steve was the obvious choice.”

“I am looking forward to partnering with Antonio to bring our combined subscribers the most comprehensive, informative, independent wine web site on the market,” Tanzer said.

“With five of the world’s most established wine critics, continually streamed content, a large video library and interactive maps, Vinous is clearly taking the lead in reshaping the landscape of our industry.”

The new Vinous editorial team includes:

Antonio Galloni: Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Italy, Champagne, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz Mountains and Burgundy

Steve Tanzer: Burgundy, Chablis, Washington, Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand, Port, Tokaj and Napa Valley

Josh Raynolds: Spain, Rhône, Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence, Oregon, Australia, Paso Robles, Santa Lucia Highlands and Chile

Ian D’Agata: Central and Southern Italy, Alsace, Canada

Garagiste Festival sells out Paso Robles; looks ahead to Solvang

On the heels of another sell-out event in Paso Robles, Garagiste Events, producers of The Garagiste Festivals, have announced the return of their popular Southern Exposure festival in to Veterans’ Memorial Hall in Solvang, March 27 to 29, 2015.

Joe Mozdzen photos/Participants in the Saturday morning seminars sampled several wines.

More than 1,000 wine enthusiasts and winemakers participated in the four-day festival in Paso Robles, Nov. 6 through 9, which lived up to its description by the Los Angeles Times as not only “one of the premier wine events of the year,” but also one of “wine’s best parties,” organizers said.

“The sold-out 2014 Paso Robles Garagiste Festival is further proof that the American garagiste movement is one of the hottest trends in the wine industry, and that Paso Robles is its heart and soul,” said Garagiste Festival co-founder Doug Minnick.

“We are proud to be the only event in the country to shine a light on so many extraordinary artisan winemakers under one roof – all while offering wine lovers a ‘no snobs allowed’ atmosphere in which to sample innovative wines crafted with passion, a healthy respect for tradition, and an even healthier respect for breaking the rules.”

Steve Lohr, CEO of J. Lohr Wines, left, and Stewart McLennan discuss the 11 new AVAs in Paso Robles

A new highlight this year was the festival’s first (but not last) “Big Blend Shootout,” a friendly competition in which more than 20 winemakers blind-tasted each other’s wines and picked out the best of the best.

The winner was Bret Urness from Levo Wines, for his blend of grenache, syrah, petite syrah and viognier.

“It was a great night that epitomized the camaraderie among winemakers in Paso Robles, and the fact that, while winemaking is a lot of work, it is also a lot of fun, especially after the long harvest,” said co-founder Stewart McLennan.

The nonprofit Garagiste Festivals benefit the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture program.

For more information on The Garagiste Festivals, visit

Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance partners with Cambria and San Simeon to launch “Blendfest” 

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance (PRVCA), in conjunction with the Cambria Tourism Board, San Simeon Tourism Board and Wine Coast Country, has formed a partnership to bring a Paso Robles wine event to the northern coast of San Luis Obispo County.

On Feb. 21, the first Paso BlendFest on the Coast will showcase the best characteristics of each partner, combining the scenic beauty of the coast with Paso Robles Wine Country.

BlendFest will invite visitors to San Simeon and Cambria to enjoy 25 to 30 of Paso Robles’ renowned wineries, each featuring two distinct blends. At the Cavalier Resort in San Simeon, guests will be able to enjoy spectacular wines and stunning coastal views.

“As evidenced by Paso’s recent honor as Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, the region has become known for rule breaking, unconventional blends,” said Jennifer Porter, executive director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance represents wineries, growers and businesses in Paso Robles Wine Country. It encompasses more than 32,000 vineyard acres and 200 wineries. For more information, visit Twitter: @PasoRoblesWine, #pasowine









TTB publishes ruling establishing 11 new AVAs within Paso Robles

It's official: The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) today published its final decision in the Federal Register, creating 11 new American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within the existing Paso Robles AVA in San Luis Obispo County. The 11 new sub AVAs: Adelaida District, Creston District, El Pomar District, Paso Robles Estrella District, Paso Robles Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands District, Paso Robles Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, San Miguel District, Santa Margarita Ranch and Templeton Gap District.

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, in conjunction with the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) Committee, issued a news release applauding the ruling, noting that the announcement concludes a seven-year process by a group of 59 Paso Robles vintners and winegrape growers who created a unified approach to develop a comprehensive master plan for the greater Paso Robles American Viticultural Area.

"These new AVAs will be a powerful tool for wineries to explain why certain grapes are particularly well suited to certain parts of the appellation, and why some wines show the characteristics they do while other wines, from the same or similar grapes, show differently," said Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard and Paso Robles AVA Committee member.

"Ultimately, the new AVAs will allow these newly created sub-regions to develop identities for themselves with a clarity impossible in a single large AVA."

The petition for the 11 new AVAs was filed in the spring of 2007 by the Paso Robles AVA Committee. The petition proved to be the single largest AVA proposal ever filed with the TTB due to the scale and scientific data assembled to substantiate the request.

The ruling was published today on The official map of the 11 Viticultural Areas, as well as a comparison grid detailing climate, rainfall, topography, etc., is available on

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New at CCWP: The Business of Wine

Editor's Note: Welcome to what I hope will be a weekly posting of events, news about the Central Coast wine industry and the people behind the wine. “BUBBLYFEST by the Sea” nation’s first sparkling wine festival

The resurgence of sparkling wine consumption has inspired the nation’s first and only dedicated sparkling wine festival.

BubblyFest by the Sea will take place in the scenic, seaside town of Pismo Beach Oct. 24 to 26, highlighting more than 40 domestic and international producers of “bubbly” in a weekend-long festival.

The festival kicks off from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday with a Gatsby-themed Cocktail Mixer at the Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa. Gatsby-themed attire is encouraged. Unique Champagne cocktails will be paired with gourmet appetizers, the sounds of jazz band The Tipsy Gypsies, and stunning cliff-side views of the Pacific Ocean (Cost: $60 per person).

The BUBBLYFEST Grand Tasting will take place from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the SeaCrest OceanFront Hotel, where guests sample pours from more than 40 local, domestic and international producers of Champagne and sparkling wine.

Also featured will be gourmet samplings of artisan cheeses, chocolates, oysters, bread and other bites, as well as sparkling cocktail concoctions and musical entertainment. (Cost: $65 per person).

Finally, on Sunday, BUBBLYFEST will return to Dolphin Bay Resort & Spa for a Sunday Funday Champagne brunch from 10 a.m. to noon.

Staged on the ocean-side patio of the resort’s Lido Restaurant, the event will feature a three-course gourmet brunch prepared by Chef Jacob Moss, paired with bottomless Champagne. The Dan Curio of Moonshiner Collective will provide live music to complete the light-and-fun ambiance (Cost: $45 per person).

For more information and tickets, visit

Wine Spectator honors Orcutt’s Far Western Tavern with 2014 Award of Excellence

The Far Western Tavern in Old Town Orcutt has earned the prestigious "2014 Award of Excellence" from Wine Spectator magazine, an honor reserved for select restaurants with exemplary wine lists.

The complete results will be published in the Aug. 31 annual restaurant issue of the Wine Spectator.

“We are thrilled to bring the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence to the Santa Maria Valley,” said Benjamin Chanler-Laurin, general manager and sommelier of the Far Western Tavern.

The Far Western Tavern was determined to take its wine list to the next level, with active input and support from restaurant co-owners, he explained.

“Some of the family members are vintners and wine collectors themselves,” he said. “They understood the significance of creating a standout wine list.”

“We really started to emphasize chardonnay, pinot noir and Rhône varietals — wines that excel in the Santa Maria Valley and across the Central Coast,” he said.

“At the same time, we wanted to offer examples of these same varietals from regions such as Burgundy and the Rhône Valley, to provide context and offer our local winemakers some international flavors to enjoy. And most important, we wanted to offer a diverse selection of affordable wines that paired well with our menu, including cabernet sauvignon and other varietals.”

(Editor’s note: Bien Nacido Vineyard held its 40th Anniversary Winemaker Dinner May 29 at Far Western, and the Miller Family graciously included me. I found the meal and wines paired with the five courses to be exquisite, in particular, the oak grilled Scottish salmon with hazelnut risotto and pan seared duck breast with grilled fennel and braised beets. The first and second courses each included three wines, and the others at least one. Besides, seated at my table were local winemaking legends Bob Lindquist, Jim Clendenen, James Ontiveros, Joshua Clapper and Trey Fletcher, making the evening one for the books). 

2014 grape crop predicted to be slightly less than that of 2013

California’s wine type grape production is forecast at 3.9 million tons for 2014, down 8 percent from 2013, according to a report issued Aug. 13 by the California Agricultural Statistics Service.

However, 3.9 million tons is still a sizable crop, and if estimates hold true, 2014 will be California's third-largest ever wine-grape crop to date.

The raisin crop is expected to be 1.95 million tons, down 13 percent from 2014, and table grape production is forecast at 1.20 million tons, down 2 percent.

The forecast is in line with Allied Grapegrowers’ earlier estimate of 3.8 to 4.0 million tons of wine grapes in 2014, though Allied president Nat Dibuduo said he thinks the state’s forecast for Thomson grapes may be high — with the Thompson crop down by as much as 20 or even 25 percent.

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