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The CCWP Wine Week

The CCWP Wine Week: WiVi Central returns to Paso in March; Cal Poly receives $20,000 check from Garagiste Festival

The CCWP Wine Week: WiVi Central returns to Paso in March; Cal Poly receives $20,000 check from Garagiste Festival


  WiVi Central Coast two-day conference for growers, winemakers

The WiVi Central Coast Wine Industry Conference & Tradeshow's third annual event returns to the Paso Robles Event Center Tuesday and Wednesday, March 17 and 18, and organizers hope to draw winemakers, grape growers and hospitality managers to network and explore resources available on the Central Coast and beyond.

The conference includes education seminars on both Tuesday and Wednesday, and a Wednesday tradeshow that will feature more than 150 companies showcasing new products and tools.

Hosting WiVi Central are Wine Business Monthly, the wine industry leader in product information and resources, and Precision Ag Consulting, a regional viticulture consulting business.

“The Central Coast is still a young wine region but growing rapidly. Education and access to resources is important to its continued growth and success,’’ said Becky Zelinski, WiVi director.

“As the region grows, so does the importance of a conference like WiVi, which is the only one of its kind here. In just two days, anyone in the wine industry can learn from our panels of experts, network with peers, and connect with suppliers at the WiVi tradeshow. It really is a one-stop shop for the entire Central Coast industry,’’ she said.

Among the seminars scheduled both days are “The Year 2014 in Review and Update on Recent Changes on Ground Water Rights;” “The Effect of Water Availability on Property Values;” “Improving Wine Grape Quality Through the Use of Phenolics Measurements in Winemaking;” “Measuring the ROI of Social Media;” and “Top 10 Success Tips for Tasting Room Sales.”

The conference will include two social events: A launch party on Tuesday evening and an exhibitor-sponsored lunch Wednesday.

Registration for WiVi is open to the public and tickets can be purchased online. Early registration discounts and special discounted prices for wine industry association members are available through Feb. 28, as are free tradeshow passes for association members.

Information and tickets:; email:, and phone: (888) 974-WIVI (9484).

Garagiste Wine Festival presents $20,000 donation to Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Program

The Garagiste Festival presented a check for $20,000 to the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture department from proceeds raised at its three Garagiste Festivals in 2014.

It also announced that the Cal Poly program will continue to be a beneficiary of the festivals in 2015, including the upcoming “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure,” scheduled for March 27-29 at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Solvang.

Receiving the $20,000 check were Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Department Lecturer Shohreh S. Niku, second left, and Interim Department Chairperson Marianne McGarry Wolf, second right. Garagiste co-founders Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick are far left, and far right, respectively.

The check was presented in the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture lab in San Luis Obispo, where students are benefitting from spectrophotometers purchased using funds donated by the Garagiste Festivals in 2013.

“In addition to throwing a spotlight on small-lot, innovative artisan winemakers, a huge part of our mission is to further the education of future winemakers. It was very exciting today to see the results of our efforts at work at Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture,’’ said Garagiste Festival Co-founder Doug Minnick.

“We have many alums of the program among the exceptional winemakers pouring at our festivals and could not be more proud to be part of helping shape the future of our industry, starting with its next generation of winemakers.’’

Launched in Paso Robles in 2011, the Garagiste Festivals were the first to shine a light on the American garagiste winemakers, commercial artisan winemakers who handcraft less than 1,500 cases a year and pay close, hands-on attention to every wine they make. The only festivals in the United States dedicated to these innovative, hard-to-find winemakers, the events have helped thousands of consumers discover the remarkable wines of hundreds of garagistes.

“We appreciate the Garagiste Festival’s continued support of our program and its contribution to the vitality of our area, which is rapidly evolving into one of the most important wine regions in the world. We believe our program embraces the entrepreneurial spirit of the garagiste winemaker by integrating enology with viticulture and wine business. Our program reflects the evolution our wine region and the funds donated by the festival over the past three years, as well as the attention it has brought to our program, have truly made a difference,” Wolf said.

“This year’s donation will go a long way to helping extend the footprint of our students in the wine industry. Thank you Garagiste Festival, and thank you to the hundreds of garagiste winemakers and sponsors who help make this festival possible.”

The Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Program includes nearly 300 undergraduate majors, making Cal Poly among the largest Wine and Viticulture programs in the country. The program uniquely integrates three fundamental components of the modern wine industry, with a curriculum emphasizing the inherent connectivity between wine grape growing in the vineyard, wine making in the winery, and wine selling in the marketplace through a unique “learn-by-doing” approach. The program is currently developing a Center for Wine and Viticulture that will include new state-of-the-art teaching facilities.

The upcoming Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure will feature 60 artisan winemakers from throughout Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast pouring throughout two days, as well as wine tasting seminars and the popular Winemaker Mixer, which includes the Festival’s signature “winemaker shootout” —where winemakers blind taste each others wines to pick the best red.

For tickets and to be alerted to breaking news about Southern Exposure and other Garagiste events, sign up for The Dirt at or follow us on Twitter (@GaragisteFest) or Facebook. For more information on The Garagiste Festivals, go to

Silicon Valley Bank predicts “breakout year” for U.S. wine biz

Silicon Valley Bank, a leading provider of commercial banking services to the innovation sector and the wine industry, releases its annual State of the Wine Industry report Jan. 21.

“We are seeing real strength in the U.S. economy going into 2015, which will increase demand for wine,” said Rob McMillan, founder of SVB’s Wine Division and author of the report.

“Declining oil prices are transferring wealth to oil-consuming countries, the employment picture is improving, the U.S. dollar is strengthening and interest rates will move at a measured pace. As long as the industrialized world economies can hold their own, the middle-income consumer will see improved prospects. We’ll be toasting to that.”

“We are especially positive on the year ahead,” McMillan said. “We expect the fine wine business will experience accelerating growth, achieving 14 to 18 percent sales growth in 2015. At the same time, the cellars are full with several consecutive years of very good vintages.”

Based on a survey of nearly 600 West Coast wineries, in-house expertise and ongoing research, SVB’s annual report covers trends and addresses current issues facing the American wine industry.

Key findings and predictions:

  • Supply: We expect to see the third consecutive harvest of heavy yield and great quality across most appellations.
  • Sales Growth: After finishing the year at the top end of our predicted sales growth of 6 to 10 percent in 2014, we are predicting a breakout year of growth in the fine wine category in the 14 to 18 percent range in 2015.
  • Pricing: While the large supply of wines in the cellars should normally indicate continued depressed pricing, we believe 2015 will be a year of both volume and price increases in the fine wine segment, driven by an improving economy and higher demand.
  • Demand: Wines priced below $7 a bottle performed poorly both on and off premise in 2014. This poor performance is likely to continue in 2015.
  • Planting: Grape planting is shifting regionally. Oregon and Washington are showing strong growth in planting on a percentage basis and we expect that this will continue for the foreseeable future given favorable quality and price dynamics relative to the fine wine growing regions in California.

SVB’s wine division specializes in commercial banking for premium wineries and vineyards and the industries that support them. SVB has the largest team of commercial bankers dedicated to the wine industry of any bank nationwide. Founded in 1994, SVB’s Wine Division has offices in Napa and Sonoma counties and serves clients in the fine wine producing regions of California, Oregon and Washington.

Palmina Winery names John Busby as general manager

Palmina Winery, which produces a range of wines crafted from Italian varietals grown in Santa Barbara County, has named John Busby as its new general manager.

Busby, previously an executive in the asset management industry, has been manager of direct-to-consumer sales at Palmina for the past two years.

"I am extremely enthused at the prospect of taking on this new role at Palmina," Busby said. "As the winery celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015, I look forward to continuing to work closely with Steve and Chrystal to firmly position Palmina as a sustainable Santa Barbara County brand for the next 20 years and beyond."

Steve Clifton, winemaker and owner, produced the first Palmina wines in the basement of his home in 1995. Formerly assistant winemaker at Rancho Sisquoc and manager of The Wine Cask in Santa Barbara, Steve was joined at Palmina by his wife, Chrystal, in 2000. The Cliftons are also partners in Brewer-Clifton, a Sta. Rita Hills producer of pinot noir and chardonnay.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Drake Whitcraft leading Whitcraft Winery

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

Chris Whitcraft died earlier this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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


BUBBLYFEST nearly sold out

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

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

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

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

For tickets and more information, visit

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for


July's Wine Calendar: The Garagiste Festival: "Urban Exposure" in L.A.

July's Wine Calendar: The Garagiste Festival: "Urban Exposure" in L.A.


  2014LAArtLogoSaturday, July 12, is your chance to meet and taste wines from more than 40 artisan winemakers who live in greater Los Angeles and will participate in The Garagiste Festival’s first foray into this city. (See list of participants, below)

What’s a Garagiste? (gar-uh-zhe-stuh) is a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to slight renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their “garages” (anything considered not a chateau), who refused to follow the “rules,” and is now a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the best wine in the world.

Founded in Paso Robles in 2011, the Garagiste Festival: Urban Exposure debuts at Union Station and will benefit Mending Kids International and the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Program.

My first Garagiste Festival was the organizers’ premiere event, held in November 2011 outside Paso Robles inside a show barn at Windfall Ranch. Calling the venue a “barn” doesn’t do it justice, for Windfall Farms is a 724-acre equestrian facility, and the barn was brick with glass and copper steeples. Winemakers set up tables inside the stalls, most of which were bigger than my living room.

In 2013, two years after their Paso Robles launch, co-founders Stewart McLennan and Doug Minnick, along with event director Lisa Dinsmore and publicist Melanie Webber, expanded Garagiste to Solvang with “Southern Exposure.”

You can read one of my previous stories about the crew here:

Same idea, in different locales: The Paso Robles, Solvang and now Los Angeles Garagiste Festivals focus on tiny (and often, undiscovered) artisan winemakers who produce as few as a couple hundred cases each year.

Many of the Los Angeles-based winemakers participating in “Urban Exposure” still work day jobs, but like their colleagues in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, follow their passion for wine.

According to Webb, among the Garagistes are the team who work together in film production and have received raves for their winemaking; a couple whose wine is rooted in their Indian heritage and inspired by the 64 arts of KamaSutra; an Orange County mortgage broker; a winemaker inspired by his grandfather, who made wine in his Ontario basement; and a brewer and lab manager at Golden Road Brewing.

And my favorite: The Culver City sound engineer who secretly planted his first vines at Culver City’s MaryCrest Manor (a nursing home managed by Carmelite nuns), and had to answer to the police for his efforts.

After all, one doesn’t have to own a vineyard, winery, cellar or tasting room to make good wine.

Details, participants and ticket information is available at

The event takes place from 2 to 5 p.m. at Union Station. Wood & Vine will provide cheese and charcuterie.

Among the winemakers already scheduled to pour are: Alma Fria Winery, Alma Sol Winery, Alta Colina Vineyards, Archium Cellars, Ascension Cellars, Autonom, Blue Cape Cellars, Bon Niche Cellars, Bratcher Winery, Carucci Wines, Center of Effort, Cholame Vineyards, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Cutruzzola Vineyards, De Su Propia Cosecha, Dilecta Wines, Dubost Ranch, DV8 Cellars, Graef Wines, Kessler-Haak Vineyards, La Fenetre Wines, Levo Wines, Luminesce, LXV Wines, Marin’s Vineyard, MCV Wines, Montemar Wines, Native9, ONX Wines, Pulchella Winery, Rendarrio Wines, Seven Angels Cellars, Shai Cellars, Singer Cellars, Soaring Hawk Vineyards, The Farm Winery, Turiya Wines, Two Shepherds Winery, Vinemark Cellars, Vines on the Marycrest, Vino V Wines, Weatherborne and Workman/Ayer.






Two Weeks in Wine: June 15 — 30

Friday-Sunday, June 20-22 Key to Wine Country: Santa Barbara Vintners has taken the former “Vintners Visa” passport add-on from its festivals (Vintners and Celebration of Harvest) and created a stand-alone event, “Key to Wine Country.” Enjoy special dinners, vineyard hikes, library and vertical tastings, open houses and more. Tickets are limited. For tickets and details on participating wineries, visit Thursday-Sunday, June 19-22 — SLO Wine Country's 'Roll Out the Barrels: The 24th annual weekend event opens with Thursday's "Barrels in the Plaza" food and wine event at Mission San Luis Obispo and continues Friday with winemaker dinners and a passport tasting on both Saturday and Sunday. New this year is Barrel Sample Sunday, during which guests can taste upcoming releases at member wineries. For tickets and more information, visit

Saturday, June 28 — Red, White & Blue: The 16th annual Red, White & Blues Festival returns to Buttonwood Farm & Winery and this year features headliner Coco Montoya, a former member of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Opening for Montoya will be Santa Barbara's own Stiff Pickle Orchestra. Longoria Wines and Buttonwood Farm & Winery, along with the Santa Barbara Blues Society, sponsor the event. Tickets are $40 general and $35 for club members of either Buttonwood or Longoria, or members of the Blues Society. Guests are encouraged to pack a picnic lunch and chairs and purchase wine from either of the sponsoring wineries. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Arts Outreach. Call 805.688.3032 for tickets


The CCWP Wine Week

The CCWP Wine Week


This week’s preliminary 2013 Grape Crush Report revealed that California’s wine grape industry produced 4.23 million tons of fruit — a crop that tops the record haul set in 2012. The production of red wine grapes rose by 5 percent in 2013, yielding 2.41 million tons, while white wine grapes’ figure was 1.83 million tons, 6 percent over that of 2012, according to the state’s report.

Add table grapes to the mix, and the total rises to 4,685,075 tons crushed.

The state’s most popular grape continues to be chardonnay with 16.1 percent of the volume crushed. Second is cabernet sauvignon with 11.1 percent.

Thompson Seedless grapes led the pack of table grapes with 6.2 percent of the total tonnage crushed.

CCWP 9.17 SR RoadThe average per-ton price of red wine grapes was $842 — 4 percent less than last year’s. For white wine grapes, the average price was $620, less than 1 percent below the 2012 average.

Let’s compare highest with lowest price per ton: District 4 (Napa County) was highest, with $3,691.07, and District 13 lowest with $339.55 per ton.

Take note: District 13 is no wee lot — it comprises Madera, Fresno, Alpine, Mono and Inyo counties, as well as Kings and Tulare counties north of Nevada Avenue (Avenue 192). District 13’s total haul equaled 1,588,985 tons.

In addition, more vines were planted in District 13, translating to an 8 percent increase in its total tonnage.

Most of the state’s 17 districts saw an increase in growth. District 2, Lake County, provided the highest percentage with an increase of 24.1 percent, or 43,209 tons of wine grapes.

District 8 — Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties — harvested 10.5 percent more grapes in 2013 than in the prior year with 241,405 tons, the report noted.

The California Office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) turn figures provided by the state’s vintners into this annual report.

The entire grape crush report is available at

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Despite the relatively small amount of rain the Central Coast received last week, I have seen a few green shoots sprouting up from the brown hillsides and along our roads.

Many local vineyard owners used their overhead sprinklers to soak the vines in the weeks before the our recent rains. They no doubt feared the worst, as day after warm day of sun continued to parch the lands.

This week, the vineyards I pass on a near-daily basis — Duvarita, Kessler-Haak, Clos Pepe, Zotovich, Melville, Babcock and Ampelos — have at least the beginnings of lush green carpets from vine row cover crops.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press