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East to West: A tale of two harvests — barrel tasting with Lindley Wines

East to West: A tale of two harvests — barrel tasting with Lindley Wines

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  Last September, I started spending time with the owners of Dragonette Cellars and Lindley Wines. In both cases, the owners double as the winemakers.

My goal: Writing a series starting with harvest and ending with bottling (whites or rosés) or barrel aging (reds), and to alternate back and forth with the two wineries. My most recent installment featured Buellton-based Dragonette Cellars and was posted on Oct. 24 — nearly three-and-a-half months back. 

I interviewed Francesca "Frankie" and Jake Lindley on Dec. 19, and have absolutely no valid excuse for taking so long to whip up the story.

So once again, with “East to West,” I want to convey how the vast Santa Ynez Valley appellation encompasses two smaller AVAs: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara to the east, and the Sta. Rita Hills to the west. At the east end, various Bordeaux grapes thrive in the heat; on the west end, it’s all about pinot noir and chardonnay, which flourish in the fog.

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In September, when "East to West" last featured the Lindleys, both were short on sleep and knee deep in harvest. Jake had picked up cellar work at Pali Wine Co., which meant he went straight from harvesting grapes to long days at another winery. Frankie housed and cooked meals for out-of-town friends who rose with the sun to pick grapes alongside the crew members from Coastal Vineyard Care Associates, the company that manages Lindley Vineyard.

In September, I wrote: "About 11 a.m. (one Monday), Jake left for an all-day industry event in San Diego. He got home at 2 a.m. Tuesday — and went straight back to Lindley Vineyard for an overnight pick. About 10 a.m., he reached the winery to press that pinot, and at 2 p.m., he left for an eight-hour shift at Pali Wines.

Early in November, Frankie e-mailed me in response to my query about our next interview: "Sorry, Laurie: I would actually like to see him myself! He's had one day off so far and slept for 21 hours … "

But in two months' time, as fruit was picked, fermented, pressed and eventually put to barrel, the two caught up on sleep. After Thanksgiving, Frankie graciously invited me to taste barrels at the Lompoc winery they share with Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe.

Visiting for the coming holidays were Jake's parents, Karen and Rodney Quigley.

Jake Lindley and the 2013 viognier from Duvarita Vineyard.

On Dec. 19, we five gathered around a table at the winery, the Lindley's three large dogs lounging at our feet. Frankie checked glasses and Jake sat quietly, seemingly lost in thought, but their anticipation was palpable — the chardonnay lined up in glasses was the inaugural vintage from their estate vineyard, located on Sweeney Road on the western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

(They've bottled Lindley Chardonnay before, but sourced it from Sierra Madre Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley).

Also on the tasting menu was the first Lindley viognier, which Jake had produced from Duvarita Vineyard on Purisima Road, and another vintage of pinot noir from Lindley Vineyard.

The couple finished harvest 2013 with 20 barrels of estate pinot noir; 2.5 of viognier; three of estate chardonnay; two pinot noir from Radian Vineyard; five from La Lomita Vineyard, and three barrels of blended pinot noir.

Of the viognier, Jake said: "We wanted a white to pair with our release of the 2012 pinot noir." In December, they anticipated bottling the viognier in January, and would release it in the coming months.

The owner of Duvarita Vineyard sold the Lindleys one ton of viognier grapes, Jake said, which he turned into about two and-a-half barrels' worth of juice, most of it fermented in "really old neutral barrels."

And so we sipped. Here are our notes:

Barrel One: "Full of perfume; pretty; rosy, with a traditional viognier nose full of honeysuckle."

Barrel Two: "Not as floral as Barrel One; more muted, full of straw; still a mouth punch; has a tiny bit of spritz; it's still in ML (malolactic fermentation)."

Barrel Three: "This one is more like the first barrel; this is the half barrel, and is in stainless steel; lovely on the palate; really yummy;" (and, from Frankie): "Jake, you might just have a future!"

From viognier, we segued to the estate chardonnay, and tasted three more single barrels, slightly out of order:

Barrel One: "This tastes like chardonnay! ... It's a little simple, yet clean."

Barrel Three: "This has a vibrant nose; way more fun; complex; this is a beautiful wine already; very pleasing."

Barrel Two: "Butterscotch-y, but overall, much more simple; nutty; the nuttiness in this chardonnay comes from a heavier press — it produces some tannins from the skins."

And then it came time to sample four barrels of pinot noir, all Pommard clone.

Samples of very young pinot noir from the Lindley estate pinot noir, Sta. Rita Hills

"At this point (early in the aging process), I'm looking for flaws in the wine," Jake said.

Flaws? Nope. The young wine was exquisite, and as we swirled, sniffed and tasted, Frankie lavished praise on Jake: "We grew this!" and, "Oh my god, honey!"

Jake just smiled.

"I didn't have to fight this wine," he explained. "It was easy — the vintage itself, 2013, was easy."

The Lindley's young pinots were color-rich and complex in flavor. One barrel sample showed more mocha ("that may have been a newer barrel," said Jake); another had already finished ML and displayed a softer and smoother mouthfeel. Yet another had a "big nose" — "This is MY kind of wine, a classic pinot noir. Pommard is perfume-y and has a silkiness to it."

"To have something this fun … already .. to have this, now!" Frankie enthused about the progress of their pinot noir. "This is our first barrel tasting, because we've been so busy, and we wanted to do this with you," she told me.

Indeed, though the wines are young, they each radiate a certain je ne sais quoi. They are bright yet elegant, layered and subtle.

"So far, so good," Jake smiled.

Coming next: Dragonette Cellars bottles a 2013 vintage

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

 

 

Dear Harvest: I know you're out there . . .

Pinot noir ripening on netted vines at Kessler-Haak Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills On my way to work in Solvang this morning, I passed a truck pulling a trailer containing one bin of red grapes, headed west into Lompoc. I'm pretty sure I recognized the truck as one belonging to a Lompoc Ghetto-based winemaker.

I'm guessing said winemaker was making a grape delivery of either pinot noir or syrah grapes to a winery, his or someone else's site, and that the grapes were picked this early because they're destined for sparkling wine. Just my guess.

In the eight years since I first focused my eyes and ears on all things wine, I've sensed a shift in the atmosphere every August. Winemakers and vineyard managers spend more time strolling down rows of grapevines, testing grapes' brix levels at the same time they're testing the air for temperature and wind speed. They stare up at the sky.

Every day, another of the zillion or so vineyards I pass on my daily commute gets nets flung over its vines. Another day, another netting. (Netting vines is super hard work, just so you know).

When I pass one or more winemakers gathered together, I'll likely hear fragments of conversation that sound like: " … When do you think you'll …  " or "What about …. ?" and even … "Did you hear .. .?"

One might utter "It's been warm overnight," and the other might remark about an August night's sudden chill. And that's not the half of it …

So many unknowns go into the execution of an actual grape harvest that it's a wonder thousands take place daily in these parts. First off, there's weather to consider — especially heat and … R-A-I-N. (Shush! I didn't even say the would out loud).

There's equipment: Picking, transportation and storage. Don't forgot your gloves and plenty of water. Do we have enough clippers for everyone? Hats? Did I mention water? Will someone please bring some sunscreen ... I hear it's going to be a beautiful morning, out in the vineyard under sunny skies. We'll be serenaded by song birds — oh, wait. Those will be the hungry swallows, angry that We. Got. Here. First.

This is my love letter to the coming harvest, because it's just around the next turn, you know.

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

Longtime winemaker Rick Longoria releases block-specific Fe Ciega pinot noir

Rick Longoria, one of my favorite winemakers, has released his first pinot noir vintage from Block M at the esteemed Fe Ciega Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. Block M is named for the clone Mt. Eden, which Longoria planted in 2008 from cuttings taken at another treasured site, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, across the Santa Ynez River from Fe Ciega.

Fe Ciega's Block M comprises 1.25 acres on a steep hill — one that Longoria said he originally thought "was too steep to farm." However, other vineyards nearby "were planted on as steep if not steeper slopes, so that gave me confidence that we could plant this block and not have any serious problems with tractor access, etc.," he noted.

Longoria grew fond of the Mt. Eden pinot noir clone when he sourced it from both Sanford & Benedict and the Mt. Carmel vineyards. "Those sites produced some of the best wines I made in the late 1980s through the mid-2000s."

Longoria calls his first Block M vintage, the 2011, quite reminiscent of the Mt. Carmel pinot noirs he once produced: "Rich forward fruit aromatics in the nose, and a juicy dense quality in the mid-palate, with a velvety finish."

He recommends a few more years of cellaring, as do the many critics who have praised the wine since its release.11-PN-FC-M-web.

Longoria produced just 58 cases of the 2011, but anticipates increased production as the vines continue to mature.

The 2011 Pinot Noir Block M Fe Ciega retails for $55. Information and tasting room hours, www.longoriawine.com

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press

Seven Santa Barbara County winemakers showcase syrahs during CCWC symposium

Place. Climate. Soil. Clones. Native fermentation. Whole clusters versus more traditional de-stemming of the grapes. Co-fermentation. New French oak versus neutral. All of these were factors voiced by the seven winemakers who were panelists in the Santa Barbara County Syrah Symposium Sunday morning during the final day of the annual Central Coast Wine Classic in Avila Beach.

The seven opened the session by describing the eight syrahs included in the event lineup, and, led by Margerum, then answered specific questions from the audience about what makes Santa Barbara County's syrahs some of the most well-respected outside of the Rhône Valley of France.

Mattias Pippig, owner/winemaker of Sanguis Wines, had recently been injured in a fall and was unable to attend; moderator/participant Doug Margerum of Margerum Wine Company described the Sanguis syrah for the crowd.

In general terms, most of the winemakers involved utilize native fermentation (no commercial yeast) and forego de-stemming in favor of using whole clusters. Some use new French oak and others prefer neutral oak; several utilize extended maceration (extra time, often more than one month) on the skins to boost color and soften tannins.

Participating were David Yates, assistant winemaker at Jaffurs Winery; winemakers Steven Gerbac, Rusack Vineyards; Michael Roth, Martian Ranch and Vineyard; and winemaker and panel moderator Margerum, Margerum Wine Company; Lee Tomkow of No Limit Wines; and winemakers Mark Cargasacchi, Jalama Wines; and Joey Tensley, Tensley Wines.

Place (vineyard locale) has "such an impact" on syrah, noted Yates about the 2011 Jaffurs Syrah from Thompson Vineyard (Los Alamos Valley).

Tomkow, who partners with New York City resident Cliff Korn and Ethan Lindquist in the No Limits label, agreed. "Everyone here today is showing just what one can do with syrah."

No Limits' syrah is sourced from Edna Valley's Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, which is farmed biodynamically. "With biodynamics, everything speaks for itself," Tomkow said. "We let the juice and fruit show itself." The wine utilizes native fermentation, he added.

Cargassachi also utilizes native and whole cluster fermentation, and leaves the juice on the skins for a 45-day extended maceration, he said. His syrah spent three years in barrel.

Also a fan of native fermentation is Roth; the 2011 "Dark Matter" estate syrah he offered was produced native and via whole cluster fermentation, and the wine was aged in neutral oak, he noted.

Margerum called his selection, the 2011 Uber, a small production vintage that utilizes several syrahs from selected Santa Barbara County vineyards.

The 2011 Rusack Estate Syrah (Ballard Canyon) is a blend of the Estrella and 877 clones, Gerbac told the crowd. Grapes for this wine were de-stemmed and aged in 50-percent new oak for 14 to 15 months, he said.

Grapes for the Sanguis syrah came from Bien Nacido Vineyards and were co-fermented with 3 percent roussanne and 5 percent viognier, Margerum noted.

Tensley opened by noting he produces 2,000 cases of the 2011 Colson Canyon Vineyard syrah he featured, calling it "more than half of his total production."

The wine is a blend of the 777 and 877 clones. Colson Canyon is a rugged vineyard in the Tepesquet Canyon area northeast of Santa Maria.

Copyright www.centralcoastwinepress.com

Central Coast Wine Classic continues this weekend in Avila Beach

Already in high gear is the 29th Annual Central Coast Wine Classic, taking place this weekend in Avila Beach, Shell Beach and San Simeon. The four-day event raises funds for nonprofit organizations throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

The Central Coast Wine Classic has been recognized by its sponsor, Wine Spectator, as one of the “Top 10” charity wine auctions in the United States, according to organizers.

Chosen by the Wine Classic Foundation Board as 2013 beneficiaries are Domestic Violence Solutions of Santa Barbara; Heaven Can Wait Equine Sanctuary in San Miguel; Los Osos Middle School PTSA Music Supporters; Meathead Movers Wrestling Club from San Luis Obispo; San Luis Obispo Child Abuse Prevention Council; Sansum Clinic Cancer Center in Santa Barbara; Santa Barbara Botanical Garden; Symphony of the Vines from Atascadero; Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County in San Luis Obispo and Woods Humane Society in San Luis Obispo.

Over the past nine years, the Central Coast Wine Classic has funded grants worth $2,101,055 to 103 similar nonprofit organizations, organizers noted.

Schedule of remaining events:

Underway from noon to 5 p.m. today (Saturday) is the Rare & Fine Wine & Lifestyle Auction, held at the official venue, the Avila Beach Golf Resort. The afternoon includes both live and silent auctions and a lunch provided by one of my favorite foodies, Chef Rick of Santa Maria.

For details on the lots available, visit http://www.centralcoastwineclassic.org/auction-silent.php

Tomorrow's main events are a Santa Barbara County Syrah Symposium and the annual Reserve Wine Tasting. Both take place at the Avila Beach Golf Resort.

I asked three of the winemakers participating as panelists for the symposium — Mark Cargasacchi of Jalama Wines, Ethan Lindquist of No Limit Wines and Michael Roth of Martian Ranch and Vineyard — two questions about syrah on the Central Coast.

One: Why have you chosen to produce syrah?

Two: How has syrah grown on the Central Coast changed (evolved) during the past 20 years and again within the past five years.

Here are their answers.

Cargasacchi, who has produced at least two vineyard-designate syrahs for nearly a decade, calls syrah "my favorite, mostly because the grape can make a powerful wine with lots of structure and fruit."

Santa Barbara County syrahs are continuing to turn heads "because more and more often, syrah is being grown in the right microclimates and soil conditions," he said. Together, these factors "are a perfect combination."

Where is such a region? Cargasacchi suggests Ballard Canyon (soon to be designated Santa Barbara County's fourth AVA) as a place that exhibits terroir ideally suited for syrah.

Ethan Lindquist, who with partners Cliff Korn and Lee Tomkow, produces the No Limits label. Lindquist also produces syrah and other Rhone varietals under his own label, Ethan Wines.

"Our family has always produced cool-climate syrahs," even when typical wine consumers favored bigger syrahs known in the industry as "fruit bombs," he said.

Syrah for the No Limits label is grown in the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard of Edna Valley, a site owned by Ethan's father, the esteemed Bob Lindquist of Qupe Cellars, and his stepmother, Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, who produces Spanish wines under her label Verdad.

Michael Roth is the winemaker for Martian Ranch and Vineyard, and voiced a special fondness for syrah.

"Like all the grapes we grow, syrah allows me to express our vineyards' potential and its uniqueness. Part of syrah's charm is its ability to convey the intensions of the winemaker and growing site," he said.

Regarding how syrah may have "evolved" over the past decade, Roth said:

"I'm not sure that styles of syrah have changed that much on the Central Coast (because) we still have people producing huge wines that are heavily extracted.

"I think that people have been making lighter-bodied wines for a long time, and it has just taken the press and critics this long to give them their time in the spotlight," he added.

Come hear Cargasacchi, Roth and Tomkow (filling in for Lindquist), as well as several other winemakers who cultivate syrah, discuss trends and styles. The Syrah Symposium runs from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The Reserve Wine Tasting follows, from 1 to 4 p.m.

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

Fourth annual Chardonnay Symposium returns to Santa Maria Valley July 19-21

The Chardonnay Symposium will take place at several locations throughout the Santa Maria Valley Friday through Sunday, July 19-21. Kicking off the fourth annual symposium is a tribute dinner Friday honoring longtime winemaker Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat.

Saturday will offer an educational panel moderated by Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast followed by the chardonnay tasting. Saturday's main events will once again take place at Byron Winery, east of Santa Maria.

Chris Slaughter, executive director of the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association, which produces the symposium, said the three-day event attracts both hundreds of consumers and industry professionals who specialize in chardonnay.

Details: Jim Clendenen tribute dinner, 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, July 19, at the historic adobe on Bien Nacido Vineyard. Sommelier and winemaker Rajat Parr, Bob Lindquist of Qupe Wine Cellars (and Clendenen's longtime business partner), and winemaker Gavin Chanin will be among those toasting Clendenen. Chef extraordinaire Rick Manson will whip up a four-course dinner to pair with wines selected by the speakers. Tickets are $200 each, or $1,700 for a table of 10 diners.

The chardonnay winemaker panel session begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Byron and will include seven winemakers or industry specialists led by moderator Heimoff.

The session is entitled "Bring in the clones! Chardonnay Clones: Do you care? Should you?"

Participatants: Matt Dees, Jonata Wines; Merry Edwards, Merry Edwards Winery; Eckhard Kaesekamp, Guillaume Grapevine Nursery; Jeff Stewart, Hartford Court Winery; Clarissa Nagy, Riverbench Vineyard & Winery; James Ontiveros, Alta Maria Vineyards and Native 9 Wines; and Karl D. Wente, Wente Vineyards.

The cost of the grand tasting alone is $65 per person; both the panel and tasting together are $150.

From 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday is the grand tasting, and here's a complete list (as of June 26) of who is pouring: Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Baileyana, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Bridlewood Estate Winery, Byron Winery, Cambria Winery, Chamisal Vineyards, Conway Family Wines/Deep Sea, Costa de Oro Winery, Cottonwood Canyon Winery, Deovlet Wines, Dierberg Vineyard, Eberle Vineyard, Edna Valley Vineyard, Falcone Family Vineyards, Fess Parker Winery, Fontes & Phillips Wines, Foxen, Gainey Vineyard, Hartford Family Winery, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines, J. Wilkes Wines, Jonata, Ken Brown Wines, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Wines, La Fenetre Wines, La Rochelle, Laetitia Vineyard & Winery, Landmark Vineyards, Lucia's Wine Co., Merry Edwards Winery, Migration from Duckhorn Wine Company, Niven Family Wine Estates, Old Town Market, Orcutt, Patz & Hall, Presqu'ile Winery, Qupe Wine Cellars, Rancho Sisquoc, Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, Rusack Vineyards, Sanford Winery, Sanguis Wines, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Solomon Hills Vineyards, Talley Vineyards, Thomas Fogerty Winery & Vineyard, Toretti's Family Vineyard, Wente Vineyards and William James Cellars.

What food might you sample with your chardonnay? Food from Bello Forno Wood-Fired Cuisine, Bob's Well Bread Bakery, Central City Market, Chef Rick's Ultimately Fine Foods, the Far Western Tavern, The Garden Room at the Historic Santa Maria Inn, Jessica Foster Confections, Pasion Comida Mexicana, Panera Bread, Rooney's Irish Pub, Testa's Bistro & Catering, Trattoria Uliveto and the Vintner's Bar & Grill.

Just announced are two more events for the Chardonnay Symposium weekend:

From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday and Friday, July 18 and 19, Foxen Winery will host a special tasting, chardonnay style, for those with tickets to the Chardonnay Symposium.

Foxen will feature a selection of special chardonnays from its wine library; sample and evaluate how chardonnays from the Santa Maria Valley can age gracefully. The $10 cost includes a small charcuterie plate. No reservations required. $10 with tickets to Chardonnay Symposium (regular tasting $20).

From noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 21, Rancho Sisquoc Winery will host a ranch picnic day. The band "Occasional Mustache" will provide music, and Fresh Fire Pizza will offer local pizza for purchase. Information: Rancho Sisquoc Tasting Room, (805) 934-4332, or www.freshfirepizza.com. No reservations required.

Information and tickets: http://www.santamariavalleywinecountry.com/calendar/the-chardonnay-symposium/ http://www.santamariavalleywinecountry.com/tickets/

Keep checking the website for updated details about the schedule of events for Sunday, July 21, Slaughter noted.

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

A hot day of tasting two of Santa Barbara County's hottest wine labels

One super hot spring Friday afternoon, we, a small group of wine aficionados, sipped wines — and plenty of water — produced by a winemaking duo and a winemaking trio. Dan Kessler and Ellen Hawk-Kessler produce Kessler-Haak chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, syrah and pinot noir rosé both from their Sta. Rita Hills estate and other grapes sourced within the region.

Our second visit was to the new winemaking facility of Dragonette Cellars, where Brandon Sparks-Gillis, winemaker with brothers John and Steve Dragonette, tasted us through newly bottled releases and barrel samples.

First, Kessler-Hawk:

We tasted eight current releases on the shady back patio of the family home. While we were shaded, the day was very warm. I cannot speak for my cohorts, but I had a bit of trouble distinguishing nuances in the reds because of the heat. The wines weren't overly warm, but I was.

Kessler and his wife, Ellen, are low-key and gracious hosts. I've gotten to know them gradually over the years, reconnecting during the region's plentiful wine events. As do many in our wine industry, the two bring other/worldly experience to the business and love of making wine.

2011 Dry Riesling, Lafond Vineyards, Sta. Rita Hills: Fresh and ripe pear with a lovely mouthfeel. 

2010 Estate Chardonnay: Super bright with slight butter on the mid-palate. Clones 95 and 76. 

2011 Rosé of Pinot Noir: Bright berry with solid watermelon tones and great acidity. One of the longest finishes on any rosé  in recent memory. (Only 60 cases made and this wine is almost sold out, according to the Kessler-Haak website).

2010 Pinot Noir: Produced from clone 2A, one of my favorites, and aged in all neutral French oak. Minuscule amount of prune and lots of blackberry. (Here, Phil interjected "orange rind," and boom! Once he voiced his opinion, there it was, and it was lovely). 

2009 Pinot Noir: Here Dan utilized four clones — Pommard, 115, 667 and 777 — to craft an exquisite blend that's lighter in color than the 2010 above and presented both more sour cherry and overall fruit than did the 2010.

2010 Pinot Noir: Another blend, same as above but shy the Pommard clone, this time using 35 percent new oak. Lots of white pepper, and my favorite among the reds. 

2010 Pinot Noir: Solely Pommard this time, with 50 percent new oak. More sour cherry but also more restrained than the 2009. 

Note: All of Kessler-Haak's pinot noirs are produced from estate fruit. Dan Kessler is assistant winemaker for Lafond Winery & Vineyards, where he sources fruit for a couple of his wines.

2010 Syrah, Lafond Vineyard: Full of essence of chocolate dust.

We bid Dan and Ellen goodbye, followed the winding road out of the vineyard and back to the highway, where we headed east to Buellton to the production facility of Dragonette Cellars.

Dragonette is the winemaking team of brothers John and Steve Dragonette, their friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis, and their respective spouses. Cellar master James Sparks, whose sister, Michelle, is Brandon's wife, divides his time between the cellar and the tasting room, in Los Olivos. Working alongside him there is his wife, Anna.

During our visit, Sparks and the Dragonette brothers were busily packaging wine club packages for shipping.

While over the years I've sampled several random Dragonette vintages, I'd yet to taste "formally," so to speak. Today would change that, and strengthen my alliance to this brand and the teamwork behind it.

The winemakers source grapes from several of Santa Barbara County's premiere vineyards, among them Fiddlestix, Vogelzang, Stolpman, Thompson and La Encantada.

The four of us tasted a just-bottled wine and many barrel samples. 

In order:

2012 Sauvignon Blanc, Happy Canyon: When we tried this wine, it had been in bottle just one week, Sparks-Gillis told us. "We're very happy with it," he said. "Usually young wines are not so good at this stage," but 2012 was a special vintage. John Dragonette joined us briefly and, clinking glasses with Sparks-Gillis, grinned: "Came out OK, eh?" It was a poignant moment between winemaking partners for a wine that is full of spice and fresh lime.

Barrel sample of 2012 Pinot Noir, Radian Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills: This vineyard is on Santa Rosa Road across the river from Cargasacchi Vineyard, Sparks-Gillis said, on the western edge of Sta. Rita Hills. Elegant but restrained.

Barrel sample of 2012 Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills: The pith of the orange peel and subtle pepper and spices — classic Fiddlestix. 

Barrel sample of 2012 Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix, clone 115: Nice and lean, with smoke and the slightest hint of pepper. A favorite of mine

Barrel sample of  2012 Pinot Noir, La Encantada Vineyard (Sanford). Dragonette sources this pinot from one of the vineyard's higher blocks. Smoky nose and subtle.

Barrel sample of 2012 Pinot Noir, Cargasacchi Vineyard: Classic Cargasacchi, bright fruit on the nose, restrained on the palate. 

2011 Grenache, John Sebastiano Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills: Pink fruit, slight bubble gum and lots of fresh cherry. Just about perfect in my book.

2011 Grenache, two-thirds from John Sebastiano and one-third Thompson Vineyard: Sparks-Gillis calls this wine "varietal specific," or true to the profile of grenache. This wine had also been in bottle just one week. Darker, more smoke and less fruit than the previous wine. 

Barrel sample of 2011 "Seven," a 95-3-2 percent blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre culled from several vineyards, Sparks- Gillis said. My notes: "Wow." This is a big wine, but elegance reigns on the finish. "It's full of the classic notes of iron and blood," Sparks-Gillis said. 

Barrel sample of 2011 "MJM" (named for Mitchi, Jen and Michelle, the winemakers' wives, who are also very involved in production and marketing): This is nearly 100 percent syrah with just a tiny percentage of grenache and mourvedre and is sourced from a handful of vineyards. "We did the blend and put it back to barrel," he said. 

Information:  http://www.kesslerhaakwine.com/  http://dragonettecellars.com

Tasting rooms' canned food drive to benefit FoodBank of Santa Barbara County

The third annual "Food on the Vine" event to benefit the FoodBank of Santa Barbara County will take place Thursday through Sunday, April 4-7, at participating tasting rooms throughout the Santa Ynez Valley and Lompoc.

The event kicks off at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at Avant Tapas & Wine in Buellton with food, wine and live entertainment. The evening's cost is $20 per person, with all proceeds going directly to the FoodBank.

Friday through Sunday, bring three canned goods to the following tasting rooms in exchange for a complimentary wine tasting.

Visit Alexander & Wayne, Arthur Earl, Beckmen, Brewer-Clifton, Carina Cellars, Casa Cassara, Cimarone, Coghlan, Cold Heaven, Firestone, Foley, Fontes & Phillips, the Good Life, Lincourt, Lucas & Lewellen, Scott Cellars, Tercero, Toccata and Qupe.

Food on the Vine poster

Dan Addelson crafts beautifully-filmed portrayal of local winemaker Ernst Storm

Ernst Storm is passionate about many things in life: Storm Wines, his label, the wines he produces for Curtis Winery, Santa Barbara County, family and his South African heritage. Dan Addelson, whom I'd never heard of until this morning, produced a sweet little video about Ernst and winemaking. Take 10 minutes and sit back; it will be time well spent.

This eight-minute tale is a gorgeous depiction of one man's love of the land, of tending grapes and making wine.

http://vimeo.com/54802302

Longoria Wines to relocate from Ghetto to former Celite site on East Chestnut Street

Rick Longoria, one of Santa Barbara County's pioneering winemakers, announced late last year that he has purchased the former Celite property on East Chestnut in Lompoc. After it is remodeled and expanded, Longoria Wines will reopen the facility in time for harvest 2013. The property, located at 415 E. Chestnut St., includes a single-family home that was used as a clubhouse but in recent years has fallen into disrepair.

In November, Lompoc's planning commission granted Longoria a conditional use permit for his project, which will be completed in two phases, according to published reports.

Longoria was the first winemaker to open a winery facility in Lompoc's Sobhani Industrial Park, a property better known as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (lompocghetto.com). He and his wife, Diana, opened that production site, as well as their tasting room in Los Olivos, in 1998.

In 2011, the Longorias opened a second tasting room in a corner of their winery facility.

Since the Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) allows wineries to be open for tasting and sales at two locations — the bonded winery and a satellite site — Longoria Wines will keep both its Los Olivos and Lompoc Ghetto tasting rooms open until the Chestnut Street facility is finished and the bond transferred there, Diana Longoria said. At that point, the Lompoc tasting room will relocate from the Ghetto to the new winery facility.

"This means that there won't be any changes in where we are open for tasting and sales for quite a few months," she noted.

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance hires topnotch L.A. creative team David&Goliath

The Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance announced in November that it secured the Los Angeles-based creative marketing firm David&Goliath to help "brand" the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area.  Following its search, the alliance found that "David&Goliath proved to best understand Paso Robles and its needs as we embark on an exciting, new brand strategy," said Jennifer Porter, executive director.

The top official at David&Goliath says the feeling is mutual.

"We're excited about the opportunity to partner with the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance not only because we are huge fans of great wine, but also because they have a true entrepreneurial spirit and are bold enough to embrace it," said David Angelo, founder and chief creative officer of David&Goliath.

The agency has been the creative voice behind successful ad campaigns for many national companies, among them Kia Motors, the California Lottery, Universal Studios and MGM Resorts (Monte Carlo and New York-New York).

David&Goliath was named 2011 Small Agency of the Year (with 76 to 150 employees) at Ad Age's Small Agency Awards.

Paso Robles has more than 26,000 vineyard acres and 270 wineries, most of which have been founded within the past 20 years, according to www.pasowine.com

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

Far Western Tavern relocates to Orcutt

Guadalupe's loss is Orcutt's gain with the opening last week of the new Far Western Tavern in the 300 block of West Clark Avenue.

The long-time family owned and managed steakhouse closed the doors at its original location on Highway 1 in Guadalupe Oct. 7, and opened for business a little more than two weeks later at 300 W. Clark, in Old Town Orcutt.

The historic, western side of Orcutt has enjoyed a surge in new eateries with the addition in recent years of Rooney's Irish Pub, Trattoria Uliveto and a new coffee house alongside old favorites Orcutt Brew (formerly the Loading Dock), Jack's Restaurant and Kay's Country Kitchen.

The Orcutt version of the Far Western stands in a brand new building at the corner of Pacific Street and Clark Avenue, but the interior sports the similar wood-beam and dark ambience as its Guadalupe predecessor.

Rick Manson ("Chef Rick") is the chef for the new site, and has brought many of the house specialities from his former Orcutt restaurant, Chef Rick's, to the menu at the Far Western.

Information: www.farwesterntavern.com

Los Olivos General Store focuses on artistic theme of wine, food and decor for the home

One of the newest businesses to open in Los Olivos has only a slight link to wine — one of its owner/operators is winemaker Michael Larner. But the driving force behind the Los Olivos General Store is co-owner Christina LoCascio Larner, Michael's wife and a longtime local artist.

The Larner family opened their store in mid-May in the historic garage and pumping station at the corner of Grand and Alamo Pintado. The structure, built in 1901, housed the first gas station in Santa Barbara County, the couple noted.

The named their Los Olivos General Store after the "small town with a strong sense of community," Christina Larner said.

"We decided to recreate an old-time general or neighborhood store — but with a modern twist. The goal was to create a place where locals and visitors alike could shop for a broad range of unique gifts and locally produced products." The store's theme is trifold: wine, food and home.

Painter Christina Larner's medium is red wine on paper — "a cool niche for a wine town like Los Olivos."

She displays a few of her originals and limited-edition prints in a tiny studio off the main store, and said she plans to have a wine art exhibit there in the future.

Christina Larner graduated with a fine arts degree from UCSB, and attended programs at the Laguna College of Art and Design, as well as Otis College of Art in Los Angeles. In 2002, she started her wine industry career and discovered the intrigue of using wine as a palette. Her paintings showcase wine in the form of vineyards, grape clusters and portraits. Since 2003, Larner has collaborated with Artiste Winery, also in Los Olivos, for in solo exhibits and more than nine wine labels featuring her art.

Along with local painters' and photographers' pieces, Los Olivos General Store offers repurposed furnishings and decor, including pieces crafted from wine barrel staves, such as candle holders, baskets and Lazy Susans, and vintage goods such as 1930s Depression glass, blue mason jars and old soda crates.

In addition, the store has a line of old wine bottles turned into both glassware and jewelry, which Michael Larner describes as "very green and appropriate for wine country."

Local food items include honey, olives, olive oil and chocolate, as well as lavender products from Clairmont Farms and lotions and soaps from the Grapeseed Company of Santa Barbara.

Details: Hours are daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Information: (805) 688-8148, or christina@losolivosgeneralstore.com. On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/losolivosgeneralstore

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

Alma Rosa Winery petitions for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection

The news this week that Richard and Thekla Sanford have petitioned for bankruptcy protection for their Alma Rosa Winery has triggered a flood of support from admirers of their Sta. Rita Hills winery and his devotion to the region. Sanford, 72, one of the Central Coast's pioneering winemakers, and the only one in Santa Barbara County to be inducted into the California Vintners Hall of Fame by the Culinary Institute of America, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy July 27, according to the United States Bankruptcy Court.

A copy of the Sanfords' petition indicates that Alma Rosa's two largest unsecured creditors are Richard Szerwo, the winery's former business manager, who claims $110,971 in severance pay, and Hillside Road LLC, the company that purchased the Sanford family's La Encantada Vineyard early in 2011.

Hillside is owed $74,543 for grapes, according to the document.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows the petitioner to begin reorganizing debts to creditors under guidance of the court; most who file for Chapter 11 protection intend to remain open for business in order to generate sales.

Indeed, the Sanfords emphasized that they have no plans to shutter Alma Rosa's tasting room on Santa Rosa Road west of Buellton.

"Our historical tasting room at Rancho El Jabalí (vineyard) proudly remains open for business, and we look forward to welcoming you on your next visit," Richard and Thekla Sanford said in a news release issued July 31.

Both the recession of 2008 and the lower-yielding harvest years that followed "placed our properties and business in jeopardy, and has ultimately forced us to make the decision to enter in Chapter 11 reorganization," according to the family's statement.

"Though this was a difficult decision, we feel it will give us time to proceed in a constructive and mindful manner that will stabilize our business and build a stronger foundation for the future."

As one of the first to recognize the potential of the western part of the Santa Ynez Valley — now formally recognized as the Sta. Rita Hills American Viticultural Area — Richard Sanford in 1970 planted the iconic Sanford & Benedict Vineyard with former business partner Michael Benedict.

In 1981, utilizing grapes from Sanford & Benedict and other vineyard sites, the Sanfords established their namesake winery. During the next 25 years the family made an international name for itself by producing some of the Sta. Rita Hills' best chardonnay and pinot noir.

Throughout his career, Sanford advocated for sustainable practices at Sanford and at other vineyards throughout the region. He urged employees who toiled in his vineyards and cellar to become legal citizens of the United States and send their children to college.

It was this devotion to both the vineyards and the people that earned Richard Sanford a standing ovation from the crowd gathered Aug. 13, 2011 at Alma Rosa Winery for Wine & Fire's Saturday seminar.

There, Sanford was honored with a plaque by many of his colleagues and Jim Fiolek, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association, as a "navigator" in the evolution of the region's viticulture business.

Behind the scenes, however, the Sanfords have endured years of financial disrepair and business failures, the most public being the loss in 2005 of both the Sanford name and the winery they built to Paterno Wines International, based in Chicago.

That company, since renamed Terlato Wines International, in 2002 invested cash into Sanford Winery, according to published reports, but three years later, the business deal with the Sanfords collapsed when Terlato gained a majority share in the winery.

The Sanfords walked away with their pride but not much else, and their winemaker of more than two decades, Bruno D'Alfonso, was subsequently fired by Terlato.

But by as soon that fall, Richard and Thekla Sanford had regrouped and turned their attention to their burgeoning label, Alma Rosa ("Alma" is Spanish for "soul), which also focuses on pinot noir and chardonnay. While they relocated both production and sales into what some then viewed as the "low rent" district of Buellton, their fans quickly followed.

Alma Rosa became one of many prominent Central Coast wineries to utilize the more sustainable method of all-screwcap bottle closures.

Since its debut, Alma Rosa's case production has grown to nearly 15,000, according to reports.

D'Alfonso's own labels are D'Alfonso and Badge, and with his wife, Kris Curran, he produces D'Alfonso-Curran wines.

One of the best accounts of Richard and Thekla Sanford's lengthy career was written by writer Matt Kettman (Santa Barbara Independent, New York Times, Wine Spectator) in April.

Read it at http://www.independent.com/news/2012/apr/19/visionary-vintner/

Visit http://almarosawinery.com for details about Alma Rosa Winery.

Copyright centralcoastwinepress.com

Babcock Vineyard and Winery returning to pinot noir roots with focus on Sta. Rita Hills

After several years of producing Rhones and occasional chardonnays, Babcock Winery and Vineyard has come full circle and shifted its focus back to its roots as a pinot noir powerhouse. Working under the direction of owner and founding winemaker Bryan Babcock, winemaker Colin Kress calls the winery's renewed emphasis on Sta. Rita Hills' vineyard-designate pinot noir and chardonnay a "really exciting" step.

"Today, versus three or four years ago, when Babcock make two estate pinot noirs, several syrahs and some 'random' whites," he explained, the winery now showcases the grape varietals for which the Sta. Rita Hills AVA is best known — pinot noir and chardonnay — and made its focus several vineyard designated wines.

Like others devoted to their craft, Kress radiates passion for winemaking. But unlike others, he brings extra knowledge to the cellar: He's set his sights on the distinguished Master Sommeilier honor and already has spent years studying wines and viticulture from around the world.

Kress, who turns 33 today (July 13), spent his youth in Tucson, Ariz., where his family owned restaurants and his uncle worked as a certified sommelier, Kress said he sampled and developed a taste for European wines while still a student in high school.

His goal is membership in the Court of Master Sommeliers, where Kress said he would be "one of less than one dozen who are practicing winemakers." Later this year, he will sit for his Level 3 certification exam, which would pave his way toward the invitation-only Master Sommelier Diploma Exam, which includes three sections — theory, blind tasting and a practical service component.

Babcock web vineyard 2011

In early spring, Kress led me through a barrel tasting of several of Babcock's 2011 vintages still in barrel — two chardonnays and nine of the pinot noirs.

The Babcock chardonnays were Top Cream (estate) and the Mentor chardonnay, which is sourced from grapes grown in the esteemed Rita's Crown Vineyard, located on a southwest-facing slope in the Sta. Rita Hills.

Bryan Babcock named the winery's Mentor chardonnay after Ken Brown, his winemaking mentor, Kress said.

The 2010 Top Cream Chardonnay retailed for $45 a bottle and is sold out, according to www.babcockwinery.com. Wine Spectator rated the 2010 Top Cream 92 points in its July issue, calling it "deliciously rich and layered, with elegant pear, fig, citrus and white peach flavors. The texture is creamy yet firm, ending with a long, persistent finish."

Kress said he expected that the approximately 160 cases of the Babcock 2011 Mentor Chardonnay would be released by early summer.

Two of the 2010 pinot noirs, the estate "Ocean's Ghost," and "Precocious," each priced at $60 per bottle, represent efforts by Babcock and Kress to produce superb quality at above-average prices. (The 2010 Ocean's Ghost pinot noir is sold out).

Of the 2011 vintage pinot noirs still in barrel during my sampling, among them Cute as a Button (Rancho Salsipuedes Vineyard) and Rabbit Ridge (Templeton Gap), their expressions of varying terroir are as plain as day. From the essence of sarsaparilla-and-cream-soda to berry bright and dark, these are the wines that Kress terms the "big boy" pinot noirs. In other words, they are "trophy wines."

One of those is the 2010 Babcock Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills Psi Clone, which Spectator gave 93 points in May. The publication offered the kind of praise that turns heads: "Combines ripe, rich, dense and and concentrated flavors with a measure of finesse and grace. Full-bodied and expansive, opening flavor doors to black cherry, plum, anise and cedar, all tightly focused and persistent."

As part of the Babcock family's efforts to refocus its production on pinot noir, all of the 90-acre estate vineyard's original plantings — with the exception of the Top Cream chardonnay and existing pinot noir vines — have in recent years been replaced with additional blocks of more of the grape varietals for which the cool, fog-laden Santa Rita Hills are famous, Kress said.

Seventy of the 90 acres are now planted to pinot noir vines, with "very little chardonnay and sauvignon blanc," the latter being one of the original grape varietals planted on the estate. Annual production ranges between 17,000 and 22,000 cases, Kress said.

When the Babcock family, headed by Bryan's parents Walt and Mona, bought the property in the late 1970s, most of the land was planted to fig and apple trees, Kress noted. In 1980, the Babcock family planted its first vineyard: 25 acres of several varietals, among them riesling and gewurztraminer, Kress said, and in 1983 and 1984, the first vintages were released under the Babcock label.

If Bryan Babcock considers Ken Brown his mentor, Lompoc resident Kress has ardent praise for Babcock. After a "short harvest with (Ken) Brown, and a stint "helping out" at Ampelos Cellars, Kress emphasized that he "settled down and learned how to make wine here (at Babcock).

After five years at the winery, "my winemaking skills are very much Bryan Babcock," Kress noted.

As winemaker, Kress' duty is to "keep Bryan updated" on the day-to-day work involved in making wine while the latter works in the lab alongside winery microbiologist Patty Collet and helps the entire vineyard and winery crew strategize.

Copyright www.centralcoastwinepress.com

Cooking Light spotlights Lompoc "Wine Ghetto" in "Hidden Gems" feature

The current issue of Cooking Light includes the feature "Hidden Gems and Delicious Destinations," which details what the magazine calls an "American Food Revolution." From coast to coast and cities in between — the obvious (New Orleans, Los Angeles and Chicago) to the less so (Florida Keys and Viroqua, Wisconsin) — the writers describe purveyors of farm-to-table eats that tempt a reader to hop in the car and head east, north or south.

On the feature's second page, under the headline "Santa Barbara County's wine-tasting revolution," are three scant paragraphs that mention Los Olivos, Los Alamos and, in more detail, Lompoc's Wine Ghetto.

The story notes the obvious: The Ghetto is "no romantic sipping experience; it's a fluorescent-lit warehouse located behind a Home Depot. But you're clinking glasses with the winemakers themselves, and their passion for what's coming out of nearby vineyards can be every bit as beautiful as those scenic Napa cliches."

Of course, we locals understand we've got something special in Lompoc and those "nearby vineyards." We know them as the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, home to some of the region's best pinot noir and chardonnay.

One quibble: Both Santa Barbara County and San Francisco are categorized as "Northwest," a geographical oddity that seems to have been corrected to Southwest in the online version at http://www.cookinglight.com/healthy-living/travel/food-destinations-00412000076050/

Copyright centralcoastwine.press.com

Calendar of events for May and June

Friday, May 18

Gainey Vineyard, Santa Ynez — Spring Farmers' Market, a benefit for the Santa Ynez Valley Youth Queen Contest. Market features local producers, among them Finley Family Farms, Olive Hill Farms, Marcie's Pies, Santa Ynez Gardens, Morrel Farms, San Marcos Farms, Jimenez Family Farms and Enjoy Cupcakes. The Solvang Trolley will offer hayrides through the Gainey vineyards, and Santa Ynez Valley Youth group will provide a tri-tip barbecue. Live music. Time: 4:30 to 7 p.m. Cost: Free. Gainey Vineyard is located at 3950 Highway 246. http://www.gaineyvineyard.com                Ongoing

Gather Wine Bar, Arroyo Grande — Live music Friday and Saturday evenings; wines by the glass and full menu. Winemaker Wednesdays offer three tastes, discounts on wines by the bottle and a chance to meet the winemaker, all for $10. Gather Wine Bar is located at 122 E. Branch St., Arroyo Grande. Hours: 1 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 2 to 11 p.m. Friday, 1 to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday. View all events at http://www.eventbrite.com/org/462843382. (805) 474-4771; www.gatherwinebar.com; info@gatherwinebar.com

Taste in the Vineyard, Santa Barbara County — Spend a morning or afternoon in the tranquility of Santa Ynez Valley vineyards with exclusive access during a walking tour, led by Lee Tomkow. Learn how vines are managed and how wine is produced from a guide who will detail clonal differences, rootstocks and how to identify varietals, among them syrah, sangiovese and grenache. Tour times: 9 a.m. to noon, or 1 to 4 p.m. daily except Saturday. Reservations required; each tour limited to 10 people. Cost: $50 per person. Information and reservations: 693-4424, or www.vineyardwalkingtours.com.

— Calendar: winecountrywriter@gmail.com Copyright www.centralcoastwinepress.com

Calendar of Events: April

Friday, April 20 Avant Tapas and Wine, Buellton — Santa Rita Hills' Rockin' Wine Tasting and "Club Avant," 5 to 11 p.m. Join 16 of the winemaking members of the Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance as they pour wine produced in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Meet the winemakers and get a souvenir tasting glass. Cost is $20; all proceeds from wine tasting will benefit the Avantastic Relay for Life Team benefitting the American Cancer Society. Following the tasting will be a Prix Fixe, family-style dinner: $35 plus tax and gratuity. From 9 to 11 p.m., Club Avant. Limiting seating for dinner. Tickets: 686-4742. Information: www.avantwines.com. Avant is located at 35 Industrial Way, Buellton. Follow the driveway and signs to the rear of Terravant.

Sanford Winery & Vineyards, Lompoc — Friday Night Wine Down, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Enjoy Sanford wines for purchase by the glass along with complimentary light appetizers and live music. No cost to attend; reservations appreciated but not required. Sanford is located at 5010 Santa Rosa Rd., east of HIghway 1. Information: www.sanfordwinery.com

Succulent Café, Solvang — Join Larry Schaffer of tercero wines for an intimate winemaker dinner at the Succulent Café & Trading Post, 6 p.m. This multi-course meal will pair a broad selection of tercero's wines with the creative cuisine of Brian and Cynthia from Succulent. The meals will be served family style, allowing for greater give and take between Larry, Brian and Cynthia, and the diners. Hors d'oeuvres: pork and ginger potstickers, sweet soy dipping sauce, dried cherry and bacon salad with blue cheese vinaigrette paired with the 2011 mourvedre rose and the 2010 grenache blanc; spicy prawns, cornbread with habanero brittle tempura fried squid and spanish choirzo, sweet chili sauce and butter leaf lettuce paired with the 2010 Outlier and the 2008 Cuvee Christie; crispy seared duck breast, adobo sauce cumin and cayenne spiced ahi with guava reduction cucumber and cilantro slaw, paired with the 2008 Larner Vineyard grenache; baby back ribs with pineapple and chili glaze miniature steak au poivre crispy potato cake, paired with 2007 Thompson Vineyard syrah and the 2009 Camp 4 mourvedre; and finally, for dessert, individual vanilla panna cotta with almond cookie and rhubarb-strawberry preserves, paired with the 2008 petite sirah. Tickets: $95 per person (includes food, wine, tax and gratuity). Reservations required. Contact Larry Schaffer, (805) 245-9584, or larry@tercerowines.com.

Friday-Sunday, April 20-22

Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival, Los Olivos — Weekend of wine tasting and special events, highlighted by the annual festival on Saturday, April 21, at a new location, the property known as the "The Carranza," on Zaca Station Road just east of Highway 154. During the festival, the SBCVA's winemaking members, who number more than 110, gather to pour and discuss their wines alongside the Central Coast's top restaurateurs and caters, proffering samples of their food. Festival also includes live music and a silent auction, featuring large-format bottles, vacation packages and special dinners with local winemakers. A unique feature of the weekend is the Vintners' Visa, a multi-day passport to one's choice of 12 of the many wineries that offer special tastings for one price — $35. Wineries participating as of March 28 include Ampelos, Andrew Murray Vineyards, Baehner-Fournier (at Bin 2860, Los Olivos), Bedford Winery, Buttonwood Farm, Cambria, Carr, Casa Dumetz, Coghlan Vineyard & Jewelers, Costa de Oro, Dascomb Cellars, Demetria, Dierberg, Dragonette Cellars, Fontes & Phillips, Imagine, Municipal Winemakers, Oreana Winery, Palmina, Point Concepción Wines Rancho Sisquoc, Riverbench, Roblar, Royal Oaks, Sanford Winery, Scott Cellars, Sevtap, Silver Wines, Stolpman Vineyards, Summerland, Tercero Wines and Zaca Mesa. Check wineries' respective websites for specific discounts and events. Visit www.sbcountywines.com for updates on participants as Vintners' Festival weekend nears. Ticket details: Festival: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, on site located approximately 1.5 miles east of Highway 154 along Zaca Station Road. Parking available. Tickets: $75 advance, and $85 at door (if available); Vintners' Visa: $35; Designated Driver: $25; VIP tickets to festival, noon entry, $100 (wine only; food served beginning at 1 p.m.). Combination festival and Vintners' Visa tickets: $100. Roundtrip shuttle service will be available from locations in Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Solvang. From Santa Barbara: 11:30 a.m. pickup at Fess Parker Doubletree Resort, Cabrillo Boulevard at Calle Puerto Vallarta; from Santa Maria: 11:45 a.m. pickup at the Holiday Inn & Suites, Broadway; and from Solvang, noon pickup at Hotel Corque, 300 Alisal Road. After the festival ends at 4 p.m., the buses will wait for all passengers to re-board before returning to their destinations. Roundtrip tickets: $25 each. All categories of tickets available via www.sbcountywines.com, and by phone: (888) 330-6744. Information: information@sbcountywines.com

Saturday only, April 21

Sanford Winery & Vineyards, Lompoc — Open house to coincide with Vintners' Festival weekend, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Taste current and new releases on the patio that overlooks Sanford's historic vineyards, and tour the winery and barrel taste with cellar master Auggie Rodriquez. Barbecue and live music. Cost: $30 general; $20 wine club members and Vintners' Visa participants. Sanford is located at 5010 Santa Rosa Rd., east of HIghway 1. Information: www.sanfordwinery.com

Sunday, April 22

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard, Solvang — Hike in the vineyard with winemaker Karen Steinwachs and soil guru Stan Kadota; they will discuss bud break, pruning and more, and the various wines available for tasing during the tour; and on April 29, tour the gardens at Buttonwood with Seyburn Zorthian and Abel Navaro and end with a tasting of "savory" wines on the patio of the tasting room. RSVPs are required; the $10 cost includes the tour, wine tasting and logo wine glass. Buttonwood Farm Winery, 1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang. Information: info@buttonwoodwinery.com, or 688-3032.

Cold Heaven Cellars, Buellton — Join winemaker Morgan Clendenen at Cold Heaven's open house, which will include lunch and rare magnums for tasting and sales. Cost: $15 at the door. Cold Heaven Cellars is located at 92-A Second St., Buellton. www.coldheavencellars

Clos Pepe Estate Vineyards, Lompoc — Open House at the winery, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Taste current releases and library wines and chat with winemakers Wes and Chanda Hagen. Magnums available for sale and pending orders will be available for pickup. Taste the 2011 wines in the barrel. Cost: $10 for tasting. Clos Pepe Winery is located at 1273 W. Laurel Avenue in Lompoc. No reservations required. Information: www.clospepe.comor 686-1343.

Ongoing

D'Vine Wine Bar, Lompoc — JBird Surf Designs and Lone Coast Studios present "The Birth of Surfboard," a show that captures the various stages that end in a finished product — a hand-crafted surfboard. Exhibit continues through April. Information: www.LoneCoastStudios.com. D'Vine Wine Bar is located at 107 W. Ocean. Information: 735-8771, e-mail: winebardvine@gmail.com

Gather Wine Bar, Arroyo Grande — Live music Friday and Saturday evenings; wines by the glass and full menu. Winemaker Wednesdays offer three tastes, discounts on wines by the bottle and a chance to meet the winemaker, all for $10. Gather Wine Bar is located at 122 E. Branch St., Arroyo Grande. Hours: 1 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 2 to 11 p.m. Friday, 1 to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday. View all events at http://www.eventbrite.com/org/462843382. (805) 474-4771; www.gatherwinebar.com; info@gatherwinebar.com

Taste in the Vineyard, Santa Barbara County — Spend a morning or afternoon in the tranquility of Santa Ynez Valley vineyards with exclusive access during a walking tour, led by Lee Tomkow. Learn how vines are managed and how wine is produced from a guide who will detail clonal differences, rootstocks and how to identify varietals, among them syrah, sangiovese and grenache. Tour times: 9 a.m. to noon, or 1 to 4 p.m. daily except Saturday. Reservations required; each tour limited to 10 people. Cost: $50 per person. Information and reservations: 693-4424, or www.vineyardwalkingtours.com.

— Calendar: winecountrywriter@gmail.com Copyright www.centralcoastwinepress.com

Visitors swarm Lompoc Wine Ghetto on rainy Sunday afternoon for "Locals' Day"

Congratulations to the volunteer organizers behind Sunday's highly successful Locals' Day at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.

Despite rain and cool temperatures, several hundred Lompoc and VAFB residents descended on the jewel located in their own backyard, the collection of 18 different wine labels housed in the Sobhani Industrial Park, a.k.a the "Wine Ghetto."

The event also included food from four vendors — Cecco Ristorante of Solvang, Crocs Sandwiches, American Host Catering and Bell Street Farms.

Sunday's event was the second annual, and organizers plan to bring it back in 2013.