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Thursday's Bottle returns with Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post "Pinks"

Thursday's Bottle returns with Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post "Pinks"


  It’s been months since I posted a wine for the weekly “Thursday’s Bottle.” I have no excuse — especially since I still drink a lot of wine, even on Thursdays.

Tonight, to honor the hundreds of writers descending on Buellton for the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, and because it’s a lovely warm summer evening, I offer up a rosé.

Pretty in pink is Pinks, by the gentlemen behind Hartley Ostini Wines, Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini

Those of you who follow my writing know that I just switched my “Wine Country” column from the local newspapers to My first column, July 2, focused on 11 locally produced rosés.

I inadvertently overlooked this one, and I’m here tonight to tell you that it ranks right up with my favorites noted in the Noozhawk column.

The rosé is the 2013 Hartley Ostini Hitching Post “Pinks,” a luscious blend of grenache, pinot noir and valdiguie. It smacks of fresh, juicy pink grapefruit with an undertone of ripe strawberries.

I’m told it retails for $15 — what a steal!

Case production: Update! The always gracious and bubbly Gray Hartley said tonight that the 2013 Pinks includes 2,400 cases. The wine is available in retail outlets, at the restaurants or online:



Get your bacon on at Saarloos & Sons's Field in Los Olivos July 17-20

Bacon & Barrels, named by the Huffington Post as “One of the Top Five Festivals in California,” returns with a Saturday festival and meals to Saarloos & Sons Field in Los Olivos. Organizers predict that tickets for the event will once again sell out, so get on it!

Bottle Branding Photo Succulent Braised Bacon

Bring a big appetite for the yumminess of All Things Bacon, for you will not be disappointed. The second annual festival will once again showcase local chefs’ bacon recipes, and highlight the best artisan barrel-based beverages: bourbon, beer, scotch and wine.

The food industry’s best, including Gusto owner/chef and Iron Chef America alum Vic Casanova, will offer live preparation of bacon-infused small plates and bacon-and-barrel drinks.

Ticket prices include all food and drink tastings, and range in price from General Admission; $60 advance, $70 at door; Designated Driver: $30 advance, $40 at door; Early Bird (noon) General Admission: $80 advance, $90 at door; and the V.I.P. Weekend Pass (limited!) for $325, which includes Friday evening dinner, early entrance at noon Saturday with access to lounge’s special tastings and Sunday’s brunch.

The Friday dinner, Saturday festival and Sunday brunch will all take place at Saarloos & Sons Field, 2971 Grand Ave., Los Olivos.

Bacon & Barrels debuted in Los Olivos in June 2013, and this year added a second location in May – San Diego. That event also garnered Holly Holliday's Create Promotions more well-deserved fame — and another sell-out.

Friday: The weekend kicks off with an all-bacon dinner in the field to be prepared by Chef Jake O. Francis, pig farmer and farm-to-table master. The four-course dinner is viewable here

Saturday: General public admission begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 19.

Sunday: The VIP experience continues with the “Bacon, Bellini and Bloodies Brunch, also in the field.

Bacon & Barrels Los Olivos will donate a percentage of ticket sales to support The Los Olivos School Foundation and the Los Olivos Business Organization. Bacon & Barrels will also incorporate its proprietary Environmental Event process, with a goal of 95 percent of all event trash to be diverted from the landfill.

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.






Roll Out The Barrels in San Luis Obispo

Guests sip wine and savor food during Roll Out The Barrels' opening event June 19 at Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo. This popular annual event kicked off Thursday evening and lasts through tomorrow (Sunday, June 22). I attended for the first time this year, and now I see why the event usually sells out: The four days bring local wines and fresh-to-your-palate small bites from the county's finest eateries.

My "I don't live near San Luis Obispo" will no longer suffice as an excuse to not have tried these restaurants. I need to make time to take the drive north and spend time eating. Take a look at the participants:

I sampled tiny plates from the new Comfort Market, Creekside Brewing, the Kitchen at Niner Wine Estates, Luna Red and Mother's Tavern. Everything was sublime.

The wines I sipped were the current chardonnay release from Cal Poly's Wine & Viticulture Program; Niner Wine Estates sauvignon blanc; Clesi Wines' malvasia bianca; Talley Vineyards' cabernet sauvignon (my token red wine, an ode to the afternoon heat); the verdelho from Filipponi Ranch Cellars; and pinot gris from Sinor-LaVallee.

Will "Ghetto fabulous" soon include food?

Will "Ghetto fabulous" soon include food?


Everyone familiar with wine tasting in the collection of funky tasting rooms known as the Lompoc Wine Ghetto understands that there's no food within walking distance of the east side industrial park.

While tasting rooms in Los Olivos, Solvang and Santa Barbara are surrounded by delis and sit-down restaurants, Lompoc's Ghetto lacks food — unless one wants to venture into Old Town. In other words, don't arrive for tasting also hungry for lunch or a snack.

Two residents of Lompoc may have a solution, however. Robert Flores and Conrad Gonzales Jr., both professional caterers, have literally set up camp outside various tasting rooms and sold delicious food from a limited menu.

When I met the two Saturday, Jan. 11, the two were behind tables outside Arcadian Winery. Their menu that day included three items: roasted "Santa Ynez" Tahitian squash soup, topped with toasted pepitas, $4; a braised pork belly sandwich, $9; and a petite cheese plate with charcuterie, $12.

Then sandwiches featured grilled ciabatta bread and caramelized fennel and mustard greens in a red wine balsamic reduction. I bought two for a friend busy at a nearby tasting room, and Flores offered me a sample of the soup, which was rich and creamy.

Gonzales said a particular tasting room recently requested the duo make tacos for its guests, but that in general, he and Flores are flexible and hope to create a standard menu with something for everyone.

While they've teamed for the Wine Ghetto adventure, both men cater for both large and small events. If you would like to reach them, contact me here and I'll share their e-mails.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

This is where you come in.

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

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

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

To donate or for more information:

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 No reservations required.

Information and tickets:

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


World of Pinot Noir moving to Goleta's Bacara Resort for the 14th annual event in 2014

World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) organizers announced earlier this week that in 2014, the popular event celebrating all things pinot noir will relocate to the Barcara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara. (Technically, the Barcara is in Goleta, but Santa Barbara proper isn't far)

WOPN 2014 will take place Friday, Feb. 28, and Saturday, March 1.

"We look forward to welcoming those who join us each year, as well as newcomers to our 14th celebration of pinot noir," said current WOPN President Norm Yost, winemaker/owner at Flying Goat Cellars of Lompoc.

Ticket packages for the event will go on sale Monday, July 1, at, although tickets for specific events (by day) will not be available until early fall.

According to a WOPN news release, Friday will feature a pair of seminars, a tasting from producers small and large and wine regions near and far, and a pair of winemaker dinners created by Executive Chef David Reardon. Saturday's schedule includes the popular Burgundy seminar/tasting, the World of Pinot Grand Tasting of more than 100 wineries, the Gala Dinner and a featured winery dinner in the Miro Restaurant Wine Cellar.

More than 2,000 guests regularly attend the weekend events that feature pinot noir from 180 wineries ranging from California, Oregon, Burgundy, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Austria, Switzerland and New York. 

May is Craft Beer Month in the Santa Ynez Valley

Craft Beer Month is May 2013 in the Santa Ynez ValleyAren’t we lucky? As residents of the Santa Ynez Valley, we are free to enjoy one entire month of craft beer, thanks to Visit the Santa Ynez Valley, which has extended last year’s one-week craft beer celebration to the entire month of May 2013.

Craft beer fans will have plenty of choices to sample local and non-local beers.

As the saying goes, “it takes a lot of beer to make a good wine” — and perhaps that’s why craft beer is one of the new best things in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara and on the greater Central Coast.

American Craft Beer Week ( takes place from May 13 to 19, with beer being celebrated in every 50 states.

Closer to home, beer aficionados can enjoy special tastings, a beer festival, classes, dinners and more throughout the entire month.

On Saturday, May 11, the Second Annual Buellton Brew Fest takes place in that town’s River View Park. Featured will be 25 breweries. Tickets are $35 in advance and $45 from May 1 through 11, and include unlimited tasting, lunch and live music.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit, Eventbrite or the Buellton Chamber of Commerce.

Last year’s inaugural event sold out well in advance, so organizers urge those interested in securing tickets quickly.

“After a phenomenal inaugural year, it’s awesome to see the excitement continue to build in this area for beer and and the art of craft beer,” said Holly Holliday, event director and owner of Create Promotions,

“We look to continue to bring the best of the best to the Santa Ynez Valley, in order to inspire future beers to come. This event is beer at its best, we’re proud of that.”

Friday night, May 10, Chris Knox, manager of Bin 2860, will host a special dinner at the Mendenhall Museum in Buellton. Diners at the progressive beer dinner will enjoy Americana favorites such as truffle French fries, gourmet sliders and beer floats paired with rare beers that will not be served at Saturday’s event. The dinner is limited to 100 tickets, which are available for $75.

Other beer dinners during May include Solvang Brewing Company’s brewmaster dinner, May 15; Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s dinner at the Ballard Inn & Restaurant, May 19; and a beer versus wine dinner at the Los Olivos Cafe and Wine Merchant, May 30.

In addition, food and beer pairings can be enjoyed at the Wandering Dog Wine Bar and The Good Life, both in Solvang, featuring beer with meats, cheese and desserts.

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company in Buellton, Valley Brewers in Solvang, Wandering Dog Wine Bar and Bin 2860 in Los Olivos will host beer-themed classes. Topics range from ales versus lagers to sour beers to yeast classes and brewing demonstrations.

Firestone will release a “Library Anniversary Ale” every Friday during May, and Figueroa Mountain plans special “pint nights” and progressive brew tastings.

Visitors curious about beer businesses can plan their trip around the new SYV Craft Beer Trail Map, which can be printed via

Every event associated with Craft Beer Month can be found at or by calling (805) 686-0053.

Wes Hagen offers new three-day food, wine pairing class at Santa Maria's Hancock College

Students in Hagen's March class prepare dishes for class presentation. Dear lovers of food and wine: Viticulturist/winemaker/foodie extraordinaire Wes Hagen (Clos Pepe Vineyards) will once again teach a three-day wine and food pairing class at Allan Hancock College.

The class takes place Thursday and Friday evenings, May 9 and 10, and all day Saturday, May 11, on the Santa Maria campus.

I was privileged to sit in on the Saturday portion of his previous class, held in March, and urge anyone interested in the nuances of flavor, foods and wine to shell out $63 for the May edition.

Students in that class had a blast creating menus from scratch all the while sipping wine to determine the best match for their dish, which each shared with the entire class.

Hagen notes that if he were teaching such a class privately, he'd charge "at least $700" per person.

"This class will teach not only pairing, but upselling wine for servers, basic wine tasting and lots of wine tasting, cooking, theory and fun."   Register online at Follow the steps and plug in this CRN number: 42107.   Questions? E-mail Alfredo Koch, director of agribusiness at Hancock: or Hagen directly,  


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we were off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Sunset's SAVOR weekend draws big crowd despite heat in Santa Margarita

Dear Organizers of Sunset Magazine's SAVOR the Central Coast: Pretty please, provide more tents to shade patrons from the heat at Santa Margarita Ranch.

Fall is typically still warm — er, hot — here on the Central Coast, and today was no exception. It was a few digits shy of 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Santa Margarita during my visit today to the Santa Margarita Ranch, which hosted Savor the Central Coast's weekend events.

This is not to say that there wasn't relief from the sun, because the tents and ranch structures housing Farmers Market to Meal, Central Coast Pavilion and Winemaker Central were more than sufficient.

However, I felt for the many winemakers pouring their wares in minimal or no shade north of the structures in booths, sweat dripping from their foreheads.

Winemakers from the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County were particularly well represented Saturday. Pouring wines were winemakers and representatives from Sierra Madre Vineyard, Byron, Kenneth Volk and William James Cellars, among others, as well as representatives from the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association and the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association.

All grousing about the heat aside, I must emphasize that the event itself was organized like clockwork, with live chef demonstrations the highlight of the weekend, staff members at the ready to answer any questions and clean and cool portable restrooms. No port-a-potties for this crowd.

I listened to celebrity chef Aarti Sequiera, Host of Food Networks' "Aarti Party," captivate about 120 people inside one of the historic barns on the historic ranch.

In abundance was plenty of cool water, short lines for fresh and delicious foods and foot-stomping live music and plenty of seats at flower-festooned picnic tables on a spacious lawn.

SAVOR is organized by the San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau, and Sunset Magazine. The event saw nearly 9,000 visitors in its second year (2011) and is expected to grow even more this year.

While most events Sunday are sold out, should you want to explore the vendors and free demonstrations, visit Dress for blazing heat and stay hydrated.

Spanish padres established a farm on the original Santa Margarita Ranch with assistance from the Chumash Indian population, and in 1787 it was formally recognized as an outpost of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.


Sunset's SAVOR the Central Coast returns to San Luis Obispo Co. Sept. 27—30

Sunset Magazine's SAVOR the Central Coast, the annual wine, food and outdoors extravaganza, returns to the historic Santa Margarita Ranch the weekend of Sept. 29 and 30, as well as at various locales throughout San Luis Obispo County. The entire event encompasses four days, Thursday through Sunday. SAVOR is organized by the San Luis Obispo County Visitors and Conference Bureau, and Sunset Magazine. The event saw nearly 9,000 visitors in its second year (2011) and is expected to grow even more this year.

Details about all four days can be found via

Sunset's new International Wine Competition will take place Sept. 28 during a Grand Tasting and Dinner in the Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach. Hosting will be Sunset Wine Editor Sara Schneider, and Editor-in-Chief Kitty Morgan. The dinner itself is sold out, but tickets to the Grand Tasting's reception remain available at $50 per person.

"SAVOR brings it all together to celebrate the good life, while giving attendees a first taste of these amazing wines, which will be featured in the November issue of the magazine," Schneider said.

She will lead or moderate several wine-related sessions scheduled throughout the weekend at the ranch, and most are just $20 with the purchase of a main event ticket — $85 each Saturday or Sunday, or $150 for both days.

Tickets and updated information about sold-out sessions are available at

While all of the adventure tours and most of the food- and wine-specific sessions are already sold out, tickets remain available (as of this posting) for the 10:30 a.m. Sunday session with Chef Rick Moonen of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, and rm Seafood. Moonen has devoted his culinary career to being the nation's top advocate for sustainable seafood.

The Santa Margarita Ranch: Spanish padres established a farm with assistance from the Chumash Indian population, and in 1787 it was formally recognized as an outpost of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.

The Asistencia was built circa 1817, and is one of the first recorded uses of mortar in California. Today the 13,900-acre ranch is owned by the Rossi, Filipponi, and Wittstrom families, whose management practices have been recognized with several stewardship awards.

Using a rotational cattle-grazing program has allowed perennial grasses to return and has boosted the regeneration of many oak trees. A 975-acre vineyard on the property was one of the Central Coast’s first to employ resource conservation practices.


Wine girl steps out for Portland beer

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

The other five beers I chose randomly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 On Facebook:


The neuroscience of tasting wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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