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Local women winemakers celebrate Women's History Month with March 28 tasting

Women winemakers, winery owners and managers, viticulturists, enologists and cellar hands will gather on March 28 to taste and toast in celebration of Women’s History Month. “Long before Congress designated March as Women’s History Month, women have been making wine history here in Santa Barbara County,” said Sonja Magdevski, owner/winemaker of Casa Dumetz, who will host the tasting at her two Los Alamos tasting rooms (Casa Dumetz and Babi’s Beer Emporium).

“Whether at the helm of winemaking, as pioneers Lane Tanner and Kathy Joseph have always been, coming up through the cellar ranks like Lorna Kreutz or, like Megan McGrath, moving into our area because of the allure of Santa Barbara County, our winegrowing region has always included women in winegrowing,” she said.

Karen Steinwachs, winemaker for Buttonwood Farm Winery, with Al Harry tasting, right

The tasting will feature a broad array of wines made by Santa Barbara County’s women, including those from Bonaccorsi, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard, Cambria, Carhartt, Casa Dumetz, Cebada Vineyard, Cold Heaven, Foley, Harrison-Clarke, Kitá, LaMontagne, Lucas & Lewellen, C. Nagy, Rideau, Riverbench and William-James Cellars in a casual and convivial environment.

“Of the more than 3,400 wineries in California, approximately 10 percent have a woman as their lead winemaker,” said Clarissa Nagy, winemaker for both Riverbench and her own C. Nagy wines.

“We believe the percentage here in Santa Barbara County to be much higher, and we also believe that women supporting our winemaking efforts in the office, the market, the cellar and the vineyard are just as important to the success of our region.  Let’s all stand up and be counted on March 28!”

The public is invited to the tasting, which will be held beginning at 6 p.m at Casa Dumetz, 448 Bell Street, in Los Alamos, CA 93440. The event is free of charge, and will include live music.

For more information, please contact winemaker Karen Steinwachs (Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard) at or 805.350.0257.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for

Steeped in history, Zaca Mesa celebrating 42 years as Rhone powerhouse

Steeped in history, Zaca Mesa celebrating 42 years as Rhone powerhouse


  Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyard, one of Santa Barbara County’s oldest vineyards, ranks high in local winemaking lexicon, and this year will celebrate its 42nd anniversary.

It is the vineyard that experimented with various grape varietals to test vineyard suitability, the training facility for some of the area’s most successful winemakers and the first vineyard in the county to plant syrah.

Winemaker Eric Mohseni and Brittney Burrows, Zaca Mesa’s public relations/communications and social media specialist, recently spent a morning tasting me through current releases and leading a tour of the facility.

Los Angeles native Mohseni, who graduated from California State University, Long Beach, with a food science degree and chemisty minor, started his extensive wine career in retail as a wine buyer at Wine Country in Long Beach.

In 1997, Mohseni took a harvest job at Enda Valley Vineyards, and got bit by the proverbial wine bug. In 1999, he traveled to Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, for a second harvest, this one at Esk Valley. He credits his time there with honing his love for sauvignon blanc. His own wine label, Osseus, comprises 300 cases of that varietal.

In 2001, Mosheni joined Zaca Mesa as enologist, working his way up to assistant winemaker, associate winemaker and, in 2008, to winemaker.

Today Mohseni’s associate winemaker is Kristin Bryden, and the duo team to produce Zaca Mesa’s current annual production of approximately 35,000 cases of wine.

* * *

The Foxen Canyon Road ranch that houses the vineyard, winery and tasting room is approximately 750 acres, said Mohseni, and is planted to 178 acres — 86 of which are syrah.

Six friends invested in the original property in 1972, and began planting the vineyard in 1973.

Today, just two of the original six remain owners: Brothers Lou and John Cushman, Mosheni said. Ruben Camacho has managed the vineyards for 37 years, Burrows said.

Since few other vineyards existed when Zaca was first planted, the owners experimented by planting many grape varietals to determine which would thrive. The original vineyard included cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, riesling, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc, grenache, chardonnay and syrah.

After two decades of research into the best varietal-by-vineyard match, Zaca Mesa now focuses on the Rhône varieties of syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, viognier and roussanne because they flourish, block by block

“Now, we’re all planted to Rhônes, but for chardonnay,” Mohseni said; that chardonnay now is under contract to another buyer, and the 2013 Zaca Mesa chardonnay is the last vintage bottled from estate chardonnay.

Zaca Mesa's Homage Collection of wines includes this sauvignon blanc from McGinley Vineyard in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

The 2013 vintage includes five whites and eight reds, both estate and the “Homage Collection” bottling, Mohseni said. The Homage line comprises wine from fruit sourced from other vineyards in 2013: Sauvignon blanc (McGinley Vineyard); pinot blanc and pinot noir (Bien Nacido); and cabernet sauvignon (Vogelzang). The whites are available for tasting and purchase; and the reds will be released in coming months.

The Zaca Mesa winery, visible from the road, was built in 1978 — the same year that vineyard crews planted syrah, making the site the first in Santa Barbara County vineyard to put that varietal into the ground.

The rest, one could say, is history.

Ken Brown was Zaca Mesa’s first winemaker, and among the others who worked at Zaca Mesa are Adam Tolmach (Ojai Vineyard), Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat), Daniel Gehrs (Daniel Gehrs Wines) and Bob Lindquist (Qupe).

Using cuttings provided by Gary Eberle, another syrah pioneer, Brown planted syrah in the section of the vineyard known today as Black Bear Block — named for the black bear (or bears) frequenting that area over the years, Mohseni explained —and Lindquist produced Zaca Mesa’s first syrah from that block in 1995.

Because of the syrah grape’s history at Zaca Mesa, and the fact that Santa Barbara County’s cool-climate syrah remains so highly regarded, Mohseni invited the region’s top syrah producers to a clone-based syrah “bull session” Jan. 15 at Zaca Mesa. Read all about it here

I tasted through 10 wines with Mohseni. In order:

2012 Viognier: All neutral oak makes this a lovely mix of melon and minerality. Mohseni utilizes two picks of estate viognier, one at 20 to 21 brix and the second between 22 and 23, and blends the two.

2012 Grenache Blanc: This estate wine comes from the 3-acre block along the road leading to the winery, and shows nice acidity.

2011 Z Blanc: Honey and light spice. This blend of 78 percent roussanne, 17 grenache blanc and 5 viognier showcases the varietals; “these three will always be the base of this wine,” Mohseni said.

2010 Roussanne: Complex, lovely and rounded after barrel aging. Mohseni, like some other winemakers, fondly describes roussanne as “the red wine drinkers’ white wine,” one that “really opens up in the bottle.”

2013 Sauvignon Blanc (Homage Collection): Light and classic.

2010 Z Cuvee: True story: This particular blend is what introduced me to Zaca Mesa more than 16 years ago. This vintage is 54 percent grenache, 34 mourvedre, 6 syrah and 6 cinsault. This cuvee’s varietal ratio varies by vintage, based on the “best and most available” varietals, Mohseni noted. He’s a fan of blends that bring out the best in each varietal.

2012 Grenache: Light and bright with essence of plums. From the Tablas Creek clone — a “workhorse” — this contains about 12 percent viognier, Mohseni said.

2012 Mourvedre: Packed with pepper and smoke, this is another winning expression of this classic Rhone grape. Growing it takes patience, as it’s “slow to ripen.” Zaca farms 15 acres each of grenache and mourvedre, Mohseni said.

2010 Syrah: Big mesquite smoke, and, no doubt, a big seller. This wine represented 10,000 or 12,000 cases of Zaca Mesa’s total that vintage, he noted.

2011 Chapel G Block Syrah: Pure elegance, and Mosheni recommends cellaring until 2023.

Visit Tasting daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. (805) 688-9339.



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the sessions scheduled are:

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

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

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for

With harvest but a memory, Dreamcôte winemakers focus on spring releases

With harvest but a memory, Dreamcôte winemakers focus on spring releases


  Zotovich pulls a sample of fermenting grenache that will soon be bottled as the 2014 Dreamcôte Wine Co. rose

On Oct. 24, when I sampled it, straight out of a bin and still fermenting, the 2014 Dreamcôte Wine Co. grenache rosé juice already radiated passion-fruit freshness packed into a bright magenta hue.

Winemaker Brittany Tanquary Zotovich, co-owner with Anna Clifford of the Buellton-based label, voiced satisfaction with the young wine, calling it “spring like and floral.”

The two produced it saignée style, removing — or “bleeding” — some of the juice from the must of the grenache grapes after a bout of skin contact.

Grenache from a Santa Ynez Valley vineyard

Earlier in October, I joined Clifford and Zotovich for a second harvest round, this time for grenache — destined to become this very rosé.

My first harvest ride-a-long visit had been to McGinley Vineyard for my first story about the two

This Oct. 10 grenache pick would be their first from this small site, located on Baseline Avenue just east of Ballard.

The vineyard’s owners had approached managers at Terravant Wine Company, where Clifford works as a winemaker and Zotovich as director of sales/winery accounts, for consulting help.

Zotovich, foreground, and Clifford, pick grenache from a vineyard near Ballard on the morning of Oct. 10.

“Brit and I worked with the owners this year to get the vineyard where we want it,” Clifford said.

That work included performing two green drops, a crop thinning maneuver used to weed out unripe (green) berries as cluster ripening progresses.

In October, the McGinley Vineyard syrah grapes that I observed the two harvesting on Aug. 29 were about one-third of their way to becoming Dreamcôte’s 2014 Carbonic Syrah and the juice was displaying “pretty beautiful acid,” Zotovich said.

Carbonic maceration occurs when whole (not crushed) berry clusters are fermented in a sealed vessel that’s been filled with carbon dioxide. Lacking oxygen, the whole grapes start intracellular fermentation, producing alcohol.

Clifford and Zotovich founded Dreamcôte in 2012. On the website is what I believe to be the perfect description of their company: “A secret society of flavor crazed, dynamic and tenacious individuals that give this project life.”

After many months of research and tasting, Clifford and Zotovich this year made the leap into cider production. Hard ciders are gaining popularity with wine and beer consumers, especially those who favor something “a little bubbly” now and then.

My introduction to ciders came courtesy of these two. On an August evening, with a meal of bread, cheese and fresh salads prepared by Zotovich, we shared various ciders from a couple of local producers.

I was intrigued: Both the “fizz factor” and the ABV are low (usually less than 8 percent), but there’s nothing timid about a well-made cider.

Under Dreamcote, the two will produce two ciders: “one dry, and one off dry,” said Zotovich.

* * *

On Nov. 11, while the bulk of the cider was fermenting away in a 300-gallon tank back at Terravant, Clifford and Zotovich had me meet them at Lompoc’s Zotovich Cellars.

There, they had divided several gallons of cider into “yeast trials” in roughly a dozen sample jars, topped with loosened lids to prevent explosion — just in case a sample jar suffered excessive carbonation. Each jar contained a different yeast.

Unscrewing lids and sniffing the jars’ contents, Clifford and Zotovich described aromas that ranged from “apple cider to flat allspice, from yeast to lemon to beef broth, and from chicken all the way to sweet and vinegar.” It was a start.

Their goal, for optimal cider: “We want as little ‘fizzy’ as possible,” Zotovich explained. The finished cider will be bottled unfined and unfiltered, since “people ‘get’ that a cloudy appearance" is a hallmark of ciders.

Both Dreamcôte’s 2014 Carbonic Syrah from McGinley Vineyard and the 2014 Grenache Rosé are targeted for release on Feb. 21, Zotovich told me this week.

The cider release date is “more fluid,” with hand bottling scheduled for sometime in March, and a picnic targeted for later that month or early in April, depending on weather conditions.

Brit Zotovich, left, and Anna Clifford discuss Dreamcôte Wine Co. with two writers at a private tasting in December.

Late last year, Clifford and Zotovich released two 2013 vintages: Dreamcôte’s 2013 “Birdfish” Malvasia Bianca and the 2013 “Goat Without a Rope” red blend.

The two poured those wines and others at a private tasting Dec. 16 in Lompoc that was geared toward small producers.

Of the bright and lively Malvasia Bianca, sourced from Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard, Zotovich said: “People are going crazy for it at the tasting room.”

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for




The Top 22 Wines I tasted during 2014

The Top 22 Wines I tasted during 2014


Let me be the first to acknowledge that yes, I need to venture further afield, because all of these wines hail from Santa Barbara County grapes — not that there's anything wrong with that fact — and yes, I'm posting this list late, as it's already 2015. Oh well.

My disclaimer: I have personally tasted all of these wines, either by the taste, glass or bottle. Naturally, I sampled other wines throughout the year, but only the following made my cut for this list.

Taking good notes does pay, for I can share where and (sometimes) even when I came to taste these particular beauties. Comments appear where I remembered to jot them down … but in many cases, I was too enamored of the wine to do more than just sip.

In no particular order:

Discovered this at BubblyFest, and have since enjoyed it several times

Mosby Wines Stelline di Cortese: (“Little Stars of Cortese”), California (estate) sparkling, NV (BubblyFest, October)

2013 Dreamcote Wines Malvasia Bianca: Lively. And, as the label states: “Life’s short; Drink what you like.” (Private tasting, December)

2012 Cholame Vineyard “Summer Shade,” Grenache Blanc: La Presa Vineyard. Crisp and complex.(Garagiste Festival, Southern Exposure, March 2014). Cholame Vineyard features longtime local winemaker/vineyard manager Andy Ibarra as winemaker.

2012 Dragonette Cellars Sauvignon Blanc: Vogelzang Vineyard. Straw colored, and more viscous, less brisk. (bottle purchase)

2010 Clos Pepe Barrel Select Chardonnay: (bottle purchase)

This wine strengthens my vow to consume more Italian varietals.

2010 Ethan Wines Nebbiolo: Stolpman Vineyards (bottle purchase)

2011 Sillix Wines Syrah:  (first tasted at Garagiste Festival, Southern Exposure, March 2014), (bottle purchase)

2013 Lindley Wines Chardonnay: estate (private tasting, December)

2102 Carucci Wines Viognier, White Hawk Vineyard: (Garagiste Festival, Southern Exposure, March 2014)

True confession: I've had a lot of this wine over the years. A LOT. And it never loses its allure.

2010 Jalama Wines “El Capitan:” (Blend of syrah, mourvedre and cabernet sauvignon) (bottle purchase)

2013 Alta Maria Wines Carbonic Pinot Noir: whole cluster, 100 percent carbonic maceration, bottled four months after harvest (tasting room)

As you can see, I couldn't choose just one pink wine. Here are my three dead-heat favorites: Hitching Post, Dragonette Cellars and Andrew Murray Vineyards.

2013 Hitching Post Rosé; 2013 Dragonette Cellars Rosé (Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara); and 2013 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Esperance Rosé. (Bottle purchase, all three; the HP is pinot noir and the other two are Rhone blends)

2010 Samsara Wine Grenache: Spectacular. (bottle purchase)

2009 A-non-ah-mus Grenache: D’Vine Wine Bar, by the glass

2009 Stolpman Vineyards L’Avion: Roussanne, (bottle purchase)

2012 Stolpman Vineyards Estate Grown Syrah: (Wine Bloggers’ Conference seminar: “Syrah Terrority, Ballard Canyon,” July; and again during Celebration of Harvest seminar, October)

2011 Brave and Maiden “Union:” Blend of syrah, merlot and cabernet franc. Beautifully dusty. (Wandering Dog Wine Bar, by the glass)

2010 No Limit Wine “The Nutz” Syrah: (private tasting, December)

2012 Big Tar Wines Cabernet Sauvignon: Winemaker Aaron Watty’s goal is food-friendly wines, and he nails it with this silky beauty. (private tasting, December)

While I tasted all four of these Rack and Riddle bubblies, the Blanc de Noirs gets my top vote

Rack and Riddle North Coast Blanc de Blancs: (100 percent chardonnay, NV) (BubblyFest, October)

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"Thursday's Bottle" reunites for session of festive sparkling wines

"Thursday's Bottle" reunites for session of festive sparkling wines


Welcome back to the second “Thursday’s Bottle,” an occasional adventure in blind tastings and wine reviews. The Thursday's Bottle series debuted in October of last year when the “panel” tasted three grenaches. Read that story here

As I noted with the grenache review, we’re a small group of food and wine geeks as serious as serious can be. We taste, talk and take notes. At the end of the evening, I double check that I can decipher all the notes, and then turn everyone’s thoughts into a story.

On Dec. 20, five of us gathered once again, this time to taste three sparkling wines. Before we tasted, I, as host, divulged only that one bottle was from Santa Barbara County and two were “Europe.”

The players: Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; Angela Soleno, winemaker/owner, Turiya Wines; Jeremy Smith, course director at Marshallia Ranch Golf Course, and myself.

Bottle One: “Smells light, with subtle fruit; fruity mid-palate; nice acid; not chardonnay; maybe the local one; creamy; opaque; acidic; green; light bubbles; lack of fruit on the first taste; light green on the second taste; light green apple on the nose; limestone; medium bubbles; heavy bubbles on mouth feel; not French; unbalanced; not the local bottle; light on the aromatics; sweet on mid-palate; hard to get anything on the nose; ocean, salty, saline; apricot and bread/yeast; mouth fizzles out; kind of disappointing; steely green limes.”

Bottle Two: “More carbonic than bottle one; meaty, color-rich; bigger; more substance on own; honey, fruity, hay; cotton candy, vanilla; smells like a love story; soft and lovely, gentle; we’re getting married and serving this at the reception; muted smell; like more than bottle one, and reminds me of rosé wine; like aftertaste/finish; smooth; fruit-forward; local; berry on the nose; balanced and sweet; honey; more residual sugar; France or mainland; nicely balanced; hay.”

Bottle Three: “Apple-y; nice and fruity; acidic, but like a middle range between bottles one and two; light bubbles, my favorite of three; Alsace; lighter color; long finish; this is local; the most balanced of the three; sweet but acidic finish; light nose; green apple taste; smells like California; fruity and sweet; makes me want to put it in my mouth; lemon zest; it’s great, but not amazing.”

The wines:

Bottle One: Mosby Wines Stelline di Cortese, estate, NV, $20. (Stelline di Cortese translates to “Little Stars of Cortese”).

Bottle Two: Heitlinger 2009 Blanc de Noirs, Germany, $33 (Distributed by Wine Wise, the Vienna Wine Co.)

Bottle Three: Karanika NV Xinomavro Brut Cuvée Spéciale, Greece, $33 (Also distributed by Wine Wise).

I discovered both the Karanika and Heitlinger during a tasting Dec. 10 at the Los Olivos Cafe and Wine Merchant. The focus that evening was on sustainable, organic and biodynamic wines, and you can read the story I wrote for here

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Writer Laura Sanchez appointed marketing manager of Thornhill Companies

Writer Laura Sanchez appointed marketing manager of Thornhill Companies


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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press

Introduce yourselves to the best of the smallest producers at Garagiste this weekend

2014Pasologo This coming weekend’s Garagiste Festival has added to third seminar to Saturday morning’s lineup.

Access to these seminars are available only via the premium all-day ticket, which also includes a box lunch, early access to the grand tasting and entry into the Rockin’ After Party.

Update! While some tickets for Saturday remain available as of this (Monday) evening, both Thursday and Friday are sell outs, said Melanie Webber, Garagiste Festival publicist.

The seminars and the grand tasting have relocated to larger digs inside the Ponderosa Pavilion at the Paso Robles Fairgrounds.

Organizers urge attendees to park on Riverside Avenue across from the Fairgrounds’ entrance, enter the grounds via the gate and follow signs to the festival check-in.

The actual address is 2198 Riverside Ave.

The new seminar is entitled “Paso Subdivided into 11 New Viticultural Areas” (or, "East! West! North! South! — What does it all mean?")

It starts at 11:45 a.m. and features Steve Lohr, chairman and CEO of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, and one of many winemakers behind the just-approved addition of 11 new subs AVAs within the larger Paso Robles region. Lohr will discuss winemakers’ research into the climate and soil diversity, and what the new AVAs mean for consumers.

Seminar One starts at 11 a.m., and is “Taste Like a Pro,” with Matt Kettmann, Central Coast wine reviewer for Wine Enthusiast and senior editor at the Santa Barbara Independent, who will lead participants through the process of tasting-to-score and detail how he tackles sampling wines at big tastings.

The third seminar starts at 12:15 p.m, and features three winemakers who left other careers for the wine industry. “Making a Dream Come True: My Second Career as a Vineyard Owner & Winemaker” will include Bob Tillman (Alta Colina Vineyards), Carl Bowker (Caliza Winery) and Victor Abascal (Vines on the Marycrest).

Saturday’s Garagiste Festival Grand Tasting will be my fourth as a wine writer. I participated in the debut event in November 2011, and in both of the Solvang “Southern Exposure” events to date.

I have nothing but praise for the “garagistes” behind the festivals: Stewart McLennan and Douglas Minnick, as well as Lisa Dinsmore and Webber, who carry out the endless behind-the-scenes tasks and publicity, respectively.

At the end of the day, these folks and others on Team Garagiste easily meet their goal: Introducing wine aficionados to Central Coast and California so-called garagistes — the winemakers who produce between 50 and 1,500 cases each year. Most of those pouring have case production of less than 500 cases.

In addition, most participants lack a tasting room, and likely are sharing cellar space with a larger producer. Many still have their “day” jobs: teacher, firefighter or assistant to another winemaker.

During every Garagiste tasting, I discover new producers.

During the 2011 inaugural Paso Robles event, my standouts were wines from Nicora, Ground Effect, Alta Colina and Rangeland.

Last year, during the first “Southern Exposure” festival in Solvang, I first tasted C. Nagy, La Fenetre, Pence Ranch and Roark Wine Co.

And when “Southern Exposure” returned to Solvang this past March, I came away with four new “labels to watch": Sillix Wines, Carucci Wines, Seagrape and Cholame.

Blake Sillix makes 400 cases each year, and his first vintage was 2010. Eric Carucci produces 500 and his first was 2009.

Andres “Andy” Ibarra, former winemaker at Rideau Vineyards and the vineyard manager at the storied La Presa Vineyard in Solvang, makes 800 cases for Cholame Vineyard, which was first produced in 2010.

Karen Steinwachs, since 2007 the winemaker at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Winery, started Seagrape that same year. Case production: 500.

Information and tickets:




State's 2014 wine grape production forecast to be 3.9 million tons

State's 2014 wine grape production forecast to be 3.9 million tons


SAN FRANCISCO — California vintners and growers across the state are grateful to have finished another successful harvest, despite the state's severe drought and the earthquake that rocked south Napa in late August, just as crush was starting. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Pacific Regional Crop Production Report of August 2014, California's winegrape production this year is forecast at 3.9 million tons, down 8 percent from 2013's record high crop.

The 2014 harvest is the third largest on record, according to a news release issued today from the California Wine Institute.

A mild winter and spring led to very early bud break — reported as January in some locations — although the overall length of the growing season mirrored that of past years, the organization reported.

Moderate temperatures allowed for even ripening and one of the earliest harvests on record: July for sparkling wines and mid-October for the later-ripening grape varietals.

"The 2014 vintage was by far the earliest start of any harvest I can recall," said Adam Mettler, director of winemaking for Michael David Winery in Lodi.

"Early concerns about adequate storage quickly faded as our vineyards continued to check in at 20-25 percent down in volume from the previous two years," he said.

Winemakers have described 2014 as another year with high-caliber fruit.

"Quality is outstanding," said Chrissy Wittmann, winemaker at Wild Horse Winery & Vineyards in Paso Robles. "There are small berries with good tannin and color release on the reds, and flavorful fruit with bright aromatics on the whites.

Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, president and CEO of the Wine Institute, said his organization is "keenly aware" of the state's ongoing drought and its effects on the state's entire agricultural community, including the wine industry. "We are doing our part as vintners and growers to mitigate water usage through a variety of sustainable practices."

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press


Arroyo Grande's Comfort Market specializes in quality, comfort food for lunch, dinner

Less than six months after opening, Comfort Market in Arroyo Grande is getting lots of attention from diners and restaurant writers alike. A writer from the San Jose Mercury News recently paid a visit to Comfort and Ember and sang the praises of both.

Late one very warm October afternoon, I visited owner Kari Ziegler at the end of a long drive, looking for comfort — literally — from the heat of the road. She plied me with ice water, handed me the menu and suggested something cool and refreshing: The Morro Bay Tuna Niçoise Salad. It was marvelous, with fresh everything, from the bread to the tuna to the eggs to the generous slices of red onion.


Morro Bay Tuna Niçoise Salad at Comfort Market

Ziegler welcomes the praise and adoration from diners, because in addition to having a hand in everything from shopping to prepping, she photographs soups and sandwiches to promote Comfort via social media.

And it’s working: Regulars watch Twitter and Facebook to learn the daily soup specials. Ziegler likens it to being stalked — but in a good way.


Ziegler, who owned the now-closed Gather Wine Bar further down Branch Street, has long had a bead on the community’s appetite for good food. If she and her staff make it, hungry people will come and eat it.

Ziegler relies on fresh, quality ingredients to turn out treasures such as the Taylor Ham & Cheddar, “a New Jersey classic,” with pork, cheddar cheese and a fried egg served on a brioche bun, or the Turkey Mango Stilton: Roast turkey breast with melted ginger-mago Stilton cheese and mozzarella, finished with local spinach and mayo on wheat.

Taylor ham and cheddar on Brioche

Seriously, I’m drooling as I write.

Ziegler understands that running an eatery is rewarding — and exhausting. The restaurant business incorporates cranky customers for whom nothing is right, but also faithful fans who hang on your every entrée and talk you up like nobody’s business.

Ziegler and her executive chef, Jaime "Jimmy" Mendoza, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu, have teamed to offer a series of cooking classes that recently launched, appropriately, with a how-to on homemade soup.

As of this morning, only a few tickets remain for the next class, from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 30. Visit Comfort Markets, or for more information.

Details: Comfort Market is open from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (although the doors close when the food sells out, which happens). Located at 116 W. Branch St., Arroyo Grande;

In addition to on-site dining, Comfort offers custom picnic baskets, catering and a selection of pastas, sauces and more.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press

Fourth-annual Garagiste Festival returning to "home base" in Paso Robles Nov. 6-9

  More than 70 artisan “garagiste” winemakers will pour their wines at the only festival devoted to the smallest-of-the-small producers — many of whom produce just one or two barrels.

California’s Garagiste Festivals debuted in Paso Robles in November 2011, and two years later expanded to Solvang via “Southern Exposure,” held in late March at the Veterans Memorial Hall. This year a third Garagiste festival, “Urban Exposure,” debuted in Los Angeles on July 12 at Union Station.

2014PasologoFor the return of the flagship event in November, more than 70 artistan winemakers will pour their wines. Of those, more than 50 hail from the Paso Robles area, and 90 percent of those pouring do not have tasting rooms.

Despite its growth and prominence among aficionados of fine wine, founders of the Garagiste Festival stay true to their roots and continue to direct a share of proceeds to the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Program in San Luis Obispo to support future winemakers.

Garagiste (“garage-east”) is a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate small-lot wine producers who often produced wine in their garages. Today the term is used to describe those who produce some the best wine in the world — just in small lots. The annual Garagiste Festivals limit participation to winemakers who make less than 1,200 cases per year.

For the upcoming Paso Robles event, which has relocated this year to the Ponderosa Pavilion at the Fairgrounds, organizers have added new events; click here

Returning from previous years are “Shiners, Samples and Secrets,” where winemakers share barrel samples and other rarities; the “Opening Round,” which spotlights garagistes from Northern California; two wine tasting seminars; and the festival’s signature “Rockin’ After Party. All events will take place in Paso Robles or at the historic Carlton Hotel in Atascadero.

After their successful foray into Los Angeles, the co-founders and organizers of Garagiste Festival are eager to come home, so to speak, to Paso Robles.

“This has been a banner year for Garagiste Festival — a greatly expanded and sold-out Solvang event, and our premiere festival in Los Angeles (also sold out), and now a new and more central venue for our Paso festival, with four days of our most popular events returning,” said Doug Minnick, co-founder of the Garagiste Festival with Stewart McLennan.

“And while we are offering wine lovers even more opportunities to taste these fantastic wines, we continue to keep our attendee to winemaker ratio low because we believe that one-on-one interaction is the best way to make new wine discoveries … and it is what our attendees expect."

Sign up for The Dirt at, or follow Garagiste on Twitter (@GaragisteFest) or via Facebook, where organizers offer profiles of participating winemakers in the weeks leading up to the festivals.

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TTB publishes ruling establishing 11 new AVAs within Paso Robles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press for

Former "Tasting Panel" returns as "Thursday's Bottle"

Former "Tasting Panel" returns as "Thursday's Bottle"


Here’s the deal: Ya’ll know I’m not up to consuming an entire bottle of wine every Thursday, so the blog feature I debuted as “Thursday’s Bottle” fell into the weeds pretty quickly after its launch earlier this year. Much later, in a rare moment of genius, I thought: Why not marry “Thursday” with another former attraction: The CCWP “Tasting Panel”? I pulled the plug on the latter in mid-2013 after I decided it had grown too, well, “chatty.”

So once again, with little to no fanfare (considering my track record on longevity), welcome back to “Thursday’s Bottle.”

The rules? There are none. Let’s keep it simple:

When I stumble across a single bottle of wine so spectacular that deserves its own spotlight, that wine can stand alone as “Thursday’s Bottle.”

Otherwise, a consistent group of food and wine geeks as serious as serious can be will gather around a table, sip wine, talk and take notes. At evening’s end, I’ll gather all the notes and turn them into a story. Deal? Good.

I’ll always name the “tasters” and will never exclude a comment, but so that each of us can remain candid, I’ll never divulge who said what.

Oh, wait — there is one rule: We taste blind. No exceptions.

Four of us tasted grenache at my house on Friday, Sept. 19, which was International Grenache Day. Coincidence? Think again.

The players: Katie Baillargeon and Marcel Rivera-Baillargeon, UCSB creative writing professor and online marketing specialist, respectively; Angela Soleno, winemaker/owner, Turiya Wines; and myself.

The bottles: Three grenaches, all Santa Ynez Valley, two vineyard designates.

What we wrote:

Bottle One: “Weird nose; dust; barrel; medium body; long finish; good tannin structure; mid-range; soft; burnt match, smoky; cannot get past the smoke; cotton candy; burns going down; mild fruit; think it’s corked; long finish; mildly corked; bright color; long finish; would like this if it wasn’t corked.”

Bottle Two: “More fruit; wow; bigger, more elegant; black; yummy; lots of mid-palate spice; an elegant expression of Grenache; big and jammy; fruit forward; clay; cola; spice.

Bottle Three: “Tighter; sweeter; more oak; better with food — not a sipping wine; like a teenager, needs to be aged longer; has some SO2; thicker.”

Bottle one — 2010 Sillix Wines Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley My first encounter with winemaker Blake Sillix was earlier this year at Solvang’s Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure, and his syrah and grenache were stellar. To have this bottle be corked was beyond disappointing.

Bottle two — 2010 Samsara Wines Grenache, Larner Vineyard

Bottle three — 2011 Jalama Wines Grenache, La Presa Vineyard

Thursday's Bottle Redux, starring Sillix, Samsara and Jalama grenaches

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Drake Whitcraft leading Whitcraft Winery

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

Chris Whitcraft died earlier this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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


BUBBLYFEST nearly sold out

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

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

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

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

For tickets and more information, visit

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Harvest Tales: Winemaking partners turn dreams into business with Dreamcôte Wine Co.

Clifford, left, and Zotovich follow crew members from Coastal Vineyard Care Associates to their rows at McGinley Vineyard Winemaking partners Anna Clifford and Brittany Tanquary Zotovich started harvest 2014 in thick early morning fog one week ago, Aug. 29, at McGinley Vineyard.

This site, in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, is the grape source for their label, Dreamcôte Wine Co., and its 2014 Syrah, which Clifford and Zotovich will make utilizing carbonic maceration, commonly known as the Beaujolais style.

In 2013, their second vintage of Dreamcôte, the women sourced pinot noir from Duvarita Vineyard outside Lompoc and crafted a light, fruity wine meant to drink sooner, not later. Fermented in a stainless steel tank, that wine is “gulp-able now (not next year),” according to the label’s tasting notes. And that’s exactly the duo’s plan again this vintage, but with the McGinley syrah.

* * *

Clifford and Zotovich founded Dreamcôte in 2012. On its website, they call their company “a secret society of flavor crazed, dynamic and tenacious individuals that give this project life. We live simply, but well. (We have) trailer parties with friends, vineyard movie nights, irrigation pond floating sessions, great food, lots of wine.”

After spending one dinner and a morning both at McGinley and in the Terravant Wine Company cellar with these bright, determined and fun-loving women, I’d say the web description is apt.

Cowboy boots are perfect picking attire. Just ask Brittany Zotovich.

The two met at Terravant, where both work fulltime: Clifford as a winemaker and Zotovich as director of sales: winery accounts.

Curious about the inner workings of Terravant, I ask her for more details.

In an e-mail, Zotovich replied: “Terravant connects customers with grapes, grape crush services, bulk wines, wine finishing and bottling services, small-lot bottled wines, customized wine program sourcing, custom grape-to-bottle and bulk-to-bottle programs, as well as all-inclusive, tailored private labels.

Zotovich, who radiates passion for wine and life in general, also really likes her job.

“I’m absolutely in love with what I do. I get paid to solve wine problems. Sometimes, the problem is a shortage of wine in a tasting room. I might be helping a sommelier put together a house wine program for her restaurant, or putting a grape farmer with excess syrah in touch with an alternating proprietor in need of syrah, or aiding a winery needing to meet a wine club deadline with a cold stability and bottling of their reserve chardonnay.”

Zotovich was born in Santa Clara, and raised in Grass Valley. In 2007, she earned a degree in Agricultural Business: International Management, with a minor in wine and viticulture, from Cal Poly. She started working at Kelsey See Canyon under Harold Osborne, and for Salisbury Vineyards, when she was just 19.

In 2010, Zotovich joined the winery owned by the family of the man she would later marry. There, at Zotovich Cellars, she helped open its Lompoc Ghetto tasting room, and launched the wine club and sales program.

In July 2011, Brittany Tanquary married Ryan Zotovich, also a Cal Poly graduate and the Zotovich Cellars’ winemaker. With his family, he also oversees Zotovich Family Vineyard, located in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills. The vineyard is a source of viognier, chardonnay, syrah and pinot noir for the Zotovich label and many others.

Clifford, a native of Thousand Oaks, recalled being just 13 when she decided to become a winemaker. She credits a movie, “French Kiss,” the quirky comedy-romance starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline that was filmed in and around vineyards in France. However, “for me, it wasn’t about the romance, but the wine and vineyards,” she said.

With her family, the young Clifford visited Santa Barbara County and some of its earliest wineries and vineyards, such as Gainey Vineyard and Fess Parker Winery. “I always wanted to end up here.”

Fast forward to 2002, when Clifford graduated from UC Davis with a degree in viticulture and enology. Her winemaking career includes a stint as assistant winemaker for Buena Vista Winery, three harvests in New Zealand and one at Beringer Vineyards. In April 2012, she started at Terravant, and today, with two others, shares winemaking responsibilities for the entire facility.

* * *

At Dreamcôte, the theme is fruit-forward wines to enjoy now versus later. Over dinner, Zotovich likened the duo’s production focus to that of wines adapted for “on the table, not in the cellar.”

In other words — fruit forward and fun, ideal to “drink with friends, at a barbecue,” she said.

Part of Dreamcôte’s “drink me now” presentation is Clifford and Zotovich’s use of whimsical labels that prompt smiles. Take the 2012 Santa Barbara County Rosé: The label features a stack of rabbits — many, many rabbits. It’s a tongue-in-cheek ode to Zotovich, who raises them.

Rabbits — many rabbits — grace the label of the Dreamcôte Rosé

The grape varietals the two prefer to work with are “both mainstream and unique,” Clifford said. “We want wines that will engage people — and at a price point that won’t scare them.”

In addition to rosé and pinot noir, Dreamcôte’s current releases are a 2012 Riesling, Camp 4 Vineyards; 2012 Chenin Blanc, Johnson Vineyard, Clarksburg; a 2012 Zinfandel, from Launchland Home Ranch Vineyard, Lodi; and a 2012 late harvest white wine.

With a case production close to 380 cases, Clifford and Zotovich opened a tasting room on San Marcos Avenue in Los Olivos in February of this year. The site, Clifford said, “is something to be proud of.”

* * *

Back at McGinley Aug. 29, the harvest crew wasted no time snipping grapes from vines and dumping them by the bucket into picking bins atop a trailer. Both Clifford and Zotovich jumped in, bracing themselves against a bin to sort, separating the clusters from grape leaves or dried shoot tendrils and the occasional earwig or tiny spider.

Zotovich, left, and Clifford, sort through syrah clusters at McGinley Vineyard

Less than an hour later, the crew had filled three picking bins full of syrah grapes from Block 5L, which weighed in at 3,084 pounds.

Clifford, Zotovich and I trailed the Coastal Vineyard Care Associates’ flatbed truck to Terravant, where the grapes would be unloaded and the two could begin processing.

Guiding grape clusters from a bin into the opening of a tank requires timing, finesse and a sense of humor

Once a forklift and driver, dry ice, shovels, equipment and a pair of extra hands were at the ready, Clifford and Zotovich directed the dumping of whole clusters straight from the bins into the tank for a 14-day cold soak. Mixed in with the grapes were layers of dry ice, added via buckets.

Zotovich dumps dry ice into the tank of syrah

Carbonic maceration occurs when whole (not crushed) berry clusters are fermented in a sealed vessel that’s been filled with carbon dioxide. Lacking oxygen, the whole grapes start intracellular fermentation, producing alcohol.

A wine produced via carbonic maceration finishes lighter in color, lower in tannins and higher in “fruitiness.”

“After 14 days, we’ll press off the juice and put it back into the tank until it’s dry,” Zotovich said. “Then, depending how it tastes, we may bottle it right then.”

With syrah in the tank, she and Clifford are looking ahead to their next pick, likely from Zaca Mesa or Camp 4 vineyards.

A perfect fit: That's how 3,084 pounds of grapes fits into a tank








Copyright Central Coast Wine Press

Wine and Fire highlights Sta. Rita Hills with wines, food and camaraderie

Wine and Fire highlights Sta. Rita Hills with wines, food and camaraderie


Joe Mozdzen Photos Winemakers Rick Longoria and Kris Curran at Friday evening's Barn Party. Another Wine and Fire weekend has come and gone. The sell-out crowds sipped and savored new and favorite wines, and listened and learned about soil, climate and grape vines growing in the Sta. Rita Hills from the producers who make the wines.

Warm weather and no fog Friday evening accentuated the carpet of green vineyards lining the diatomaceous-earth hillsides across from Sanford & Benedict Vineyard's hilltop barn, site of Friday's soiree.

Alma Rosa's Richad Sanford chats with a guest Friday at the Barn Party

This year was Wine & Fire's second using the Barn for Friday's gathering, and the location is breathtaking — especially early in the evening, as the setting sun infuses the air with gold.

The Sanford & Benedict Vineyard barn, elegant yet rustic, provides a panorama like no other

Winemakers walked among guests, pouring both current and library releases.

Saturday saw the return of Wine & Fire's annual seminar to another barn — this one at Kathy Joseph's Fiddlestix Vineyard, just west of Sanford & Benedict across Santa Rosa Road.

Moderator Josh Raynolds of Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar returned for a fourth year to moderate a two-part panel, "The Dirty Truth," featuring four chardonnays, four pinot noirs (two each section) and their respective winemakers, and a look at the farming methods each practice.

The fountain at La Purisima Mission was a gathering spot during Saturday's Grand Tasting

Leading off the first section was guest speaker Jeff Newton, with 30-plus years of vineyard management work at the helm of Coastal Vineyard Care Associates. Responding to a query from the audience about the timing of this harvest, he said "this one is the earliest I've ever seen."

In addition to being early, the current crop is a large one — and for the third year running, Newton noted. That in itself is unusual, for two record-high tonnage years (2012 and 2013) have typically been followed by a year with lighter yields. "This one is a very unique growing year," he added.

"We didn't know how large 2014 was until about three weeks ago, when the berries sized up," Newton said. Many of the vineyards his company works have had to do "lots of thinning" to reduce the per-acre crop load and to drop any clusters not evenly ripening.

Fiddlehead Cellars' Kathy Joseph described the current year as "like no other" in terms of volume. "We had to drop 30 percent of the crop (here at Fiddlestix), and that hurts."

All of the winemakers participating Saturday noted that they farm sustainable, with several certified "Sustainable in Practice," or SIP Certified. None are certified organic or biodynamic, although Newton noted that other vineyards in his portfolio utilize those methods.

Alvin Cabral of Lompoc's Homegrown Cowboy served at the Grand Tasting Saturday

"All three methods (conventional, sustainable, organic) are way better than what we had in the 1950s," Newton said. "Grapevines communicate (their needs); the best growers listen, and act accordingly."

Lindley Wines' Jake Lindley talks to a guest during the Grand Tasting Saturday evening at La Purisima Mission

While the eight producers varied on aging methods, clone choice and case production, each circled back to the belief that "wine expresses place."

Closing the seminar, Raynolds emphasized how Sta. Rita Hills' wines express purity, and showcase the soils in which grapes are grown: "The dirt shows in the glass."

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press

New at CCWP: The Business of Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information and tickets, visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send submissions for “The Business of Wine” to, or

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press


Longoria Wines trucks winery across Lompoc to new site on East Chestnut Avenue

Longoria Wines trucks winery across Lompoc to new site on East Chestnut Avenue


  Aaron Watty, assistant winemaker, carefully unloads the first four barrels at Longoria Wines' new Chestnut Avenue facility Thursday.

Early this year, when winemaker Rick Longoria scheduled an early-August relocation from his longtime space in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto to his new winery and tasting room on East Chestnut Avenue, he thought he'd be well ahead of harvest.

Mother Nature, however, holds the cards. All of them.

A warm growing season has hastened the maturation of many grapes, white and red, with the chardonnay and pinot noirs destined for local sparkling wines under harvest as early as the first days of August.

They're in! The first of many barrels trucked to Longoria Wines' spacious new Chestnut Avenue site rest next to Longoria

When I photographed part of the moving of barrels Thursday morning, Longoria said: "I could have picked some of my first grapes Wednesday, but don't have a space for them until we move."

He ended up with his first fruit — from Rita's Crowne — later on Thursday, according to Diana Longoria Friday.

Throughout the day and into the evening Thursday, the Longoria's Ghetto winery site was gradually cleared and barrels restocked in the new facility on Chestnut.

Seven 18-wheeler truckloads later, all the barrels had been moved, and the stainless steel tanks were transported via one load on an open flatbed, said Aaron Watty, assistant winemaker at Longoria.

Of pork, wine, a summer evening and good friends

Of pork, wine, a summer evening and good friends


  I’m late to the table with my tale of the Friday Field Dinner from Bacon & Barrels at Saaloos & Sons July 18.

Local chefs Jeff Olsson of Buellton’s Industrial Eats and Jake O. Francis, pig farmer at Valley Piggery, combined their culinary talents to craft a meal I’ll not soon forgot. I can still taste the fried trotters (feet, if you — like me — are new to pig parts) and the crispy pig head.

Yes, it was finger licking good, that pig and the all the fixings.

The wines with the meal came from the hosting family, Saarloos & Sons. The event began with rosé, followed by sauvignon blanc, and then several red wines.

Here’s most of the menu (I left before dessert):

Charcuterie course: Prosciutto, country Ham, coppa, country pâté and cracklins with apricot mostarda, olives, cornichons, Momofuku pickles, fresh radishes, savory walnuts and baguette, lavash and breadsticks

Second course: Crispy pig head and fried trotters with aïoli and arugula salad, and pork-stuffed pork shanks with Finley Farms’ seasonal roasted vegetables

Third course: Roasted pork loin, sweet-tea brined, peach-rosemary glaze, Andouille sausage links with pretzel bread, mustard and beer-braised candy onions

Yes, one can see why Rundown on LA named Bacon & Barrels “The Coachella of Bacon,” and The Huffington Post “One of the Top 5 Festivals in California.”

This Saarloos & Sons’ weekend event was the second for Los Olivos; Holly Holliday, queen bee behind organizer/owner Create Promotions of San Luis Obispo, worked her magic and debuted another B&B in San Diego last May.

Thanks to my day job, I missed both Saturday and Sunday’s version of more bacon and more wine, beer and spirits, but nearly everyone else I know attended some part of both weekend days, and came away smiling.

Saturday included more than 75 food and libation booths staffed by chefs who packed their most imaginative and freshest bacon recipes to pair with artisan and craft barrel beverages such as bourbon, wine, beer and scotch, according to Create.

Eureka Santa Barbara, Ascendant Spirits Distillery and Sidecar of San Luis Obispo featured live mixology demonstrations.

Said Holliday: “I’m thrilled to once again host on the field and put out so many culinary and libation artists who all brought amazing offerings to the table, literally. It only further proves my claim that we have some of the best artists in the country right here in wine country.”

Sunday, VIP guests enjoyed the Bacon, Bellini, Bloodies Brunch, also at Saarloos & Sons Field. Chef Louise of Louise’s Kitchen Table prepared Sunday’s brunch.

About Create: Founded in 2011, the company features a team of event specialists dedicated to events that are community supported and community focused. Besides Bacon and Barrels San Diego and Los Olivos, events include Buellton Brew Fest, Winter Wonder SLO, and BubblyFest. Visit, or call (805) 709-2221.

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press