Santa Barbara Vintners Road Trip: Los Angeles.
By Maren Swanson • May 26th, 2016
One of my favorite parts of living in Los Angeles is its proximity to so many destination locations, and if you’re a wine lover like I am, then you’re definitely in a win-win state. Napa Valley, Sonoma and Santa Barbara County wineries are all located in the same sunny state of California and produce phenomenal wines, but when I really want a quick get-away to “wine country,” I’m a convenience gal. Two-ish hours outside of my L.A. residence and up the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, my car rolls into the Danish town of Solvang about 6 times a year. We park, we check-in to our hotel, relax and for the next few days we taste amazing wines.
My husband and I find that Sunday and Mondays are the best for traffic – on the road and at the wineries. I usually start the day off with a light jacket because the fog is still settled from the night before, but I know that sometime in the afternoon, that cover-up will be coming right off because the fog lifts and the temperature rises. Then I, like the grapes, start to soak up the sun and continue on our wine journey...
Last week I jumped at the chance to attend the Santa Barbara Vinters Road Trip: Los Angeles, where I got to attend seminars on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Bordeaux varietals grown within the region. Santa Barbara County is divided into two AVAs (American Viticultural Areas): Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley. Additionally, there are four sub-appellations within Santa Ynez Valley including Santa Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. According to Elaine C. Brown (of WakawakaWineReviews.com), moderator of the most of the seminars and finalist for eight Wine Blog Awards in four years, “the wines produced in Santa Barbara County are some of the best in the world.”
Santa Barbara County
(SBC) is the only region on the western coast of North or South America with a transverse mountain range. Uniquely, the ocean meets the land on two sides, a sort of nook or “elbow” against the Pacific Ocean, which naturally funnels in coastal winds and maritime influences; creating varying temperatures in the growing region and causing an abbreviated ripening window. What does this mean? Winemakers in this region have more flexibility with harvesting and there is more time for flavors to develop on the vine, ensuring great acidity and more complexity, “a ‘sunburst’ of flavor,” remarked Brown.
This was the 2016 seminar line-up:
• Monday, May 16 - CHARDONNAY
• Tuesday, May 17 - PINOT NOIR
• Wednesday, May 18 - RHONE VARIETALS
• Thursday, May 19 - BORDEAUX VARIETALS
Monday’s panel of Chardonnay winemakers included Jim Clenenden (Au Bon Climat), Greg Brewer (Brewer-Clifton), Tyler Thomas (Dierberg), David Whitehair (Foxen) and John Faulkner (Pence)
. After I tasted the wines served at Repulique
on La Brea last week, I noticed the oceanic influences in the wines of SBC, especially the Chardonnays. In each of the wines I tried, I noticed a subtle “saline” flavor in each of them. After discussions about the salinity surfaced in the room, the winemakers debated the its origins. “It’s in the air, you can smell the ocean in the area,” was blurted out by someone. The debate got slightly heated, some of the panelists arguing it came “from the soil and skins” and some “from the air.” No resolution was reached, but it was fun to watch and hear the all of the circulating opinions from the winemakers themselves – and good thing we had a moderator! Note to self: wine can be very scientific, but let’s not take it too seriously…let's drink it!
Wines I tasted at the Chardonnay seminar:
Au Bon Climat 2012 Nuits-Blanches au Bouge, Santa Maria Valley
Brewer-Clifton 2014 3D Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills
Dierberg 2013 Vineyard Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley
Foxen 2014 Block UU Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley
Pence 2013 Chardonnay, Santa Barbara County
Wine panelists for Tuesday’s Pinot Noir tasting included Richard Sanford (Alma Rosa), Blair Fox (Fess Parker), Steve Clifton (La Voix), Ryan Pace (Nielson) and Trey Fletcher (Solomon Hills). After the seminar, we did a walk-around tasting below.
Wines I tasted at the Pinot Noir seminar:
Alma Rosa 2013 Pinot Noir Clone 667, Sta. Rita Hills
Fess Parker 2014 Pinot Noir Park West Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
Kenneth Volk 2013 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Cuvee, Santa Maria Valley
La Voix 2013 Pinot Noir Kessler-Haak, Sta. Rita Hills
Nielson 2013 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley
Solomon Hills 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley
Standouts at the Pinot Noir walk-around tasting:
Matt Kettmann, senior editor at Santa Barbara Independent and contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast, served as moderator for the last seminar on SBC Bordeaux style varieties on Thursday with winemakers Steve Beckmen (Beckmen Vineyards), Fred Brander (The Brander Vineyard), Bradley Long (Grassini Family Vineyards), Rick Grimm (Grimm’s Bluff – owner), Greg Martellotto (Martellotto – owner) and Tyler Thomas (Star Lane Vineyard).
Wines I tasted at the Bordeaux Style Varieties seminar:
Beckman 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley
The Brander Vineyard 2015 Sauvignon Blanc Mesa Verde Vineyard, Los Olivos District
Grassini Family Vineyards 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
Grimm’s Bluff 2013 Sauvigon Blanc Reserve, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
Martelloto 2014 Merlot, Happy Canyon on Santa Barbara
Star Lane Vineyard 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
Although Santa Barbara county is generally known for its Pinot Noir (we all remember the big Sideways boom), Chardonnay and Syrah, it’s obvious that there are other grape understudies ready to make their debuts, including Bordeaux varietals…and even some Merlot. So what are you waiting for? There are some of the best wines in the world awaiting your palate in your own California backyard.