Research Trip to Central Coast CA- Day 1 Santa Barbara

4 Sep

Yay! No hurricanes this week so we made it to CA yesterday. After an early flight (4:00 AM CA time) so as to not waste a whole day, we made it to Santa Barbara (the city) by early afternoon. This is the first stop heading north from LA, as most of the wineries in Santa Barbara County are well north of the city. We visited four of the dozen tasting rooms in Downtown Santa Barbara. If you ever go, get the brochure with a map and information on all the tasting rooms.

Jaffurs Wine Cellar was first on our list, as we’d heard much about them and some customers had mentioned them as well. We met several people, including David Yates, the General Manager and Assistant Winemaker, who gets to New England now and then. Jaffurs specializes in Rhone varietals, and our favorite was their 2009 Santa Barbara County Syrah (with a touch of Petit Syrah). David also gave us a taste of the 2010, which was being bottled as we stood there tasting wines. A mobile truck/bottling unit was parked in the entry way…it’s typical for small wineries to hire outside bottlers to avoid the investment in equipment they would use only occasionally. As to be expected, the 2010 was a bit “green”, but had nice fruit and will be good once it settles in the bottle and has a little age on it. We also liked a Grenache blanc, viognier and petit syrah. The Grenache was a bit hot, and all the wines had pretty high alcohol levels, which is typical of this region. Except for the Syrah, we think the wines, although very good, are a bit pricey for what they are.

We asked David to recommend a winery that we might not visit otherwise, which is how we ended up visiting Whitcraft Winery. A bottle of Whitcraft is seen in the movie “Sideways”. He said the term “sideways” referred to the channels (valleys) from the ocean in this area that make it a great region for growing wine grapes. An alternative is that “sideways” is the orientation one ends up in when drinking a lot of wine. Drake Whitcraft was pouring, as his staff took the long Labor Day Weekend off.…he’s a character. He was actually drinking ale while pouring wine for us and another couple, and we had a discussion about different ales. Ray wants to get the Stone Russian Imperial Stout. Whitcraft wines aren’t available in MA currently, and he’s looking for a distributor (he gave us contact info in case we could recommend him to someone). He does everything sustainably, uses gravity feeding, whole clusters (no destemming). Ray loved his chardonnay, which is 50% stainless, 50% old oak, and 100% full malolactic fermentation. It was delicious and creamy without having big oak in the mouth. Whitcraft is known for Pinot Noirs, and we tasted several, including one with grapes from Andersen Valley in northern CA. Although each PN had a different profile, there was something similar about them all, which I’m speculating is from his inclusion of the stems in the winemaking process. These wines aren’t for everyone, but are worthy.

Next was Au Bon Climat, sometimes referred to as ABC (not “anything but chardonnay”). These wines are impressive, and at a good value. We will be having some of them in the store at Pairings. The Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc blend and Chardonnay were all superior. The winemaker, Jim Clendenen was trained in Burgundy, and it shows in all his wines, especially the chardonnay and the two Pinot Noirs we tasted. Our favorite is the 2001 (yes 2001) ICI/LABA, which use grapes from a winery in Oregon, Montinore (which we visited a couple years ago). Both PN’s kept on improving in the glass. These wines are well made, complex and balanced, without being over the top. The last wine, the 2000 Vita Nova “Reservatum” is an interesting/unusual blend of Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Franc. Even after ten years of aging, it could age more, with black spice, dark fruit and assertive tannins. Generally, these wines are drinking well now, but could age. Even the SB is said to age well for up to 10 years…very unusual.

Our final research effort of the day was at Margerum, which one of our distributors had urged us to visit, as she had a customer who adores these wines. We weren’t disappointed. Surprisingly, their Grenache rose is one of the best we’ve had. We had two SB’s one with and the other without oak, the first one with intense fruit and the second one with a richness seldom found in SB. Our favorite was the KLICKITAT Pinot Gris, with a beautiful complex nose, good minerality and surprising power. Their M5 has 5 grapes from 11 vineyards, an excellent food wine. The other reds were pretty hot on the palate. Clearly, the whites (and rose) are the winners for us.

We stopped at a cheese store, C’est Cheese, that Jaffurs had recommended and had some excellent cheeses which we hope to bring to Pairings if we can get them. One was Seascape. It is a cow blend like a cross between a good gouda and a cheddar and is from the Central Coast Creamery, not too far away. We also bought a wonderful earthy, sheepy cheese from Switzerland called Berghueblumen. The outside was covered in herbs and looks like “Brin D’amour” from Corsica. As it sits in the fridge in our room it is getting marvelously stinky!

Then we headed north to Lompoc, where we’re staying for the first four nights. We went to the only “real” restaurant in town, “Sissy’s Uptown Café”, had a nice meal along with a Ken Brown Pinot Noir, which isn’t generally available. The wine list is excellent, with many hard to find wines from this area (and others). We had a good time talking to one of the owners, Steve, who took us around his wine store, recommending different wineries for us to visit. Tomorrow is the “Wine Ghetto”.

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