Monday, February 23, 2015

Santa Barbara Wine Country (Part 1/6) - Santa Barbara (CA)

Recently, some friends of mine, who know I am a fan of cool climate California wines, especially Santa Barbara and Temecula, emailed me asking for my recommendations. I was happy to point them in the right direction, or so I thought. I have traveled to Santa Barbara wine country several times. I absolutely love it. But I realized after talking with my friends, that I had not posted my reviews on this blog - I had posted them to a then much smaller group of folks on Facebook. Ooops.
Now, before you say, 'Hey, wait a minute, Santa Barbara is not on the east coast...."  Hell, call this a travel piece then. I remember the first time I went, I left the frozen Hudson River behind me, and took a flight to Santa Barbara to attend the Edible magazines conference.
Anyway, apologies to the folks in Santa Barbara for the tardy review. I hope this makes up for that. And to the folks who are interested in going, YOU MUST GO!
The song says "I left my heart in San Francisco," but I cannot lie, while it is probably my favorite west coast town, I absolutely adore Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara County Wine Country.
So, this is the first part of a six part series on my multiple trips to the Santa Barbara wine region!
First, if you're in LA, screw going to Venice Beach, and say goodbye to Hollywood. Take a two hour's drive up the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway and then up into the mountains. It's breathtaking and suddenly it's like you are in another world. From downtown Santa Barbara it's only an hour! And there's a few urban wineries and tasting bars in downtown Santa Barbara as well.
Variety. Firstly, I like the cool climate thing. I am an east coaster and have been selling, pushing, promoting cool climate wines for the better part of almost two decades. The Santa Barbara region is the kind of place I like. It's not too crowded, the wineries aren't one on top of the other, and I love the driving!! This isn't a drink fest. It's a vacation of the highest rank!
The first thing you need to know about Santa Barbara County Wine Country is that it's HUGE!
According to Wikipedia: The first wine grapes in Santa Barbara County were planted by the missionaries associated with Mission Santa Barbara late in the 18th century. Since commercial viticulture rebounded in the 1960s, Santa Barbara County has become a prominent viticultural region. The 2004 Alexander Payne film, Sideways, set in the Santa Maria Valley, brought additional attention to the county as a wine region, especially for its Pinot noir wines.

The region, also noted for its Chardonnay wines, is gaining a reputation for Rhone varietals including Syrah and Viognier. Santa Barbara wine grapes now command among the highest prices anywhere in the state. The Southern part of the trail grows mostly Rhone style wines due to the warmer climate. In the North, the Burgundy-styled wine dominate due to the cooler maritime weather, meaning lots of great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Many of the areas planted with wine grapes are mixed in with the rolling hills, ancient oak trees, oil fields, cattle ranches, and natural areas in the central part of the county. The county now claims more than 115 wineries and 21,000 acres (85 km2) of vine, with the vast majority of the vineyards in the county's Central Coast American Viticultural Areas: Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, Sta. Rita Hills AVA, and Happy Canyon AVA each with its own distinct terroir. The county continues to split into AVAs, with Los Olivos AVA and Ballard Canyon AVA currently going through necessary procedures to become their own official AVAs.
If you are a first timer, like I did when I went there, you want to stop at all the places you can from the movie. Knock yourself out. It's a lot of fun. I did them as they were on my way. You'll miss a lot of great places in between. But you do what you have to do!
Click on the Image to Link to the Official Wine Country Website
Make sure to visit the Santa Barbara Wine Country website. They list the key events of the year, list all the wineries, and have tons of great information on how to plan your trip!

OK, you cannot go to Santa Barbara without hearing the name Fess Parker. Fess Elisha Parker, Jr. (August 16, 1924 – March 18, 2010) was an American film and television actor best known for his portrayals of Davy Crockett in the Walt Disney 1955–1956 TV mini-series and as Daniel Boone in a television series from 1964 to 1970. In Santa Barbara he turned that fame into a reputation as a winemaker and resort/spa owner-operator.

When I grew up, I remember watching the re-runs. I am not as old as some people think. But I remember when I was  little, I had the coonskin cap. And you can still buy one from the winery.

Despite the obvious associations from his television career, Parker turned out to be a serious and  excellent winemaker. I remember coveting back the  1990s the early years when you could only buy the wines off lists. I collected the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays greedily.
The Fess Parker Family Winery and Vineyards is in Los Olivos, California. The winery is owned and operated by Parker's family, and has produced several different types of award-winning wines. Parker's son, Eli, is President and Director of Winemaking & Vineyard Operations while daughter, Ashley, is Vice President of Marketing & Sales.
The Parker operation includes over 1,500 acres (610 ha) of vineyards, and a large, roomy tasting room and visitor center. In a reminiscence of his acting days, Parkers' wine labels have a logo of a golden coonskin cap.
One of my absolute favorites was the Fess Parker Rodney's Vineyard Viognier. Light, aromatic, with lovely acidity and great balance. Fantastic! The 2012 vintage has received rave reviews! 
"More serious, as well as with additional typicity, the 2012 Viognier Rodney's Vineyard is a gorgeous blend of 100% Viognier that was fermented and aged all in barrel. Classic in style, with apricot, ripe peach and tangerine-styled aromas and flavors, it flows onto the palate with plenty of richness and depth, yet without seeming heavy or cumbersome. It's another outstanding white from Blair and will drink well for 1-2 years."  ~ Wine Advocate
It also got 91 Points from Wine Enthusiast magazine!!
My next favorite in the tasting was the Fess Parker Ashley's Vineyard Chardonnay. I loved the 2009 vintage. Absolutely astounding. Gorgeous fruit, yet light and delicately balanced. Amazing. I love almost anything from the Ashley's Vineyard. Just sayin'!
The 2013Fess Parker Ashley's Vineyard 2013 has received rave reviews.
Bright yellow-gold. Ripe citrus fruits and melon on the perfumed nose. Fleshy and smooth in texture but lively as well, offering energetic orange, pear and honeydew flavors accented by hints of ginger and mace. Packs a punch but remains bright and lithe, with no excess fat. Finishes with very good focus and spicy persistence, the melon note repeating."  ~ Antonio Galloni's Vinous

Fess Parker's Pinot Noir is what I first fell in love with when I learned of the winery. And it's still what keeps me coming back. I am a red wine drinker. And their Pinot Noirs are beautiful!
Fess Parker Ashley's Vineyard Pinot Noir is always among my favorites. I've tasted maybe four or five vintages. I have never been disappointed. The 2012 vintage got a great review from Wine Enthusiast, This age-worthy wine smells like the shady side of a mountain, with black olive notes and roasted fennel alongside cedar-spiced strawberries and brambly berries. Both firm tannins and pungent acidity fuel the palate, with cherry, raspberry and slightly bitter espresso."
The Fess Parker Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir has always been very good too! The 2011 got 89 Points from Wine Advocate! And this lovely review from Wine Enthusiast: "There’s a wild array of aromas to this appellation blend, including wild mint and huckleberries. It’s bright red fruit at first sip, then the wine downshifts into cloves, wet asphalt and anise. A direct but clean and very appealing selection, ready for enjoyment now."  
They remain a favorite.

Seemingly a stone's throw from Fess Parker is Koehler Winery. This was instantly one of my new favorites. I LOVED the intimate tasting room. And I loved the help which were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable. Ad I loved their wines.

Koehler Winery sits on a beautiful 100 acre estate, surrounded by rolling hills. The estate’s was once owned by a very successful television producers who produced such shows as The Love Boat, Dynasty and Wonder Woman. By the time the property was acquired by the Koehler family in 1997, the estate had gained a very impressive reputation in the Santa Ynez Valley.The current plantings are about sixty-seven acres.
My camera died at one point, so I've borrowed a photo of the inside of the tasting room rom someone else. It's relaxed and bright and lovely.

My favorite without question was the Koehler Les 3 Cepages 2008. Les Trois Cépages, is a non-traditional blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvédre, three Southern Rhone grapes. This big fruit-forward wine was aged in French Oak barrels for 18 months. 2008 was big fruit up front, nice oak, good tannins, nice structure. Ripe and dark cherry. Dark raspberry. Layers of flavors. Cranberries. Vanilla. Mocha. Spice. Black and white pepper. Loved it!
Koehler Grenache was my next favorite. I am partial to the grape. The nose is a bouquet of rose and violets. Extraordinary! And the flavor is all stewed-strawberries, cherries, black pepper and smoke. Lovely!
2010 Syrah Reserve
The Koehler Syrah Reserve 2009 was also fabulous. Of course, I am a sucker for Syrah. I love the Rhone. This Syrah is blended from two different clones grown on the estate. Boysenberry and cassis accompany the big plum flavor, with cocoa, spice, and a nice dose of black pepper. Another great wine!
See the Firestone Sisters website who I borrowed the photo from.