Monday, January 30, 2017

Santa Barbara Wine Country (Part 4) - Los Olivos (CA)

I had left the wilds of the Hudson Valley in the coldest and snowiest of mid-winters. Santa Barbara beckoned light a shining beacon of warmth and smiles and happiness. One of the places I went was Los Olivos. If the Lampock Wine Ghetto is the cool, hispster, east village of California wine, Los Olivos is the Disney World of California cool climate wine. 

At one time, Los Olivos was a small little town in the foothills that all trickled down from the Santa Barbara, St. Ynez, and St. Rita Hills. It consisted of a gas station or two, a deli, a liquor store, and four or five dozen homes and some small, assorted shops.  Some time ago, all that was left was the gas tation/deli nd the liquor store. Seemed everyone needed the gas station, and the liquor store was the only one around for miles. 

The best thing about the liquor store was that they carried all the wineries in those hills down in one location. It became the go to one stop shop for wine in the region. It and the gas station were the only thriving businesses. In the meantime, many of the homes and store were condemned, and it would seem Los Olivos was about to be erased from the earth. But then a funny thin happened on the way to oblivion. One by one, the houses that had been condemned were being bought up. And slowly, the little matchstick buildings were either being renovated or raised and replaced by new construction. And like a pheonix form the ashes rose this brave new world.....each house or old shop was now a tasting room for the many wineries in the region.

The biggest prblem in the region, like the Hudson Valley on the east coast, was that it was too spread out. Los Olivos changes that. Almost every winery has a tasting room in Los Olivos or has bottles that can be found in any one of the stores and ships within a six to eight block radius. Wine aficionados park their cars, the en fun begins. They stroll the sidewalks and choose from more than 30 or 40 tastingrooms, as well as small boutiques, resstaurants and cafes. And yes,, he gas station is still there as well as the deli and the liquor store. One of the great day visits in all of wine tourism!

There were too many to stop in on myshort visit, but here's what I did. I arrived early and get a sandwich and a coke and fortified myself early. And then visited only a dozen shops, though I would have liked to have stayed much longer. But fortified, I was ready to go tasting!

 Daniel Gehrs has a simple winemaking philosophy: “The holy grail of my winemaking is the taste of the grape on the day of harvest...The first duty of a wine is to be interesting. Life is too short for boring wines”. Closely following this dictum is a second, simply put “A wine must taste good. Not just for ‘tasting’ but for ‘drinking’!” Dan entered the California wine business in 1974 having just graduated from college the year before. He worked for Paul Masson Vineyards in Saratoga, CA before Dan, his wife Robin and Victor Erickson founded Congress Springs Vineyards on Erickson’s property in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1976. In 1980 Dan’s Congress Spring’s 1978 Pinot Noir was awarded Wine Spectator’s “Spectator Selection” honors. This was followed up with the ’85 Chardonnay in which, in 1986, became the most awarded wine in California, surpassing all other varietals, according to the annual California Grapevine survey. The wines are excellent, and the ports are sensational!!!!!

The Daniel Gehrs Zinfandel Santa Ynez Valley Limited 2006 was big, deep wine with lots of dark plum, cassis, and dark black cherry, with eath, and mocha and vanilla. Big and powerful and lovely. Beautiful and powerful wine!

Longoria Wines is an artisanal family winery established in 1982 by Rick and Diana Longoria. Rick’s goal was to make outstanding Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Rick sensed that those two varietals were poised to become the signature varietals for the new Santa Barbara County wine region. By 1982 he, with financial help from his father, produced his first 500 cases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley vineyards. The rest was history. His wines are spectacular!

Rick continued to produce very small quantities of Longoria wines after he became the winemaker for The Gainey Vineyard in 1985. In May 1998, Rick and Diana opened the doors to their own tasting room in downtown Los Olivos and made their wines at the “Lompoc Wine Ghetto”. His was the first winery to be established in Lompoc. In 2014, Rick moved into a brand new winery on the site of Lompoc's historic JM Club, with the Longoria Winery Tasting Room located in the former club house.

Rick states "From the very beginning of my career I felt that the Santa Barbara wine region had the potential to produce world class wines and it's been very gratifying to see that belief realized over the more than 30 years I've been here. It's also been very rewarding to have had the good fortune over the years to have some of my wines contribute to the acclaim of our wine region."

Longoria wines are handcrafted in very small quantities ranging from 50 to 700 cases. Total annual production currently averages 3,000 cases. My two favorite wines of his were two Pinot Noirs. Absolutely outstanding!!!!

2012 Pinot Noir - Block M

Fe Ciega is the Longoria's only estate vineyard, planted by Rick in 1998 and expanded to a total of 10 acres in 2008. The grapes were entirely de-stemmed and crushed into small open-top fermenters. The cold soak period averaged two days. After an eleven-day fermentation, the wine was pressed off, settled and transferred to French oak barrels for aging. Only 38% of the barrels were new, in an effort to balance the oak component with the fruit of the wine. After 14 months of barrel aging the various lots were blended, lightly fined, filtered and bottled. Big cherry and red currants with a hint of violets, vanilla, and orange zest. Exceptional!

2013 Pinot Noir

The Langoria Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict 2013 came from the famed Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. These are some of the most famous Pinot Noir vineyards n the west coast. Most of the grapes came from the Dijon 777 clone. The grapes were 100% destemmed and crushed into a small open-top fermenter. After fermentation the wine was pressed off, settled in a tank, then transferred to French oak barrels for aging. Only 39% of the wine aged in new French oak. After 15 months of aging, the wine was not fined but was lightly filtered before being bottled. Ripe ared cherries, hints of black cherry and cranberry are balanced by spicy wood notes as well as vanilla and caramel. A nice juicy ending. A delicious, mouthwatering Pinot Noir. A classic! Fantastic!!!

SPECIAL NOTE: LONGORIA welcomes visitors daily, but are now ONLY open at their winery tasting room at 415 E. Chestnut Ave. in mid-town Lompoc!!!! FYI!!!

Byron is owned by Santa Barbara vintner Ken Byron Brown, whose goal was to make site specific Pinot Noir. Jonathan Nagy is the winemaker at Byron. Jonathan joined Byron Winery in 2001, Jonathan's goal is to make site-expressive wines that underscore the distinct signatures of Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley. “Our single vineyard approach guides my desire to express the character of the grape as it responds to a particular site,..“It’s fascinating how Pinots can showcase such different personalities from vineyard to vineyard, or even block to block.” 

The Byron tasting room is among one of the nicest in Los Olivos that I saw. Very, very polished. Extremey nice. Super nice tasting room staff! Very professional. 

The Byron Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2008 was a flavor bomb. A beautiful clear garnet red with flavors of bright cherry, raspberry, and hints of blueberry and cassis and violets on the nose, with a lovely touch of vanilla. A nice peppery finish. A charming and lovely wine. 

The Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop was established in 1987 as California's first independent tasting room specializing in Santa Barbara and Central Coast Pinot Noirs.  They also carry fine handcrafted wines produced by the smaller, local winemakers and wineries that for the most part do not have their own tasting room or have limited days they are open. They feature such wines as:  Alban, Ampelos, Au Bon Climat, Brewer-Clifton, Fiddlehead, ,Flying Goat, Herman Story, Jack Creek, Jaffurs, Ken Brown, Kenneth-Crawford, Lane Tanner, Lucia, Margerum, Ojai, Pacific Coast Vineyards, Stephen Ross.  There are many other wines they carry. They offer wine tastings right there at the tastingroom/store. They also feature a very consumer friendly wine club.

One of my instant favorites was Jaffurs Santa Barbara County Syrah 2009. OMG! Craig Jaffurs is the owner and winemaker, and has been making wine since 1989, and started Jaffurs in 1994. Dan Green joined Jaffurs winemaking team and partnered with Craig in 2016, and he and his family have joined the team. Of course, what else, Craig's first wine, the 1994 Santa Barbara County Syrah got rave reviews in Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate. The 2009 edition was a big, juicy, jammy Syrah filled with big red plum, love blackberry jam, and all kinds of exotic spices and flavors. Again it's a cool climate wine, much more in keeping with the French style. But all of the fruit, none of the barnyard. A brilliant and lovely Syrah!

Peter and Rebecca Work purchased 82 acres in 1999 in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, and named it “Ampelos,” the Greek word for vine. According to the website: "Soil. Vines. Wines. This is the order in which great wine is made. Waking up from the dream is the belief that a farmer must know his fruit, and we are resolute in our passion to produce hands-on, minimally invasive wines that both whisper and shout about the terroir from which they are grown. Our vineyard is one of the first in the US to be certified Sustainability in Practice, Organic and Biodynamic. Our commitment to eco-friendly, organic farming and wine making is evident in every sip."

A cancelled meeting at the World Trade Center on the morning of September, 11, 2001, brought us to the realization that it was time to pursue our dreams of growing grapes. "We quit our corporate jobs and moved permanently to our fledgling vineyard...." They learned how to make wine from their son, Don Schroeder, now winemaker at Sea Smoke Cellars. Ampelos Vineyards now produces approximately 5,000 cases per year, with a focus on growing organic grapes and creating well-crafted wines. 

Ampelos Vineyards Santa Rita Hills Lambda Pinot Noir 2007 was impeccable! This wine is a collection of the six clones they farm there at the estate vineyard. Generally the wines are aged approximately 2 years. This was a breathtaking Pinot Noir with lovely cherry, cherry, cherry, and hints of violets and vanilla. Incredibly delicate and pretty!

My last and favorite new find from Los Olivos was one of my favorite wineries in the entire region - Carhartt Winery and Vineyard!!! Mike and Brooke were born in Pasadena, but Mike essentially moved up to Rancho Santa Ynez full time in the early 1960’s, several years after his father purchased what was then a 2500-acre property. Mike and Brooke got married in 1982, and moved to the ranch with son Chase in 1993. 

“It was falling apart,” Brooke remembers. “We re-built every fence, every road. But Mike loved the place. He was raised here and has a real connection with the land.” 

I loved their tastingroom/shack It was a large converted shed, with a set of two lovely courtyards outside. You tasted at the bar, and then they also served you at one of the many small tables in the courtyard. Wonderfully relaxed setting. Fantastic. And they also had this amazing sculpture outside their place!

In 1996, the Carhartts planted seven acres of Merlot, and three acres of Syrah. At some point, they realized that selling 10 acres worth of fruit was not going to cover the cost of farming. In 1998, they made a barrel of Merlot and a barrel of Syrah. Since 1998, Carhartt Vineyard and Winery has increased its size to an average of 5,000 cases per year.

When I arrived, I met Mike in the tasting room. What an incredibly affable and great guy. And he's a wine geek. He'll talk wine and grapes and wine...all day!!!And we did! Terrific guy, but even better wines!I loved everything I tried. 

Carhartt Fourplay Central Coast 2008 was spectacular! It is a blend of primarily (say the 40% range?) estate Merlot from Carhartt vineyard, at least 30% is Cabernet Sauvignon from Grassini Vineyard, and 20% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot from Curtis Vineyard...or thereabouts! Mike cold soaked the fruit in small lots and used pump overs to break up the cap. It was laid down for 22 months in half new oak and half old oak. It is unfined and unfiltered. 

Black cherry and black tea come racing across the nose with some plum and some red cassis. Notes of mocha and vanilla and lots of spice. A truly wonderful, wonderful wine!  

The Carhartt Pinot Noir Santa Barbara County 2009 was also a stunner. This is a 100% Pinot Noir wine that was blended from two different vineyards: River Bench Vineyard and Sierra Madre Vineyard. It is a blend of Martini/Pommard on it's own rootstock, with clones 459 and 667. It was cold soaked and fermented in small lots, basket pressed, and aged  for 12 months in approximately 25% new oak, the rest being older, which is good in my eyes, as new oak can sometimes completely overpower a delicate Pinot Noir. They made approximately 200 cases.

This was a delicate wine, with hints of bright young cherry, with a hint of plum and spice. Leather and violets and blueberries on the nose. It had tremendous acidity and lasted for a long, long, long time on the tongue. A gorgeous layered red.   

I was sorry I had to leave Carhartt at all. I was getting in the way, and I needed to crack on. Must return!

Just outside of town was Beckman Vineyards.It was founded in 1994 by Tom and Judy Beckman along with youngest son Steve Beckman.  The wines from Beckman come from two vineyards: The 365 acre, certified Biodynamic Purisima Mountain Vineyard and the Winery Estate vineyard is 25 acres of rolling hills, situated in a wide valley just south of Los Olivos. The tastingroom is big and airy and the wines are wonderful! Beckmen vineyards for a long time was considered a cult wine, hard to find, and delicious to drink.

I fell in love immediately with the Beckmen Vineyards Purisma Mountain Vineyard Syrah Clone #1 2010. This is a big Syrah with backberry and cassis leading off an impressive nose that also had cherry, leather, and lots of toastiness and mocha. A big wine, the dark fruit up front folds into the mouth and lingers for a long time. This has a reputation as a Rock Star Syrah, and it is well deserved!  

The Beckmen Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Grenache 2006 was a siren. A medium-bodied red, with bright red fruit, couched in plum and pepper and spice, this delicate wine was so soft on the palate, so ethereal, I am not even sure how to write about it. I was only sorry I couldn't buy a case of it at the time. An incredible wine. Oh, by the way, did I say I LOVE Grenache?

And the Beckmen Vineyards Estate Syrah 2007 was also most impressive. A big purple wine is the first thing that comes to mind. Blackberry and blueberry also come through along with mocha and lots of pepper. A big, fantastic wine that deserved a steak or a big grilled pork chop!