Refugio Ranch – a hideway for the stars

Refugio Ranch

After the mayhem of the Wine Bloggers Conference had subsided a bit, the #QBP (and token Joe) decided to stick around a bit longer an enjoy the relative peace of Los Olivos on a Sunday afternoon.

As luck would have it, fearless leader Melanie had arranged for a visit to Refugio Ranch Winery for some tasting and tweeting.  As we gathered in Los Olivos to relax in the Montana style hunting lodge tasting room, I could tell it was going to be a great visit.  But the tasting room was only the beginning…

In 2005, owner Kevin and Niki Gleason found the 415 estate property, which they planted to 26 acres of vines.  Intending to maintain the property, tucked behind the town and well hidden form any view or civilization, the estate ranch is a piece of history that is truly stunning to enjoy.  Our group was whisked away from the tasting room and taken through the winding roads of the Santa Ynez hills, stepping back in time as we drove farther out of time.

Approaching the retreat house, you can see the prime acreage planted to Rhone grapes, and the careful maintenance of the land is evident by the sprawling gardens, oak trees, and agriculture use.  There is no monoculture here.Refugio Ranch

The Grape Whisperer, aka vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, carefully selected blocks and varieties that he thought would best suit the property.  Winemaker Ryan Deovlet began producing these amazing wines in 2011, and together with the Gleasons, they have created a small slice of heaven.

Tucked away on the ranch, the guest house is a rustic reminder that this is still a weekend retreat for the family.  Sitting on the porch, overlooking the ranch, you might think you were an extra in Little House on the Prairie – except the wine in your hand will make you forget about everything modern, sit back, and relax.  It’s no coincidence that you feel your inner cowgirl / cowboy coming out on this property, much like a back lot at Universal Studios, as Refugio Ranch was an untouched cattle ranch that had been in operation for centuries.  The transition to vineyards was a natural one, but the owners are carefully maintaining the native habitats and ecosystems, while using the best pieces for vineyards – maintaining a clear balance between past, present, nature, and man.

Refugio Ranch

Next time we’ll sit out there!

Refugio Ranch is the only vineyard on this side of the Santa Ynez River, and gently rolls up from teh river to the ridge.  With only 26 acres planted, it’s hard to spot the vines, but easy to taste the terroir that makes this property unique.  The prime area is only 6 miles from the ocean, and is planted in salty, ancient sandy loam – the result of ancient sea beds, and long term drought.  This area of Santa Ynez gets very little fog in the morning, but a lot in the evening, lending a cooling influence perfect for those Rhones.

Keeping in tune with the cowboy theme, with a Spanish influence, the labels are a throwback to the cattle ranch days.  I couldn’t pick a favorite since our host, Director of Sales & Marketing Jeff Butler kept pouring delicious wines, but here are some thoughts for your tasting pleasure:

2012 Viognier – 100% Viognier, fermented partially in stainless, as well as French oak.  Fresh and lively, with stone fruit and lychee, folllowed by fresh wildflower honey.  This was a beautiful example of what viognier should be, with rich fruit but bright, lively personality.

2011 Ineseño – 57% Roussane / 43% Viognier.  Fermented in stainless and concrete eggs, with 29% new oak, and 10% neutral oak, another Rhone style gem.  Brilliant gold peaches, spice box, and fruit compote.  A perfect glass with Thai food, or sitting on your porch enjoying life.

2012 Escondrijo – a rich blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Petite Sirah, this “hideaway” is a winter warmer, with cigar box, rose petals, saddle leather, and tobacco, along with blackberry cobbler and cherry pie.  This is something I wanted more of in my glass, even on a hot day and would be amazing with Pumpkin Pie on your holiday table.

Refugio Ranch

Herb garden & insectary

Refugio Ranch

Refugio Ranch

The view from our tasting porch

All images by Thea Dwelle, all rights reserved.  But if you ask nice, I might share.  The experience was courtesty of the winery, but we all left with several bottles in our hot little hands – which should encourage you to visit.  While the ranch is closed to the public, and we felt like movie stars, the Los Olivos tasting room is open and waiting for you.
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Ballard Canyon – Syrah Incubator

Wrapping up my week in Buellton at the Wine Bloggers Conference, the focal tasting seminar on Ballard Canyon and its Syrah was the highlight of the conference for me.  One of the newest AVAs, Ballard Canyon was established within the Santa Ynez Valley in 2013.  Long known as an excellent source for Grenache and Syrah, the area is a long, thin canyon running north to south in a curving line.  This orientation shelters it from much of the wind and cooling breezes that the rest of Santa Ynez experiences making it an excellent location for the richer, bolder Rhone red grapes.

Ballard Canyon has come in to it’s own, now with a brand identity as “The Syrah AVA”.  The panel discussion that we attended at WBC included a tasting of 6 Syrahs from the area, as well as an in depth look at the AVA and those wines.  We were able to taste along with some rock star winemakers and growers from Beckmen, Harrison-Clarke, Jonata, Kimsey, Larner, Rusack, Saarloos & Sons, and Stolpman.

Syrah is coming of age today, and has been called one of the most electrifying wines in the US.  With an AVA that hsa ideal conditions to grow it, Ballard Canyon has become the Syrah AVA.   Syrah can be vastly different depending on cool vs warmer climate growing regions, and Ballard Canyon creates some of the best cool climate Syrah in California.  With approximately half of the AVAs vines planted to Syrah, vintners are able to focus of the microclimates within the canyon, and create excellence in style.

The wines coming out of this region are cool climate wines, which are moderated by the warmer climates surrounding it;  with the wind, weather, and sandy soils dominating Ballard Canyon, Syrahs from this area are broad and distinctive, with a mix of characteristics that you can only find here.

Some quick notes of the wines we tasted:

Rusack Wines – Lighter and fresh, with wonderful acid and deep red and blue fruit.

Kimsey – Rocking in the glass with chocolate dried fig, and espresso

Harrison-Clarke Wine  – Bursting with ripe bosenberry, blueberry and espresso notes, followed by a black raspberry finish 

Jonata – co-fermented with 5% of Viognier, blackberry, dark chewy beef jerky, tobacco lead, aromatic and dense.

 

The over whelming these of these wines are that you have deep complexity, richness, as well as acid which balances the wine.  The large diurnal shift in temperatures allows for both ripe bold flavors, as well as maintaining the acidity levels, which produces wines with more structure and interest than a warmer climate Syrah.

Ballard Canyon is the place to be, and I can’t wait to taste more wines from this region!

syrah territory

 

 

 

Exploring the wines of Santa Barbara County

#QPB members BrixChicks LIza & Dallas Wine Chick Melanie, with BrixChicks Xandria hiding in the center

After our #QPB left Los Olivos and settled back in to WBC mode, we had one more adventure to see too before the official conference began.  Earlier this year, I was thrilled to be a guest of the San Francisco Wine School’s inaugural 3-day intensive California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS) program, for which I know hold the credential (97 baby!).

With the NorCal Wine luminary Fred Swan leading the way, SF Wine School and several illustrious Santa Barbara County wineries converged on Dierberg Star Lane Vineyard in Happy Canyon to present a special deep dive class in to the terroir, viticulture, and wines of Santa Barbara County.  This was an amazing way to kick off the weekend in Buellton, and firmly planted Santa Barbara’s diverse growing regions as one of my favorite California wine regions in my personal wine bible.
In the county, there are many well known areas – Sideways made Los Olivos, Buellton, and Solvang famous, along with Santa Ynez.  But there are also many lesser known areas, such as the tiny Happy Canyon or newly AVA’d Ballard Canyon, that produce amazing wines as well.

The view from Star Lane in to Happy Canyon

As with many areas that are now firmly rooted in wine culture, Santa Barbara’s first plantings were by the missionaries; in this case Junipero Serra arrived in 1782, prior to establishing the mission in 1786.  Santa Barbara became the center of the mission winemaking culture, with 45 vineyards, 260 acres and 17 winemakers, but of cousre all of that died when Prohibition came in to place.  Wine stayed dead in Santa Barbara until well in to the 1960s, when the Amerine Winkler Scale identified the region as perfect for viticulture.  Growing slowly but steadily, by the 1980s, there were 13 wineries, and by the 1990s, that number tripled.  Today, there are over 100 wineries, 21,000 planted acres, and 5 AVAs (with more pending).  Today, with so many microclimates, there are diverse varieties, styles, adn philosphies in the region.  There is so much more here than just Pinot Noir Miles!

With it’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara County has a unique terroir, in part due to the transverse range that suddenly hangs a left at Albequerque and heads east, away from the ocean.  With foggy, cool breezes, and coastal influences, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrives on the west end, while Rhone varieties and Cabernet Sauvignon seek sun and warmth on the east end, away from the coastal influence.
While there are too many AVAs within the county to talk about in detail in this post, I will give you more detail on a few.  First, Pinot Powerhouses Santa Maria and Sta. Rita Hills.  Santa Maria Valley is one of the few AVAs that straddles counties.  With it’s cooling breezes and foggy days, Santa Maria is one of the rare AVAs that has dry farmed vineyards, thanks to 14 inches of rain a year (ok not this year but…).    I love the Pinot Noirs from this area because of the high acidity, bright red fruit and cool climate “zing”.  In the Santa Maria Bench, which is a pending sub AVA, the most famous vineyard would be Bien Nacido, producing world class Pinot and Chardonnay.
David Glancy

SF Wine School’s David Glancy

Next up, the Sta. Rita Hills AVA has 2300 acres planted, with over 40 wineries.  Part of the explosion here was the Sideways effect, however, the wines speak for themselves.  Only 12 miles from the ocean, Sta. Rita Hills gets cold, foggy mornings and evenings, with hot days and large diurnal swings.  With packed limestone and ancient seabed soils, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills has a characteristic minerality and brightness that would make any ABC Card Carrying member quit on the spot.

Two of my favorite regions in Santa Barbara County are Ballard Canyon, and the pending Los Olivos District AVA.  Ballard Canyon, which became an AVA in 2013, is the only AVA dedicated to Syrah, and is located between Solvang and Los Olivos.  While there is some fog in the lower areas of the canyon, it is warmer and has a bigger temperature swing than Sta. Rita, which makes it perfect for Rhone varieties and – syrah.  I’ll get more in to the wines later, since we had a comparative tasting at the conference, but let’s just say YUM!
Finally, Los Olivos.  The pending Los Olivos AVA includes the town of Los Olivos, Ballard, Santa Ynez, and Solvag.  Even warmer than Ballard Canyon, it has a distinctly alluvial soil where both Tuscan and Rhone varieties thrive.
Suffice it to say, you could spend a week in Santa Barbara County and never taste the same thing twice.  It’s well worth investigating, and a very special thanks to Fred Swan, David Glancy, SF Wine School, and all the wineries that participated in this great educational experience!
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 This class was offered gratis to attendees of the Wine Bloggers Conference by invitation only.  All opinions and edumacation are my own.

This is no shrinking violet!

Belle Glos Pinot Noir are wines made for Cabernet lovers.  While each of the three vineyards used to make these wines is coastal, they all produce very different wines.  The Wagner family is well known for their contributions to thee wine industry in Napa, through their efforts at Caymus Vineyards.  Going back to the 1800s, the family has deep California roots.

The family has been making wine in California since 1972, when Caymus was founded.  Now, while the family seat is at Caymus in Napa, the additions of Mer Soleil Chardonnay, run by son Charlie Wagner, Belle Glos run by son Joseph Wagner, and Conundrum, a blend mastered by longtime employee, and new places for daughters Jenny and Erin to learn the business, the family of wine has grown.

There is a history of experimentation and creativity, which led Belle Glos to break the traditional mold of California Pinot Noir.  Joseph’s passion for farming and viticulture is well known.  His early experiences with this Italian Grandmother helps guide his future as he expanding the success of the Belle Glos line, that he has managed since 2002.  Belle Glos, featuring single-vineyard Pinot Noirs from Sonoma, Monterey, and Santa Barbara counties was named for Joseph’s grandmother, he has selected three of the coolest growing regions for the Pinot Noir.  farmed in small lots, the grapes are left to hang longer than normal, to create intense and complex flavors.  In this manner, they are creating bold, flavor packed Pinots that are setting Belle Glos apart from more traditional styles.

There are three single vineyard Pinots from Belle Glos:  Clark & Telephone, Taylor Lane and Las Alturas.  Each one is slightly different, but all three are made in a big, bold style.  A Pinot meant for a Cabernet lover!

Clark & Telephone Vineyard is located in the Santa Maria Valley, which is cooled by the wind and fog blowing in from the Pacific Ocean along the Santa Maria River inland.  Planted on its own roostock, the vineyard is planted to 100% Martini clone, something that is rarely seen today.  This wine was a mix of sweet ripe red fruit and spicy notes, with a nice acid balance.  It was my favorite of the three, and had a lot of cinnamon, baking spice, and ripe blackberry notes.

The Taylor Lane Vineyard Pinot from the Sonoma Coast, is less than 6 miles from the ocean.  Known for the heavy fog, it’s a particularly good place for classic Pinot due to the cool climate, but harder if you are trying to ripen the fruti for a stylistic change.  The Dijon clones in this vineyard held a lot of cedar and cola, with Bing cherries and a hefty 60% new French oak treatment.  This would have been my pick but because of the oak it was just too overblown for me.

Finally, the Las Alturas Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands.  Located in a world famous Pinot Noir growing region in the Central Coast area, each slope of the vineyard was planted in a different clone.  This dense, dark and chewy wine had a lot of earthy notes, tons of vanilla, and cherry pie filling.  The key note was a slightly artificial hint, in that canned filling that we all know (and don’t always love).

ALl in all, these were interesting wines; however, they were, to me, over extracted and manipulated.  I prefer a less extracted, less oaked, more subtle wine.  These are solid, well made wines that are in a bigger style.  I think that the Santa Maria would be a great entree in to the world of Pinot for someone who is used to the larger fruit profile of a Napa Cab or a Sonoima Zinfandel.  If you enjoy a big, bold, dynamic and cherry driven Pinot Noir, check these out.  They might surprise you!

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Wagner Familiy, with Grandma in the center