Tilenus – Excellence in the lost art of Mencia

From one end of Spain to the other, the #OleWinos continuing adventures took us across the country – by trains, planes, and automobiles.  OK, there were no planes, but at times the high speed train from Alicante to Madrid certainly felt like one!

A two hour blur later, we piled in the rented van and took off for Bierzo, a small DO located in the northwest region of León.  Located in a lush, green, and hilly area of the north, there are many small valleys and wide, flat plains that are perfect for cultivating Mencia, the area’s grape.

Making our homebase the university town of Ponferrada, the castle loomed large over the walled old town where our hotel was.  With a viticultural history dating back to Roman times, the phylloxera plague nearly wiped out the industry in the 19th century.  With modern advanced in vine grafting, the vineyard economy slowly recovered, and producing grew to be a significant influence on the region’s economy.  In 1989, the DO was created.

With the heavy quartz and slate soils, vineyards are planted on moist, rich soil.  Here in Bierzo, only a handful of grape varietals are allowed:

  • Mencia, Alicante Bouschet, and a few experimental grapes for red
  • Godello, Palomino and Dona Blanca (and a few more experimental grapes) for white.
  • With these “experimental” varietals only allowed in Crianza (young) wines, the Riserva and Grand Riserva wines must only contain the classic varietals to carry the DO lable.

On this trip, we were exploring MG Wines‘ property Bodegas Estefania, which was founded in 1999.  Keeping in line with MG Wines mission of sustainalbe, unique, and local wines, “Tilenus”, as Estefania is commonly known as, meets and exceeds those expectations.

Bierzo

James the Wine Guy and the Dallas WIne Chick clowning around!

 

IMG_8944Bodegas Estefanía, much like the other MG Wines Group properties, prides itself of being sustainable, modern, and true to the native habitat of the region.  While they focus primarily on the indigenous Mencia group, they also make a Godella (white).  Our host, winemaker Carlos Garcia, led us on a bit of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – as we explored the rugged countryside where the vineyard are located.  On this particular day, it was drizzly and cold, so we scrapped our plans to explore the hilltop plot, and instead explored the oldest vineyard.

Here, in what was formerly the land of bulk wine and large coop wineries, Bodegas Esefania was founded in 1999, it was influential as the start of the Bierzo revolution.  Once an old creamery, it was acquired by bin 2014.  It’s primary brand, and what most people refer to the winery as, Tilenus, pays tribute to the Roman era of Bierzo; today, this history is on the wine labels, with the image ofa Roman coin, signifying the period of history when the Roman’s mined the area for gold.

The red earth undulated like a fault line, revealing many microclimates of peaks and valleys.  In these vineyards, 80% of the fruit is grown, with the additional 20% sourced from small, local vineyards.  Tilenus carefully maintains separate vinification of each vineyard, and each of the five Mencia based wines comes from a different area.  This gives each wine a distinct sense of terroir, and no two are exactly the same.

Keeping in the theme of MG Wines holdings, Tilenus uses the best tools available to them; in this case, the careful use of native yeast increasing the character of the Mencia based wines, and brings out the true local flavor of this little-known grape.  With the minimal use of oak so as to not overpower the delicate wines, the true expression can shine through beautifully.

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The wines of Tilenus reveal the nuances of the mineral driven Mencia grape; each one bringing out another layer of excellence and unique flavors.  Mencia is one of the most tannic wines in the world, and mastering the balance of structure is something that is difficult.  Tilenus seems to have done that just fine.

2014 Vendimia – at only $14, this entry level wine is a bit rough, but shows violets and forest floor, with limestone, plums, and bay leaves.  A great introduction to Mencia.
2008 La Florida s- dense rose petals and floral notes, hard spices and smoke masking purple fruit, dried plums, tobacco, and holiday spices.  $20
2006 Pagos de Posada – this top of the line example comes from small berries in a vineyard that has a lot of wind, keeping them dry.  Full of coffee, dark chocolate, and ripe purple fruit, with a dusting of peppercorn and mint.  Very elegant and balanced, with silky tannins.  $50
2007 Piesa – Hailing from the oldest parcel of land, it is an inky dark color with black fruit, chewy dried figs, and chocolate.  From a vineyard at 1800 feet, and only 1000 bottles produced, the dried sage and white pepper compliment the dense, dark fruit.

This whirldwind tour of Spain exposes us to some of the lesser known areas and varietals that should be better explored for anyone that loves wine.  MG Wines Group represents the best of these up and coming regions, with an emphasis on terroir, history, modern technology, and sustainable winemaking.  Three cheers to MG Wines for an outstanding portfolio, and experience!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bodegas Sierra Salinas – Discover the Magic of Monastrell!

Sierra SalinasBodegas Sierra Salinas was founded in the year 2000, by the longtime viticultural family Castano.  Here, old vineyards were revitalized, in this corner of southern Spain tucked between Alicante and Murcia.  Sierra Salinas is committed to making artistically expressive Monastrell, the classic, dark grape of this region that is bound to tradition and culture.  Castano however, is dedicated to mixing old with new, and has created a modern wonder of a winery, in this classic culture of winemaking.   In 2013, when MG Wines Group acquired the property, there were already far ahead of the game.

The vineyards of Sierra Salinas are located in the mountainout region of the same name, in the town of Villena, which is in the inland area of teh Alicante DO.  Here, with the diverse altitude that only mountain regions can bring, along with the dry, almost desert like landscape, there are a large number of microclimates playing with grape growing.  With it’s dusty lunar landscape, and high mesa and plateaus, one might think they had been transported to the Arizona desert.  In fact, this region is well known as an area where Spaghetti Westerns were filmed, with the Arizona like landscape, cold winters, and hot hot summers.  And yet, with the Meddeterrean so nearby, the climate can be Continental and Medeterranean, with a large diurinal swing helping to keep acids high and sguars in balance.

 

Sierra Salinas

 

soil at Sierra SalinasThe soils of the region are an interesting factor as well, with large, loose stones, Caliza, and soil strata at Sierra Salinaslimestone all impacting the terroir.  The 30-60 centimeters of loosly packed topsoil is high in iron content, giving it it’s distinct red color.

 

 

 

 

IMG_8760Winemaker Sebastien Boudon, French by birth and Spanish by passion, emigrated to the region because he saw new horizons in winemaking.  The state of the art winery features a gravity flow winery, to avoid unneccesary pumping, and small tanks for batch vinification to exact measures.

 With 70% of the property planted to Monastrell, Sierra Salinas specializes in this variety.  Another 20% if planted to the local Alicante Bouschet (known locally as Garnacha Tintorero).  This place is history ina  glass, with the oldest vines being 70 years old, and the newest babies only 15.  These ancient vines have rootsystems so deep, that they penetrate the limestone layer, some 15-20 feet thick!

 

Sierra Salinas specializes in organically grown wines that are treated with care; from hand harvesting, to custom fermentation tanks featuring adjustable, self sealing lids – everything is carefully thought out and designed.  The wines we tasted on this day clearly showed this passion for the region and for Monastrell, as they were each different expressions of the same, delicious grape with slight variations.

  Sierra Salinas
35 year old Monastrell, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, and Garnacha Tintarero, with a hint of Syrah.
Dark purple, with strong spice notes sprinkled on top of dark cherry, ripe plum, blackberry, and tobacco.
Chewy and dense with blue fruit and cigar box.  Mo is an excellent choice for a BBQ, party, or just a good steak.  At ~$10, it’s a steal!
70% Monastrell, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Garnacha Tintarero, 5% Petite Verdot
This is a stronger, darker, sexier version of Monastrell, with a richer profile and denser fruit.  It’s inky and chewy, with chocolate covered blackberries, brown sugar, and a surprising kick of acid on the finish that Monastrell is so well known for, after feef jerky and black pepper tease your palate.   If you want to impress your friends at your next dinner party, pull this ~$15 beauty out with the main course instead of a Napa Cab!
60% Monastrell blended with Cabernet Sauvingon and Garnacha Tintarero
A chew plum with more weight than Mo or Puerto Salinas, it has a nutty note that makes it very well balanced and pleasant in the mouth.
The 1237 is the flagship blend of Sierra Salinas, so named for the vineyard that lies at 1237 meters above sea level.
45 Garnacha Tintarero, 33% Petite Verdot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Monastrell
This unique wine spends it’s fermentation in open barriques, adn is aged for 21 months in the same barrel.  Bursting with red fruit, Spanish strawberreis, and blood oranges, the finish has toffee, antise, menthol and eucalyptus.  This is truely a special bottle and while $95 is a splurge, this is worth it!

 

  
vineyards of Sierra Salinas
With most Sierra Salinas wines priced well below $20, these are worth finding.  The nuances that Monastrell can accomplish with a talented “Magician of Monastrell”, as Brix Chick Liza calls Sebastian are amazing.  Monastrell, Mataro, Mourvedre – what ever you call it, go out and find some today!
Currently, Sierra Salinas is seeking representation in the US, particularly on the WEst Coast.  If you are interested in carrying these amazing wines that are a screaing value, please contact MG Wines Group!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alicante – Southern Spain’s Best Kept Wine Secret

Last month, I was among a small group of bloggers invited to visit some special regions in Spain by the luxury wine group MG Wines Group.  MG Wines focuses on wines of distinction from various regions in Spain, and this fam trip was all about the unique, the sublime, and the special wines that MG owns. From the far southern deserts of Bullas, and Jumilla, to the cold, wet north Bierzo, we visited three wineries that were tied together by their dedication to sustainable agriculture, wine making techniques and culture, and yet very different in style and taste.

I love Spain; each time, I come away more enamored than I was before.  I was excited to be included in this small group of wine writers, not only because they were all good friends and people whom I consider talented writers, but also because it was my first time experiencing Jumilla, Bullas, Alicante, and Bierzo.

We began our trip in the southern Costa Blanca city of Alicante.  More well known for it’s beaches, seafood, and sun seeking Brits than it’s wine, Alicante is a bustling town newly connected to Madrid with a high speed rain link that makes travel a breeze.  Nearby, there are several wine producing regions that focus on Monastrell (Mouvedre) and Alicante Bouchet (known as Garnacha Tintarero here), and are delicious alternatives to the more widely known Rioja.

As you might have guessed, Alicante gives it’s name to Alicante Bouschet, the red skinned, red fleshed grape that was so popular in Italian field blends in California’s wine history.  BUt this wine is so unique that you pre-concieved notions will go out the window.  Alicante is it’s on DO, or Spanish Demoninacion de Origen, and is currently in ti’s 75th year as a DO, even though winemaking traditions can be traced back to the Roman times.

Here, Monastrell and Alicante are king among the bold, dark red wines that are growing in popularity and elegance.  After settling in to our hotel in Alicante, the intreped Ole Winos cast out for a tapas crawl on the waterfront.  While it was still late winter / early spring, we bundled up and enjoyed some local wine, cava and delicious eats before our adventure began in earnest the next day in Jumilla, home of Bodegas Sierra Salinas.  Stay tuned for more on that one of kind experience!

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Tastemakers: Italian Focus with a diverse history!

One of my favorite stops the last time I was in El Dorado was Miraflores, a sprawling hilltop winery with a beautiful terrace and expansive views.  On the day we next visited, it was raining, but that wouldn’t deter our delicious tasting of Italian focused winemakers here in El Dorado.  There is a long history of Italian immigrants in the area, largely due to the Gold Rush and enterprising folks who started restaurants, businesses and other ways of striking it rich supporting the miners, and maintaining cultural ties to the homeland.  Today, we tasted through some examples of modern day Italian winemakers:

MirafloresMiraflores is located on the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail, in the heart of El Dorado wine country.  Winemaker Marco Cappelli is both an artist, and a scientist, like any good winemaker, and focuses on creating wines of distinction that reflect the varying terroir of the region.  With 12 years of experience at Miraflores, Marco also has been a winemaker in Italy, France, and Australia – learning about terroir, wine styles, and the uniqueness of each region.

Mirafloras sits at 2700 feet, on granite based, well drained soils.  The 2012 Barbera is clone 4, which is lower in acid than other clones, which creates a richer, more mellow final wine.  Fermented in opt top vats, it aged 22 months in neutral oak to allow the fruit to show through.  Rich, and bold red fruit, with chewy and dense figs, leather and coffee give way to bright Bing cherry and a zippy finish.  A great example of what elevation can do!  $28

C.G. Di Arie VineyardC.G. Di Arie Vineyard and Winery was founded in 2000, when Chaim and Elisheva Gur-Arieh purchased the 209 acre property in the Shenandoah Valley.  With the rolling hills averaging about 1,700 feet, they knew that this area had the potential to create world class wines.  Today, they are able to produce up to 15,000 cases of wine, in the state of the art gravity flow facility that also houses an art gallery.  With 40 acres currently planted, they plan to put 30 more to vine by 2020.  Chaim strives to make wines that have balance and style.

The 2012 Primativo is a lighter style wine, mimicking the Zinfandel that so many immigrants to this region planted.  It’s spicy gingerbread flavors are uniquely different than the classic California Zinfandel from this region.  The bright acidity make this an excellent wine for burgers, BBQ, and general enjoyment.  $25

Nello-Olivo-175Nello Olivo is a character straight out of a Hollywood movie.  Larger than life, and full of verve, this second generation Italian-American has wine in his blood.  Born to a large brood in the Bay Area, Nello started a successful property development business in Los Angeles, where he raised his family before the real estate market crashed in the early 1980s.  Heading north to the Cameron Park area near Sacramento, which was near his beloved Lake Tahoe retirement dream, Nello and his family purchased 21 acres in 2000.  Here, he planted seven varietals, focusing on the historical Italian grapes that he is so connected to.  Initially selling most of his grapes to the newly founded El Dorado wine community, Nello kept a small amount for himself for some home winemaker experiments.  Eventually, he was enticed to begin his own winery, and in 2005, produced his first vintage of commercial wine.

Leaning on the skills of winemaker Marco Cappelli, Nello decided to set his sights on an obscure grape of his ancestral home in Umbria – Sagrantino de Montefalco.  This unique wine is representaitve of the family history, and is a an unusual varitety to be planted in California.  Fortunately, it took, and a successful venture was born.  Sagrantino is native to Umbria, and is only grown in the Monte Falco region.  It is considered the most tannic wine in Italy, and can be sharp and bitter while young, yet ages marvelously.  The 2012 Sagrantino is full of plum, berry, cherry and cloud berry flavors, followed by tangerine and milk chocolate.  While this was a young wine, I can see the aging potential and look forward to trying a glass in 5 years.  $79

Mastroserio WineryRuggero Mastroserio has degrees in engineering, geology and music, and also trained in enology in Italy.  Phew!  After crafting wines in the area for 10 years, Ruggero founded Mastroserio Winery in 2010.  The region of Fair Play is idea for producing varied, nuanced wines, sitting in a granite bowl high atop the El Dorado Hills.

The 2010 Barbera is a bowl of dark chocolate covered cherries, rich and opulent.  With dark berry, fig and plum character, it is soft and plush on the palate, with a touch of acidity at the end, as Barbera should have.  This soft cashmere sweater warms you with dried herbs and crushed black pepper, waking up the palate and piquing your curiosity.  $77

With so many wineries and varieties in El Dorodo, I hope you will take a road trip and discover them for yourselves!  Special thanks to the El Dorado Winery Association and Solterra Strategies for arranging a varied, and complex look at the region.  There are so many wineries to choose from, I look forward to more trips and more posts soon!

 

Tastemakers: El Dorado’s Founding Families

IMG_8625In the late 1970s, a group of upstart winemakers and like minded wine lovers, left the confines of traditional winemaking geography, and headed up to the hills.  While winemaking was just coming in to the golden era in Napa Valley during this time period, a few renegades decided that it was time to head to someplace more wild, more unknown, more…diverse.

With a long history of agriculture, El Dorado wine business started with the Gold Rush, when immigrants sought land to plant thier native grapes.  When Prohibition came, acreage shrank from some 2,300 planted acres in 1900, and vineyards made way for pears and other tree fruit.  When the fruit industry suffered from a pest infestation int he late 1950s, UC Davis moved in and used the area for experimental vineyards.  The commercial wine industry was born out of this, and in the late 1970s, the founding fathers began a tradition that is still strong today.

  • Madroña Vineyards – in 1973, Dick & LEslie Bush fell in love with the beauty and surroundings of Placerville.  Taking a huge leap of faith, as tehre were no other commerical vineyards and wineries to lean on or learn from, the Bush’s planted thier vineyard, which was – at the time – the highest in California.

With the vineyard becoming a family project, the Bush’s involved thier children and their parents, while Dick’s engineering background helped layout the vineyard and build thier future home.  Today, the winery has evolved to include Paul & Maggie Bush, who make the wines and manage the vineyards, as well as Maggie’s role managing the winery operations.  Additionally, David & Sheila Bush purchased some nearby land, the Sumu-Kaw parcel.

At Madrona, wine is the family business.  There is a careful focus on artisianal winemaking, sustainable care of the land, and family.  At the winery in Camino, the elevation is perfect for growing the wide variety of grapes that make the Rhône and Bordeaux focused wines.  At 3,000 feet, there are three vineyards that make up the family business.  Madrona, Enye, and Sumu-Kaw.  Each site is unique and has distinct terroir, and with over 26 varietals planted, what might seems as “anything goes” at first, is actually carefully selected for it’s blending potential and sum of the parts.

Tasting the wines, I was particularly enthralled by the amazing Cabernet Franc. Paul Bush has a particular passion for this grape, and it shines through in the glass.  His particular verve for balance and epxression of terroir is clean in the two different expressions of Cab Franc.  In fact, he made 4 variations of Cab Franc, each one with a specific tweak and unique element.  We were able to taste the very special Grain par Grain (berry by berry) version, and if you are a Cab Franc lover, get yet to Madrona Vineyards!

– 2011 Grain par Grain Cabernet Franc – whole berry maceration for 20 days in new French oak puncheons, hand turned and then punched down twice a day.  Aged for 20 months in 3 year old French oak, with just a hint of Cab Sav (1.4%) .  With only 24 cases made, this is a rare gem indeed.  Full of dark cherry, blackberry, and spiced fig notes.  This is a rich and elegant lady, with a velvet smoking jacket on.  Coffee in one hand, chocolate in the other.  $60

  • Sierra Vista is another one of the long standing wineries here in El Dorado County.  When the McCreadys settled here in 1972, they had an eye on the soil and topography as a perfect place to plant a vineyard.  When the first plantings in 1974, as I experineced on my Pleasant Valley adventures last year, there are some lovely wines, and view, from this property located on Red Rock Ridge at an elevation of half a mile.

Today, the winery farms 28 acres of mountain side vineyards, at 2,800 feet, on varying mountain terrair.  With low yields, and high intensity of flavor, the terroir is perfect for Rhoen varietals.  WIth the first syrah plantings in 1979, John’s eye was always on the Rhone varieties.  Using syrah grapes that are descended from Cote Rotie fruit, John found that El Dorado was very similar in geography adn terrain to many parts of the northern Rhone.   Today, they produce about 5,000 cases, focusing on those rhone varieis.

2013 Fleur de Montagne is a bright and fresh rose, with wild strawberries and watermelon flavors.  The clean finish is great for a picnic or summer lunch on the deck, and the $25 price will make your wallet smile

  • Boeger Winery sits on a site that was a homestead during the gold rush, and the original house, cellar and distillery that were build then, are still in use today.  The winery itself survived Prohibition by producing wine for the local church, but the vine didn’t fare as well.  As vineyards were replanted to fruit trees, the vines didn’t return until after the pear crop failed.  That is when the Boegers purchased the property, and turned it back to vineyards.  While a small amount of vines still remain from the 1800s, most were replanted in 1972 when the Boegers purchased the property.

With 40 acres of vineyards on two sites, the winery also manages and additional 50 acres under contact in El Dorado County.  With the steep, rocky hillsides, over 30 varietals are planted and thriving.

– 2014 Sauvignon Blanc is floral and delicate, with the additional of Semillion, Chardonnay, and Flora (a blend of Gewurztraminer and Semillion) in the blend.  The old vine Savignon Blanc gives a rich mouthfeel, which has a mild acidity and juicy finish.

  • Lava Cap Winery planted thier first vines in 1981, and the winery opened it’s doors in 1986.

Lava Cap Winery The Jones family, a family of geologist, specifical sleected this site for the volcanic soils that were perfect for vineyards.  With the focus on hand crafted wines and sustainable acriculture, Lava Cap has become one of the most well known examples of El Dorado wine today.

  • 2013 Chardonnay – as the largest production in Lava Caps lineup, this unique white wine is made of 4 clones.  With 70% barrel fermentation in French oak, the wine is started with native yeast and finished with an inoculation of commercial yeast.  Bursting with Meyer lemon, this is a nice example of a chardonnay that can be barrel aged but is not overly oaked.  It is refreshing, with a strong mineral finish.

Throughout this visit, we tasted more wines from these producers.  Next up, pairing some delicious wines with the innovative food of The Independant!

 

These are just a few of the wines and wineries visited in my exploration of El Dorado County.  A special thank you to Solterra Strategies and the El Dorado WINery Association for extending their lvoely hospitaltiy and opening doors to these unique wineries!

 

 

On the Road to Spain!

It’s hard to believe, but in three short days, I will be on a plane, headed to Spain, where maybe it will rain.  I am excited to be returned to one of my favorite places to explore, and to reach out to new areas of wine production and geography.

On this adventure, I will exploring three wine producing regions in Spain, to experience some world class wines, hospitality, and food.

First up, Bullas, a DO in the wine region of Murcia, which is in the southeaster corner of Spain.  This southern gem kisses the Mediterranean sea, and the town itself is an ancient one with evidence of Roman occupation, including wine production dating from that time.  Now, it is known for it’s bold and powerful Monastrell (Mouvedre) based red wines.  In Bullas, we will visit Sierra Salinas, and Bodegas Lavina, soaking up the delicious Monastrell and jamon as as explore the sustainable agriculture and stewardshp of the region.

El BierzoAfter our southern adventure, it’s off to the norther DO of Bierzo, located in the northwest corner of Spain.  Here, we will experience Mencia, Alicante Bouchet, and a smattering of white wines at Tilenus Winery.  Here, it’s xpereincing the hearty chickpea stew of the northern part of Spain to keep us warm and ready to go.

A short but sweet whirlwind through Spain, and then i’m off to France on vacation for a week!  Wish me luck and delicious wine, and check for updates from the road.  There will be plenty of pictures of jamon Iberico as I plan to eat my weight in Pata Negra, as well as delicious tapas, and other delights.  France will include a trip to the Champagne region, where I will taste the stars in a glass, and gain a smile ear to ear.

¡Salud!

 

 

 

 

Baconlicous is St. Supery!

When you tIMG_8383hink of wine tasting, I am going to guess that you don’t typically think of line up like this.  Think of your comparative literature class from college, toss in some bacon, and you have St. Supery’s Bacon and Bordeaux tasting experience summed up.

Having tasted the wines at this Napa Valley stalwart several times, I knew that at the very least, I was going to enjoy my tasting experience, but this special tasting brings it to a new level.  Conducted upstairs, in the newly remodeled private tasting lounge, these special tastings are a world apart from the hustle and bustle of the normal rush in the tasting room.

For our tasting, we paired each of the Bordeaux style wines with a bacon-licious dish, each specifically made by the winery chef to play off of the wines.

IMG_83892012 Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a Quesedilla with smoked mozzarella and…bacon with green salsa verde.  Both the Rutherford estate fruit as well as my favorite Dollarhide go in to this blend which has fresh loganberry, pink peppercorn, ripe plums and ginger notes.  The quesedilla brought out dark spices and blue fruit, as well a ground black pepper.

Next, the 2010 Napa Vallely Estate Elu, which is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Bacon (well, really 1% Cabernet Franc.  This is St. Supery’s signature red wine, and has a beautiful Bergemot nose with savory herbal qualities.  Dark cherries, dried lavender, and blackberries in cassis syrup were paired with a classic BLT.
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Next, the 2010 Rutherford Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and a touch of Cab Franc and Petite Verdot, all from Rutherford.  This unctuous red wine was full of coffee and chocolate, with cracked black pepper.  Paired with a Toma Grilled Cheese with applewood Smoked Bacon, the earthy and herbal notes really sang out.

FiIMG_8391nally, the 2010 Dollarhide Elevation is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7%  Malbec.  Dense and deep blackberry notes emerge from this “accidental” blend.  While it is always a blend, it’s typically over 90% Cab to soften the punch.  The Malbec adds in a dense blue fruit, with young & lively notes of dark chocolate and espresso.  As this was our dessert course, it was paired with the “Happy Childhood” – An almond butter & estate fig jam sandwich, with cassis candied bacon.

Yum!While this special tasting experience isn’t always on the menu, be sure to call ahead and make reservations for any of St. Supery’s special tastings.  Experiences start at only $35 per person (group of 4 minimum) and are an event to remember.  I can’t wait to go back and experience another version of this event as the estate garden grows through the seasons!

A special thank you to St. Supery and Scott Tracy, Guest Experience Manager for a truly spectacular tasting experience.

 

The wine and bacon were provided by St. Supery, but all of the sound effects and accolades are purely mine!

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Chinon: The Lady of the Lake

Chinon might well be best known for it’s Chateau, and it’s central role in Joan of Arc’s story.  But in this case, Chinon is known for it’s Cabernet Franc, and it’s other wines.

 

Chinon is located in the region of Touraine, which is located in the central Loire Valley, in northwestern France.  Chinon is especially known for it’s Cabernet Franc, although up to 10% of Cabernet Sauvignon can be blended in.  There is also some Chenin Blanc planted in the region.  Cabernet Franc from Chinon is quite varied and can be bold and grippy, or light and minerally, but both aqre quite affordable and great alternatves to some of the more expensvie regions in France.

2012 Domaine de noiré soif de tendresse chinon – $16.00

When I first opened this, it was very dusty, closed and full force potpourri.  But now, after an hour, it’s coming around to lusciousness.  On the nose, violets, rosepetals and grassy notes.  The palate opens up to reveal a medium bodied grippy red with prune, cherry, wild strawberry, coffee, and smoke notes.

 

 

2011 Les pensees de Pallus – $20

Smokey with perfume notes, pencil lead, and bright raspberreis, the peppery notes open up to sour cherry, blackberry, and chewy stewed meat

 

Truchard Vineyards – a step back in time

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When you step out of your car, in the small makeshift parking lot that is really the vineyard, you are immediately transported to a rural setting a scant 10 minutes from downtown Napa.  The iconic redwood barn and farmhouse stand proudly as sirens to Truchard Vineyards, straddling the Carneros region close to San Pablo Bay.

Arriving in California in the late 1960s, Jo Ann and Tony Truchard were Texas transplants that were enchanted by wine country as they went on a road trip exploring their newly adopted state.  Ever the adventurer, Tony thought it would be fun to plant a vineyard in the then relatively unknown Napa Valley, paying homage to his family roots from Lyon, France.  There had always been wine in Tony’s blood, including a pre-Prohibition winery in South Texas.  On one of these meandering road trips through Northern California, the Truchards came across the abandoned orchard in Carneros that would become Truchard Vineyards.

Today, Truchard is known for it’s pioneering creativity, fighting back the brackish waters in Carneros to produce some delicious wines, but it started out as a labor of love.  Serving as a doctor in the army, Tony soon started practicing in nearby Reno.  But every weekend, they would drive down to Carneros to work the vineyard and camp out in the orchards.  Slowly, the estate was expanded to include 400 adjacent acres, with plenty of open space and unplanted hillsides to maintain the bucolic feel of southern Napa.  The estate also prides itself on being environmentally responsible, with approximately 80% sustainably grown and  20% organically grown grapes.

While we were there, the memory of the Napa earthquake of 2014 was still fresh.  With the epicenter being less than 5 miles away, one might expect cracks in the caves, broken bottles, and ore of a mess.  But aside from some cracks in the dried earth of the vineyards on top of the cave, and a few cracks that were structurally insignificant, Truchard was amazingly lucky; the farmhouse where the Truchards live was not as lucky as most of the contents were smashed, but the house itself?  Looks like a Queen sitting in state.  Nature really is amazing.

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Well known for Pinot Noir, given the ideal grown area in Carneros, Truchard also produces some lovely Chardonnay, but my personal favorite is the Syrah.  The smokey funk on the end of this medium bodied Syrah, made as an homage to Cote Rotie and the Truchard family legacy, compliments the dark blackberry and plum notes perfectly.  The finish of cracked pepper and spices leaves you wanting another sip, and while funky, it’s funk in the best possible way.

Truchard is open by appointment only, and a visit includes a tour as well as a tasting.  This is a must do for any visit to Napa Valley!  For another take on Truchard, please visit my blogging buddy Tom Riley’s post on American Winery Guide.

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A special thank you to Toby at Fineman PR for arranging this visit, and to Anthony Truchard, II for leading us on the tour & tasting.  We were lucky enough to have Jo Ann visit with us after the tour, and if you want a day full of stories, see if she’s around! 

Holman Ranch: A step back in time

     

Holman RanchHolman Ranch was established in 1928, well before the rush of wineries started to populate the rural and bucolic Carmel Valley.  When one thinks of Carmel Valley, you might well think Carmel (by-the-Sea), but in teh short 10 miles up the narrow valley, Carmel by the Sea dissolves away in to Carmel Valley, where horse ranches and vineyards dot the rugged hillsides that once housed cattle and horse ranches.

The family owned Holman Ranch is at the northeastern end of the valley, and while only a few miles from the ocean, is a world – and a century away.  The Ranch itself sits above a small subdivision on a hillside in Carmel Valley Village, but once you enter the gates – you are transported a world away.

IMG_8404Of the original 6500 acre Spanish Land Grant, the 600 acre property that would eventually become Holman Ranch was purchased by a wealth businessman from San Francisco for use as a “gentleman’s retreat”.  With an historic Spanish Hacienda style main house built from local stone, the guest rooms were added later when the property changed hands in the mid 1940s.  The addition of the guest quarters made it an ideal retreat for Hollywood luminaries, and it quickly became the hot spot for stars from Joan Crawford to Charlie Chaplin to escape to.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, and the property was converted back to a private estate to preserve the history and tranquility. This is when the original vineyards were planted, and the stables were added.  In 2006, the Lowder family purchased the Ranch and began a restoration project that included adding 17 acres of vineyards as well as wine IMG_8412caves and event spaces.

Waking up in the peaceful mountains above the valley, it’s easy to see why the stars would want to retreat here.  The early morning hours are silent and golden, and a walk through the property reveals the rugged hillsides and steep slops of vineyard that undulate down the hillsides.  You can certainly see why the Hollywood elite escaped here.

Even though Carmel Valley is only 12 miles from the Paciifc Ocean, the temperature is much warmer; the early morning fog cools down the vineyards, and for this reason, is ideal for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonay.  Holman Ranch specializes in Estate Pinot Noir, and offers four versions, plus 2 Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.  I loved the Pinot Gris, and the Hunter’s Hill Pinot Noir really hit the spot while admiring the rustic cowboy theme in the tasting room.

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While the Ranch itslef isn’t open to the public, it does host special events for the wine club as well as weddings, meetings and corporate retreats.  I think I might start planning my 25th birthday party!  Ok well maybe 40th.  (shush you.).

If you find yourself in the Monterey Bay region, be sure to take the detour to the narrow little valley that time forgot.  Knowing that Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel by the Sea, I would expect to see him riding the range above Holman Ranch from time to time.  Stop your horse at the hitching post outside the tasting room, pull up a cowhide and sip a while.  Or have dinnner at the newly acquired historical diner Will Fargo across the street.  You won’t be sorry!

A special thanks to Holman Ranch for hosting us at the Ranch and allowing me to go back to summer camp for one night!  I’ll be back…

Celebrate with Franciacorta!

During the holidays, more often than not, we celebrate with something sparkling.  For some it might be the old classic Champagne; others, California Sparkling.  But have you tried Franciacorta?

Franciacorta, the DOCG region in Lombardy, Italy, is known for it’s excellent sparkling wines made in the traditionally method – meaning, the secondary fermentation occurs int bottle and not by, shall we say, the soda stream for wine or a bulk method.  Lombardy is perfect for sparkling wine, where the Alps meet the Lago d’Iseo, moderating temperatures and making the traditional grapes for sparkling wines grow so well.  Since Franciacorta was the first Italian sparkling wine to have the secondary fermentation int he bottle, and since the producing region is the first traditional method sparkling wine in Italy to reach DOCG status, they really are a treat.

Since becoming a DOCG (the highest level of regional wine designations in Italy) in 1995, Franciacorta has set strict rules governing the production of it’s sparkling wines.  Using the same Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc (Bianco) and Pinot Noir grapes that are traditionally used in France, Franciacorta requires lengthy aging and hand harvesting, to maintain in increase quality.

With five distinct styles, there is something for everyone!

Some of my favorite products that I have been enjoing this season are reviewed below.  So this holiday, go out and say Cin Cin to Franciacorta!

Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut – 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir).  Yeasty, buttered toast, crisp lemon curd.  Beautiful bright acidity with the richness of cream and ripe pears.  This would be fantastic with oysters or brunch, and at $30, an affortable alternative to Champagne.  With only 12.9% ABV, this is a sipper you can enjoy all day!

Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut – 80% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Nero (Noir), 10% Pinot Bianco (Blanc) –  a field of flowers, with rich  yellow and green hues, Tuscan melon and lime jump out of the glass along with stone fruit and a slight green herbal note.  $23 for this beauty rivals some of the better Proseccos and would be lovely in a Spritz or other cocktail.

If you would like to check out some of the other styles of Franciacorta, they range from dry to sweet, and have a host of other style elements such as the typically 100% Chardonnay Saten.  A Millesimato is vintage sparkler that is aged at least 30 months.

So, the next time you are having a party, consider stocking up on some Franciacorta, and wow your party guests with Italy’s fastest growing sparkling wine category!

 

These bottles of deliciousness were provided as PR samples, but all sips and tips are mine!

 

 

 

 

Quinticentually Quintessa

_MG_0049Earlier this year, before I embarked on a somewhat fool-hearty mission of getting my CSW credential, I visited the Napa Valley estate of Quintessa.  Tucked away, hidden from the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, the unique gravity flow moistly underground winery pokes out from the hillside.  When the Huneeus family took ownership of the land in 1990, the land was wild and pristine – and had never been used, or abused by other vines or crops.  Having never been planted to vine, the land had none of the after effects of the post-phylloxera recovery efforts, and mandatory replanting that some older, established Napa vineyards did.  It was virgin territory, and this prime real estate was ready to plant some amazing Bordeaux varietals.  With further research done on what naturally defended against the root louse that destroyed the industry in the past, new rootstock and innovative techniques were put in to place to create an amazing site.

In 2002, the estate winery opened, it was built with a vision of a building that blended in to the natural elements.  In addition to the aesthetic beauty, careful consideration was given to the environmental impact as well as functional design for a working winery.  The result is a stunning gravity-flow winery that beginnings on the top of the hill where the crushpad is located, and continues through chutes in the floor of the crushpad that transport the juice directly to the fermentation tanks with a minimal of intervention.  With all the modern, yet mostly non-intervention techniques, you can bet there will be some great juice coming out of there!

When you visit Quintessa, you have a wealth of tasting experiences to choose from.  The Estate Tasting Experience gives guests a comprehensive visit to the facility as well as the vineyard, and a seated tasting paired with local artisan products.  But the penultimate experience is what we enjoyed, the Quintessential Quintessa.  Here, you start at the winery where you see the operation, and then take a meandering walk up the hill to the ridge where tasting pavillions have been built.  These glass gazebos offer the ability to have a fully indoor / outdoor experience, while overlooking the vineyard property below.

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Up on the ridgeline, you leave the winery and the hustle bustle of the busy Napa Valley behind.  You are truly alone, and have the time to relax, and enjoy the details of the geology of the soils, a full tasting, and a great conversation about what makes teh property so special.  And oh, the cheese!  The cheese…

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With a tasting comparison of the current releases as well as library wine, this experience is a rare and special treat in the valley.  Trying to impress out of town guests?  This is the way to do it.  I especially enjoyed comparing the fresh, young current release, with the vibrancy and fruit forward notes of blackberry and earth, as compared to the library wine, showing dense and chewy notes of tobacco, baking spice and black pepper.  Having the luxury to taste the different blends and different vintages really shows a wine lover how wines can develop over time, but also how particular vineyard sites, soil, and blending decisions impact the final result — which make no mistake — was yummy.

The Quintessential Quintessa is $125 per person, and advanced reservations are required.  I promise, it’s worth every penny!  I look forward to going back and experiencing it again soon!  Alternately, you can book an Estate Tasting, which will also be delicious and informative.

**There are no tasting notes on this post on purpose, because I encourage you to form your own opinions about the wine.  However, if I was forced to choose, I’d highly recommend the unctuous and delicious Cabernet based blends, particularly the 2010 and the older vintages that have surpassed their awkward teenage years.  The discussion of the different vineyard blocks and types of soil ties directly in to each vintage, blending decisions and final results, which is part of the fascinating study of wine.  Go forth and taste them for yourself!**

Special thanks to Fineman PR for arranging this visit.

 

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.

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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.

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Herb garden & insectary

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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!

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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.
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