Alta Maria Vineyards: Stop in and stay a while in Los Olivos

And now, on to something completely different!  This year marked the 7th edition of the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, which I will heretofore call the Wine Whatever Conference to avoid any confusion about who attends, what we do and what happens during it.

 

Arriving in the area several days prior to the conference to take care of some family obligations, and a general need to run away and hide, I arrived in Los Olivos before my #QPB (more on that later) and found myself with some time to wander before the pre-pre-conference got under way.  Not knowing where I should taste, I texted my friend, Tercero winemaker Larry Schaeffer, who told me (warned them?) to head over to Alta Maria, on main street in Los Olivos.  Little did I know that this would be a very popular stop on this day!

 

As I walked in, I noticed the info sign welcoming the Wine Bloggers.  I wasn’t quite sure how to break it to them, that they were in for a wild and crazy weekend, but Stephanie was excited to share the wines, and tell me a bit more about their methodology.  As luck would have it, winemaker Paul Wilkins was in the house, and I was able to spend some time learning about his philosophy on winemaking for both Alta Maria, and his own label, Autonom.  I was also able to taste through the Native9 wines, a special project of viticulturist James Ontiveros.  But more on that later!

 

Alta Maria specializes in small production, artisan wines, with a focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the cool climate of Santa Maria Valley.  Alta Maria also focuses on making wines in the most environmentally friendly way possible, with organic and sustainable practices, including making the place and the people who are part of the process, sustainable.

 

Winemaker Paul Wikins as a third generation farmer, who fell in love with wine when he attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.  Vitculturist James Ontiveros has deep roots in California, with a long hitsory of farming in California – his ancestors were Mexican land grant recipients, and while Rancho Ontiveros Vineyard is not part of the original family holdings, it does represent the long history in the area.  Together, Paul & James focus on the unique Burgundian style of Alta Maria, along with personal (and collaborative) projeccts of Autonom and Native9.  Together, they strive to make appellation specific and terroir driven wines.  It was hard to pick out my favorites, but here are some of my highlights:

 

  • 2012 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay – 80% stainless steel, 20% neural oak.  Aged sur lie, this high acid bright white wine had lush lemons, fresh lemonade, and a hint of fresh cream.  The intense mineral finish had a touch of kumquat.  This is what California chardonnay should be!  Somewhat of a comeback kid, with the 2011 and 2010 harvests being botriyticized, this wine is primarily made from Block W in Bien Nacido Vineyard.  These 40 year old vines are still going strong.
  • 2011 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir – 40 year Pommard vineyard, 100% whole cluster fermentation lends itself to the best kind of funk possible.  Luscious, with savory meat and bacon fat but a zingy finish.
  • 2010 Native9 Pinot Noir – a classic in the making, made from a blend of 8 clones planted in the Rancho Ontiveros vineyard.  This property is high on a ridge in Santa Maria Valley, and this dark, juicy baby opens up to baking spice, dried cherry and black pepper.  The 8 clones in the field give it a very savory and herbal edge, while maintaining the core of Pinot Noir flavors.
  • 2010 Autonom Red Rhône Cuvee – Knowing that I am a Rhone Head, I was very excited to taste these wines.  While I had enjoyed all of the Burgundian varietals, the Red Cuvee, made of 80% Syrah, and 20% Grenache.  While each vintage is unique, this bottle had the inky depth of a Syrah with the juicy pop of cherry that Grenache brings.
  • 2010 Autonom Grenache – yes, I admit it.  I love Grenache.  I might even run away with it.  This is no exception to why I love this grape so much.  Planted in 1964, the Nielson vineyard in a warm corner of Santa Maria Valley, and the more recently planted Thompson Vineyard makes up the balance of the blend.  Bing cherry, green fig, hibiscus, tobacco leaf.  A sweet and savory treat in your mouth.
  • 2010 Autonom Syrah – Speaking of fun, come meet the Syrah.  As the name indicates, the Law of Proportions Syrah blends two vineyards (63% Thompson, 37% Laetitia) from very different terroirs.  The resulting blend is mostly warmer climate (Thompson) but with the depth and richness of the cool climate fruit.  Dark purple plums, cigar box, blackberry jam.

Suffice it to say, I bought more than a little wine while visiting Stephanie & Paul!  I am looking forward to revisitng them soon, and seeing how the wines develop in my glass…and my cellar.If you are heading down to Los Olivos, be sure to stop in and say hello!

 

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Live Blogging: RIOS de Chile Carmenere

After tasting the value priced Sav Blanc yesterday, I’m excited to try the Carmenere today.

 

The vineyard is just at the foot of the Andes, and the vines struggle.  The nose on the wine is very spicy and green, which is different than the palate.  The palate has black pepper, earthy and spicy, and would be amazing with east Asian food with a spicy backbone.

Carmenere is a misunderstood grape, and this is a great example that is pure and honest — and is not pure green pepper.  At $12.99, I would buy this every day!

Live Blogging: Vineyard 511 Diamond Mountain Cabernet

The 2010 Vineyard 511 Cab is distinctly Diamond Mountain.  I love hillside fruit, and this is no exception.

Rich and lush, but with a beautiful bright note hiding under the blackberry, this cab has dusty notes of coffee and chocolate.

The tiny production of 160 cases will not last long, so go get this lush gem!

Live Blogging: Garnet Vineyards Monterey Pinot Noir

I happen to be very lucky and I know Alison Crowe well.  She is a vibrant, energetic and influential winemaker as well as blogger.  I am happy to call her a friend.

This $15 pinot, is a fun, fresh and youthful wine made from Central Coast fruit.  As a Santa Barbara County native, Alison was educated at UC Davis and worked her way up through jobs at Chalone and other well known wineries.  She now has her own brand, Garnet and also consults with Saintsbury.

Pinot Noir is the easiest grape to show true expression of the fruit, and Alison loves to play with it.  The Monterey fruit is different than all the other pinots as it’s a classic Central Coast wine, with fresh, savory red fruit.  Crowd pleasing and inexpensive!

Viva la Garnet!

Live Blogging: Consilience Syrah

I have been exposed to Consilience for over 10 years, and it’s been so wonderful to be able to taste the development of these wines.

 

This 2011 Santa Barbara County Syrah is under $30, and is a blend of Tierra Alta and Estelle Syrah, as well as a touch of this and that.

This is juicy and fresh, with cinnamon, clove, and cracked black pepper.  I love syrah and this is yum!

Live Blogging:

Wines with a accent!  The Brecon Estate tasting room is only 3 months old and we are tasting the Cab Franc, which is also brand new.

Classic Cab Franc flavor profie, full of green leafy vegetables and hard spices.  Black pepper, green pepper corn, and mouthwatering lavendar.  You don’t typically see Cab Franc from Paso Robles, so this is a refreshingly fun wine.

The calcareous soils are from the highest point of the estate, at 1400′, which helps the vine struggle and produce amazing wine.  Planted in the 80s, now the vines are producing wines of elegance and style that I just love!

 

Viva la Cab Franc!

Live Blogging: Labyrinth

Based in Santa Maria Valley, Labyrinth Presqu’ile Clone 667 Pinot noir is a Santa Maria classic.

The winemaker from Australia, has been making wine here since 1997.  His wife was the original winemaker for Hitching Post.

The clone 667 is from the south side of Santa Maria Valley, which is the cool zone and you can tell by the beautiful acid in this wine.  Bright tangy cherry, 100% whole cluster, rich brown sugar, and zingy fruit.

I love this pinot!  The tangerine notes on the finish make it a winner!  Retailing for $50, it’s a great splurge and I love the salinity on the finish.

 

Live Blogging: Taken Wine Co Red Wine

Taken Wine Company is based in Napa and has 3 blends.

This one is Taken Napa Valley Red Wine, a Bordeaux style blend, made from Cab and Merlot.

This is a rich cab based wine, with deep purple fruit, blackberry, and smokey dried blueberry.

The budget friendly $30 makes this an everyday enjoyable wine from Josh Phelps, who is part of the Phelps family.

Live Blogging: Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay

Wente was one of the first vineyards in Livermore California, and is the oldest continuously operating winery in the state of California.  It is still family owned, and the Wente Family is the first family of Chardonny.  many of the clones that are in California today are Wente or derivatives of Wente Clones.

 

The Riva Ranch Chardonnay is a single vineyard wine from the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey.  The deeply golden color comes from 8 months in French and American oak, and the spice of the barrels really comes out while the acidity is maintained.

Baked pears, baking spice, golden delicious apples with a rich, rounded finish.

Live Blogging: J Vineyards PInot Gris

J Vineyards is a women owned and operated winery in the Russian River area of Sonoma, specializing in sparkling wine but also Pinot Gris and Pinot noir.

The 2013 Gris is stainless steel fermented, with no malo, and is sourced from all over the state of California.  Retailing for $14, this is a wonderful example of the grape, that is expressive and unique.  Pears, Asian pear, Meyer lemon, grilled pineapple and savory spices all blend together to create a wonderfully creamy full bodied white.

Live Blogging: Grassini Wines Sauvignon Blanc

Grassini Winery is located in downtown Santa Barbara, and is a family owned winery with very limited production of 2500 cases, of entirely estate owned and produced wines.  It is a family owned and operated winery, that is running sustainably, and are using solar power as well as reclaiming all waste water.  Keeping in mind that sustainability is also about the community, they have kept the same vineyard team since inception, and they are gifted several rows to make their own wine.

The Sauvignon Blanc is a classic style of crisp, citrus driven dry white wine, with lemon zest, lime, grapefruit and floral notes.

Live Blogging: Aridus Malvasia Blanca

Aridus Wine Company is a custom crush facility.  Today, he is pouring an unusual Malvasia Blanca, made from New Mexico grapes.

Malvasia is typically grown in Croatia, parts of Italy, and western Europe but is unusual to see it here.

 

Intensely aromatic, there is a huge amount of perfume on this wine that almost detracts from the fruit flavor underneath.  There is a touch of baking spice hiding underneath it, and it blows off a bit after opening.

Live Blogging: Buttonwood Farm Sauvignon Blanc

Buttonwood Farm is located on 39 acres, about 7 miles from Buellton in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The 2013 Zingy Sauvignon Blanc is meant to be a fun, zippy wine.

Full of grapefruit, green apple, and tropical fruits, this $20 bottle is sure to be a crowd pleaser, especially with oysters.

Live Blogging: 2012 Jordan Chardonnay

Lisa Mattson is well known in the blogging community, and is an engaging and energetic Communications Director for Jordan Winery in Alexander Valley, in Northern Sonoma County.

The 2012 Chardonnay is all Russian River fruit, with a little bit of time in French Oak.  Classic Russsian River Chard, sourced from 8 vineyards.  The gravelly soil lends itself to the mineralality of the wine.  Fresh and clean, with classic RRV fruit profile.  Slight pear notes, green apple, lemon, and fresh strawberry leaves.

Paired with Jordan’s famous crustini,

 

The Estate Tour and Tasting is an amazing experience that I highly recommend.  You can read about my experience here!

Live Blogging: Rios de Chile Sauvignon Blanc

From Chile, located in the Central Valley, this Sauvignon Blanc is Distinctly Chile.  With a rich stone fruit aroma, it is a combination of flavor profiles from New Zealand and the riper areas of California.

Lime zest, nectarines, lemons, with an almost candied finish.  There is a touch of brineness from the coastal influence, which rounds out the finish.  The acid is well balanced and a great low priced white to enjoy all sumer long.

 

Fresh and lively, this is a great budging keeping at $9, for hot summer days.

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