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Like many coastal valleys in California, Edna Valley runs east-west in San Luis Obispo County between Islay Hill to the north and Lake Lopez to the south. This situation allows the cooling ocean breeze to flow over the vineyards, where a blanket of morning fog is quite common. This turns the valley and its clay-rich, mineral-laden soil into a fantastic cool-climate region that rivals California’s best.
The wineries of Edna Valley are known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but they also produce some very nice Syrah and excellent whites that feature a bracing minerality. In fact, just about any grape planted seems to do well here, and you’ll find plenty of Rhone-styled wines alongside the varietals of Burgundy.
If you are planning a trip to Edna Valley, here are some stops you should include in your itinerary:
Chamisal Vineyards – Known as Domaine Alfred for years, the winery has re-adopted its original name from the early 1970s. New Zealand native Fintan du Fresne is the winemaker, and he oversees the grapes with a careful hand. A number of different Pinot Noir clones are planted, along with Chardonnay, Syrah and Grenache.
Baileyana Winery – Established in the 1980s by Catharine and Jack Niven, Baileyana is now run by their sons John and Jim and grandsons Michael and John – now that’s a family act. The winery has always been known for innovative techniques and experimentation which has influenced other area producers. In addition to their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, you’ll also find some very interesting blends utilizing Syrah, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Don’t miss their Sauvignon Blanc.
Tangent Winery – If you’re a fan of white wines, but go with an ABC policy – Anything But Chardonnay – this is the place for you. A full menu of “alternative whites” like Albarino, Viognier, Riesling and Pinot Blanc will please any white wine palate. They share a tasting room with Baileyana. While you’re there, sample one of my personal favorite whites, Ecclestone, a blend of all their varietals.
Tolosa Winery – This place not only has Chardonnay to die for, but a spectacular view as well. A beautiful tasting room – cork floor, overlooking the tanks – is only the beginning. Try to get there when you can attend a special event in the Heritage Room. You won’t want to leave.
Claiborne and Churchill Vintners – Specializing in Alsatian varietals, C and C features Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris wines which are dry and delicious.
Chamisal Vineyards – 7525 Orcutt Road, San Luis Obispo
Baileyana/Tangent – 5828 Orcutt Road, San Luis Obispo
Tolosa Winery – 4910 Edna Road
Claiborne and Churchill Vintners – 2649 Carpenter Canyon Road, San Luis Obispo
One of my many Central Coast friends has alerted me to the opening of a new winery in Paso Robles. In an area so heavily populated by wineries, it may be tough for a newcomer to get noticed. I hope not, because it sounds like this winery could be something special.
Niner Wine Estates is scheduled to open Saturday May 1, 2010 in Paso’s westside wine community after ten years of preparation. Richard Niner has poured a decade of planning into this winery in hopes of pouring some great wine for you. May 1st will be his chance to do so, in the new facility’s Hospitality Center. The public is invited to stop in and have a complimentary tasting while getting a preview of the wine and food programs Niner Wine will be offering in the future.
Niner Wine Estates’ roster of award-winning wines has already grown to include winemaker Amanda Cramer’s Bordeaux, Rhone and Italian varietial wines, including their flagship Bordeaux blend, “Fog Catcher.”
The Hospitality Center – a rustic stone barn – houses the tasting room and a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen where they plan to offer culinary programs as early as the summer. They even have their own in-house wine education staff and plan to welcome visiting chefs from time to time.
The structure is designed to reflect and accentuate its natural surroundings. Big windows will offer a nice view of Heart Hill, a heart-shaped clump of oak trees, and Niner has made sure his is to be the first winery on the Central Coast to meet LEED certification standards through the U.S. Green Building Council, with final certification to be awarded in a matter of months.
The winery’s estate vineyards are Heart Hill Vineyard and Bootjack Ranch. Heart Hill Vineyard has already provided fruit for the 2009 vintage, while Bootjack Ranch supplies the balance of fruit for the Niner Wine Estates portfolio. It is located on the east side of Paso Robles.
To attend the Niner Wine Estates’ Grand Opening and have a complimentary tasting, visit the Hospitality Center located at 2400 Highway 46 West in Paso Robles, Saturday and Sunday May 1st and 2nd between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Regular business hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. seven days a week. The regular tasting fee for a sampling of 5 wines is $10.00 per person.
Wine country. Ahhh, the fresh air, the beautiful hills, the morning fog, the ocean breeze. Yes, wine country is sensory delight overload. So join me, won’t you, as we travel in the Now and Zin Grapemobile to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Hunh? Oh, you think the word “ghetto” doesn’t belong with the phrase “wine country,” right? Think again. And while you’re thinking, watch this video from the website InWineCountry.com.
The Lompoc Wine Ghetto makes up the large part of what is being billed as the Lompoc Wine Trail (hook up with their Facebook page). The Lompoc Valley is actually quite beautiful, and deserves to be known as “the Gateway to the Santa Rita Hills wine country.” The Lompoc Wine Ghetto, as the name suggests, is a more down and dirty version of wine country, an industrial park where a handful of winemakers take care of the business end of the beauty.
The Sobhani Industrial Park at 12th and Industrial Way is the heart of the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. It has been since the late 1990s. That’s when Rick Longoria (Longoria Wines) became the first winemaker to base his operations at the industrial park. It was simply more convenient for him to get his grapes from his vineyard to Lompoc rather than the long route of going around the mountains and back into the Santa Ynez Valley. Others followed his lead and, voila! Instant wine ghetto.
I’ve seen the LWG referred to as a “warehouse district,” but that’s really being kind. It’s a rambling, metal building, with no adornment visible unless the winery put it there. But the more than 20 wineries that inhabit the space didn’t come because it was pretty. They came because it was cheaper than using their expensive – and productive – vineyard land to house a winemaking facility. Some came because they didn’t have land at all, sourcing grapes from other growers. These small producers can make their wines in a less expensive way, and since when did saving money not sound good to a small business?
You might get the idea that grouping together a bunch of businesses that are in competition with one another would foster a bitter and backbiting atmosphere. That is not the case at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. These wineries actually work together. They share equipment, keep an eye out for each other and help their neighbors when called upon. The biggest benefit, from a winemaking viewpoint, is being close enough to a host of talented winemakers to be able to learn from their experience.
Peter Hunken, of Black Sheep Finds, Holus Bolus, Piedrasassi and formerly of Stolpman Vineyards says it’s great to have some like-minded company around. “Especially at harvest time, when you’re at the facility late at night or all night,” said Hunken. “It’s good to have some people doing the same thing. It’s nice to have someone to talk to.”
Hunken not only makes wine in Lompoc, he lives there, too. “Lompoc is more business-friendly than the unincorporated areas of the county where a lot of the winemakers live,” he said. If he had the choice of some nice vineyard land and Lompoc, which would win out? “Well, I’d love to have a vineyard, but the big, fancy winery isn’t a necessity for me. I’m happy making wine here, and I relate to the blue-collar atmosphere in Lompoc. Besides, I’m a surfer and I enjoy being this close to the ocean.”
The work environment is casual, to say the least. On my first visit, I stopped in at the Sea Smoke garage door to find the crew busily filling, corking and boxing wine bottles as fast as they could grab them off the conveyor belt. Pink Floyd was blaring away as that red wine was being put into cases.
Some of the LWG’s wine producers have moved west, if only a few blocks. The Central Avenue location Ampelos now occupies is in an area becoming known as the “Pinot Prison.” Brewer-Clifton, Clos Pepe and Dragonette Cellars have also moved west in the city.
Sea Smoke Cellars no longer makes wine in the LWG. Victor Gallegos says they now have their own “modest building behind the WalMart parking lot.”
Harrison-Clarke didn’t just go uptown, they now have their own winery in Ballard Canyon. They still sort and press grapes in Lompoc, though.
Presidio Winery has a tasting room in Solvang while Stolpman Vineyards pours in Los Olivos. Not all of these have full-time tasting rooms, so if you plan to visit a particular producer in Lompoc, a phone call or email ahead of time is a good idea.
The bad economy has many winemakers doing business a little differently in an effort to stay profitable, or perhaps, to stay in business.
Retail prices have dropped for some brands and tasting rooms have been hurried open to create new revenue streams. Now we hear that the very winemaking equipment is being used to get those dollars flowing.
Santa Barbara winemaker Joshua Klapper at La Fenetre Wines has instituted a program he’s calling “Adopt-A-Barrel.” Here’s how it works: Pony up $1000 – the cost of a new barrel – and you can personalize your barrel any way you’d like, get two cases of the wine you have adopted, an invitation to an “‘I Adopted A Barrel’ Dinner” during the 2010 harvest and a personalized “Thank You” message on the website. The “Thank You” will go directly on the wine’s label if you adopt all the barrels for a given wine.
Klapper unabashadly says that “the rising cost of barrels set against the cash crunch our economy is in has necessitated some kind of action.” Is it a dire situation? “Adopt a barrel or we start crushing for Gallo”? Klapper assures me the scenario is not that severe. This is a proactive measure designed to cover some production costs with a promotion which allows a nice spin to be placed upon it. It gives a more interactive feel to the tried-and-true “futures program” and, Klapper hopes, will bring in extra money during a time of year when many small wine producers find themselves stretched a bit thin.
The winemaker explains that he is only buying 20 new barrels for 2010, and encourages those who wish to take part to get in early for the best choice of varieties and vineyards. He is certainly lucky to be involved in a business which his customers find attractive in a participatory way. How many folks would want to “Adopt-A-Vat” for Budweiser, or “Adopt-A-Grinder” for Jimmy Dean Sausage? Not many, I’m guessing. But wine drinkers always seem to want to be in on the action.
Well, here’s your chance to have direct involvement with the winemaking process without even having to roll up your sleeves. Just get those check-writing fingers limbered up. If you’d like to find out more about Klapper’s offer, you can email him – josh@Lafenetrewines.com – or call him at 310-977-5615.
There are too few places like Paso Robles. The residents throw everything they have behind their wine industry and support it with gusto. One happy result of that attitude is, they can’t seem to stop having celebrations! On the horizon at the end of April comes one of the biggest of them, the Hospice du Rhône Celebration 2010.
This annual event – in its 18th year – celebrates the varieties of the Rhône Valley and those who make wines with these wonderful grapes. It begins with bowling and ends with a barbecue, and in between is the entire world of Rhône-style wine.
The festivities begin on Thursday April 29th and continue with barely a moment to catch your breath through Saturday May 1st. Paso Robles gears up for this event in a major way. There are many highlights on the event schedule, but the two major tasting events – Friday’s Rhône Rendezvous and Saturday’s Grand Tasting – are events they say you’d need a passport and a long vacation to duplicate on your own.
You can attend seminars, lunches and tastings with winemakers from all over the world who share a passion for the 22 Rhône grapes, from Bourboulenc to Viognier and Ugni Blanc to Mourvedre.
A weekend pass runs nearly $800, and you can select ala carte from the list of separate events, most for $100 per ticket. If you’re a fan of those Rhône grape varieties, it will be worth every penny.
Hospice du Rhône Celebration, 18th Annual
April 29, 2010 – May 1, 2010
Paso Robles, California
I love day tripping to the Temecula Valley for some wine tasting. It’s not too far from Los Angeles, the countryside is beautiful, the wine trails are really simple, the wines are often award-winning, and the quality is always high. If you’ve never been to Southern California’s wine country, early March brings about a great way to get an introduction.
The Temecula Valley Winegrowers Association has a world of wine to offer over their Barrel Tasting Weekend, March 6th and 7th. Their two-dozen-plus member wineries will swing open their cellar doors and invite you in to sample tank and barrel tastings of future vintages along with tastings of finished wine. The event is even catered. Each winery will have food selections specially paired with featured wines.
You can start almost immediately after exiting the 15 Freeway. Take Rancho California Road or the De Portola Trail to get started on your self-guided tour. At your first stop you’ll get a winery map with menu listings, a passport ticket and a souvenir logo glass. Take a few minutes to map out the wineries you want to visit – if you haven’t already done so – and get started. You may be surprised that you’ll find some new favorite wines as a result of your visit. I know I was. I found several new favorites at Hart Winery on my first visit. Also try to make it by South Coast Winery Resort and Spa. It is the jewel of the valley. It was the first Southern California Winery ever to win the coveted Golden Bear Award at the California State Fair as “Best Winery in California.” They followed up that success by winning the award again.
The World of Wine Barrel Tasting Weekend runs from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $89 per person. Sunday Only and Designated Driver tickets are available at a discount.
Zinfandel is considered by most to be the “national wine grape of California.” It was one of the first grapes planted by immigrant winemakers in the nineteenth century, and many Zinfandel vines from that era still exist today. “Old vine Zin” is, in fact, a phrase that is nothing short of beloved in certain wine circles. How fitting to have a celebration of that grape in one of the places where it grows best, Paso Robles.
The weekend of March 19 – 21 will offer Zin lovers the opportunity to wallow in it – an entire weekend devoted to the Zinfandel grape and the astounding wines that are produced from it. The Zin Tasting on Saturday will feature the Zinfandel and Zin blend wines of over 50 wineries from the Paso Robles area, along with cuisine from some of the area’s finest restaurants. The Wine Country Auction, according to the website, supports ” the vineyard worker population who play a major role in bringing the spirit of Zinfandel alive. A portion of the funds raised will be donated to health, education and greater community programs for the local vineyard workers and their families.”
One of the highlights of the annual event is the release of the Collaborative Zinfandel Blend. Each year a Zinfandel Festival Blend Master is selected, and it is that person’s responsibility to create a Zinfandel Blend from the finest Zins available in Paso. The 2010 Blend Master is Mike Giubbini of Rotta Winery. His special blend will be available for purchase at the Wine Country Auction, as will verticals from previous years.
Tickets to the Zin Tasting and Wine Country Auction are priced at $60 and $85. Individual winery events are separate.
The Central Coast AVA of Paso Robles offers warm days, cool nights and lots of hang time, elements crucial to the proper cultivation of Zinfandel. There’s plenty of exploring to be done over the course of this event, with over 180 wineries in the AVA from which to choose, so be sure to plan some time to visit a few great Paso Robles wineries.
If you think very much at all about the wine you drink, you no doubt make a lot of comparisons in your senses. “Has a greenish hue” or “smells like violets” or “tastes like wet rocks” probably come to mind occasionally. I love music, and I started thinking about what musical instruments I would match with the wines I taste.
A light and berry-flavored rosé might be well suited to the dancing notes of the piccolo. Champagne – and all the other sparklers – would have to be a glissando on the harp.
The full, rich notes of the cello is a natural for a creamy, buttery Chardonnay, while its stainless steel brethren says “violin” to me.
Sauvignon Blanc seems like a clarinet, the way Pete Fountain played it. I like the oboe for a rich and complex Pinot Noir, while Torrontes tastes like a flute to me – preferably the one heard in “The Girl From Ipanema.”
The trumpet would be a perfect match for a big, brassy Zinfandel. The refined French horn could represent a smokey and lush Merlot.
Big, bold sounds would have to signify big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon, so I’d match Cabs with the tympani and the bassoon together. Port strikes me as a tuba kind of wine, while the many facets of Rhone blends would glide easily from one to another on the slide of a trombone.
The next time you’re tasting a wine you like, think about what sounds the wine conjures up, and make your own kind of music. Please feel free to comment here with any discoveries or revelations that surface. Now, I think I’ll open a nice Sonoma County trumpet.
Wine festivals are so much fun all on their own. But it’s great when the tasting and sampling is done for a good cause. The 17th edition of the Casa Pacifica Angels Wine and Food Festival is coming up Sunday June 6, 2010 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.
This charitable wine and food event was voted the number one cultural event in Ventura County for two years running. The wine of California and the cuisine of an area stretching from Santa Barbara to the Conejo Valley will be spotlighted. Over 100 wineries and breweries will be on hand, as will a host of restaurants, caterers and bakeries.
Here are the particulars:
June 6, 2010 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.
California State University Channel Islands
1 University Drive
Camarillo, California 93012
Cost: Tickets are available online @ $75 each until April 15th, $90 until June 5th and $100 at the door. VIP tickets are available for $200 each and include perks like valet parking and a special lounge.
Proceeds from the festival benefit Casa Pacifica, the Camarillo-based crisis-care and residential treatment center for children. Casa Pacifica has been serving their community since 1994, and some 430 children and their families are helped every day by this organization’s programs. Please visit Casa Pacifica to find out more about them and the good work they do.