Saturday, June 15, 2013

Refugio Ranch: Rustic Life, Elegant Wines in the Santa Ynez Valley

Refugio Ranch, Santa Ynez Valley

Nestled between the Santa Ynez River and the Santa Ynez Mountains lies Refugio Ranch - a four hundred and fifteen acre estate surrounded by some of the most spectacular landscapes in Santa Barbara County Wine Country.

On a perfectly clear spring morning, Central Coast Uncorked was treated to an amazing vineyard tour and wine tasting hosted by owners Kevin and Niki Gleason. Atop an oak shaded perch overlooking the entire estate and the Santa Ynez Valley, we tasted the full selection of estate wines offered by Refugio Ranch.

Refugio Ranch Vineyards was planted in 2006 to 26 acres and 9 varietals. Varietals include Malvasia Bianca, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Roussanne, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, Syrah and Viognier. Each wine label features a silhouette of a member of the Gleason family.

Winemaker Ryan Deovlet brings his winemaking expertise to Refugio Ranch crafting estate wines from this rustic location in the Santa Ynez Valley. Deovlet is a talented winemaker who carefully oversees every step of the winegrowing and winemaking process with minimal intervention.

With glass in hand, we joined the Gleasons on their four-wheel drive utility vehicle for an afternoon vineyard tour. During our jaunt through the vineyards and along the Santa Ynez River, we savored the wine and views, including a glass of 2009 Barbareño and 2012 Agua de Dulce de Refugio. The estate is anchored by a live-in barn where the Gleasons can enjoy an afternoon entertaining or relaxing with family and friends.

The Refugio Ranch tasting room is located at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Highway 154 in Downtown Los Olivos. You can enjoy their selection of wines at the tasting bar or grab a seat outside. Inside, a pair of sliding doors opens into private room with a full-service kitchen for special events. No detail was overlooked in designing the tasting room

As you will soon discover, Refugio Ranch is emblematic of the enduring rustic lifestyle and emerging wine culture of Santa Barbara County.

Refugio Ranch
2990 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos (intersection of Highway 154)
Phone: (805) 688-5400
Hours: Thursday (11:00 am - 5:00 pm), Friday-Saturday (11:00 am - 6:00 pm) and Sunday-Monday (11:00 am - 5:00 pm)
Facebook: Refugio Ranch
Twitter: @RefugioRanch

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Discovering "The Fire Within" at Wine & Fire in the Sta. Rita Hills

Mile Marker 7.28 at Fiddlestix Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills

On a warm August morning, a sold out crowd descended on Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills for the Wine and Fire Symposium hosted by the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance. "The Fire Within" seminar featured two panels of winemakers dedicated to producing superbly crafted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from this highly-acclaimed wine growing and producing region in Santa Barbara County.

The symposium was moderated by Josh Raynolds of Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar, who did a fabulous job of highlighting the expressive wines of this region and leading a great discussion and Q&A among the winemakers about their winemaking practices, clonal diversity, the "low alcohol movement," and the advantages of using cork and screwcap enclosures, among other topics.

(From L-R) Josh Raynolds, Nikki Nelson, Dan Kessler, Karen Steinwachs, Wes Hagen
From (L-R) Frank Ostini, Deborah Hall, Peter Cargasacchi

While the panel debated or opined on different topics, the seminar attendees blindly tasted through the selection of wines, making note of the qualities of each wine and guessing which wine matched the winemaker's bottling.  Even the winemakers were asked to describe the qualities of each wine and guess which wine was their own.  Despite the heat, all the attendees enjoyed the seminar, tasting and luncheon, as well as the vineyard tour led by Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe.

(From L-R) Dan Kessler, Nikki Nelson, Jeff Nelson, Brandon Sparks-Gillis
Wes Hagen leading a discussion about viticulture and the Sta. Rita Hills

The Chardonnay Panel featured the following wines and winemakers:

The Pinot Noir Panel featured the following wines and winemakers:

As the sun began to set in the late afternoon, hundreds of oenophiles gathered at La Purisima Mission in Lompoc for the Grand Tasting event. Wineries and food purveyors lined the walkways in the shaded gardens, while winemakers poured a selection of their award-winning Sta. Rita Hills wines.  At this historic site, the pioneer winemakers of the Sta. Rita Hills, such as Richard Sanford and Ken Brown, stood side-by-side with the rising stars of the region, including Dan Kessler (Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Winery), Jeff and Nikki Nelson (Liquid Farm), Brandon Sparks-Gillis (Dragonette Cellars) and Ryan Zotovich (Zotovich Cellars).

Ken Brown, Ken Brown Wines
Richard Sanford, Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards

The expressions of the Sta. Rita Hills intensified with every sip of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or other cool climate varietal wine.  The profile of each wine offered a great representation of the salinity, minerality and crispness of Chardonnay; the earthy and vibrant berry expressions of Pinot Noir; and the pepper and spice of cool climate Syrah.  The Grand Tasting helped shine the spotlight on nearly 50 wineries and vineyards and dozens of talented winemakers in the Sta. Rita Hills, as well as the importance of the wine industry to the local and regional economy.

Congratulations to Executive Director Barbara Satterfield and the entire membership of the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance for hosting the annual celebration of the Sta. Rita Hills!  It was a wonderful success and a pleasure to participate in this year's Wine and Fire Symposium and Grand Tasting.  See you next year on August 17th for more Wine & Fire!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kessler-Haak Vineyard and Wines, Sta. Rita Hills

If life is about the journey, then Dan and Ellen Kessler picked the right road for this chapter in their lives and the path forward looks very promising.  The journey has led them to purchasing prime real estate in the Sta. Rita Hills surrounded by the most acclaimed vineyards in Santa Barbara County and in one of the most picturesque settings anywhere in California.

Kessler-Haak Vineyard is located on Highway 246 in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills - the Shangri-La of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines.  K-H counts Clos Pepe, Hilliard Bruce, Huber and Gypsy Canyon as neighbors. Planted in 2005, the 30-acre vineyard features sandy loam soils planted to seven Pinot Noir clones and three Chardonnay clones.

Central Coast Uncorked joined Santa Barbara Wine Talk (Phil Carpenter) on a perfect summer afternoon for a vineyard tour and tasting with owner/winemaker Dan Kessler.  If anyone makes you feel at home and a part of the family, it's Dan and Ellen Kessler.  After our vineyard tour, we were greeted in the backyard patio with a selection of cheese, salumi and fruit, as well as Kessler-Haak's estate wines.

Kessler-Haak Vineyard and Wines sources Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes to local producers including Liquid FarmDragonette CellarsCarr Winery, and Samsara, among others.  But when you have premium grapes, you might as well make premium wine.  K-H is producing an estate Chardonnay, two estate Pinot Noir wines, Rose of Pinot Noir, Syrah from Turner Vineyard, and a dry Riesling from Lafond Vineyard.

Due to limited production and distribution, Kessler-Haak wines are available at select stores and wine bars in Santa Barbara County and online.  With the increasing acclaim of their wines and that of the producers who source their grapes, Kessler-Haak Vineyard and Wines is sure to be a sought-after label from the Sta. Rita Hills.

Kessler-Haak Vineyard and Wines
1700 Gypsy Canyon Drive, Lompoc
(805) 735-2283
By appointment only, Monday-Saturday
Facebook: Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Wines
Twitter: @KHVines

Chardonnay & Pinot Noir Blocks, Kessler-Haak Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
Kessler-Haak Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills
Kessler-Haak Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fog Crest Vineyard: Russian River Valley's Hidden Gem

It's not in the glossy brochures and maps, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lovers have reasons to put Fog Crest Vineyard on the proverbial map as a destination for premier Russian River Valley wines.  Fog Crest Vineyard, located in the heart of the Russian River Valley, spans south/east along a sandstone ridge above the Santa Rosa Plain planted to Dijon clones of Chardonnay and heritage clones of Pinot Noir.

Fog Crest Vineyard is located on Occidental Road, east of Gravenstein Highway (State Route 116) in Sebastopol.  A narrow road winds its way from the busy two-lane road through the estate vineyard to the winery and tasting room set on a slopping hilltop with spectacular views of the Russian River Valley.

James and Rosalind Manoogian purchased their 30-acre property on Occidental Road in 1998 with the intention of producing estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines crafted in the "Old World" style and showcasing the incredible terroir.  Under the direction of consulting winemaker David Ramey and winemaker Daniel Moore, the Manoogian's have received widespread acclaim for their Laguna West and Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines.  These superbly crafted wines are a great representation of Burgundian styles and techniques, yet identifiable as a characteristic and elegant Russian River Valley wine.

Fog Crest Vineyard is also completing construction of a new tasting room with sweeping vistas of the estate vineyard and the Russian River Valley.  Once completed, the tasting room will offer visitors a premier location to enjoy Fog Crest wines.  It's all a work in progress; so, the more you buy, the quicker it gets built.

Be sure to visit Fog Crest Vineyard on your next wine country vacation to Sonoma County's Russian River Valley!  These wines are sure to please any palate and compliment your favorite food pairing.

Fog Crest Vineyard
7602 Occidental Road, Sebastopol
(800) 931-2906
Open by appointment only
Facebook: Fog Crest Vineyard
Twitter: @fogcrest

Fog Crest Vineyard Winery Road
Fog Crest Vineyard & Winery, Russian River Valley
Laguna West and Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Wines

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Savor the grapes of Wrath

"...and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath.  In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage." (Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck)

John Steinbeck's iconic novel of the Joad family's migration west to California depicts the plight of poor Americans during the Great Depression and the ensuing economic and social hardship that trapped millions of people throughout the country.  It's also an appropriate quote to highlight the plight of wine drinkers from monolithic wines to truly hand-crafted wines that represent the best of the terroir, varietal and vintage.

On June 3, 2012, the Rhône Rangers provided the backdrop for my wine epiphany and introduction to Wrath Wines of Monterey County.  The Rhône Rangers Los Angeles Tasting Event featured dozens of wineries from all across California.  It was easy to overlook the table near the entrance to the event at the historic Vibiana when there were some many other familiar wineries in the room.  However, there was a buzz among some of the trade that a winery with a fierce name and edgy label was pouring some of the best Syrah wines at the event.

The epiphany occurred after just one sip.  If there weren't ABC rules prohibiting more than one ounce from being poured in a glass at one time, I would bogart every bottle of wine until my desire for more is satisfied, at which point you might want to call an ambulance.  After experiencing Wrath's Syrah wines, I decided to plan a visit to the winery following my trip to Sonoma County.  I could not delay another week or month the opportunity to experience Wrath Wines.

On a late summer afternoon, I traveled south on River Road and veered right onto Foothill Road to the winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands.  Wrath Wines and the SIP-certified San Saba Vineyard is set on a nook below the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA overlooking the Salinas Valley. For a course refresher (including this wine blogger), the Santa Lucia Highlands is situated along the Santa Lucia Range above the Salinas Valley and across from the Gabilan Range to the east. This cooler climate growing region benefits from its close proximity to the cold waters of Monterey Bay. On the westside of the property sits a late 19th century home moved from Salinas to the vineyard in Soledad.  This bare structure, which is the perfect setting for a horror novel or a Halloween party, is the backdrop for Wrath Wines' label (see picture above and below).

The color version of the Wrath Wines label
San Saba Vineyard

The formal tasting room is spacious and entertaining with large windows and doors that afford spectacular views of the estate San Saba Vineyard.  Outside lies a patio that wraps around the tasting room and overlooks the irrigation pond.  If you were looking for a solitary location to entertain friends and family with superbly crafted wines, then you found the right place.  There isn't much around here, but within the confines of the property, your desire for solitude is complimented with a glass of great wine and scenic views of the agricultural epicenter of California's Central Coast.

Wrath Wines Tasting Room
Wrath Wines Tasting Room

The daring name of Wrath Wines reveals an attitude, passion and inherent respect for producing authentic wine specific to the terroir.  Wrath produces over a dozen clone-specific, estate sourced and/or single-vineyard wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. The quality and craftsmanship of their wines borders on perfection, at least for my palate. When you drink Wrath Wines, you think of the following words: aromatic, complex, layered, opulent, structured and well-integrated.  For the most recent vintage, my favorites include the McIntyre Vineyard Chardonnay, Ex Vite Pinot Noir, Doctor's Vineyard Syrah and Moscato.

Wrath's Single Vineyard Pinot Noir & Syrah Wines

There is no hype about Wrath Wines' growing acclaim.  There is a new mecca for great wine in California's Central Coast and its called Wrath Wines.  Savor the grapes of Wrath...

Wrath Wines
35801 Foothill Road, Soledad
(831) 678-2212
Open Fri-Mon, 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Facebook: Wrath Wines
Twitter: @WrathWines

Carmel Tasting Room
Ocean Ave. and Mission St., Carmel (located on ground floor)
Open Mon-Sat, 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. and Sun 11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
(831) 620-1909