Monday, April 19, 2010

Raising a Glass at the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival 2010

For three hours on Saturday, April 17, throngs of wine enthusiasts descended on River Park in Lompoc for the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival 2010.  Marking its 28th anniversary, the Festival welcomed visitors from across the Central Coast, California and the United States to experience the decadent wines of Santa Barbara County.  By all accounts, this year's Festival was attended by fewer people, yet the crowd was no less enthusiastic to taste wines and meet the winemakers or the attractive blonds or brunettes hired by wineries to pour wines (Wine Marketing 101).

All the members of the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association were represented at the annual Festival, including approximately 112 wineries and 32 food vendors.  While throwing your glass between two warm bodies to the get the attention of those pouring wines seems like a worthwhile adventure, I decided to join my good friend and Santa Barbara County/Rhône wine promoter, Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines in helping fill the glasses of hundreds of wine enthusiasts.  Sure, I was tempted to sneak away for a taste at Margerum or Jaffurs, but the booth was packed with eager wine tasters and someone needed to help quench their thirst with the Tercero Wines '07 Cuvee Christie and the '09 Outlier.  If you are acquainted with Tercero Wines, you will not be surprised with the aromatics, complexity and texture of the 2007 and 2009 vintages.  Much to my surprise, people were gravitating to the '07 Petite Sirah and '07 Thompson Syrah.  I am glad there are people out there that share my palate for bold, elegant, jammy, and meaty red wines.

There's nothing like watching Larry Schaffer talk about wine.  His enthusiasm for his wines and Santa Barbara County is contagious. What set Tercero's booth apart from other wineries was the addition of the newly released iPad.  Everyone came by the booth to check out the iPad, and they were more than eager to add their names to the Tercero Wines email list.  It was a clever marketing tool and surely one that will help him and other wineries expand their reach into the crowded wine market.  You have to set yourself apart at these events, otherwise you're just another winery with a pretty label.

Not surprisingly, some folks came to the booth saying, "oh, I am not fan of that type of wine."  Sure enough, there were hooked after a pour.  Tastings like these are meant to expose you to new wines and winemaking styles, so take the chance of trying something that goes against your own palate and prejudices.

Hopefully the Vintners' Association will move the event to the Santa Ynez Valley next year rather than have people trek all the way to Lompoc.  I know the folks in the Sta. Rita Hills would disagree, but it's good to shake things up a bit.  Up next for the Vintners' Association: Santa Barbara County "Celebration of Harvest" on October 9, 2010 from 1-4 p.m. at Rancho Sisquoc Winery in the Santa Maria Valley.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ojai Vineyard 2004 White Hawk Syrah (Santa Barbara County)

Background: Honestly, you can't go wrong with Ojai Vineyard.  There's a wine for every palate among the dozen or more wines produced each year (6,000 cases) by owner/winemaker Adam Tolmach.  Ojai Vineyard sources fruit from the finest Central Coast vineyards (Fe Ciega, Bien Nacido, Thompson, Melville, Clos Pepe, Solomon Hills).  Ojai produces Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Syrah, as well as Red and White blends from barrels that did not make the selection for the single vineyard bottlings.

Stats: Syrah grapes sourced from White Hawk Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.  14.5% alcohol by volume.  Retails for $47, purchased for $26.99 at the Woodland Hills Wine Company.  93 points Wine Enthusiast, 92 points Robert Parker, 92 points Wine Spectator, and 91 points Josh Reynolds (IWC).

Tasting Notes: Dark, elegant, muscular and dense.  A bouquet of blackberry, minerals and jalapeño aromas tingle the nose, while blackberry, dark chocolate and black pepper coax the mid-palate, finishing with a lingering dark fruit finish.  It starts with a bang and ends with an elegant boom.  

The Ojai Vineyard 2004 White Hawk Syrah strikes me as a wine that required very little coaxing in the barrel or bottle.  It seems to have developed its own split personality - monstrous and well-balanced.  Don't get me wrong; this is not a big, bold tannin bomb of a wine.  As far as I'm concerned, this wine offers an abundance of elegance, depth and balance, while leaving a statement. Don't worry; I bought a second bottle of the Ojai Vineyard 2004 White Hawk Syrah.  

P.O. Box 952, Oak View, CA 93022
(805) 649-1674
No tours or tasting room

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Welcome to the Neighborhood, Municipal Winemakers

Ladies and gentlemen, help me welcome the newest tasting room to the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, Municipal Winemakers.  Tucked behind the Kunin/Westerly tasting room on Anacapa Street a block away from the beach, you wouldn't know a new winery set up shop except for the signs out front.  You can easily second guess whether you are walking down the right path to the tasting room, but stay on the gravel driveway for a few yards, and step inside the modest tasting room to enjoy some creative wine blends.  As soon as you enter, you'll be greeted by the tasting room staff or Owner/Winemaker, Dave Potter.  While not tending to his own wine label, Dave makes up the dynamic winemaking team at Fess Parker Winery (Blair Fox and Larry Schaffer).  Can I join the team?  It seems that everyone at Fess Parker has their own successful label.  I want in!

Municipal Winemakers produces approximately 500 cases of wine and sources its fruit from a variety of vineyards in Santa Barbara County, including Tierra Alta, Camp Four, and Dierberg.  The collection of wines offer youthful, fruit-forward expressions, but there are not overly complex.  You buy these wines to enjoy; not to store in the cellar for many years wondering to yourself, "is it time to open?"  MWs winemaking philosophy (authentic, creative and independent) demonstrates these qualities, and future vintages will undoubtedly evolve into wines with these pure aromatic and tasteful characteristics.  I was impressed with the 2009 Pale Pink Rose (unique blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Counoise) and the 2008 Syrah (smoky, black fruit, smooth texture, and fine tannins; well-rounded in the mid-palate).

Wine Tasting List
2009 Bright White Riesling ($18)
2009 Pale Pink Rose ($18)
2008 Bright Red ($22)
2008 Syrah ($25)
2007 Dark Red ($25)

You might also be interested in these wines, which are available for purchase in the tasting room: 2007 Fizz Sparkling Shiraz ($34), 2008 Grenache ($25), 2007 Cinsault ($25), 2007 Best Barrel Cab ($40) and Thread ($45) - best barrels from winemakers Dave Potter, Blair Fox, Larry Schaffer and Mikael Sigouin.

28 Anacapa Street, Suite D, Santa Barbara
(805) 931-MUNI (6864)
Open Sat & Sun, 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. ($10)
Twitter: @muniwine