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!


Unknown said...

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