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I love events like the Chardonnay Symposium and Vintners’ Festival.  Sadly, a small (but active and organized) group of valley residents called the Valley Alliance wants to stop events like these from happening.  This post is a bit out of the ordinary, but please bear with me as I explain how the wonderful wine country culture of Santa Barbara county is being threatened and what you can do to protect it – sign the Winery Petition!

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is conducting a review of the 2004 Winery Ordinance. This review is being pushed by the Valley Alliance. The Valley Alliance wants to restrict winery operations. In their newsletter, the Valley Alliance listed some of their  proposals to restrict winery operations:

“ The number of allowed charitable events must be capped”
“Food service … finger food… permitted…a ‘meal’ would not be permissible”
“ No parties for profit allowed, period.”

To support their position the Valley Alliance has a petition signed by 300 Santa Barbara county Residents- mostly from the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley.  We believe the Valley Alliance is a vocal minority and their extreme views are out of the  mainstream. However, unless the silent majority expresses itself the only position the County Board of supervisors will hear is the Valley Alliance’s extreme views.

If you agree with me, PLEASE download and sign the Winery Petition and email it or fax it or mail it to Steve Pepe (contact info is on the footer of the petition). If you are so inclined, please ask  your friends and family to sign the petition as well.  Thank you!

Chardonnay Symposium 2012Time to mark your calendar (and get discounted early bird ticket pricing) so you don’t miss out on the 2012 Chardonnay Symposium.  Last year’s Chardonnay Symposium was fabulous – and I am certain that this year’s will be even better.  The Chardonnay Symposium is the only Chardonnay-centric event of its kind in the United States with more than 50 Chardonnay producers from around the world, celebrity chef demonstrations, special food pairings and an educational panel session moderated by celebrated wine writer and West Coast Editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine Steve Heimoff.   The Grand Chardonnay Tasting on June 30th takes place at Byron Vineyard and Winery.  You can purchase tickets for the “Full Day Educational Experience” (which includes the Grand Chardonnay Tasting) or just the “Grand Chardonnay Tasting”.  Details and ticket info below:


Full Day Educational Experience
Saturday June 10th 10am-4pm
Beginning at 10am with a morning educational session at Byron Vineyard and Winery featuring a distinguished panel of celebrity and winemaker experts, headed by Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff.   The panel will explore important Chardonnay-specific topics from farming to cutting-edge winemaking practices.  The relaxed environment will provide an ideal time to sip wine and delve into the nuances of Chardonnay with some of the wine industry’s most respected experts.  Full day tickets include the morning panel discussion, early admission to the Grand Chardonnay Tasting at 11:30am, a Riedel wine glass and transportation from the Radisson Santa Maria Hotel.  $95  Click here to purchase tickets.

Grand Chardonnay Tasting
Saturday June 30th 12pm-4pm
The Grand Chardonnay Tasting takes place from noon-4pm at Byron Vineyard and Winery’s beautiful facility located in the heart of the Santa Maria Valley.  This expanded tasting will afford guests the opportunity to sample Chardonnay from more than 50 wineries and pair them with gourmet foods provided by local restaurants and caterers.  Meet celebrity chefs who’ll be on hand to demonstrate Chardonnay food pairing secrets.  $45 through April 30th, $55 through June 29th or $65 June 30th.  Click here to purchase tickets. 


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photo courtesy of

I am a glass half-full (of wine) person.  I count my blessings and don’t take good fortune for granted.  So, I was thrilled when the opportunity presented itself to take part in a private wine industry tasting at Clos Pepe led by winemaker Wes Hagen.  Hagen is one half of the award-winning winemaking team (which is completed by his wife Chanda) at family-owned boutique winery Clos Pepe.  They also produce beautiful wines under their Axis Mundi label.  The picturesque estate is located behind a gate off of Highway 246 in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

Our group of wine industry friends from Sanguis, Bin 2860 and Bottle Branding (many thanks to the folks at Bottle Branding for allowing me use some of your photos for this post) met on a chilly morning in February near the edge of a block of Pinot Noir where Hagen gave us some background on Clos Pepe.    It is a 40 acre sized property planted with 29 acres of grapevines.  25 are planted with Pinot Noir and 4 with Chardonnay.  It produces about 900 cases of wine annually (800 Pinot Noir and 100 Chardonnay) and sells grapes to other wineries including  Longoria, Brewer Clifton, Ken Brown Wines, Ojai Vineyard, Siduri, Babcock, Arcadian, Loring Wine Company and Testarossa.  It also has 650 olive trees. The vineyard was planted in three phases in 1996, 1998 and 2005.   85% of the vineyard is organically farmed, which in case you were wondering, costs about three times as much as conventional farming.  The vineyard’s dirt is primarily sandy loam.  Historically speaking, the site where the vineyard is located was seafloor in the Miocene epoch, some 23,000,000 to 5,000,000 years ago.  Hagen picked up some dirt and exposed some diatomaceous earth

Clos Pepe's diatomaceous earth

diatomaceous earth - photo courtesy of

(i.e. fossilized remains of diatoms, or a particularly inspired Scrabble play off of the root word “diatom”) in order to illustrate this point.

Later on in our tour, Hagen pointed to a bunch of short, ottoman-sized critters in section of the vineyard.  This was the official weed management crew at Clos Pepe – a flock of miniature sheep, Southdown Babydoll sheep to be exact.  Hagen, who is an avid golfer, shared some trivia that the official grass height for golf greens is defined by the amount of grass left by the sheep who munched away at St. Andrews (the world renowned course in Scotland).   Who knew that the original golf course community was inhabited by four-footed creatures covered in wool?   Hagen, naturally.  I have yet to find a subject that Hagen cannot discuss from a knowledgeable perspective; clearly he is an information junkie.  I picture him awake in the quiet of night,  reading, thinking and writing, bathed in the pale blue light of his laptop…or perhaps playing Xbox.  I am certain the truth lay somewhere between the two.  But, as usual, I digress.  This comes as no surprise to our loyal Wine Nation Underdog readers.

The Vino Amigos

photo courtesy of

After the walking tour of the vineyard, Hagen led our group of wine aficionados up to the estate house to taste some of the fruits of his labor.  Though it was only 11am, we reassured ourselves that it was indeed, five o’clock somewhere.  Hagen informed us that the wine lineup for today was ordered by richness and paired with some positively decadent cheeses and Clos Pepe estate olive oil.  Did someone say “Breakfast of Champions”?  I was scribbling notes as fast as I could…here is the recap:

2009 Clos Pepe Brut Rosé – made from Clos Pepe estate grown Pinot Noir grown in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, only slightly pink in color, tiny bit cloudy from lees, crisp acidity, dry and perfectly delicious.  This bottle is *the* perfect way to start a meal.  Though this sparkler is worthy of a special occasion, I’d pop one on any day that ends in “y”.  We all have so much to be thankful for – why not celebrate just for the heck of it?

Homage to Chablis

Clos Pepe Chardonnay

2009 Clos Pepe Chardonnay “HtC – Homage to Chablis” – Chardonnay made in the style of Chablis, with Clos Pepe estate grown fruit in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, this wine spent 11 months in 55 gallon stainless steel casks, 90 cases produced, aromas of kaffir lime and white grapefruit.  This wine tasted unlike any California Chardonnay I’ve ever had – spare and elegant with more weight on the mid-palate than I expected, backed up with enticing minerality and acidity.  This California Chardonnay speaks with a French accent, bien sûr, and I really, really like what it has to say.

2009 Clos Pepe Chardonnay – Barrel fermented, 420 cases produced, Clos Pepe estate grown fruit in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, spent 11 months sur lie in neutral French oak barrels, lees stirred (bâtonnage en Francais), lovely creaminess in the mouth, Asian pear and green apple aromas, beautiful minerality and acidity.

2010 Axis Mundi Syrah (67% Grenache, 33% Syrah) – Based on the blend percentages, one would think this should be labeled a Grenache not Syrah…but perhaps this was a veiled test from Hagen to see who was reading the label with a keen eye?  2010 was a very cool year, the juice spent 10 days on skins, no enzymes added, nose of cranberry and pomegranate, 100% neutral French oak, 11 months in barrel. Hagen calls this a “session wine”, meaning it is meant to be drunk and enjoyed, but not discussed.  We discussed it anyway…what a bunch of rebels we are, rebels with corkscrews.  And speaking of sessions, this fab old (circa 1978) dub track from Burning Spear might be the perfect soundtrack for this wine.  Wine goes quite wonderfully with dub, you know?  Meanwhile, moving along to Pinot Noir.

2008 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir – Sta. Rita Hills AVA, the vineyard was hit by frost three times in ’08 so the yield was very small (only about 25% of the normal yield), fruit didn’t come until late April so roughly 6 weeks of fruit hangtime was lost,  nose of black cherry and baking spices, good minerality, 221 cases produced.

2009 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir – Sta. Rita Hills AVA, 72 cases produced, long cool growing season, nose and flavors of bright red fruits with hints of clove.  Hagen called 2009 a “winemaker-friendly” vintage – as the weather was mild and presented no real challenges.  This wine will age beautifully and will gain complexity doing so, but carpe diem people can happily drink this now.

2010 Clos Pepe Pinot Noir – Sta. Rita Hills AVA, 2010 season was cool until October when there was a heat spike.   Beautiful almost heady aromatics with a satisfying mouth.  775 cases produced.  Hagen says this vintage is “slutty” but I think it is a Clos Pepe wine that “goes to eleven”, which is a very good thing.

2008 Axis Mundi Syrah – 100% Syrah, fruit from Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia (pronounced Loo-see-ah) Highlands, 300 cases produced, nose of bright berry fruit and spice with a pleasing hint of Syrah-funk and olives.  Superb food wine as it won’t take over your meal. Perfect to pair with garlic and rosemary roasted leg of lamb.  Mmmmm!

Vines at Clos Pepe

Vines at Clos Pepe

Though Clos Pepe doesn’t have an official tasting room open to the public, but those who appreciate handcrafted wine with elegance, grace and balance can purchase from the online store here.  You can also fine Clos Pepe wine in a number of restaurants and markets in California including:  Bouchon, American Flatbread, Los Olivos Cafe and Wine Merchant, Wally’s Wines, Bistro 45, Wade’s Wines, MistralAmazing Grapes, and The Plumed Horse.


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Bob Lindquist and Jason

Bob Lindquist and Jason

As regular readers of Wine Nation Underdog know, my husband and I have been preparing to make wine, so we’ve been eagerly awaiting the day our grapes are harvested.  Back near the end of September we toured the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard.   We tasted Syrah grapes from all over the vineyard and tried to decide which blocks’ fruit we wanted in our order.  Since this was our first time actually choosing and purchasing grapes, we were thrilled to have renowned winemaker Bob Lindquist there to offer his guidance.

Bob Lindquist sampling Syrah grapes

Bob Lindquist sampling Syrah grapes

As we walked through the vineyard, we tasted Syrah clones including Estrella, 174, 383, 877 and UCD-01 from various blocks.  It was amazing to me that there were such distinct taste differences between the clones.  The Estrella had hints of coffee and black pepper.  The 174 had notes of black plum and dark berries.  After sampling many grapes, we decided that our order would be made up of three clones:  Estrella, 174 and UCD-01.    No one is sure when the grapes will be ready to pick, so I try (and fail) at being patient.  Weeks pass …

freshly picked Syrah fruit from Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard

Our freshly picked Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Syrah

I’ve noticed that all plans during harvest seem to change dramatically.  We had everything all lined up for our Côte Rôtie inspired red wine.  We thought that the Syrah fruit was going to be picked the week before, but it wasn’t quite ripe enough, so we postponed for another week.   We’d also made arrangements to pick up Viognier skins and stems from Peter Work of Ampelos (thank you Peter) last week.  Since we changed the pick date, the plan had to change again.  Thankfully, Peter had more Viognier from Wezlau (formerly named Vigna Cesarina – located between Seasmoke and Mount Carmel vineyards) coming in the following Monday which coincided with our pick date.

grape pickers Picking day finally arrives and the alarm goes off at 5:00am.  It is still dark, and Jason and I are groggy but we grab a quick breakfast and head over to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto to borrow the Jalama Wines truck (thank you Mark Cargasacchi!) so that we can go pick up our freshly picked Syrah grapes at Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard.   The sun comes up as we drive towards San Luis Obispo.   We arrive at 7am and find out from  Bob Lindquist that the pickers are working on our order (which included three different clones from three different blocks:  Estrella from block 4, UCD-01 from block 3 and 174 from block 1 ), so the bins aren’t quite ready yet.   High quality wine grapes are harvested by hand.  When the grapes are picked they are placed into bins that are lugged by hand getting heavier and heavier with each added cluster.  Pickers work in the early morning hours when it is cold and damp and often fend off yellowjackets and bees.  They work incredibly hard!   Many thanks to the crew who picked our fruit!

grapes getting weighed

weighing the grapes

Once our order is completely picked, it gets weighed and then loaded by forklift onto the truck.  Though we only planned to get a half a ton (1000 pounds) we ended up with 1401 pounds.    Even now, after the grapes are picked, the plan keeps changing!  We have one barrel set aside for the Syrah, so we’ll need to figure out what to do with the juice from the additional 401 pounds of Syrah.  The plan keeps changing!  We arrive at Jalama Wines and Mark unloads the grapes by forklift.  We have plans to have the grapes destemmed at 10:00am…but the schedule for the destemmer changes (of course) so we end up waiting a few hours so we hang around Jalama Wines and try to make ourselves useful.  Once we get the fruit destemmed (thank you Doug!) we take a sample bottle of the juice to take to the lab for analysis.  We also check the brix using a hydrometer.  Next we make a few additions:  SO2 to prevent spoilage, Opti-Red (an inactivated dry yeast that improves color and adds body and mouthfeel) and Lafase He Grand Cru (an enzyme preparation that increases the extraction of stable phenolic compounds).   We are hoping that the grapes and the winery have enough wild yeast in order to have a native fermentation take place.  If that doesn’t happen, we’ll go ahead and inoculate the grape must with yeast..but I’m really hoping we don’t have to do that.

After the enzymes are added

Mixing the additions into the destemmed fruit

Since we ended up with extra Syrah fruit, we’ve decided to drain off some of the juice in order to make a rosé.   I pop over to Home Depot to buy some plastic carboys to hold the juice for a short time until we figure out a long term plan for the rosé .   After we drain some of the juice (this process is called saignée in France) into the carboys we jump back into the truck and head over to Ampelos to pick up Viognier skins and stems that we’re going to add to our destemmed Syrah for the cold soak.   We arrive and Peter and his guys are working but the Viognier isn’t ready yet.  So, we head back over to Jalama, pick up our wine sample and head to Santa Maria to drop it off at Vinquery.  We also take the bins with us and drop these off at Qupé / Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Maria.  We also stop at a welding supply store to pick up dry ice which we’ll add to the destemmed fruit in order to bring down the temperature and prolong the cold soak which we hope will yield deeper color and more aromatics.

punching down the dry ice

punching down the dry ice

Next, we head back over to Ampelos where they are done pressing the Viognier, so we pick up the skins and stems.  Once we reach Jalama (who knew winemaking involved so much driving?) we add the skins and stems to our bin of destemmed Syrah.  Jason adds 100 pounds of dry ice to the grapes which makes the whole bin look like some strange witch’s brew.  We’ll be back tomorrow to do punchdowns in the morning, afternoon and the evening.  Even though fermentation hasn’t even started, I am already anxious to taste the finishes wine…which won’t be for at least two years…perhaps I will learn patience from winemaking?


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one truck, two barrelsAt the tail end of August, Jason (my intrepid partner in winemaking and life) and I left sunny Santa Barbara county and drove up to Northern California (St. Helena to be exact) in order to pick up a few slightly used French oak barrels.   [NOTE:  We are making a barrel of Syrah this year with biodynamically-grown fruit from the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in the Edna Valley AVA in San Luis Obispo.  We are also hoping to acquire some Petite Sirah from a vineyard that shall remain secret for now, however due to this year's low yields we may not be so fortunate.  We will know in a few weeks...cross your fingers.]  It seemed a bit odd to me that we needed to drive hours and hours to locate good, clean, slightly used French oak barrels, but it turns out that here in Santa Barbara county, winemakers tend to use their barrels year after year whereas in the Napa/Sonoma area the barrels are often used once and then sold off.   In Santa Barbara winemakers often use neutral barrels (barrels that have been used for at least four or five years) which impart very little oak influence to the wine.   This allows the fruit to take center stage and works quite well with many of the varietals that are grown in Santa Barbara county including Syrah and especially Pinot Noir.  Other winemakers will use some neutral barrels and a few new ones in order to create more complexity in the final blend of wine.  In the Napa/Sonoma area where a great deal of Cabernet Sauvignon is produced, many of the renowned and in-demand wines are produced using 100% new French oak barrels.   The intensity of Cabernet Sauvignon works well with new oak and the characteristics it imparts to the wine.  All in all, Jason and I were thrilled to *not* be paying for brand new barrels as they cost $1000 or more.  We paid a small fraction of that and walked away the happy owners of two gently used French oak barrels.  I was especially happy that both barrels fit nicely in the back of the Explorer with our luggage.

The person who so generously sold us barrels is none other than Randy Hester, the cellarmaster of Realm Cellars in St. Helena.  Not only does he have a hand in helping to make some beautiful, extremely hard to get wines (there is a waiting list, sigh), he is also an all-around good guy.  Randy graciously took us on a tour of the beautiful caves and  winemaking facilities they use at Chateau Boswell.  Realm’s focus is making wines utilizing fruit from world renowned vineyards in the area including the famed To Kalon, Beckstoffer and Dr. Crane.   Randy took us on a barrel sample tour of Cabernet Sauvignon made from these three vineyards.  I was really excited to taste these because so many top wine producers (like Quintessa, Paul Hobbs, Provenance, Realm, Cain, Alpha Omega and Harlan Estate) create vineyard designate wines showcasing these vineyards.  Though I didn’t take notes (I was there to pick up barrels after all) I thought that both the  To Kalon and Beckstoffer were quite masculine and dense whereas the Dr. Crane seemed more feminine with some notes of violets.   Of the three, the Dr. Crane was my favorite, though if I was eating a steak, I might choose the To Kalon or the Beckstoffer.  Sadly these wines won’t be released for quite some time…and there is that pesky waiting list for Realm’s wines.   I will have to be patient…this has never been my strong suit.  Perhaps making a 2011 vintage will teach me patience?  After all the wine is going to be sitting in barrel for at least 20 months and probably closer to 24 months.   At least that gives us some time to think of a good name for our winery…even though the wines are just for friends and family we want it to have a clever name.  If you have any great name ideas please let me know…if we choose a name you submitted you’ll score yourself some fabulous wine and Jason and I will take you out to dinner.   Dang, Screaming Eagle is already taken…how about Shrieking Parrot?  ;)

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Jalama Wines is one of my favorite boutique wineries located in the so-called “Wine Ghetto” in Lompoc, California.  The “Wine Ghetto” is an industrial park -  literally a bunch of warehouses, most of which are leased out to wineries including Ampelos, Chien, Loring Wine Company, Stolpman, Longoria, New Vineland /Piedrasassi, Fiddlehead, La Vie, Palmina, Flying Goat, Samsara, and Zotovich.  What the Ghetto lacks in curb appeal, it makes up for with some astoundingly beautiful wines – like those produced by Jalama.

beautifully set tablesJalama’s wines were the centerpiece of a private dinner hosted by Winemaker/owner Mark Cargasacchi in the barrel room of his winery.   He transformed his industrial wine production space into a fabulous dining room complete with special lighting, elegantly decorated tables, orchids and oriental rugs.

I knew I was in for a treat when Mark handed me a glass of Veuve Cliquot – Champagne is one of my most favorite vices!  This was just the beginning of a fabulous evening that got better and better with each course of food paired with Jalama wine.  Here is the menu of wine-paired courses and a few notes I managed to scribble down in between bites:


Pan-seared scallop on baked sopprasatta salami with greens and grapeseed oil
- Barrel sample of 2009 Jalama Giallo (Pinot Gris – fruit from the Cargasacchi/Jalama vineyard, 100% neutral French oak, 50 cases produced, white peach, honeysuckle, good minerality – a great summer food wine)
watermelon, grilled beet and jicama salad Watermelon, grilled beet and jicama salad served in a butter lettuce leaf with wine vinaigrette
- Barrel sample of 2010 Jalama Clementina (55% Riesling, 45% Sauvignon Blanc – 100%, 50 cases produced, gorgeous tropical fruit aromas, perfect balance of fruit and acid)
Tomato and cream bisque Tomato and cream bisque with Parmesan crisp and creme fraiche
- 2008 Joseph Blair Heartbreak Pinot Noir (22 months in 100% neutral French oak, beautiful Pinot Noir)
stuffed crimini mushrooms Stuffed cremini mushrooms with three cheeses, pesto and roasted pine nuts
- 2008 Jalama Pinot Noir (22 months in 100% new French oak, includes a number of Pinot Noir clones: Dijon 114, Dijon 115 and Mt. Eden, flavors of black cherry, raspberry with subtle barrel influence of vanilla)
Filet mignon Filet mignon wrapped wtih proscuitto, dark cherry reduction, confetti mashed yams and new potatoes, honey-glazed carrots with house made orange marmalade and a touch of crushed red pepper
-2007 Jalama El Capitan (47% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, flavors of blackberry, plum with beautifully integrated tannins and a lingering finish- fabulous!)
the best chocolate cake - ever! Chocolate layered cake with dark chocolate dipped strawberries and chocolate bark.
- 2007 Jalama Syrah, La Presa Vineyard (dark purple in the glass, aromas of dark fruit and baking spices, flavors of black cherry, plum with hints of clove, vanilla and nutmeg – a huge and beautiful wine)

I am not typically a dessert person as too often I find them sickeningly sweet.  Imagine my surprise when I took a bite of what is *hands down* the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had!  It was absolutely fabulous – rich and chocolatey but not overly sweet.   I am only a little ashamed to admit that I actually brought some home and ate it for breakfast – *that* is how much I loved this cake!

The delicious meal was prepared and served by Catering by Lori Cordova‘s team.   Lori has been catering for events, weddings and parties of 20-2000 since 1988.  I highly recommend her services – every course was beautifully presented and tasted outstanding!

Here are a few more snapshots from this wonderfully decadent evening:

Yours truly, Pamela and Clinton Froelich

Yours truly, Pamela and Clinton Froehlich










Clinton Froehlich

Clinton serving Veuve Cliquot













Winemaker Mark Cargasacchi

Jalama Wines Winemaker Mark Cargasacchi












Albert & Pamela - appreciators of fine wine and wonderful cuisine

Albert & Pamela - appreciators of fine wine

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Chardonnay Symposium 2011The annual Chardonnay Symposium is this weekend!  This is a special event – the only one in the United States that focuses on Chardonnay in all its many styles.  There are many events scheduled, beginning with a clonal tasting and a welcome barbeque at Sierra Madre Vineyard on Friday July 22nd at 4pm.  Clonal tasting sounds like some strange television show – a cross between the Food Network and the SciFi channel, but in fact it is a wine tasting led by Sierra Madre Vineyard’s winemaker Steve Rasmussen and proprietor Doug Circle where eight different clones of Chardonnay are poured and discussed.   A panel of speakers, including Bob Steinhauer (2010 Agriculturist of the Year and foremost authority on the history of Chardonnay), Nancy Sweet (Editor of the UC Davis National Grape Registry), John Falcone (Falcone Family Vineyards), Steve Fennell (Sanford Winery) will be discussing the diversity of Chardonnay.

Saturday July 23rd there are two educational sessions:
#1 – The Great Oak Debate 9:30-11:30am Bien Nacido Vineyards – An impressive group of speakers Steve Heimoff (celebrated wine writer and West Coast Editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine…quite possibly the best job in the known world IMHO), Greg Brewer (Brewer-Clifton, Diatom, Melville Vineyards), Dieter Cronje (Presqu’ile Winery), Mike Eyres (Chahalem Wines – Oregon), Joshua Klapper (La Fenetre Wines), Leslie Mead Renaud (Lincourt Winery and Foley Wines), Greg Stach (Landmark Vineyard) will be on hand to debate the age old question of buttery, oaky chardonnay versus bright, citrus-y UNoaked chardonnay.

#2 Taking Back Chardonnay 9:30am-11:30am at Tantara Winery – an illustrious panel of wine pros discuss Chardonnay in its myriad of styles.  Speakers include Karen MacNeil (Tantara Winery), Bill Cates (Tantara Winery), Neil Bernardi (Migration Wines), Steve Rasmussen (Sierra Madre Vineyard), Denise Shurtleff (Cambria), Jim Stollberg (Riverbench), Steve Tylicki (Steele Wines).

In the afternoon from noon-1:30pm, Full Day attendees will have a Wine Tasting Luncheon (and wine, naturally) with area winemakers at the Au Bon Climat & Qupe Winery in Santa Maria.  After lunch, beginning at 2pm and continuing until 5pm, the Grand Chardonnay Tasting will take place at Byron Winery.   Here attendees can taste a wide variety of Chardonnays from fifty (50!) different wineries from Washington, Oregon, Sonoma, the Central Coast and of course our very own Santa Maria Valley.  Here is the impressive line up of wineries that will be pouring:  Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Brewer-Clifton, Bridlewood Estate WineryByron Winery, Cambria Winery, Chamisal Vineyards, Chehalem Wines (Oregon), Conway Family Wines, Costa de Oro Winery, Cottonwood Canyon Winery, Deovlet Wines, Diatom Wines, Dierberg Vineyard, Eberle Winery, Falcone Family Vineyards, Flying Goat Cellars, Foley Wines, Fontes & Phillips, Foxen, Fresh & Easy Wines, Gainey Vineyard, Kendall-Jackson, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Wines, Knights Bridge Winery, La Fenetre Wines, Landmark Vineyards, Lincourt Winery, Lucia Vineyards, Mercy Vineyards, Migration from Duckhorn Wine Company, Ojai Vineyard, Pali Wine Co., Pisoni Vineyards, Presqu’ile Winery, Qupé Wine Cellars, Rancho Sisquoc, Riverbench Vineyard & Winery, Rusack Vineyards, Sanford Winery, Sanguis Wines, Sierra Madre Vineyard, Solomon Hills Vineyards, Steele Wines, Tantara Winery, Toretti’s Family Vineyard, William James Cellars.   And what goes well with fabulous wine?  Fabulous food, of course!  There are a number of restaurants, caterers and specialty food purveyors who’ll be serving tasty dishes including:  Bello Forno Wood-Fired Cuisine, Butterfly Brittle, Central City Market (I just went to a wine event they catered last weekend on the Star Lane Ranch – the food was beautiful and delicious), Chef Rick at the Far West Tavern, Fresh & Easy, Panera Bread, Testa Catering, Trattoria Uliveto, Vintner’s Grill, Zoe’s Hawaiian BBQ & Catering.   I went to the Chardonnay Festival last year (here is my post about my favorite wine of last year’s festival, Presqu’ile) and it was wonderful (and I typically don’t go out of my way to drink Chardonnay) and well worth the price of admission.  Note, if you don’t like to “geek out” about wine, rootstock and clones, then just skip the educational morning seminars and just come for the Grand Tasting – you’ll be happy you did!  Here is where you can get details and pricing for the various event tickets. Cheers!

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KaenaThe tasting room for Kaena (the personal label of Mikael Segouin, winemaker at Beckmen) is now open in Los Olivos at 2933 San Marcos Avenue (next to Scott Cellars).    Though Kaena was established ten years ago, the tasting room is a first.  They are open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5pm and Mondays by appointment.  Often Mikael Segouin (the owner/winemaker) is pouring his beautifully handcrafted, boutique wines (annual case production is a mere 1500).  And if Mikael isn’t there, then his wife Sally is probably pouring – this is truly a family ohana business.  Here is the current flight that is being poured:  2010 Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Grenache Rosé, 2010 Hapa Blanc (white blend of 75% Grenache Blanc, 25% Roussanne), 2008 Hale (red blend of 65% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Mourvedre), 2008 Look Me In the Eye (red blend of 70% Grenache, 30% Syrah), 2008 Hapa Red (red blend of 56% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Mourvedre), 2008 Larner Grenache.   A side note about the 2008 Larner Grenache – I tasted this back in June of 2010 at the Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting and it knocked my socks off – (here is a link to my post about it) even though the wine wasn’t released yet.   A year later, it tastes even better!   Head on over to Kaena and say Aloha (Mikael is Hawaiian) and tell him you heard about Kaena from Wine Nation Underdog!   If you aren’t able to visit in person, you can still order wines online from Kaena’s new online storeMahalo!

Mikael Segouin winemaker/owner Kaena Wines

Mikael Segouin winemaker/owner Kaena Wines

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Au Bon ClimatSanta Barbara just got better!  After nearly thirty years of making wine, Jim Clendenen owner/winemaker of Au Bon Climat, Ici/la Bas, Vita Nova and Clendenen Family Vineyards, has opened his first ever retail space/tasting room.  It is located in downtown Santa Barbara at 813 Anacapa Street Suite 5, near the Wine Cask restaurant.   The tasting room is relaxed and elegant featuring a tasting bar and a fireplace area.  The tasting room staff is shared between Au Bon Climat and Margerum Wine Company, so you can taste wines from both wineries.  You can also combine your wine tasting experience with foods from the Wine Cask.  In honor of the grand opening, Au Bon Climat will host a Memorial Day Weekend sale Sunday May 29, 2011 from 12:00-4:00pm. Guests can sample both Au Bon Climat and Margerum Wine Co. current releases and library wines with food provided by the Wine Cask. The cost is $25 per person, but wine club members pay only $15.   Jim will probably have some special bottles from his library open to celebrate, so go check it out and tell him that Wine Nation Underdog says “hi”.  I would love to be there, but I’ll be pouring Italian and Spanish style wines at Tre Anelli in Los Olivos on Sunday.   If you’re in Los Olivos come on by the tasting room and say “hello”!

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2011 Vintners' FestivalNow that spring is here, there are so many great events on the horizon featuring Santa Barbara county vintners that it is hard to choose which ones to attend.   Here are just a few of the events happening this weekend of Vintners’ Festival:

Friday April 15th

Ken Brown Wines – Beginning at 11am the tasting room (which is normally appointment only) will be open and Ken and his wife Deb will be pouring new releases and library wines.  The tasting room will also be open on Saturday.  Call for details 805-448-3791.

Flying Goat Cellars – Winemaker dinner at the historic La Purisima Mission featuring Norm Yost and Bouchon restaurant.  Call for details and reservation 805-736-9032.

Tre Anelli / Consilience Spring Fling – enjoy wine from Tre Anelli and Consilience, flatbread pizza from California Wood Fired catering and cheesecakes from Louie’s Kitchen Table catering.  Call for details 805-691-1020.

Stolpman Vineyards – Wine Club members only – in the tasting room in Los Olivos, beginning at 3pm pick up your shipment, taste the new releases and enjoy a Mariachi band and fresh tacos!   Call for details (or better yet, join the wine club) 805-688-0400.

Saturday April 16th

29th Annual Vintners’ Festival – One of the biggest wine events of the year featuring wines from over one hundred vintners, and food from more than two dozen local restaurants/caterers.  There is also a silent auction that benefits local charities and wine themed art.  1-4 River Park, Lompoc.

Foley Estates -  Wine with breakfast?  Sure, at the 5th annual Chuck Wagon Brunch at Foley beginning at 10:00am.  Call for details 805-737-6222.

Brander Vineyard – Beginning at noon, taste current releases and wine futures and enjoy BBQ and live music. Call for details 805-688-2455.

Melville – Celebrate the new release of 2010 Inox Chardonnay and Verna’s Viognier with light appetizers, artisan cheeses and baked goods.   Call for details 805-735-7030.

Jalama – Wine club members only – multi-course winemakers dinner featuring Jalama’s hand crafted, small production wines including some as of yet unreleased wines.  Call for details 805-735-8937.

Mandolina – After the festival head to the tasting room in Solvang to enjoy live music, wine and cheese pairings.  Call for details  805-686-5506.

Point Concepción Wines – 9am-12noon Saturday and all day Sunday – this is a great opportunity to taste Cargasacchi and Point Concepción wines from a producer who normally isn’t open to the public.   Call for details 805-736-7763.

Stolpman Vineyards – Pre-Festival barrel tasting in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Tours start on the hour between 10am-3pm.  Call for details 805-688-0400.

Sunday April 17th

Au Bon Climat, Qupé, Verdad and more – This shared winemaking facility in Santa Maria is open to the public only twice a year.  Taste wines from Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist and Louisa Sawyer-Lindquist and have lunch in the winery.  Call for details 805-686-4200.

Longoria – Taste new releases while enjoying live music.  Call for details 805-688-0305.

Cold Heaven – Beginning at noon, spring open house at the tasting room in Buellton featuring library and current releases.  Also featuring the wines of Prodigal.  Call for details 805-686-1343.

Fiddlehead Cellars – Starting at 11am come to the Lompoc wine ghetto to taste barrel samples with winemaker Kathy Joseph.  Call for details 800-251-1225.

Alma Rosa – From 11am at the tasting room, enjoy acoustic music, wine and cheese pairing and Spanish style paella.

Have a fabulous weekend Wine Nation Underdog style!

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