When I think of Harvest Festival, I imagine there is an autumn chill in the air and I’m sipping red wines bundled up in a cozy sweater. However, this year, the 20th year of the festival, we were in the midst of a late summer heat wave, so shorts and sandals were de rigueur. This year there were over 115 different wineries represented at the festival. Of the 115, there were many wonderful, familiar wines from Ampelos, Beckmen, Brander, Dragonette, Fiddlehead, Foxen, Margerum, Jaffurs, Tre Anelli, Stolpman, Ken Brown, Cold Heaven, Palmina, Qupé, being poured, so I a made point to seek out wines that I had not sampled before.
With far too many wines to sample everything, I had to really pick and choose carefully from the offerings. Of the wines I tasted, there were a few real stands outs. Jim Vogelzang was pouring an absolutely lovely ’06 Vogelzang Cabernet Sauvignon, but his superb 2009 Sauvignon Blanc was what took my breath away. Jim took a few minutes to explain to me what they do differently. Naturally, they start with great fruit – after all you cannot make an outstanding wine if you start with bad grapes. Here is where it gets interesting. After the grapes are picked; they are put on refrigerated trucks which are driven to Napa. In Napa they delivered to renowned winemaker Robbie Meyer (of Versant, Jericho Canyon, Peirson Meyer and L’Angevin) who works his oenological magic. Jim also let me know that for the Sauvignon Blanc, Meyer uses neutral French oak barrels that have been used for Chardonnay. Another outstanding white was the unreleased ’09 Dragonette Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc which was heady with the aroma of honeysuckle and tasted of creamy lemon curd. Yes, dear reader, I know I said I was going to avoid familiar labels, but this was an unreleased Sauvignon Blanc from Dragonette, so I had to bend my own rule. It was less of a hard and fast rule and more of a guideline really, anyway.
Even though it was a very warm day and white wines were helping me cool off, I did taste some wonderful reds at the festival. I loved the 2006 Jalama Paradise Road Syrah, which is co-fermented with 3% Viognier in the classic French Côte-Rôtie style. Young winemaker, Mark Cargasacchi is crafting some truly beautiful wines. It runs in the family; Mark’s brother is making some outstanding wine too. Speaking of Mark’s wines, he wasn’t pouring it at the festival, but his 2006 Jalama El Capitan is *really* worth getting your hands on (while you still can). It is a red blend of 47% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre and 23% Cabernet. He only made 92 cases of this rich beauty, and last time I checked they only had 8 cases left, so if you’re a fan of GSM blends, give the folks over at Jalama Wines a call: 805-735-8937 or go visit the new tasting room in the Lompoc. Tell them that Anne from Wine Nation Underdog sent you. You’ll thank me later after you’re tucking into your first glass. Overall, my favorite Syrah of the festival was the 2008 Reeves Ranch Syrah. I had heard of the name Reeves Ranch Vineyard because Kris Curran (winemaker/owner of Curran) made a Reeve’s Ranch Reserve Syrah from fruit from this vineyard a few vintages ago. It was extraordinary, so naturally I had to go investigate the source of this outstanding fruit. Boy was I in for a treat. Dan Reeves poured me some of his 2008 Reeves Ranch Vineyard Syrah and I really enjoyed the well integrated flavors of coffee, mocha and spice. Most of the fruit is from the estate which is located in the foothills above Los Olivos. The vines which were originally planted in 1989, were grafted over to Australian and French Syrah clones (Shiraz clone 3, Estrella and Clone 99) in 1994. The rest of the fruit is from Black Oak vineyard in Los Alamos. Though the grapes from Reeves and Black Oak were fermented separately, it was eventually blended together and aged for 18 months in French oak, some of which was neutral. After I tasted this wine, I thought it would be priced around $35 a bottle. Are you ready for this? The wine sells for $24 on the Reeves Ranch website and you get a discount if you order a case. Don’t you love it when you find a great wine at a really good price? I do! If you are in the Central Coast area, you can taste this wine at Avant Tapas and Wine bar in Buellton. It is also being poured by the glass at Los Olivos Café (in Los Olivos). Don’t wait too long though, because they only make 400 cases a year.
There were lots of great events over the Harvest Festival weekend, including an open house at Au Bon Climat / Qupé winemaking facility. There was also an open house event at Cold Heaven – as soon as I get my notes and snapshots organized I will post again. Until then, let me leave you with this thought. Those who abstain from alcohol die sooner than those who drink moderately (1 to 3 drinks per day)…as if you needed an excuse!