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On the way out to Los Olivos for a wine tasting event, we stopped at Brander.  I’d served Brander’s 2008 Purisima Sauvignon Blanc at a wine dinner a few weeks ago.  I’d been meaning to come back to buy more ever since.  One of the guests at the wine dinner, a self-proclaimed “reds only” guy, tasted it and said “I’ve been wrong about white wine my whole life”.   Truly a high compliment – and a worthy wine.  Many Sauvignon Blancs, especially those with aromatics of grass or “cat pee”, are totally lost on me.  This Sauvignon Blanc has heady floral aromatics and a great balance of fruit and acid.  It will be a great match for seafood!   In addition to the Purisima Sauvignon Blanc we tasted a number of other wines from Brander.  The 2008 Cuvee Nicolas, a blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon, was another well balanced white from Brander.  It spent 5 months in neutral French oak before it was bottled.  It is slightly rounded on the palate, though it still has good acidity.   An all-around great food wine!   We also tasted some of Brander’s red wines.  The 2008 Brander Merlot is really wonderful with flavors of black cherries and chocolate.  It only spent 5 months in French and American oak – so the flavor of the fruit really shine.  Priced at $20 a bottle (or $216 a case), this wine is an incredible value – lots of bang for the buck!    Another great red is the 2007 Brander Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  Even though it is young, there is already fabulous flavor integration and it is drinking well now.  I grabbed a few of these so that I can have Cabernet to drink while I am waiting for my Napa Cabs to sufficiently age.  =)

Bob Lindquist, Ethan Lindquist and Paige Lindquist

Bob Lindquist, Ethan Lindquist and Paige Lindquist

After Brander we headed to Los Olivos to the Qupe tasting room where winemaker Bob Lindquist lead a tasting of all the wines that Qupe makes from the Bien Nacido Vineyard.  It was an impressive lineup of whites and reds:

2008 Qupe Bien Nacido Cuvee – this is a blend of 50% Chardonnay/50% Viognier.  Qupe has been making this blend since 1992.  For this blend the Chardonnay fruit is picked underripe and the Viognier is picked slightly overripe – resulting in good structure, freshness and balance.

2008 Qupe Chardonnay Bien Nacido Y Block – This wine is made from fruit picked at varying times which means that the wine is both crisp (from earlier picked fruit – at 21 brix) and lush (from later picked fruit – at 25 brix).

2007 Qupe Chardonnay Bien Nacido Reserve Block 11 – This Chardonnay has 22% Roussanne blended into it which gives the wine headier aromatics.   Bob Lindquist says that “this wine can age beautifully for 10-15 years.”

2007 Qupe Roussanne Bien Nacido Hillside Estate – Roussanne is a challenging grape on many different levels.  It is difficult to grow well and it is also challenging in the cellar.  This wine is fermented and aged in barrels that were used once for Chardonnay.   This year’s vintage is more crisp and minerally than past vintages and should develop into a more complex wine over time.

2006 Qupe Roussanne Bien Nacido Hillside Estate – Named “Best New World Wine” by Decanter magazine, this is a perfectly balanced 100% Roussanne grown in Block 10 of Bien Nacido.  The vines are Tablas Creek clones; these are originally from Chateau de Beaucastel in the Chateauneuf du Papes.

2000 Qupe Roussanne Bien Nacido Vineyard – At 10 years of age, this balanced wine is drinking really beautifully.  The fruit for this wine was the first crop off of a custom planting at Bien Nacido.  It was fermented and aged in one year old Francois Freres French oak barrels (that had been used once for Chardonnay) for 15 months.

2007 Qupe Syrah Bien Nacido – 3% of the Syrah fruit was sourced from the new Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard.  The weather during fruit set was very windy, which caused yields to be low and increased the intensity of the flavors.   Lindquist says that this one can be cellared for 8-12 years.

2006 Qupe Syrah Bien Nacido Hillside Estate – The fruit for this Syrah is from a 5 acre southwest facing slope called Z block.  This block is farmed organically to Qupe’s specifications.  This is Qupe’s 20th vintage of Syrah.

2006 Qupe Syrah 25th Anniversary Bien Nacido X Block – The block where this fruit was grown is farmed biodynamically by the Bien Nacido team.  Lindquist used 50% whole clusters in the fermentation which adds layers of spice and complexity.  He made this wine specifically to cellar – he says you can lay this one down for 20-25 years.

1999 Qupe Syrah Bien Nacido Hillside Estate –  Lauded by critics (96 points from Wine & Spirits magazine) since its release in 2002, this wine is drinking beautifully in 2010 with flavors of fruit, spice and smoke.  1999 was rainy and cold and the grapes ripened very slowly.  In fact, the grapes for this wine were harvested on November 18 at 22.5 degrees brix – later than any other Qupe vintage to date.

Lindquist was clearly in his element pouring wine with help from son Ethan and daughter Paige.   After we tasted through the entire list of wine, Lindquist told stories.  He said that Paige’s first word as a child was “cheese”.   Of course!    We also played a few rounds of 1960’s music “name that tune”.   Jason and I didn’t recognize a single song; sadly we didn’t win any wine.  Oh well, we didn’t go home empty handed – we picked up a few bottles of the 2007 Qupe Central Coast Syrah, 2006 Qupe Syrah Alisos Vineyard (one of my favorites!) and the 2007 Qupe Grenache Purisima Mountain Vineyard.

I got my hands on the guide book for the 2009 Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting about a week prior to the event and came to the sad realization that there was absolutely no way I could taste all 90 wines.  In light of this, I went over the list again and again, making cuts until I had a list of around 30 wines.   I arrived at the event, armed with my list and trusty  camera (and its dead battery, sigh) and proceeded to taste through the list.   Over the course of the event a few wineries really stood out with some stellar wines  – Ampelos, Beckmen, Jaffurs, Jonata, Kaena, Margerum.

Ampelos
Peter Work was on hand pouring a 2007 Lambda Estate Pinot Noir (tart cherry, and hints of clove) which won’t be released until spring 2010.  The Pinot already tastes wonderful – I would think that a few more years will give it additional complexity.  I was thrilled that Peter was pouring the Dornfelder that I barrel tasted with him back in January.  It is still the inky, glass-staining wine that I enjoyed straight from the barrel – but the past months have given the wine some more time to develop complexity.  This was probably the most unusual wine of the day.  It was also one of my favorites!

Beckmen
I tasted the 2008 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache (strawberry, baking spices and leather) and the 2007 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah (black plum, fig and notes of coffee).   Biodynamic farming combined with winemaker Mikael Sigouin’s talents make for some amazing wines!

Jonata
With a price point of around $75, I probably would only drink the Jonata 2006 Todos Estate on a special occasion.  With that said, it was a real treat to taste this blend of 39% Syrah, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Viognier.  Every sip was layer upon layer of flavor (black raspberry, black currant, clove, ginger, vanilla).

Kaena
Kaena winemaker/owner Mikael Sigouin (who is also the winemaker at Beckmen) was pouring his 2007 Grenache (only 75 cases made – bright flavors of cherry, cranberry and red raspberry) and a vineyard designate 2007 Larner Vineyard Grenache (150 cases made – deeply concentrated flavors of dark fruits).  Both were fabulous!  Mikael was also pouring his 2007 Hapa – a red blend of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 10% Mourvédre (cherry, red raspberry, baking spices, anise and white pepper).   These will be released in the late summer – so you won’t have to wait long before you can get your hands on these wines.  Mark my words – this is a winemaker to watch!

Margerum
From what I understand, the 2007 Uber Syrah was an experiment.  Doug Margerum co-fermented 75% of the Syrah that was used in this wine.  This 75% was made by adding one tenth of a ton of each Syrah clone as it came in over the course of harvest.  While I was pretty skeptical this seemingly haphazard method, I have been a fan of Doug’s wines for years, so I tried the Uber with high hopes.  I was not let down – this is a seriously big, complex wine (black raspberry, plum, pepper, smoke) and I cannot wait to try it again after it is released this Fall.

Lastly, I had the good fortune to taste a barrel sample of a wine called Luna Matta  from a very tiny producer called De Su Propia Cosecha.   Only 80 cases of this wine (a blend of 40% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 25% Mourvedre) was made.   Though it is made right here in Santa Barbara county by a husband and wife team (Chris and Deanna King), I’d never heard of this wine…there I go living under a rock again.   This blend had a lush mouth feel and flavors of black plum, black pepper, spices and earth.   What a wonderful surprise to discover a “new” wine (well new to me).

All in all a fabulous event!  My thanks to the Winehound for picking up the torch (sadly dropped by the Wine Cask) and continuing the long tradition of the Santa Barbara Wine Futures event.

Tom Stolpman celebrating his 60th with friends in his vineyard.

Tom Stolpman celebrating his 60th with friends in his vineyard.

As my friends know, I am a huge fan of Stolpman wines.  Way back before Stolpman had its own label and was just a grower, my boyfriend Jason (now husband) and I would look for the name of the vineyard on wine.  Smart winemakers were buying up the outstanding fruit and turning it into exquisite wine.  When Stolpman started bottling its own wine, we immediately joined the wine club and started attending special events.  We even purchased all the red and rosé wine for our wedding from Stolpman.   Last year we shared a private dinner with Tom and were entertained all evening listening to his stories.  Suffice it to say this wine and winery are very special to me.   Fast forward to 2009 – Jason and I are thrilled to attend Tom’s 60th birthday party in the vineyard.  Tom & wife Marilyn’s son, Peter, put together a birthday bash for Tom complete with live music, wonderful food, bottles and bottles of outstanding wine and friends to share it all.

Peter Stolpman hamming it up for the camera

Peter Stolpman hamming it up for the camera

Jason and I made our way to the vineyard admiring the gorgeous vines along the dusty road to the clearing where party was happening.  As you might imagine Tom’s friends enjoy great wine and food.  After getting a glass of the Stolpman La Coppa Blanc (a blend of Roussanne and Viognier) we struck up a conversation at the cheese table with John from Palos Verdes.  He introduced us to an unbelievably buttery French cheese that he brought up from the Beverly Hills Cheese Shop.  As always our conversation turned to wine and then John said he had a Rafanelli in the car – and we “have to” try it.  I love it when people say things like this to me!  This bottle, a lovely Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon made by a 4th generation winemaking family, was a good indicator of what was in store for us that evening.  John invited us to sit at his table that evening where he proceeded to introduce us to some wonderful wines.  We tasted a 2004 Williams Selyem Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir (flavors of white pepper, black cherries and cola) and the 1997 Forman Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (nose of violets and anise with flavors of dark plum and spice).

Some of the wines that John pulled from his cellar for the party.

Some of the wines that John pulled from his cellar for the party.

Then John opened up an old bottle from his cellar.  It was a 1970 Chateau Latour (Bordeaux – blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot).

1970 Chateau Latour

1970 Chateau Latour

I’ve tasted a handful of wines from the 70’s but they’ve always been disappointing – this wine was a wonderful surprise.  In spite of its age (nearly 40 years old) the wine was well balanced with flavors of cedar, spice and leather and a soft mouth feel.

After the 1970 Chateau Latour, John opened up a 2001 Chateau de Malle Sauternes.

2001 Chateau de Malle Sauternes

2001 Chateau de Malle Sauternes

The wine was the color of honey and sunshine.  With flavors of pineapple, honey and custard it was sweet, but not that cloying, viscous sweetness that is found with many dessert wines.

9 liter bottle of 1997 Tonto Cuvee (one of a kind)

9 liter bottle of 1997 Tonto Cuvee (one of a kind)

John wasn’t the only one who was opening up fabulous wines!  Tom Stolpman brought a one of a kind, salmanazar bottle of 1997 Tonto Cuvee.  A salmanazar is 9 liters – that is equivalent to 12 standard sized bottles.  The Tonto Cuvee (50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Syrah) was made specifically to be auctioned off at the Central Coast Wine Classic.  This wine was a cooperative effort between McKeon-Phillips winery utilizing Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from Rusack Vineyard and Jaffurs Wine Cellars with Syrah fruit from the Stolpman Vineyard.   This wasn’t the only large format bottle – Peter Stolpman managed to open – with help from his father and a couple friends) a large format bottle of of sparkling wine – perfect for toasting Tom
and a picture perfect day in his vineyard.

Waiting for the sparkling wine to be opened...

Waiting for the sparkling wine to be opened...

Can Tom pop the cork?

Can Tom pop the cork?

Maybe if all three of us try?

Maybe if all three of us try?

Peter and Tom Stolpman were eventually able to pop the cork.

Peter and Tom Stolpman were eventually able to pop the cork.

Jason, Tom & Marilyn share a final toast of the evening

Jason, Tom & Marilyn share a final toast of the evening

13 Year Vertical of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah

13 Year Vertical of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Jason and some friends and I are heading out to Au Bon Climat / Qupé for their annual open house event.  We were fortunate enough to be able to have a special vertical tasting of 13 years (2007-1995) of Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah with winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist.  I’m a longtime fan of Lindquist’s award-winning Syrahs and so I was really looking forward to this once in a lifetime tasting opportunity.  We exceeded the speed limit (more times than I’d care to admit) in order to arrive at the winery by 10am.  After traveling for over an hour, we got out of the air conditioned car into a surprisingly warm (80+ degree) morning.  Then we walked into the winery and eventually gathered in a cordoned off area of the chilly and dimly lit Qupé barrel room.

Qupé winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist (photo credit:  Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Qupé winemaker / owner Robert Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Lindquist was already there with all the Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrahs displayed on a table.  He handed each of us glasses and an information sheet detailing each vintage’s harvest dates, brix, pH, total acidity, % alcohol, yield per acre, and number of cases produced.  We started with the youngest one (a 2007 barrel sample) and moved vintage by vintage to the oldest.  First Lindquist spoke about “Z block” which is a custom 5 acre block of vines in Bien Nacido vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley.  It is located about 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean and was originally planted for Qupé in 1992.  It is on a southwest facing slope about 850 feet above sea level.  Lindquist went on to describe the soil which is a “combination of volcanic clay and Monterey shale with significant substrata of sandstone and limestone”.  Finally, the knowledge I gained from my college geology class came in handy.   As we tasted each vintage, Lindquist described the challenges presented during the growing season year, from too much wind during fruit set in 2007 to a cold, wet spring (which delays flowering and reduces yields) in 1998 due to El Niño.  To my palate, a few years really stood out as shining examples of Syrah – 2002 (great balance of spice and fruit), 1998 (Lindquist’s favorite) and 1999 (wonderful complexity including notes of chocolate).

Anne taking notes at the Qupé 13 year vertical tasting (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Taking notes at the Qupé 13 year vertical tasting (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

After the vertical tasting, we stayed around for the open house activities which included wines from Qupé, Au Bon Climat, Verdad, Ici/La-Bas, Vita Nova, Il Podere dell’Olivos, Clendenen Family Vineyards, Makor and Barham Mendelsohn.   With over 70 wines on the list available for tasting (not including the 13 I’d already sampled earlier in the morning) I decided it was best to take a few minutes to zero in on the ones that were new to me:  2005 Il Podere Dell’Olivos Teroldego (deep garnet color, fruity – very food friendly), 2001 Clendenen Family Nebbiolo (florals, earth and spice), 2005 Clendenen Family Syrah/Viognier (florals, white pepper, earth and dark purple fruit), 2002 Vita Nova Stolpman Vineyard Sangiovese (bright red fruit, very food friendly), 2001 Vita Nova Reservatum (a red blend with spicy, red currant and dark berry flavors).  I tasted a few other wines here and there, but the ones mentioned above actually came home with me.  After getting the wine loaded into the car, we headed out to the next event which was held at a new cooperative winemaking facility called Terravant.

Syrah fan and Bob Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Syrah fan and Bob Lindquist (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Along the way we realized that we were going to be driving right by Foxen…so we unanimously voted to stop by.  (In case you are wondering, “yes” we have a designated driver.)  We headed over to the bar to taste the whites first.  A dynamic and knowledgeable young woman named Mo was behind the bar – expertly leading us through the 2007 Foxen Viognier (Vogelzang Vineyard, nose of honeysuckle and flavors of tropical fruit) and the 2007 Chardonnay (Tinaquaic Vineyard, dry farmed, bouquet of citrus fruit with green apple, vibrant acidity and mineral notes). Wine Enthusiast awarded this wine 94 points.  Unfortunately there were only made 500 cases produced, so it is going fast.  I cannot recall the last time I purchased a bottle of Chardonnay – but the Tinaquaic was just too good to pass up!  As we chatted with fellow tasters, a couple next to us commented that although it was their first visit to Foxen, they felt as though they’d been there before.   This experience of déjà vu is quite common – ever since Foxen was featured in the movie Sideways.  We also tasted a few reds beginning with the 2007 Pinot Noir (Bien Nacido Vineyard and Julia’s Vineyard, strawberry and cherries).  We tasted the 2006 Zinfandel (Lockshaw Vineyard, Paso Robles) and the 2006 Syrah (Williamson-Doré Vineyard, rich with flavors of black cherry, blackberry, smoke and white pepper).  I had to take home some of the Syrah too!  We talked with Allison the tasting room manager who boxed up our wine purchases and then we jumped back in the car to head to Terravant.

Inside the Terravant facility (photo credit Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Inside the Terravant facility (photo credit Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

A few minutes later, we arrived at the Terravant Wine Center.  First we tasted a few wines including the latest offering from Chien, the 2008 Edelzwicker (an Alsatian-style white blend of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Gewurztraminer).  Then we took a tour of this 40,000 square foot wine center.  This state-of-the-art facility was created in order to provide vintners with the equipment and laboratory necessary to control the quality from grape to bottle (not to mention executive offices and a large conference area where events can be held).  There were enormous insulated tanks with digital temperature displays, peristaltic pumps, open and closed top fermenters, cold stabilization and bottling equipment and much, much more.   Even the barrel room was high tech with automated relative humidity and temperature control and RFID tracking.  While everything was really impressive – lots of shiny chrome, automated thingamajigs that beep- it just seemed a little too industrial to me.  Maybe I am just a hopeless romantic, but to me wine is a wonderful marriage of art AND science – not just science.  I can think of a number of accidents that resulted in beautiful wine.  Case in point is the 2006 Ojai Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay – an accidental dessert wine – only two barrels were produced.  A small section of the Chardonnay grapes at the Solomon Hills Vineyard became infected with a fungus called botrytis cinerea (the so called “noble rot”).  Infected grapes shrivel up like raisins – thus concentrating the flavor.   I was fortunate enough to acquire one of the few bottles of this special wine.  Friends and I shared it with rich, creamy cheeses, nuts and dried fruits.  This wine itself was reminiscent of the great wines of Sauternes with a rich honeyed character.  Truly a happy accident!

The heat of the day gave way to a temperate evening – just perfect for the Tre Anelli & Consilience Paella and Empanada party!   Tre Anelli’s Verdehlo (an especially flavorful and food friendly white) was THE wine to drink while eating authentic paella and empanadas.  My mouth was so happy…could it get any better than this?  Then I went next door to Consilience for a glass of their mind-blowing, inky, explode-in-your-mouth Petite Sirah.  Oh my god, I love this wine.  Since there isn’t a damn thing about this wine that is “petite”, maybe it should be called Ginormous Sirah?

Tom Daughters, Anne and Jason Burns (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Tom Daughters, Anne and Jason Burns (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Consilience / Tre Anelli Paella & Empanada Party  (photo credit:  Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Consilience / Tre Anelli Paella & Empanada Party (photo credit: Michael Wilsker pixillusion.com)

Tonight we got together with a few friends to taste some selections from a new wine club (our friend Gary is the wine buyer).  My favorites were two reds from Kaleidos Winery. The 2004 Kaleidos Morpheus is a blend of 67% Syrah, 23% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre.  It had a silky mouth feel with flavors of dark chocolate, mocha and black cherry.  Robert Parker gave it 90-2 points.  With a price of around $28, this one drinks as though it is much pricier.  Definitely a good value!  They only made 266 cases though – so carpe diem!  Or better yet, carpe vinum!   The 2005 Kaleidos Oak Rock is a blend of 62% Syrah, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 11% Petit Verdot.  Earth, smoke, chocolate, black currants and spicy pepper flavors dominate this dark purple wine.  After picking up a few bottles, we then headed over to Los Olivos for dinner at Patrick’s Side Street Café.  As always, the “specials” were all enticing.  I eventually decided on halibut with wasabi tobiko and saffron rice.  WOW!  We shared a lovely bottle of the 2006 McPrice Myers L’Ange Rouge Grenache.   If you’re into scores, The Wine Spectator gave this wine 91 points.  I don’t care about a wine’s scores as much as its taste – I like the spicy, berry flavors and the long, long almost herbal finish.  Yum!

We are heading up to Squaw to go skiing tomorrow with friends so I made a quick run to Los Olivos to buy wine.   Los Olivos is a very small town with many tasting rooms along its two block main drag.  This is very convenient because I only had 45 minutes to choose wines before the tasting rooms close.  First I visit the Qupé tasting room which is entirely run by the Lindquist family.  Ethan (second generation winemaker) is manning the bar today.  He pours me some selections from the Qupé list including the Los Olivos Cuvee (a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) and the Bien Nacido Syrah.  Both are wonderful!  I buy one Syrah and a couple of the Cuvees.   Next, I visited the Stolpman tasting room, which opened a week ago; they recently moved from their old location in Solvang.  I am a big fan of the beautiful, complex Syrahs that winemaker Sashi Moorman turns out year after year.  I tasted the new release Grenache.  While many other area wineries like Beckman have been making Grenache for years, this is the first year for Stolpman.  Since my husband is obsessed with Grenache, I get a couple bottles to bring home.  Next up, I head for Consilience, best known for its very expressive, big Rhones.  I am here to buy a couple of the single vineyard Syrahs and some Petite Sirah (one of my favorite varietals).  The new release Consilience Hampton Family Vineyard Syrah is really wonderful – great fruit and white pepper spice with a nice long finish.  I also picked up a bottle of the Consilience La Presa Vineyard Petite Sirah.  (What a poorly named varietal – there is nothing petite about it and it is not a Syrah, but I digress.)  Next up I visit Tre Anelli to pick up wines made from Italian and Spanish varietals.   All the wines on the list are great “food” wines, especially the Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Barbera.  I picked up a few of these for the trip and then I headed over to the Brander industry open house event.

It was great fun to catch up with many wine industry friends while enjoying Brander‘s hospitality!  The Brander staff was pouring wine and many people brought along bottles to share.  Before I get too lost in describing the wine, let me first say that the food was amazing.  There was a wonderful mole with chicken, and these thick little tortillas topped with smashed white beans, and Mexican potato pancakes (fabulous with the salsa or guacamole), all homemade by Rachel.  There was also a meat and cheese plate which included salami, double crème brie and an unusual mild wasabi flavored cheese.  For dessert, there were delectable mini-cheesecakes, handmade by Louise Smith, the Brander tasting room manager (who is also an award-winning baker).  If you ever need a cheesecake or food for a special occasion, just call Louise.  Suffice it to say that all the food was wonderful.  The first wine that I tasted was a new release: the Brander 2008 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  With a nose of citrus and tropical fruit and a clean minerality, this wine is Brander’s 32nd vintage of Sauvignon Blanc.  Most of the fermentation was done in stainless steel with “a kiss of barrel” per the tasting notes.  Next I had the 2008 Chateau Neuf du Pink, a dry rosé that would go perfectly with gumbo or a poolside barbeque.  This wine is mostly Syrah with a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc.  Next I tasted the 2006 Bouchet, an unusual Rhone/Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Syrah.  One taste – rich and complex – was all it took – I had to buy a bottle to take home.  Janeen (tasting room manager at Tre Anelli) mentioned that she had a 2004 Bouchet that was amazing.  I think I’ll tuck this wine in the cellar for a while before opening it.

Brander's very own Jay and Louise

Brander's very own Jay and Louise

Fred Brander (a.k.a. Mr. Sauvignon Blanc)

Fred Brander (a.k.a. Mr. Sauvignon Blanc)

Janeen (Tre Anelli), Jim (Tre Anelli) and Louise (Brander)

Janeen (Tre Anelli), Jim (Tre Anelli) and Louise (Brander)

My first wine tasting excursion of the year, with my husband Jason and friend Ann, was to Lompoc, California.  This is an area affectionately known as the “wine ghetto”.  Here there are neither beautiful chateaux, nor rolling hills with planted vines shining in the sun.  Nope, nothing pastoral or picturesque in the wine ghetto.  Instead, we see nondescript industrial buildings, located behind the Home Depot, some of which house simple tasting rooms and warehouses full of aging barrels of wine.  First we stop at Palmina to taste wine made from Italian varietals by Steve Clifton.  The white offerings today included a lovely 2007 Tocai Fruilano. Tocai is a wine traditionally reserved for special occasions (like weddings) in Italy.  It is fruity and crisp – a refreshing summertime bottle or ‘first glass to a meal’.  Next up, Palmina’s 2007 Malvasia Bianca. This white has a floral nose –mostly honeysuckle and jasmine. On the palate it is dry with citrus and mineral notes. This is a perfect “hot summer night” white. We move to reds next, with one of my favorite Italian varietals, Dolcetto. This is one of Palmina’s everyday drinking wines, great with pizza, pasta and any foods with tomatoes.  We also tasted the Tretono which is made of Malbec made from fruit grown in Argentina. Then we tasted 2005 Savoia which is a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbara and Syrah.  I am quite partial to blends because sometimes the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” and the Savoia doesn’t disappoint but I’d prefer to give this one a couple more years of cellar time.

Next up was Ampelos, an appointment-only tasting room.  We drove into an industrial park and past a cabinet shop.  We opened a warehouse door and walked into a cool, dark space with neat rows of wine barrels.  Since it was overcast and cold, Peter Work, the wine maker, suggested that we come upstairs to the office in a loft above the barrels to do some tasting.  We were greeted by Peter‘s wife and business partner Rebecca and their extremely friendly chocolate labrador, Bacchus. Oddly enough, Bacchus is a female dog named after the Roman god (not goddess) of wine.  We tasted 2007 Chien Edelzwicker made by Don & Lindsay Schroeder (Rebecca’s son and daughter-in-law).  I first tasted this wine at Elements restaurant last summer. This blend of Riesling, Pinot Blanc and Gewurztraminer was my favorite white of 2008. We spoke of lesser known white wines and Peter let us know that he is making the first California-grown Grüner Veltliner – a wonderful white wine grape most commonly found in Austria.  Grüner Veltliner – called GrüVe (pronounced groo-vee) by its fans – is an incredibly food-friendly wine. It even plays nice with hard-to-pair foods like artichoke and asparagus. In blind tastings it often trounces top rated Chardonnays. This is a good one to try out on anyone who is stuck in a Chardonnay rut. While leading us through two of his favorite Pinot Noirs – the 2006 Lambda and 2005 Rho (both amazing – made with fruit from the Sta. Rita Hills appellation), Peter explained that the Rho is made only from the best barrels of wine. It is then bottled and allowed to age for another year. I can assure you, it is truly worth the wait!

Peter proudly spoke of his son, Don Schroeder, who in 2008, took over the wine making duties at Sea Smoke.  Don is stepping in to fill big shoes left by Kris Curran – who is now with Foley.  Kris Curran and husband, Bruno d’Alfonso (of Curran, Badge and di Bruno) are also consulting winemakers for Ampelos.  Kris was Don’s mentor at Sea Smoke while he was assistant wine maker.  I for one am looking forward to tasting the 2009 Sea Smoke. Maybe I’ll get lucky and be able to do some barrel tasting with Don? Next we tasted a wonderful Syrah/Grenache blend called, you guessed it, 2005 Syrache. This wine has a nose of plum and cherry and a balanced and long finish. I keep wanting to pronounce the name of this wine as SEE-rah-chay because it reminds me of a really spicy Thai hot chili sauce, called Huy Fong Sriracha (pron. SEE-rah-chah), that you in many different types of restaurants in Los Angeles – from Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Cajun – even little diners. Sriracha’s clear plastic squeeze bottle with a green top features a distinctive line drawing of a rooster on the front (hence the oft used nickname “rooster sauce”). The text on the back is in English, Spanish, French Vietnamese and Chinese. David Tran, Sriracha’s creator, is an ethnic Chinese refugee from Vietnam who immigrated to Los Angeles about 30 years ago. If you’re ever looking for proof that America is a “melting pot”, look no further than “rooster sauce”. If you’d like more proof then I’ll offer up, Ozomatli, a band based out of Los Angeles. The group is influenced by music from many countries including Mexico, Asia and Africa – give them a listen if you haven’t already. Okay, enough of my off-topic ramblings, lets get back to the wine ghetto! And now Peter moves us on to his Syrahs (probably my favorite varietal from this area), first the Ampelos 2005 Gamma. This Syrah is made from fruit grown in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. I get lost in this wine with its dark stone fruits and exotic spices with a soft mouth feel. The next Syrah we tasted was the 2005 Epsilon. With a big and mature taste, packed with black fruit and spice flavors, this one has a richness that seems beyond its years. Next we tasted the 2005 Delta – a lovely expression of Grenache with rich flavors of raspberry and a long finish that invites you back for the next sip. After talking with Peter and Rebecca and enjoying their wines for 2 hours, Peter took us downstairs to the warehouse for some barrel tasting.  He stopped to pick up a wine thief (a handy tool for getting wine out of a barrel).  I really enjoy getting to do barrel tastings with wine makers. It is interesting to taste wine first while it is “in process” and then later when it is released. The changes that can occur over just a few months are astounding. Next we tasted from a new French oak barrel of Gewürztraminer. I hope that I’ll get to sample this one again, before it is bottled in order to taste where the Peter steers it. We tasted a lovely, fruity Grenache which had good color (a pleasant surprise). The Grenache won’t be released for quite some time, but it is already absolutely wonderful.  Next, we tasted a very special wine made from a German varietal called Dornfelder.  Peter bought the fruit from Huber, another local winery – the only grower of Dornfelder in California that I am aware of.  (Note:  I’m intrigued by this unusual grape, so if you happen to know of another grower, please let me know).   Dornfelder is unbelievably dark – it looks like ink and actually stains the inside of the glass – and teeth, purple.  Ampelos’ Dornfelder, while still in the barrel, was chock-full of flavors including blackberry jam and caramel. I cannot wait to taste this wine when it is released!

Jason and I enjoyed the wines from Ampelos so much that we joined the wine club and brought a case home.   While it takes a bit of planning to make an appointment to taste at Ampelos, I highly recommend a visit!

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