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Morgan Clendenen winemaker/owner of Cold Heaven

Morgan Clendenen winemaker/owner of Cold Heaven

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.

Bob Lindquist winemaker/owner of Qupe and his son Theo

Bob Lindquist winemaker/owner of Qupe and his son Theo

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.  😉

Dan Reeves of Reeves Ranch Vineyard

Dan Reeves of Reeves Ranch Vineyard

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 CôteRôtie 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.

Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards

Peter Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards

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!

Danish cellar rats who are interning at Ampelos for the summer.

Danish visitors who are cellar ratting at Ampelos for the summer

The second annual Winehound Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting was an enormous success.  The selection of wines was staggering, the food was fabulous (wood fired pizzas from Flatbread) and the venue (the Fess Parker Doubletree) was far superior to last year’s event.   This year there were more than 125 wines from 50 different vintners.  The list is impressive to say the least:  Alma Rosa, Ampelos, Au Bon Climat, Autonom, Babcock, Beckmen, Brander, Ken Brown, Cargasacchi, Carhartt, Carr, Cent’Anni, Cimarone, Clos Pepe Estate, Cold Heaven, Costa de Oro, Demetria, Dragonette, Epiphany, Ethan, Flying Goat, Blair Fox, Happy Canyon Vineyard, Harrison-Clarke, Holus Bolus, Jaffurs, Jelly Roll, Jonata, Jorian Hill, Kaena, Kenneth-Crawford, Paul Lato, Lea, Longoria, Margerum Wine Company, Melville, Native9, Ojai, Fess Parker, Point Concepcio, Qupe, Rey, Samsara, Sanguis, Shai, Stolpman, Tensley, Tercero, The Paring, Tyler, Verdad, VIE, Vogelzang, Whitcraft.    With this many wines, I had to carefully pick and choose my way through the options.   Some of the wines were barrel samples, while many others were bottled, though unreleased.  Though I wasn’t able to taste everything, here is a list of the ones that really, really stood out for me :

Ampelos 2007 Rho Pinot Noir – cola, black cherries, earth, hint of vanilla.  465 cases produced.  Scheduled release late Spring 2011.

Ampelos 2007 Gamma Syrah – pepper, leather, dark berries, bacon.  655 cases produced.  Scheduled release Winter 2010.

Autonom 2007 Rhône Cuvee Central Coast – 55% Grenache, 36% Syrah, 9% Mourvèdre, black pepper, dark berries, meat, clove, mocha. 130 case produced.  Scheduled release Summer 2010.

Beckmen 2008 Syrah Purisima Mountain Vineyard – black fruits, fig, baking spices, bacon, mocha – next to my tasting notes I scribbled “this is a wine the critics will love”, I love it too.   400 cases produced.  Scheduled release Fall 2010

Clos Pepe 2009 Pinot Noir Estate – black cherry, cola, Dr. Pepper, cocoa – a blend of clones 665, 777, 513, Pommard.  1000 cases producedscheduled release Spring 2011.   Clos Pepe’s Wes Hagen was also pouring what he said was the “first ever sparkling wine from the Sta. Rita AVA” – a 2007 Brut Rosé, made by Norm Yost of Flying Goat Cellars.  Unfortunately my palate was blown out after so many fabulous reds…dang.

Ethan 2009 Grenache Blanc – heady nose of apple, melon and florals, good acid and minerality.  I was head over heels for this barrel sample – it was gorgeous – one of the top 5 wines I tasted at the event.  I spoke with winemaker Ethan Lindquist who indicated that this is the first time he made a Grenache Blanc.  With only 150 cases made, get it while you can when it is released.  Scheduled release Fall 2010.

Ethan 2009 Sangiovese – red cherry, garrigue, ripe strawberry, good acid.  Fabulous “food wine”.  150 cases produced.  Scheduled release Fall 2010.

Jaffurs 2008 Grenache – spice, tart cherry, chocolate covered raspberry, 50% Thompson Vineyard, 50% Stolpman (all Alban and Tablas clones).  390 cases produced.  Scheduled release late Summer 2010.

Jaffurs 2008 Syrah Larner Vineyard – heady and beautiful, blackberry, black pepper, mocha, allspice, super long finish.  340 cases produced.  Scheduled release late Summer 2010.

Kaena 2008 Grenache Larner Vineyard – bright and gorgeous with flavors of red raspberry, cranberry, leather, super long finish.  One of the top 5 wines I tasted at the event.  100 cases produced.  Scheduled release Winter 2010.

Kaena 2008 Hapa – 56% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 11% Mourvèdre, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, garrigue, cedar, clove.  Again, one of the top 5 wines I tasted at the event.  200 cases produced.  Scheduled release Winter 2010.

Rey 2007 Syrah – 10 % Grenache and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon – blackberry, black pepper, mocha.  Wonderful wine for $20.  Available now – but only 100 cases produced so get it while you can!  NOTE:  Rey is a second label – the reserve label is De Su Propia Coshecha – if you see it buy it – your mouth will thank you.

Samsara 2008 Syrah Melville Vineyard – Unexpected nose of florals, black plum, black pepper,  earthy. Only 120 cases produced.   Scheduled release Fall 2010.

Samsara 2008 Syrah Ampelos Vineyard – Very integrated flavors for a 2008, black fruits, black pepper, garrigue and herbs.  Only 75 cases produced.  Scheduled release Fall 2010.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that Ampelos is a big favorite of mine; I love what Samsara’s winemaker Chad Melville has created with the wonderful Ampelos fruit.

Vogelzang 2008 Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard – Fiddlestix is a fabulous source of fruit in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, intense flavors of tart cherry, ripe raspberry and caramel, well integrated flavors for such a young wine.   Only 100 cases produced.  Scheduled release Spring 2011.

What a wonderful way to spend the day – I only wish that the event were spread over two days, so that I could taste *all* the wines.  Maybe next year?  Many thanks to Bob Wesley and his team from the Winehound for putting on such a fabulous event!

My friend Louise hosts a wonderful brown bag tasting every time she and friends feel like they need to cull their wine collections.   She calls it a Winemergency.  She specifies a type of wine or a few types as the unifying theme.  Then attendees bring appetizers to share and a bottle or two.  All the bottles are bagged, tasted and then everyone compares notes at the end just before the bottles are removed from the bags.   This evening we tasted no fewer than twenty nine wines:  seven Chardonnays, six Grenaches, nine Syrahs and seven blends.   Needless to say we weren’t drinking the wine, we were tasting, spitting and then scribbling a few notes.    I know some people feel like it is a waste to spit out wine – and I wholeheartedly agree with them.  With that said, these events present an opportunity to taste many wines side by side, which is one of the best ways to train your palate. After every wine was swirled, tasted, compared and contrasted, there were a few bottles that really stood out from the crowd:  2006 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, 2008 Brewer Clifton Chardonnay, 2007 Tre Anelli Grenache, 2004 Beckmen Estate Grenache and 2006 Rey Grenache (Note: priced around $20, the Rey is a great buy though it can be hard to find – try the Wine Hound in Santa Barbara or the Bounty Hunter in Napa if you’re trying to find Rey wines), 2005 Ampelos Epsilon Syrah, 2004 Beckmen Estate Syrah, 2006 Clos Saint Michel Châteauneuf-du-Pape (blend of 40% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre), 2006 Ampelos Syrache (blend of 73% Syrah, 27% Grenache), 2008 Delas Saint-Esprit Côtes du Rhône  (blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, 5% Mourvedre, 5% Carignan and a with a price of $15 a great buy).    In between tasting, spitting and scribbling notes, I managed to take a few snapshots.

The brown bagged lineup of wines

The brown bagged lineup of wines

After the reveal - the Chardonnays

After the reveal - the Chardonnays

After the reveal - the Grenaches

After the reveal - the Grenaches

2006 Rey Grenache - Lots of taste for very little money

2006 Rey Grenache - Lots of taste for very little money

After the reveal, the Syrahs

After the reveal, the Syrahs

After the reveal, the Blends

After the reveal, the red blends

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.

Jason and I had a wonderful dining experience at the picturesque Ballard Inn restaurant last night.  We were seated immediately at a romantic two person table near the fireplace.  We took a look at the wine-by-the-glass list and were impressed with the carefully chosen list of fabulous –mostly local- wines.  I ordered a glass of the 2007 Ampelos Rosé of Syrah (gorgeous deep pink color, bright taste –no oak, no malolactic fermentation, nose of citrus, watermelon, florals, mineral qualities, soft tannins).   Ashley, our young but very well informed and professional server, recommended a wine for Jason – the Kaena Hapa (a mouth filling, fruit/spice bonanza of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre – nothing short of WOW).  Kaena (which means “potential for greatness” in Hawaiian) is the personal label made by Mikael Sigouin whose day job is head winemaker at Beckmen. This talented and hardworking young winemaker is officially on my radar as one to watch!  Potential for greatness, indeed!  But, I digress.  Getting back to the food, we started off with two beautifully presented appetizers.  First, room temperature short rib meat with truffle oil served on a bed of watercress, garnished with small dollops of aioli and four purple potato crisps.  I’ve never thought of making a salad out of short rib meat, but this was amazing – moist, flavorful and rich, but not too heavy to eat in the summertime.  And who knew potato chips could be so decorative – and pretty?  Our second appetizer was crispy sweetbreads served with mizuna salad and arugula with macadamia nut pesto.  All the different textures and tastes in this dish blended harmoniously together.  Wow!  Ashley surprised us with a hamachi sashimi appetizer with soy-yuzu vinaigrette which paired beautifully with the Ampelos rosé.  Our entrées arrived soon after we finished the hamachi.  Jason’s entrée was the crispy skin barramundi with chive risotto and soy mushroom broth.  Barramundi is a white fish, though not as delicate in taste or texture as halibut.  Its firm texture and rich taste was complemented well by the chive risotto.  Jason ordered the 2007 Kaena Hapa Blanc (a white Rhone-style blend of  Grenache Blanc and Roussanne – well balanced, elegant, tropical fruit notes, luscious mouth feel and a long finish- only 170 cases made) to go with his fish.

Duck at the Ballard Inn

Duck entree at the Ballard Inn

I ordered the pan seared duck breast with sweet potato purée and balsamic reduction.  I decided that the Kaena Hapa (red) that we had with our appetizers would be wonderful with the duck – and it was!  Dessert was almond panna cotta with strawberries and coconut tuile, and a bottle of 2005 Cold Heaven Late Harvest Viognier (wonderful florals on the nose, rich on the palate with peach, apricot and honey).   Chef Budi Kazali, who was recently won the 2009 Ultimate Chef competition, came out of the kitchen for a few moments to greet diners.   Jason and I were happy to thank Chef Kazali in person for all the amazing food we enjoyed tonight!

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