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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

So much has happened since I last posted.  Nope, I am not part of the witness protection program – I’ve just been really, really busy.  Let me try to condense the last month into a few words and some photos.  First and foremost I moved from Santa Barbara to a lovely house out in wine country with a view of the edge of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Moving is never easy or fun, but in this case the massive effort was worthwhile.  I’m reminded daily about what makes Pinot Noir so good, when I wake up to a view of the Santa Rita Hills.  Often times the hills are shrouded in fog that burns off by mid-morning.  The east-west coastal valleys combined with fog, wind and rocky soil stress the vines and reduce crop yield.  This results in incredibly complex and layered Pinot Noir.  If you want to taste what I am referring to, check out Ampelos Cellars’ 2005 Rho Pinot Noir.  You’ll be happy you did!

Though I’ve only been in my new place about a month and a half, so much has happened!  In the few weeks I:

  1. unpacked a seemingly infinite number of boxes, many of which were full of wine or books…I wonder if I really need all these books?
  2. enjoyed some of my favorite fabulous local wines (De Su Propia Cosecha, Brander, Tre Anelli, Stolpman, McPrice Myers) while unpacking boxes – no wonder it took so long!
  3. poured Consilience wines at an event at Blush in Santa Barbara
  4. ate amazing woodfired pizza at Full of Life Flatbread (and oysters – WOW!) – if you’re into woodfired pizza come to Los Alamos to eat at Flatbread
  5. wrote the tasting notes for a couple of fabulous soon to be released wines from Tre Anelli (2007 Pinot Grigio, 2007 Sangiovese, 2008 Diavolessa)
  6. went wine tasting at Brander (Thank you Fabian and Louise for the tour and barrel tasting!) – I *love* the Purisima Sauvignon Blanc and the reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
  7. encountered all sorts of wildlife out here in the country – deer (see photo below), red tailed hawks, turkey vultures, mice, moles, skunks (unfortunately one of my dogs got too close to the skunk, sigh) a myriad of songbirds, mice, horses and a tree frog (oddly enough the frog was in my shower…go figure)
  8. visited chef Paul Kulik at the Boiler Room restaurant and La Buvette in Omaha – my two favorite places to eat and drink in the Old Market district

So much has happened and so many wonderful things are on the horizon!  First and foremost, there is lots of great news from one of my local favorites, Dragonette Cellars.  Very soon you won’t have to go out to the wine ghetto in Lompoc to visit Dragonette, because they are opening up a tasting room in Los Olivos, right across the street from Stolpman.  Also, any day now, Dragonette will release a wine that consists mostly of the co-fermented Syrah/Viognier that I fell in love with while barrel tasting last year (there are a few photos from this below).  The wine is a reserve release and is called MJM.  John Dragonette, Steve Dragonette and Brandon Sparks-Gillis dedicated this wine to their wives (Mitchi, Jen and Michelle), hence the name MJM.  Smart husbands.  🙂 Recently I visited Dragonette and tasted the 2007 MJM with winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis.  He was quite proud (and rightly so) of the almost released blend of 96% Syrah, 3% Grenache and 1% Viognier.   This is a gorgeous wine with layers of flavors – definitely one to save for a special occasion!  It wasn’t officially for sale yet (the bottles had not yet been hand dipped in wax) however I was able to convince him to let me go home with a couple of bottles.  Thanks Brandon!   Last but not least, Dragonette now has a wine club – you can join online too!

On Saturday May 15th, the Wine Hound Santa Barbara County Wine Futures event is happening.  Last year was an amazing opportunity to taste incredibly fabulous local wines.  Check out my post with details from last year’s event. This year I promise to charge my camera battery.   There will be around 130 different wines available for tasting from local producers.  Old favorites, including Au Bon Climat, Jaffurs, Qupé and Stolpman will be there and also some newer producers like Rey, Kaena and Shai.  I am really looking forward to this event!

Last but not least, my wine tasting group is collecting bottles for a special Colson Canyon Vineyard themed tasting.  So far we have collected red wines made from Colson Canyon fruit produced by Cleb, Tensley and Brander.  If you know of any other wineries that make a Colson Canyon vineyard designate wine please drop me an email.

Here are some random snapshots of food, wine and other miscellany.  Cheers!

Dragonette winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis

Dragonette winemaker Brandon Sparks-Gillis with a bottle of MJM

De Su Propia Cosecha

De Su Propia Cosecha red (Grenache/Mourvedre/Syrah)

Pouring Consilience wines at Blush in Santa Barbara

Me pouring Consilience wines at Blush in Santa Barbara

lunch at Terravant

Lunch at Terravant (a fun place to taste wine - ask for a tour)

first meal at the new house

This is the first meal at the new house -we hadn't unpacked much yet

Dragonette 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

Dragonette 2008 Sauvignon Blanc - it makes unpacking boxes better

McPrice Myers L'Ange Rouge

McPrice Myers 2007 L'Ange Rouge at Side Street Cafe (we were too tired to cook)

Tre Anelli 2008 Diavolessa

Tre Anelli 2008 Diavolessa - red blend of Dolcetto, Barbera, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel

first course of salad and oysters at Flatbread

First course of salad and oysters at Flatbread

Blissed out at Flatbread

Happiness is eating at Flatbread

deer

What a fun surprise - a deer in my yard

2007 Duckhorn Decoy

2007 Duckhorn Decoy at Urban Wine Company in Omaha's Old Market district

La Buvette

La Buvette - you'll think you're in France, but it is really Omaha's Old Market district

wall of wine at La Buvette

One of the walls of wine at La Buvette

Foggy morning

The view from the patio - cool foggy mornings help make good Pinot Noir

no more fog

Foggy mornings turn into warm, clear days

Barrel tasting at Dragonette
Barrel tasting at Dragonette (photo courtesy of pixillusion.com)
Dragonette with the wine thief

Dragonette extracting wine with a wine thief (photo courtesy of pixillusion.com)

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

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