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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 first Pinot Noir harvested from the student vineyard.  Many thanks to the viticultural students!

The first Pinot Noir harvested from the student vineyard. Many thanks to the viticultural students!

It is very strange to be attending college again after graduating so many years ago.   Recently, I showed up for my first day of wine making class at Allan Hancock College (go Bulldogs) and expected to sit in a lecture hall taking notes for 4.5 hours.  Boy, was I wrong!  Our professor, Norm Yost (winemaker of Flying Goat cellars) spoke for about an hour, assigned some homework and then let us know that we have 600 pounds of Pinot Noir to work with – TODAY!   He said the grapes won’t wait, so we just have to sink or swill, err swim. 😉   Our mission in class is to make a sparkling wine from Pinot Noir.  This is traditionally called a blanc de noirs, literally “white of blacks”, meaning a white wine that is made from black grapes.

After the brief lecture, we headed down to the tiny campus winery  (why, oh why didn’t my alma mater have a campus winery?) where 600 pounds of freshly picked Pinot Noir grapes were waiting in bins.  This is the first Pinot Noir harvested from the Allan Hancock student vineyard.  (Many thanks to all the viticulture students who made this happen!)  First, we put up canopies to keep the sun off of us (and the grapes) and then moved all the equipment we’d need: bladder basket press, pump, fermentation tank, various clamps, gaskets, hoses and buckets.   We took everything apart and thoroughly washed it.  Then we put it all back together and attached the pump’s hose to the fermentation tank.

Basket press

The bladder basket press gently presses the juice from the whole clusters.

Next we filled the press with whole clusters of grapes and pressed off the juice.    Then we pumped the juice into the fermentation tank.   Then we filled the press with grapes again and repeated the process (we did this quite a few times until all the grapes were pressed).   We took a sample of the juice and tested its brix with a hydrometer.  Our reading was 18.2 brix.   After all the grapes were pressed, it was time to inoculate the juice with yeast and get fermentation started.

winemaking math

Calculating the amount of yeast needed for fermentation.

This involved more math than I’ve done in many years.  Essentially we needed to make an educated guess of how much wine was in the fermentation tank (why aren’t tanks conveniently marked like measuring cups?).  This involved calculating the volume of a cylinder…something I am certain I learned in high school, though haven’t thought about it quite some time.    Here is how:
1. Measure the height of the cylinder (up to where the juice is)
2. Measure the radius of the cylinder (across the top of the tank at the widest point)
3. Multiply the radius by pi (3.14159)
4. Multiply the radius by itself
5. Multiply #3 by #4
In our case we wound up with 42.1 gallons.  In order to figure out how much yeast to use, we needed to translate our gallons to hectoliters.   To do this, we multiplied our gallons times 3.785.   42.1 gallons x 3.785 = 1.59 hectoliters.    Next we multiplied the hectoliters by the number of grams of yeast required in order to calculate the amount of yeast required for inoculation.  1.59 hectoliters x 25 grams = 40 grams of yeast.   We combined the yeast with 400 milliliters of 105F water in a measuring cup and let the yeast begin their work.  After a few minutes we combined about a 1/2 C of juice to the mixture.  After stirring the mixture up, we added to to the tank and stirred with a big, plastic oar-like implement.

fermentation tank

Fermentation tank: Home of our soon-to-be-wine for the next two weeks.

We then attached the lid of the fermentation tank.  Lastly, we created a schedule so that once daily a student would go check on the fermentation, take the brix and temperature reading with the hydrometer and log the results.  Jason and I are going later on in the week, so the initial fermentation will be nearly halfway done (it should take about 2 weeks to complete).   If all goes as planned, the fermentation will be well steadily progressing.   Even though the soon-to-be-wine is still in the fermentation tank, I am already looking forward to popping the cork.  My favorite sparkling wine is Schramberg Blanc de Noirs; hopefully someday I can craft a sparkling reminiscent of this.   My fingers are crossed!

Foxen Block N Pinot Noir

2008 Foxen Block N Pinot Noir

Just released:  2008 Foxen Pinot Noir Block N – Bien Nacido Vineyard – just four barrels (only 100 cases) of this gorgeous wine were made.  I was fortunate enough to taste it recently at an event at Foxen and fell in love.   Block N is the oldest Pinot Noir block planted at Bien Nacido, which is planted with the “California Heritage” Martini Clone. The fruit was picked early in the day on the 6th of October.  The whole berries were destemmed, and fermented in a small open top fermenter for 10 days. Twice daily punch-downs helped to extract color, tannins, and the classic red summer fruit qualities into the wine. It was bottled (unfined and unfiltered) in early March 2010 after 16 months in 50% new François Frères barrels.

2009 Foxen Rosé of Mourvedre

2009 Foxen Rosé of Mourvedre with Foxen vineyard in the background

Root 246 - a restaurant by Bradley OgdenA restaurant called Root 246 opened about a year ago in Solvang.  This caused quite a stir because the chef is Bradley Odgen (yes, *that* Bradley Odgen).  Needless to say, touristy Solvang, most notable for its kitschy Danish architecture,  doesn’t have any other restaurants featuring award-winning, celebrity chefs like Odgen.    Jason and I have eaten on the outdoor patio in the summertime.  This time, in light of the fact that it is February (and cold), we opted to sit in the dining room.

Menu at Root 246 a Bradley Ogden restaurant

Menu at Root 246

Odgen’s cooking style in three words is simply “farm to table”.  Naturally, the menu changes often – depending on what is in season.    Jason and I wanted to try many things on the menu so we decided to order a number of different appetizers in lieu of entrees.

Amuse Bouche at Root 246

Amuse-bouche of steelhead trout, shitake and a ginger soy emulsion

Shortly after ordering we received a delicious and beautiful amuse-bouche of steelhead trout and shitake mushroom dressed with a ginger soy emulsion.   I love these unexpected, tiny treats from the kitchen.

We ordered the “Artisan Cheese Plate” which came with thin slices of warm, toasted raisin bread, almonds, local honey and house made blood orange balsamic jelly (which was so fantastic I wanted to take some home).   All the cheeses sounded

Artisan cheese plate with house made blood orange balsamic jelly and local honey

Artisan cheese plate with house made blood orange balsamic jelly and local honey

so wonderful, we couldn’t pick just one.   We ordered the cave aged Marisa from La Valle, Wisconsin.  This sheep milk cheese is aged for six months in a cave.  It was earthy and rich and really tasty.  We also had the Ascutney Mountain cheese from Hartland, Vermont.   It is made from raw milk and is aged for no fewer than eight months.  It is firm, buttery and nutty – similar to a European alpine cheese.  Lastly, we chose a French cheese, called Comte Reserve des Granges from (yes, you guessed it) Franche-Comte, France.   Made from cow’s milk, this is a nutty and buttery cheese that melts in your mouth.  Cheeses like this one are a perfect alternative to dessert (not that we’ll be skipping dessert).

warm "Bautista Farms" spinach salad, La Quercia proscuitto, quail egg and Minus 8 vinaigrette

Warm "Bautista Farms" spinach salad, La Quercia proscuitto, quail egg and Minus 8 vinaigrette

Next up was the warm “Bautista Farms” spinach salad, La Quercia proscuitto, quail egg and Minus 8 vinaigrette.  The spinach was thicker and more crisp than any I’ve had before, rather more like swiss chard than spinach.   Bautista Farms is located in nearby Arroyo Grande so the spinach is super-fresh.

Sliders with Atomic Horseradish

Beef sliders with "atomic" horseradish

After the salad, we tucked into the beef sliders with atomic horseradish and fries with house made ketchup.  These were off the bar menu which offers more casual fare than the dining room menu.  The sliders were great except I really had my heart set on some spicy horseradish – after all, the menu said “atomic”.  In reality, the kick from the horseradish was “sub-atomic”.   With that said, it complemented the flavor of the beef and didn’t overpower the dish – which is probably what the chef planned.   The fries, served in a paper cone (a fun little nod to street food fare)  were warm and crisp and didn’t last on the plate very long.   The sliders tasted especially good with Barrel 27‘s 2006 “Right Hand Man” Syrah.   Barrel 27 is one of my favorites from Paso Robles.   Winemakers McPrice Myers and Russel From are really making some fabulous wine up there.

Miso glazed pork belly with crisp pork and mushroom "spring roll" and soy caramel

Miso glazed pork belly with crisp pork and mushroom "spring roll" and soy caramel

We also ordered the miso glazed pork belly with crisp pork and mushroom “spring roll” and soy caramel!  This was decadent – the flavors all melded together as the tender pork belly melted in my mouth.  Nom, nom, indeed!

Obviously, Jason and I were enjoying our food, what I haven’t mentioned yet is great waitstaff.  Our waiters (there were about 4 of them making sure we had enough bread, food, wine and water) were very attentive.  When Jason asked about a particular wine, the waiter offered to bring him a taste.  I really wish more restaurants would do this.  It is a real drag to order an unfamiliar wine (and too often the waiter cannot tell you anything about it) only to find that it isn’t something you like, in the slightest.  Thankfully the Root 246 staff is wine-centric enough to a) really know the wine list and b) offer a taste of a wine to a curious imbiber.  Kudos!

After all this delicious (and beautifully presented) food, we thought it best to order dessert, actually desserts.  As usual we couldn’t pick just one.  Jason ordered the butterscotch pudding “taster” with coffee-chocolate fudge cookie.  Both the pudding and the cookie were really wonderful – and the size of the dessert is perfect for one person to have a few bites of sweetness at the end a meal.  I ordered the 246 donut “puffs”, served with little cups of  hot fudge, Tahitian vanilla bean custard and apple compote.  I’d pictured donut holes in my head when I ordered this, so I was very surprised to get sticks.   The sticks are meant for dunking into any of the little cups.  It was a fun and tasty riff on donuts.

Organized shelves of food

Every shelf shows the date that the fruit arrived

One of our wonderful waiters asked us if we wanted a tour of the kitchen.   I cannot imagine why he asked me this question…maybe it was the fact that I kept photographing the plates of food?  hmmmm… Of course we took him up on his offer!   I learned that Root 246 doesn’t have a freezer – everything is fresh.  The produce is used within two days from when it is delivered.  Immediately upon delivery, all the fruit and herbs (organic and as local as possible) are washed and then stored on dated trays or in see-through bins.   Root 246 uses local, organic foods whenever possible.  You can taste the quality and the freshness – just take one bite of the spinach salad!   But don’t take my word for it – go check it out yourself.  And if you like to watch FoodTV, be sure to request the table *in* the kitchen!   It is tough to get that table on Saturdays, so call a few weeks ahead to make your reservation.

Here are a couple more photos we took on our tour:

Jason and Anne - interlopers in the Root 246 kitchen

Chef de cuisine Church

Chef de Cuisine Church in his element

chef footwear

Gotta dig the Converse! No Crocs here.

Pork belly

Pork belly - it's not just for breakfast anymore!

Spices in the Root 246 kitchen

Spices in the Root 246 kitchen

How can you screw up auto-focus? Sigh. Jason, Bradley Ogden, Anne

2006 Ethan Sangiovese

2006 Ethan Sangiovese

I was in Los Olivos today, so I stopped by the Qupé tasting room to see what Ethan Lindquist was up to.  In addition to the Qupé wines, he was pouring a few wines from his own label, Ethan.  His 2006 Sangiovese is wonderful.  It was so wonderful that I bought a few bottles to take home – as though I need more wine.  I guess I am working out the difference between “need” and “want”.  Well, I clearly wanted the Sangiovese – it is such a good summertime wine.  Plus it is so food friendly you can pair it with practically anything!  The fruit for this wine was grown at the Hearthstone Vineyard in Paso Robles on the west side.  It was aged for 30 months in neutral French oak barrels.  The neutral oak really allows the bright red fruit and spice flavors to shine.  I also bought each of Ethan’s vineyard designate Syrahs.  The first one was the 2006 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah.  The fruit for this wine is from Beckmen’s outstanding, biodynamically grown Purisima Mountain Vineyard block 6.  Ethan went “old school” on this one – the whole clusters of grapes were foot stomped and fermented with native yeast in small open top fermenters.  In order to add many layers of flavors, complexity and a solid tannin structure, the skins and stems were left in contact wine for 4 weeks.  This was made to age – I’d let it sit at least four years.  The second vineyard designate Syrah was the 2006 Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard Syrah.  The fruit was grown in the cool Sta. Rita Hills appellation in Santa Barbara County.  Typical of a cool-climate Syrah, it has notes of white pepper, leather and earth.  Ethan says it is one of the “softest and most elegant Syrahs I have ever made”.  This one can be aged for many years as well…but if you get impatient and open it soon be sure to give it plenty of time to breathe.  For best results decant it AND give it a good hour to open up. Thankfully the Sangiovese doesn’t require any additional aging.  On my way home, I picked up an authentic, super thin crust, Italian style pizza topped with prosciutto and asparagus from Via Vai.  Jason and I shared it with the Sangiovese.   What a wonderful way to end the day!  My only regret is that Ethan made a really small number of cases – only 100 cases of the Rancho Santa Rosa Vineyard,75 cases of the Sangiovese and 75 cases of the Purisima Vineyard Syrah.  Get it while you still can!

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