Category Archives: California

Sparkling wine for my real friends…..

I tried my first Sta Rita Hills vin clair chard from a barrel of one of the Sashi/Raj (SaRaj, perhaps?) projects, back in 2012 I think. It was sublime, to say the least. Tension in its full definition. The wine brought me plummeting back to the white chalky soils of Champagne. Without even trying one fully feremented bottle, I have complete confidence in what it’ll become.

At this year’s WOPN, Sea Smoke was pouring their Sea Spray (see what they did there?) it was perfect. A crisp blanc de noir, lovely tiny boules, wild strawberry on the nose and a palate cleansing finish.

Sea smoke sea spray

At a recent industry  tasting held at Palmina  I was able to try a few more local sparklers, sadly, there were only eight. This was due to a lot of the sparkling in the county not even being in bottle yet and also the tiny amounts producers even have. The following three were my top picks of the night.  Lucas & Lewellen Blanc de Noirs was my favorite on the night. Nectarines, apricot and brioche. Perfectly balanced. – $30 (great price) Summerland Winery Brut using Sonoma fruit was very crisp, and tasted of granny smiths and lime. $30 While Brewer-Cliftons straight Chard, from their own 3D vineyard, has more mouthfeel and a bit heavier with nutty, yeasty flavors and baked peach. You could age this one for 10 years or so. $50  

There is a sparkling future in Santa Barbara County and I really think Sta Rita Hills will be leading that pack. In a bit of a discussion afterwards I asked about price, as its expensive making this stuff and competing against Les Grand Marques, which I believe SB County can do against non-vintage stuff, but it will be no easy task.

However, a good point was brought up by Morgen McLaughlin, who heads up SB County Vintners Assoc no less, that if we consider the local sparkling producers like those of the grower Champagner movement, that SBC will more likely to shine.  In short, Santa Barbara County sparkling, and for me specifically Sta Rita Hills, is California’s answer to grower Champagne…..there you have it.

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Camp Fire Wines

This is a long overdue post from the end of last summer.
We went on a two-nighter camping trip out to the redwood forest in Big Basin.

Considering we were in Santa Cruz County there were only two wineries worthy of the journey!

Bonny Doon and Ridge.

Bonny Doon’s Albariño is one of California’s best, lovely lime and tangerine with lots of acidity crispness.
At $18 too, quite a bargain. The current vintage is from a different vineyard, however without even tasting it I am sure it will be good. Perfect apéritf.

Bonny Doon Albariño

2013 Bonny Doon Albariño

Geyserville was the first Ridge wine I had, it was one from the mid-nighties, from then on I’ve been a fan, collecting different vintages, varietals and trying them randomly….2009 was indeed a superb wine. Soft cherry fruit, pepper, bramble, hint of clove spice, mint – we had these with wild boar and sage sausage and merguez, with harrissa mayonnaise. Being from California I’ll always have soft spot for zinfandel, this guy is a benchmark for the rest.


2009 Ridge Geyserville

2009 Ridge Geyserville


Me and Bonny Doon have got some history. From my first encounter when I set out on the near impossible task of sourcing a bottle of Cardinal Zin in the English country side for a zinfandel presentation at college (I even had the t-shirt!). To some ten years later when I finally got to meet Randal Grahm himself; where I had hard time keeping up with him as he went from tank to barrel trying his newest vintage that had just finished fermentation. To the encounter with Le Cigar Volant below…What in God’s holy name are you blathering about?

Well, I’ll tell you what I’m blathering about man…after having tried all these wines, served these wines and admired these wines….this 2009 Le Cigare Volant Réserve (en bonbonne, no doubt), is by far the finest Bonny Doon I’ve ever had. This wine is silky soft on the palate and gushing with pure blackberry fruit, there’s some mint, black licorice, wild mountain herbs and it just lasts and lasts on the finish. This is not a big wine and the alcohol is on the surprisingly low side at 13.4%. Regardless, this wine is fantastic, and for some god forsaken reason there’s still some left on their website.

I vividly remember sipping this wine well into the night just amazed at its

Well done.

2009 Le Cigare Volant

2009 Le Cigare Volant – best served with steak on the bloody side











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Move over Syrah…Ballard Cyn is all about Roussane

Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County is one of the most recent grape growing regions to attain the American Viticulture Area classification, or AVA. This little sub-region sits on one of the most picturesque drives in California. Ballard Canyon Road starts at State Route 154 (aka San Marcos Pass) and bends and winds its way to a little south of Buellton (home of the famous Pea Soup Andersen’s) on State Route 246. The road is only 7 miles long and full of native oak trees, rolling hills of vines, and even a few bison to complete the scenery straight off a vintage Americana postcard.

Wine drinkers are soon to hear more of Ballard Canyon as it is becoming one of the red Rhône hot spots of this great state, especially Syrah. Before receiving its official nod, Ballard Canyon was already getting a buzz of approval from sommeliers and winemakers alike. Vineyards and producers within the AVA’s boundaries include Stolpman, Beckman, Rusack, and Jonata, are all being touted for their red Rhônes. However, after a recent tasting, it was the Roussanne that was really a surprise.


stolpman vineyard

Photo courtesy of Stolpman’s Instagram —

Roussanne is not the most recognized white wine from Southern France, which is of course Viognier – the two are most commonly blended with a third grape Marsanne. It is rare to see a 100% Roussanne wine – last year there was 1277 tons of Roussanne picked while the total for Viognier was 28,000. There are distinct differences between the two: Roussanne has flavors of peach and apricot compote while Viognier tends to lean on the more tropical side of the fruit spectrum, also with characteristic pear notes. Both are on the fuller side in mouthfeel.


Stolpman, Cosecha, Bressades, Roussanne

The first Roussanne I tried was from boutique producer De Su Propia Cosecha, a winery that firmly puts all its concentration in the vineyard. The name is Spanish for “Of One’s Own Harvest” and proprietor/winemaker Chris King personally tends the vineyards from which he buys fruit. This is a very uncommon procedure as most just buy the grapes, while King is probably in the vineyard more than the winery. King sourced these grapes from Stolpman vineyard, and this is a wine that stands out. There was a fresh apricot nose with hints of honeydew, also some flavors of almond and water chestnuts; nectar in its full definition.

I tried Stolpman Vineyard’s own Roussane a few nights later. Stolpman was the first to plant Rhone varieties in Ballard, and really began the trend across the canyon. Their Roussanne is named “L’Avion”, French for airplane, as the vines grow on a former airplane strip on the property which started out as cattle ranch. This wine too is quite special, with a lovely nose of peaches and cream, some hints of honeysuckle and with clean cut minerality on the finish.

To put these two wines in perspective I took a quick jaunt out to my local bottle shops in search of a French Roussanne. Although I came up empty handed in 100% Roussanne wine, I did find a 50/50 Rousanne Viognier made by Mas des Bressade in the Costières de Nîmes, one of the more southern bits of the Rhône . Although this is made up half of Viognier it is still full of Roussanne flavor, lots of peaches, apricot compote, fresh minty tea leaves and tropical melon.

The Ballard Canyon wines were very fragrant and what made them stand out was the pureness on the palate. Both had such ripe stone fruit flavors and an underlining acidity mixed with minerality that adds a fresh note. Food-wise and because of the medium weight of Roussanne these wines will go perfect with most poultry, fish or seafood and citrus sauces. Fish or shrimp tacos with mango salsa or grilled salmon with a lemon cilantro sauce, the weight of the wine will counter light lemon or lime sauces. In fact, I would go as far as saying it will stand up to medium spicy Thai dishes as well. I am just imaging a chicken yellow curry matching perfect to the peach and apricot flavors of Roussanne.

So, remember the name ‘Ballard Canyon’ particularly if you come across one of these delectable Roussannes, a perfect match for your spring and early summer.


De Su Propia Cosecha is available here, at their online store, for $28

Stolpman Vineyard’s L’Avignon is available here, at their online store, for $38

Mas Bressade is available at various merchants here, for around $17

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The garage is open for pouring

From the Santa Barbara News-Press – January 26th

The popular wine show from Paso Robles, The Garagiste Festival is rolling its way down south to Solvang, in what will hopefully be an annual event, Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure.

Garagiste is all about celebrating the little guy and will feature 30 of Santa Ynez Valley’s high-quality, small-production winemakers, on February 16th. The new non-profit festival follows on the heels of 2012’s sold out Paso Robles Garagiste Festival, which hosted over 40 wineries and 1,000 attendees, and will incorporate the festival’s signature high quality wines, personal winemaker interaction and renegade spirit.

Larry Schaffer from Tercero Wines will be pouring from his conical flasks at the Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Larry Schaffer from Tercero Wines will be pouring from his conical flasks at the Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

The Garagiste Festivals, are dedicated to discovering and promoting artisan garagiste winemakers and showcase high-quality, cutting-edge, small production, commercial wineries that produce fewer than 1,200 cases a year.

The term garagiste derives from a movement in Bordeaux from the mid 1990’s. It is the nick-name given to those who made “vin de garage” or garage wine and is in reference to a group of rebellious Bordeaux winemakers who were tired of the strict oenology and viticulture laws that govern the region. As they never had their own estate vineyard, the garagistes would have to buy their grapes, in some cases very sought after expensive grapes, they made wine of a modern style, unlike anything at the time.  The term which at one point was a back handed compliment, has evolved to define wine that is made in a small quantities or micro-cuvée.

“In response to overwhelming demand, we have expanded the festival a hundred miles south to Santa Ynez Valley, one of the most exciting garagiste regions in the country,” said Garagiste Festival co-founder Doug Minnick. “The Santa Ynez Valley is the perfect next location as we continue to expand the Garagiste Festival to expose more garagistes to even more wine consumers.”

South African winemaker Ernst Storm, South Africa, makes wine under his own label Storm and is also head winemaker at Curtis Winery in Los Olivos, is looking forward to the event, “I think it is a great way for consumers to taste and also talk to smaller producers that they would not have gotten in touch with otherwise. It gives us winemakers the chance to showcase personality driven wines from small batches made with a lot of care and attention to detail in an intimate environment.”  Storm will be pouring his 2011 Sauvignon Blanc-Santa Ynez Valley, 2009 Pinot Noir-Santa Maria Valley and the 2010 Pinot Noir-John Sebastiano Vineyard.

Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines, who is known for decanting his wine in to laboratory beakers, has a different take.  “When you only make 4-500 case you don’t have much to get out there and shows like this are the perfect opportunity to showcase your wine to wine savvy consumers who don’t necessarily know about our names.”  Schaffer is planning to pour a variety of his wines which will include will be his 2011 Viognier and Grenache Blanc, as well as his Mourvedre.

Melissa Sorongon, co-owner of Piedrasassi, is looking forward to taste some of her compatriot’s wines, “Because a lot of these winemakers don’t have their own vineyards, it would be interesting to try wines made from the same vineyards but by different winemakers.”  Piedrasassi will have their 2010 Central Coast White, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Roussane as well as their 2009 Central Coast Syrah.

Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure - February 16th 2013

Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure – February 16th 2013 in Solvang

The Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure takes place at the Mission-style Veterans Memorial Hall in  Solvang.  The one-day festival begins at 11:00 AM with the seminar “The Ultimate Barrel Tasting – Oak Flavors Tasted and Explained”. Winemaker and vineyard owner Michael Larner, of Larner Vineyard, and winemaker Ryan Render, of Rendarrio Vineyards and cooperage Tonnellerie Saint Martin, bring their knowledge of viticulture, winemaking, and barrels to the table in this special comparison barrel tasting of wines made by McPrice Myers from the Larner Vineyard. Attendees will learn and taste through a selection of wines made from the same vineyards but put through different oak treatments.  Basically, showing how oak can affect the finished product and change the profile of a wine.

Current wineries in attendance are: Altman Winery, Autonom, Baehner Fournier Vineyards, Blair Fox Cellars, Casa Dumetz, Center of Effort, Deovlet Wines, El Rey Wines, Frequency Wines, Ground Effect Wines, J. Wilkes Wines, Kaena Wine Co., Kessler-Haak Wines, La Fenetre Wines, Larner Winery, Luminesce, Nagy Wines, Native9 Wine, Pench Rance, Piedrasassi, Refugio Ranch, Roark Wine Co., Ryan Cochrane Wines, Shai Cellars, Storm Wines, Tercero Wines and Transcendence Wines., with more to come.

For tickets and more information on The Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure, go to, or follow on Twitter (@GaragisteFest) or Facebook.

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Garagiste Festival, taking the wine show helm in Paso Robles

Now that Hospice du Rhône has vacated the festival ‘throne’ in Paso Robles, CA there is an opening for a newly crowned king.  The Garagiste Festival is only in its second year but might very well be the heir apparent.

There is a2nd Annual Garagiste Festival Paso Robles sameness recipe that a lot of wine shows just can’t seem to break.  Endless rows of clothed folding tables in some sort of pavilion or civic center, a of mass people all who all seem to be asking for the same wine and of course the tiny ISO approved wine glass.

Well there is a light at the end of the dimly lit wine show tunnel and it just might be The Garagiste Festival.  It’s breaking the wine show mold and this is partly due to the grounds they host the show on, Windfall Farms.  A converted barn, gives a more intimate feel when you chat to the producers.  It only allows wineries producing 1200 bottles or less to pour their wine, so a lot of the wineries here don’t have their own pump, let alone a tasting room.

I enjoy this show because you are going to find a few of gems.  Last year I discovered one of the most serious natural wine producers in the Central Coast, Ambyth Estates,
who proved that wines with acidity exist  in the land of big fruit and even bigger alcohol.

Another positive on the Garagiste front is the total lack of fluff and glitter that tends to pair far too often with wine shows.  I have no doubt this is due mainly to the one of the show’s co-founders, Stewart McLennan.  Stewart, who’s an Aussie, is all you would expect in a brash, to the point, no-nonsence antipodean.  Such personalities are very welcome in the slightly plastic Californian wine world.

I asked Stewart if he was taking Hospice’s spot “I don’t want to be the next Hospice, I don’t like their time slot in Summer and I don’t want to lose our location here. I do however want to grow Garagiste to include wineries from oversees like they did.” There are also rumors/rumblings of the Garagiste Festival traveling out side of Paso to other wine regions in California….I’ll be the first to support that,  and wish the supporters luck in their quest.

So, of the 48 some producers on show, here are my favorites, no particular order.

Ground Effect – Nick de Luca’s wine was one of the few from Santa Barbara County. Nick’s very into low, low sulfur use btw.  2011 Rock Garden is a blend of Syrah/Grenache/Zin – it had some dense concentration, a deep of berries, lavender and herb like finish.

2010 Ground Effect Rock Garden

2010 Ground Effect Rock Garden

Stage Left Cellars  – Melinda Doty and her husband make their wine in Oakland.

The 2009 The Escape Artist is 100% Syrah from Watch Hill Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.  Lovely fruit on this one with loads of spice and minerals.

2009 Stage Left Cellars The Escape Artist

2009 Stage Left Cellars The Escape Artist

Chris Von Holt  of Von Holt had a 2010 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard from Russian River Valley. Really liked this Pinot sour cherry fruit and pencil lead minerality, some nice tarry asphalt as well.

He just got mentioned as of one of Jon Bonné’s Top 100 in the Chronicle too (good job guys).  Also, interesting to note, you hear about ex-lawyers/doctors retiring into the wine world.  Well Chris was a secret service man – working with a bunch of different presidents and a certain president’s daughter who went to Stanford!!!!

2010 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley

2010 Pinot Noir Bacigalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley

Paix Sur Terre is owned by Ryan and Nicole Pease – their making Rhône blends – Particularly liked the 2010 Passenger, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre all though the alcohol was a bit high for me at 15.6%, the wine still came out quite balanced.  Labels are pretty sweet too. Their 2010 The Other One was quite a good tipple as well of mostly Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah.

2010 Paix sur Terre Passenger

2010 Paix sur Terre Passenger

2010 Paix Sur Terre The Other One

2010 Paix Sur Terre The Other One

Les Deux Chats – Being an owner of two cats myself how could I not mention these guys!

Liked the 2010 Viognier, despite being from the fairly hot climate of Lodi and having 15.4% alcohol (WOW!!!) the wine was surprisingly soft, well balanced, not flabby and very pleasant.

2010 Les Deux Chat Ripken Vineyard Viognier

2010 Les Deux Chat Ripken Vineyard Viognier

Amy Butler of Ranchero Cellars, named after her vintage Ford Rancero, sources her 2010 Carignan from 5ft high ancient vines up in Mendocino.  Love this stuff and had it last year….this vintage was actually better than the ’09 I had last time. Also, just found out Amy won “Spirit of Garagiste’ award! Congratulations!

2010 Ranchero Cellars Carignan

2010 Ranchero Cellars Carignan

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It’s only Rock ‘n’ Rhone but I like it…

Apparently the secret to perfect Michelin starred restaurant mash potatoes is equal parts potato to butter and that’s the formula I followed last night.

But mash is not what this blog post is about (nor the roast chicken that accompanied it)…the back of Barrel 27‘s bottle says “Each bottle of this wine represents a dream realized by three friends.”  I first came across this winery about five years ago, they must have just started.  Some friends of mine (Cielo & Erin) had gone to university with them up in SLO and kindly gave me a bottle.  I packed it back to London and opened it with some sommelier people…and remember we all enjoyed it.

So, upon my permanent return Stateside I was very pleased to see Barrel 27 at my local bottle shop (The Winehound) …and last night decided their Grenache would go well with my 3 pounds of butter added mash. (It did!)

2008 Barrel 27 'Rock and a Hard Place' Grenache

2008 Barrel 27 'Rock and a Hard Place' Grenache

Here’s a tasting note:
2008 Barrel 27 Santa Barbara County
Rock and a Hard Place
Grenache, 15.6%

Crisp and juicy with the ripest of berries.
A little bit of sherbert too.
An easy drinker, the wine quenches your taste buds.
After a little bit of time the wine changed completely.
Dark licorice and a more broody character all together.

(tried the last dredge the next morning, still really bright and crisp…decided to add two years to ageability, due to the crisp acidity.)

BTW very well balanced at 15.6%…

Drink now until 2016 — I paid $17.99

A very enjoyable wine indeed, most especially at that price point, very happy with the purchase and will buy it again.

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Wine to rough it with

Destination Sequoia.

As excited as I was to see the land of the tree giants I was equally as excited to to try a couple of wines I’d been holding on to…

Tin Barn Vineyards, a winery up in Sonoma, was kind enough to send me a bottle of their 2006 Coryelle Fields Vineyard Syrah.  The grapes are sourced from a vineyard near Jenner – I have yet to go there but from what I hear the vineyard is up a dirt track and planted on a fairly element exposed spot. Sounds great to me!

Tin Barn Syrah 2006 Coryelle Fields Vineyard

Tin Barn Syrah 2006 Coryelle Fields Vineyard

As for the Syrah the nose is full of dark berry fruit and spice but where this wine excels is its take on earthy Rhône.  We’re not talking dank Gigondas here, but for something out of California there is a lot of earthiness, soil even, and plenty of smokey savoury bacon, flavors.  Basically, a perfect wine for sitting around a campfire.

Tin Barn Syrah is available at the winery for $25 or you can go order it off their site

Giant Sequoia

Giant Sequoia

Mini Clubman in a Sequoia
Mini Clubman in a Sequoia
Another wine that made the trek northward was a very fine bottle of 2007 Rey Syrah.  Rey is the second label of the garagiste duo Chris and Deanna King.  They make their wine up in Lompoc under their main nomenclature De Su Propia Cosecha.
2007 Rey Syrah - Great with steak

2007 Rey Syrah - Great with steak

Rey has mostly Syrah in it but there’s a bit of Grenache and even less Cab.  Immediately on the nose you get hit of fresh bluberries as well as fresh aniseed and licorice.  The palate is crunchy with just enough tannin to roughin’ up your inner cheek.  This wine is very nice and very affordable at only $19.

2007 Rey Syrah

2007 Rey Syrah

If you live in SB I believe Winehound carries it, if not they can probably get it for you. It’s worth a note too that DSP has just been awarded 92 points for both their Grenache blend and Roussanne…worthy of a look.

A meadow near "End of the Road" in the Kings Canyon

A meadow near "End of the Road" in the Kings Canyon

As for Sequioa, even with spending a week there, we only touched the surface as it were.  We will definitely be going back again soon.

Adieu for now.

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