Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Santa Barbara County Trip Part 1

I ventured down south to Santa Barbara a few weeks ago. This was just a short trip to visit my wife and her Pacifica Grad Classmates, and of course to visit the nearby wineries. This was my second trip there so I had a pretty good idea of my itinerary. My first visit was to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto (to see why it's called that check out Fiddlehead's facade, below). I had to visit my favorite Pinot Grigio spot Palmina, as well as the famed Fiddlehead.

Instead of wring about every single wine I had at each winery, I'm just going to mention the ones that I thought were really good, okay? Cool.

Palmina was featuring 5 wines - two white, three red. They focus on Italian only varietals, so this is fairly unique for this mostly Pinot Noir area. I actually didn't care too much for the Pinot Grigio this time around...after speaking with Joan, the nice tasting room lady (who didn't want her picture taken) she said I may have previously tasted the Pinot Grigio Santa Barbara County (non-vineyard specific). This wine was supposed to be a richer bodied wine with tropical fruit aromas and flavors, rounded out by a nice orange custardy finish. This sounded more up my alley so I bought a couple bottles, despite not being able to taste them.

Their 2006 Dolcetto, Santa Barbara County, was really quite nice. A very easy drinking, medium bodied wine. Red fruits and floral notes, smooth texture. $20. I also enjoyed their 2005 Barbera, Santa Barbara County. This is 100% barbera, blended from three vineyards (Honea, Alisos, Zotovich). This is a bigger wine, with hearty but smooth tannins. Dark rasberries, pepper, and a little mint. $22. Palmina produces less than 5000 cases a year (total production) so you'll like need to order online or visit their tasting room to get some.

Fiddlehead got a little surge a few years ago because they were featured in Sideways. There was that scene where Miles and Jack met Mia and Stephanie for dinner. Miles sat down in front of Mia and asked what she was drinking, he tried it and said, "That's good. That's really good." That would be the Fiddlehead Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc. This is really good stuff actually. I tried the 2005. A very well balanced wine. This has a little more body than most sauv blancs, but it remains crisp and lively. I got a lot of pear and honey on the nose and palate, with hints of grass and cloves. $24. I also enjoyed their 2004 Pinot Noir, Oldsville Reserve. Very supple mouthfeel. Dark Cherry with a little cedar and possibly currant. Aged for 15 months in french oak, 35% new. Interesting thing about this wine is that the grapes are from Willamette valley! No wonder I liked it. I got to speak with winemaker Kathy Joseph about the process of getting the grapes down to her winery in Lompoc. She said there's a lot of care and precision to make sure the delicate grapes are not damaged in any way. Judging from how the wine tasted, it sounds like she did a bang up job. More on my conversation with her in another post. We got to talking about winery direct shipments and the changing landscape of wine sales.

Lastly, Sanford. Nestled in the Santa Rita Valley, this is one of the first (maybe THE first) wineries in this area. Sanford was also featured in the movie Sideways. The tasting room guy with the long hair is no longer there. (He is now at Alma Rosa, which coincidentally is where the Sanfords are as well. They sold the Sanford Winery and name in the last couple years to another wine mogul.)

I sampled 7 of their wines. Which by the way let me say that any wineries reading this - can you please limit your wines to five or seven at the most? One winery who won't be named had 12 (!) wines on their tasting list. You don't have to sample ALL your wines ALL the time. Standouts were their 2005 Pinot Grigio, Santa Barbara County. Intense and rich stone fruits, bright and lively, with a little floral finish. At $17 a very good deal! Another favorite for me was their 2006 Pinot Noir Vin Gris, Santa Barbara County. This is rosé . I saw a few folks naming rosés vin gris. Maybe it's a marketing thing since rosé is still a little passé to many. The juice is in contact with the skins for 3 - 5 hours before it is tank fermented. It's then aged in french oak (neutral) for 4 months. Lots of cranberry and some melon for good measure. Great balance. Great summertime shiznit. $14!

Monday, August 6, 2007

New Wine Label Laws

Wine labels may be changing in the near future. The Bush Administration is proposing one of those standard nutrition facts labels on every bottle of wine. That would certainly take a lot of the romanticism out of the bottle. But it would also provide useful information for diabetics, or other extremely health conscious persons. There's an interesting discourse on this topic at the Fermentation blog. A couple people pointed out that the nutrition facts for a bottle of wine are somewhat similar to an apple. They're all pretty much the same. Someone else suggested those peel-back labels found on mouthwash bottles. So maybe there's an equitable solution here.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Pudding River 2006 Chardonnay, Willamette Valley

I had the opportunity to help winemaker Sean Driggers and his wife represent Pudding River Wine Cellars at the 2007 Portland Indie Wine Festival. There was a lot of buzz around their table, I think in part because so many other wineries were showing their reds, primarily pinot noir (we are indeed in pinot country). I couldn't taste the wines because I was working the show, but picked up a bottle of each to try at home.

Their 2006 chardonnay is somewhat unique in that it has a little residual sugar (1.2% to be exact). It's also fermented in 100% stainless steel, and goes through no malolactic fermentation. Quite an interesting wine. It has a fairly hefty body, but without the gravity that many chardonnays do that go through malo and oak ageing. I think the body here comes from the quality of the grapes, the residual sugar, and the higher than average alcohol content (14%). The wine has aromas of spiced pear, ripe apple, pie crust...a compote! The spice here reminds me of light mulled wine - nutmeg, cinnamon, that sort of thing. Really tasty in the mouth. The sweetness doesn't get in the way and is quite enjoyable, so long as the wine is served cool. As the night wore on and the temperature of the wine came up to near 70, it became a bit syrupy. No fault of the wine, just the wrong temperature to drink it. A really enjoyable wine. Only 12 cases of this were made, so this is truly indie wine material. If they still have some, go get it. $18 a bottle is a steal.
Remember to support the independent and small wineries!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Best Pinot Grigio I've Had (so far)

Preparing for a visit down to Santa Barbara next week, I began to plan out my winery visits and got to thinking about what I enjoyed most about that trip. There was this little tiny winery in Lompoc that I could never remember the name of except that it started with a "P". It was located in what's called the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, a series of warehouse/office units situated in an industrial part of Lompoc. Apparently the rent is cheap and the warehouses stay naturally cool, which cuts down on the electricity bills. The winery...Palmina! The wine: 2006 Pinot Grigio, Alisos Vineyard. It was so refreshingly fresh, and the fruit, which centered around sweet meyer lemon and stone fruits, was amazingly vibrant and rich. $20 a bottle. Because I was stupid, I didn't pick up a bottle or ten, so now this is going to be one of my first stops when I get back to this area.

Nearby there are some other great wineries, including Fiddlehead, which you must check out if you're ever in the area. They make some great Pinot Noirs. But Palmina stood out, not only because of the Pinot Grigio, but because they decided to focus on only Italian varietals, which is very unique in this Pinot Noir laden area.

Hey by the way, if you know if any other great wines from Santa Barbara County, please let me know. I'll check it out and write about it in an upcoming post.

Napa Prognosis: Corporate BS

Napa has been moving toward corporate-adult-disneyland for the last few years. Last year Mondavi sold out to Constellation for $1.36 billion, making Constellation the largest wine company in the U.S. This seemed to signal a straying away from the original family owned and operated winery of previous decadades, and a definitive momentum toward corporate conglomerate ownership. Well I think now it's very official. Warren Winiarski, the famed winemaker who taught the world (old and new) a thing or two about Cabernet by winning the Paris tasting in 1976, sold his Stag's Leap Wine Cellars for $185 million. Who to? Italy's Antinori and their U.S. importer, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, who just happens to be the 10th largest wine producer in the country.

Corporate ownership takes the quirky yet beautiful nature of the family winery style and turns it into freaking disneyland. Go visit Mondavi or Sterling in Napa and you'll see what I mean. I'm sure Winiarski had good intentions when he said, "I think it's not the end of an era, it's the transition to a new era. It's a transition to continuity." What the %^$& is that supposed to mean? I can't afford Winiarski's wines, but I've tried some and they're truly great. And his story of success is a beautiful one (read The Judgement of Paris). I just hope that the new folks in charge don't mess with his brand, his wine, or his winery.