Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting Schooled in Santa Barbara

I am fortunate enough to be able to visit many of my winemaker friends every so often, and I ALWAYS learn a thing or 2. As I am in the midst of my current Central Coast tour, a few things have occurred to me.
  1. Pinot Noir wants to be blended-Not with other grapes, but with itself. Tasting through barrels yesterday, I saw 3 equal components of what is often revered (rightfully so), of one California Best Pinots. Each of the 3 components came from the same vineyard, had the exact same oak regime (11 months so far in 20% new French). The variable was that is was 3 different clones vinified and aged separately. They couldn't have been more different. In this rare moment, just a few months before the final blend, but long enough to have developed their own personalities, you could see where it was going and why it is such a complex finished wine.
  2. Santa Barbara is many things, this week I learned that it is not only Bordeaux but also Loire-We have been waiting for a long time for the Bordeaux wines to be great from SB County. there have been many recent bottlings that prove that they're on the right track. I tasted a 100% Cabernet yesterday that was as good as anything I've had from Santa Barbara, and competes very well against the very best of the new world. Priced in the low $30's, this could give Quilceda Creek a run for their money. That far Eastern edge in Happy Canyon is REALLY exciting. I also tasted a 1999 Cab Franc this week that blew my doors off. Old, pre-phylloxera roots and minimal intervention. This was varietally correct and absolutely rockin. A winemaker friend was with me, and we were just floored by what this was. Cab Franc as the Loire-ians (I really have no idea what you call someone from loire, Chinoions? Chinonoise?). so 2 Bordeaux varietal bottlings that really showed something that I just haven;t seen elsewhere in California, and these are "after thought" varietals out here.
  3. Syrah needs to be ripe-Conventional Wisdom has shifted so far over to the European sensibility, that we recite what wine is "supposed to be" by rote. I've also been guilty. The fact is, Syrah is one of the most complex grapes, if it ripens. It can be highly serviceable when underripe, and offensive when overripe. But the fine line that more and more winemakers are afraid of, is ripe. This should never be confused with jammy or sweet. Ripe creates 2 things you just can't get without a steady hand 1) Secondary flavors and aromas, like olives and juniper berries 2) Higher, but still integrated alcohol. We are all very afraid of high alcohol wines, but let go of your fears. In some, rare cases, in the right hands, you need the alcohol to give it weight. It's like finishing a great sauce with a pat of butter, it gives it that finish you really need. So while we all shun and run from the "parkerized" wines, maybe it's not that simple. Maybe you can't tell a book by it's cover.
So pretty good couple of days, I didn't even mention the amazing Chardonnay, Sav Blanc, Viognier and Grenache Blancs I tried. Maybe I'm a homer, but what has happened in Santa Barbara County, from a quality standpoint, just blows me away. Next, I wax poetic about Paso


  1. Nice to see Cab Franc getting some love--from you and from the SB winemakers. In my opinion (and it appears not to be a popular one), a well-done Cab Franc is hard to beat.

  2. To me, Franc is the "pinot noir of bordeaux grapes" - finicky, fussy, stubborn, sometimes quarrelsome. "but if done right...." For any locals who love Franc, we're all celebrating our bottlings at FrancFest 9/25/10! We love that grape!

  3. Love to try that Cab Franc sometime. Hint, hint. Anyway, I'm solidly skeptical about Cali Cab Franc, but always willing to be open minded.