Welcome to my blog’s new look! Created this evening in the back yard of a friend who is a wizard with Word Press. Thank you, Liz Dodder, aka www.food charmer.com
Other winemakers, friends and family joined Jim Clendenen to fete the owner of Au Bon Climat in front of more than 150 guests at the opening of the Fourth Annual Chardonnay Symposium Friday evening.
The historic adobe at Bien Nacido Vineyards east of Santa Maria was the setting for the evening — and the weather was nearly perfect, with only a hint of a breeze and no fog.
Chardonnays, pinot noir and syrah filled glass after glass, and Chef Rick (Rick Manson) prepared his always scrumptious coconut shrimp and more delights for appetizers, as well as the entrees and dessert.
Starting with Chris Slaughter, executive director of the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association, several people stood to praise Clendenen’s groundbreaking efforts to tirelessly promote Santa Barbara County, the Santa Maria Valley, Bien Nacido and other local vineyards and the grape varietals for which the region is best known: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Chris Hammell, vineyard manager of Bien Nacido, shared tales of Clendenen’s passion for both the site’s grapes, and for the people who work year after year to cultivate and harvest the fruit.
Hammell and young winemaker Gavin Chanin applauded Clendenen for mentoring them in vineyards and in the cellar. Chanin, only 18 when he first worked with Clendenen and Bob Lindquist at the winery they share, paid tribute to his mentor for everything from “teaching me to order sushi” to traveling to crafting sought-after wines.
Lindquist shared with the crowd the opt-repeated story of how he was fired from a gig for attending a Kinks concert but snapped up by then-managers at Zaca Mesa less than 48 hours later, thanks to the efforts of his friend Clendenen. Both men were in their early 20s at the time. It’s clear they’ve been comrades ever since.
Others sharing heartfelt accolades included Frank Ostini, co-owner/winemaker of Hitching Post Wines and owner of the famed Hitching Post in Buellton; Lane Tanner, winemaker at Sierra Madre, and Chef Rick.
We’re less than 30 hours away from the kick-off of the Fourth Annual Chardonnay Symposium, which opens Friday evening with a tribute dinner honoring the work and wine of Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat.
The symposium continues Saturday morning with a panel tasting that will target clones of chardonnay, and is followed by the grand tasting.
Yesterday I offered to share a few of my favorite chardonnays from grapes produced throughout Santa Barbara County, and specifically in the Santa Maria Valley, where chardonnay — and pinot noir — rule.
I’ve enjoyed many a chardonnay during my time in Santa Barbara County; I’m sure I cannot list them all.
Following are some producers with chardonnays that please my palate. They may not be your favorites, but remember: Your palate and my palate are different.
Tickling my fancy are the chardonnays from Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Costa de Oro Winery, Dierberg Vineyard, Ken Brown Wines, Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Wines and Sierra Madre.
I have one or two other favorite chardonnay producers among the list of those pouring Saturday afternoon, but they hail from outside of our county.
See you Friday evening!
I started to create an acronym using the word “chardonnay” — you know: “C” is for “chardonnay,” “h” is for “historic” grape, “a” is for “aroma” … but I ran out of descriptors starting with the “r” and the “d.”
No matter. It’s best to speak plain about chardonnay: It’s just good wine.
Chardonnay reigns in popularity across America, both with an older generation of wine drinkers who gravitate toward traditional, oak-infused chardonnay, and those who prefer stainless-steel aged — or a blend of the two styles.
At this weekend’s Fourth Annual Chardonnay Symposium, “America’s Sweetheart” grape is the star of the show.
This will be my fourth symposium in four years, but while looking over the list of participating winemakers earlier today, I found there are still several I have yet to try.
What are some of your favorite California, Central Coast and Santa Barbara County chardonnay producers?
Place. Climate. Soil. Clones. Native fermentation. Whole clusters versus more traditional de-stemming of the grapes. Co-fermentation. New French oak versus neutral.
All of these were factors voiced by the seven winemakers who were panelists in the Santa Barbara County Syrah Symposium Sunday morning during the final day of the annual Central Coast Wine Classic in Avila Beach.
The seven opened the session by describing the eight syrahs included in the event lineup, and, led by Margerum, then answered specific questions from the audience about what makes Santa Barbara County’s syrahs some of the most well-respected outside of the Rhône Valley of France.
Mattias Pippig, owner/winemaker of Sanguis Wines, had recently been injured in a fall and was unable to attend; moderator/participant Doug Margerum of Margerum Wine Company described the Sanguis syrah for the crowd.
In general terms, most of the winemakers involved utilize native fermentation (no commercial yeast) and forego de-stemming in favor of using whole clusters. Some use new French oak and others prefer neutral oak; several utilize extended maceration (extra time, often more than one month) on the skins to boost color and soften tannins.
Participating were David Yates, assistant winemaker at Jaffurs Winery; winemakers Steven Gerbac, Rusack Vineyards; Michael Roth, Martian Ranch and Vineyard; and winemaker and panel moderator Margerum, Margerum Wine Company; Lee Tomkow of No Limit Wines; and winemakers Mark Cargasacchi, Jalama Wines; and Joey Tensley, Tensley Wines.
Place (vineyard locale) has “such an impact” on syrah, noted Yates about the 2011 Jaffurs Syrah from Thompson Vineyard (Los Alamos Valley).
Tomkow, who partners with New York City resident Cliff Korn and Ethan Lindquist in the No Limits label, agreed. “Everyone here today is showing just what one can do with syrah.”
No Limits’ syrah is sourced from Edna Valley’s Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, which is farmed biodynamically. “With biodynamics, everything speaks for itself,” Tomkow said. “We let the juice and fruit show itself.” The wine utilizes native fermentation, he added.
Cargassachi also utilizes native and whole cluster fermentation, and leaves the juice on the skins for a 45-day extended maceration, he said. His syrah spent three years in barrel.
Also a fan of native fermentation is Roth; the 2011 “Dark Matter” estate syrah he offered was produced native and via whole cluster fermentation, and the wine was aged in neutral oak, he noted.
Margerum called his selection, the 2011 Uber, a small production vintage that utilizes several syrahs from selected Santa Barbara County vineyards.
The 2011 Rusack Estate Syrah (Ballard Canyon) is a blend of the Estrella and 877 clones, Gerbac told the crowd. Grapes for this wine were de-stemmed and aged in 50-percent new oak for 14 to 15 months, he said.
Grapes for the Sanguis syrah came from Bien Nacido Vineyards and were co-fermented with 3 percent roussanne and 5 percent viognier, Margerum noted.
Tensley opened by noting he produces 2,000 cases of the 2011 Colson Canyon Vineyard syrah he featured, calling it “more than half of his total production.”
The wine is a blend of the 777 and 877 clones. Colson Canyon is a rugged vineyard in the Tepesquet Canyon area northeast of Santa Maria.
Already in high gear is the 29th Annual Central Coast Wine Classic, taking place this weekend in Avila Beach, Shell Beach and San Simeon.
The four-day event raises funds for nonprofit organizations throughout San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
The Central Coast Wine Classic has been recognized by its sponsor, Wine Spectator, as one of the “Top 10” charity wine auctions in the United States, according to organizers.
Chosen by the Wine Classic Foundation Board as 2013 beneficiaries are Domestic Violence Solutions of Santa Barbara; Heaven Can Wait Equine Sanctuary in San Miguel; Los Osos Middle School PTSA Music Supporters; Meathead Movers Wrestling Club from San Luis Obispo; San Luis Obispo Child Abuse Prevention Council; Sansum Clinic Cancer Center in Santa Barbara; Santa Barbara Botanical Garden; Symphony of the Vines from Atascadero; Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County in San Luis Obispo and Woods Humane Society in San Luis Obispo.
Over the past nine years, the Central Coast Wine Classic has funded grants worth $2,101,055 to 103 similar nonprofit organizations, organizers noted.
Schedule of remaining events:
Underway from noon to 5 p.m. today (Saturday) is the Rare & Fine Wine & Lifestyle Auction, held at the official venue, the Avila Beach Golf Resort. The afternoon includes both live and silent auctions and a lunch provided by one of my favorite foodies, Chef Rick of Santa Maria.
For details on the lots available, visit http://www.centralcoastwineclassic.org/auction-silent.php
Tomorrow’s main events are a Santa Barbara County Syrah Symposium and the annual Reserve Wine Tasting. Both take place at the Avila Beach Golf Resort.
I asked three of the winemakers participating as panelists for the symposium — Mark Cargasacchi of Jalama Wines, Ethan Lindquist of No Limit Wines and Michael Roth of Martian Ranch and Vineyard — two questions about syrah on the Central Coast.
One: Why have you chosen to produce syrah?
Two: How has syrah grown on the Central Coast changed (evolved) during the past 20 years and again within the past five years.
Here are their answers.
Cargasacchi, who has produced at least two vineyard-designate syrahs for nearly a decade, calls syrah “my favorite, mostly because the grape can make a powerful wine with lots of structure and fruit.”
Santa Barbara County syrahs are continuing to turn heads “because more and more often, syrah is being grown in the right microclimates and soil conditions,” he said. Together, these factors “are a perfect combination.”
Where is such a region? Cargasacchi suggests Ballard Canyon (soon to be designated Santa Barbara County’s fourth AVA) as a place that exhibits terroir ideally suited for syrah.
Ethan Lindquist, who with partners Cliff Korn and Lee Tomkow, produces the No Limits label. Lindquist also produces syrah and other Rhone varietals under his own label, Ethan Wines.
“Our family has always produced cool-climate syrahs,” even when typical wine consumers favored bigger syrahs known in the industry as “fruit bombs,” he said.
Syrah for the No Limits label is grown in the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard of Edna Valley, a site owned by Ethan’s father, the esteemed Bob Lindquist of Qupe Cellars, and his stepmother, Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, who produces Spanish wines under her label Verdad.
Michael Roth is the winemaker for Martian Ranch and Vineyard, and voiced a special fondness for syrah.
“Like all the grapes we grow, syrah allows me to express our vineyards’ potential and its uniqueness. Part of syrah’s charm is its ability to convey the intensions of the winemaker and growing site,” he said.
Regarding how syrah may have “evolved” over the past decade, Roth said:
“I’m not sure that styles of syrah have changed that much on the Central Coast (because) we still have people producing huge wines that are heavily extracted.
“I think that people have been making lighter-bodied wines for a long time, and it has just taken the press and critics this long to give them their time in the spotlight,” he added.
Come hear Cargasacchi, Roth and Tomkow (filling in for Lindquist), as well as several other winemakers who cultivate syrah, discuss trends and styles. The Syrah Symposium runs from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The Reserve Wine Tasting follows, from 1 to 4 p.m.