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Joe Mozdzen Photos Winemakers Rick Longoria and Kris Curran at Friday evening's Barn Party.

Joe Mozdzen Photos
Winemakers Rick Longoria and Kris Curran at Friday evening’s Barn Party. Behind them is winemaker Norm Yost.

Another Wine and Fire weekend has come and gone. The sell-out crowds sipped and savored new and favorite wines, and listened and learned about soil, climate and grape vines growing in the Sta. Rita Hills from the producers who make the wines.

Warm weather and no fog Friday evening accentuated the carpet of green vineyards lining the diatomaceous-earth hillsides across from Sanford & Benedict Vineyard’s hilltop barn, site of Friday’s soiree.

Alma Rosa's Richad Sanford chats with a guest Friday at the Barn Party

Alma Rosa’s Richard Sanford chats with a guest Friday at the Barn Party

This year was Wine & Fire’s second using the Barn for Friday’s gathering, and the location is breathtaking — especially early in the evening, as the setting sun infuses the air with gold.

The Sanford & Benedict Vineyard barn, elegant yet rustic, provides a panorama like no other

The Sanford & Benedict Vineyard barn, elegant yet rustic, provides a panorama like no other

Winemakers walked among guests, pouring both current and library releases.

Saturday saw the return of Wine & Fire’s annual seminar to another barn — this one at Kathy Joseph’s Fiddlestix Vineyard, just west of Sanford & Benedict across Santa Rosa Road.

Moderator Josh Raynolds of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar returned for a fourth year to moderate a two-part panel, “The Dirty Truth,” featuring four chardonnays, four pinot noirs (two each section) and their respective winemakers, and a look at the farming methods each practice.

The fountain at La Purisima Mission was a gathering spot during Saturday's Grand Tasting

The fountain at La Purisima Mission was a gathering spot during Saturday’s Grand Tasting

Leading off the first section was guest speaker Jeff Newton, with 30-plus years of vineyard management work at the helm of Coastal Vineyard Care Associates. Responding to a query from the audience about the timing of this harvest, he said “this one is the earliest I’ve ever seen.”

In addition to being early, the current crop is a large one — and for the third year running, Newton noted. That in itself is unusual, for two record-high tonnage years (2012 and 2013) have typically been followed by a year with lighter yields. “This one is a very unique growing year,” he added.

“We didn’t know how large 2014 was until about three weeks ago, when the berries sized up,” Newton said. Many of the vineyards his company works have had to do “lots of thinning” to reduce the per-acre crop load and to drop any clusters not evenly ripening.

Fiddlehead Cellars’ Kathy Joseph described the current year as “like no other” in terms of volume. “We had to drop 30 percent of the crop (here at Fiddlestix), and that hurts.”

All of the winemakers participating Saturday noted that they farm sustainable, with several certified “Sustainable in Practice,” or SIP Certified. None are certified organic or biodynamic, although Newton noted that other vineyards in his portfolio utilize those methods.

Alvin Cabral of Lompoc's Homegrown Cowboy served at the Grand Tasting Saturday

Alvin Cabral of Lompoc’s Homegrown Cowboy served at the Grand Tasting Saturday

“All three methods (conventional, sustainable, organic) are way better than what we had in the 1950s,” Newton said. “Grapevines communicate (their needs); the best growers listen, and act accordingly.”

Lindley Wines' Jake Lindley talks to a guest during the Grand Tasting Saturday evening at La Purisima Mission

Lindley Wines’ Jake Lindley talks to a guest during the Grand Tasting Saturday evening at La Purisima Mission

While the eight producers varied on aging methods, clone choice and case production, each circled back to the belief that “wine expresses place.”

Closing the seminar, Raynolds emphasized how Sta. Rita Hills’ wines express purity, and showcase the soils in which grapes are grown: “The dirt shows in the glass.”

Copyright Central Coast Wine Press

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