From one of my fave educational sources, Ian Blackburn of LearnAboutWine.com, I received an invitation to attend a VIP luncheon with 16 other vinophiles followed by a tasty tour of the STARS of Santa Barbara held in the beautiful Beverly Hills Peninsula Hotel.
There were seventeen names on the guest list, four winemakers (two of those were winery owners), two Beverly Hills restaurant sommeliers, and the rest of us in press and public relations. I was seated between Kenneth Volk, owner of Kenneth Volk Winery and Jeffrey Stivers, the sommelier from N/Naka (Open Table’s number one awarded restaurant by diners).
Ian Blackburn, our host and founder of www.LearnAboutWine.com, planned for each winemaker to briefly talk about their winery, the wines we were to taste, and answer any questions. Given that we had two hours I thought it was ample time; I was wrong.
Most of the conversation centered on winemaking practices, price points and consumer interests. The most interesting topic, that seemed to get comments from most of us, was the change in our palates. For instance, the trend of moving away from over-oaked Chardonnays to more stainless steel aging.
The group agreed that our tastes had changed due to our jobs, but we wondered if the public at large had changed in their tastes as well. While one somm said she mostly sold Cabernets another sold mostly white varietals. One winemaker’s biggest seller was a Syrah blend, another a Sauvignon Blanc. But one thing we all agreed on: Thank Bacchus (yes that was me that said that) for White Zinfandel. That pink fruity wine put Sutter Home, and Napa Valley, on the map for a more general wine-drinking public.
“Most all wines are ‘heirloom’ varietals due to the length of time we’ve been growing them.”
Kenneth Volk, Kenneth Volk Winery.
“We are seeing a renewed interest, and growth, in Syrah from Los Angeles wine drinkers.”
Tim Snider, President, Fess Parker, Epiphany
“The cost of goods, farming and lack of government support makes our wines more expensive than the imports. However, people in Los Angeles eat out more often than anywhere else in the U.S., including N.Y.”
Karen Steinwachs, winemaker, Buttonwood.
2012 Buttonwood “Zingy” Sauvignon Blanc: Just bottled three days before, the wine had fresh ripe aromas and flavors of peach honey and lime.
2011 Epiphany Grenache Blanc: A great nose of jasmine, spices, rose petals and a mouthful of pink grapefruit and apricot.
2011 Kenneth Volk Albarino: Aromas included honeydew melon, crisp green apple and Asian pear that carried through to the taste, very smooth on the back palate.
2010 Riverbench Estate Chardonnay: Sliced apples, nutmeg, apricot and peach nut fruits, followed by a crisp apples and oak, and a long finish.
2009 Kenneth Volk Pinot Noir: On the nose I got earth, mushrooms, bright red fruits, bark and white pepper. I tasted the same bright fruit on the mouth as well as cigar and green bell pepper, with a long balanced finish.
2010 Riverbench Pinot Noir: Greeted by a beautiful garnet color, then aromas and taste of great jammy light and dark red fruit, cherry pits and very smooth. Kenneth Volk commented that he liked the texture.
2009 Buttonwood Cabernet Franc: On the nose I got mint, dried fruit, mushroom, eucalyptus. The taste was palate drying, gritty, interesting fruit.
2009 Epiphany Revelation: A blend of 51% Grenache and 49% Syrah, our last wine had lots of spice, wet cigar, smoke, green peppercorn and jam. On the palate there were nuances of blue fruits, cherry and I thought people would love this with food or without.
Visiting the STARS
Have you guessed? Yes, Eve was overwhelmed and tuckered out after such an exciting lunch. I spent an hour visiting tasting tables that didn’t have lines, saying hello to friends and making some very hurried notes before scrambling home. I neglected some I had just spent time with at lunch and a couple of others I was due to visit in an upcoming trip to Santa Ynez, but I think I covered my fair share.
Here is a mini-highlight of what I tried and noted that I really dug:
Curtis Winery: 09 Mourvedre, 09 Syrah, 09 Grenache, 10 Heritage Blanc, and 11 Viognier.
Dierberg Vineyard: 10 Chardonnay, two 09 Pinot Noirs – one from Santa Maria and other from Santa Rita.
Epiphany: 09 Gypsy and the 09 Revelation we had over lunch.
Grassini Family Vineyards: 11 “Happy Canyon” Sauvignon Blanc, 09 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 10 “Articondo” red blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Petit Verdot.
Kessler-Haak Wine: 09 Estate Chardonnay, 11 Dry Riesling, 09 Syrah and an 09 Pinot Noir blended from four vineyards.
Lafond Winery: 10 Pinot Noir.
Liquid Farm: 11 “White Hill” Chardonnay and 11 “Four” Chardonnay.
Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards: 09 Cote Del Sol Cabernet Sauvignon,10 High 9 Pinot Noir, 08 Cabernet Franc and a 10 Malbec, all perfectly balanced.
Palmina Wines: 11 Arneis Honea, 07 Nebbiolo, and 06 Nebbiolo Sisquoc Vineyard.
Shai Cellars: 09 Adome Syrah Cab blend (Just warranted 92 points from Wine Spectator!), 09 Grenache.
Summerland: 09 Pinot Noir Proprietor Reserve Clonal Selection
Tercero Wines: 11 Viognier, 10 Grenache Blanc, 09 Grenache, 09 Mourvedre, 12 Rose 100% Mourvedre barrel sample and 09 Syrah barrel sample.
Alma Rosa, Andrew Murray, Bonaccorsi, Brewer-Clifton, Buttonwood, Byron, Cambria, Clos Pepe, Curtis, D’Alfonso- Curran, Dierberg, Dragonette, Epiphany, Flying Goat, Grassini Family, Hillard Bruce, Jaffurs, Kessler-Haak, Koehler, La Fenetre, Lafond, Liquid Farm, Palmina, Reeves Ranch, Riverbench, Sanford, Santa Barbara Winery, Shai, Silver Wines, Star Lane, Stasis , Summerland, Tercero, Thorne, Zaca Mesa