Who was this uber-tall, redheaded young man walking up to me with a leather cowboy hat in one hand and his black Labrador-mixed hound trailing behind the other? Come to find it was Tom Stolpman’s son Peter, the very capable manager of the family-run business.
Peter met us at the Stolpman Vineyard’s tasting room in Los Olivos. From there we followed him to Ballard Canyon. Once we parked all of our cars on the vineyard property, Peter let his dog out to roam, grabbed 7 large wine glasses, a bottle of Syrah and said, “Who could take a tour without wine?”
“92 of our 152 planted acres are Syrah,” began Stolpman. “We are working with Wes Hagen on getting Ballard Canyon set up with its own individual AVA.” We were then to learn, first from Stolpman, and the next day from Hagen, that each area of the Santa Ynez valley has different growing regions that do well with different grapes. Ballard Canyon, according to both men, was ideal for Rhône varietals.
“The Ballard Canyon area has become synonymous with Syrah,” Stolpman said. “The terroir here is so different from Santa Barbara County.”
Stolpman went on to explain the different growing techniques employed in their vineyard. In one area the vines were coaxed into tall “V” shapes (see photo) to eliminate shade, another areas had “underground” vines. One method involved twisting each grape cluster by hand so that every area would have “an even tan” according to Stolpman. Other techniques involved organic farming methods, such as dry farming whenever possible, as other winemakers have adopted.
“We have a total 220 acres, and when we harvest the 152 acres – we have a three-month long harvest – we utilize our year round staff of 15 men. We have 20 acres of Roussanne and there are only 300 acres of Roussanne planted in the state. And all of our wines are Estate grown.”
Of course, we were tasting during the lesson. And, when we drove our cars to see the new Stolpman villa being built that would be open to visitors later this summer, and then over to the shade picnic area, we were prompted to drive with our wine glasses on the private property. That was a weird feeling.
Once at the picnic area Stolpman opened more bottles to try. My group was enamored with each: L’Avion Roussanne, several of their Syrahs, Sangiovese, and the Reserve La Cuadrilla blend of Syrah, Grenache, Petit Sirah and Viognier– where the profit margin was given back to the crew.
Over lunch we asked about winemaker Sashi Moorman. Stolpman told us that he is a young man, formerly a New York chef with a “passionate vision of dry farming.”
And we learned that Stolpman, blogging weekly on the website, is the “cheerleader” of the family as he is “taking it to the next level.”
Back in 2009 Peter’s dad Tom was in chemotherapy and the property almost fell to foreclosure when Peter was brought in. Because of those hurdles all that his family legacy has created – and continues to create – has humbled Peter.
We then reluctantly gave our wine glasses back to Peter, and followed him again in our cars to their tasting room in the Lompoc (Lom-Poke) Ghetto. As opposed to the tasting room in Los Olivos, here Stolpman guests could see more of how the winery works: Cigar shaped oak barrels and concrete fermenters lined the room. When we re-entered the tasting room dozens of guests had been seated for a tasting. And no matter how welcoming that looked, we had to push on.