We grow many fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers on the Café Farm, from a variety of lettuces and herbs to carrots, squash, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, beans, and of course – pumpkins. And, you’ll see arrangements of the sunflowers, zinnias, delphinium, bachelor buttons, snapdragons and euphoria decorating the tables at the Café. Many of the flowers are edible, including borage and sweet peas. There’s such an extraordinary abundance that the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café owner’s Sam and Shawnda Marmorstein have been pondering creative ways to share it with customers. Everything grown on our farm is CCOF Organic. The bounty of the farm is brought daily to the Café where Chef Chris is inspired to develop specials with the produce while other items are used as staples in our menu, such as salad greens and the pickles that come with sandwiches and burgers on the lunch menu.
Yes, we make our own pickles! We think that you can’t have a sandwich with house-made buns, house-made burgers, brisket and hand cut fries, and not attend to the fine detail of a delicious homemade pickle, probably the most perfect accompaniment to a sandwich. What’s not to like? With flavors and textures often described as tangy, crispy, crunchy, sharp, spicy, briny, piquant… this could be a wine label!
Did you know that pickles go way, way, and we mean way back?! Many historic figures, including Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, liked pickles. Pickles date back forty-five hundred years to Mesopotamia where it is believed cucumbers were first preserved. Cleopatra, a devoted pickle fan, believed they enhanced her beauty.
Bill Metzgar, a private chef new to the area via New York and LA and his wife Jamie (Jamie is Asst. Wine Director in the Wine Merchant) were talking with owners Sam and Shawnda about the possibility of creating private cooking sessions at their Bernat Winery Retreats. Bill, passionate about the Farm to Table movement, and a former writer for Edible Buffalo, was wowed by the gorgeous organic produce growing in the restaurant garden. Bill said, “We discussed the bounty and what they were doing with it and we struck upon the idea to can and preserve as much as possible, when the time came. The unique varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes beg to be used and enjoyed year round and canning is one way to make that a reality.”
Pickles come in many recipe versions, and adapting the wonderful refrigerator pickle Chef Chris makes for the Café was a unique challenge that they collaborated on, coming up with the Café Farm Pickles that are being sold in the Wine Merchant.
There are two varieties, “Chef’s Deluxe Recipe” and “Spicy Garlic Dills.” We think they came out great – and now, you can enjoy this Café staple and the fresh from the farm flavor year round at home. Purchase Pickles herebefore our very limited supplies run out.
Pickles inspired Thomas Jefferson to write, “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.” We think Jefferson would have loved our Café Farm Pickles, and so will you!
To step onto the Sunstone property is to step back into the Old World.
The gorgeous stone chateau is centered in a beautiful landscape, complete with tranquil space to sip your wine. It’s unlike any other winery in Santa Barbara County and is the result of an Old World sensibility passed down through the Rice family. In our interview, owner and winemaker, Bion Rice, shares the past, present, and future of Sunstone Winery.
According to Bion Rice, who now oversees the winery, his family relocated to Santa Ynez from Santa Barbara seeking better educational opportunities for his two sisters. His mother immediately saw the possibilities for what is now Sunstone. The landscape alone would inspire anyone, but Linda’s focus on “food, family, and friends” allowed her to pursue creating the best possible atmosphere for all. Linda and husband Fred planted Bordeaux varietals assuming they would sell the grapes off to winemakers but quickly became enamoured with making their own. And much like what would happen in a small Provençal village, their local friends were happy to help, pitching in to mentor their efforts and support them every step of the way.
Without any formal training in winemaking to start, Fred and Linda soaked up as much as they could – again, a very Old World approach! They began bottling their wine and by their second vintage, the family found themselves with a few thousand extra cases. Bion did what any loyal farmer’s son would do: he loaded the cases into his truck and began hawking his wares all over Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. His favorites stops were invariably at restaurants, where he’d end up chatting with chefs and tasting through fantastic dishes that opened up the possibilities of pairings for his wines even more. Sunstone’s production and demand increased exponentially and the Rice family soon sold their wines across the country.
Ironically, Bion sees the 2008 recession as a blessing in disguise because it forced the family to scale back and focus on what really mattered to them. This re-assessment renewed their passion for Linda’s initial pursuit of “food, family, and friends,” and the quality of their wine improved drastically. However, the Rices have never veered away from organic farming and are proud to operate the longest running organic winery in all of Santa Barbara. While this may have seemed ahead of its time, commitment to organic farming really just ties back to the Old World version of farming and was part of Linda’s overarching vision.
Today, Bion and his wife oversee operations, including winemaking. Bion plans to keep it in the family and is fostering his sons; in fact, his teenage son Miles helps in the blending process and has final say in which blend ends up in the “Milestone” bottle!
Before summer ends, give yourself a minivacation by visiting Sunstone winery. Step back in time and enjoy the chateau made from reclaimed materials and native stone. Grab a glass of their best-selling rosé and savour the warmth of family and friends that the Rice family has helped build.
David Delaski has always been a unique and creative person, but passion is the essence of his personality that is infused into his winemaking for Solminer Wines. Passion leads to everything. It’s not just passion for great wine but for the whole of his life, and all his endeavors.
“Creative pursuits always called me. Wine is definitely one of those pursuits where you can be really creative.”
In 2009 David met his wife Anna, who had just moved to Los Angeles from Austria. The pair spent some time exploring wine regions of the world, including Anna’s home country of Austria. It was at that point in their lives they looked at each other and decided they wanted to pursue something in the wine industry. With the passion found while exploring wine regions, they “threw caution to the wind” and created Solminer.
Sol for sun and miner, to impart the idea of mining the sun, harvesting the bounty of things from the soil.
The couple found a farmhouse in Los Olivos which had 3 acres of Syrah planted. After much work, they had done it! Anna and David’s dream was now a reality. They are doing something so unique for Los Olivos, and California– they have taken from Anna’s heritage by planting two of Austria’s most famous grapes, Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch. The vineyard now called DeLanda (a combination of their names, Delaski, Anna, and David) is 100% organically farmed, to protect their family and neighbors from harsh chemicals. In addition to grapes, the property has animals, including sheep, chickens, and donkeys! It’s a passion looking at the farm as a whole system. They are in the process of undergoing their certification for being a biodynamic winery.
“When you are standing out in the vineyard it gives you a moment of self-reflection.”
David goes to the vineyard to describe his winemaking process, “Start with well farmed organic grapes and do minimal interventions.” Their goal is to get the purest expression of the site as possible. Spending most of the time on farming and less time doing things to the wine during the winemaking process. The wines are created purely from the DeLanda vineyard, and really speak what the terroir and property are about, exploring.
“In order to get into the wine business, you have to be adventurous.”
Ryan Carr of Carr Vineyard and Winery is indeed adventurous! His first job was making snowboards, then went to the University of Arizona for graphic design and worked for a landscape company. It was in college that he took a class on plant science, a seed was planted, and since 1999 he has been farming vineyards and making wine– what an adventure! When Ryan made his way to the Santa Ynez Valley he thought he would start a graphic design business. Little did he know he know the adventurous path that laid ahead…
Starting on the farming side of the industry in 1998, Ryan began working for viticulturist, Craig McMillan. Getting outside to escape the computer was a no brainer for Ryan, he fell in love with being in the field, and before he knew it he was helping lay out and plant vineyards.
Developing relationships from his vineyard work Ryan was able to get his hands on some extra Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in 1999. With that and the help of some food grade trash cans, he made his first batch of ‘home’ wine, producing about 10 cases. That wine was given to friends and family, who actually LOVED it!
In 2000 Ryan was approached by Andy Kahn who had just started his own winemaking facility. Starting up his new business and tight on money, Andy suggested Ryan work for him (for free) in exchange for winemaking help and the use of the facility. Not willing to pass up the opportunity Ryan jumped in. He made his first 325 cases with 1.5 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5 tons of Cabernet Franc, and .5 tons of Pinot Noir. That was the beginning of the Carr label. Each year they continued to make more wine, and after several years Ryan really had a good thing going.
“As a farmer I am trying to represent the exact location more than anything. So it’s a hands off approach to wine making. Very minimal additions, and manipulation.”
One of the main factors that sets Carr apart from other wineries in our area is that they lease vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County; including Sta. Rita Hills, Los Olivos District, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon, and Happy Canyon. Growing in all of these locations allows Ryan to get to know and see the differences in each growing region and make many different varietals.
California in general is a young wine region, so Santa Barbara is very new in the grand scheme of things. Being a young region we often look at older wine producing regions, such as France and Italy, for inspiration and advice. With that said, this is not Italy, or France, its California. We are finding our own techniches and styles over the years. You can see it happening in Santa Barbara, with all these sub appellations coming up. The basic understanding as to what our environment can do is increasing.
“Santa Barbara is such a special place, and without the influence of Burgundy we wouldn’t know that Sta. Rita Hills is perfect for the Burgundian varietals. Without the influence of the Rhone we wouldn’t know that Ballard Canyon is the place we should be growing the Rhone varietals, and same for Happy Canyon and the Bordeaux’s. It’s incredible what we can do within such a small area of California.”
Want to meet more local winemakers? Catch our current Featured Winemaker on our blog, or come meet them on the last friday of every month!
In 1997 Christine and Stevan Larner finally saw their dream of being in the wine business as a reality. Purchasing a 130 acre south facing parcel, perfectly situated in what is now Ballard Canyon, they began the Larner family legacy. Their son Michael was working as a Geologist in Colorado prior to the new family endeavor, but he always knew he wanted to come back to the earth, and being able to pass something down for multiple generations was fascinating to him. “The legacy aspect was my biggest selling point.” And so began the long and meaningful process of planting a vineyard and becoming a winemaker. Michael earned his Masters Degree in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis and has been making wine since 1999.
Michael’s experience as a geologist before being a winemaker, allows him to see the winemaking and viticulture aspects much more from the land itself. He wants “to be firmly grounded to the earth” which has multiple meanings in Michael’s life. Leaving his career to join his family in their vineyard and winery endeavor gave him a sense of creating something that was always there, a legacy. His winemaking style is all about the site expression, allowing the wines to be the speaking word from the vineyard.
“Something there was present, this is the true essence of terroir, it’s coming from the land. As a geologist I am very comfortable with that, because I have studied the earth.”
As a winemaker Michael enjoys experimenting with different fermentation techniques, yeasts, and barrel choices. The process of giving and take allow the terroir to speak as loudly as it can through his wines. The Larner Vineyard and Winery team consist of more than just Michael, his wife Christina, mother Christine, and sister Monica each offer their own distinct look into the legacy. Figuring out where each wine will fit within the Larner program is a family affair. As a wine critic living in Rome, Monica looks at the wines from the eyes of the critic– how it’s going to do in the market. Christina is much more in tune with where the wines fit in from a generation standpoint, and Christine with her background in business is “the price guru.”
“The land was speaking louder than the winemakers.”
Michael is not only a fantastic viticulturist and winemaker but also co-founded the Ballard Canyon AVA. Ballard Canyon is a north-south running valley totaling 7,000 acres, one of the smallest in California. Described as the ‘Goldie Locks’ AVA, because it’s not too hot, not too cold, but just right for a variety like Syrah. A slightly warm ripening interval, but also a cooling effect– so you get that pepper spice coupled with fruit which is essentially what Syrah— makes Ballard Canyon ideal growing conditions for the Syrah grape. There is 17 vineyards total in the Ballard Canyon AVA but just 6 produce wine, the rest is sold to other wineries. Currently, only 600 of 7,000 acres are planted, over 300 of those acres are planted to Syrah. Proving that “everyone sort of knew; ‘this is our champion’, this is what we want to bring forward.”
In Part One of our interview with Michael, he shares the backstory of how Ballard Canyon AVA evolved from an idea to reality.
In Part Two of our interview, Michael lights up about what makes Larner wines “Grounded”.
On our ten-acre property, less than a mile from our Cafe, four acres are devoted to Sangiovese, Syrah, Nebbiolo, and Cabernet grapes from which we create wines under our private label, Bernat wines. An additional 4-acres of prime land have been cultivated by local organic farmers for themselves through the years, but their focus wasn’t solely on providing produce for our restaurant. When Shu and Debby Takikawa, the last farmers to farm this section of land, took over the 40 acres behind us, Shu encouraged us to farm it ourselves. We were eager to try, but knew well that running a farm along with our current endeavors– a vineyard, winery, wine merchant, and restaurant– we needed help.
That’s when we found Matt McCurdy, or he found us, that’s another story. Eager to take on the project and apply his knowledge from his past endeavors– working at our local Windmill Nursery being one of them– Matt leaped in and started planting. Well, first we dived into organic heirloom seed catalogues. We chose all the flowers that would bring the bugs to benefit the farm and would also cut nicely for flowers to put on the Café tables. We brought chef Chris Joslyn into the discussion, and chose vegetables he would love to use for our restaurant’s menu. We’ve been very pleased with seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.
Our first summer was full of zucchini and cucumbers. The vision was growing…literally. We played around with various pickling recipes and pickled the cucumbers to place next to our Café’s burgers and sandwiches. Some of them we even put in jars and sold in our retail section, they were a hit and quickly sold out!
Well, it’s been almost a year now, our biggest lesson learned is the land has much to teach us. Will Rogers said, “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” — That’s the truth!– We planted green beans, carrots, beats, and reaped nothing from them. Yes, we watered, weeded, and provided healthy soil and sunshine, but they never ended up on plates at our restaurant. Why you may ask?
What we learned:
We initially started by planting a large amount of different types of crops. Planting many different varieties of each plant, gives us an idea of which species not only grows best in each area, but which of those tastes the best. We pay close attention to each plant and learn which ones like which soils, climate preference, and which are affected by pests and how. All of the varieties of Kale we planted thrived through the winter; red lettuce, and romaine were also very successful.
Pests have been our biggest problem. Our first crop was planted when one of our dogs, Gypsy, was on vacation. The gophers and ground squirrels noticed and began moving into the farm. They ate almost all of the green beans we planted. Of 600 plants only 10 survived! They also ate the tops off of the carrot and beet plants. Although losing their tops did not initially kill them, since the plant was working hard to regrow the tops, the produce didn’t survive after all.
The other challenge all farmers face, are weeds, we are no exception. Since our farm is CCOF certified organic, using herbicides is absolutely out of the question, not to mention it would deplete the nutrients in the soil and affect the quality of our produce. Being a small farm with only Sam and Matt to do the weeding, we quickly realized that we must be missing something– there was no way we could keep up. The weeds aggressively took over and whole rows had to be plowed back in to the soil before the plants had a chance to grow to maturity. Weeding through the research (yes, that was a pun) of all the various farm equipment to assist with this problem was overwhelming, even to a veteran vineyard farmer, like Sam. It was time to seek the advice of someone who had more experience in large scale farming than us. Sam met with a local veteran farmer, Steve Loyal, who shared valuable information. Steve directed us on the best equipment for a farm our size. We bought a hand hoe on a wheel that as we push, it slices under the soil cutting the roots of the weeds. Our tractor also needs some additional equipment to mechanize weeding, which we can tell you more about by the next time we post a Cafe Farm Update. We now look forward to watching our seeds grow to their full potential before the weeds can take them over (hopefully).
Though we are still in the midst of a big learning curve, we have had much greater success now that Gypsy is back on the job maintaining the ground squirrel population. Thanks to our hard working farm dog approximately 1500 heads of lettuce, 200 pounds of snap peas, and many, many buckets of onion, garlic, kale, swiss chard, arugula, spinach, turnips, and cilantro—came from our Cafe Farm since July 2015. We are getting a healthy head start for this summer with 900 plants of various heirloom tomato varieties in the ground, 10 types of lettuces, and squash and pumpkins ready for fall; we are excited to continue to expand the beauty and bounty on our menu at the Cafe.
While we are talking about the farm, it’s worth mentioning that we have an annual benefit Farm Dinner event called In the Vineyard & On the Farm . If you’d like to experience our Cafe Farm and our Bernat Wines firsthand click here for information. It’s a beautiful event that sells out every year, so if you’re interested, don’t wait to reserve your seats!
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Blair Fox, of Blair Fox Cellars, is a Santa Barbara native who found the passion for wine and viticulture in his own backyard. Blair began attending UC Davis as a pre-med student, before transitioning into fermentation science for brewing. Due to uncontrollable circumstances he had to switch a class last minute, and Blair stumbled into his first viticulture course, which marked the moment he fell in love with the grape growing side of the industry. At first he thought he would solely be a grape grower, but once he realized that he would have to relinquish the grapes to someone else to turn into wine, he knew he wanted to have his hands in that side as well.
After graduating from college with a degree in both Viticulture and Enology, Blair began employment as head winemaker for a family-owned winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. This was the time he and his wife, Sarah, established their own label Blair Fox Cellars. As Santa Barbara wine country’s premier restaurant for highlighting local winemakers, we are proud to say the Los Olivos Café was the first to offer Blair Fox Cellars on a wine list! After a few years of making incredible wines, Blair traveled to the Rhone region of France, and shortly thereafter traveled to Australia to expand his knowledge of the extraordinary wines made around the world. After coming back to his roots in the Santa Barbara County, he began working for Fess Parker and now also makes the wine for Epiphany—yes, Blair stays very busy
The focus for Blair Fox Cellars is on Syrah and other Rhone varieties. The estate vineyard, planted by Blair himself and farmed organically, has Grenache, Syrah, Petite Syrah, Vermentino, and a small amount of Zinfandel planted. Blair feels it is very important to be part of the grape growing process as a winemaker. He enjoys being able to control the wine from vine to glass, not only in his estate vineyards but the ones he sources fruit from as well. Looking for grapes with beautiful concentration and intense varietal character, he currently sources grapes from Zotovich, Kimsey, Tierra Alta, Larner, and his own Fox Family Vineyards.
Blair and his family take pride in the creation of the small production wines for Blair Fox Cellars. While Blair manages the winemaking, Sarah does the marketing. His two adorable daughters love riding on the forklift and helping with Pigeage – foot stomping the grape cap! The grapes are hand harvested, hand sorted, fermented in small lots, and basket pressed to ensure the highest possible quality and true expression of the vineyard. The results of this family’s hard work are wines with a modern feel, while showing a reflection of historically made French wines.
Sam and Shawnda, owners of the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café and Bernat Winery & Retreats, are long-time advocates of using fresh, locally sourced produce for the meals prepared by Chef Chris Joslyn in the Los Olivos Café kitchen. This passion has led them to focus on their own property and create the Los Olivos Café Farm. By utilizing their own land, they will now have the ability to grow many of the vegetables they need for the restaurant’s menu, flowers for arrangements on the tables and, as an extra bonus, offer extra produce canned into delicious, fresh product for sale exclusively in their Wine Merchant retail store. The opportunity to serve dishes incorporating vegetables picked from the field that morning, insures that guests dining at their restaurant will be enjoying produce at the peak of flavor.
Matt McCurdy, also employed at Windmill Nursery, will be working with Sam and Shawnda on the farm. Growing up in Santa Barbara and later moving to Ballard before leaving in 1992, in his 20’s Matt was an environmental activist focused on protecting the remaining ancient forests in Northern California and Oregon. In his 30’s he worked as a project manager building affordable housing for low-income families. After being laid off, he decided to go back to the environmental roots of his 20’s and combine that with the skills he had learned as a manager. He followed his passion and went to work for an Organic Nursery in Texas, Redenta’s Garden, where he learned the ins and outs of Organic farming from co-workers who held masters degrees in Horticulture. Since then, he has grown Organic vegetables in Texas, Northern California, and throughout the Santa Ynez Valley, converting lawn areas into vegetable gardens and raised beds. He is very excited that nine years later, his efforts are paying off with the opportunity to farm a large area.
The 3 acres of the Los Olivos Café Farm, under the management of Matt, will help to maintain the vital agricultural open space needed for the long-term success of the Santa Ynez Valley. Farmed Organically, everything will be watered through drip irrigation (no overhead spraying), weeding and harvesting will be done by hand, and there will be no use of GMO seeds, fertilizers, or pesticides. Matt explains, “The primary benefit of local Organic farming is the food being served on the plate is the freshest possible. The harvest from the farm is delivered the same day to the restaurant insuring the highest quality of flavor and nutrition. Health-wise, for example, the Organic Heirloom seeds I am planting are of a known heritage spanning decades and in some cases a century or more. There are a lot of unanswered questions about what GMO crops will produce generations from now and the possible side effect to our health and food supply. Growing Organically is how it has been done for thousands of years prior to the industrial revolution.”
Currently, the Los Olivos Café Farm is growing Black Beauty Zucchini, Golden Zucchini, Yellow Crookneck Squash, Golden Beets, Kabocha Squash, Butternut Squash, Delicata Squash, Buttercup Squash, a variety of carrots, various Green and Purple beans, Sunflowers, Zinnia’s, and Cosmos. In addition, salads will be created from the Romaine Lettuce, Red Sails Lettuce, Oak Leaf Lettuce, Toscano Kale, and Smooth Leaf Spinach, while cucumbers will be used for both fresh in salads and canned for pickles.
August 8 dawned with perfect weather for a late summer afternoon event celebrating locally sourced food and wine! Held at the Bernat Vineyard in Los Olivos under clear, blue skies with just the right amount of warmth; “In the Vineyard & On the Farm” was beautifully orchestrated by Sam and Shawnda Marmostein to showcase the bounty of their own vineyard and neighboring farm “The Garden Of…” owned by Shu and Debby Takikawa.
Moving toward the entrance, guests were first introduced to local artist George Lockwood, in the field, actively working on an original plein air oil painting featuring the long community dining table, set with bright umbrellas and intensely yellow sunflowers, freshly picked the day before, against the green leaves of the vineyard beyond. Conveniently situated nearby, guests were able to check back in as the afternoon progressed and George worked toward completion. The finished piece was offered up over dinner in an auction, eventually selling for $2,000, with proceeds going to support the Jewish Foundation.
At the check-in table, Shawnda warmly greeted each guest upon arrival, explaining the activities coming up and answering any questions before handing them a wine glass and encouraging them on toward the lawn overlooking the vineyard. The terraced gathering spot was the ideal location to relax and greet friends new and old after choosing a favorite varietal of Bernat or Tercero wine to sip. Tantalizing appetizers passed by the Los Olivos Café staff, hinted at the delicious farm fresh meal yet to come, while the casual atmosphere encouraged conversation among guests waiting for an opportunity to tour the vineyard with Sam.
Sam and Shawnda bought the property in 1995 and began planting their vineyard. Sam had been creating wine with friends, and he wanted to continue the practice using his own grapes. He enjoys the cycle of winemaking and the ability to gaze out of his windows overlooking the vineyard and instantly know what time of the year it is by the look of the vines. Currently they have 3 ½ acres of CCOF certified organic vines from which they produce a Rose, with Nebbiolo grapes grown on 19 year-old stock, and a Syrah each year for Bernat Estate Wines. Everything is done by hand; they pick the fruit and bring it up in buckets to the destemmer and then to ferment. Finally they press the grapes and after the wine has aged appropriately, they bottle on site. During the tour, Sam encouraged guests to taste the grapes currently going through veraison. Not quite ready for picking, Sam will continue to test them daily until he finds the optimal flavor and acid balance needed for award winning wine.
After the vineyard tour, the group was invited to take a ride on a flatbed trailer decked out with hay bale seats for a fun trip to the Takikawa farm next door. Shu Takikawa offered interesting insight into his organic farming practices. He has been a farmer for 32 years, and his expertise has resulted in produce that is sought after at Farmer’s markets and restaurants locally and in Los Angeles. The evening’s meal would start with a wonderful salad freshly picked from his fields and filled with baby lettuces, cherry tomatoes, pickled carrot, and Japanese Cucumbers.
With the return to the vineyard, guests were invited to take their seats at the community table. A Bernat Grenache Blanc 2012 from the Santa Ynez Valley, Camp 4 vineyard was poured to accompany Farmer Shu’s salad, brightly dressed with a tangy, tarragon vinaigrette with tarragon grown in Shawnda’s herb garden. The delightful beginning to the meal, paired with the cooling fresh air as the sun set behind the fields, encouraged new friendships between guests seating along the table. And, by the time the main meal was served, everyone felt as if they had been fast friends for many, many years.
In addition to Farmer Shu’s salad, Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café’s Chef Chris Joslyn served a tender Hollister Ranch grass fed rib eye, garnished with seared tomatoes, green beans, and summer squash from Shu’s fields, along with basil olive oil smashed potatoes. Paired with Bernat’s ‘Intrigue’ 2010 Estate Syrah, guests lingered into twilight, until finishing the evening with a Lavender Panna Cotta, made with Lavender from Sam and Shawnda’s property, topped with locally sourced berry compote.
As dusk drew the event to a close, guests made their goodbyes and offered heart-felt thanks for a wonderful time to hosts Sam & Shawnda for a truly unforgettable evening.
Great wine starts with a great story. A vineyard tells us a story through its soil and its climate; the farmer frames this story with agricultural tradition and the stewardship of the land; and the winemaker captures both of these stories, along with their own imprint of self and style. This past Thursday we held a special event at the Café called Under the Influencethat sought to give four local winemakers the opportunity to tell their stories and the stories of the wines that have inspired them. It was a night that exceeded my greatest expectations.
South African native Ernst Storm began the evening by pouring his 2012 Presqu’ile Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc alongside Ashbourne’s 2008 “Sandstone,” a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Semillon grown in South Africa’s Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The latter wine was crafted by Storm’s brother Hannes, whose wines under the Ashbourne and Hamilton Russell labels are some of the most acclaimed in South Africa. While one could see a certain similarity between the two, the overall contrast was striking. Storm’s youthful Sauvignon Blanc, grown in the extremely sandy soils and cool climate of Santa Maria Valley’s Presqu’ile site, was bright and fresh, with its pyrazine notes of grass and jalapeño accented by guava, gooseberry, and a really unique hint of oak. As it turns out, that noticeable oak accent comes from the use of acacia barrels, which also provide a distinctive textural presence to the wine. The Ashbourne, on the other hand, 4 years older, was already developing some tertiary nuances, with notes of lanolin, beeswax, and bruised apple starting to appear. Nevertheless, the varietal character was unmistakable, possessing a similar herbaceous character as the Storm, joined to wet-stone minerality (sandstone soils here) and a more voluptuous texture. The most fascinating thing for me about tasting these side by side was to see the shared family passion from these two brothers, and the level of commitment they both bring to their different projects. While the winemaking details may be different, they are united in their desire to express site as clearly as possible.
Our next course saw the team from Liquid Farm sharing their 2012 “Golden Slope” Chardonnay next to Francois Carillon’s 2011 Puligny-Montrachet. Liquid Farm’s goal from the outset has been to create a domestic interpretation of the wines they had fallen in love with from Burgundy, so their choice came as no surprise. The differences between the two wines were, as with the first course, quite vast. The Francois Carillon, despite a splash decant, was still a bit reduced, showing a fairly high amount of SO2 on the nose. I have found this character in quite a few 2011 white Burgundies, which may be in response to all of the premox issues that have plagued the region over the past decade. Overall, though, Carillon’s Puligny was incredibly precise and soil-driven, with an intense mineral presence. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the “Golden Slope” bottling still came across with admirable restraint and balance against one of Burgundy’s benchmark producers. The fruit and textural power of the wine were unmistakably California, traits I believe should be celebrated, and the minerality of the Sta. Rita Hills in all of its saline glory was an intriguing contrast to the limestone origins of the Carillon. Paired with Barramundi and Manila clams, both wines were delights to ponder and savor.
Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe chose to honor our local pioneers for the third course. The Pinot Noir from his estate has become a modern benchmark in American wine, with examples from his own label as well as those purchasing his fruit achieving great recognition. He poured a 2006 Longoria “Fe Ciega Vineyard” Pinot Noir next to the 2010 Clos Pepe Estate, and spoke of Rick Longoria’s influence on his own path as a farmer and winemaker. He also honored two other local innovators, Bryan Babcock of Babcock Winery and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat. It is sometimes easy to overlook the originators in favor of the hot new thing, but these three men are still crafting some of the most site-driven, balanced wines in Santa Barbara County, so it was beautiful to see Wes, who himself is a bridge between the first generation and our current new crop of young winemakers, honor this trio. The wines shown wonderfully, with the power and richness of the heat-spike-affected 2010 Clos Pepe contrasting nicely to the more developed, earthy Fe Ciega bottling.
While all of the wines on the night were complex and worked beautifully at table, the final course was perhaps the highlight for me: The 2010 Luminesce Syrah from Thompson Vineyard next to Domaine du Coulet’s 2010 Cornas ‘Brise Cailloux.’ Thompson Vineyard is one of the great sites of Santa Barbara County. Tucked back into Los Alamos Valley’s Alisos Canyon, the Syrahs from here are legendary, with a structure and precision rarely found outside of the Northern Rhone. Luminesce’s rendition leans toward the Old World in its balance and approach: just 13.4% alcohol, it was fermented with around 30% whole clusters and aged in puncheons. The wine showed amazingly well, with white pepper, gravel, smoked meat, and blueberry on the nose, along with a poised, beautifully structured palate. The overall balance in this wine could easily stand head to head with the greats from Hermitage or Cornas, and on this night it did just that. Coulet’s Cornas is a personal favorite, and for me captures the essence of this tiny appellation. The 2010 did not disappoint, with aromatics of iron, kalamata olive, blood, and bacon leaping out of the glass. There was also a touch of Brettanomyces, which sparked an interesting discussion among the winemakers. Luminesce’s Kevin Law somewhat jokingly said that he liked a little “imported Brett,” i.e. bretty wines from the Old World, while others found the Coulet close to their threshold for tolerance. Personally, I thought it added to the wine, particularly texturally, and was a great example of how a flaw can actually enhance a wine’s beauty. With smoked New York steak and mushroom & spinach strudel, it was an incredible end to the night.
The evening was deeply moving both emotionally and intellectually. Giving these winemakers an opportunity to discuss their inspirations allowed us to see their joy and passion as tasters, and hear the stories behind their influences. It can be easy as professionals in the wine business to get bogged down in the minutiae of winemaking or French Appellation law. This evening was such a treat because it allowed all of us a return to the pure elation as imbibers that made us fall in love with wine in the first place.
Special thanks to Matthew Negrete for the wonderful photos
In the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country, we are the premier wine merchant for California Central Coast wines, from Santa Barbara County to Monterey County, with select vintages from other areas of California’s Wine Country and noteworthy wines from around the world.