Meet our new Wine Director, Julie Cox

November 8, 2018

We are thrilled to introduce Julie Cox, our new Wine Director at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant. Julie brings an impressive resume with tenured experience in the wine industry. She speaks fluent French perfected by her time living in France under the tutelage of French winemakers. Julie is an expert of local Central Coast wine, learning the various aspects of our local wine industry by working with local winemakers at tasting rooms and first-hand through creating her own locally-sourced wines. Now, we are lucky to share her wealth of knowledge at the Wine Merchant.

At the Wine Merchant, we always strive to bring a high level of personal connection to our restaurant and wine shop. Getting to know the tastes and needs of our customers is what we can do well, and is what sets us apart. We want to showcase the very best of Central Coast wine, and it is our hope that you will enjoy learning a little more about who we’ve entrusted in selecting the wines that make it onto our wine list and our shelves

We hope you enjoy this Q & A with Julie, our new Wine Director!

 

Wine Merchant & Cafe
Julie & her favorite red blend.

Q: Julie, the wine industry has inspired professionals from all backgrounds, one thing they have in common is they share a similar “Aha” moment when they decided to dig deeper into the world of wine. Did you have an “Aha” moment like this?

Julie:  I didn’t grow up with fine wines in my house, but as a native Santa Barbarian, I was always surrounded by the wine culture. I grew up with great cooking in my household, and I feel like food is a natural segway for wine to be involved. My grandmother bought my first bottle of wine for me to use with cooking, and it was my first foray into the relationship of wine and food. My ‘Aha’ moment came to me on my first wine tasting trip to the Santa Ynez Valley. I was 21 (just before “Sideways” took the area by storm) and went down the Foxen Canyon Trail to stop at Curtis Vineyards. I tasted a Syrah made by Chuck Carlson and instantly knew wine was going to be in my life forever. I knew little to nothing about wine, but I knew that magic and nuance could be discovered in every individual bottle. I’ve spent every day since gaining a better understanding of what exactly creates our attraction to wines.

Q: I know you make wine as a hobby on the side. Will you share a little bit more about this and what you’ve learned from the process?

Julie: My background is in biology and chemistry, so I was naturally curious about how wine was made. I have participated in seven harvests in France, Switzerland, and our beautiful Santa Barbara Wine Country. I started to make wine on my own four years ago to create my own stamp on the wine world. It has given me insight into the small-production process and how it affects the wine. This is very important working in a close-knit small-production community.

Q: From your years of experience in the wine industry, what do you think is the greatest misconception about wine?

Julie: That is easy! Sulfites. The most common misconception about wine is that the sulfur dioxide in wine is responsible for allergies and headaches. Truth be told, there are more sulfites in apple juice or dried apricots. More likely people are having a histamine reaction to the tannins or other compounds naturally present because of the winemaking process.

Q: Do you have any guidelines or rules of thumb that you use for pairing wine with food?

Julie: For me, food and wine pairing is part education and part instinct. It is important to take into consideration the components of the dish as well as the elements and nuances of the wine. My rule of thumb is to consider the primary characteristics in the dish and find a wine that will highlight or counterbalance them. If I am unsure of what wine to pair, I often choose a red or white wine blend. The beauty of a blended wine is that by the winemaker’s intention the wine is meant to have a balance of acidity, fruit, and tannins. This makes them a safe bet when pairing with food and sharing among friends.

Q: What do you enjoy about working at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and what are some things you look forward to bringing to it?

Julie: The Wine Merchant is focused on personalized customer service. Having a restaurant and wine shop gives everyone who visits a well-rounded and wonderful wine country experience. With over 20 years of having an experienced staff makes and adapting to the needs of this community, the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Café is a welcoming place to dine and shop. This is why I am delighted to be the new Wine Director and share the experience with everyone.

Julie or another member of our fabulous Wine Merchant staff are always on-hand to assist anyone looking for their next great bottle of wine, at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe! Shop for wine online at shop.WineMerchantCafe.com or visit us at 2879 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos.

Doug Margerum: The First and Last name in Santa Barbara Wine

October 5, 2018

Doug Margerum has a very specific, direct goal for his Margerum label wines: making “Food friendly, at-the-table wines”. This approach is very evident in the design of Margerum’s Buellton tasting room & winery (open on the weekends behind Figueroa Mountain Brewing). The small tasting room opens into a large kitchen, where a fresh meal is often prepared for the winery staff’s lunch. A long communal table represents the bulk of the tasting room, demonstrating the clear intent to serve Margerum wines with a delicious paired plate of food.

An early introduction to Wine

Doug’s real wine roots start at the Wine Cask, a small Santa Barbara wine shop his family acquired 37 years ago, evolving into a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant. As one of Santa Barbara’s highly-decorated and venerable restaurants, Doug found the focus for his wines to-be: “I unabashedly make table wines!” Under his successful Margerum Wine Co. label, a steady production of food-friendly wines makes their way throughout Santa Barbara County and beyond. Margerum Sauvignon Blanc was even featured at President Obama’s final State Dinner in 2016.

Obama Toasting
PC: AP

Doug’s first foray into wine was on a European vacation in his youth, in dark French wine caves where so many have opened their eyes into wine culture. Chateauneuf du Pape helped Doug become the Wine Expert among his friends and family, an amateur sommelier to suggest wines. As Doug’s wine and food education grew, he became a true sommelier, a local winemaker under many labels (and in France!), and a successful restauranteur. Doug was asked to join the Smithsonian National Museum’s American History Kitchen Cabinet, a board of luminaries in the food & beverage industries. Doug also befriended Julia Child during her long time as a Santa Barbara resident.

Doug Margerum at Los Olivos Wine Merchant

Doug’s word for what he puts into his wine is “Personality” – Doug tries to bring wine to the table per his standards – wines he wants to drink and he hopes others love. His history in the restaurant business and as a consulting winemaker can attest to the success of these wines.

What brings each and every Margerum Wine together is that signature dash of Doug’s personality and approach to wine: High acidity, low alcohol wines that add punch and flavor to each and every meal. He freely compares his industry to “glorified drug dealers… because we get you on something.. and once you go that next step up in quality, you can’t go back down!”

The former Honea vineyard in Los Olivos, now a Margerum Rhône varietal vineyard, produces the heart of the “M5” Red blend – a crafty blend of Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. This Flagship wine of the brand is modeled directly after Châteauneuf du Pape style Rhônes.

The M5 White, a rich, fruity blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Vermentino, comes full circle from Doug’s travels through France, and his inspiration to make a white Rhône wine. As a second “M5”, it’s the spiritual companion to the flagship M5 Red. This organically farmed wine is also a product of the Los Olivos district.

A lasting influence on Santa Barbara County Wine

Doug continues to consult for La Encantada and Happy Canyon Vineyards, along with others. His influence and personality-driven wines are guaranteed to remain synonymous with Santa Barbara Country wine for decades to come. While the Margerum winery is open to the public on weekends in Buellton, you can visit their El Paseo tasting room every day in Santa Barbara, with a new tasting room coming soon in the Hotel Californian!

 

 

Doug’s incredible story as a successful Santa Barbara winemaker is part of Santa Barbara Wine Country history. Read more of our winemaker interviews in our blog here!

 

August Featured Winemaker: Chuck Carlson

August 7, 2018

Wine Farmer: Chuck Carlson

Many winemakers “fall” into winemaking as a side project that grows into a full-fledged company or a passing of the torch in a family-run business. However, Chuck Carlson got into the wine industry from the get-go with an early inclination to make wine. Growing up on a farm in the balmy San Joaquin Valley, Chuck admits he wanted to live closer to the coast. Like so many other talented Santa Barbara winemakers, Chuck started out at “Zaca University,” a colloquial reference to Zaca Mesa Winery.

In his early years, Chuck and others were still learning how to grow the best grapes in the valley. Through “admittedly” everyone stumbled growing Cabernet or other grapes we know now are best suited to Napa and Sonoma. Chuck can certainly claim to have seen it all in our corner of the winemaking world.

Carlson Wines doesn’t have their own tasting room; keeping his operation low profile with a limited, but exclusive distribution. Between this month as our featured winemaker in our Monthly Featured Winemaker Series and his normal bottlings, Chuck typically only produces 2,500 cases a year.

 

Traditional Approach to Wine

We ask our featured winemakers to sum up their winemaking style in one word. Chuck didn’t hesitate; describing his style as “Traditional.” We can vouch for this! In his decades in Santa Barbara County and Arroyo Grande, he’s kept a consistent, traditional style of winemaking dating back to early California labels.

After 37 years of winemaking, if Chuck Carlson has a preference, it’s Pinot. When his label started in 2004, his focus was creating outstanding Pinot Noirs from the Central Coast. Over the years, Carlson wines have expanded to five different vineyards across multiple local AVAs.

In Chuck’s own words he describes his Pinot: “The 2014 vintage provided Pinot Noirs that tend to reflect the sun year. These wines are impacted by the climate throughout the growing season. There tends to be slightly darker and riper berry flavors that show a beautiful restrained balance. The chemistry of the fruit yields wines that can age gracefully and have a beautiful balance.”

 

Chuck Carlson’s wine adventure is one of many local vintners in Santa Barbara County. Read our blog for our interviews with several local winemakers as part of  our Featured Winemaker series.

SAMsARA Wines: A new chapter with Matt Brady

July 3, 2018

A local favorite with a cultured name

This July, we’re pleased to welcome back Matt Brady, already a veteran guest of our Featured Local Winemaker series. Since our previous interview over a year ago, Matt has found a new calling and a new home at SAMsARA. SAMsARA Wine’s namesake comes from Sanskrit: The Buddhist interpretation of the word is the process of coming into being as a unique, mortal being. In Hindu culture, SAMsARA is the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth of all life. This circle of passion, oneness and harmony are core values in SAMsARA’s winemaking process. The label produces only small batches of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache from “carefully selected micro-sites” in the Sta. Rita hills region.

Samsara's detailed vineyard map in the Sta. Rita AVA.

Fundamental to Matt’s winemaking is whole cluster fermentation – you’ll find this wine style in every SAMsARA wine. Whole cluster leads to greater aromas in their wines and a full mouthfeel profile without making the wines too strong.Stem inclusion is commonly a way to raise the PH of a wine, bringing natural acidity to the flavor profile. The cool climate vineyards, which SAMsARA exclusively selects for its retinue of grapes, are emblematic of very aromatic wines.

Matt’s favorite word to describe his wines: “Depth.” These wines are complex, multi-faceted, and appeal to those looking for an extra layer in their wines. Since 2005, Matt has worked almost every job in the California wine industry, most notably working his way from cellar master to co-winemaker at Jaffurs. When current SAMsARA owners Dave & Joan Szkutak acquired the winery, they had one name in mind to lead the operation: Matt Brady.

Joan, Dave & Matt at the Los Olivos tasting room.

Currently, Matt spends as much time as he can in the vineyards, exploring new vineyard sites to add to the SAMsARA portfolio that match their style. The team is opening a new winery in Goleta and are expanding the Los Olivos tasting room, so there’s plenty to keep fans of the label occupied!

What’s next? While SAMsARA typically focuses on Pinot, Grenache and Syrah, the first vintage of Chardonnay should be available soon, so keep your eyes peeled for new offerings!

 Each month, we sit down with a winemaker we feel represents the best qualities of Santa Barbara County winemaking: Transformative, curious, and brilliant individuals that make the Central Coast stand out in the ever-changing wine business. For more of our interviews with winemakers, check back in our blog for our recent features.

Longoria Wines: The Old Guard of Lompoc

June 6, 2018

History of one of the fathers of Santa Barbara Winemaking: Rick Longoria

 

Few have the opportunity and privilege to run a winery for as long as some fine wines age. In a season filled with newcomers, fresh faces, and advanced winemaking technologies, we’re pleased to interview a man who has been a part of the Santa Barbara wine industry for over 4 decades. Rick Longoria is truly one of the masters of Central Coast winemaking; we sat down to learn his story through wine, which started at the University of California.

Rick’s time at UC Berkeley opened him to what he calls the “hippie mentality” of getting back to nature. Fueled by this zeitgeist, he frequently found himself in nearby Napa Valley at wine tastings (which were free to college students in the 70’s!), which connected him with the world of fine wine. It was in these visits where Rick decided to pursue a career in the wine industry, learn how to make wine, and see what options lay in his future.

Rick’s first wine gig came at famed Sonoma winery Buena Vista, the oldest winery in California (est. 1857) in 1974. During his time at Buena Vista, he worked with consulting winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, considered by many to be the father of modern California winemaking.

It was Andre who encouraged Rick Longoria to drive south to Santa Barbara, where he kicked off his long career in Central Coast winemaking in the wine cellar at Firestone in 1976.

Longoria’s intent in winemaking is to identify the best sources of grapes; he believes in basic winemaking without manipulations to the wines themselves in order to showcase the best the grapes have to offer.

Spanish Wines in Lompoc

The 2016 Albariño is a product of Clover Creek Vineyard, a special place for Rick where the current owners asked him to lay down some vines for stellar winemaking. Clover Creek benefits from the breezes coming from the nearby Santa Ynez River to keep his Albariño and Tempranillo grapes cool.

Fe Ciega Vineyard in Lompoc

These days, if you don’t see Rick actively in the cellars or tending to his vines at Fe Ciega or Clover Creek, he’s throwing himself into revitalizing the tourism industry in Lompoc. His group aims to renovate old town Lompoc, attract more people to the old theater, and put the area squarely onto the wine tourism maps of Central and Southern California.

 

Want to learn more about your local Santa Barbara County Winemakers? Read about our other Featured Winemakers here!

Brewer-Clifton: Prodigy of Santa Barbara

May 3, 2018

There was a time during the late 1980’s, where winemakers came together with a unified goal– to put Santa Barbara County on the wine map of the United States. Little did they know, but their first steps paved the way for the explosion of our popular Santa Barbara wine region. Winemakers like Jim Clendenen from Au Bon Climat or Brian Babcock of Babcock wines created a culture which enabled Brewer-Clifton and others to find success in their footsteps. These pioneers succeeded in getting Santa Barbara County on the map as a premier California wine destination, rivaling Napa in some regards.

Embracing this spirit of collaboration, Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton put Sta. Rita Hills on the map. Together they started their label in the 1990’s before the Lompoc-based Viticultural area even existed. Greg attributes the success of Sta. Rita Hills to the diversity of Santa Barbara County and his team’s ability to focus on the best grapes of the area, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While other local AVAs may focus on Syrah or Sauvignon Blanc, Brewer-Clifton has always highlighted their flagships, which we’re currently featuring this month!

Santa Barbara Roots

At 21 Greg was a French-language professor at UCSB when he found his calling in the wine industry. He moved on from his previous passion for teaching to join Santa Barbara Winery in the tasting room for a meager $5.50/hour. He was hooked!

Greg Brewer met Steve Clifton in 1995 while working at Sunstone winery. Their friendship grew as they fed their desire to be part of Santa Barbara’s burgeoning wine region and soon discovered that their personalities blended well for business as well. Greg and Steve represent the best of the “next chapter” of the Santa Barbara wine story, after the premiere of the old guard. Their first 240 cases of wine came about in 1996, back when even some “established” wineries were still nothing more than young, green vines on a hill. The rest, as they say, is history. Greg considers his work in founding the appellation (which became an official AVA in 2001) his greatest accomplishment.

Back in 2017, Brewer-Clifton was purchased by the Jackson family (of the Kendall-Jackson winery). Greg is still the master winemaker of Brewer-Clifton winery, and considers the Jacksons the “largest champion of Santa Barbara County for decades”. He’s left to make his wines as he sees fit with his own spin on making premier Pinot and Chardonnay wines. If Greg isn’t making wine, he’s focusing on the education of newer, younger winemakers, and promoting the area here and abroad.

 

Humility & Vulnerability

Greg’s favorite part of winemaking:  “the humility that comes with never being able to replicate anything” in his wines. Every vintage has a slight difference that provides a humble aspect to his life’s work. The spirit of Brewer-Clifton comes from transparency and vulnerability, with all wines “raised in a state of neutrality,” using old barrels. Greg’s team handles the wines from vine to barrel, ensuring the Brewer-Clifton touch on each stage of their grape’s lives. As a winemaker, Greg Brewer wants to eliminate his personal bias or prejudice on the wine, “to enable other componentry” to be louder than him in the wine.

Want to learn more about your local Santa Barbara County Winemakers? Read about our other Featured Winemakers here!

 

It’s a great, great vibe: Habit Wines takes on Santa Barbara Wine Country

April 11, 2018

Jeff Fischer started small and dreamt big to make Habit Wines

 

What drives wine-lovers to Santa Barbara Wine Country? For most Californians, they visit because of the proximity and the refreshing rural escape from LA or the Bay Area– and of course for the quality of our wines.  For Habit Wines owner Jeff Fischer, it’s all about the attitude our region exudes– a welcoming attitude with a willingness to share knowledge and support its fellow winemakers.

You might know Jeff from his eponymous character on the Fox show American Dad!.  Balancing his two callings of acting and winemaking, Jeff started small, making several cases of wine out of a garage in Los Angeles, with a few hundred pounds of grapes he bungee-corded onto his truck and brought down from Santa Barbara. 

Three defining moments helped Jeff get started: The first winery to agree to sell him grapes. The winemaking classes that guided him through the creation of his garagiste cases of wine he made in LA. And, Doug Margerum who opened his winery doors giving Jeff the opportunity to become a full-fledged winemaker. (Watch our interview to hear Jeff’s journey to winemaking in his own words.)

For a wine to grow as a passion into a business it takes a certain kind of creative energy which Jeff imbues in every one of his wines. 

Mavericks in the industry like Jeff help define Santa Barbara wine country – and the winemakers who make it all happen. Like others before him, it’s this culture of expression and encouragement that helped him get started, or as he puts it, “it’s a great, great vibe!”

So, why the big hand on the Habit Wines label?

Habit Wines, Los Olivos

“It’s really all about art and addiction,” says Jeff –  the art of acting and his addiction to winemaking. For him, the hand belongs to William S. Burroughs, Jeff’s favorite poet from his hometown of St. Louis, who “may be reaching for his own fix” on the label. The Habit label certainly does pop out on a shelf of wines – it’s easy to spot from a distance on our own wine wall – and the design even landed his wines in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Like most ‘misunderstood’ modern art, it wasn’t always as accepted.  During one of his first vintages, Jeff brought his wines to the famed French Laundry restaurant in Napa. The staff loved the wine but refused to buy any for the restaurant giving the reason that the label was too modern, too out of the ordinary for the bourgeois Napa eatery.

Habit Wines are made from grapes from several vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County. Jeff prefers Happy Canyon grapes to grow his Bordeaux blends, keeping it hyper-local to the area. Most of his other varietals are grown in the Los Olivos District.

 

Last month we featured Presqu’ile wines in Santa Maria as our Featured Winemaker. Check out our recent interview with head Winemaker Dieter Cronje!

 

Pete Stolpman our February Featured Winemaker

February 6, 2018

Meeting and interviewing Pete Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards and Winery offered a rare glimpse into how winemakers are born. Pete is the subject of our Featured Local Winemaker series.

We asked Pete to sum up in ONE word an aspect of his personality that gets infused into Stolpman wine. Pete’s answer:  “Crazy”! He chose this word as he reflected on his father’s sheer determination to find a property with the same soil characteristics as the European wines he loved. Pete’s father, Tom Stolpman, knew that if he found the limestone soil he was looking for, the rest would fall into place. And… it did.

Pete’s parents, Tom and Marilyn Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyard and Winery in 1990.

Tom Stolpman, Pete's father
Founder, Tom Stolpman

The senior Stolpmans envisioned winemaking as an investment worth pursuing because they could enjoy the fruits of their labor… together. And now, Pete and his wife, Jessica are partners in their family endeavor.

Their 220-acre property in Ballard Canyon— of which a whopping 153 acres are currently planted to grapes– lies on three major limestone ridgelines. By implementing revolutionary viticultural techniques, their mission is to push the dry-farmed limestone vines to unprecedented levels of quality.

Stolpman Vineyards produces Syrah, Roussanne, Grenache, and Sangiovese within the Ballard Canyon AVA.  Petite Sirah, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc are also grown and produced in limited quantities, as well as some more obscure native French varietals that promise some very interesting wines in the not-so-distant future.

One of the first business decisions the Stolpmans made– a decision that gives them a reputation for being mindful of their role in our community– was to give all their workers full-time employment; they made a commitment to them and their families by providing careers, instead of temporary work. Ruben Solorzano is one of the key players that gives Stolpman wines their stellar reputation. As a 20-year veteran vineyard manager and local viticultural superstar, Ruben organically dry farms the vines for balanced concentration and a healthy ecosystem. Kyle Knapp, head winemaker, and consulting winemaker, Sashi Moorman, round out the team’s talent. Kyle and Sashi work hand-in-hand with Ruben and Pete in timing the harvest of their taut, fresh fruit. Kyle proudly sees himself as the steward, rather than the creator, of Stolpman’s “vineyard crafted” wines.

Here’s Pete Stolpman’s unique ‘how-I-became-a-winemaker” story:

After graduating from Georgetown University, Pete took a management job in Los Angeles. He became increasingly involved in his family’s vineyard operation until it became apparent that jumping into the family business was what he was meant to do. He quit his job, and embarked on a three-year wine training program; he refers to this as the “Master’s Degree by Tom Stolpman.” Pete made wine in Australia and in Italy before returning home to sell wine for the Henry Wine Group, where he was awarded the title, Fine Wine Specialist of the Year in 2008.  AT 26 years old! He was the youngest salesman to receive this award (and still holds the record!).

Ready for THE challenge, Pete took over day-to-day management of Stolpman Vineyards in 1990 and hasn’t regretted his decision for one moment.

Pete’s time at Henry Wine Group was not only a great learning opportunity, it was also life- changing in terms of his personal life.

Jessica Stolpman, Pete's wife
Jessica Stolpman

During his training at Henry WineGroup, he met his wife, Jessica. She attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she fell in love with the world of wine through her involvement in the Vines to Wines Club. Upon graduation, she joined the Henry Wine Group, where, she met Pete, AND won the award for Highest Sales Growth.  After two years at Henry Wine Group, Jessica moved on to become the Western Regional Sales Manager for Zaca Mesa Winery, just 10 miles north of Stolpman Vineyards on Foxen Canyon Road. Now fully emerged in the family business, Jessica manages the California wholesale market for Stolpman Vineyards.

A long-term vision

The Stolpmans are recognized for their pivotal role in developing the Ballard Canyon AVA. Upon publication of the AVA, Pete was elected President of the Ballard Canyon Wine Growers Alliance. Through his travels promoting Stolpman Vineyards around the world, Pete is also spreading the word about Ballard Canyon’s commitment to Syrah, leading the charge to establish the area as the benchmark Syrah appellation in the New World.

Ballard Canyon AVA Stolpman Vineyard
Stolpman’s Vineyard in Ballard Canyon AVA

The Stolpman Story is one very similar to many of the other local Santa Barbara Wine Country winemakers that we have interviewed. It started with a dream, that with hard work and determination has made our incredible niche in the world of wine something to be proud of. Having the legacy passed down to the next generation is a sign that our burgeoning wine country is here to stay!

If you enjoyed this blog, check out our current Featured Local Winemaker from this month!

 

Santa Barbara Wine Country Summed Up

October 6, 2017

Say the words “California wine” and more often than not, bruiser Napa Cabernets or buttery Sonoma Chardonnays comeSanta Barbara Wine Country to mind. There’s a certain irony to the fact that most consumers consider wine country of Santa Barbara County as a relative newcomer when in fact the area has had acreage under vine for over one hundred years. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that Santa Barbara County really took off, thanks in part to the UC Davis’s assessment of it having the optimal climate for growing grapes.

What makes the climate of Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast so unique? Three factors come into play: The Humboldt Current, the Coriolis Effect, and the Transverse Range.

The Humboldt Current, despite its name, has nothing to do with cheese or green pharmaceuticals. It’s actually a deep ocean current that comes up from Peru, bringing cool waters with it. That combines with the Coriolis Effect, which is a phenomenon that occurs when northern winds push surface-warm ocean water off the top of the Pacific and moves it further west. The Coriolis Effect truly is phenomenal because it’s not possible without the Earth’s rotation! When that warmer water shifts away, those deep, cool waters shift towards the top, ensuring a continuous cooling effect mid-California Coast. That cool air is then funneled inland due to the Transverse Range: that’s where the North-South running mountains turn East-West due to an early plate tectonic shift. That geological and meteorological combination add up to the unique microclimates we find around Santa Barbara County – which add up to a great variety of wine!

The two biggest AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas, in Santa Barbara County are Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley. Both are river valleys created by that plate tectonic shift, which means they oddly run west-to-east, funneling cool maritime air in with them. Both AVAs benefit from large diurnal swings because the cool Pacific influence brings in chilly fog overnight, lowering the nightly temperatures, before burning off midday at higher, hotter afternoon temperatures. That large temperature swing optimizes sugar levels in grapes while maintaining acidity. You’ll notice wines from both AVAs may be higher in alcohol but never taste out of balance: there will always be a refreshing prickle of acidity on the finish. Let’s take a moment to thank diurnal swings for that!

Within the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, the best known AVA is Sta. Rita Hills. (And yes, it is legally ‘Sta. Rita Hills’ and not ‘Santa Rita Hills.’ It seems the famous Santa Rita winery in Chile was a bit peeved when the Santa Rita Hills AVA was initially granted and sued to prevent consumer confusion.) Sta. Rita Hills is most famous for its Pinot Noir. The AVA benefits from that ocean air as well as very specific ‘chet’ soil that create the unmistakably bright and floral Sta. Rita Pinot flavor. It’s no mistake that some of the best-known California Pinot vineyards, including Sea Smoke, are located here.

larner vineyard
Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon

Moving away from the ocean, we find the Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon AVAs. As their names imply, they are both lower altitude AVAs and, since they’re surrounded by mountains, heat and sunlight reflect off to create much warmer microclimates than those found in Sta. Rita Hills. Bordeaux and Rhone varietals do well here. In particular, Cabernet Sauvignon loves Happy Canyon and Syrah rules Ballard Canyon.

And, fun fact!: Happy Canyon earned its moniker by having the only working still during Prohibition, leading many a local to visit and to leave quite happy! We’re pleased to see this happy-making legacy continued with fantastic wine.

sunset vineyard
Bernat Vineyard of Los Olivos District

And finally, the newest AVA in the region is perhaps the closest to our heart: the Los Olivos District. Located in the area surrounding the Los Olivos Café, the Bernat vineyard is proud to be part of the Los Olivos District. Comparatively flat and warm, Syrah absolutely thrives here – which you can taste in the many different Bernat Syrah bottlings.

With the continued interest in Santa Barbara County, we feel that its potential is just now being brought to fruition. The various microclimates and unique topography allow for infinite possibilities, from rich, round reds to bright, acidic whites. Santa Barbara Country truly has a wine for every wine lover!

We love sharing Santa Barbara Wine Country! Shop our Wine Merchant here and we’ll ship our wine country to you! Consider choosing from our custom wine club selection that offers only the best of California Central Coast wines.

Ernst Storm our October Featured Winemaker

September 30, 2017

For Ernst Storm, wine should tell a story: the story of the site, the story of the grape, and the story of the vintage. For us, his own story is an intriguing adventure that influences his unique approach to winemaking!

Ernst grew up along the Western Cape region of South Africa, an area made famous for winemaking. Although he did not grow up in a family of vignerons, his surroundings heavily influenced both himself and his brother. Ernst knew that he wanted to pursue a line of work that both involved creativity and nature, both of which logically lead him back to his roots.

Not content with just staying home, however, Ernst traveled extensively through Europe and eventually made his way to California, working in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills. There, he was able to balance out his knowledge of cool-climate winemaking that he learned in South Africa with that of the much-warmer Sierra Foothills AVA. He learned how to work with much higher levels of alcohol and pHs, and how to stabilize wines that are far out of balance, all of which have since come in handy with the varying microclimates around Santa Barbara County.

Ernst Storm at harvest

Ultimately it was a desire to explore a wider range of temperatures that drew him to Santa Barbara County. He became the winemaker for Notary Public Wines, drawing from the warmer Happy Canyon AVA to craft some delicious Cabernet Sauvignons and other Bordeaux varietals. The microclimate range, though, is impossible to ignore, opening up unlimited possibilities for winemakers. After establishing his own eponymous label, Storm, Ernst set out to craft wines that tell the story of his background as well as their own.

A prime example is his Sauvignon Blanc: Ernst ages the wine in stainless steel, which is a decidedly New World approach, with lees (or spent yeast cells) included, which is decidedly Old World. The result is what he calls an “American Riviera wine”: one that is bright, refreshing, and infinitely quaffable. In fact, it’s the best selling white wine at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café month after month!

Owner of the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe, Sam Marmorstein, got a chance to sit down with Ernst and learn more about his winemaking methods and path to finding himself as a winemaker in Santa Barbara Wine Country.

 

Never one to rest on his proverbial laurels, Ernst is constantly exchanging ideas with his brother in South Africa. Since both are winemakers, they continue to inspire and advise each other. Ernst claims that most smaller wineries – and indeed, wine regions – have to figure out what works as they go along. This is a vastly different approach than that of bigger areas like Napa and Bordeaux where big money is spent on formulating wines that meet the specs for both public appeal and critical acclaim. Although that kind of money is helpful, making it up as you go allows the freedom to experiment, and that’s just what Ernst continues to do.

 

Did you enjoy Storm Wine’s story? Check out our current Featured Winemaker this month!

 

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