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.
I like on the table, when we’re speaking, the light of a bottle of intelligent wine. -Pablo Neruda.
“This is what wine is to me, sharing with friends, fantastic conversation, the light and energy of a wine, but not just any wine– an intelligent brilliant wine.” -Jessica Gasca
Jessica Gasca is an intriguing woman who dipped her toes into the wine industry interning in 2009. She described her first harvest as “absolutely magical.” Born and raised in southern California Jessica realized in her late twenties she wasn’t passionate about the career path she had been working towards. The summer before starting a masters program she quit her job, left her friends and family, and moved to the central coast to dive into the wine business.
Jessica landed a job with Matthias Pippig of Sanguis, at Grassini Family Winery, and has worked as an enologist for Blair Fox. Jessica is currently working at Dragonette Cellars while pursuing her dream of making her own wine under the label, Story of Soil, formerly ITER [e’tair]: n. (Latin) the journey.
Jessica is grateful to her uncle, Gary Burk, for his inspiration and mentorship along her journey as a winemaker. Gary has been making wine in Santa Barbara County for 20 years. He previously worked as the GM and assistant winemaker for Au Bon Climat and Qupe, and now has his own highly-acclaimed winery, Costa de Oro wines.
Jessica’s intention for her wines is to see what Mother Nature provides each year and follow her intuition. Each vintage, varietal, and vineyard is different. It’s about connecting to the earth, sculpting the wines to show a sense of place and style—following what’s inside.
Jessica describes harvest as her favorite part of winemaking. Waking up before the sun, picking the grapes, processing, crush, getting sweaty and dirty. It’s a beautiful process, one that she fell in love with immediately.
Santa Barbara County is a remarkable place for grape growing and for making world-class wines that Jessica is grateful to be part of. She is passionate about the industry and this region, and hopes to continue helping it become more widely known and recognized for the quality wines being produced.
Like most winemakers, Jessica Gasca’s career started as a dream—a passion to create “intelligent” wine—a dream she nurtured. We are honored to pour the fruit of her labor created from the grapes lucky enough to express themselves through Story of Soil.
“To share and enjoy wine and food with friends is why I believe we are all in this industry.”
The Cotiere Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, is one of those wines that stops you in your tracks, once you try it you have to find out what it is, who made it, and how to get more! It is a head turner, the flavors are rich and textured throughout, with plenty of resonance and fabulous overall balance.
After about 10 years of harvest work, and assistant winemaking, Kevin Law began his own label, Cotiere, in 2006. A geology major who found himself getting involved with atmospheric sciences, meteorology, and mapping, Kevin decided to expand his experience into something he was genuinely passionate about; wine. Like all great winemakers, there are individuals who influence and guide them along their journey, Barbara and Jim Richards of Paloma on Spring Mountain in Napa, were incredibly helpful to Kevin.
In his mid-twenties there was an old vine California Zinfandel that turned Kevin into a wine-lover. From there it seems, there are many benchmark wines and varietals from around the world that captured his imagination. The first California Pinot Noir that truly got his attention was the 1994 Williams Selyem Allan Vineyard – “on release that wine was singing.”
Cotiere wines are made humbly out of respect for the fruit, to reflect that year’s unique growing conditions. The wines are crafted to offer a sense of place, an expression of the Central Coast terroir. Kevin wants to stay true to the grapes individuality per row, block, vineyard, and year. The fruit for Cotiere wines is sourced from selected vineyards such as River Bench, Thompson, Hilliard Bruce, La Encantada, and Presqu’ile. Keeping each vineyard separate he shows the honest truth of terroir, creating a unique experience for wine drinkers. We’ve had the honor of meeting Kevin, tasting his wines, and getting to know him on a personal level. We can vouch that Cotiere wines express the true authenticity of their place because of the character of the person behind them. Can’t think of a better way to experience the terroir of the our Santa Barbara Wine Country then enjoying these wines.
Kevin’s Pinot is one of many fantastic wines he produces for his Cotiere label. Here’s what we are currently featuring:
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café have selected the perfect wine to accent all of the romantic moments you have planned for your day. The “Cupid’s Choice” features three local wines from distinct wineries that pride themselves on the love and care that goes into each vintage. Each winery is unique, yet shares a common thread – that of close family and friends, coming together to pour their heart and soul into creating wine that reflects their own joy in life and pride in the land and grapes they love. Let “Cupid’s Choice” lead you on a day of mutual discovery! Start with a lovely burst of brunch-time bubbles courtesy of a sparkling “Brut Rose.” Then, after a day of adventures, you can look forward to a “Slice of Heaven” served with a great meal. As the evening deepens, bring your Valentine closer for a “Sweet Ending” with a premier dessert wine. “Cupid’s Choice” has romance written all over it! The collection sells for only $93 (regularly $108) and if you come in to purchase in-store, it includes a beautiful Italian Wine box, a suitably charming gift for your favorite Valentine.
Riverbench 2013 Sparkling Brut Rose
Riverbench Vineyard & Winery was established in 1973. Located on the southeastern side of the Santa Maria Valley, the alluvial soils proved a match made in heaven for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes planted on the property. The winery is committed to sustainable winegrowing practices, and their wines brilliantly reflect their inspiration – Champagne in France, the country of romance and celebration. Their tasting room, located on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, is in a restored 1920s craftsmen style house. The garden includes a bocce ball court and a horseshoe pit, and is a lovely property to visit for a wine country picnic. Riverbench presents a small portfolio of wines from their outstanding vineyard, which results in wine of “uncommon character and dimension.”
Riverbench’s 2013 Sparkling Brut Rose is lightly perfumed with aromas of lilac and a hint of rosewater. This palest blush pink wine boasts noticeably fine bubbles, and in the mouth, flavors of meringue, marzipan, and raspberries are made all the more intriguing by a sensual hint of sauvage.
Babcock 2012 Pinot Noir, “Slice of Heaven”
Babcock Winery & Vineyards was established in 1978. Mona and Walter Babcock purchased the 110-acre property, off hwy 246, in the western side of the Santa Ynez Valley. Originally planting 20 acres to Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, in 1983 they created their first experimental vintage. Encouraged by the results, the couple decided to move forward with plans for a small winery. In the meantime, their son decided to investigate the “wine thing” with his parents, which prompted a change in his education plans. He spent a couple of years of enology course work, but after crushing some Gewurztraminer in 1984, he forgot about school and ended up being awarded gold medals at the L.A. and Orange County Fairs for his 1984 Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc. From there, a love affair with wine has been blossoming over the last 40 years. Says Brian “…I do like the idea of pulling corks on wines that are like a dream come true.”
Babcock’s 2012 Pinto Noir, “Slice of Heaven” is dry and bright in acidity, and would be excellent with beef, pork, and dishes of wild game. The tannins are fairly thick for a Pinot Noir. The winemaker notes, “If you want to get a handle on what the excitement is all about in the Sta. Rita Hills, just taste this wine that was grown in the absolute epicenter of the place.”
Foxen 2013 Sweet Ending Dessert Wine
The Foxen Vineyard and Winery lies deep in the Santa Barbara wine country. By following the quaint, twisting, rural Foxen Canyon Road, visitors will discover the historic Rancho Tinaquaic, on what remains of the original Mexican land grant ranch that covered most of the current Foxen Canyon. Once there, stop first to see “The Shack.” Renamed foxen 7200, the small, rustic building is where it all began when friends Dick Dore and Bill Wathen founded the Winery in 1985. Then, travel a little bit farther up the road to the new solar-powered winery and the FOXEN tasting room. Although far from the sea, the name of the winery is in memory of Dick’s great-great grandfather, Benjamin Foxen, who was an English sea captain in the early 1800s before coming to Santa Barbara and purchasing the land. His love of the sea is reflected in the distinctive anchor which became his cattle brand, and then later the trademark of the Foxen Vineyard & Winery.
Foxen’s 2013 “Sweet Ending” Dessert Wine brings to mind a walk through a blossom-filled meadow in the prime of spring. It’s taste, like an unforgettable kiss.
Let “Cupid’s Choice” 3-pack collection from the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café provide the romantic notes of a very special Valentine’s Day!
With the festive holiday season fast approaching, the excitement of celebrating with family and friends can seem dizzying as we bustle about preparing for gatherings, shopping for that perfect gift, and transforming our homes into warm and welcoming winter retreats sparkling with seasonal touches. Just thinking about all there is to do while juggling work, crowded streets, and traffic is enough to leave you breathless and wistfully dreaming of stepping back to a time where you could explore the streets of a small town at your own pace. A town with small, family-owned stores offering unique items, and one that offered plenty of opportunities to relax and enjoy a moment over a glass of wine, savor a small snack, or dine at a leisurely pace. A town that offered a quaint festive feel, where you were greeted with smiles, helpful advice, and ended the day feeling like you’ve gained new friends.
Luckily, you don’t need to step back in time! Such a destination is just a few hours drive from Los Angeles. In the town of Los Olivos, located in the heart of the Santa Barbara wine country, you will find all you need to check everyone off your shopping list (including you) and have an enjoyable time doing it. To make your stay as comfortable as possible, and feel like a real vacation, check out the openings at the Bernat Winery & Retreats. Two of the Bernat Retreats are located just a few minutes from downtown Los Olivos. If the Bernat Retreats are booked, Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn is a delightful boutique hotel in downtown Los Olivos.
Waking up to crisp, clean country air is invigorating and sets the stage for a totally enjoyable day! Your morning can start with a delicious weekend breakfast at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café, owned by locals Sam & Shawnda Marmorstein, or you can cozy up to a cup of freshly brewed Peet’s Coffee at Corner House Coffee, originally one of the first residences in Los Olivos built around 1800, and repurposed by the local Lash Family, it has become one of the gathering spots for the community. Corner House offers an array of freshly baked goods in addition to a selection of hot breakfast items. Both the coffee shop and the Los Olivos Café have great patios to watch the morning unfold as you wait for the shops to open between10 – 11am.
Next door to Corner House Coffee is Los Olivos’ go to sweet shop, Stafford’s Famous Chocolates, located at the base of an historic water tower, the perfect place to stock up on stocking stuffers. Behind that are two delightfully complimentary shops, Wendy Foster – LO and !Romp – LO. Wendy Foster offers a stunning collection of dressy/casual clothing selected from renowned designers. Each piece delivers a stylish statement and you’re sure to find a beautiful edition to any woman’s wardrobe. Next door, !Romp offers a selection of Italian footwear and handbags, plus unique one-of-a-kind accessories and gift items. Walking out and behind Corner House Coffee, as you head toward Alamo Pintado, you’ll discover Waxing Poetic. Owned by Patti Pagliei Simpson, her store offers interesting pieces of jewelry, charms, candles, housewares, and many objects that are sure to delight.
For the little people on your shopping list, don’t miss the Tiny Tree Boutique located inside a restored, historic water tower originally built in the late 1800s. Tiny Tree is a specialty children’s clothing store with a unique and vintage-inspired custom product line for girls designed and handmade by owner Christine Lash. She also has a few other product lines for both girls and boys, including shoes and hats. Nearby is Inez gallery featuring fine art and handmade goods. Next door, is First Street Leather. Set a little ways back, the shop has been a local favorite for nearly 40 years. Stepping inside you’ll experience the deep rustic smell of leather and find fashions “that feel like butter to the touch.” A few steps further you’ll discover the entrance to a secret garden space housing the Artisans Gallery. Originally an old silversmith’s workshop, the gallery offers handmade leather designs and handcrafted items from different regions of Mexico City.
At the intersection of Grand and Alamo Pintado stands the Los Olivos flag pole at the center of town. Erected in 1918 as a tribute to WWI Veterans, it is a common point of orientation for locals and visitors. On the southeast corner is the Los Olivos General Store, formerly the Los Olivos Garage, and used as Goober’s garage during the filming of “Return to Mayberry”. The Larner Family embraced the theme “wine-art-home”, so the store features locally produced artisan items “that celebrate the lifestyle of the Santa Ynez Valley.” You will have no problem spending time browsing through all the interesting items on display. Among the unique home décor, tabletop items, jewelry, books, handbags, scarves, wine accessories, packaged gourmet foods, olive oil, skin care products, and garden goods, you’ll be able to check off many on your gift list. And, you can step through a door and taste the Larner wines too!
Continuing east on Grand, toward the Hwy 154 end of town (literally about twenty steps away), pop into Avec Moi Décor featuring beautiful European gifts and antiques for the home and garden, including a selection of baby gifts. A little further on you’ll discover Gallery Los Olivos exhibiting original works of art in a variety of medium. Then, at the corner of Jonata and Grand, it’s worth a quick trip around the corner to visit Pumacasu. Owned by a husband and wife team, Carlos carries vintage and antique corkscrews, while Christine is an accomplished bench jeweler that makes pieces right in front of you.
Crossing the street at the east end of Grand, step into the Saarloos & Sons tasting room because by now, you’ll be ready for a treat. Inside their tasting room you’ll find a sweet surprise…Enjoy Cupcakes!Inspired by local produce, flavors, and wines, owner Amber Vander Vliet creates incredibly delicious bite-sized cupcakes that melt in your mouth.
Heading back toward the flagpole, you’ll pass the Carriage building. Climbing to the second floor, you’ll open the door to the Style Junction and find yourself transported to a loft in Soho, London, England. Owner Sue Turner-Cray, British born, offers vintage and new, one-of-a-kind designer clothing. If you have a woman on your list that likes “something with a unique flair”, this is the place to find it.
Arriving at the northeast corner of Grand and Alamo Pintado, be sure to go into the courtyard and stop in atHoneyPaperon the second floor. This is the place to discover unique holiday cards to send to special friends and family. And, this is the place you’ll find lovely paper and ribbons to wrap the treasures you have found on your shopping spree. Owner Michelle Castle “believes that invitations, social stationery and even a simple greeting card can make a lasting impression.” Paper is her passion, and from her hand-selected assortment, you’ll be sure to make a lasting impression with your gift. You can visit Atmosphere Atelier owned by interior designer Collette Kaplan. Open Friday and Saturday, this upscale boutique offers antique furnishings, accessories, lighting, and beautiful tabletop items. Across the courtyard, and accessible from Alamo Pintado, you can drop into Olive Hill Farm. Featuring the best olive oils in the Los Olivos area, you can stop and enjoy an olive oil tasting before checking out the local gourmet food products, including wonderful olives, tapenades, gift baskets, vinegars, and more.
Following Alamo Pintado north to the southwest corner across from St. Mark’s In-the-Valley Episcopal Church, is a garden shop that cannot be missed. J. Woeste – Los Olivos offers a wide variety of succulents, garden ornaments, sculptures, birdbaths, wind chimes, and more. Outside and inside, you will find something that is perfect for everyone on your list that has the slightest interest in nature.
Moving back toward the flagpole in the center of town, you will pass two clothing stores offering unique attire, Toro for Men and Bonita Boutique for women. Bonita offers bohemian style clothing from upscale designers, while Toro offers clothing, leather goods, and a special section for dog lovers.
Crossing the park to explore the other end of Grand Avenue, you should take the time to drop in and experience Jedlicka’s Saddlery for a taste of the real ranch life. This is the store to find quality western wear and equestrian apparel for all the horse lovers on your list. From cowboy hats to cowboy boots and everything you need in between, Jedlicka’s has been outfitting cowboys and cowgirls since 1932.
Like tying the perfect bow on a gift, ending a day in Los Olivos isn’t complete until you open the door to the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café. Not only will you be able to take a deep breath and savor a delicious meal at one of the most renowned restaurants in the Santa Ynez Valley, but their wine selection and retail area is the perfect place to purchase wines and gifts to pair beautifully with all your wine and foodie friends. Many of the ingredients are picked that morning from the Los Olivos Café organic farm – so you will be experiencing them at the peak of flavor. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly, and strives to make everyone feel at home and welcome. From house-made pasta to a fabulous barramundi with fried chickpeas and persimmons, you won’t be disappointed. With 20 boutique stores to explore and enough charm to make you feel like you truly stepped back in time, Los Olivos is a shopping destination, not to be missed!
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.
With spring launched, it’s time to take advantage of the clear skies and balmy weather of the Santa Ynez Valley. Get outside and enjoy our hiking trails, bike routes, and horseback riding opportunities, in addition to the many events and festivals, which are loved by locals and visitors alike!
A great weekend should begin with a Friday afternoon arrival. If you’re smart, you’ve planned ahead to check into one of the comfortable Bernat Vineyard & Winery Retreats. From this private property it is possible to begin exploring the nearby area right away either on foot, with one of the provided cruiser bikes, or…leave exploration to the days following and just relax into a comfy chair with a good book, a glass of wine, and enjoy the rural landscape views from your own private patio.
In the morning, a delicious weekend breakfast at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe will jump-start the day. Executive Chef Chris Joslyn not only incorporates fresh, local produce into each dish, including local free range eggs for all the egg dishes, but also into the cocktails on the “Bubbly” menu. The “Seasonal Bellini” includes seasonal fruit puree, while the “Lavender Bubbles” is infused with house-made lavender syrup. These light and refreshing drinks set the palate for a wonderful dining experience.
The Los Olivos Café menu offers a variety of Farm Egg Scrambles and a Classic Breakfast in addition to more special items. While all of the menu items are expertly prepared, these few unusual standouts shouldn’t be missed. Offered as a stand alone item, the “Café Yeasted Waffle,” a secret recipe pulled from owner Shawnda’s own family, is also a perfect, shared appetizer. This incredibly light waffle literally melts in your mouth. Presented with a comfit of berries on top and a small pitcher of maple syrup on the side, each bite is pure joy. The “Shakshuka,” a local favorite, consists of two eggs perfectly simmered in tomato presse, side by side with a small salad of fresh baby greens topped with sliced avocado and exquisitely seasoned breakfast potatoes. The “French Toast Souffle” is a culinary masterpiece. Whipped together with cream cheese, baked, sliced, and then lightly toasted and presented with pecan butter and maple syrup, this hearty dish is impossible to resist.
Breakfast at the Los Olivos Café offers many small delicious surprises. From the toasted rustic, locally baked bread – paired with homemade jellies created by Jessica, wife of General Manager Matthew Negrete, to the chicken sausage made in-house, and even extending to the house-made ketchup; each bite has been well thought out by the Chef for your dining pleasure. For those looking for lighter fare, the house-made granola, plain yogurt, and fresh fruit is just the ticket.
For your weekend exploration:
The nearby town of Los Olivos offers many quality wine tasting rooms within easy walking distance of each other, in addition to boutique shopping, and fine dining. Established in 1887, the town was originally named after a nearby ranch that boasted 5,000 olive trees. An historical Walking Map can be picked up in town at most of the establishments or downloaded here. Using the map, visitors can take a self-guided tour and learn more about the colorful history of this quaint town.
Prior to my life in the wine business, I worked for a small record label based in Los Angeles called Plug Research. Operating an independent record label, and putting together a roster of artists that reflect a forward-thinking curator, is in many ways like creating a winery: the vineyards you work with are your artists, and your role in the cellar functions much like that of a producer, guiding your artists to their highest expression without losing the essence of what makes them special. David DeLaski, a veteran of the Los Angeles music scene, understands this concept better than anyone, as reflected in the beautiful wines he is making alongside his wife Anna under their new label, Solminer. I met the two of them at their vineyard and home in Los Olivos this past week to discuss life after the music business, organic farming, and winemaking with an eye toward the natural.
“Music is something you can get deeper and deeper into, with a great community, and there’s a bit of an obsession there,” says David DeLaski. “There are a lot of parallels with wine in that sense.” As both winemakers and musicians can attest, there is an all-consuming quality to these passions; once you’ve got the bug, you can think of nothing else. “I came to wine through my dad,” recalls David. “He was a businessman who enjoyed wine and so I got exposed to it at a very young age. I don’t have a cellar of old dusty bottles, though. I never became a big wine collector; wine was never a huge part of life until all this, until we started making wine. Some people are big collectors of music, but I was never an obsessive record collector; I loved to create it.”
Solminer did not begin with the grand ambitions of becoming the next cult winery or building a 10,000 case brand. Rather, it grew naturally out of the love of the craft of winemaking and the joy of farming. “Honestly, we weren’t quite sure how we’d fit into all this,” says David. “At first it was like ‘well, we’ll be weekenders and make a barrel of Gruner Veltliner.’ But you get sucked into this community in a really wonderful way. So we took a chance on it all, and we’re really glad we did.” The two also fortuitously connected with Steve Clifton of Palmina and Brewer-Clifton fame to guide the winemaking and help them focus their goals in the cellar. “We got hooked up with Steve because we loved his wines, and I think he was open to what we’re doing because it was something different, Gruner Veltliner,” recalls David. “If we were just another producer making Pinot Noir I don’t know if he would have been interested.”
While their first vintage of Gruner came from John Sebastiano Vineyard, going forward it will come entirely from their estate DeLanda Vineyard in Los Olivos. Their small home vineyard is a beautiful property, with a palpable energy that one can sense upon entering the driveway, originally planted entirely to Syrah when the DeLaskis took it over. Starting with a clean slate, they made the decisions to alter the varietal focus and to farm it organically, in large part because of concerns for their young son Linus. “The bottom line is, it was never a choice, because Linus is down there playing, in the vineyard, in the dirt,” emphatically states Anna. “So we decided from the beginning, if we have to deal with something, it’s going to be done organically.” The couple has also begun incorporating biodynamic practices in the vineyard, a philosophy which, again, grew out of the development they saw in their children first. “Our background in biodynamics comes from the side of Waldorf education, which has opened us up to a lot of ideas and philosophies that Steiner had,” says David. “My older boys go to a Waldorf school, and if our vines grow anything like they have, then maybe there’s something to Steiner’s philosophy.”
Though their vineyard still has quite a bit of Syrah planted, they’ve grafted increasing amounts to Blaufrankisch and Gruner Veltliner. Anna, a native of Austria’s famed Wachau region, guided the couple towards this decision to plant two of Austria’s most noble grapes, rarely seen outside of their homeland. They’re also making the unique choice to create a Blaufrankisch-Syrah blend, the first of its kind to my knowledge. “Adding a little Blaufrankisch to the Syrah is amazing,” smiles David. “Just 5 or 10%, it’s really cool.” Their winemaking, following along the lines of their farming approach, leans toward the natural, utilizing native yeasts, mostly neutral vessels, and minimal sulfur. “We never really made a conscious decision to be ‘natural winemakers’,” states David. “It’s kind of ingrained with the rest of our philosophy. The more I understood about the winemaking process, the more I started to taste the difference in those kinds of wine, and the more I taste them, I find myself drawn to them. I appreciate mistakes or natural occurrences from year to year.” The DeLaskis interpretation still means that there must be a core of deliciousness first and foremost; these wines are natural, but they are also clean, precise, and bright.
Tasting through the current Solminer lineup was a revelation. Their Gruner, utterly distinctive, seemed to marry the lentil and pepper notes the variety is known for with a textural weight reminiscent of Roussanne, as well as autumnal notes of baked apple and cinnamon. Their estate Syrah was also singular, sort of Crozes-Hermitage meets the Langhe in its marriage of iron, pepper, earth, and dried leaf. The star of the lineup, however, was their sparkling Syrah, “Nebullite”. It reminded me of one of my favorite wines on the planet, Camillo Donati’s Lambrusco. There was a living quality to the wine, imbued with the same notes of earth their still Syrah possessed along with extra dimensions of macerated raspberry and a thrilling sous bois, Balsamic character. “As a musician, I was never classically trained. I always liked to improvise, and to me, natural wine has that improvisatory nature, it’s like jazz.” To continue the jazz comparison, that sparkling Syrah was like the first time I heard Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come: You either get it or you don’t, but if it speaks to you, it is an experience like no other.
When I first met Anna and David months ago here at the Café, I noticed their exuberance and air of positivity, qualities that were in abundance on my recent visit. One immediately senses that these are two people in love, living their dream, and that joy radiates through their wines. “The key was meeting Anna and coming here, and falling in love with her and with this place,” smiles David. “And then going to Austria together, and seeing how ingrained wine is in the culture and the community there. When we returned, we realized we had that same community here, and that we could create that same lifestyle in Santa Ynez.”
“Sauvignon Blanc is the poor bastard child grape, it’s just so unappreciated,” sighs Dragonette’s Brandon Sparks-Gillis. “And there’s just so many producers who treat it like sh*t, and who treat it as just this cash cow, turn-and-burn grape, which I think is part of why it has a bit of a bad reputation.” Sparks-Gillis is one of Santa Barbara County’s most vocal advocates for the nobility of Sauvignon Blanc. While the grape’s value-driven examples from California, the Loire Valley, and New Zealand are popular everyday choices for much of the wine-drinking populace, few bestow the grape with the praise reserved for, say, white Burgundy. The team at Dragonette is among the few lavishing Sauvignon Blanc with an intensity of farming and winemaking to rival the world’s greatest estates. This week I spoke with Brandon Sparks-Gillis and John Dragonette about their work with Sauvignon Blanc in Happy Canyon.
Great wine often requires context. While I’m a believer in the merits of blind tasting, particularly if one is seeking to identify typicity within a grape variety or a region, many of the world’s most unique and treasured wines don’t show their best in a blind setting. I would include Dragonette’s Sauvignon Blancs in this group. These are wines that not only require but deserve a few hours at table with the right food and enough time and air to explore their nuances, along with an understanding of the philosophical approach behind them. The concentration in the wines, along with the use of oak, puts them in the rarefied air of producers like Francois Cotat, Didier Dagueneau, and Yquem’s ‘Ygrec,’ wines that are similarly proportioned and walk the tightrope between voluptuousness and mineral intensity effortlessly. In a blind tasting, these stick out when poured next to more traditional and/or mundane renditions of the grape, which I believe is something to be celebrated, not maligned.
The wines of Dragonette would not be possible without the unique geological and climatic character of Happy Canyon. While their initial Sauvignon Blancs incorporated fruit from outside the AVA, they have now devoted themselves solely to this amazing region. “We were inspired by a pretty wide range of Sauvignon Blanc initially,” says Sparks-Gillis. “As we started to work with Vogelzang and Grassini (both in Happy Canyon), we were really interested in what they were giving us. And as we started tasting the wines, we saw that they definitely lean a little more towards a Bordeaux expression of Sauvignon Blanc.” Without a doubt, the closest analogue to the area is Bordeaux, particularly the bold examples from producers like Smith Haut Lafitte and Haut-Brion. And unlike Bordeaux, the Sauvignon Blancs of Happy Canyon don’t require the addition of Semillon. “We initially sought out Semillon,” states Sparks-Gillis, “but we found that the wines from here were already so round and rich that we didn’t need it.”
Harnessing the power of Happy Canyon and fine-tuning how to best channel the area’s site character in the vineyard and the winery has been Dragonette’s greatest achievement. “Our dogma is to have no dogma,” emphatically states Sparks-Gillis. “We’ve had lots that range from 11.5% alcohol to 15%, and that may lean more towards one direction or another depending on the vintage. We want to let the season speak rather than having a dogmatic approach to when we pick.” They have worked tirelessly in the vineyard to control canopy and yield, seeking tiny, concentrated clusters that can strike a balance between fruit and minerality. “Sauv is all about minerality. There should be a fruit component, but if it’s all about fruit it can often get flabby and boring.”
The wines are never the ripest examples from Happy Canyon, though they’re certainly not ultra-lean, early-picked examples. The team at Dragonette believes that the area finds its truest expression in-between those two extremes. “I think in general, Happy Canyon has leaned toward a riper style, and that’s often where we find the best representation of place,” states Sparks-Gillis. “If you ask most people about Sauvignon Blanc, a lot of the things they’ll talk about- herbaceousness, cat pee, high acid- yes, these are related somewhat to climate, but they’re also very much stylistic decisions related to stylized winemaking.” This slightly riper, more intense character has been a big factor in the wines’ ability to age gracefully as well. “Happy Canyon typically drifts into the 3.4-3.6 pH range, but the wines still show a lot of spine. I think part of that has to do with our lower yields. Without that intensity and concentration, these wines don’t have the bones to age.”
The winemaking seeks to accent this concentration texturally and aromatically while preserving the minerality. Early experimentation with varying amounts of new oak has led them to what seems to be a relatively stable regime of 80% oak (of which only 10-20% is typically new) and 20% stainless steel, though again, the vagaries of vintage may shift these percentages. “A winemaking technique will often evolve from what someone who’s inspired us is doing, but ultimately we want to express the truth of Happy Canyon,” says John Dragonette. “For example, we’ve shifted to larger format cigar-shaped barrels similar to what Dagueneau is using, which is what most of our new oak is now, and that brings about a much slower evolution in the wines.” Rather than create wines defined by the spice or structural character of new barrels, they are using oak as a very subtle accent, with the ultimate goal of, again, emphasizing the site-driven character of Happy Canyon.
The two sites they are currently working with, Grassini and Vogelzang, create very different wines despite their close proximity and similar soils. The Grassini shows a unique top note of very fresh coconut, along with kiwi, guava, and piercing minerality. Sparks-Gillis says the wine’s green label is a nod to the character of the site. “Grassini has a little more of a green spectrum to the fruit, which is not to say herbaceous or underripe. This is more just-barely-ripe pineapple, kiwi, more of a freshness.” Vogelzang on the other hand is very deserving of its yellow/orange label: The more exotic of the two, its notes of fig, papaya, and musk are incredibly sexy, and more importantly, utterly singular; in short, it is the essence of Happy Canyon.
In a piece I wrote on Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc a few months ago, I said that no one had quite nailed it yet. Maybe I was being a bit hard on the area, but that’s because I have such strong conviction that Happy Canyon is capable of producing some of the greatest single vineyard Sauvignon Blancs on the planet. Now that I’ve had the chance to experience the Grassini and Vogelzang bottlings from Dragonette, and more importantly had the chance to experience them in the proper context, I can honestly say that these guys are nailing it. Brandon Sparks-Gillis says there’s no magic formula; rather, their success is the sum of numerous small steps that elevate the wines to their highest expression. “Getting from mediocre wine to good wine is not that difficult, but getting from good to great can be an overwhelming amount of work. We feel like our wines are getting there, but 10 years from now I hope people can taste our wines blind in a lineup and say, ‘that’s Dragonette.’ And hopefully there’s an element of greatness there.”
Journey just past the Santa Ynez River, into the hills off of Refugio Road, up a steep gravel driveway, and you will be greeted by the spectacular vistas of Refugio Ranch. Rising dramatically into the Santa Ynez Mountains, this 415 acre ranch is a sprawling piece of property, comprised mostly of open spaces; just 27 acres are currently planted. I met with Ryan Deovlet, Refugio Ranch’s contemplative winemaker, on an overcast Monday to explore the intricacies of this special site.
We climbed into the ranch’s Polaris, and went zooming up a precipitous hill. Rounding a bend, I was greeted by a tiny block of Syrah. “This is the Escondido (hidden) block, Clone 383, which is a little bit compromised by daylight hours.” Tucked way back into a canyon on the ranch, one can understand both the name and the challenges of ripening in this spot. “Because of the shadowing in this block we lose a couple hours of sunlight compared to the rest of the ranch. It tends to be a little more red fruit, with a lot of the carpaccio, pepper, meaty character. It actually inspired me to create a second red wine blend because it is so distinct from our other blocks.”
In talking with Deovlet, I quickly saw his desire to grow with the Ranch, willing to abandon previously held ideas or techniques if it meant better expressing a sense of place. “I have total autonomy, but it’s a collaboration between all of us, Niki and Kevin Gleason (the Ranch’s owners), Ruben Solorzano, (of Coastal Vineyard Care Associates), and myself. We’ll pull corks together and talk about the direction of the property and evaluate what we’re doing. With these small lots, you take a risk sometimes and it doesn’t always work. But for the most part, things are working out and they’re putting their trust in me and giving me autonomy.”
The farming here is essentially organic, though there aren’t currently plans to pursue certification. Like many properties I’ve visited in the valley recently, I was impressed by the diverse ecosystem they’ve preserved and nurtured here and how they’ve adapted to the unique needs of the site. “Kevin and Niki were cognizant of what they had here. It’s a nice, cool sanctuary,” says Deovlet. “They were very conscientious of where to plant and how to preserve the natural terrain. It still has a raw, wild feel.”
The diversity of the Ranch also applies to their choice of plantings: Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, and Malvasia Bianca for the whites; Syrah, Grenache, a recent addition of Sangiovese, and Petite Sirah for the reds. Deovlet also plans for some new additions, perhaps Picpoul or Bourboulenc to bring more acid and minerality to the whites, as well as some Grenache planted in their sandier river blocks. One of the most intriguing varieties on the property is Malvasia Bianca. Deovlet crafts a beautiful Spring white from this fruit, with a touch of residual sugar, a hint of spritz, and great acid, balancing the minerality of the Ranch with an easy-going exuberance.
Speaking of minerality, the soils here are some of the most exciting I have seen in Santa Barbara County. Black and lunar-like, with lots of rocky topsoil, it’s a clay loam with mudstone in its origins, quite different from the soils of the Los Olivos District AVA that stops just north of here. “It’s organic, heavy earth, alluvial mountain runoff all captured within this little bowl we have here,” states Deovlet. “We have great water retention. The goal is to eventually dry farm everything, which we’ve been working with Ruben on.” While these are mostly sedimentary soils, there is a bit of igneous material in their Petite Sirah in the form of granite, perhaps helping to explain why this grape expresses itself in such a singular way here.
“The Petite, for me, sort of serves as our Mourvedre, bringing a little more structure and putting a California twist on a Southern Rhone-inspired blend,” states Deovlet. He and Ruben are also exploring a new farming technique, using a crossbar to spread the canopy in the fruiting zone on the Petite, with the goal of giving the fruit longer hang time while preventing issues with rot or mildew. “We have to be very focused on canopy balance and low yields, with the intention that we can get all the fruit off before we hit the late October rains. In ’09 and ’10 we had those storms come through before we got everything in and we learned some hard lessons. That being said, if low yields over and over and over again mean the project never gets into the black, that project isn’t sustainable. There has to be a balance in the farming.”
Deovlet and Solorzano have had to make some big strides very quickly in approaching the farming at the Ranch as the growing conditions are so particular. “We haven’t had the most consistent of vintages, so we’ve had to learn on the fly. I’m blessed to be working with Ruben; everyone calls him the grape whisperer, and it’s true, he’s very intuitive in his approach.” While Deovlet initially had some concerns with the slightly higher pHs/lower acids the site was giving him, he’s learned to accept them, particularly after speaking to old world winemakers like Chave who see similar numbers. In place of acid, the structure of Refugio Ranch comes from tannin. “When I’m pulling fruit, it might be 25 or 26 Brix. At those numbers, we see that ideal tannin development, and at this site the vine isn’t starting to shut down.”
When the subject of Chave, one of the great iconoclcasts of the Northern Rhone, arose, I asked if Deovlet still saw the Old World as his benchmark. He thoughtfully replied, “I’m certainly inspired by the Old World, and you do find some of those aromatic markers here. That being said, I like to have a foot in the Old World and a foot in the New. I certainly take some ideas and inspiration, but we have this California sunshine, and these unique growing conditions, and I want to create something that speaks to the character of the Ranch.” To that end, the project is expanding their lineup of wines based around what the vineyard has shown them thus far, from 3 different bottlings to 8. While this may initially present challenges from a sales standpoint, their motivations are solely quality-driven. “It’s not diluted in moving from 3 wines to 8; it’s the opposite, it’s listening to the vineyard and fine tuning our style,” emphasizes Deovlet. “We’re making great strides in learning to understand the property, and how distinct it is.”
For such a young property, Refugio Ranch has made incredible leaps in quality very quickly, due in no small part to the passionate team in place. “The Ranch, generally speaking, has been a beautifully organic evolution to learn, block by block, how to approach viticulture from a very individualistic approach, and the same in the cellar,” says Deovlet. “I think that process has kept us in tune and taught us to listen to the wine. The ultimate question is, stylistically, are we doing justice to this property? They’re coming out of the gate delivering pleasure, and I think and hope they’re going to age as well.” Their current lineup indicates that they are indeed listening intently to the voice of this place, and I expect it to become ever more clear and distinct in the coming years.
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