Jessica Gasca of Story of Soil (formerly Iter)

June 10, 2016

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.


 

Jessica was part of our Final Friday Winemaker series in June 2016.

 

 

Meet Blair Fox & Family

May 13, 2016

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,Blair and Sarah Fox 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.blair 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.

The wines we currently carry at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café from Blair Fox Cellars are:

 

If you would like to meet Blair and try his incredibly wines, he will be mingling with guests during dinner service on May 27th. Can’t make it in? All of Blair Fox Cellars wines are 20% off the whole month of May in the retail store and online! Take advantage of this discount that will only last until the end of May, and try the sampler 4-Pack to get a taste of a wonderful selection of Blair Fox Cellars wines. For reservations call 805-688-7265. Or on open table.

Living & Sharing: the Wine Country Dream

November 2, 2015

5 years ago, in 2010, the Marmostein’s added the Bernat Retreats to their property so out of town visitors could enjoy wine country living. Sam and Shawnda find it so fulfilling to see guests enjoying the property and the beauty that surrounds them. More often than not, their guests express the desire to drop everything and live the life Sam and Shawnda enjoy. And it is possible! That’s just what Sam did, and that’s just what Shawnda did. They have the winery, the vineyard, the restaurant, the wine store, the farm, and the retreats, but what makes it wine country living – is sharing it!

It is a source of pride for both Sam and his wife Shawnda that their wine and the food offered at their Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe reflect good stewardship of the land. The Bernat Vineyard that Sam planted on 4 acres has been CCOF certified organicIMG_1507 since 2009. Their restaurant has a history of using ingredients from local farmers and growers, helping to support the agricultural heritage of the Valley. This year, they were able to utilize more of their land and started the Los Olivos Café Farm next to the vineyard. Growing the crops on their own land ensures that Los Olivos Café Chef Chris Joslyn receives a large selection of entirely organic produce to use in his dishes, picked from less than a mile away at the peak of freshness and flavor. The farm also provides the flowers for the tables at the Café and extra produce is being canned and offered for sale in their store.

IMG_5533The Bernat four acre vineyard, with its 19 year old vines, is comprised of Sangiovese, Syrah, Nebbiolo, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet vines were grafted over five years ago, so those grapes have not been bottled yet; 2016 should be their first release.

Farming your own land can lead to many unexpected skills. Sam has become a professional gopher trapper in the years he’s had his own vineyard. He has learned to read the needs of the plants, for example that vines need water to keep the PH down. But what keeps him engaged and loving his life is looking out the window at his fields and knowing what season of the year it is. And, Sam says, “It’s great to create something people can enjoy.”

A “signature” of any event that Sam and Shawnda host is their enthusiasm for giving back to the community by creating memorable, enjoyable moments for their guests. For those lucky enough to attend the sold out Annual Bernat Winemaker Dinner at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café earlier this month on October 9, the Marmostein’s did not disappoint. Greeting guests near the bar with a tasting of their first Bernat 2014 Rosé Nebbiolo, Sam and Shawnda made sure each guest was warmly welcomed and at ease. By last Thanksgiving, Sam noticed that the grapes weren’t progressing and decided to pick, press, and ferment a Rosé. Only 100 cases were brought out a few months ago and with only 35 remaining it has become a welcome addition!

IMG_2104Invited into the private dining room located at the end of the Wine Wall (made famous as the backdrop in the pivotal scene of the Academy Award Winning movie, SIDEWAYS), the intimate gathering of guests found their seats while Sam and Shawnda made sure everyone was comfortable. The family style tables, dressed with beautiful arrangements of flowers picked and arranged by Shawnda from the Café Farm, encouraged conversations among tablemates. It was easy to forge new connections and friends. Everyone was sociable and it was quickly learned that there were numerous anniversaries and a birthday to celebrate, which prompted many stories and laughter. One young couple was celebrating their anniversary and their first weekend “away” from the kids! Judging from the smiles, they seemed to be enjoying every minute.

FullSizeRender 2-1As guests settled and began looking with anticipation over the beautiful menus designed by Shawnda, the attentive waiters arrived with the first course of the evening – a cantaloupe and arugula salad tossed with mint, pistachios, feta and a lemon vinaigrette. This course was paired with the Bernat 2012 Grenache Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley, made with grapes from Camp 4 vineyard in Los Olivos. The perfectly balanced grenache blanc was left unfiltered to bring out the true flavor, and then hand bottled.

The second course, hot smoked salmon on a bed of warm lentil and baby kale salad with a shallot confit soubise, was excellently paired with the Bernat 2010 Estate Nebbiolo. A lean 5-year old wine that feels kind of Italian, it is made from the last grapes to be harvested and takes the longest time to mature. Also taking the longest time in the bottle, it is well worth the wait.

Chef Joslyn’s third plating was a mouth-watering ragout of duck and mushrooms on a bed of snap peas and pappardelle pasta. Perfectly paired with the Bernat 2011 Estate Sangiovese, Sam explained that only a ¼ acre of his vineyard is planted with Sangiovese, so there is very little produced of this excellent varietal.

FullSizeRenderThe richest course featured a grilled Colorado lamb chop placed above an eggplant, fennel, tomato and olive-pine nut relish, then drizzled with lamb jus. Cooked to perfection, the lamp chop was paired with the Bernat 2010 ‘Intrigue’ Estate Syrah. Double decanted before serving, it is Bernat’s flagship wine with a long finishing flavor.

The surprise of the evening came with dessert. Accompanying a beautifully arranged chocolate fondant dessert with salted caramel ice cream topped with a crisp caramel sugar confection, Sam and Shawnda presented their first library wine. The 2002 Syrah, made exclusively from their vineyard, was enthusiastically received and provided an excellent finish to a wonderful evening.

This winter marks 20 years of providing quality wine, food, and experiences for Sam and Shawnda. They will be celebrating this special Anniversary with a dinner event on December 12th. Currently, they are running a contest for best story. Throughout November, Shawnda will be collecting stories from guests about their experience at the Café. Did you get engaged there? Have your first date or celebrate a golden anniversary? Meet someone famous? Fall in love? All stories are welcome. If you have a café story to share, send it to info@winemerchantcafe.com with the subject line “Our Los Olivos Café Story”. Shawnda and Sam will select the top two stories and post it on the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café’s Facebook page for a vote. “Like” your favorite story and the winner will receive two tickets to the 20th Anniversary Dinner. Runner up will get a lunch for two. The 20th Anniversary Dinner is not to be missed! The menu will be a keepsake featuring old pictures and a timeline of the last 20 years, in addition to outlining the 3 courses paired with great wine. Bernat wines might be in one or more of the dishes, and they’ll be starting off with an amuse bouche and champagne. It is an evening for celebrating and reminiscing. The winning story will be read at dinner, and I’m sure there will be plenty of spontaneous stories to enjoy, especially from some of the employees who have been with Sam and Shawnda almost from the beginning! Reservations are now being accepted on eventspot.

Busy Being Born: Angela Osborne and A Tribute to Grace

March 31, 2014

tribute to grace

A good wine captures its vineyard.  A great wine captures its vineyard AND the personality of its winemaker.   When I think of the wines that have inspired me- Didier Dagueneau’s various expressions of Pouilly-Fumé, Soldera’s Brunello, the Cabernet Sauvignon of Bob Travers at Mayacamas- I think of them not only as the essence of the place they grow, but as an encapsulation of their creators.  To that list I would add Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace.  She puts her heart and soul into every bottle, and one can sense her presence in the glass, a feminine, ethereal, joyful rendering of site and self.  I spoke with her this week about her new spring release and the character that makes these wines so distinctive.

Cynicism is impossible around Angela Osborne.  She radiates such positive energy that even when she discusses the more esoteric aspects of her winemaking philosophy or her views on farming, there is such genuine belief and lack of artifice that one can’t help but be compelled.  Take the hummingbirds that grace the corks of her current vintage.  “The Chumash believe the hummingbird represents the grandmother energy, and both of my grandmothers became angels last year, so now they watch over all the bottles of Grace,” says Osborne.  “There were 13,776 hummingbirds that came into the world this vintage, which was really powerful for me.”  It is these little details- imbuing something as mundane as a cork with so much love- that make her wines stand out.

This detail-oriented approach extends to the winemaking.  Her varied experiments in the cellar are some of the most thought-out and intriguing I have seen.  Techniques that may have worked in past vintages will be altered or abandoned completely if the current vintage or a burst of inspiration calls for it.  Her new release is a great example of this, in particular her Grenache rosé.  Angela’s 2013 is a wildly different take than her 2012.  The ’12 came from Coghlan Vineyard on the western fringe of Happy Canyon, was aged in large neutral oak puncheons, and went through full malolactic fermentation, making for a rosé with heft and richness.  The ’13? “The 2013 spent 24 hours on the skins, and then fermented cold in stainless, aged entirely in stainless, no ML.  It’s also from the Highlands this year.  Bottled on my birthday, March 3rd.”  Despite the critical acclaim she received for her previous rosé, she felt the need to do a total 180 and explore a new winemaking approach.  “I really liked the ’12, it was really soft and approachable, but I wanted to experiment this year with something a little higher acid, especially working with the Highlands.  It feels like it’s got lighter feet, a bit more playful, which suits me at the moment.”

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The Highlands that she speaks of is the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard.  It is a site so perfectly suited to Osborne’s style, and her chosen medium of Grenache, that it’s difficult to imagine her without the Highlands and vice versa.  Located on the eastern edge of Santa Barbara County, in Ventucopa, this lunar-looking site is one of the most unique in California.  “It doesn’t really feel of this world.  It’s very moon like.  Kind of silences you a bit,” says Osborne.  At 3200 feet elevation, and subject to an extreme continental climate, it is separated into two sections: the valley floor and the Mesa.  Angela’s single vineyard Grenache has typically been a mix of both, but with 2012, she has shifted to utilizing entirely Mesa fruit, with the valley floor being used for rosé and her Santa Barbara County blend.  While the valley floor is very sandy, the soils of the mesa are loamier, and, more importantly, laced with igneous rocks- basalt, quartz, gneiss, and granite- making for soil conditions that are singular within Santa Barbara County.

“The ’12 has an entirely different tannic structure.  This is the first year I’ve bottled the Mesa by itself, and there’s much more strength there.  It’s 50% whole cluster, whereas my valley floor blocks are all destemmed,” says Osborne.  Her Grenache from the Highlands has always been noted for its delicate nature and elegant texture, though she doesn’t worry about losing this with the addition of whole cluster; rather, she is seeking more structure, with the hope of giving the wines the ability to age like the great Chateauneufs, particularly Chateau Rayas, which she admires.  “I’ve yet to come to a point where the whole cluster becomes too much.  I hope it will give longevity, in a different way energetically than acid, but hopefully with the same ability to age.  I don’t want it to be overt, but I love the spice of Grenache, and I feel a lot of that comes from whole cluster.”  She also chooses to make the stylistic separation in the cellar between her varying lots of whole cluster or destemmed fruit in typically creative fashion.  “I always separate the fermentations into whole cluster, layered, destemmed, and whole cluster and destemmed,” says Osborne.  “I label my barrels as sun and moon, because I feel the moon energy is represented by the whole cluster, and the sun is the fruit.  So each barrel lists percentages of sun and moon.”

The future for A Tribute to Grace is wide open.  The Osborne clan is hoping to eventually split their time between Santa Barbara County and Angela’s home country, New Zealand, working two harvests a year, having a small patch of land to call their own, and raising a family.  It’s a goal that, like the wines of A Tribute to Grace, is beautiful and true.

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