Ryan Carr Of Carr Winery and his Adventure

March 2, 2017

“In order to get into the wine business, you have to be adventurous.”

Ryan Carr of Carr Vineyard and Winery is indeed adventurous! His first job was making snowboards, then went to the University of Arizona for graphic design and worked for a landscape company. It was in college that he took a class on plant science, a seed was planted, and since 1999 he has been farming vineyards and making wine– what an adventure! When Ryan made his way to the Santa Ynez Valley he thought he would start a graphic design business. Little did he know he know the adventurous path that laid ahead…

Starting on the farming side of the industry in 1998, Ryan began working for viticulturist, Craig McMillan. Getting outside to escape the computer was a no brainer for Ryan, he fell in love with being in the field, and before he knew it he was helping lay out and plant vineyards.

Developing relationships from his vineyard work Ryan was able to get his hands on some extra Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in 1999. With that and the help of some food grade trash cans, he made his first batch of ‘home’ wine, producing about 10 cases. That wine was given to friends and family, who actually LOVED it!

In 2000 Ryan was approached by Andy Kahn who had just started his own winemaking facility. Starting up his new business and tight on money, Andy suggested Ryan work for him (for free) in exchange for winemaking help and the use of the facility. Not willing to pass up the opportunity Ryan jumped in. He made his first 325 cases with 1.5 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5 tons of Cabernet Franc, and .5 tons of Pinot Noir. That was the beginning of the Carr label. Each year they continued to make more wine, and after several years Ryan really had a good thing going.

 “As a farmer I am trying to represent the exact location more than anything. So it’s a hands off approach to wine making. Very minimal additions, and manipulation.”

One of the main factors that sets Carr apart from other wineries in our area is that they lease vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County; including Sta. Rita Hills, Los Olivos District, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon, and Happy Canyon. Growing in all of these locations allows Ryan to get to know and see the differences in each growing region and make many different varietals.

California in general is a young wine region, so Santa Barbara is very new in the grand scheme of things. Being a young region we often look at older wine producing regions, such as France and Italy,  for inspiration and advice. With that said, this is not Italy, or France, its California. We are finding our own techniches and styles over the years. You can see it happening in Santa Barbara, with all these sub appellations coming up. The basic understanding as to what our environment can do is increasing.

“Santa Barbara is such a special place, and without the influence of Burgundy we wouldn’t know that Sta. Rita Hills is perfect for the Burgundian varietals. Without the influence of the Rhone we wouldn’t know that Ballard Canyon is the place we should be growing the Rhone varietals, and same for Happy Canyon and the Bordeaux’s. It’s incredible what we can do within such a small area of California.”

 

 

Want to meet more local winemakers? Catch our current Featured Winemaker on our blog, or come meet them on the last friday of every month!

Preserving our Café Farm

September 18, 2017

We grow many fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers on the Café Farm, from a variety of lettuces and herbs to carrots, squash, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, beans, and of course – pumpkins.  And, you’ll see arrangements of the sunflowers, zinnias, delphinium, bachelor buttons, snapdragons and euphoria decorating the tables at the Café.  Many of the flowers are edible, including borage and sweet peas.  There’s such an extraordinary abundance that the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café owner’s Sam and Shawnda Marmorstein have been pondering creative ways to share it with customers.
farm sceneEverything grown on our farm is CCOF Organic.  The bounty of the farm is brought daily to the Café where Chef Chris is inspired to develop specials with the produce while other items are used as staples in our menu, such as salad greens and the pickles that come with sandwiches and burgers on the lunch menu.

Yes, we make our own pickles!  We think that you can’t have a sandwich with house-made buns, house-made burgers, brisket and hand cut fries, and not attend to the fine detail of a delicious homemade pickle, probably the most perfect accompaniment to a sandwich.  What’s not to like?  With flavors and textures often described as tangy, crispy, crunchy, sharp, spicy, briny, piquant… this could be a wine label!

 

Did you know that pickles go way, way, and we mean way back?!  Many historic figures, including Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, liked pickles.  Pickles date back forty-five hundred years to Mesopotamia where it is believed cucumbers were first preserved.  Cleopatra, a devoted pickle fan, believed they enhanced her beauty.

Bill Metzgar, a private chef new to the area via New York and LA and his wife Jamie (Jamie is Asst. Wine Director in the Wine Merchant) were talking with owners Sam and Shawnda about the possibility of creating private cooking sessions at their Bernat Winery Retreats.  Bill, passionate about the Farm to Table movement, and a former writer for Edible Buffalo, was wowed by the gorgeous organic produce growing in the restaurant garden.  Bill said, “We discussed the bounty and what they were doing with it and we struck upon the idea to can and preserve as much as possible, when the time came.  The unique varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes beg to be used and enjoyed year round and canning is one way to make that a reality.”organic pickles
Pickles come in many recipe versions, and adapting the wonderful refrigerator pickle Chef Chris makes for the Café was a unique challenge that they collaborated on, coming up with the Café Farm Pickles that are being sold in the Wine Merchant.

There are two varieties, “Chef’s Deluxe Recipe” and “Spicy Garlic Dills.” We think they came out great – and now, you can enjoy this Café staple and the fresh from the farm flavor year round at home. Purchase Pickles here before our very limited supplies run out.

Pickles inspired Thomas Jefferson to write, “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.” We think Jefferson would have loved our Café Farm Pickles, and so will you!

Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat

August 2, 2017

Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat– Pioneer Winemaker of Santa Barbara

According to the Au Bon Climat website, Jim Clendenen grew up in Ohio in a “gastronomically impoverished” culture. It’s safe to say that he has since more than made up for that epicurially lost time during the last 30 years!

A Global Education

Like many of his generation, time spent in Europe during a semester abroad opened his eyes – and his mind – that food and wine could be more than burgers and California Mountain Burgundy. Such a transformative experience caused him to  dedicate his career to wine instead of law, which is what he was actually there to study.

After a stint at Zaca Mesa, which has become so well-known for cultivating future winemakers that it’s called ‘Zaca U,’ Jim partnered with Adam Tolmach to create Au Bon Climat. His time in France influenced both the name of the winery and Jim’s approach: he sought to craft more subtle, vibrant, and age-worthy Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. In other words, he wanted to create what he wanted to drink.

Francophile Tendencies and Shared Vision

Jim’s Francophile tendencies were shared by winemaking colleagues Bob Lindquist, Adam Tolmach, and Ken Brown.

Santa Barbara Winecountry Winemakers
Adam Tolmach, Bob Lindquist, and Jim Clendenen

They got together on a regular basis to drink the French wines they all loved so much, thereby cementing the future of Santa Barbara winemaking whether they knew it or not. Since then, all have become giants in the wine industry, but it’s still Au Bon Climat that stands out as the best Burgundian-styled using fantastic California fruit.

Jim is quick to point out that it’s the Clendenen Family label that’s actually his “first” label because the grapes are from his own vineyard and he has built it from the ground up. There, he creates wines from more esoteric French grapes like Mondeuse and Aligoté which are seldom seen stateside. Such wines are highly acidic and beg to be paired with richer foods, which is also a direct nod to his time in France as a young man.

Epic Meals

But winemaking isn’t the only way Jim carries out his quest to make up for gastronomical impoverishment of his youth: his lunch time meals for staff and visitors alike are legendary. He personally prepares a feast at the winery every day that he’s there and everyone sits down together at a communal table to enjoy it. You never really know what you’ll get since Jim usually cobbles together a meal

 

from what he has available – the veggies come from his garden and the meats are from local farmers. A thoughtful selection of wines are always present on the table. Truly an experience!

We, however, don’t need to wait for an invitation because we’re featuring Au Bon Climat wines through the month of August. We are offering the three featured wines below for 20% off throughout the month. We hope you get to take advantage of this fantastic deal!

Stop on in at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café to experience Jim’s wines and to have your own gastronomical epiphany! Shop our selection of Au Bon Climat wines here.

If you’re interested in our current featured Winemaker of the Month, check out our most recent post here!

 

 

Garrett Gamache of Ground Truth Wines

July 3, 2017

A Pure Approach to Making Wine

 

If you look up the definition of “ground truth,” you’ll find many different definitions. Among soldiers, the “ground truth” refers to the strategic reality of a military situation. For a meteorologists, it refers to atmospheric information collected on location. Among poets, it refers to the fundamental truth. Before being a winemaker Garrett Gamache would collect ground-truth data out in the field when working as a geologist. But as a winemaker his label “Ground Truth” refers to what the French call terroir: the expression of grapes in specific soils and microclimates.

Garrett came to his own ground truth in a roundabout way. Like many young Central Coast winemakers, he didn’t come from a family of farmers. Instead, he discovered his calling after majoring in geology and growing frustrated with the office jobs he found after graduation. He worked for Ryan Carr of Carr Winery during his undergraduate degree at UCSB, and it was this call to be back in nature that led him to learn how to farm, essentially. He quickly realized that his favorite wines were the result of minimal winemaker intervention and instead tasted of their specific terroir.

Garrett’s minimalistic approGarrett Gamache harvesting grapes for Ground Truth Winesach is immediately apparent in his wines. He strongly believes that wine should be an expression of the terroir above all else, and to achieve this, he keeps his production super small. Grapes for his wines are sourced from the best vineyards around Santa Barbara County, like Whitehawk Vineyard for his Viognier, Coquelicot Vineyard for his Rosé, and Kimsey Vineyard for his Syrah. The cooler temperatures in Whitehawk allow the aromatic nature of Viognier to fully develop while maintaining structured acidity. Similarly, the sandy soils of Kimsey are perfect for Syrah because it helps the earthy, spicy nature to show forth instead of big, jammy fruit. Finally, whole cluster pressing allows his Rosé juice to run free, with minimal skin contact, which naturally allows the earthy notes of Syrah to more subtly assert themselves.

Garrett also uses only indigenous yeast for fermentation, which means that yeast is not used to impart flavors that are not natural to the grapes, to the juice, or to the aging process. The resulting wines express pure, varietally-correct characteristics that speak of the beauty of soil and of climate and not of technology.

His smaller approach is aligned with his humble demeanor: when asked where he sees himself in ten years, Garrett replies that he’d like to keep making fantastic, small production wines. In fact, his current releases are his biggest yet at a combined 300 cases! While he probably wouldn’t mind being known as the great winemaker that he is, Garrett isn’t looking to become the next Robert Mondavi; in fact, he’d prefer that his label is recognizable, not him. In a time when so many are seeking to be the next rock star winemaker, Garrett’s approach is refreshing because his focus is purely on the wine and not on self-promotion. See for yourself and discover more in our interview that we had at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café:

We enjoyed hosting Garrett at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café on July 28th as he poured for part of our Final Friday Featured Winemaker series.

 

Discover our Selection of Ground Truth Wines at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant Here

Want to meet more local winemakers? Check out our current Featured Winemaker and meet them at the Cafe on the last Friday of the month!

The 1st Year of our Cafe Farm — Lessons learned and successes earned.

May 23, 2016

cafe farmOn our ten-acre property, less than a mile from our Cafe, four acres are devoted to Sangiovese, Syrah, Nebbiolo, and Cabernet grapes from which we create wines under our private label, Bernat wines.  An additional 4-acres of prime land have been cultivated by local organic farmers for themselves through the years, but their focus wasn’t solely on providing produce for our restaurant. When Shu and Debby Takikawa, the last farmers to farm this section of land, took over the 40 acres behind us, Shu encouraged us to farm it ourselves.  We were eager to try, but knew well that running a farm along with our current endeavors– a vineyard, winery, wine merchant, and restaurant– we needed help.
            That’s when we found Matt McCurdy, or he found us, that’s another story.  Eager to take on the project and apply his knowledge from his past endeavors– working at our local Windmill Nursery being one of them– Matt leaped in and started planting.  Well, first we dived into organic heirloom seed catalogues. We chose all the flowers that would bring the bugs to benefit the farm and would also cut nicely for flowers to put on the Café tables. We brought chef Chris Joslyn into the discussion, and chose vegetables he would love to use for our restaurant’s menu. We’ve been very pleased with seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.IMG_2177
Our first summer was full of zucchini and cucumbers.  The vision was growing…literally.  We played around with various pickling recipes and pickled the cucumbers to place next to our Café’s burgers and sandwiches.  Some of them we even put in jars and sold in our retail section, they were a hit and quickly sold out!
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Well, it’s been almost a year now, our biggest lesson learned is the land has much to teach us. Will Rogers said, “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” — That’s the truth!–  We planted green beans, carrots, beats, and reaped nothing from them. Yes, we watered, weeded, and provided healthy soil and sunshine, but they never ended up on plates at our restaurant.  Why you may ask?
What we learned:
los olivos lettuce from farm

We initially started by planting a large amount of different types of crops. Planting many different varieties of each plant, gives us an idea of which species not only grows best in each area, but which of those tastes the best. We pay close attention to each plant and learn which ones like which soils, climate preference, and which are affected by pests and how. All of the varieties of Kale we planted thrived through the winter; red lettuce, and romaine were also very successful.

Pests have been our biggest problem.  Our first crop was planted when one of our dogs, Gypsy, was on vacation. The gophers and ground squirrels noticed and began moving into the farm. They ate almost all of the green beans we planted. Of 600 plants only 10 survived! They also ate the tops off of the carrot and beet plants. Although losing their tops did not initially kill them, since the plant was working hard to regrow the tops, the produce didn’t survive after all.

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The other challenge all farmers face, are weeds, we are no exception.  Since our farm is CCOF certified organic, using herbicides is absolutely out of the question, not to mention it would deplete the nutrients in the soil and affect the quality of our produce.  Being a small farm with only Sam and Matt to do the weeding, we quickly realized that we must be missing something– there was no way we could keep up.  The weeds aggressively took over and whole rows had to be plowed back in to the soil before the plants had a chance to grow to maturity. Weeding through the research (yes, that was a pun) of all the various farm equipment to assist with this problem was overwhelming, even to a veteran vineyard farmer, like Sam.  It was time to seek the advice of someone who had more experience in large scale farming than us.  Sam met with a local veteran farmer, Steve Loyal, who shared valuable information. Steve directed us on the best equipment for a farm our size.  We bought a hand hoe on a wheel that as we push, it slices under the soil cutting the roots of the weeds. IMG_0653 Our tractor also needs some additional equipment to mechanize weeding, which we can tell you more about by the next time we post a Cafe Farm Update. We now look forward to watching our seeds grow to their full potential before the weeds can take them over (hopefully).

Though we are still in the midst of a big learning curve, we have had much greater success now that Gypsy is back on the job maintaining the ground squirrel population.  Thanks to our hard working farm dog approximately 1500 heads of lettuce, 200 pounds of snap peas, and many, many buckets of onion, garlic, kale, swiss chard, arugula, spinach, turnips, and cilantro—came from our Cafe Farm since July 2015. We are getting a healthy head start for this summer with 900 plants of various heirloom tomato varieties in the ground, 10 types of lettuces, and squash and pumpkins ready for fall; we are excited to continue to expand the beauty and bounty on our menu at the Cafe.

LoadingWhile we are talking about the farm, it’s worth mentioning that we have an annual benefit Farm Dinner event called In the Vineyard & On the Farm . If you’d like to experience our Cafe Farm and our Bernat Wines firsthand click here for information.  It’s a beautiful event that sells out every year, so if you’re interested, don’t wait to reserve your seats!

 

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Shopping Los Olivos

December 1, 2015

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 at HoneyPaper on 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!

Announcing the Los Olivos Cafe Farm!

August 26, 2015

IMG_1507Sam and Shawnda, owners of the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café and Bernat Winery & Retreats, are long-time advocates of using fresh, locally sourced produce for the meals prepared by Chef Chris Joslyn in the Los Olivos Café kitchen. This passion has led them to focus on their own property and create the Los Olivos Café Farm. By utilizing their own land, they will now have the ability to grow many of the vegetables they need for the restaurant’s menu, flowers for arrangements on the tables and, as020 an extra bonus, offer extra produce canned into delicious, fresh product for sale exclusively in their Wine Merchant retail store. The opportunity to serve dishes incorporating vegetables picked from the field that morning, insures that guests dining at their restaurant will be enjoying produce at the peak of flavor.

Matt McCurdy, also employed at Windmill Nursery, will be working with Sam and Shawnda on the farm. Growing up in Santa Barbara and later moving to Ballard before leaving in 1992, in his 20’s Matt was an environmental activist focused on protecting the remaining ancient forests in Northern California and Oregon. In his 30’s he worked as a project manager building affordable housing for low-income families. After being laid off, he decided to go back to the environmental roots of his 20’s and combine that DSC05436with the skills he had learned as a manager. He followed his passion and went to work for an Organic Nursery in Texas, Redenta’s Garden, where he learned the ins and outs of Organic farming from co-workers who held masters degrees in Horticulture. Since then, he has grown Organic vegetables in Texas, Northern California, and throughout the Santa Ynez Valley, converting lawn areas into vegetable gardens and raised beds. He is very excited that nine years later, his efforts are paying off with the opportunity to farm a large area.

The 3 acres of the Los Olivos Café Farm, under the management of Matt, will help to maintain the vital agricultural open space needed for the long-term success of the Santa Ynez Valley. Farmed Organically, everything will be watered through drip irrigation (no overhead spraying), weeding and harvesting will be done by hand, and there will be no use of GMO seeds, fertilizers, or pesticides. Matt explains, “The primary benefit of local Organic farming is the food beingIMG_5325 served on the plate is the freshest possible. The harvest from the farm is delivered the same day to the restaurant insuring the highest quality of flavor and nutrition. Health-wise, for example, the Organic Heirloom seeds I am planting are of a known heritage spanning decades and in some cases a century or more. There are a lot of unanswered questions about what GMO crops will produce generations from now and the possible side effect to our health and food supply. Growing Organically is how it has been done for thousands of years prior to the industrial revolution.”

sunflower seedlingsCurrently, the Los Olivos Café Farm is growing Black Beauty Zucchini, Golden Zucchini, Yellow Crookneck Squash, Golden Beets, Kabocha Squash, Butternut Squash, Delicata Squash, Buttercup Squash, a variety of carrots, various Green and Purple beans, Sunflowers, Zinnia’s, and Cosmos. In addition, salads will be created from the Romaine Lettuce, Red Sails Lettuce, Oak Leaf Lettuce, Toscano Kale, and Smooth Leaf Spinach, while cucumbers will be used for both fresh in salads and canned for pickles.

Celebration of Summer at Bernat “In the Vineyard & On The Farm” Event

August 19, 2015

DSC05415August 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 GeorgeGeorgeLockwood_painting 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.

stacked glassesAt 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.guests on the grass

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.

DSC05373After 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 YnezDSC05411 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 DSC05421property, 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.

Los Alamos Valley: An In-Depth Look At Santa Barbara County’s Unsung Treasure

July 21, 2014

Los Alamos Valley sign

In the past decade, Santa Barbara County has exploded with AVAs, and rightfully so.  As we’ve tasted the wines and analyzed the nuances of soil and climate throughout our region, we have begun to carve out special sub-regions of note that have a distinctive voice.  In addition to our early AVAs of Santa Maria Valley (est. 1981) and Santa Ynez Valley (est. 1983), we have Sta. Rita Hills (est. 2001), Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (est. 2009), Ballard Canyon (est. 2013) and the pending Los Olivos District (likely to be established by 2015).  Yet one of the County’s most historic regions remains without a designation of any kind: the Los Alamos Valley.  This past week I spoke with numerous winemakers and farmers who have worked over the years with Los Alamos Valley fruit to hear their thoughts on the site character of Los Alamos, its various subzones, and the idea of an AVA. santa maria valley AVA wine mapsanta ynez valley AVA wine region When researching a region, I always start with soil; my love lies in the dirt.  Los Alamos, like most great regions, has a wealth of exciting soils.  Shale, clay, sand, gravel, sandstone, and a bit of limestone can be found in various pockets.  This variability within the region has led some to suggest that rather than a single AVA, the area should be broken down into several smaller AVAs.  “I do think it would have to be broken down for it to be true to definition, and that in itself might make it less feasible or practical to do so,” says Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines. There is also a notable difference in temperature between the valley’s west end near Vandenberg Air Force Base, which can be quite chilly, and the eastern end near Alisos Canyon, where things heat up.  Broadly speaking, Los Alamos Valley is 10 degrees cooler on average than Santa Ynez Valley, and 10 degrees warmer than Santa Maria, though again, there are more subtle nuances from east to west.  As a result of these variations in soil and climate, it is difficult to pinpoint a single variety for the region to hang its hat on.  Much like Santa Maria to its north or Santa Ynez to its south, Los Alamos has a multitude of varietal voices that express this place.

Thompson's rolling slopes vineyard
Thompson’s rolling slopes

Starting in the east, near the northern boundary of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, we find perhaps the area’s most acclaimed sub-region: Alisos Canyon.  Running east of Highway 101 along Alisos Canyon Road, this area is paradise for Rhone varieties, though Cabernet Franc and Gamay also have potential.  The canyon is home to the famed Thompson Vineyard, which has produced legendary Syrahs for 20 years.  Newer sites, such as Martian Ranch, Watch Hill, and The Third Twin, show equal promise.  Despite being a very small region, Alisos Canyon is defined by several different soils, all of which have either sandstone or shale in their parent material.  In the southeast, at Martian and Alisos, there is Chamise shaly and sandy loam.  This acidic shale seems to imbue the wines, Syrah in particular, with brightness and lift even at higher sugars/alcohols.  Across the road, at Thompson, is Tierra Sandy Loam, an alluvial soil providing more textural breadth in the wines.  The Third Twin (formerly Los Tres Burros), Sine Qua Non’s site above Thompson, shifts into San Andreas-Tierra Complex, a much sandier, sandstone-derived soil.  As we shift toward the mouth of the canyon, particularly at Watch Hill, we see very sandy Arnold series soils, making this prime real estate for Grenache in particular.

photo 2

The climate is also ideal for Rhone grapes, a Goldilocks-like balance between not-too-hot and not-too-cold.  “For Rhones, Alisos Canyon is still a cool area and fairly uniform in temperature from its mouth east of the 101 most of the way to Foxen Canyon,” says Craig Jaffurs of Jaffurs Wine Cellars.  “As cool as it is, it is somewhat sheltered and warm enough that everything can get ripe yet have the long hang time that lets the flavors develop.  Things can get ripe without being crazy sweet.”  Kunin elaborates on this idea, stating “Alisos is in the Eastern corner of the hypothetical Los Alamos AVA, and so benefits from the warmer airflow of the Santa Ynez Valley. This tempers the predominantly cool coastal breezes that dominate the flats farther West and make them better suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In general, I think that it is this hybrid airflow pattern that defines Los Alamos.”  Many have suggested that Alisos Canyon should have its own AVA.  Larry Finkle of Coastal Vineyard Care farms many of the sites here (impeccably, I might add), and believes in the potential of not only the Valley as a whole, but Alisos in particular.  “I believe that Los Alamos Valley is special and deserves its own appellation,” says Finkle. “However, Alisos Canyon Road is unique and dominated by Rhone varieties.  As you move west of the town of Los Alamos, the dominant varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling.  For this reason there should probably be at least two sub-appellations.”

lewellen wine

Moving just north of Alisos Canyon, before the town of Los Alamos, we head into the Los Alamos flats along Highway 101.  Lucas & Lewellen owns most of the land here, and has long advocated for the potential of Los Alamos.  Their vineyards contain a wealth of interesting grape varieties, 20 in all, ranging from Nebbiolo and Freisa to Dolcetto and Malvasia Bianca, functioning as a great window into what unexpected grapes may potentially shine in Los Alamos.  Soil here is alluvial, mostly Botella series (also prominently found in the southern Sta. Rita Hills).  As we continue up Highway 101, past the town of Los Alamos, we start to get into bigger plantings, often owned by larger companies such as Beringer, Kendall-Jackson, and Sutter Home.  This could go some ways toward explaining the lack of an AVA for Los Alamos Valley: these larger labels often blend the wines into Central Coast or even North Coast designated wines, rarely vineyard-designating or even putting Santa Barbara County on the label.  “With so many large producers/growers in the area, there hasn’t been the grassroots inertia to garner the acclaim, promote the region or gather data for an AVA application,” explains Kunin.

The steep slopes of Verna's Vineyard
The steep slopes of Verna’s Vineyard

Cat Canyon is the next area of note, located in the northern Los Alamos Valley, just east of Highway 101.  While there are still some bigger corporate plantings, there are also two of the valley’s most noted sites: Verna’s and White Hawk.  Verna’s Vineyard, owned by the Melville family, has served as the source for their more affordable Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and Syrahs.  These are some of the top values in California today, particularly the Pinot Noir, driven by a purity of place and a strong core of hard spice.  Jaffurs also produces a superb Syrah from Verna’s; to taste it next to their Thompson bottling is a great illustration of the large difference in site character between Alisos Canyon and Cat Canyon.  Across the street from Verna’s is White Hawk, a lauded source for Syrah.  Sine Qua Non’s Manfred Krankl has utilized this site for many years, and it is one of only two non-estate vineyards he continues to work with, while his protégé Maggie Harrison incorporates it into her flagship Syrah for her Lillian label.  Ojai’s White Hawk Syrah shows wonderful restraint, with great structure, purity and spice.  Viognier is promising from both sites as well, and Ojai recently produced a beautiful Sangiovese from White Hawk.

white hawk vineyard

Both Verna’s and White Hawk are essentially gigantic sand dunes, dominated by Arnold and Corralitos sands, and quite a bit colder than the southern and eastern portions of Los Alamos Valley (on a map, it lines up roughly with the eastern Sta. Rita Hills and the Santa Maria Bench).  One can taste it in the Syrah, which has more pronounced notes of peppercorn and leaner texture, as compared to the meatier, broader wines of Alisos Canyon.  “Verna’s is a cooler site- you can see the fog in Santa Maria from the top of the hill-side block,” says Jaffurs.  “The north (south facing) side of Cat Canyon is a different site from Verna’s which almost faces north – hence its relative coolness.”

Western Los Alamos Valley
Western Los Alamos Valley sunset, viewed from the eastern crest of Kick On Ranch

The final region of note is the valley’s far western edge along Highway 135, not far from Vandenberg Air Force Base.  As a resident of this part of Los Alamos, I can attest that it is very cold, very foggy, and very windy.  Again, there are some bigger/more corporate plantings to be found here, though the quality remains high, particularly in cool climate whites from the large White Hills property, one of the coldest, westernmost vineyards in Santa Barbara County.  The two star sites, however, are Kick On Ranch and Los Alamos Vineyard.

sand in kick on flats
Sand in the flats of Kick On
kickonrocks
Rocks in Kick On’s upper blocks

Kick On Ranch has garnered the most acclaim for, of all things, Riesling.  This should not come as a surprise given the early success of Santa Maria and Sta. Rita Hills with Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  Economics forced those areas to focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but these varieties remain and thrive in Los Alamos.  Graham Tatomer was one of the first to latch on to this site for his Riesling-focused label, with his single-vineyard bottling a top example of the austere minerality to be found at Kick On.  He has also recently planted Gruner Veltliner, a variety that should show great results here.  Ojai’s Adam Tolmach has also been making beautiful Riesling, as well as Pinot Noir, from the vineyard.  J. Brix are crafting gorgeous examples of Kick On across the varietal spectrum, including Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir in several different iterations (their Petillant Naturel Riesling is one of the top methode ancestrale sparklers I’ve tasted from California).  Soil in this part of the valley is quite sandy, consisting of Arnold, Corralitos, Betteravia, and Tierra series.  In Kick-On’s upper blocks, however, one finds fossils and large pieces of sandstone and shale.  “The ancient-beach soil is mesmerizing,” says Emily Towe of J. Brix.  “We can’t walk Kick On without stopping over and over to pick up shells, stones, fossils. It’s a whisper of history from when it was the bottom of the sea, long before it became the Valley of the Cottonwoods. The vines get to live in both worlds, in a way.”  The minerality in the whites here is amazing, with intensity rarely found outside of Europe’s chilliest climes.  Pinot Noir showcases an intriguing herbal side, with tomato leaf and root vegetable notes, along with dark fruit and spice highlights that are distinct from Sta. Rita Hills or Santa Maria. los alamos vineyard sign The other site of note is the legendary Los Alamos Vineyard.  Ojai’s Adam Tolmach and Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen operated from a barn on the property here in their earliest days.  Gavin Chanin, who is now producing stunning Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the vineyard, also has fond memories of his early time here.  “During my first harvest in Santa Barbara I lived next door to Los Alamos vineyard in a bunk house, and we used to drink beer and watch them night harvest with huge flood lights,” recalls Chanin.  “It’s got a lot of nostalgia for me.”  Los Alamos Vineyard, like its neighbors in this part of the Valley, is quite sandy, with steep slopes and incredible exposures.  Chardonnay exhibits an intense, almost searing minerality, with fruit playing a background role.  These are not wines defined by aromatic intensity; rather, they are almost entirely about texture and mineral presence, in a fashion not found elsewhere in California.  The Pinots exhibit a similar herbaceousness as that found in Kick On.  “Los Alamos Vineyard is very unique,” says Chanin.  “The wines are rich but held together with great acidity, freshness and minerality. It is my most coastal vineyard but also our warmest because Los Alamos is somewhat cut off from the ocean.”  To taste the wines from Chanin, or Au Bon Climat through their “Historic Vineyard Series” bottlings, is a revelation: they are unlike any other Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County.  These are site-driven, beautifully balanced wines that speak loudly of their origins.

So, what is the future for Los Alamos Valley?  The winemakers I spoke with were divided: some believe an AVA would be beneficial, some believe it should be broken into several small AVAs, some believe only Alisos Canyon should have an AVA, and some believe there shouldn’t be any AVAs at all.  Given the diversity of the region, this is no surprise.  “I hate the idea of type casting Los Alamos because it has the potential to do so much at a very high level,” says Chanin.  “Very often with AVAs people only want to plant/produce what the AVA is best known for.”  Craig Jaffurs shares his skepticism at an overarching AVA, though believes Alisos Canyon may be worth designating.  “The larger Los Alamos Valley has not shown enough distinction to warrant becoming an AVA.  Alisos Canyon would be a worthy AVA in the same sense Ballard Canyon is.”  Bryan Babcock, a Sta. Rita Hills veteran who has worked with such sites as El Camino and Loma Verde in Los Alamos Valley’s northern sector, is quick to caution against Pinot Noir becoming Los Alamos’ flagship variety, and also points to the challenges of fractured AVAs.  “I would not hang my hat on Pinot, at least not yet. If you try to be a Pinot appellation, you will be crawling out from under the Sta. Rita Hills and the Santa Maria Valley for the next 100 years… Also be careful about fracturing your AVA and destroying any potential clout that you would have had otherwise. If you don’t put together a critical mass of interest and players, you will witness the still birth of your AVA.”

There are currently, to my knowledge, no plans in the works to establish an AVA within Los Alamos Valley, though there is constant talk about it among the area’s vintners.  Perhaps we’ll never see an official designation for this area, which is a shame, as there are so many beautiful, unique wines coming from here.  As Seth Kunin states, “the concentration of flavor combined with unique structure [in Los Alamos] allows for significant ageing. Certainly some of the best examples of older (5-10 year-old) Syrahs that I have tasted from Santa Barbara County come from Los Alamos.”  I couldn’t agree more.  With the influx of new producers working with the fruit here, and exciting new plantings such as Mike Roth’s Mullet site, there is renewed energy in Los Alamos, carrying on the work of early pioneers like Ojai, Au Bon Climat, and Bedford.  Sites such as Thompson, Los Alamos Vineyard, White Hawk, and Verna’s are already legendary, and I have no doubt that we’ll be discussing Kick On Ranch, Martian, and Watch Hill with the same reverence in the years to come.  I hope that, as we continue to further refine our knowledge of site in Santa Barbara County, we continue to argue the merits of place as passionately as those I spoke with have done here.  It is this open dialogue and elegant exchange of ideas that will continue to elevate our area. A selection of Los Alamos bottlings to seek out:

Alisos Canyon
– Luminesce Thompson Vineyard Syrah
– Jaffurs Thompson Vineyard Syrah
– Ojai Thompson Vineyard Syrah, Grenache
– Kunin Alisos Vineyard Syrah
– Martian Ranch Grenache, Syrah, Gamay, Viognier
– Tercero Watch Hill Grenache
– Bedford Syrah
Andrew Murray Watch Hill Syrah

Cat Canyon
– Jaffurs Verna’s Vineyard Syrah
– Melville- Anything from Verna’s Vineyard
– Lillian Syrah
– Ojai White Hawk Syrah, Sangiovese
– Tercero White Hawk Viognier, Syrah

Western Los Alamos
– Tatomer Kick On Ranch Riesling
– J. Brix Kick On Ranch Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris
– Municipal Winemakers Kick On Ranch Riesling
– Stirm Kick On Ranch Riesling
– Forlorn Hope Kick On Ranch Riesling
– Ojai Kick On Ranch Pinot Noir, Riesling
– Chanin Los Alamos Vineyard Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
– Au Bon Climat Los Alamos Vineyard Pinot Noir, Chardonnay
– Clendenen Family Syrah-Viognier La Cuna
– Bedford Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chenin Blanc

In the Mouth a Desert: Dry Farming in Santa Barbara County

June 2, 2014

In the Old World, farming grapevines without irrigation is the standard. Even on the Greek island of Santorini, which averages just 3-4 inches of rainfall per year, the vines are, miraculously, not irrigated.  By comparison, Santa Barbara County’s average of 12 inches per year sounds like a deluge.  Yet the vast majorities of vineyards in our area, as well as the rest of California, are irrigated.  While grapevines require less water than many crops, the issue of water conservation in the vineyard is one that will need to be addressed more seriously in the coming years as our drought events become more frequent and extreme.  This week I spoke with two of Santa Barbara County’s dry farming practitioners, Bill Wathen of Foxen and Peter Stolpman of Stolpman, about how they manage the challenges of dry farming and the character of the resulting wines.

The growing conditions at these two sites are strikingly different.  At Stolpman Vineyards, in the heart of Ballard Canyon, “we are blessed to sit on a 3 foot layer of moisture and nutrient retaining clay with a 300ft deep slab of limestone beneath,” says Stolpman.  “Not only does the clay retain moisture, but it also retains the cold temperatures of the night.  The clay makes our land even better suited to dry-farming, as the impact of day-time heat is lessened.”  Foxen’s Tinaquaic Vineyard, on the other hand, has much more challenging conditions, with a lot of sand, a soil whose extremely well-draining nature poses one of the greatest challenges for dry farming in Santa Barbara County.  “The soil profile at Tinaquaic is a little magical, as in I don’t know how these vines do it every year with only annual rainfall,” states Wathen.  “It is a deep sandy loam, unsure of the Series (ed. Note: the USDA soil map says it’s Arnold Sand), with pockets of Careaga sand. In years of normal rainfall the vine canopy can be quite aggressive, so there is a lot of retention. We generally average 2 to 3 tons per acre (3-4 pounds per vine) yields historically.”  Amazingly, even in these difficult growing conditions, Wathen is able to get sustainable yields and make it work without water.

Spacing in vineyards where the goal is dry farming is an important factor.  When one observes California’s historical vineyard plantings pre-1960s, which were essentially all dry farmed, spacing was very wide, and the vines were often untrellised.  As modern farming has looked to top sites in the Old World such as Burgundy and their farming practices for inspiration, California’s vineyards have moved to much tighter spacing, often as tight as meter by meter, occasionally even closer.  This poses much greater hurdles for dry farming as the competition for water increases.  Stolpman, who has variable spacing on his property, believes that the type of trellis is just as important as the spacing.  “Our spacing ranges from 10×5 to 3×3 in the vineyard.  The 10×5 blocks certainly adapt the best to dry farming, but we’ve also seen positive results in our 3×3 block,” he says.  “Key with the tightest spaced blocks is head-pruning and not expecting much yield per vine.  The jury is still out regarding our conventional 3×6 blocks where the six foot rows allow us to trellis the vines.  These vines are set up to carry more canopy and more clusters than the tighter head-pruned blocks.”

Wathen’s property has more space between vines, though he believes going even wider from the get go may have been more advantageous.  “When Dick (Doré) and I planted Tinaquaic in 1989, we really didn’t think through the irrigation issue. We planted what was high density at the time (8X4), and assumed that water grew on trees here at the ranch,” Wathen states.  “We were able to give each vine 1 gallon of water every 10 days through the first two growing seasons. After that, they seemed fine without water, so we changed strategy.  Ideally, yet after the fact, we should have gone on a 10X10 or 12X12 planting without a trellis, enabling us to cross cultivate.”

Both sites utilize cover crops, and are very cognizant of the timing in planting and plowing.  “We plant cover crop every year for erosion control and green manure,” says Wathen.  “The cycle here goes 1) disc and plant cover crop after harvest. 2) Disc the cover crop under early to late spring, depending on the annual precipitation that year; dry years earlier, wet years later. 3) Disc and roll a few times late spring to seal the surface.”

With 3 years of drought, culminating in 2014’s extremely dry conditions, farming adjustments have been made at both sites to make dry farming possible.  “We have elongated the weaning periods for younger vines,” Stolpman says.  “This year for instance, we gave all of the vines 12 years and under an overnight drink once in January and February to imitate normal rainfall.  We gave the very young vines another drink in April and early May.  We only irrigate during root days and from our own measurements know that water goes 8-12 inches deeper into the Limestone with less Lunar gravity.”  Wathen has also had to shift his approach.  “This year has been extremely challenging balancing the canopy,” emphasizes Wathen.  “You always need to be thinking about next year.  Adjustment farming is the key.  The rule of thumb is >20 inch shoot, 2 clusters. 12-20 inch shoot, 1 cluster. Less than 12 inch shoot, 0 clusters.”

So, is the character of dry farmed vines detectable in the glass?  Wathen and Stolpman have different opinions on the subject.  “We find we get a natural balance from dry-farmed vineyards as the vines regulate themselves,” says Stolpman.  “Because of the lack of water, the vines want to go dormant in the fall, and we try to pick while the vine is on its last breath, giving us a perfectly ripe crop.  Irrigated vines will continue green and happy, with no sense of the seasons, and winemakers may choose to pick much later at higher sugars.”  Wathen has a different take.  “I really have not seen any difference in ripening curves vs. irrigated fruit.  Believe me though, if I had the water, I would irrigate.”

As a lover and seeker of site character in wine, the issue of dry farming is one I’m passionate about.  There is a representation of vintage and place in these wines that can’t be denied.  While I love many, many wines that come from irrigated vines, most of whom are also managing their water use meticulously, there is a truth in wines from completely dry farmed fruit that seems to set itself apart.  “Balanced vines give balanced wines.  Dry farming allows the vineyard to give a truer expression of itself rather than the more modern, homogenous approach of irrigating, green-dropping, and picking late,” emphasizes Stolpman.  And when one tastes a bottle of Stolpman’s “Originals” Syrah or Foxen’s Tinaquaic Vineyard Cabernet Franc, it’s hard to argue this statement.  I hope that the conversation about dry farming becomes a more prominent one in the future of Santa Barbara County, and that we can have an open dialogue about how water, or the lack thereof, will define our future as a wine culture.

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