Rick Hill of Labyrinth: Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe Featured Winemaker

September 30, 2019

A Labyrinth Led Rick Hill to Santa Barbara Wine Country

Growing up in New Zealand Rick Hill couldn’t possibly imagine the circumstances that would eventually lead to him becoming winemaker for his Labyrinth wines—he only knew that he wanted to be in the wine industry. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, there wasn’t a clear path into a wine career. Instead, Hill ended up in the milk industry, and then the juice industry, all the while with an eye toward going into wine. His work took him all over the world– from Australia to the Middle East– but it wasn’t until he completed his wine science degree in 1997 that he would get to California.Rick Hill Labyrinth winemaker in the vineyard

He was placed in Napa during his internship, which is a problem for a Pinot Noir fan. The winemaker he was working with offered to find him a placement more suitable to working with his preferred varietal. That’s how he came to Central Coast Wine Services, a small operation that, in a twist of fate, would introduce him to his winemaking career, as well as his future wife.

As an intern, Hill expected he’d move from California to Argentina, Italy, and other renown wine regions.

“The funny thing was I fell in love with Santa Barbara County, I fell in love with the people I was working with, I felt instantly trusted in being involved with their grapes,” he said.

Rick Hill of Labyrinth Lane Tanner was one of just a handful of Central Coast Wine Services clients. Later, she and Hill would marry, but not before she gave him his winemaking start. When Tanner injured her knee right before harvest, she enlisted Hill’s assistance offering him 2 tons of any fruit to which she had access.

I said, “‘That’s wonderful, what I’ll do is, I’ll take 2 tons of Bien Nacido.’ And that’s how my career started,” Hill said.

These days Hill produces Pinot Noir for his Labyrinth label that is meant to be fresh and bright, bold and enthusiastic. But he has also branched out into bigger reds like Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo, and dabbled in a few whites as well.

Meet Rick! Check out our interview!

In this month’s featured winemaker video interview Hill details his path to becoming a winemaker, how small production makes his wine business agile, and he shares his thoughts on the growing Santa Barbara County cannabis industry.

Get to know Hill’s winemaking style this month at Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant. Taste Labyrinth wines by the flight or purchase one of three featured bottles for a 20% discount throughout the month of October.

At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! We welcome you to check out more of our interviews and blogs here.

From textbooks to tasting: Aaron Walker of Pali Wine Co.

September 5, 2019

If all had gone according to his plan, Aaron Walker would be steeped in academia shaping the minds of the next generation. Instead, those warm, magical SoCal breezes changed his fate. Now, he’s influencing palates and educating wine aficionados about the virtues of California-style wines as winemaker for Pali Wine Co.

An easy-going Southern California native living the surfer lifestyle, Walker was planning on getting his teaching credential while studying at San Diego State University. Like many college students, Walker waited tables to pay the bills. It turns out the job suited him. He made several attempts at working in other industries, but he always went back to waiting tables.

A life-changing harvest

As fate would have it, his girlfriend (who is now his wife) steered him away from pursuing the culinary arts and opening a restaurant. She instead suggested that maybe her father’s Central Coast contacts might have some opportunities for him in the wine industry.

Aaron Walker at work at Pali

Walker spent part of 2016 working the harvest with Jenne Bonaccorsi of Bonaccorsi Wine Co., and instantly forgot about teaching, forgot about restaurants, and forged a career in wine. The hands-on physical work followed by the reward of seeing that work come to fruition gave him a deep sense of satisfaction.

Embracing the California winemaking style

By 2017 he was hired by Pali Wine Co., which turned out to be a great fit. Short for Pacific Palisades, which sits between Malibu and Santa Monica, Pali was established in 2015 bearing reference to the hometown of owners Tim Perr and Scott Knight. At the time, Pali’s winemaker was producing wines that didn’t accurately reflect the California wine style. Originally, the wines were big, rich, high in alcohol, and didn’t age well. Walker throttled that back a little bit, showcasing low-alcohol California wines that are big, yet approachable and can still age well. Pali especially favors Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills, an area that has become renowned for its ideal growing conditions for the varietal because of its moderate warmth tempered by coastal influences.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Aaron to hear his story and would love to share it with you. We invite you to pour a glass of wine and join us as we uncover his tale in our interview at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe.

Walker shared with us an example of that California style with the new release of the 2018 PCH. Pali produced 600 cases of this dry, crisp, and refreshing wine, which highlights flavors of watermelon, lime zest, and sweet summertime stone fruits.

Aaron Walker of Pali Wine Co.The California influence is evident in the winery’s operating philosophy as well. Pali has five tasting rooms throughout the Central Coast and Southern California, where staff has created a brewery approach to the tasting room experience. This has helped Pali foster loyal “communities of wine club members,” and allows them to occasionally roll out experimental blends like the Zinfelder—a blend of Zinfandel and Dornfelder.

 

 

 

 

 

At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! We welcome you to check out more of our interviews and blogs here.

The Science of Wine with Tara Gomez of Kitá Wines

August 7, 2019

A love of wine attracts a number of future winemakers to the industry, but for Tara Gomez, the winemaker for Kitá Wines, it was a love of science and a Fisher-Price microscope.

Tara Gomez of Kita WinesA love of science leads to a career in wine

Gomez said the microscope that she had when she was 4 years old fostered her love of science and nature exploration. As a child, she would tag along when her parents went wine tasting. The sight of the giant stainless-steel vats and aromatics of the winery cellars sparked her curiosity but walking by the lab set her career trajectory. The young Gomez saw people in white lab coats using chemistry to test the acidity in the wine and that created an instant connection with her.

With the financial help of her Chumash Tribe, she sought out a career in enology in high school and then went on to Fresno State to get her degree. Kita WineShe got her feet wet at Fess Parker and J. Lohr wineries, and then went on to work two harvests in Spain. When she came back to the states, the Chumash Tribe was in negotiation to purchase the Camp 4 property that produces the majority of the label’s grapes, and so she returned home. It was a fitting return, according to Gomez, because the Chumash had financially supported her educational efforts and now she gets to pay it forward.

Dedication to each varietal

A producer of small-batch, ultra-premium wines, Kitá Wines produces 19 varietals on the 256-acre vineyard that sits on Camp 4 at the eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. One of the hottest microclimates, it’s the farthest east Santa Barbara County AVA before transitioning into the Happy Canyon AVA. Kitá does produce Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay and Pinot Noir because of the cooler influences from that area and because the tasting room is located in Lompoc, in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.Kita Harvest

As a winemaker, Gomez considers herself a purist. She believes in minimal manipulation to maximize varietal characteristics. While Kitá does produce three blends that allow Gomez to tap into her artistic side, the rest are 100 percent varietals. As proof of her dedication to a varietal, Gomez travels to Europe each year, picks a varietal she wants to work with, and learns everything she can about it. Armed with that knowledge, she returns to incorporate a blend of Old World and New World winemaking techniques in Kitá wines. Taste the result by the glass or flight throughout the month of August, or take one of this month’s featured bottles home!

Check out our exclusive interview with Tara!

 

At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! We welcome you to check out more of our interviews and blogs here.

Longoria Wines: The Old Guard of Lompoc

June 6, 2018

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Spanish Wines in Lompoc

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

Fe Ciega Vineyard in Lompoc

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

 

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

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

April 11, 2018

Jeff Fischer started small and dreamt big to make Habit Wines

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Habit Wines, Los Olivos

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

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

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

 

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

 

Presqu’ile Winery and Dieter Cronje: Our March Featured Winemaker!

March 9, 2018

Winemaker Dieter Cronje of Presqu’ile Winery Shares His Energy

Dieter Cronje isn’t shy about what he needs as a winemaker – more storage! In helping build Presqu’ile Winery from the ground up, he’s acutely aware of the needs of his vineyard. As he puts it, “the problem is, an empty barrel of air takes up the same space as a full barrel!”

This month’s local Featured Winemaker showcases how a love of winemaking affects us globally, as South African Dieter Cronje takes us on his personal journey bringing him to Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria.

Out on the cold, windswept, and sandy hills of the far western side of the Santa Maria AVA, Dieter’s team works to perfect a select few wines that have made Presqu’ile stand out in North County: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rosé, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Presqu'ile Winery
Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria

Dieter believes strongly in the philosophies behind making wine; the energy he puts into his wine shows in each varietal Presqu’ile showcases. Coming from a formal education as a winemaker, Dieter understands the science behind what makes wine taste so good; Presqu’ile’s large on-site laboratory and full-time wine chemist attest to their devotion to textbook-perfect wine.

The 73-acre Presqu’ile vineyard sits close to the western border of the Santa Maria viticulture area, where the cold Pacific air constantly blows over the ocean-facing hills. Dieter and the Murphy family, owners of Presqu’ile, built the winery and tasting room from the ground-up, to their exacting specifications. The result is a world-class, gravity fed winemaking operation focusing on exhibiting fascinating Pinots, Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.

From South Africa to the Central Coast:

Dieter got his start with wine early, “when I realized I could make my own booze!” he proclaims. After his father encouraged him to get in the industry over a shared love of wine, Dieter studied at Elsenberg Agricultural College and the University of Bordeaux, before traveling the world to hone his skills in crafting excellent Pinot Noir. Finally, Dieter met his future business partner Matthew Murphy at Ambuello Winery, where after several years, Dieter chose to come on as Presqu’iles winemaker.

Presqu'ile Winemaker: Dieter Cronje
Dieter at the Winery

 

Presqu’ile got its start in Mississippi, as a beachfront property owned by the Murphy family. They owned a small vineyard which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Looking to start fresh on the West Coast, the Murphy’s searched up and down California from the Russia River, Napa, and Santa Barbara County to find the perfect place to grow cold Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. After settling on the Santa Maria AVA, the Murphys began growing grapes and had their first Presqu’ile Winery vintage in 2009.

Pursuit of Perfection

Whats next for this successful winemaker: the ceaseless pursuit of that perfect wine. “…I think if any winemaker tells you he has made the wine he’s completely satisfied with, he’s probably lying and should stop making wine because then there’s no more pursuit of perfection or pursuit of improvement.”

Dieter Cronje winemaker for Presqu'ile Winery

Dieter’s journey is one very similar to many of the other local Santa Barbara Wine Country winemakers that we have interviewed. It started with a dream, that with hard work and determination has made our incredible niche in the world of wine something to be proud of.

 

 

If you enjoyed this blog, check out our recent interview with Pete Stolpman, acclaimed winemaker just down the road in Ballard Canyon.

Pete Stolpman our February Featured Winemaker

February 6, 2018

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

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

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

Tom Stolpman, Pete's father
Founder, Tom Stolpman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Stolpman, Pete's wife
Jessica Stolpman

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

A long-term vision

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

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

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

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

 

Santa Barbara Wine Country Summed Up

October 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

larner vineyard
Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon

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

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

sunset vineyard
Bernat Vineyard of Los Olivos District

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

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

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

Ernst Storm our October Featured Winemaker

September 30, 2017

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

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

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

Ernst Storm at harvest

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Eric Mohseni of Zaca Mesa Winery

June 2, 2017

Winemaking is about storytelling, and the story behind Zaca Mesa is definitely worth telling. -Eric Mohseni, Zaca Mesa Winemaker

Winemaker for Zaca Mesa in the vineyard

Zaca Mesa, one of the most storied wineries around due to it’s history. Established in 1973 when there were only two wineries in Santa Barbara County. Zaca Mesa is the first winery in the area to plant Syrah grapes, which helped kick start the Rhone varietal love affair throughout California.

Zaca Mesa’s Black Bear Block of Syrah is the oldest in the Central Coast. The vines themselves came from Gary Eberle, who acquired them from a UC Davis professor, who had taken them from Hermitage in France! Black Bear Block is all original rootstock– a rare find these days.

(Fun fact: “Black Bear Block” earned its name when vineyard manager Ruben Camacho found black bears there munching away on the grapes!) Today, Zaca Mesa’s estate exclusively grows Rhone grapes, everything from Viognier to Grenache and Syrah.

The story doesn’t end with the grapes, though. Located in a big ol’ barn up in the Santa Rita Hills, Zaca Mesa has been lucky enough to experience such legendary winemakers as Ken Brown and Bob Lindquist. Zaca Mesa has consistently kept quality wines above all else, and it’s that commitment to quality that attracted current Head Winemaker Eric Mohseni.

But it was the moment that he set foot on the Zaca Mesa property that he knew “this is where I want to be.”

Eric worked part time at The Wine Country in Signal Hill during his undergraduate days at Cal State Long Beach, where he majored in food science and chemistry. As his role quickly grew, he became the buyer for Southern Hemisphere wines, which launched an obsession with Sauvignon Blanc. That, in turn, lead him to move to New Zealand to work a harvest and fully immerse himself in winemaking. But it was the moment that he set foot on the Zaca Mesa property that he knew “this is where I want to be.”

Still a chemistry major at heart, Eric loves experimenting with barrels and aging. Recent additions to the winery include massive concrete tanks and elegant clay amphorae, both of which are used to produce Syrah and a Grenache-Mourvedre blend. Those wines are big, deep, and tannic, as the concrete and clay are obviously less porous than oak barrels and allow very little air in. This kind of curiosity and experimentation allows Zaca Mesa to produce varied styles of wine from the same block of grapes, from smooth and round to big and bold.

winemaking team of Zaca Mesa
Cellar Master, Agustin Robles (left), Winemaker, Eric Mohseni (center), Winemaker Krisitn Bryden (right)

Eric credits Vineyard Manager Ruben Camacho, Cellar Master Agustin Robles, and the entire Zaca Mesa staff with the winery’s success because of their ongoing commitment and dedication. Ruben has been with Zaca Mesa for over 40 years, and Agustin isn’t far behind. Eric believes that the camaraderie found there is crucial to the finished wines.

Eric was our Featured Winemaker for the month of June in 2017. View our upcoming featured winemakers on our special event page here.

 

 


Shop our selection of Zaca Mesa wines in our Wine Merchant here.

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