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.

Host a Gathering with the Masterful Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe!

May 21, 2015

The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café has been offering quality dining for guests looking for excellent, freshly prepared food on a daily basis since 1995. Recently, they have expanded their service to bring that same level of expertise for intimate group experiences inside and outside the restaurant.

For those looking for a quiet place to meet, located in an exclusive section of the restaurant is a beautifully appointed room with rustic, wainscoted walls using recycled barn wood. The warm tones make this a perfect retreat for elegant private gatherings. Artwork on the walls creates additional charm, while a mounted high definition TV that can be used for presentations during corporate events or slide shows celebrating life moments, adds practical usability to the room. The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café is known for it’s inventive use of seasonal, locally sourced produce to create world-class signature dishes. Their knowledgeable and friendly staff is happy to assist in choosing wines and selecting a delicious customized menu to fit your budget

For off-site events, the Los Olivos Café will deliver everything needed for a successful dining experience with their new catering van. Serving up the flavors of the California Central Coast, private residences or businesses can now host a top notch dining experience direct from the kitchen of talented Executive Chef Chris Joslyn. In addition to working with staff to customize the menu, there is discount pricing available from the restaurants wine selection for all off-site events too.

The beautiful Santa Barbara Wine Country also offers many opportunities for an alfresco experience at a nearby park or winery. By calling ahead, a small group of 20 or more can order a 3 course gourmet lunch for delivery to any place with normal vehicle access in the Santa Ynez Valley or groups can pick up the budget friendly $20/per person lunch spread to take with them on their journey.

The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café celebrates the bounty of the region, offering the best of the local wines and working with nearby growers and farmers to insure each dish will be an exceptional and memorable experience for guests.

Enjoy a fresh spring morning with Breakfast at the Los Olivos Cafe!

April 1, 2015

vineyard_web

With spring launched, it’s time to take advantage of the clear skies and balmy weather of the Santa Ynez Valley. Get outside and enjoy our hiking trails, bike routes, and horseback riding opportunities, in addition to the many events and festivals, which are loved by locals and visitors alike!

Bedroom at Bernat Estate Retreat

A great weekend should begin with a Friday afternoon arrival. If you’re smart, you’ve planned ahead to check into one of the comfortable Bernat Vineyard & Winery Retreats. From this private property it is possible to begin exploring the nearby area right away either on foot, with one of the provided cruiser bikes, or…leave exploration to the days following and just relax into a comfy chair with a good book, a glass of wine, and enjoy the rural landscape views from your own private patio.

In the morning, a delicious weekend breakfast at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe will jump-start the day. Executive Chef Chris Joslyn not only incorporates fresh, local produce into each dish, including local free range eggs for all the egg dishes, but also into the cocktails on the “Bubbly” menu. The “Seasonal Bellini” includes seasonal fruit puree, while the “Lavender Bubbles” is infused with house-made lavender syrup. These light and refreshing drinks set the palate for a wonderful dining experience.

The Los Olivos Café menu offers a variety of Farm Egg Scrambles and a Classic Breakfast in addition to more special items. While all of the menu items are expertly prepared, these few unusual standouts shouldn’t be missed. Offered as a stand alone item, the “Café Yeasted Waffle,” a secret recipe pulled from owner Shawnda’s own family, is also a perfect, shared appetizer. This incredibly light waffle literally melts in your mouth. Presented with a comfit of berries on top and a small pitcher of maple syrup on the side, each bite is pure joy. The “Shakshuka,” a local favorite, consists of two eggs perfectly simmered in tomato presse, side by side with a small salad of fresh baby greens topped with sliced avocado and exquisitely seasoned breakfast potatoes. photo 2The “French Toast Souffle” is a culinary masterpiece. Whipped together with cream cheese, baked, sliced, and then lightly toasted and presented with pecan butter and maple syrup, this hearty dish is impossible to resist.

Breakfast at the Los Olivos Café offers many small delicious surprises. From the toasted rustic, locally baked bread – paired with homemade jellies created by Jessica, wife of General Manager Matthew Negrete, to the chicken sausage made in-house, and even extending to the house-made ketchup; each bite has been well thought out by the Chef for your dining pleasure. For those looking for lighter fare, the house-made granola, plain yogurt, and fresh fruit is just the ticket.

For your weekend exploration:

The nearby town of Los Olivos offers many quality wine tasting rooms within easy walking distance of each other, in addition to boutique shopping, and fine dining. Established in 1887, the town was originally named after a nearby ranch that boasted 5,000 olive trees. An historical Walking Map can be picked up in town at most of the establishments or downloaded here. Using the map, visitors can take a self-guided tour and learn more about the colorful history of this quaint town.

Fred Brander and the Birth of the Los Olivos District AVA

February 9, 2014

photoFred Brander begins his discussion of the Los Olivos District not by reeling off statistics or carting out maps, but by walking out of his cellar with 4 bottles.  2 are unlabeled, 2 are in brown bags.  Brander comments as he pours a first taste from one of the bags, “This is a producer I really admire… I think it’s a good example of someone making more balanced Cab here in California.”  Its notes of cedar, ripe blackcurrant, and cassis, along with a prominent signature of American oak, place it squarely in Califonia; it turns out to be Ridge’s iconic estate bottling from Monte Bello Vineyard.  Next he pours the two shiners: one is a barrel sample of his young vine Cab, meticulously planted 5 years ago with an incredible array of rootstocks and clones (12 combinations in total); the other is a barrel sample of his old vine Cab, own-rooted, planted in the mid ‘70s.  Though young, there is already an intense, gravel minerality to both, along with all that exuberant young fruit.  He proudly informs me that the alcohols are in the mid to low 13s.  We finish with the other brown bag, which has harder tannins, just-ripe plum, and a finish filled with notes of sharpened pencil.  We are clearly in Bordeaux here (it turns out to be a Pessac-Leognan from Chateau Haut-Bergey), though the leap from the Santa Cruz Mountains or the Los Olivos District to the Old World is, refreshingly, not a huge one.  His point is clear: this area is capable of site driven, balanced wines that can stand toe to toe with the benchmarks of the world.

A Master of Wine candidate and one of Santa Ynez Valley’s pioneers, Brander tastes blind like this just about every day, comparing his wines with other producers from around the world, seeking out new ideas, constantly thinking about how to improve his wines, his vineyard, and our growing region.  His latest passion is the birth of the Los Olivos District AVA.  The idea that this part of the valley may be worthy of its own AVA first arose over 10 years ago, when the Sta. Rita Hills became official.  “Sta. Rita Hills was the first to differentiate itself, and they did it based mainly on climate, which made me want to look further into the Santa Ynez AVA and see what made us different here besides the fact that we’re warmer.  As it turned out, the area that we are now defining as the Los Olivos District has very distinct and uniform soil and climate.”

Fred Brander tasting room
Fred Brander in front of his iconic tasting room

The soil in the Los Olivos District is part of the PositasBallardSanta Ynez association, which consists of alluvial soils and lots of gravel, in many ways reminiscent of Bordeaux’s Left Bank.  It is distinct from the limestone of Ballard Canyon or the serpentine and chert of Happy Canyon, the two AVAs that bookend the region, and its mineral presence is readily apparent in the area’s wines.  For Brander, this soil, and its uniformity throughout the District, is the most compelling reason for the creation of the AVA.  “The weakness in California AVAs is that they’re frequently not as specific with soils.  Even in Napa, where you have so many sub-AVAs, there is uniform climate within them, but there are often varied soils.  That is one of our big strengths here, that we have such uniformity.”  Starting at the 1000-ft. elevation mark (above this the soil shifts into a different, sandier soil series) in the San Rafael Mountains and sloping gently down to the Santa Ynez River, one also finds great consistency of temperature and topography.  “The climate is consistent, the topography is consistent, the soils are consistent, and I think these factors make a very strong case for this deserving its own AVA.”

gravelly loam that defines the Los Olivos District
A closeup of the gravelly loam that defines the Los Olivos District

Brander has become famous throughout the world for his various expressions of Sauvignon Blanc, which for me capture a minerality and purity rarely found outside of Sancerre.  Many producers within the District also channel this more restrained style, which is a wildly different expression from the rich, musky, tropical style found in Happy Canyon, one that I also love for very different reasons.  “Climate is a big factor.  Here in Los Olivos we have cooler temperatures, less of a diurnal shift, and the wines tend to have lower pH and more malic acid than Happy Canyon.  This area, in my opinion, is more conducive to making a fresher style of Sauvignon Banc, unoaked.”

While Sauvignon Blanc in a more precise style may be a defining expression for the AVA, for the most part the area’s varietal identity is still being sussed out.  “Rhone and Bordeaux varieties are certainly the two main groups that are planted, along with some Spanish and Italian varieties, and I think all of those have been successful,” says Brander.  “I’ve even tasted some Rieslings and Pinot Grigios that have been very good.  Chardonnay can also be viable in a style reminiscent of classic Napa, picked early with blocked malo.”  For my palate, which leans unabashedly Eurocentric, I find particular interest in the Bordeaux and Italian varieties coming from the District.  There is a freshness and balance in these wines, be it Cabernet Sauvignon or Sangiovese, which is distinctive and highly mineral, with a different character than that found in Happy Canyon or Ballard Canyon.

The Los Olivos District AVA is currently in the process of establishing its growers’ alliance, an important step for solidifying the community that will advocate for this region on a large scale.  “The AVA has the greatest number of wineries, i.e. winemaking facilities, within an AVA within Santa Barbara County.  We also have the history: the earliest vineyards were planted within the boundaries of the AVA, and we also have Ballard as the first township in the Valley, along with Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, and Solvang.  It’s more reminiscent of Europe’s appellation model where you have little towns inside them.”  Brander goes on to share that the next step in the AVA process is for the petition to come up for public comment, which will likely occur this summer.  If all goes according to plan, it should be finalized and approved by the end of 2014.

A map of the pending Los Olivos AVA
A map of the pending AVA

Santa Barbara County has seen an explosion of AVAs in the last 10 years, though unlike many areas established through the AVA system, which seem to have marketing as their raison d’etre, the division of our growing region has been firmly rooted in science and site character, with the goal of giving consumers an idea of the style and sense of place in the bottle. “If we can subdivide the Santa Ynez Valley into the AVAs needed to fill out the puzzle, I think it’s better off for the consumer,” says Brander.  “Besides this AVA, we need AVAs to demarcate the areas north of us, like Foxen Canyon and Los Alamos.  But I think we’re certainly advancing the ball more than we were 15 or 20 years ago.”  The Los Olivos District certainly has my vote, and I look forward to seeing the further discovery and refinement of this AVA in the coming decades.

Purchase Brander’s top Estate bottlings:
2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
2016 Sauvignon Blanc

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