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 Wines of Seagrape Wine Co. and their Maker: Karen Steinwachs

May 4, 2019

Karen Steinwachs with her latest Seagrape wines including Gewurztraminer

Curiosity guides the choices made in not only what wines she makes, but how she makes her wines. You may recognize her name, she’s one of Santa Barbara’s most prolific women in winemaking, Karen Steinwachs. Widely recognized as the talented winemaker behind the wines of Buttonwood, however, her private label wines of Seagrape Wine Co., express another side of Karen that will leave a stamp on the history of Santa Barbara County wine country.

Where did the name Seagrape come from?

Karen and her late husband were fond of their time spent abroad. While living in St. Croix they would marvel at the Seagrape trees on Grape Tree Beach. These grape trees, as the locals would call them, became the muse for their label, recalling a time of togetherness and fond memories from which their Seagrape wines were created. Seagrape Wines Los Olivos Wine Merchant Featured WinesKaren is often asked if her wines are made with these sea grapes– they are not. They are made from grapes that grow beautifully from the Santa Barbara County’s ocean influenced vineyards. Initially, the focus of Seagrape was on Sta. Rita Hills, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as the primary varietals she produced. Karen continues with that tradition but has expanded to welcome room for exploration and with that, we are excited to promote her first release of Gewurztraminer. (Surely not her last, you’ll have to taste for yourself!)Seagrape block at Rancho la Vina

Why Gewurztraminer?

This unique German grape may be intimidating to pronounce but in Karen’s skilled hands she made it into a lovely approachable wine. This grape is not commonly seen in this area and can be made in many different ways similar to  Reisling. One may expect this to be a sweet wine. However, Seagrape’s 2017 Gewurztraminer is bone dry, with a nice balance of plushness and vibrancy with a zesty finish.


In our interview with Karen she shares what she enjoys about having her own label in addition to making wines for a bigger winery like Buttonwood– being able to explore a new varietal like Gewurztraminer is one of them.

We featured Karen’s unique story on how she and her husband fled their lives in the fast-paced tech world for a quieter life in Santa Ynez Valley and henceforth Karen found her calling as a winemaker, in our 2018 interview and blog. Her story is one about creating one’s own destiny, and her wines, whether Buttonwood or Seagrape, reflect her ability to go with the flow and know when to take the driver’s seat. This balance is one that all winemakers grapple with but Karen makes look effortless.

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.

Fried Chicken & Cremant? Norm from Flying Goat shares his pairing secrets

March 6, 2019

It’s true – Norm swears on his Sparkling Crémant as an excellent pairing with fried chicken! (This ‘secret’ works with most sparkling, but when the winemaker himself tells you to pair Colonel Sanders and Flying Goat, you should listen!)

So what’s the story behind the name Flying Goat?

While relaxing in his backyard sharing his newly bottled Central Coast Pinot Noir with friends and family, the question of what to name it kept coming up. As they sat with Pinot in hand, Norm’s pygmy goats playfully flew through the air, it became apparent that they were calling out to get some kind of recognition– Flying Goat Cellars was born. 

Norm’s career began in the steps of his college roommate, who discovered a winemaking program from the University of California at Davis. While Norm graduated with an unrelated degree, he found winemaking as his muse to transform, as he put it, “from a beer-drinking football player into a winemaker.”

Since UC Davis, Norm has left his signature on wines made from cool-climate vineyards, from Alexander & Napa valleys in Northern California, Willamette Valley in Oregon, to our local Central Coast. After being a highly recognized and respected winemaker for Foley and other wineries throughout his career, he now chooses to focus his energy on his own label which has always been about Pinot Noirs and Sparkling wines.

A tour of Central Coast Vineyards in a single Winery

In the spirit of his 38 years working the vines of cool climate vineyards, Flying Goat sources their grapes from the local sites with the longest ripening seasons, maximizing the quality of the crisp Pacific Ocean breeze. Flying Goat owns no vineyards, a specific style choice by Norm in the spirit of collaboration, trusting the esteemed producers he sources from to tend the soil and grapes that make their way to his bottles. Norm was one of the first winemakers to source Pinot Noir from the classic Santa Maria Valley AVA, Dierberg Vineyard almost two decades ago. Likewise, Flying Goat was one of the first “Rio Vista Vineyard” labeled wines back in 2003, and is the source of the famous ‘Clone 2a’ Pinot Noir, sourced from the far east lip of the Sta. Rita AVA.

Like so many of our local winemakers, Norm’s intent in winemaking is to make food-friendly pairings. He loves the Goat Bubbles Crémant paired with chicken, key lime pie, or a savory brunch. Both the Clone 2a Pinot Noir and the Dierberg Pinot Noir are great with Beef, mushrooms, and root vegetables.

When Norm is not tending to making his wine, he can be found working at the Flying Goat & Goat Bubbles tasting room in Lompoc, a not-to-be-missed stop on the Lompoc Wine Ghetto tour.

Kat Gaffney – The New Face of Spear

February 6, 2019

From the heart & the hills of Sta. Rita

Spear makes full use of the unique coastal geography of the Sta. Rita Hills. In one of the states only east to west valleys, foggy, cool winds prolong the ripening season and define the cold-climate terroir of the valley. Over 60 vineyards dot the AVA, totaling nearly 3500 acres of planted grapes.

Spear vineyard sits on the southern face of the main valley, facing highway 246. As a hallmark Sta. Rita vineyard, the primary grapes they grow are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vineyard is uniquely one of the highest elevation vineyards in the AVA, topping out at 900 feet above sea level. With a vineyard-forward approach to winemaking and a CCOF organic certification, Spear prides themselves on sustainable, eco-friendly wine farming. Spear wines are made in a gravity flow facility, gently flowing downhill. No oak flavoring, no new French oak. The vineyard was planted in 2013 with a winery and tasting room (appointment only, please!) Wines are meant to be a taste of the whole vineyard, essentially blends of different areas of the vineyards.

Kat Gaffney joined Spear after a world tour, that began in her native Colorado at a hotel wine bar. After a brief stint as a sommelier in training, Kat wanted to take a more active role in the winemaking industry and sought out apprenticeships and harvests to work, going from our Central Coast to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and out to New Zealand for practical winemaking experience in the flourishing Kiwi wine trade.

Humility in Winemaking

Kat at Spear Winery.
PC: Craft & Cluster

After heading back stateside, Kat worked at Spear under winemaker Greg Brewer, before taking over operations as head winemaker in 2017. Kat’s winemaking style is about removing all intention in the winemaking. “I don’t want people to taste the wine and say…’ Kat your signature is all over this wine’… I want the vineyard to be front and center”.

This month, we are featuring three Spear Wines from the high-elevation estate vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. The Estate Chardonnay is Spear’s bread and butter (forgive the pun), sourced from blocks at varying elevations around the vineyard, north facing in sand and clay loam. Spear’s Estate Pinot Noir is one of Kat Gaffney’s first vine-to-bottle creations as winemaker, with blocks from the tip-top of the Spear estate to down near the 246, this all-estate/all-blocks Pinot was 15% whole cluster fermented. Rounding out our Featured Wines, the Spear Syrah is a Jeb Dunnuck 91-point rated estate creation featuring Alban clones and a white pepper and pomegranate nose.

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