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!

 

3 Featured Kita Wines20% off through August 2019 only! Save Today!

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.

Michael Speakman: Westerly Wines

July 6, 2019

A good wine can enhance a meal and contribute to that warm feeling among family and friends, but a phenomenal wine—well, that can change the course of your life. At least, that was the case for Michael Speakman, owner of Westerly Wines.

Love at first sip

It was a Côte Blonde that stole Speakman’s heart. Three days after he had his first sip, he was in escrow to buy the winery. He fell in love with all the wines, but he thought the Côte Blonde was simply amazing.

A blend of Syrah with just 5 percent Viognier for balance, the Côte Blonde is a fan favorite. It’s a wine that can stand up to a steak, but with the floral essence provided by the Viognier, the wine multi-tasks as a wine for all seasons.

From play time to wine down

Westerly Cote Blonde

The effect of the Côte Blonde on Speakman is even more remarkable considering that he wasn’t even looking to get into the wine industry. A serial entrepreneur, Speakman started selling baseball cards when he was just 9 years old. Eventually, that first endeavor became a trading card company. He followed that with more businesses inspired by youthful trends–like the milk cap game POGs and then Beanie Babies. After those successful businesses, he turned to real estate before taking some time away from business.

These days he enjoys making his own wine deliveries and “hasn’t worked a day” since he purchased Westerly. He considers himself fortunate that he has good wine that he gets to share with friends and his family, which includes his wife and 17- and 19-year-old sons, who he hopes will follow him into the wine industry.

 

A tradition of Bordeaux

Westerly Wine Owner
Michael and Joyce Speakman, owners of Westerly Wines

Westerly Wines has been producing wines in Happy Canyon for more than 20 years. It’s one of very few

wineries located there, but that’s just another reason it’s so special Speakman said. He calls it the best wine-producing region on the Central Coast, citing a recent increase in national recognition.

Because it’s well-established, Speakman has no plans to make major changes to Westerly Wines. The wine will still come primarily from Happy Canyon, while the pinot will come from the much cooler and coastal Sta. Rita Hills appellation.

This month you can fall in love with the Côte Blonde, too. It’ll be available by the glass or as a tasting flight along with the 2017 Happy Canyon Rosé and 2013 Westerly Red, a fruit-forward blend of Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.

 

Throughout the month of July receive 20% off bottles of these featured Westerly Wines.

 

Westerly Featured July Wines at Los Olivos Wine Merchant and CafeAt 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 by subscribing to our YOUTUBE CHANNEL or checking out our BLOGS– you too can get to meet our talented local winemakers!

Josh Klapper in Tune with Timbre Winery

June 9, 2019

How it all began…

The path to how Timbre Winery came to be is somewhat straight but far from narrow.  Josh Klapper’s curiosity for how wine was made, led him to our beautiful Santa Barbara wine country in 2005. However, his passion for wine began early on at one of his first jobs as a waiter on the East Coast where he grew up. It all started with a bottle. A bottle of 1945 Bordeaux from Chateau Latour (a $7000 bottle!).  One of his guests had ordered it and invited him to have a taste. Josh was hooked!  From that moment on Josh knew, the wine business is where he wanted to be. It wasn’t necessarily the price that wowed him, it was the fact that for various reasons that bottle held something special, something to savor, and he set out to find out what that was.

Josh eventually moved to the West Coast and became a sommelier at a restaurant in LA that during his time there received the honorable Wine Spectator Grand Award. With his wealth of experience at such a young age (25), Josh could have done very well in the restaurant business as a sommelier. However, he yearned for more. He wanted to jump in and learn about the process of how the wines he loved were created. Like many local winemakers, their journey to becoming full-fledged winemakers started with a mentor, in Josh’s case, Bob Lindquist of Qupe welcomed him into the world of winemaking.

Some things are meant to be…

But how did Timbre Winery come to be? Elvis couldn’t have sung it better, “Like a river flows surely to the sea. Darling so it goes. Some things are meant to be.”  As a fan of Bob’s Qupe wines, Josh promoted them as a sommelier at the restaurant he worked at in LA. He seized on his connection and made a phone call that changed his life course.  This call seamlessly led to Josh assisting in the next three Qupe harvests and the creation of Josh’s first label, La Fenêtre (which Bob welcomed him to produce at Qupe). From there Josh’s voice as a winemaker has fine-tuned with clarity and harmony in his Timbre Winery label that he began in 2012. In Josh’s words, “Timbre is my voice as a winemaker.”

We invite you to watch our entertaining interview with Josh where he not only shares his story in his own “timbre” but also shares his wealth of knowledge about the Santa Barbara wine region. As he describes  it “…crazy geology and so many microclimates.”

Timbre (pronounced TAM·ber or TIM·ber) is the “color” of music. Josh successfully uses the name of his wine label as an inspiration for the wines he produces.  Each label uniquely characterized by a musical metaphor. His well-balanced beautifully harmonized flavors in his Supergroup Pinot Noir is the perfect example. “Supergroup” is a term used for a band of famous musicians from various other bands. Josh’s Supergroup Pinot Noir is sourced from three of Santa Maria Valley’s most well-known vineyards: Bien Nacido, Presqu’ile, and Riverbench. Three unique parts of Santa Maria Valley each with something remarkable to add to the wine. (Fun Fact which Josh shares in our exclusive interview: Bien Nacido planted in 1973, is the most vineyard designated vineyard in history. Meaning more wines have had Bien Nacido on the label than any other vineyard in the world!)

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.

Louisa Lindquist of Verdad Wine Cellars- A Cutting Edge Visionary Winemaker

April 4, 2019

At 18 Louisa knew winemaking was what she wanted to do…

Louisa Lindquist is the brains and passion behind her label Verdad Wine Cellars. At a young age, she worked at a prominent wine shop on Long Island where she was able to taste and learn about many different styles and varietals of wines. She became fascinated with the vibrant fresh flavors of Albariño wines from Rias Biaxes, as well as the bold and complex Tempranillo-based wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Louisa to learn more about what makes her wines so enjoyable and her personal story that influences her winemaking style. We think you’ll enjoy our April 2019 interview!

A true visionary: Louisa was the first to release Albariño in all of California!

In 1990 Loisa moved to California to work with a wine importer and distributor. A few years later she met her now husband and well-known Californian winemaker, Bob Lindquist. He encouraged her to follow her dreams and passion for making Spanish styled wines here in California. And she did! Louisa was the first to release Albariño in all of California.

Louisa Lindquist in her cellar

For the first vintages of Verdad Louisa made her wines under the tutelage of her renowned winemaker husband but as the years and harvests went by Louisa began to take the helm of all aspects of Verdad Wine Cellars.

Louisa Lindquist stomping grapes

Most of the Verdad wines come from the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard which is a Demeter-certified Biodynamic vineyard. Biodynamic is a form of alternative agriculture very similar to organic farming. The main difference between organic and biodynamic is that biodynamic farming uses different principles which add vitality to the plants, soil and/or livestock, whereas traditional farming typically deteriorates the soil. The certification process to become Demeter-certified Biodynamic is extremely rigorous and requires a level of commitment to sustainability that goes beyond organic.

Louisa Lindquist Verdad Wine Cellars Owner & WinemakerLouisa’s passion for making wines that express her love for Spanish varietals is expressed in every bottle that she produces. She strives to produce pure, expressive, and balanced wines that convey the flavors of the unique cool climate vineyard sites she sources from on the California Central Coast.

We are pleased to have Louisa as our Featured Winemaker for all of April 2019! We will be featuring three of here truly amazing wines by the glass and 20% to take home by the bottle. Don’t miss a chance to taste the Spanish styled Verdad Wine Cellar wines!

At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café we organically grow at our 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.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery: Generations of Tradition

September 1, 2018

Rancho Sisquoc- Steeped in history and still keeping things fresh.

Over the last four decades, Rancho Sisquoc has become a household name in local winemaking and wine tourism. Located at the end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Santa Maria, the property of Rancho Sisquoc is a destination every wine lover must experience to fully appreciate.

As a major stop on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, the winery is a 300-acre slice of a roughly 38,000-acre working ranch, mine, and farm. As one of the oldest wineries in Santa Barbara County, Rancho Sisquoc’s name is an important piece of California history. The San Ramon Chapel (the label art of Rancho Sisquoc’s wines) has been a staple on the Ranch for over 140 years and became the county’s first State Historic Landmark in 1977.

Vines were first planted on the Ranch in the late 1960s, with the first vintages produced in 1972 by a Ranch Manager, rather than the traditional Head Winemaker of today. The unique Sylvaner wines come from the former Ranch Manager, who fell in love with the grape while serving under General Patton in Europe. We’re pleased to offer the 2016 Sylvaner vintage of these same vines as one of our featured wines this month!

Sarah Holt Mullins, our Featured Winemaker, was born and raised on Rancho Sisquoc. Her parents moved to the Ranch in 1976 as farmers, working their way up at the Ranch. Sarah’s father is responsible for many of the vine plantings on the vineyard. Growing up, Sarah worked many odd jobs on the Ranch, working her way into the winery on her own journey. Over time on the Ranch, she began to appreciate the effort put into every wine, from grape to bottle.  The experimentation with wine, responsibility over the grapes, and experience of tasting wine that you created was an experience that sold Sarah on the wine business completely.

In her own words, “it’s all-consuming; your whole life has to be in [the wine business].” Sarah credits everyone from her Oenologist, assistants, grape-growers, salespeople, and her customers (some of which have been wine club members for 20+ years!) in the process of creating famous Rancho Sisquoc wine. Everyone’s love and effort in the process is vital to creating the wines, and each is a vital part of her process. If she could sum up her winemaking style, she’d use “Love”. Sarah loves the wine, loves the process, the business and most of all, Rancho Sisquoc. Sarah’s family and others who work the Ranch live on the property, putting their time, effort and love into the soil they call home.

Rancho Sisquoc works with over 14 different varietals, which they believe is for everyone from the wine novices to the budding sommeliers.  Part and parcel with this theory is how they market their wines, as wines that everyone can afford, bringing fine wine to everyone who is curious about the taste, process, and subtleties between great wines.

Sarah’s favorite grape is Merlot; another featured wine from Rancho Sisquoc in October. The tasting room Mantra at Rancho Sisquoc; everyone is allowed 6 free tastings, but if they didn’t try the Merlot, that becomes the 7thfree tasting. The wine is a classic albeit currently underappreciated staple to the winery’s oeuvre.

Sarah plans to keep “taking chances in the vineyard”, a trait she attributes to her father’s influence on her winemaking. As grape growers who have been in the industry for 40+ years, taking chances keeps their work fresh to consumers and their business. For example, in the “Tre Vini” Red Blend release, Sarah’s team might change the blend based on the year’s harvest, to perfectly balance each release. You can find this wine with the other aforementioned two as another Featured Wine at the Wine Merchant & Café!

Sarah’s long relationship with winemaking reflects the story of many local winemakers. Check out more of our monthly interviews with featured local winemakers 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!

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!

 

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!

 

Sunstone Winery– Past, Present, & Future

August 31, 2017

To step onto the Sunstone property is to step back into the Old World.

The gorgeous stone chateau is centered in a beautiful landscape, complete with tranquil space to sip your wine. It’s unlike any other winery in Santa Barbara County and is the result of an Old World sensibility passed down through the Rice family. In our interview, owner and winemaker, Bion Rice, shares the past, present, and future of Sunstone Winery.

Sunstone Winery Santa Ynez Valley California
photo credit: Lerina Winter

According to Bion Rice, who now oversees the winery, his family relocated to Santa Ynez from Santa Barbara seeking better educational opportunities for his two sisters. His mother immediately saw the possibilities for what is now Sunstone. The landscape alone would inspire anyone, but Linda’s focus on “food, family, and friends” allowed her to pursue creating the best possible atmosphere for all. Linda and husband Fred planted Bordeaux varietals assuming they would sell the grapes off to winemakers but quickly became enamoured with making their own. And much like what would happen in a small Provençal village, their local friends were happy to help, pitching in to mentor their efforts and support them every step of the way.

Without any formal training in winemaking to start, Fred and Linda soaked up as much as they could – again, a very Old World approach! They began bottling their wine and by their second vintage, the family found themselves with a few thousand extra cases. Bion did what any loyal farmer’s son would do: he loaded the cases into his truck and began hawking his wares all over Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. His favorites stops were invariably at restaurants, where he’d end up chatting with chefs and tasting through fantastic dishes that opened up the possibilities of pairings for his wines even more. Sunstone’s production and demand increased exponentially and the Rice family soon sold their wines across the country.

Winemaker Bion Rice of Sunstone Winery Santa Ynez California

Ironically, Bion sees the 2008 recession as a blessing in disguise because it forced the family to scale back and focus on what really mattered to them. This re-assessment renewed their passion for Linda’s initial pursuit of “food, family, and friends,” and the quality of their wine improved drastically. However, the Rices have never veered away from organic farming and are proud to operate the longest running organic winery in all of Santa Barbara. While this may have seemed ahead of its time, commitment to organic farming really just ties back to the Old World version of farming and was part of Linda’s overarching vision.

Sunstone staff- Mason Cuvee - Milestone

Today, Bion and his wife oversee operations, including winemaking. Bion plans to keep it in the family and is fostering his sons; in fact, his teenage son Miles helps in the blending process and has final say in which blend ends up in the “Milestone” bottle!

 

Before summer ends, give yourself a minivacation by visiting Sunstone winery. Step back in time and enjoy the chateau made from reclaimed materials and native stone. Grab a glass of their best-selling rosé and savour the warmth of family and friends that the Rice family has helped build.


Visit our Selection of SUNSTONE Wines here.

If you enjoyed our glimpse into Sunstone Winery, check out our recent interview with the current Featured Winemaker.

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