Chris Costales meets our favorite Santa Ynez Valley Vintners
Earlier in the year, our store owner Randy was very gracious to send me to Santa Barbara County's Santa Ynez Valley for a few days in order to meet a handful of our favorite vintners, some with a long relationship to The Wine Country. I was very happy to learn more in depth about this region as I had only visited for quick day trips a few times before. What I found were very hospitable people who were focused on making the best wine they can.
Ken Brown Winery
My first stop was to visit Ken Brown, founder and winemaker of Ken Brown Winery, and I found Ken's wines to be as elegant and impressive as the man himself is gracious. When meeting Ken, prepare yourself for a crash course in viticulture and enology as he is a teacher at heart who loves to impart knowledge to questions regarding the art of making wine.
Ken's wines represent the Sta. Rita Hills very well with textural rich and complex Chardonnay and remarkably aromatic and concentrated Pinot Noir. He makes around only 3,000 cases of wine per year and is truly involved in all phases of the winemaking and growing.
KEN BROWN 2015 PINOT NOIR, STA. RITA HILLS
Sourced from vineyards across the appellation blending together cool and warm Sta. Rita Hills fruit for maximum complexity. This Pinot was hand sorted, destemmed and gently punched down on the cap several times a day to extract color and tannic structure. 33% new French oak barrels were used while the wine aged for 10 months. Expect darker colored Pinot in this cooler climate due to high winds. Lighter fruits such as cranberry and cherry are present as well as richer black fruit like black raspberry with a wonderful floral rose petal aroma.
$37.99 per bottle
Another winery we are truly proud to represent in our store is Stolpman Vineyards, which began as a seed of an idea back in 1974 between Long Beach attorney Tom Stolpman and his wife Marilyn. The idea then was not only to produce great wine grapes representing Ballard Canyon but to invest in something the whole family could be part of. Originally, they never intended to make wine, but after witnessing the spectacular quality of wines made by others using Stolpman fruit, they took the plunge to make wine under their own label.
This family approach paid off when Tom’s son Peter Stolpman, who grew up with vineyard, came back to the family business after working a management job in Los Angeles. Now he oversees the day to day management and is well educated in all aspects of the wine business, from being a cellar hand and making wine in Australia and Italy to receiving the Fine Wine Specialist of the Year award from the Henry wine group for being a top salesperson. With his enthusiasm, wine knowledge and appreciation for the hard work of the vineyard crew, Peter will continue to be an excellent ambassador for Stolpman Vineyards and Ballard Canyon as the President of the Ballard Canyon Winegrowers Alliance. Peter owns a giant great Dane who I’m convinced is 8 feet tall when standing on his back legs.
This wine is so opulent it should come with a top hat and cane. What makes this wine so lavish? Only grapes from the older vineyards can be used for L’Avion with each grape cluster being rotated 180 degrees by the vineyard crew to face the sun for an even tan that provides peak flavors of pear and pineapple ripeness. Large French oak Puncheons (slightly more than double a barrel) with 75% new oak were used in the aging of this wine, imparting wonderful spice aromas and flavors. The wine still has a refreshing quality despite being sumptuously rich due to limestone soils in the vineyard, harvesting earlier than normal and the addition of 10% Chardonnay.
$39.99 per bottle
Stolpman Vineyards consistently produces some of the most concentrated Syrah from the Ballard Canyon. In the past that intensity came from extended macerations and large amounts of new oak but today, dry farming from fruit set to harvest, provides grapes full of vibrant red, blue and black fruit flavors. Plum, blueberry, cherry notes mix with savory smoke and leather aromas. Stolpman does excellent work at preserving fruit purity and avoiding flat overly jammy baked fruit that masks the true varietal character.
$28.99 per bottle
Grassini Family Vineyards
Grassini Family Vineyards is located in the easternmost and usually warmest part of the Santa Ynez Valley. This allows them to grow and fully ripen Cabernet Sauvignon, French Rhone Varietals like Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Supposedly the name Happy Canyon came during the prohibition period where people would come to order alchohol made here locally. Owner Larry Grassini is a trial lawyer but his family has a rich heritage of growing from the earth and when the opportunity to purchase land in Santa Barbara came he felt the pull of his ancestory to plant grapevines. The winery is very beautiful and hospitable with an amazing cellar workspace to create their delicous wines. They produce a herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc that is very refreshing and also one that is made in a bolder creamy and subtle smoky style that is barrel aged. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is bold, full of flavor and not to be missed!
GRASSINI 2015 SAUVIGNON BLANC RESERVE
HAPPY CANYON OF SANTA BARBARA
The Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is matured in a combination of new and neutral French Oak, giving it a depth of flavor and barrel spice aromas of caramel, pie crust and vanilla. Classic Sauvignon Blanc flavors of grapefruit, green apple and lemon are present but with an added creamy mouthfeel. These flavors beautifully complement each other with the depth in structure from barrel aging and the natural acidity of Sauvignon Blanc combining to create an alluring balance and a long smooth finish.
$42.99 per bottle
Longoria wines began in 1982 when Rick and wife Diana Longoria decided to highlight Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. Rick was already an experienced winemaker, having pioneered Santa Ynez Valley winemaking at J. Carey winery, and later Gainey Vineyard. Longoria's total production with all his bottlings are still comparatively tiney, only reaching around 3,000 cases, emphasising quality over quantity. Rick loves to experiment with different vineyard sources and grape varieties so you’ll find some unique things in his tasting room like a clay amphora fermented Albarino. His wines are part of the reason why Santa Barbara is so well respected and sought after amoung wine lovers.
Rick and Diana Longoria are some of the first pioneers in the valley to show the pedigree of the Pinot and Chardonnay grown here. Named in honor of Diana, this represents the best from Fe Ciega, Rita’s Crown, and Rancho vineyards. Delicate whole-cluster pressed juice is Barrel fermented and aged sur lie for 10 months before blending. 14% new barrel for aging to keep the fruit front and center. This is traditional in style with full body, rich texture and creamy/buttery yellow apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, and crème brulee on the long finish. This pairs with full flavored fish, lobster and roasted chicken.
$45.99 per bottle
One of the highlights of my trip was meeting Brandon Sparks-Gillis of Dragonette Cellars.. He is a student of wine as much as he is a great teacher, which is saying a lot, and was happy to answer all my wine geeky question about soil structure and vineyard geology. Dragonette Cellars continues the tradtion of great winemaking and vineyard practices of the Santa Ynez Valley with their must have wines. Dragonette wines are made in small lots and are not always available. Be sure to look for their full-bodied Sauvignon Blancs, elegant Pinot Noirs, full-flavored Syrahs and impressive Rhone-inspired blends.
Brandon Sparks-Gillis crafts suberbly balanced and restrained wines in small batches. This Pinot is elegant and classy with bright Ranier cherry, cola nut, ripe raspberry, and some fresh green herbal notes. Great acidity and richness, with earthy and floral notes balancing out the fruit. Aged for 15 months in 8% new French oak, bottled unfined and unfiltered. Pair this beauty with grilled quail, mushroom risotto, or simple grilled pork with herbs.
$41.99 per bottle
Don’t forget about Beckmen Vineyards on your next trip as they produce amazing organic and biodynmaic wines in the Santa Ynez Valley, specializing in Rhone-inspired wines. Steve Beckmen particularly excels in Grenache, producing one of California's most consistently excellent examples. Cuvée Le Bec, the estate's blended red wine, is a tribute to the red wines of France's Côtes du Rhône.
Winemaker Steve Beckmen loves to balance his Grenache with ripe fruit flavors, refreshing acidity and tannic structure. This wine captures his philosophy with crisp cranberry, cool blueberry and aromatic spice. Aged for 10 months in mostly neutral French oak
$23.99 per bottle