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Road Reports, Vol 2003: Santa Barbara's Young Guns
© Andy Abramson
Oct. 11, 2003

The Santa Barbara County Vintners Association annual "Celebration of Harvest" was held on Oct. 11, 2003 at Rancho Sisquoc Winery in Santa Maria.

More than 70 Santa Barbara County wineries poured their latest wines, and Andy Abramson was there with another Series of Road Reports.

His Road Report on Saturday's "Celebration of Harvest" tasting is also online.
(Santa Barbara, Calif.) They're new, young, bold and brash. They work by day as mechanical engineers, cellar masters, growers and assistant winemakers. They also make their own wines. They're the "Young Guns" of Santa Barbara, throwing caution and fortune to the wind to make wine from the ground up. And some of them are clearly showing that the future of wine in Santa Barbara County is clearly on a sustained upward path and in safe hands. While they don't produce nearly the quantity which venerable producers like Andrew Murray, Zaca Mesa, Qupé, Babcock or Beckmen produce, they are making wines that are clearly up and coming rivals.

Take David Corey, whose wines I first tried at the 2003 Hospice du Rhone. He's a grower, viticulturalist and now winemaker with his first two totally impressive releases that as time goes by seem to gain strength and power, while having an elegance of their own.

2002 Core Wine Rose
A downright fan favorite, the 95 percent Mourvedre and 5 percent Grenache pink wine continues to never cease to impress me, or just about anyone else. While clearly a red wine in disguise, the deep purple tinged Rose has layers of blackberry flavors all wrapped by a lush strawberry collar and is one of the best wines to start any meal with.

2001 Core Vineyard 541
This blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache throws off a delightful gingerbread. Allspice and cinnamon nose, it's all backed by super bright and concentrated black berry, white pepper and coffee notes. The very lush mid palate of black plums and flavors of blackberry, blueberry and raspberry hang in the mouth before revealing a very soft, long and lingering smooth finish.

Then there's Gary Burke, whose Shadow Canyon Winery sits north of Santa Barbara in York Mountain, an appellation all of it's own. He's growing his own fruit and sourcing others and all in all making wines of pristine quality.

2002 Shadow Canyon Viognier Latner Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley
Gibson's Viognier keeps improving and may just be one of the best Viogniers made in the Central Coast. While it offers a more subdued nose than when first released, the body has become complex and pear like, melons and orange peel. In the six months since it went from barrel to bottle the wine has become more knitted together, with a smooth peach flavor on the finish.

2001 Shadow Canyon Syrah York Mountain Syrah
After impressing me at the March Rhone Rangers event in San Francisco, a second bottle showed the wine had shut down and needed a few months in the bottle. Now very much improved over the last bottle, this elegant and very smooth, concentrated red wine is revealing layers of blueberry and plums.

2002 Shadow Canyon Vineyard Late Harvest Pinot Blanc
This unctuous, complex white has all the making of botrytis and was picked as late as December. Super ripe, complex and sticky, the flavors of peaches, green apples, overripe pears and honeydew melon was a real treat.

Take Benjamin Silver. He's worked his way around Santa Barbara, basically making the wine for a time at Zaca Mesa, during the pre-Clay Brock era. His three wines each showed how diverse he can be, but it was his Whitehawk Syrah that rocked the table, at Chef Ricks in Santa Maria.

2001 Silver Viognier
Made from Vogelzang Vineyard, the same source that Wine Cask owner Doug Margerum is getting grapes from offers ripe sub-tropical fruit, with a slightly dusty attack all encased in a solid finish toasted almond, pineapple and a bit of oak.

2001 Silver Syrah Mourvedre Santa Ynez Valley
Is a delightful red that has lots of Welch's jam packed like berry flavors. Already approachable, the wine will only get better in two to three years.

2000 Whitehawk Santa Maria Los Alamos Vineyard Syrah
Silver calls this his "project" as he makes, grows and markets the wine all by himself. It's a very complete wine made in a St. Joseph style, the finely crafted wine oozes with black and green olives, blackberry and blueberry fruit and with the benefit of time in the bottle, the wine has really developed into something worth of acclaim.

Up next is Gary Burgis. He and his wife may wine under two different labels in Santa Maria. Costa de Oro, whose wines dots the small, fairly priced but well chosen wine list at Ricks, and Duo.

2002 Duo Colson Canyon Santa Barbara County Syrah
This smooth and soft, very easy to drink wine made from one of the more remote vineyards in Santa Barbara County, the wine offers up well fined flavors of black plums and black raspberry.

Other wines tasted at the Chef Rick's Santa Maria dinner included:

2001 Cordon Santa Ynez Valley Syrah with 2 percent Viognier
This almost Australian like wine with its density and concentration is a delightful and well sculptured red wine that is loaded with brambly blackberry and jammy blueberry fruit. The wine has a flavor profile of young Cote Rotie and is not too dissimilar now to the Penfolds Laughing Magpie that shares a similar blend.

2002 Cordon Zinfandel Paso Robles
Sourced from Paso fruit, the wine is not too dissimilar in profile to older Peachy Canyon or Justin made wines. Good flavor, while still a bit tight, the wine has class and distinction and surely will improve with time in the bottle.

2001 East Valley Vineyard Edna Valley Vineyard
This tart and berry like fruit forward is Crozes-Hermitage-like in body and flavor. It has a soft mid palate of black plums, cherries and blueberry and in the six months since I first tasted the wine, has become even more charming.

2002 East Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
This easy to drink Central Coast Cabernet is no slouch. It's already drinking nicely. Reminiscent of the Babcock Fathom in style, the wine has bing cherry and black cherry flavors, with just a hint of mint.

The next two wines were made from the same vineyard sources, but in different styles in the same winemaking facility.

2002 McPrice Myers Larner Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Syrah
This wine is big and massive from nose to finish and reflective of the winemaker himself according to the group. Loaded with tarry fruit the ripe and forward blueberry, coffee and black plum fruit is deep and chewy.

2002 Herman Story Larner Vineyard Santa Ynez Syrah
This wine started out prototypical and shut down but not before it revealed nice blueberry flavors and hint of black pepper. Given some additional time in the bottle the Herman Story Syrah will, more than likely, pan out to be the better of the two wines.

As counterpoints, I took along some bottles from my collection. The always impressive 1995 Chateau La Roque Cupa Numismae Pic St. Loup lived up to its billing. A blend of 60 percent Syrah and 40 percent Mourvedre, Jacques Boutin's top wine was just mind numbingly elegant and graceful. Possessing flavors of black tar and briary charcoal, the very bright fruits of Black and blueberry, red plums and the always evident "la garrigue" aromatics of thyme, sage, rosemary and other wild herbs from the high Languedoc clearly stood out.

The 1995 La Tour Vielle Puig Oriol from the very coastal vineyards of Collioure at the bottom of the Roussillion showed very complex fruit in a soft and jammy shell. Still showing bright fruit, the wine's black raspberry and plums, was revealing layers of chewy blueberry and cassis with a touch of cherry.

Last up was the 1999 Domaine d'Aupilhac Lou Masset Vin d'Pays. Basically a rival to Cotes du Rhone, the red bistro wine was out gunned by the tete du cuvee wines in the flight, but still revealed Sylvain Fadat's skill in winemaking.

Oh, and the food at Chef Rick's original location ... amazing. Some of the best Cajun and Creole inspired food to cross my lips in a long time. But what was so impressive from the tray passed appetizers to the main courses was how the heat was subdued enough, while the spice was there, thus not overpowering the wines. I'll keep Chef Rick's on my Santa Barbara County dining map here on out. This is one amazing restaurant, wine friendly and only $1-a-bottle corkage.

Andy Abramson

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