Andy Abramson's Road Reports -

Road Reports, Vol 2003: Santa Barbara County "Celebration of Harvest"
© Andy Abramson
Oct. 12, 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.

See also Andy's Road Report on "Santa Barbara's Young Guns"
They come from near and far, driving Hummers, SUVs, luxury cars, family cars and trucks. Some come in limousines while others take the busses to get there. It's the annual Santa Barbara County Harvest Celebration, and for wine lovers near and far who make the trek each year to the Rancho Sisquoc Winery's pastoral grounds they get to listen to a day long musical backdrop, all the while tasting the wines they covet and to learn about new wines that next year will be getting the scores that put the wines into the stratosphere.

Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat was there holding court as only he can, showing off his wife's Cold Heaven Viognier and pouring his best wines for those who ask. So was Doug Margerum of Santa Barbara's famed Wine Cask Restaurant and Wine Shop, who now makes his own wines after years of learning from Clendenen under the Margerum Wine Company label.

Strolling by was Ethan Lindquist, son of long time Clendenen running mate Bob Lindquist. He was walking around, not showing his wines, for they come from Arroyo Grande, from just outside the Santa Barbara region's boundary line. Long time favorite Daniel Gehrs, one of the veterans, who for years has been making some of the most underrated, but highly regarded, wines was leading his table. Wineries like Barnwood that are little-known far and wide but make wines that impress. The folks from Clos Pepe were pouring their own wines, from the same source that Brian Loring of Loring Wine Company gets his top-of-the-line grapes. So was Andrew Murray and Whitcraft's Chris Scott, the veterans who have just started to get acclaim outside their region. So too were Beckmen, Melville and Jaffurs, all showing how well their wines are - after years of local status - now achieving international fame.

The team from Carina Cellars, an up-and-coming winery making three Syrahs and a Viognier, were there too. So was Flying Goat Cellars, a 300-case Pinot Noir producer. Newcomers like Summerland Winery, from the area just south of Montecito making them the farthest south representative poured an array of new wines. Debuts were made as TAZ from up in Santa Maria was out in force with its very high styled label and subliminally good wines.

Growers turned winemakers were showing off their efforts. Mt. Carmel, Bien Nacido, Stolpman and Vogelzang Vineyard, for while the crop may be smaller this year, all have said the wines are more concentrated. While last year, 2002, made for more grapes and more wine the growers know that a bad year - small yield, bad fruit - can mean ruination, so many have looked to bolster their fortunes by making their own wines.

But the 1,000 or so guests came for the wine. The pours were generous, well worth the $50 entry fee. No one short-poured, and seconds were always offered.

Some highlights included the 2002 Margerum "M5". Made from a blend of five Rhone grapes - Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsaut and Cournoise and sourced from all the top Santa Ynez Valley vineyards - the wine is what Margerum calls "an amalgamation" of the wines he's tasted from the Rhone Valley for the past 30 years. The same can be said about his refreshing 2002 Sauvignon Blanc. Very crisp, light and delicate, the wine is not Loire in style, but possibly better. Layers of herbs and racy acidity, this is a wine to enjoy with buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad.

Whitcraft Winery's 2000 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir Auction Q bottling was a smash, so too was their very enticing 2000 French Camp Lagrein, an Italian grape not normally seen in these parts. Newcomers Flying Goat Cellars Pinot Noir 2001 Dierberg Vineyard unveiled a stunning, well priced wine loaded with black cherry, creamy blueberries and always nice cinnamon spice while having great notes of cocoa and vanilla from the barrel aging. Their 2002 Rancho Santa Rosa Pinot Noir was even more alluring. Made from grapes that come from the Santa Rita Hills near Lompoc, the part-Gamay, part-Dijon clone Pinot Noir offers up flavors and aromas of smoke, cranberry and blueberry fruit. Long on the attack and even longer on the finish this is a wine that is best laid down.

Carina Cellars, led by former Babcock second in command in the cellar Joey Tensley, showed three Syrahs including a new 2002 Colson Canyon Syrah made from 7 percent Viognier in a true Cote-Rotie style. Clos Pepe's 2001 Estate Pinot Noir "Vigneron Select" was a charmer; so too was the Barnwood Trio, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This is an ideal wine to serve with Santa Maria BBQ Tri-Tip, a favorite dish in the Central Coast.

Sure, there were more wines tasted, spit and swallowed, but the experience is now only a memory, and it's months before the Spring release fete held in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley…but until then many a mailing will go out for every winery did the smart thing, they collected names, addresses and the all important e-mail address. They want their fans to know when their new favorite wine is on offer ... and that's the fun part ... waiting for those great new finds to arrive at your doorstep, months after celebrating the harvest.

Andy Abramson

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