Tag Archives: AVA


I recently spent a couple of days in the Santa Rita Hills (LINK to Prior Posts), located north of the city of Santa Barbara and west of the cities of Santa Ynez and Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County. The unique geography and geology of the Santa Rita Hills AVA (the mountains and valleys run west to east allowing cooling Pacific winds and moisture to come further inland), make this an excellent location for Burgundian grapes, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There is also a decent amount of Syrah grown here, along with a few other varietals in smaller lots.

Over two days, we visited five wineries and stopped at a sixth just to buy some wine. I am going to feature four, Ampelos, Foley, Hilliard-Bruce, and Pence Ranch.

Pence Ranch Vineyard & Winery (LINK): I visited here last year, when they were relatively new as a tasting room operation (LINK). At that time, I was told that their plan was to open the tasting room for regular hours in the future. When we stopped without an appointment, I was told that they were back to the appointment system, but there was availability. Jake, took us via a large golf cart to a part of the property where an outdoor tasting room area had been created. We had a very nice experience tasting the Pence wines, and then got a tour of the vineyard portion of the property. The Pence Ranch is relatively narrow and runs nearly two miles deep off Route 246 between Buellton and Lompoc. The front of the property is where the vineyards and wine tasting rooms are, the back is an equestrian center and a working cattle ranch. The winery is in Lompoc.

At Pence, you taste the Pinot Noirs before the Chardonnays, the former being elegant in style, the latter being more pronounced, if not the traditional butter-bomb California Chardonnay. Their wines are uniformly well-crafted and made to enjoy with food. This year, we also tasted a Gamay wine, which is young and crisp but very complex. I plan to take a bottle back to France to share with my friends used to drinking Beaujolais. So, make an appointment to visit, or order their wines from their website – you are not likely to find Pence Ranch Wines at your retailer.

Foley Estates Vineyard (LINK): Foley has been making great wine in the Santa Rita Hills for decades. Their tasting room is nicely appointed, next to the huge “barrel room” where special events can be held. Like all the SRH wineries with some history, Foley makes very good Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. They also make a very good Syrah. Their blended Chardonnays, Pinots, and the single vineyard versions of these varietals each have their own characteristics. We particularly liked the 2015 “T-Ranch” Chardonnay and the 2015 “T-Ranch Pinot Noir (there are also 2013 and 2014 Pinots available currently), but all were good. Foley is worth a visit when you are in Santa Barbara County. You can also order wines from their website.

Hilliard Bruce Vineyards (LINK): A smaller, boutique producer, Hilliard Bruce Vineyards occupies 101 acres (21 under cultivation) to the west of storied Clos Pepe Vineyard along Route 246. This was my first visit to Hilliard Bruce and you have to be impressed with the beautiful grounds, architecturally striking winery/tasting room building, and the vineyards of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. The wines do not disappoint. Four 2014 Pinots from their Earth, Sun, Moon, and Sky vineyards, each have nuances that separate them from the others, yet all are clearly in the same family. Spicy, peppery, soft and velvety Pinots will go well with food.

Photo Jan 04, 12 25 07 PMPhoto Jan 04, 12 26 55 PMPhoto Jan 04, 12 27 07 PM

The Chardonnay is also made to go with food, as the bottle we bought to have with our picnic lunch showed. Well-structured, with a hint of buttery mouthfeel, the 2014 Chardonnay is classic Santa Rita Hills in style and should drink well for several years. We did meet John Hilliard during our visit – he was most cordial and, like almost everyone in the wine industry, liked to talk about his wines and his property. Hilliard Bruce is open by appointment; their wines are available via their website.

Ampelos Cellars (LINK): Full disclosure – my wife has known Peter and Rebecca Work for a few decades, having worked with them years ago when they were all with Price-Waterhouse. But Dorianne was not with me on this visit, and Peter and Rebecca, sadly, were not at the tasting room in Lompoc’s Wine Ghetto when some friends and I visited recently. I have enjoyed their wines for years.

Ampelos uses biodynamic and organic farming practices (LINK) and produces a range of wines, some of which are atypical for the Santa Rita Hills AVA. These include their Viognier and Grenache (bottled as a single varietal and blended with Syrah for their Syrache red blend). Viognier and Rose of Syrah constitute the lighter end of their offerings; two Pinot Noirs in the mid-range; and Grenache, Syrah, and Syrache at the heavier end. Of course, none of these wines are really big wines like you would find in Napa Valley or Paso Robles these days. Ampelos focuses on balance and elegance, putting them well within the Santa Rita Hills style in this regard. The vineyard is down the 246 a way; the winery is also in Lompoc. Wines are available for order at the website, and you will find them at better wine shops here and there.

I also stopped at Ken Brown Wines in Buellton to buy some Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on our way out of the area. Brown is one of the pioneers of the AVA and produces some amazing wines in the Burgundian style. I frequently tell my friends in France about the Santa Rita Hills with their east-west mountains and valleys and their Burgundian style Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Now I will have a few to take back and share with them.

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard


Dorianne and I did our annual visit to California’s Central Coast Wine Regions this past week. In this post, I will cover the three wineries we visited in the Paso Robles area (LINK TO PRIOR POSTS ON PASO). In another post, I will cover two days in the Santa Rita Hills/Lompoc area.

As we always do, we joined two other couples at the Kon Tiki Inn in Pismo Beach (LINK), a beautifully preserved gem from the 1960’s (no online reservations). This gives us a based to roam from Paso Robles in the North to the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Ynez in the south. We usually cover three wineries per day, have wine and cheese at the Kon Tiki, then go to dinner in one of Pismo Beach’s good restaurants.

Ancient Peaks (LINK): Our drive up toward Paso Robles led us first to Ancient Peaks Winery Tasting Room in Santa Margarita. Ancient Peaks has the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles Eastern AVA, and the tasting room is just off the 101 Freeway. None of us had been there before; in fact, all three winery visits were firsts for just about all of us (two people had been to Sextant Winery before).

Ancient Peaks has a nicely arranged tasting room with plenty of space and areas to relax with a glass or two of their wines. There is even a café. We arrived just at the 11:00 am opening time. We tasted five wines – all were nicely crafted and well balanced. These are good wines. We tasted five of the ten wines listed for sale on the Ancient Peaks website. Dorianne and I purchased the 2015 White Label Chardonnay, the 2015 Zinfandel, and the 2014 Oyster Ridge Red Blend. I would say that Ancient Peaks represents what we have found in Paso Robles wines for the last three years – consistently well-crafted wines which are true to their fruit and terroir origins. The staff was professional, friendly, and generally well-informed. One kindly recommended that we visit Clos Solène (and called for the appointment) since we are now living in France – more about them in a bit.

Sextant Winery (LINK): Sextant is located between Templeton and Paso Robles on the west side of the 101 Freeway that divides the area. The vineyards are on rolling hills and the tasting room is elevated on one of these hills. Beautifully appointed, with the nautical theme that runs through all of Sextant’s products, the tasting room and member’s lounge are worth your time to visit. And, happily, the wines (LINK) are very good as well. We were able to taste from their regular and member’s tasting lists during our visit.

The wines are nicely balanced, made to go with food, and easy to drink. I did not have a negative comment about any of them. Of particular note was the 2015 Kamal Cabernet Sauvignon, a beautifully crafted wine with notes of dark fruit, green pepper, and a rich minerality. Definitely a hit. Sextant is worth a visit if you are in Paso Robles, and you can order their wines online. 

Clos Solène Winery (LINK): A gem of a small winery, Clos Solène is also on Paso Robles’ West Side, nestled among low hills. Guillaume and Solène Fabre (LINK) are a French couple who grow grapes and make wine here – in the French style. Guillaume stopped by during our tasting for a chat. Production is under 2000 cases total, so these are all limited production (and expensive) wines. We tasted on the outdoor patio (a rare rainfall had just stopped) from their tasting menu (LINK).

The entire list consists of excellent wines. Of particular note is the 2016 Homage Blanc blend of 75% Roussanne and 25% Viognier; the 2015 Harmonie red blend of 56% Grenache, 30% Mouvedre, and 14% Syrah; and the 2015 Homage a nos Pairs red blend of 95% Syrah, 3% Grenache, and 2% Viognier. As the French would say, these wines are Tres Cher (very costly), but they are beautiful wines – as good as anything I have tasted in Paso Robles. Clos Solène Winery is open by appointment.

Paso Robles never fails to please those in search of new and unique wine experiences – and, increasingly, those in search of excellent wines!

Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard


I was invited to an industry-only tasting in London yesterday. Titled “Artisans of Australian Wines,” it featured 43 labels being introduced by 15 British distributors. Held during the day at Cargo, a trendy nightclub in the Shoreditch area of London, the event was both fun and very interesting.

I had heard of exactly none of the 43 labels before the tasting. Indeed, most are smaller producers who do not export to the U.S., and who are just trying to break into the British market. I spent about 3 hours exploring, tasting, speaking to the people pouring (sometimes someone from the winery/vineyard, but most frequently someone from one of the distributors). I did not taste everything (there were at least 200 wines), not even close. But I will give you my impressions of what I did taste and who I did meet. And I will list all of the labels at the end of the blog post, in case you happen across any of them.

General impressions: there were some very nice wines here; in fact, most were very good or better. That would make sense, as they had been vetted by the distributors. Australia has no restrictions on who can grow what grapes where, and no blending rules, like there are in France and Spain, therefore, there is a great variety of both the varietals grown and the blends that are produced. There were a couple of wines that did knock my socks off, but only a couple. That said, pretty much all of these wines could have a place in my cellar or on my table or both.

So with my apologies to those labels that I did not get to taste (mostly in that really crowded section in the front room), let’s see what I did taste.

Adelina and VineMind Wines: The winemaker, Col McBryde was here pouring wines from his two labels. He produces about 2,000 cases/year and has been exporting to the UK for 6 years. Of most interest to me are his Rieslings, one from each label – both nicely balanced with minimal residual sugar.

Yangarra Estate: Nicely polished, well-crafted wines from a producer owned by Jackson Family Wines of California. Winemaker Peter Fraser (Australian Winemaker of the Year for 2016), has crafted two wonderful McLaren Vale Grenache wines from single vineyards. The 2013 High Sands Grenache is of particular note.


Chalmers Wines: Kim Chalmers, daughter of the owner, was pouring the Chalmers Wines at the tasting. I tasted four of the ten Italian varietal wines (3 labels) on hand – a 2014 Vermentino, which was one of the best whites I tasted all day – smooth, velvety, with green fruit and a hint of minerality on the finishsimply excellent. The 2013 Fiano, a varietal I had not previously encountered, was like a younger sister to the Vermentino in character – which makes me think that the winemaker has a large influence on the wines. The red, I tasted, a 2015 Nero d’Avila, was well-structured but young – it needs some time. The 2016 Schioppettino, under the Chalmers Project label, was tannic and bold, with red fruit and a strong finish. Another varietal that is new to me.


Castagna Wines: The father and son team of Julian and Adam Castagna were presiding over their table with aplomb. Their Rhône-focused vineyard & winery deliver the goods. Their wines were consistently well made and nicely balanced. I tasted 8 of 9 wines available (choosing not to taste their Shiraz Vermouth). Standouts were the 2016 Rousanne, bottled a week ago, and already moving toward becoming a great white wine. The highlight, however, is their 2008 Sparkling Genesis Shiraz-Viognier, a dark red sparkler that delivers great taste and can be paired with just about anything, including meat. This is an amazing wine.

Bill Downie Wine: Apparently, Bill Downie is fairly well-known in Australia as a producer of small quantity, high quality wines. The lone representation of his work, sitting at the end of a table where about 5 other labels were being poured by distributor reps, would have been easy to overlook – in fact, I did on my first pass. Only after reading about it in the catalog did I return to try the 2015 Riverland Biodynamic Petit Verdot. This was my favorite wine of the day. I liked everything about it – the nose was beautifully balanced, inviting you to taste, the mouthfeel was like velvet, with red and black fruit, some leathery tones, and a smoothness that carried into the finish. If I could have purchased a case, I would have. Be on the lookout for this wine.


L.A.S. Vino: Aside from good marketing and design (something that was in abundance here – no doubt a reflection of the assistance that a good distributor can provide) this winery makes some good wine. I only tasted the 2013 ‘Portuguese Pirate’ Margaret River Blend made with Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao, and Souzao grapes. I cannot honestly attest as to whether this blend is on a par in style or quality to a similar blend in Portugal, but I can say that this wine is of very high quality and would be an excellent companion to a leg of lamb, a steak, or a good cigar. Think smooth, a bit jammy (but not too much), and rich in black fruit. Very nice.


Vinteloper Wines: This Adelaide Hills winery is operated by winemaker David Bowley, who was present and pouring. I tasted three of his excellent wines, two Pinot Noirs – which were nicely crafted and very good, especially his 2012 OPN Lenswood Pinot Noir, a single vineyard beauty. We had a good discussion about Pinot Noir, and I told him about some of the great Burgundian style wines coming out of the Santa Rita Hills AVA in  California.

Bowley’s other wine, the 2015 ‘Urban Winery Project #3’ Shiraz/Malbec comes with a story. This nice table wine is the result of a project that Bowley undertakes every year at harvest time. He moves parts of his winemaking operation to a city and, for one month, opens the operation to the locals, who can do everything from stomping grapes to blending wines. It is a great marketing idea – and a great way to invite people into the winemaking process. Kudos to David Bowley.

Sami Odi Wines: Two wines from this small producer were available for tasting – both are a bit unusual in packaging and presentation. The distributor rep, a very nice young woman, spoke so fast that I did not get a lot of information from her (my issue, being an American – she was speaking The King’s English after all). But the wines were very good – a ‘Little Wine #5’ Syrah and a 2014 Syrah ‘XIV’. The former comes from a vineyard with vines planted in different years. Both bring out the best aspects of Syrah.

Chaffey Bros Wines: Producing in the Barossa and Eden Valleys, Chaffey Bros make a number of wines. I would say that their strength is in their whites. I tasted 5 of 7 wines available. Their Rieslings were very good, the best being a 2015 Tripelpunkt Riesling, with fruit from three vineyards – dry with a hint of sweetness, floral notes, and smooth finish – what I like to see in a Riesling. Of interest is a true field blend, called 2015 ‘Düfte Punkt’ with Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Weißer Herold (Kerner). The field blend was nicely balanced – not a great wine, but of interest because of the willingness to experiment.

S.C. Pannell/The Other Wine Co.: Side-by-side on the tasting table, these wineries bring good tasting wines at value price-points. I tasted the 2014 S.C Pannell Adelaide Hills Syrah (McLaren Vale)  – very rich, even for a Syrah, almost jammy; but nice red and black fruit notes with chocolate and slate later on. Long finish. I tasted the 2015 The Other Wine Co. Adelaide Hills Pinot Gris (before the Syrah) – a decent table wine with notes of lemon grass and pear.

Again, I did not taste them all – my bad – but suffice to say that there were a range of good quality wines on display. Aside from a growing tendency to call Syrah by its original name, instead of Shiraz, the most remarkable thing about this group was the winesgood quality and individual character. The UK wine market will be looking up thanks to these Aussie newcomers.

As promised, a list of all of the producers present:

Lethbridge Wines      Deviation Road           Adelina         VineMind           Yangarra Estate     Mac Forbes          Chalmers     Gembrook Hill     Teusner        Eden Road        Ruggabellus   Eperosa        Strenua        Ochota Barrels       Jamseed Wines        Luke Lambert Wines           Timo Mayer        Delinquente Wine Co.      Si Vintners       Patrick Sullivan Wines           Xavier          Gentle Folk Wines           Castagna      Jauma        Bill Downie      La Línea           L.A.S. Vino              S.C. Pannell         The Other Wine Co.         Chaffey Bros                     Bellwether          Vinteloper           Bremerton Wines   The Pawn Wine Co.     smallfry        BK Wines Massena           Sami Odi           Byrne             CRFT            David Franz                     La Violetta           Ministry of Clouds

You may be seeing some of these labels in your area soon.

Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard


Yesterday, several of us went to the Applegate Valley AVA area in southern Oregon to taste some wines. This area, just to the west of Ashland, is in the foothills of the Coastal Range near the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. Beautiful country, a growing number of  wineries in the area , but you travel a bit of a distance to get from winery to winery.

The AVA does not have a signature varietal. There are a number of micro-climates present, soil variations, and annual rainfall amounts vary from around 20 to 40 inches in different parts of the AVA. So you have Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Spanish Tempranillo, Rhône Syrah, Rousanne and Marsanne, plus Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and others.

We wanted to taste some of the best of the area, so our local friends took us to Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden (LINK) and to Red Lily Winery both off of Route 238 southwest of the quaint town of Jacksonville.

Cowhorn represents a number of good things about growing and making wine. First of all, the quality of the wines is simply superb. Producing a total of 2300 cases of Rhône varietals – Grenanche, Mouvedre, Syrah, ViognierRousanne and Marsanne, the owners and winemakersBill and Barbara Steele, use state-of-the-art biodynamic techniques. The wines that we tasted (and we didn’t even get to taste the reserve wines, which are spoken for by the wine club – hint) were beautifully crafted, balanced, and tasted much like wines we have had in the Rhône Valley. Their wines consistently score in the low to mid 90’s from such reviewers as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker.

The 2012 Syrah was beautifully crafted and needs a couple more years in the bottle to reach it’s peak. The whites – a Spiral 36 Blend of ViognierRousanne and Marsanne  is delicious and a bargain. The 100% Viognier was a revelation – a beautiful mouth feel with apple, pear, and other green fruit, some minerality, and a very smooth finish. The Marsanne/Rousanne 50/50 was also quite good – all of the whites could have been from top Rhône Valley producers. We did take some of these home with us.

2016-03-11 13.37.55
Some of Cowhorn’s Wines
2016-03-11 14.09.03
Jim & Bill Steele

Second, they are operating a highly eco-sensitive and sustainable operation. Under construction is a new tasting room that is being built to the exacting standards of  the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) (LINK), meaning that the building will add as much as it takes from the environment at every step of the building and operating process. While we were there, a beautiful table made from recovered wood and custom-designed for wine tasting by Barbara Steele, was delivered and set up. Here are a few photos.

If you can get your hands on some Cowhorn wines, do it.

Our next stop, after getting a bit lost on the scenic back roads of the area, was Red Lily Vineyards (LINK), a beautiful property along the roaring Applegate River. Here, Tempranillo is king. Les and Rachel Martin own and operate the vineyard and winery. The tasting room building is beautifully designed and contains facilities for special events. They also have a kitchen that produces some very good food. We had lunch here, accompanied by some of the Red Lily Wines.

2016-03-11 15.01.28
Red Lilly Tasting Room

The wines that we tasted were primarily Tempranillo, some mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon. The 100% 2012 Tempranillo in the tasting was the best of that group. I had a glass of a 2006 100% Tempranillo that showed how well these wines age. Great tannin structure, well balanced between dark red fruit and minerality. A beautiful wine (and, at $51, the most expensive). They also sell some wines made in Spain to compliment the Spanish varietals grown here.

The wine tastings are available poured into test tubes and put in a rack that you can pour yourself when you are ready. There are tasting notes for each wine. You can also have the friendly and knowledgeable tasting room staff pour each taste for you. The Red Lily wines are very well crafted, not up to the level of the Cowhorn, which would be exceptional in any AVA or appellation, but very drinkable and reasonably priced.

Both of these wineries were a joy to visit, with the usual great people that one tends to meet in the wine industry. If you are visiting southern Oregon soon, make it a point to check these two out.

We will be doing some more exploration on this visit – so watch this space.


Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard