Tag Archives: Gamay

SANTA RITA HILLS AVA – BURGUNDY ON THE CENTRAL COAST

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.

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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

A WEEK IN THE OKANAGAN WINE COUNTRY – OVERVIEW

I just spent a week in the Okanagan Valley, in Kelowna and the areas surrounding the southern half of Lake Okanagan. The lake, a 90-mile long glacial lake, which, at the moment, is at a record high, creating some havoc in the area. I was there for a conference, but had four days to explore some of the wineries and restaurants that make this area so inviting. How many wineries? I was told 235, 250, even 285 by various people. The WineBC website says it’s 172 (LINK).

Wine - Okanagan wine-map

This was my third trip to the Okanagan since 2007, and the number of wineries has definitely multiplied. Another change from that time is the quality of the wines – there are some truly excellent wines being produced up and down the region. I made return visits to three wineries and two of them had improved their products greatly.

The Okanagan was initially home to white wines from Germany. Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are still prevalent, and used for ice wines and late harvest wines, which have precise definitions in Canada (LINK). There are also drier versions of these varietals being made today, echoing trends across the world.

The growing season has been lengthening here, as in other places. This means that red varietals are being grown across a wider area than in the past. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, and others are very common, joining Pinot Noir which has been widely cultivated for some time. Over the past decade, many wineries are producing excellent reds. As a rule, the wines are in the European style, more elegant than bold.

Delta Grand Kelowna
Downtown Kelowna – Delta Grand Hotel in foreground

Kelowna is a beautiful city of about 200,000 on the east side of Lake Okanagan. With a temperate climate and warm summers, the area attracts vacationers and there are many large homes along the lake. Good restaurants, wine bars, brewpubs, and more are readily available. A number of wineries, both urban and rural, have restaurants.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS

Cactus Club at Kelowna Yacht Club (LINK): A modern restaurant with two bars (patrons must be seated at the bar to be served, a BC law), a view of the lake and downtown, and a very attractive and well-trained wait staff (think little black dresses). I only went here three times during my stay because I moved across the lake to West Kelowna for the last three days. Great food, ranging from casual to fine dining on the same menu, a nice selection of wines by the glass, and a good bottle list as well. Standard pours are either 6oz or 9oz; generous! The prices are a bit expensive, but the exchange rate works in your favor if you are not Canadian (currently about 70% of US dollar).

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Pinot Gris at the Cactus Club

Oak + Cru, Delta Grand Hotel (LINK): A full-service restaurant and bar in the lobby of the hotel and extending out to a lakeside area. Also a wine tasting room featuring only Okanagan wines. I ate dinner there one night, had glasses of wine in the bar another, and did a tasting at the wine tasting room/wine cellar as well. Each experience was excellent – good food, good wines, a beautiful setting, and well-trained staff. If you want to taste a range of local wines without leaving town, this is the place. There are tastings each evening from 4 to 6 pm, each featuring a different area of the Okanagan region and different varietals, plus food pairings. The tasting room can be reserved for private dinners in the evenings for groups of six or more.

Volcanic Hills Winery/Blue Saffron Bistro (LINK): In West Kelowna, a winery and restaurant. The bistro is outdoors and offers a view of sloping vineyards, with the lake and mountains in the distance. I went for lunch and a tasting (separate days), and enjoyed both. The kitchen does a good job, and their 2016 Gamay/Pinot Noir rosé wine was an excellent pairing with my lunch salad. Volcanic Hills whites are their strength – especially their Gewürztraminer, Riesling, and Chardonnay. The Viognier was a bit thin and not to my taste. Reds were decent, but not outstanding.

In the next post, I’ll talk about the wineries I visited on this trip.

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Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

MY FAVORITE WINERIES & VINEYARDS: Broc Cellars Winery

Chris Brockway’s Broc Cellars Winery is an unusual entry into the California wine scene. Housed in a small, old warehouse in a derelict (but recovering) section of Berkeley just off the 580 Freeway, it reeks of outsider and startup, which it is.

As it says on the winery website:

We are a ‘low wattage’ winery in the sense that we have very little modern equipment. Grapes are pitchforked whole-cluster into the fermenters, fermentation is allowed to happen spontaneously, all wines are basket pressed, with little/no sulphur used in our wines until bottling. True asphalt winemaking, in an urban winery.

And from Eric Asimov in the NYTimes:

Mr. Brockway casts a wide net to find grapes, often from odd little patches of unexpected varieties. He gets grenache, grenache blanc and cabernet franc from Santa Barbara County, and picpoul, a Mediterranean white grape, from Paso Robles. He finds zinfandel from Sonoma, carignan from the Alexander Valley and nero d’Avola and counoise, one of the 13 grapes permitted in Châteauneuf, from Mendocino. He buys valdigué, a grape once confused with gamay in California, from two sites in Solano County, and genuine gamay from the Umpqua Valley in Oregon.

At harvest, grapes are picked in the cool of night, and then he drives them back to Berkeley in his flatbed truck. “I’m on the road so much, sometimes I feel more like a truck driver than a winemaker,” he said.

Oh, and they have been written about at least three times in the New York Times, including a feature column by Eric Asimov in March 2014. This in addition to lots of local and regional coverage drew me to stop at the tasting room during a recent visit to the Bay Area. I was joined by a friend who was also in the area for a visit.

The tasting room is part of a larger room that houses barrels, tanks and other equipment. There are other sections of the building and an outdoor area that included a few concrete wine tanks. The tasting room itself is nicely furnished and well laid out. The staff member there, Craig Willimas (Chris Brockway was not there that day), was very knowledgeable about wine and about the Broc products. He was also a raconteur, regaling us with stories about his life as a private chef and journeys to New Orleans that involved costumes from the San Francisco Opera Company.

Broc Winery - Carol Carnes
Carol Carnes at Broc Cellars Winery Tasting Room
Jim at Broc Winery
Jim Lockard at Broc Cellars Winery in Berkeley.

We tasted six wines that day. Broc sources fruit from the Central Valley of California up to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. They tend to produce uncommon varietals, with the exception of their flagship 2009 Philary Syrah, their most expensive wine at $75.

Our tasting included

  • the 2013 Vine Starr White, a 100% Grenache Blanc ($30)
  • the 2013 Cassia Grenache(s) – ($27), a rosé blend of Grenache Gris and Grenache Noir from Mendocino County CA
  • the 2013 Valdiguié Green Valley Solano County ($24) – Valdiguie is a French varietal also known in California as Napa Gamay or Gamay 15
  • the 2013 Umpqua Valley Gamay Noir ($24) from Oregon grapes
  • the 2013 Nero d’Avola Mendocino County ($30)
  • and the 2009 Philary Syrah ($75), which is not normally part of the tasting, but there was a bottle open, so . . .

I enjoyed all of the wines with the exception of a Mouvedre that was not on the tasting list. The Philary Syrah was rich and big, but I didn’t think it was in the $75 class. I purchased three bottles: the Valdiguié, the Gamay Noir, and the Nero D’Avola.

Today, Dorianne, a friend and I tasted the 2013 Cassia Grenache(s) rosé. After drinking a lot of rosé this summer, this wine is the best. Beautiful fruit on the nose, perfect blend of fruit and minerality on the tongue, with a smooth aftertaste. And only 12.5% alcohol. This may be the perfect summer wine. The conversation drifted to splitting a case.

Wine - Broc - Grenaches Rose
2013 Cassia Grenache(s) Rosé

If you are in the Bay Area, Broc Cellars Winery is worth a visit. If not, order some of their wines from their website.