Tag Archives: Organic

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

LIVING THE LIFE IN PROVENCE AND A VISIT TO TAVEL – THE BEST ROSÉ

I haven’t posted in a while, because Dorianne and I have been focusing on some writing projects and dining in our apartment for the most part. We are sill in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, the picturesque village across the Rhône River from Avignon in northern Provence.

This weekend, we were invited by our friend Richard Major, who lives in Mazan in the Ventoux region, to a party being hosted by an ex-pat American couple celebrating one year of living in France. There would be ex-pats from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and other nations, plus a few French neighbors. So, of course, we were interested in attending. I won’t use any names here, because I did not get permission to do so. Here is the sunset from the home.

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The home was located in the hills above Bédoin, a picturesque (they are ALL picturesque) village near the base of Mont Ventoux. The couple, from California, and their two children seemed very happy with their choice to move to Provence. We also spoke with a number of other ex-pats and a couple visiting from the U.S., also from California, who own a home nearby, but still live in the States.

The dinner was pot-luck, and there was a good bit of local wine. The Ventoux Region (LINK) is known for Grenache, Syrah and Mouvèdre, with  Cinsault and Carignan – the usual Rhône Valley suspects. In the Ventoux A.O.P., no varietal can be more than 30% of the blend. Here are some images of some of the wines served at the party.

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Suffice to say, Dorianne and I were impressed by the lifestyle and the conviviality of the English-speaking ex-pats in this part of Provence. It gave us more food for thought about our future home base.

After an overnight at Richard’s in Mazan, we headed for a day in Tavel, the only A.O.P. in France where only rosè wines are allowed; and then over to Châteauneuf-du-Pape for lunch and a visit to Les Caves St Charles, which will be detailed in a separate post.

It was a very special day. If you stay off of the highways, this part of France is a treat for the senses – beautiful panoramas of low hills, valleys, fields of grapes and olive trees, rustic farmhouses – simply beautiful. We traveled down one-lane roads through vineyards and tiny villages, smelled the aromas in the air, and heard almost nothing – silence. It was a very peaceful way to travel.

Tavel (LINK) is located on the right bank of the Rhône River, bordering the Lirac A.O.P., and very close to Avignon. First, let’s look at A.O.C. and A.O.P.

The French government, not too long ago, officially announced that the long standing A.O.C. (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) system for wine is being replace by an new quality ladder with the top step being an A.O.P. (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) (LINK). So, since about 2009, the correct designation is A.O.P.  – – That’s just F.Y.I.

We chose Château de Manissy (LINK) in the  Tavel A.O.P. from a list online. We are very glad that we did. Owned by the Holy Family’s Missionaries, it has produced rosè wines since the beginning of the 20th century and acquired a famous reputation with the “Tête de Cuvée” wine, a barrel-aged rosé. The monks turned over the viticulture and wine-making to a young many from TavelFlorian André, who was in his early 20’s at the time. Monsieur André has continued some of the traditions of the monks, and oversaw the conversion to an organic winery in 2009. He has also modernized some of the techniques, while keeping that barrel-aged rosé in production. By the way, the monks still live in the Château.

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We arrived a bit early for our 2:00 pm appointment, so we wandered the grounds a bit before being met by Anaïs, the Tasting Room Manager. She took us out to the vineyards and we discussed the viticulture of the region. It turned out that her English was so good because she spent a year (2013) working at Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles, known for their Rhône varietals and techniques. As it happened, Dorianne and  I were in the Tablas Creek wine club in 2013. Anaïs told us that her father is the winemaker at Famille Perrin/Perrin & Fils in Tavel, and they partner with Tablas Creek in a number of ventures. Small world.

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Anaïs – Tasting Room Manager.
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Manissy’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape – from a Single Hectare Vineyard. 100% Grenache.

It also turned out that our guide on a previous tour (LINK) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and GigondasValentina of MistralTour.fr, used to work at Château de Manissy. Smaller world.

We did a tasting and then toured the wine-making operation.

First, we tasted a white from another area of vineyards and a Côtes du Rhône – Rosé of Grenache 40% – Carignan 40% – Cinsault 10% – Syrah 10%. This wine, not from 100% Tavel fruit, was closer to the rosé wines of the larger Provencal region. It was lighter and crisper than the wines to follow. They also make some other wines from vineyards outside of Tavel, all were good and very reasonably priced, but they are not why you want to visit Château de Manissy, or the wines you want to try.

The rosé wines of Château de Manissy, and of Tavel in general, are unlike other rosé wines from Provence. They tend to have a deeper pink to red color and be bolder. This is true of the 2013 Tavel Rosé that we tasted, a blending of principally Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault and Bourboulenc, from about 40 years old vines. This is a bolder, more structured rosé with a sense of terroir, unusual in a rosé. There is also a nice balance of fruit – this wine manages to be refreshing and structured enough to pair with chicken or other fowl. This wine is a good representative of the moden Tavel A.O.P. rosés.

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Then, we had the unique 2013 Tête de Cuvée, the barrel-aged rosé that is the last vestige of the monks’ style of wine making. This is a unique rosé in almost every respect. It is aged in small oak barrels, bottled in brown glass like a red wine, it pairs with beef and other meats, it is made to age for decades, and it is made to consume year-round. It is a blending of Grenache, Clairette, Cinsault, Bourboulenc and Carignan. It is mentioned but not listed for sale on their website, and there is very little information about this wine on the internet that I could find. This would be a wonderful wine for Thanksgiving Dinner, strong enough to stand up to turkey and gravy and such, but supple enough to match pretty well with all the other appetizers and side dishes that show up at that feast that is so hard to find good wine parings for. We have two bottles that will travel home with us for this purpose. Oh, and the 2013 Tête de Cuvée was priced at 11€ or about $12.00 – one of their more expensive wines!

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Tête de Cuvée Rosés Gone Back to 1977

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It is also worth noting that Anaïs told us that we were the very first visitors in 2015 from the United States. I found this surprising, but then again, Tavel is not well known in the U.S. If you are looking for rosés for the remainder of the summer and into the cooler days of autumn – see if your wine retailer has wines from Tavel – you won’t be disappointed.

I will post about the other part of our day – a return to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, in the next post.

Photos and text Copyright Jim Lockard 2015.