Vol. 3 No. 9 – a few of TB’s favorite Central Coast wineries

Here is an interesting problem. Friends are going to visit the Central Coast as I said in the last blog. They are flying in to different airports (LAX, San Jose, San Luis Obispo) and meeting in Paso Robles. Here are the distances and driving times (normal) between various cities and Paso Robles, the geographical center of the Central Coast:

From the north: Paso Robles from SFO 194 miles 3-1/4 hrs; from San Jose 160 mi, 2-1/2 hrs; from Santa Cruz 137 mi, 2-1/4 hrs – note these times are VERY variable!

From the south: Paso Robles from LAX 210 mi, 4 hrs (not in peak traffic!!!); from Ojai 158 mi, 2-3/4 hrs; from Santa Barbara 126 mi, 2 hrs; Los Olivos 91 mi, 1-1/2 hrs; Los Alamos 80 mi, 1-1/4 hrs; Santa Maria 64 mi, 1 hr.

Using this guide you can figure the distance between any two points along the route, to aid in calculating time to various wineries. Hope you find it helpful.

Santa Barbara is really the southern end of the Central Coast (unless you count Malibu Winery, and Moraga Winery, which TB doesn’t). It is really here for people who want to see more than the most visited towns.  The term here refers to Santa Barbara County which extends all the way to San Luis Obispo. Ojai Vineyard, Adam Tolmach is the most significant in the Southern region. Adam apprenticed under Ken Brown at Zaca Mesa, the first winery in Santa Barbara County (still alive and well in Ojai) along with Bob Lindquist, Jim Clendenon, and Lane Tanner among others. All of them are among the most influential winemakers in California. After leaving ZM, Adam and Jim were partners briefly before going their separate ways. Note that Zaca Mesa is still making incredibly good wines…but pricier these days.

Lindquist started Qupé winery, a Chumash indian word meaning ‘poppy’ and is a Rhone Ranger (more on this in Paso section), and teamed up with burgundian style winemaker, Jim Clendenon with a joint winery Au Bon Climat (or simply ABC). Jim is first and foremost interested in making wines of the quality found in Burgundy. While Bob started Qupé which he sold in 2013, but Bob continues as winemaker as well a producing Lindquist Family Cellars, Sawyer Lindquist wines, and some beautiful Spanish style wines under the Verdad Label (verdad means truth). His wines are all certified biodynamic.

The websites tell where their tasting rooms are, Jim’s in Santa Barbara, Bob’s in Santa Maria, but if you are going to be there on Saturday, October 14th the winery will be open from 11am to 3pm and you can taste all of their wines. At $20 it is a steal. Why? Because unless you are in the trade the winery is not open to the public at any other time during the year.

Earlier I mentioned Lane Tanner, who once made great pinots under her name, but the movie Sideways drove the price of pinot noir grapes to the moon, Alice…the moon, and on her smaller scale she could not compete. Have no fear, Lane has returned, teaming up with Will Henry of the Henry Wine Group which was sold last year and has turned “garagiste” but still making her acclaimed Pinot’s in Santa Maria, and other fine wines under the Lumen label. You can taste her wines in nearby Los Alamos at Pico, a wine bar serving tapas  (small plates) and featuring wine pairings dinners. Highly recommended!

Other wineries in the area are CambriaBaileyana  where winemaker Christian Roguenant came to after being brought over from France for the Deutz winery specializing in sparkling wines a and now called Laetitia, Alban (although it is unlikely you can visit them but they make superb Rhone style wines), Rancho Sisquoc, which is a fun small winery to visit on Foxen Canyon Road near Cambria and ABC. There is also Sanford & Benedict, and several more.

Moving north to San Luis Obispo is where we always stay in a beautiful French B&B, formerly a motel, called Petit Soleil. I can’t say enough about this wonderful place with warm owners and employees…better than France…with rooms in various French motifs, and the best wine tasting hour of anyplace we have ever found, and that is only topped off by their breakfasts. It is at the north end of SLO so you are very close to Paso Robles. Very close, if you need a lot of rooms is the Apple Farm, which began in 1924 and is the first motel in America…it has been remodeled but has been in continuous service since and it is at the extreme north end of town just before you go up the Cuesta Grade to Paso.

Santa Maria is the home of Santa Maria Barbecue…you must have it…a tri-tip grilled to perfection! San Luis Obispo has some wonderful restaurants both downtown by the beach and by Morro Bay. No need to go hungry here…whatsoever!

Finally, we are at Paso Robles and our primary destination. The choices are many and it is pretty much divided between west of town and east of town wineries. The first one I want to talk about is Eberle. Why? Because Gary Eberle was the original Rhone ranger, who first planted syrah there and with the exception of Joseph Phelps the first in California. He began at his family’s Estrella River Winery (now part of the Bronco Wines Group which makes Two Buck Chuck, aka Charles Shaw), then started his own winery. He makes Viognier, Syrah, Syrah Rosé, Côtes du Rôbles, as well as fine Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. He is often overlooked but he provided the ‘canes’ for Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Bob Lindquist among others. Both Randall and Bob credited Kermit Lynch with convincing them that there were some great Rhone wines and from that they embarked on their Rhone Ranger adventure.

Jumping to the other end of the spectrum is Tablas Creek, jointly-owned by Californian Robert Haas and the Perrin family which makes the great Chateau du Beaucastel (the highest rank of Chateauneuf-du-Pape). Had it not been for the Rhone Rangers (Graham was the first to be labeled that by Wine Spectator, but he acknowledges Eberle as preceding him). Tablas Creek makes all the other Rhone varietals too including mouvèdre, grenache, grenache blanc, rousanne, marsanne. There flagship wine used to be Esprit de Beaucastel but switched the name to Esprit de Tablas, perhaps to avoid confusion? The only other winemakers I know in the region that does this many is Bob Lindquist and Randall Graham…these are great wines to enjoy. Note that October 20-22 is Paso Robles Harvest Weekend…Tablas Creek among others has a great event.

Other top wines in the area are Justin, which was started in 1981 and has since been sold to the Fiji water company (I kid you not) and recently made news for removing a large number of trees without a permit…they apologized for the omission…yeah, right.  There is a tasting room in Paso for Turley Wine Cellars named after acclaimed winemaker, Helen Turley. Her zins are single vineyard and come from Napa as well as Paso Robles (her brother may now be running the winery). They are distinct and either you love them or don’t see them as zinfandel…Rather than name the rest of the wineries, here is a link to a downloadable map. Also, here is a list of Paso Robles wineries by varietal if you have a special interest…very useful!

A friend who lives there took me to Linne Calodo winery which is a favorite of the locals in adjoining Templeton. This is the type of place you might miss but is adored by the locals.

Heading north from Paso are thousands of acres of grapes on both sides of Highway 101. They are pretty flat and personally not of much interest to TB, but when you get to Santa Cruz, things change. First is the aforementioned Bonny Doon with a winery in the town of that name but the tasting room is about 10 miles north of downtown Santa Cruz in Davenport on Route 1…again, highly recommended, especially if Randall happens to be there – don’t worry he is very friendly and approachable…his life revolves around his wine.

Higher in the Santa Cruz mountains are a few more wineries, most notably Ridge, which also is located in Healdsburg on the mountain adjoining Dry Creek Valley, but it is here that their acclaimed and long-lived Montebello, and especially coveted Lytton Springs, are produced. Lytton Springs has one of the longest lives of any wine made in America.

I enjoyed the trip down memory lane and hope you find it useful…I think I’ll go have a glass of wine now!

What kind of wine does a wine geek choose for a special occasion? In this case, it was our 48th anniversary, so I built the dinner around the wine. A million years ago when my son-in-law, then a chef, and I toured Tuscany and Piemonte, we had the best steak I ever had in Europe: a Florentine steak. Most beef there is rather tough and lacking in flavor, but if you baste a nice thick top sirloin or similar with aged (in this case 20 year old) Balsamico,a little salt and pepper and some rosemary and a few other herbs, then grill it perfection…to us that is between rare and medium rare, it is exceptional! Rummaging through my cellar I stumbled across a 2007 (not a typo) Chianti Classico, not even a reserva from Felsina, the first Chianti ever on the Top 100 Wines of the World by Wine Spectator and consistently on that list. We visited Felsina and another favorite Volpaia (which is at the opposite end of Tuscany in a medieval town of that name, and when they built the winery the owners put all the utilities underground, hence no wires, and no cars on the streets in this little hillside town. They have four apartments you can rent for a minimum one-week stay. We were allowed to stay for one night -secluded and fantastic.

How was it? Incredible…we both loved it: it was fresh, no signs of aging. The next night I poured two glasses of the remainder which I accidentally left out overnight with using my Vacuvin and handed one to my wife and asked how she liked it. She loved it…said it was even better than the one the previous night. Oh really??? It was the same wine, and yes, it had improved…amazing for a 10 year old Chianti! That is the holy grail: storing a wine for long period…in a passive wine cellar I might add…and then being blown away by its charm and complexity.

Ciao bella,

TB

©Copyright 2017 by traderbillonwine.com

 

 

Advertisements

Vol. 1 No. 22 …back home again from NYC/Canada roadtrip…

(Readers note: when I began this blog I had planned to post at least once every two weeks. I did not want to waste my, or my readers, time ‘just to get something out there’. The problem with that is people forget and come back and see no updates – the last was on 9/24 shortly before I left on the wine trip. IF you like the blog, please add your email to follow and you will be notified when there is an update. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time. Thank you, the management) 

…an incredible trip of 4,200 miles in 19 days…not as daunting as it sounds. Despite the fall colors, not that many tourists out there. Haven’t even tallied up the number of wineries I visited and was very impressed. Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara (mainly on Canadian side). DO NOT underestimate these wineries! Overall quality was very good and many were excellent!

Where to start…well…not where you might expect. Starting right here in Excelsior, MN, where we got home on Friday afternoon. I had two reasons for this: first, Total Wines here was having Gaia Gaja speaking on the Gaja wines – or so I thought. For $20 she spoke with a Q and A followed by a tasting of Gaja wines – some but not the very high end ones that cost more than $200. I then found out (and it made sense) this was a teleconference that could be viewed in any of their stores and having recently tasted the Gaja portfolio, I passed. Several years ago I visited the winery in Barbaresco, Piemonte, Italy. Some time later The Wine Club in San Francisco posted in their newsletter that she was interning at their store following one at Robert Mondavi. I went down and was privileged to meet a ‘cautious’ Gaia, who was charming and opened up once she realized I had been to the winery and met several of her friends in Barbaresco. As it turns out, she is now running the winery, having taken over from her father, Angelo. If I can connect with her again, it will be the subject of a later blog.

So, while that was a bust, the other reason I came back was for a tasting of Italian wines at The Wine Republic here in Excelsior, MN. Patti Berg and RJ Judalena (and their precious daughter, Orla), opened a specialty wine shop here a little over a year ago. Their niche is that they only carry wines that are either organic, sustainable, or biodynamic. Besides being environmentally friendly, these methods are growing in popularity…in California, mostly sustainable, and in Sonoma all wineries will be sustainable by 2020. I also saw on the trip of both sustainable and organic (only one certified organic), and one biodynamic which is also starting to catch on in California. Although it has been since sold, Justin winery in Paso Robles was doing it when they started.. Without getting technical (which I can’t because I don’t fully understand it), it involves planting by the phases of the moon and much more…think Farmers Almanac.

By carrying only these environmentally-friendly wines (along with some beers, ciders, and hard liquor that meet the criteria), it limits the number of wines so you don’t see a wall (which is what you will see at Total, Wine Club, or any large wine store), of confusing wines – some of which may have been standing for a year or more. Instead, you can browse or tell them what you like (isn’t that what TB has been trying to tell you here?), and they will show you their wines that might appeal to you.

But the other thing they do is host weekly tastings of wines they carry and sometimes very special tastings of wines. Cost of the regular tastings is $5 which can be applied to any purchase, while the special tastings cost $10 (so far at least) but due to the large number of wines tasted, can not be applied, but trust TB, they are worth it.

The first of these was France is for Lovers, featuring wines distributed by Berkeley, Ca. importer/distributor Kermit Lynch, who has done more than anyone to promote wines from the south of France which were previously obscure, and was the first to come up with the idea of temperature controlled shipping containers for all of his wines – especially important on the West Coast where they frequently travel through the Panama Canal. It took several years for another distributor to replicate this. He also is author of several wine books, the most enjoyable being Adventures Along the Wine Route, written more than 20 years ago and recently updated, which drove TB’s passion for wine. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, even for wine novices or those just interested in French travel. The tasting included 25 of his wines and provided the taster with the ability to try wines they might never have the nerve or inclination to buy. It was very festive an even featured a beret-donned accordion player to set the mood!

Saturday’s was Italian Opera and Wine, featuring 22 wines from FIVE different Minnesota distributors, The quality was high and the prices blew me away – TB marked 11 as having exceptional value (range $16 to $30). Especially notable were four alternative whites including a Soave (Tamellini) – a wine I wrote of long ago; a Ca Lojera LuganaTrebbiano which blew me away; 47 Anno Domini Pinot Grigio (also a Prosecco that was fabulous), with a beautiful floral nose that finished very dry, an amazing PG that I had never seen before. Lastly, a deliciously sweet but very clean 47 Anno Domini Moscato – yummy. If you haven’t ever had any Malvira wines you are in for a surprise. Their Brachetto D’acqui Birbet is a beautiful, succulent red that seduces you. Note that Malvira’s Roero Arneis Sargietto is highlighted in 1000 Wines to Taste Before You Die. If you haven’t ever tasted an Arneis you will be surprised by the wonderful flavors. TB first tasted it at Vietti in Piemonte, on a private tour by founder Alfredo Corrado, then in his 80’s and recently deceased. Roero means wild and Arneis is the river that flows through Piedmont stretching past Asti and Alba. He was the Robert Mondavi of the Piedmont region, an unbelievably wonderful man. Caution: never buy an old Arneis…the one cited in the book was a 2004. They should be drunk young and not exposed to heat. Two of the reps/pourers (Marcus and Dustin) as well as a young lady sang opera spaced throughout the tasting adding to the experience.

Kudos to Patti and RJ for both of these events and there will no doubt be more to follow.

Okay, back to work on sorting out the trip. Several of the posts will be up over the next week or so. Hope you enjoyed this one. Au revoir, ciao, adios, friends. If you enjoy the site simply add your email – you can cancel it at any time.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.