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

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Vol 3 No 2 – A tale of three states

Hello, wine amigos and amigas! I am back in two ways:

  1. Returned nearly two weeks ago from a 3-1/2 week trip to California, Oregon, and Washington, tasting wine but mainly conducting interviews for my book project on passion of winemakers. Each state will have a blog, perhaps two for the big state, although Washington was about…well, you know…coffee! More on that later.
  2. The night before flying home from Portland I developed a monster head cold (note not an assistant cold but THE HEAD cold. Still shaking it but finally able to think and write at the same time (some of you my disagree on this point).

It was a trip to remember, including trips to new wineries, and visits with old friends, both personal and people I have grown to respect in the world of wines over the past 48 years!

On February 7th, I flew to the OC to visit our oldest friends, and originally we were just going to travel to the Central Coast and the Bay Area, but then…they made a surprising offer: would we care (my wife was not with me due to a change in plans as she was visiting a dear friend who was ill in the Bay Area), to drive their new Volvo XC90 to Seattle where we could visit their daughter and son-in-law and our goddaughter, and then drive back to Portland with them and they would drive home along the Oregon Coast. It took us less than thirty seconds to absorb the idea and then said, “yeah, sure, if you say so.”

Two days later I headed up to Santa Maria where I visited my old friends Jim Clendenon and Bob Lindquist of Au Bon Climat and Qupé (pronounced ABC and Q-pay respectively), not to mention their own family wines.

Know what I hate about L.A.? The traffic. It would have been no issue had my wife, Mb, been with me but alone meant no HOV lane. Soooo…leaving at 7:30am for a noon lunch at the combined wineries, it took me two hours to get to Sepulveda Pass (by the Getty Museum), a total distance of 30 miles…i.e. 15 miles an hour!!! I then however, was able to drive the limit…or a little above and arrived at the winery at 12:02, just as the staff was sitting down to lunch as they do every day.

Jim and Bob assumed their places at opposite sides of the center of the table fashioned from a vertically cut redwood trunk, with me seated next to Bob and facing an imposing row of eight (8) bottles of their wine…or was it 10? Dunno. The cardinal rule is this: everyone has to try each of the wines…and god forbid you lose your place or you have to start all over again (in fairness this is not a drunken bacchanalia as they give you a cup so you can taste and then tastefully spit). Since I had more driving to do, that was a life saver! Just when I thought I had a chance at owning a winery! This was my second time at the winery for lunch but Jim and Bob were out of town at the closing of one of the East Bay’s most venerable restaurants, Baywolf, on my previous visit.

I have known the two friends for over thirty years, having been seated at Jim’s table at one of the first Central Coast Classic wine events showcasing the local wines. They were more or less unknowns at the time and everyone was dying to sit at Chalone’s table. Jim quickly won us over and began swapping wines with Bob and even with Chalone. We had the best table of the evening and friendships were born…not to mention a solid respect for Jim’s Burgundian style Pinot’s and Chardonnay’s. Rhone Ranger?

Make no mistake, these guys are dedicated to making European style wines with Bob being the Rhone Ranger of the two. In addition, to their two well-known labels, they also produce Sawyer Lindquist wines, Verdad, and Clendenon Family wines. What a tour de force!

After purchasing about a dozen of their fine wines, I drove to the nearby town of Los Alamos (not the one of nuclear fame), to meet with Will Henry, and two of our old Santa Maria friends, at a new and popular tasting site with small plates, Pico. Will is also a pioneer in canned wine, his is called Nuclear: that wouldn’t have to do with the Los Alamos name would it?

Readers will recall that Will is the scion of the Henry Wine Group, which was recently sold, and is partner with another old friend (when I say old I mean long time, not ancient), Lane Tanner, in Lumen Wines, noted for her Pinot Noir’s and Will poured us his Grenache Blanc, which we all enjoyed.

I spent the night in San Luis Obispo at Petit Soleil. THIS is the country inn you have looked for in France and likely never found. How French is it? They answer the phone, “Bonjour, Petit Soleil”. The wine and cheese offerings include three red and white wines, all decidedly French and very good which isn’t always the case at B&B’s, along with some very nice cheeses – French, of course! I invited my friends to join me and at first they were reluctant given the quality of wines you sometimes get at B&B’s. They were very good.

As for my room, it was deja vu all over again as Yogi Berra would say. We stayed here once before and walking into my room it was a total flashback. Beautifully appointed rooms of French motif and elegantly done. The only place we will ever stay in the area! The staff is friendly and fun and you can’t help but feel at home.

Later, we dined at the Oyster Loft, a new restaurant at the end of town in Pismo Beach, with beautiful views of the ocean. Another good find. Following a good night’s sleep and a wonderful breakfast included, I left for Santa Cruz and my meeting with Rhone Ranger, Randall Grahm…stay tuned.

TB

 

Vol. 1 No. 21…to the Central Coast and back… (updated 9/14)

(Updated to add places of interest)

…and since I have been back it has been to hell and back for TB.  Thought I had fully recovered from my ‘throatectomy’ but ended up with a severe infection that took everything out of me: unable to read, unable to write, unable to focus. Quite a trifecta that!

So here we go…a week ago today we were in one of our favorite places on earth, the Hotel del Coronado. It was our third visit there and while the cost has gone up over the past 20 plus years, so has the service. It is a world-class resort!

We were there for the marriage of our close friend’s daughter and the culmination of a trip that began ten days earlier. We flew into LAX arriving at 8:30am, got our car and headed north on the 405 – zipping along in the carpool lane, which was sparsely populated, while the rest of those silly Angelenos crawled in traffic (true Angelenos detest carpooling…loathe it!). We then got on the 101 headed towards Santa Maria where we had a luncheon engagement at Qupé/ABC vineyards and still managed to arrive at noon while the traffic going into L.A. was still bumper to bumper (what kind of hours do those people have?).

We were honored to have been invited to lunch at the winery as the location is not marked, only their two tasting rooms in Los Olivos and Santa Barbara (at the end of this column get a chance to see this remarkable working winery for an incredible experience with two of the finest winemakers not only in California, but globally (doubt this?  In the book, 1001 Wines to try before you die, one of EACH of their wines made the list: their Qupé Syrah, and the Au bon Climate Santa Maria Pinot Noir, both deservedly so!).

Assistant winemaker Marissa Beverly, took us on a tour of the barrel cellar where she ‘thieved’ some samples  for us and then we saw the must from the grapes that had been pressed, fermented, and were being moved into barrels to begin the long aging process.

Then we sat down at a beautiful table (actually two together which were beautiful panels made from tree trunks with Katie O’Hara who handled the arrangements for us, Jim Adelman, General Manager. In the center of the table were eight bottles of wine which we were instructed to try each one as part of the ‘deal’. The first was a Qupé Marsanne (75% Marsanne, 25% Rousanne), which we found incredible. Next came an ABC Bien Nacidos 2011 Chardonnay from the vineyard that adjoins the winery and is the most famous in the area. Next came two ABC Pinot’s a 2011 Santa Maria ‘La Bage Au-dessus , a Pinot lovers dream. Next came a bigger Pinot, the 2012 Isabelle which had incredible balance and flavor.

All of these wines went well with a spicy tilapia that at first looked like bruschetta since it had diced tomatoes on it, along with a spinach salad. We then had a Qupé 2012 Grenache, one of my favorite wines. About this time It occurred to me that I had missed the second Pinot, the ABC 2012 Isabelle which had incredible balance and flavor. For that mistake I was told I had to start at the beginning for my sin/omission. Once the laughter subsided they said they were joking.

Another Qupé followed…another of my ‘go to’ wines, the 2010 Syrah, also from Bien Nacido, and it did not disappoint.

Then came two wonderful surprises! Bob Lindquist and his wife make an incredible 2011 Tempranillo from the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard. Absolutely loved it.  The finale was from the Clendenon Family Vineyards, an unbelievable 2010 Petit Verdot from the Bien Nacido Estate. These last two were my favorites, but I ended up buying a mixed case to taste and distribute on the rest of the trip.

Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, I met with another old friend from the Central Coast Wine Tasting days, Lane Tanner, arguably ‘la grande dame’ of the Central Coast and the first person to have a winery that only produced Pinot Noir…mostly from Bien Nacido. I met Lane when I was representing Lamborn Family Vineyards at the tasting. She looked familiar and I asked if she was Heidi Barrett (winemaker, consultant and producer of the great Screaming Eagle cabs). Her answer shows how down to earth she is: “No, I’m Lane Tanner, I wish I was Heidi Barrett.” That statement spoke volumes about her. She gave up the winery and has a new project now, Lumen Wines, with Will Henry of the Henry Wines Family, who has returned to the Central Coast from New Zealand where he was a winemaker. They are now ‘garagistes’, a term that is well known in Europe and there are several  in the Central Coast region, that love and produce great wines in small quantities. Lane was very busy, as was Will but they gave me some of their precious time to fill me in on their operation.  While I didn’t get to try the Pinot Noir yet, there is a wine reviewer called the Pinot Report by the Prince of Pinot, that rates only Pinot Noirs, that gave Lane a 95 point rating on her 2013 Sierra Madre Vineyard Pinot, the highest he has ever given to a wine from that vineyard. Only 50 cases were produced.

We visited a friend and former client in Templeton by Paso Robles that lives on a large estate just out of town. Very secluded and beautiful. When we left they presented me with a bottle of wine I had never heard of from the area a Saxum 2008 Booker Vineyard Syrah from Paso Robles, a powerhouse wine, or as some would say a fruit bomb, 15.8%ABY, a lot for an old man like me. A very nice present.

From there we began our trip southward, first to Bakersfield for a reunion with friends, then to Pasadena to see another friend and her daughter, then to Costa Mesa with more of our close friends, distributing and sampling the wines we had purchased along the way. The remaining four bottle of wine went to the bride and groom who have developed a taste for red wines and will indeed enjoy them.

That left us with just the Lumen and the Saxum to put in insulated bags since thanks to the TSA, they had to be in checked luggage but they survived the trip home with no problems…no just letting them settle again.

You now have a preview of what my book will be about and who the three representatives from the Central Coast will be. They meet all the criteria: long time acquaintances, recognized in the wine community, and passionate about what they do.  They have all stood the test of time.

As promised, here is an opportunity of a lifetime…or at least the next six months. The only way I was able to visit the Qupé/ABC winery was that I had met Bob and Jim years ago and they were interested in working with me on my project. We had just set up the visit when a favorite restaurant of mine in Oakland, Bay Wolf, had requested they come for one of the final week dinners. They always had duck on the menu and I believe they were the biggest seller of their wines. I know I had a few ABC’s there with my duck in the past. I just found this on the website however:

Places of interest…if you’re going:

Santa Maria:

I used to send everyone I knew to the Far Western in Guadalupe, home of Santa Maria barbecue. but found out on this trip it has moved a bit south to Orcutt and is not the place it used to be, so am withdrawing all recommendations for it.

Will you be there on Sunday, October 11th, 2015? Then don’t miss this opportunity:

11 am to 3 pm Qupe/Au bon Climat winery…and more!

The winery, located within the beautiful Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria, is usually closed to the public but opens twice a year for this amazing event. Current releases and library editions will be available (over 70 wines!) for tasting and sale from Qupé & Verdad along with Au Bon Climat, Clendenen Family, Barham Mendelsohn, Vita Nova, Ici la Bas, and more. Towards the end of the day, Bob has been known to open some rare, library wines in large format. A wonderful, hot lunch is included. It’s a deal at $20 per person. Wine Club members of ABC or Qupe are free (2 per membership). No reservations are necessary. The winery is located at 4665 Santa Maria Mesa Road, Santa Maria, CA 93454. For more information, call the tasting room at 805-686-4200.

If you are in the area, planning to be in the area, or can arrange a trip…it’s just three hours from L.A., by all means do so! You won’t be disappointed and will have a chance to meet these two great winemakers! If not, this is a twice a year event so mark you calendars for April 2016!

To those planning a trip to the area, I highly recommend staying at Petit Soleil, a small B&B in San Luis Obispo. Incredibly nice owners and there are no big picnic tables were you have to sit with people you don’t know but many small tables for two or four in a beautiful dining room or out on the terrace. It is the country inn you look for but seldom find in France. Highly recommended!

Our final destination was the beautiful, historic, 125-year old Hotel del Coronado for a wedding of one of our closest friends daughter. It did not disappoint…definitely a world-class resort that cannot be replicated. Highly recommended!

Also found a new and exciting Italian restaurant in downtown Los Angeles:

The Factory Kitchen, 1300 Factory Place (off Alameda). A really nice upscale Italian restaurant. The Assistant Manager, Francesco Sinatra (I kid you not!), will go out of his way to make your visit memorable.

After dinner, try Perch, a rooftop lounge in downtown which is a beautiful sight at night from amid the highrises. 448 South Hill St.

Laguna Beach:

Las Brisas, 360 Cliff Drive. Stunning views of the bay from San Clemente Island to Catalina. This is the old Victor Hugo Inn (where TB and his wife dined on our honeymoon, 46 years ago!). Owned by, but you would never guess El Torito! Just do it!

Wow…that wasn’t so hard…

TB

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