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

 

 

Vol. 1. No. 13 …a rosé by any other name…

Just got back from an incredible trip. Flew to Florida where we rented a car in Tampa and drove up and along the panhandle, crossed Alabama, and through Mississippi to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi to Minnesota. Fantastic trip (with the added benefit of a great deal on car rentals: from Mid-April to Mid-May you can rent any car from any of the majors for about $10 a day, drive it anywhere so long as it is north – they need to get these cars out of Florida now that the snowbirds have returned home – and drop off at any airport with no additional fee. The taxes are about as much as the car rental. See you can get good info at TB on wine!).

But I digress…I was going to write this post on the wines and wineries we visited along the way, but some friends who own a very nice innovative wine shop (Wine Republic) in nearby Excelsior (on Lake Minnetonka), that features only organic, biodynamic, or sustainable wines, held a tasting of rosés at their shop on Saturday afternoon. I wrote that I wouldn’t be getting home in time to be there and they graciously let me sample some of the TWENTY-FIVE wines from the U.S., Europe and Argentina. “Ugh, rosés you say.” Curb your tongue, knave! These are not the wines that most Americans think of as rosé. A little history:

The biggest California and American winery back in the 1960’s was Paul Masson (remember Orson Welles, “we will sell no wine before its time” – ah, if only that had been true), and most of the wines were cheap, under $2. Good wines sold for less than $5 as late as the early 1970’s! TB can’t remember all the names but there was Chablis (no wonder the French hate us and forced us to stop using names like that and Champagne on …er…crap!), Riesling, Pinot Noir (the lesser quality ones simply said Burgundy), Cabernet Sauvignon – note that only in the mid to late 1960’s did the best producers (Louis Martini, Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi, Beaulieu, and a few others) bother to put the vintage on the label. Rosés were usually of the Crackling Rosé variety – you do know that that is what Neil Diamond was singing about don’t you? Listen to the lyrics and you will understand.

Next came the ‘pop’ wines, made popular mainly by Gallo (who now also produces a premier label), such as Boone’s Farm, Thunderbird, Madría Madría Sangría (created during the grape picker strike and used a Latina saying “my ‘hosband and his oncle’ make this wine” – perhaps the lowest thing the Gallo’s ever did.

From there, we grew up: sweet was ‘out’, subtle wines were ‘in’.  No self-respecting person would drink the pop wines any longer. No siree. But here is the rub: despite great reviews by Robert Parker and other established wine writers, sweet wines were all lumped together. Those included German and Alsatian Rieslings and heaven-forbid Sauternes (due to confusion with California Sauterne – a totally different animal).

But also in the early 1970’s a few guys experimented with one of TB’s favorite wines: Zinfandel, and lo and behold White Zinfandel came into existence (it actually had a slight pink tinge to it since Zin is a red grape with red juice). Robert Lawrence Balzer, the first of the early wine critics, praised this as “being on to something”, which was true because they sold millions of bottles of the stuff. At least it was better than the rest of the lot…actually the only California rosé TB could stomach was a pretty good, inexpensive, Zinfandel Rosé produced by Pedroncelli.

So here we are in the twenty-first century and following the lead of the well-known Tavel Rosé from France, there are a plethora of wonderful rosés as witnessed by having a tasting of 25 of them – five each from five distributors (a representative of each was at the tasting). Now look at this. The price range: $10.99 for a Le Rosé des Acanthes (which TB liked) to $24.99 for an incredible Commanderie de Peyrassol Rosé. The average price was $17.64, but note that thirteen were priced under $16, and three under $13!

Summer is fast approaching. Don’t let preconceived notions stop you from having something refreshing to cool you while you relax on your patio on those hot days. Trust TB, you won’t be disappointed – not one bit because all of these wines which have varying degrees of sweetness (more like tart), finish with something that hits the back of your tongue and throat the way tannin does thus preventing a lingering sweetness in your mouth which might otherwise be cloying. You will probably find this more suitable than the Sauvignon Blanc you might have served. Don’t take TB’s word for it: try some and compare…then you decide!

Once again, good wine is forcing out bad, all over the world and we, the wine lovers are the beneficiaries. Life is too short to drink bad wine.

One last note on this: a few weeks ago there was an article in a column on a wine from Portugal, a red called Portada, a deep red wine exploding with berry flavors (you decide which). No this is not one of the California ‘fruit bombs’ that are 15% or more alcohol. This one weighs in at 12.5% and is thus a very enjoyable wine for even those who are not wine fans. The price? $10-12. The author said if it was from California it would be at least a $30 wine – TB concurs! Having been to Portugal twice and going again in October, trust him, it is not just about Port! Vinho Verde, which used to be poorly made is now on a par with Spanish Albarino’s, and at half to two-thirds the cost.

Start looking at wines from other places around the world recalling that the best ones will be in the range of 30°to 45° latitude – north or south. That is the only area where vitis vinifera, the wine grape thrives.  

The world of wine is getting bigger…and better.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol.1 No. 5 …sleepless in San Sebastian

…actually in Hernani, just out of the town. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep because I am a week late updating the blog…not that I haven’t been working, but I had planned to describe the trip so readers can share in TB’s great adventure.

We arrived very tired on Wednesday, March 3rd having lost a day traveling. Several things stood out: first, coming from freezing weather in Minneapolis, it has been in the mid to high 60’s here and the last rain was the earlier on the day we arrived. We had expected to be able to navigate easily in San Sebastian and Bilbao but they are good sized cities that are built with narrow streets. It seems there are more cars than people and they are all parked, leaving no spaces for anyone else. You have to park in an underground garage and that can cost 20 Euros a day (originally we found a nice place in the old town but it had no parking and so that 20E’s added up quickly so we found a wonderful (and cheaper) place in Hernani, just 3 miles out of town. It is the perfect base for us as it is on the way to Pamplona, La Rioja, Bilbao, and the French Basque Country (the Spanish Basques consider themselves superior because they have refused to adopt the Spanish language and still fight for independence), and the owners are wonderful as is our ‘uber-modern’ apartment with a deck.

After resting a bit we ventured into Hernani and found a tapas bar for our dinner. They are excellent and you choose from them sitting on the bar and they are very reasonable (drinks and six tapas cost just 10€).

We spent most of Thursday in San Sebastian and then drove down the awe-inspiring coast to Bilbao where we ate in another tapas bar (the etiquette is that you throw your napkins on the floor while you are eating thus keeping the bar clean and clear). We will return to Bilbao for the Guggenheim and other sights.

On Friday, we returned to San Sebastian and took a great double deck bus tour for orientation and had a wonderful lunch in a beachside restaurant.

Saturday, we were told about a wine festival in Durango, on the way to Bilbao. It featured 44 wineries from all over Spain and local food. That meant a total of over 120 different wines some for casual drinking priced from 4 to 15€ a bottle, but there were also fifty priced above that with fifteen priced from 25 to as high has 76€ (a wonderful brandy from one of the very best sherry producers, Ximénez-Spínola, but my favorites were their two aged sherries…and I spoke at length with the winemaker; since they are produced in Jerez in the south, we wouldn’t have had that experience).  There were Riojas, Albariño’s, wonderful Cava’s, Ribero del Duero’s, and even some Basque wines, like Txakoli (Chocoli), a white. It was a fascinating experience.

On Sunday, we drove into the French Basque country and up to Bayonne, France, where I ended up speaking to an American who tried to help us talk to the owner of a shop. It turned out that he is an ex-Pat, who not only lived in San Francisco and New York before moving to France but was also in the investment business – he had worked for Bank of America when I was buying bonds from them and although we had never met we knew each other and reminisced about mutual friends – it truly is a small, small world! We then drove down the coast to Biarritz and St. Jean de Luz before returning home. It was refreshing spending a day where English was understood.

Today, Monday, we returned to the French Basque Country and drove to St-Jean-de-Pied-a-Port, where the Campostela begins (a nearly 500 mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, made famous by the Martin Sheen movie, The Way). Hopefully, TB won’t go to hell for getting a passport for the pilgrimage with no intention of making the endurance test. I got the first stamp and will hopefully pick up some more during our travels. I rationalized it that since we only have two more weeks in Spain I couldn’t have completed the journey anyway.

More to follow tomorrow…

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.