Uncorked Ventures Blog
When it comes to the world of Pinot Noir and perhaps wine tasting events anywhere in California, it's hard to beat the World of Pinot Noir Tasting event every year. This year, the event stretches its legs into a larger venue in Santa Barbara, itself one of the most idyllic spots in the world to taste some wine.
14th Annual World of Pinot Noir
February 28 thru March 1, 2014
Bacara Resort and Spa
8301 Hollister Ave
Goleta, CA 93117
The World of Pinot Noir is worth a look on a number of levels, but for those in Los Angeles especially, this is almost a no-brainer given Santa Barbara is only about an hour to an hour and a half north of downtown Los Angeles and where else are you going to be able to taste the best Pinot Noir from California, Oreogn, Burgundy, New Zealand and elsewhere under one roof?
I'll also note, the Bacara is among the most beautiful hotels in the world and don't be confused about the Goleta address....that's just a smaller city that makes up the northern suburbs of Santa Barbara and contains UCSB.
Written by Mark Aselstine.
If you want to go on an amazing day trip within driving distance from Los Angeles, a great option is the wine tours located in Santa Barbara County. The drive is only around an hour and a half from the smog and congestion of LA and will take you along the beautiful, eye-popping scenery of the Central Coast.
There are many rural charms that Santa Barbara County can offer travelers that are looking for a relaxing escape from the concrete jungle. There are meandering country roads, horse ranches, and world-class food and wine. If you take the drive from Los Angeles you’ll be blessed with stunning views of the California coast, the rugged topography, and easy access to beaches offering relative privacy.
In the last two decades, Santa Barbara County has earned an boom of winemaking production, acquiring some of the top wine-making talents, solidifying it’s place among the famous and elite wine-growing regions in the world.
There are many wineries to choose from on your visit both in Santa Barbara and the Santa Ynez Valley, hidden behind the costal mountain range. You can literally spend days viewing the many wineries and attractions in this easy-to-reach oasis, off the beaten path of overcrowded tourism attractions.
For those interested in a first-class luxury wine tour, you can book a private Santa Barbara wine tour, with or without a guide. You can choose a self-guided tour of the wineries, picking from your favorites or adventuring out to find new brands and varietals.
If you prefer to do more than a standard day trip, you can opt for a multi-day mini-vacation in Santa Barbara wine country, exploring the nooks and crannies at your leisure.
There are excellent overnight accomodations in the area, including the five-star Four Seasons Biltmore in Montecito. It features private bungalows, and amazing landscaping making it a beachfront paradise. You could also opt to stay in the secluded San Ysidro Ranch tucked away agains the foothills where JFK and Jackie Kennedy spent their honeymoon.
Santa Barbara’s many wineries include the best-known right downtown, the Santa Barbara Winery. This winery was instrumental in bringing the modern winemaking era to the county, opening their doors back in the early 1960’s. However, the winemaking tradition of the San Ynez Valley dates back to the 1780’s when Father Serra brought the first cuttings to the Santa Barbara region.
An experience you cannot miss on your way to the Santa Barbara wine tastings is driving down Highway 154 crossing the famed San Marcos Pass. You’ll get spectacular views of the coast and the Santa Ynez Valley from over 2,000ft.
If you want to get away from the valley and do something different, head eastward from the summit of San Marcos Pass down Camino Cielo for incredible mountain and ocean views. The Camino is a steep, windy road that takes you to La Cumbre Peak, 4,000 feet above sea level, and the highest mountain seen from Santa Barbara. You’ll see hikers, paragliders, and hang-gliders leaping off the sheer cliffs and lazily floating to the beaches below.
Another attraction worthy of a visit is the Cold Springs Tavern along San Marcos Pass. It’s a historical building established in the 1800’s as a way station for a stagecoach run. Today, it’s a popular romantic getaway destination with live music and delicious tri-tip sandiwches.
Thanks to the famous 2004 film Sideways, which featured many of the locales around the valley, the area has seen an increase in tourism. Especially, the Fess Parker winery and the Hitching Post restaurant. The film also helped build the popularity of the Pinot Noir wine, long a staple of the Santa Barbara wineries; considered to be among the best wines in the world by experts. The Syrah grape and Cabernet Sauvignon are also well-known wines from the area you’ll want to sample.
Wineries You’ll Want To Visit
The more established wineries in the area are Firestone Winery, Fess Parker, Zaca Mesa, Sanford and Kalyra, and the Sunstone. Each location has tasting rooms, private tours, and feature almost year-round tours dates.
If you find yourself in the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, make sure you stop at the Firestone Vineyard. This family-owned estate has over 500 acres of vineyards and they feature a horseback vineyard tour; something to give the wine enthusiast a definite new experience. They also have a barrel cellar, fermentation cellar, crush pads, tasting rooms, and a bottling line for full-production from vine to bottle. An amazing site to see.
In 1972, the Firestone was founded as the first estate winery in Santa Barbara country, pioneering the Santa Ynez Valley as wine country. In 2007, the Firestone Tires family sold the winery to another vintner, but they remain a heavy influence in the wine industry owning local vineyards as well as the Paso Robles brewery, which brews Firestone Pale Ale beer. That beer was voted the Best Beer in America by the 2006 Men’s Journal.
When touring the wineries comes to an end, your trip doesn’t have to end as well. There are find restaurants with famous chefs where you can partake of a gourmet lunch or dinner. You can see some of the Santa Ynez Valley horse ranches, famous for the best breeders in the country. You’ll be able to catch glimpses and photographs of Arabian Thoroughbreds munching on the lush grass of the valley.
If you’re a wine enthusiast and you love touring vineyards, you will find it difficult to compete against a trip to Santa Barbara wine country in southern California.
All in all, it would be hard to come up with a more perfect choice than going to Santa Barbara for a lovely day trip in a luxury van when you are visiting Southern California. With an abundance of scenery, natural sites, eateries and wineries and museums; you’ll find plenty to enjoy on your trip.
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By Ryan Scott
Ryan is the Marketing Manager at Brilliant Transportation. A luxury transportation provider based on Los Angeles and New York. He blogs about travel, luxury, and some of the greatest trips you can find in the USA. Find him on Twitter and YouTube.
We're happy to be hosting #winechat tonight with a group of bloggers who received two bottles from Wesley Ashley Wines. We're featuring these two wines, along with an Oregon Pinot Noir in our Special Selections Wine Club this month.
Instead of including newsletters in our sample shipments, we thought that simply adding our newsletter online....would make more sense as well as making the entire event more accessible for anyone who chooses to take part.
About Wesley Ashley: Only the grandson of two Baptist ministers could be brave enough to explore the question; does wine have a soul? Is the science of wine the most important aspect, or is there something intrinsic to specific wines, the sense of place that it comes from and some other incalculable quality that leads to some being better than others. In this space, we don’t typically spend a ton of time talking about the people behind the brands but in this case Wesley Ashley is being pushed forward first and foremost by proprietor James Sloate who comes from an influential and successful background in real estate, into the wine industry for the first time. Wesley Ashley is named after his son (whose first name is his middle name) as well as his daughter and takes an interesting look at building a wine brand. What you have in your glass are two interesting and unique looks into the Rhone varietals from Santa Barbara County, both of which should pair incredibly well with food. Secondly, Wesley Ashley is making a series of keg wines, at lower price points, in compostable or recyclable containers, which are starting to make significant headway into restaurants in the east bay area of San Francisco. I met Sloate at his urban warehouse which contains both the Wesley Ashley offices, as well as some of their storage and production facilities and came away impressed with both his passion for wine and his brand, while noticing immediately that this is a better funded winery operation than many startups we run into. In any case, the wine is extemporary and deserves a space on your dinner table here in the near future.
Tasting Notes Cuvee Blanc: Stereotypical and enjoyable extremely aromatic Rhone white, only 250 cases of total production shows notes of pear, apricot and slight floral accents. Creamy and silky texture, but enough backbone to give your mouth some warmth (one of the reasons we liked it with turkey). Satisfying without length on the finish.
Tasting Notes Cuvee: Largely Grenache (75%), the classic strawberry flavors from that varietal are evident from the nose, to the palate. There is also plenty of spice imparted from the Syrah and an innovative winemaking technique of fermenting the Syrah (20% of the final blend) and Petite Sirah (5%) together and allowing that fermentation to end while already in barrel, has left a nice mouth feel and some oak and vanilla flavors from the wood that you don’t normally have in Grenache. If you’re someone wanting a Grenache with some more weight, this is a good bet and a good combo.
I have to admit, I find it easy to be mesmerized by Santa Barbara wine country and that’s not just because I enjoyed my time in Santa Barbara, the warmer weather and views make it one of the most appealing wine destinations in America.
Of course, Ampelos Cellars and their owners share some of those same thoughts which helps to explain how they ended up retiring onto 80+ acres in the Sta. Rita Hills all the while creating a new business for themselves.
I think the background of Ampelos is interesting, the winery is named after a Greek word for wine, largely taken because the proprietors have owned a bed and breakfast on a small Greek island for some time. For many, retiring to that small Greek island would have been a happy enough end don’t you think?
For Rebecca and Peter Work, having one incredible retirement opportunity simply wasn’t enough, it seems they wanted both the beachside bed and breakfast as well as the winery.
Of course, most people don’t end up owning a vineyard without some type of connection to the wine industry and for the Work’s, their connection is among the clearest possible. Their son Don Work is the current winemaker at Sea Smoke. It bears a quick mention that neither the quality of the grapes in the Sta Rita Hills need a long mention in this space, but neither does the quality of the wines being produced at Sea Smoke. It’s said that California lacks the Grand Cru classification system that has served Bordeaux well for about 150 years, but we’ve heard from respected sources like Wine Spectator that the vineyards owned by Sea Smoke would certainly be included, or at least seriously considered among the five best in the state, or the equivilant to our Grand Cru. Additionally, Sea Smoke works solely off a mailing list these days, making the wines as successful with consumers as they are with critics. We’ve heard they’re the Studio 54 of wineries, it’s hard to get in, but once you do, you never want to leave.
Ok, so what do you have here at Ampelos? To start, you have a winemaker who currently holds the same title at a winery that makes wines you simply can’t buy , they’re too sought after and the mailing list attached to them reportedly is about a decade long. You also have a vineyard purchased in an earlier era of Santa Barbara wine, before Sideways and the hype which has ensued. Has Ampelos enjoyed the critical acclaim that Sea Smoke has? Certainly not and before Don Work ascended at Sea Smoke, Ampelos would have been simply one of about a dozen wineries in the Santa Lucia Highlands that we thought was ready to take the next step to making world renowned wine. Now, that connection is more clear that many realize and we think, the time is right to enjoy an Ampelos wine, after all a long mailing list is likely in their future as well.
Here’s what to taste from Ampelos:
Pinot Noir. Let’s not get too complicated here, any Pinot made here is going to be among the best in California in a given vintage.
Grenache: I personally think it’s the next big thing from the Santa Lucia Highlands as the wine comes off these cooler vineyard sites with an incredible depth of flavors and spices. It seems as an industry we’re constantly looking for the next big thing when it comes to cool weather grapes, perhaps we’re just making things too complicated.
Late Harvest Viognier: Despite my Studio 54 reference earlier, I’m still a Millennial. Yeah, I know. In any case we’re reaching an age where a greater percentage of people have grown up drinking sweeter beverages than ever before from juice to soda. All that means is that there’s going to be an ever increasing market and market demand for sweet dessert wines. You don’t see ice wine’s or Port’s you’d actually want to drink at this $25 price point often.
I’ll admit to loving Viognier, it’s a Rhone varietal so that’s not surprising. I like the rounded edges that can come with it and find it to be a pleasurable food wine. While everyone else at my table typically drinks Chardonnay, I am usually content with a Viognier, although I tend to enjoy spicy food so it’s a natural fit. What I said:
#winechat oak is interesting here. Fun nose again. Nice and round to be sure. I always forget, I love Viognier— Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy) July 18, 2013
What Others Said:
Sierra Madre Chardonnay: I will admit that Sierra Madre is an old favorite of ours, when we lived in Santa Barbara it was part of a by the glass program pretty close to where we lived. It was good then and it continues to be good now. What I said:
#winechat We've had this before...my wife was eyeing it last night with shrimp for dinner— Mark Aselstine (@wineclubguy) July 18, 2013
What Others Said:
I enjoyed the mid on the Summerland 2012 Sierra Madre Vineyard Chardonnay -> what was the oak or ML treatment - if any #winechat— WineCompass (@winecompass) July 18, 2013
Brewer Clifton Gnesa Chardonnay In many ways, this was a typical California Chardonnay. Rounder than some, but no so round that it was off-putting for those of us who enjoy more acidity in our wines, this was an inspired effort to showcase what the central coast does really well-simply produce great wine. Given that I typically enjoy my Chardonnay with bubbles included, I was happy to pour myself a glass of the Gnesa Chardonnay when the chat ended. What I said:
What Others Said:
'10 Brewer Clifton Gnesa Chardonnay has Staw golden hue w/aromoas of floral lemons ending w/a lemon tangy finish #WineChat— Eileen Gross (@WineEveryday) July 18, 2013
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