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Field Recordings Neverland Cabernet Sauvignon 2013

Field Recordings Neverland Cabernet 2013

So we’ve worked with a number of Field Recordings wines over the years, this is a special one for me for a few reasons.

To start, I really, really like the Grassini Vineyard.

During a wine chat on Twitter (yeah, yeah I know….but it’s actually my favorite social media platform) I had a chance to try a range of high end Santa Barbara Cabernet’s.  People that have been in the wine club for a while know that I went to UCSB and that Santa Barbara suffers from part of its own success when it comes to growing grapes.  I’ll save the gory details, but in essence the California central coast is the longest stretch of east-west coastline in North America (along the Pacific Ocean of course). The mountain ranges literally run into the ocean, meaning that the cool breezes from the Pacific turn into something resembling air conditioning at about 3-4pm every day.  Fog and clouds are as ubiquitous in the late afternoons and evenings as is the bright sunshine that has made the French call SB, the American Riviera. Anyway, that’s a good combo for growing grapes and SB can grow almost anything.  Pinot and Chardonnay grow best a few miles from the coast.  Go slightly further inland and the temperature rises about 1 degree per mile traveled, so Cabernet is king.  A few more miles inland and you start seeing Syrah.

Santa Barbara hasn’t always been able to accurately explain what the wine region is all about, after all-are people really going to believe that you can grow pretty much anything you want?

Over the past decade, Santa Barbara has tried to rectify that marketing challenge by allowing an increasing number of sub AVA’s.

Grassini Vineyard is located in Happy Canyon.

You might be wondering, what would make a canyon be happy….I was.  As it turns out (and the application process to have a new AVA approved, requires this type of research) that the locals during Prohibition used the that exact name, Happy Canyon, to describe the canyon…..because it was the site of the only working still. No word on exactly what type of moonshine was being made, but I’m guessing there was an element of excitement that went with hiking into the canyon for your weekly allotment….of course, beggars cannot be choosers either right?

Grassini Vineyard was planted in 2002 and opened their own commercial winery in 2010.  Field Recordings has been making this single vineyard version of their Cabernet for about that same length of time.  Please note the difference in price points between the two offers-Grassini is a great fit in our high end, Reserve Selections club.  Field Recordings makes a nice fit for our Explorations Wine Club members.

Lastly, one other thing deserves a mention about Happy Canyon.  There’s an exclusive side to living in Santa Barbara that isn’t talked about in the main stream press, or really anywhere.  In college I saw it, living with surfers, who were always after that next exclusive and epic break (the same reasons that make Santa Barbara a nice place to grow grapes, make it a nice spot to surf… a pretty thick kelp bed tends to keep the big fish a bit further off shore than they’d otherwise be, although as we found, fishing around sea otters is a pointless endeavor), we noted that just a bit to the north there was both a solid surf break-as well as, a group of large farms….only accessible by private road.

Unfortunately for the landowners, what we lacked in money, we made up for in creativity and a 10 foot Zodiac was purchased and became the center of some of our favorite stories.  Like the numerous times we’d be out too far, past the kelp beds, only to see the motor die. Hey, we were in college and the “boat” wasn’t exactly lightly used.  It was old.  Then we’d paddle back in for hours. At least after the first time it happened, we also set off with oars.  Using a surfboard  and your hands to paddle a Zodiac, isn’t much fun.

It seems that landowners in and around Happy Canyon, like those farmers, aren’t the biggest fans of visitors.  Reportedly many of which are wealthy in their own regard, they raise world class race horses on their properties-so many wineries that grow grapes in the region have tasting rooms elsewhere.  Grassini Vineyards is one of those, with an urban tasting room in Santa Barbara.

Really, I don’t think that’s the worst set up for a wine region.  Dealing with the traffic in and out, along with the challenge of getting people there in the first place, is largely replaced by marketing yourself, along with the city where you’re based with an urban tasting room. To me, that’s always seemed like a better prospect, make yourself part of the existing tourist infrastructure and everyone benefits.

Plus, Happy Canyon is so new there are going to be growing pains.  There are only 500 or so acres under vine currently.  Part of those growing pains typically come from locals not affiliated with the wine industry, quickly seeing their sleepy country roads inundated with tourists.  In Napa back in the 60’s they saw the writing on the wall so to speak and enacted the Agricultural Preserve.  Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley (of which Happy Canyon and Grassini Vineyard is a part, at the far eastern end) is running into some development concerns along the western side of the AVA-that’s where the small town of Los Olivos has 26 wine tasting rooms and the locals are beginning to wonder, how many is too many in a town of about a thousand people, no hotel and only a handful of restaurants?

Since no one can write a piece about Santa Barbara without mentioning the elephant in the room….Sideways made everyone think the region could only grow Pinot Noir.  That wasn’t true when they made the movie and given some of the investment that the film helped to bring to the region, it’s even less true now. The movie helped to make the Hitching Post famous (the restaurant) & yes, they make their own wine there including all the shades of Santa Barbara: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

I’m a strong believer in the quality of wines being produced on the Central Coast & not only Pinot Noir, but a full range of what’s currently happening.  Increasingly, talented winemakers are finding their way to Santa Barbara (hardly a bad place to live) and Paso Robles instead of Napa or Sonoma.  A different lifestyle in both places yes, but access to grapes from a variety of established and good vineyard sites abounds.

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