Santa Barbara update
If you’re wondering why I didn’t have a new post yesterday, it’s because my #%@&*?! laptop had a nervous breakdown. I was on my last morning in Santa Ynez, and had a post in mind, but for some reason the ‘puter couldn’t figure out how to send it to the blog. I’ve had it with that antique laptop, and figure it was a sign from above to go out and buy a new one. On my way home, I stopped by my friend Thomas Reiss’s graphic design and web design firm, Kraftwerk, in SLO city, and his young, tech savvy staff recommended I buy the new Macbook Air, explaining that the reason it costs so much is due to the coolness factor. Well, I am nothing if not cool, so sometime this week, I’m heading over to the Apple Store with Chuck, who helps me organize the incoming wine but who also knows more about tech stuff than I do. Whether or not a new laptop will result in a better blog remains to be seen, but it certainly make this a more regular blog.
At any rate, I digress from what I wanted to talk about, which was my Santa Barbara trip. It was a quickie, mainly for an upcoming Wine Enthusiast article on what I’m calling “winemaker dives” — places where winemakers hang out with each other. These aren’t fancy white tablecloth restaurants where they do winemaker dinners or host important clients. They’re greasyspoons, hash houses, rock and roll bars, tacquerias and pizza joints, the kinds of places you and I frequent. Well, I do, anyway. And I had a great time. You’ll read all about it in the February issue, but we went to this funky old barbecue joint way up in the hills where the bikers lit up doobies and a hippie duo cranked out some pretty good Delta blues. That night we ate at a great pizza joint in Los Alamos that was packed with enough winemakers to teach a semester of undergrads at U.C. Davis.
Most of the talk in Santa Barbara was about the vintage, of course: the wild, crazy ride that’s been 2010. The mantra goes like this: bizarrely cold spring and summer. Massive heat spike in August. Then back to cold. Then last week’s rains, fairly heavy. The one bright spot is that right now we’re experiencing a welcome week’s worth of warm sunshine. As of this past weekend, I was told, there’s still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to come in, as well as a boatload of Syrah. The Santa Rita Hills vintners were cautiously optimistic; so were the inland winemakers. My impression is that the Central Coast will have an easier time of it than the North Coast. But, as winemaker after winemaker emphasized, 2010 has been a challenge, in which vintners and growers alike had to rise to the occasion. One interesting comment from a winemaker was that, when everybody else was opening their canopies to expedite ripening during the cold months, he didn’t. “I knew the heat was coming,” he explained. “It always does.” As a result, he avoided the sunburning so common throughout the state. Or so he claimed.
A bunch of us also had a chat about the merits of labeling wine Santa Barbara County, or using the smallest appellation to which the wine is entitled. (The county’s other appellations are Santa Rita Hills, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and Happy Canyon.) Some winemakers felt that they should use only Santa Barbara County, in order to promote the region to consumers. I, personally, feel that you should always use the most distinct appellation you can; but, on the other hand, my position is a critical and esthetic one, not a commercial one. I don’t have to sell wine. The winemakers do. So if they don’t want to use the smaller appellations because they feel it’s counter-productive, I have to respect that.
The Santa Barbarans also tend to feel overlooked by consumers. They think the average wine drinker doesn’t understand how good their wines are. They also think that the wine press doesn’t pay them enough attention, a belief with which I concur if we’re talking about certain well-known magazines. I myself have devoted lots of time and attention to Santa Barbara County for a long time, and I hope to pay it even more attention in times to come. This is a very important and very distinctive California winegrowing region, and it’s only going to get better.