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Santa Barbara update

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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.

  1. Macbook air?

    Now I get to call you a “Mactard!” :)

    That’s a pricey number – I’ll stick with my cheap-o windows machines in which I can replace parts and get them to live on Frankenstein style for years…

  2. Dude, so I get to call you DudeDows.

  3. :)

    I’ve been using a netbook for blogging while traveling, which is basically the only thing that underpowered hunk of tiny PC is able to do…

  4. Conjuctive labelling was invented to solve the problem that the SBCo vintners are having–and no, it is not with their netbooks, macbooks or rolling papers.

  5. I have to agree that Santa Barbara wines are overlooked. There are some very good producers there. Perhaps the appelation is not enough of a buzzword for wine buyers or wine mags. (you know like the north areas)

    The other thing is that when SB wines are reviewed, I am sure they are compared with those north area wines. If a reviewer/critic happens to love
    wines of N@pa or S0noma they might not think as favorable on the Santa Barbara wines.

    I looked up the brand #%@&*?! laptop, and I could find nothing. Just my
    friendly opinion, but get a name brand next time. I guy like you needs a gun that shoots when you need to shoot , so to speak.

  6. Steve,
    Do not hesitate, get the new MacBook Air. It is so cool!
    I love the Santa Barbara wine country and especially the town of Los Olivos.

  7. Jim Fiolek says:

    All good comments…and accurate. And conjunctive labeling does provide a solution for those selling, or with a need to sell to that market beyond “the choir”. It’s now a task to make it uniform, so the audience is able to make 1+1=3. (Charles, the rolling papers have been replaced with screwtops, even after we got the lead out.)

    Steve, this note is coming from a MacBook Pro (on UCLA Med Center’s wireless network…just sync-and-link) I had PowerBook before this. No PCs (I had 4 – Toshiba, Gateway, HP and Dell) have ever come close with reliability and performance in my experience. One observation, if you do not need the multi-tasking-graphic-power of Air or Pro, you could get a MacBook and let us think it’s a MacBook Air…smaller screen, but if you up the RAM, you probably won’t know the difference…sorry I missed you in Los Alamos.

    Oh, and instead of DudeDows, couldn’t we ask Vanna White buy our vowel, the “e”, and have WinDuds? At least we’d make a few hundred bucks…

  8. Jim, thanks. WinDuds. Love it.

  9. The fruit we just pulled in this week from Santa Barbara (Alta Mesa / SB Highlands vyd) was some of the best looking fruit we’ve seen all year. Gorgeous stuff. Tough to tell it was a tough vintage from that fruit…

  10. Jim Fiolek? Last time I saw you was at Canoe? What cha up to? Still playing the guitar?

  11. Charlie,

    Interesting take . . . conjunctive labeling does solve some ‘image’ problems for sure, but what’s your take on ‘forcing’ wineries within a certain region to do this? Do you think it is ‘appropriate’ to ‘push’ this on members of a certain group, or should it just be a strong recommendation?

    Hardy, you are correct – the fruit down here DOES rock – and as I mentioned to Steve when he was down here, please tell the wine world that harvest is indeed NOT over – and that some of us down here are actually quite excited about the 2010 harvest!!!

    I personally still have a lot hanging – I’m bringing in petite sirah today, one of my blocks of Larner Syrah tomorrow, and then next week, more syrah, grenache and mourvedre . . .

    Cheers!

  12. Larry- We were dumbfounded by it. Incredible stuff w. great #’s- Hardly any sorting needed, and now just mine to eff up! ;)

  13. Larry, if there’s a SBC conjunctive labeling law that goes through the state legislature (as Sonoma’s did), then wineries will have no choice but to comply, unless the law allows them not to. But then, what would be the point of passing such a law, if people don’t have to comply?

  14. Jim Fiolek says:

    >GDFO: Canoeing on the Chattahoochee…yup, still playin’. Actually more now than then, as it’s easier to keep those finger nails nailed down stayin’ outta airports and Hertz buses.

    >Steve, Larry, and Dr. Olken: I think we see the “conjunctivitis” inherent in any convocative recommendation. I believe “herding cats” is the jargon du jour. Yet, that is what, in my ‘pink eye’, makes the wine business so interesting…everyone does do things their own way – whether or not they want to sometimes. This vintage, for example, should be known for exceptional decisions more than exceptional weather fluctuations. Will the marketplace know that? More to the point, will they care? It depends. (Attention spans are far shorter than the life spans of each generation of iPods.) This is the downside of a thousand clowns, a thousand gowns… (or was that “crowns”?). Does the unique character of of each AVA still need an anchor, a county let’s say, so that both can grow in immediate public recognition of quality and character, and, AVAs can even grow in number. And all synergistically?

    If so, we can answer Larry’s question of “strong recommendation?” with a YES. In Sonoma, didn’t each AVA association buy in before putting it up to the state? That would seem to indicate a strong recommendation from the associations and their members.

    VC or MC? (Voluntary conjugation or mandatory conjugation)

  15. Jim Fiolek says:

    Steve, et al: Oh, to finish what I meant about the thousand clowns…do they still need the Circus to gain attention and notoriety? Barnum & Bailey? Vargas? Vegas? The Rayburn House?

  16. Joanie Hudson says:

    Thanks for the nice notes on Santa Barbara, Steve. Nice post. Hope you enjoyed your trip down here.

    Joanie Hudson
    Santa Barbara Winery

  17. Candy Baker says:

    I need to know the value of Organic Concord grapes In the Santa Maria, CA area. We hired a company to harvest these grapes from my parent’s home and they failed to do so; basically allowing them to rot on the vines, dry and shrivel. I need to calculate the amont of lost revenue. A few may still be salvageable. They were pristine. I believe September/October are the months to harvest them. My parent’s have sold them in the past but cannot remember to whom. They are now in their 90′s.

    I live in San Diego County and the prices here (of which I also do not know) may not reflect the value in Santa Maria. If you do not have an answer, do you have any suggestions as to how i can find this information?

    Sincerely, Candy Baker

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