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Day 3: Santa Barbara visit


Down here in Bien Nacido Vineyard, the vines are looking healthy and green. I read yesterday that Paso Robles experienced severe frost last month. Here, 100 miles further south, there was evidently some damage, especially in the Santa Ynez Valley, but not as severe. Summer arrives much earlier in Santa Barbara County than in San Luis Obispo. Yesterday, it was about 90, although today a front is moving through with a big cooldown, which I think the growers welcome. Such a beautiful vineyard, Bien Nacido, bringing back memories of such great wines. Much construction too, of new roads and even dwellings on this large, almost feudal estate, which suggests to me business is good despite the economy.

I tasted a red wine yesterday, a Syrah from Happy Canyon I won’t identify, but it was the kind of wine I’ve been writing and thinking about: distinctly Californian, massively ripe and fruity. However you don’t get a wine that ripe without paying the price of excessive softness. The vintner consequently acidified the wine, so much so that in spite of a luscious aroma the first impression in the mouth was “Wow, is this ever sharp!” Acidity is a very tricky little beast. Wine needs enough of it to be lively and fresh, but it should never stick out. Well, maybe in certain white wines (Riesling, or a nice dry sherry), but not a dry red table wine, in which the acidity should be a secondary impression, not the primary one.

I read in Lewis Perdue’s news fetch that the TTB has reopened public comments on the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. This is turning into another of those appellation wars over boundaries. The issue was that the original petition had defined a certain area, but a few growers to the north of the boundary challenged it and demanded to be included. The original petitioners said, No, we think we got it right in the first place. TTB, ever sensitive to controversy, has thrown up its hands and said, “We can’t decide, so let’s open the public comment period.” (Their actual statement was “Given the conflicting evidence…TTB has determined that it would be appropriate to re-open…” etc.) So here we go again. I’m not taking sides because I’m not familiar enough with the precise acres in question, but I hope they resolve this quickly, and by this time next year we’ll have a Fort Ross-Seaview AVA. It’s a unique, distinct growing area, the name has historical meaning (hearkening back to the first Russian colony), and we need to start carving up this silly Sonoma Coast mega-appellation ASAP.

If you want a chuckle, check out Tom Wark’s blog from yesterday. He takes on this guy, Parnell, and lets him have it right in the eye, Osama-style. Way to go, Tom, always a respecter, appreciator and defender of fine wine writing.

Blake Gray, honorable colleague, is now Blake Gray, CWP (Certified Wine Professional). Seems he took an exam and passed it. I’m glad Blake took a good-natured poke at himself (“Please do not use the abbreviation W. C. [i.e. water closet/toilet),” because now, I don’t have to. Congrats, Blake!

And now early Friday morning, sun coming up over Bien Nacido. I am waiting for a 7:30 a.m. pickup after a rousing late night at a restaurant in charming old Orcutt with a bunch of winemaker friends, some old, some new. I’ve developed a case of laryngitis from talking so much, but I managed to squeak out a thank you toast expressing the connection I feel to beautiful Santa Barbara County and its wonderful wines, which seem to get better with every visit.

  1. Sherman says:

    Bien Nacido is one of my favorite vineyards and it seems that no matter the winery, if I see “Bien Nacido” on the label as the vineyard designate, I know that I will enjoy it.

    I visited Brandborg Winery in the Umpqua Valley in Elkton, Oregon, in Oct. of 2008. I was residing in Arizona at the time and traveled to OR to visit family. We made the hour and a half drive north to the hamnlet of Elkton (pop. 246) and both Sue and Terry Brandborg were kind enough to take time out of their hectic day (grapes on the pad during crush!) to show me and my family around the winery.

    As we had lunch on their patio, talk turned to favorite wines and vineyards, as it seems to do when wine pros (or geeks!) get together. I went on for a while about Bien Nacido and Terry told me he had some experience in making wine with fruit from there. As he shot a conspiratorial glance to his wife, he said “Go ahead and bring one out.”

    A few minutes later, Sue came out with a bottle of Pinot Noir that Terry had made in 1986, while he was still in CAlifornia, making wine. As we poured the pale garnet beauty into our glasses, some lovely cherry and spice notes wafter our way.

    This 22 year old wine was a thing of wonder — still having fruit and acidity in perfect proportion, some nice herbal notes that complemented the fruit and a silky body that just slid effortlessly across the palate.

    Terry gave the fruit all the credit, although his winemaking skills certainly brought out its potential, and I have to say that it was a great example of the old winemaking adage that “You have to start with great fruit.”

    Sums up Bien Nacido perfectly —

  2. Thanks for giving the reference to Tom Wark’s blog. There is a lot of excellent writing on wine out there, and I have learned a lot from the blogs that he mentions, especially Lettie Teague and others at the Wall Street Journal and Eric Asimov. Thanks to Tom for setting the record straight.

  3. Steve,
    I know the comments section on this blog is usually best reserved for debates and not high-fives, but I wanted to tell you I appreciate the amount of (deserved) attention you give the SBC area. I feel a strange connection to this wine region and am thrilled when journalists write about it. In my retail and wine bartending experience it surprised me that so many Angelenos were still pretty unfamiliar with the wines of SB outside of Pinot Noir (despite being a 2-hour drive away!) I’m very fond of several producers here and am excited for what the future will bring. Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  4. Matt Mauldin says:

    Steve, I saw you leaving the vineyard office at BN yesterday while I was there… Chris H was nice enough to hook up a vineyard tour and tasting of BN grown wines for my friends and I in from Atlanta… Great hospitality despite having nothing to sell us… truly a great wine experience.

    Hope you’re enjoying your time down there. I’m a fan of the region and appreciate the attention that you pay it.


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