Tag Archives: Mourvedre

Highlights from the 2nd Annual “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure”

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Last weekend, some of the finest local, small production wine making talent around gathered at the Veterans Memorial Building in Solvang, CA for the 2nd annual “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure“.

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure

This year, a Grand Tasting was held on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon, with a different lineup each day.  With 60 wineries pouring over the course of two days, and only a limited amount of time, I feel like I only scratched the surface.

While I had a hard time choosing favorites among all the incredible wines I did get to taste, I managed to narrow my list down to a few stand-outs.   If you can get your hands on any of the wines below, I highly recommend you do…

Archium Cellars
Garagistes Zach Jarosz and Ian Sergy of Archium Cellars poured their 1st vintage at the festival, which included a delicious portfolio of Rhone varietals.  I particularly liked the Provencal-style ’13 Grenache Rosé and the juicy ’12 “Haven” Grenache.

Zach Jarosz & Ian Sergy of Archium Cellars

Zach Jarosz & Ian Sergy of Archium Cellars

Delicious '13 Grenache Rose from Archium Cellars

Delicious ’13 Grenache Rose from Archium Cellars

Archium Cellars

Archium Cellars

 

Press Gang Cellars
Press Gang Cellars is winemaker Kyle Knapp and his wife, Savanna’s labor of love and true passion.  The Press Gang Cellars portfolio included some outstanding Rhone varietals, including a ’10 Grenache and a crisp ’13 Grenache Rosé “Savanna Rhea”.

Press Gang Cellars

Press Gang Cellars

Press Gang Cellars

Press Gang Cellars

Kyle & Savanna Knapp of Press Gang Cellars

Kyle & Savanna Knapp of Press Gang Cellars

 

Roark Wine Company
Ryan Roark of Roark Wine Company takes a minimal approach to wine making and truly lets the grapes speak for themselves.  I liked his multilayered, unfiltered ’13 Sauvignon Blanc and his modestly priced ($15/bottle), non-vintage red wine blend he calls “Craigslist Cuvee #2″.

As Ryan puts it, “where do you go when you are looking for a deal?  Craigslist!  What do they have on Craigslist?  Everything!  This wine is a blend of loose ends, things that didn’t have a home but that together tasted awesome.”

Roark Wine Company

Roark Wine Company

Ryan Roark of Roark Wine Company

Ryan Roark of Roark Wine Company

Roark Wine Company's "Craigslist Cuvee" Red Wine Blend

Roark Wine Company’s “Craigslist Cuvee #2″ Red Wine Blend

 

Liquid Farm
I’m a long-time fan of Liquid Farm’s Chardonnay and Rosé, so I couldn’t resist stopping to try the latest vintage (which of course, was as good as ever).  The ’13 Mourvedre Rosé was dry, crisp, and just heavenly.

Liquid Farm

Liquid Farm

Liquid Farm's Winemaker, James Sparks

Liquid Farm’s Winemaker, James Sparks

 

C. Nagy Wines
It was difficult to pick favorites from Clarissa Nagy of C. Nagy Wines’ current portfolio.  I particularly liked her ’11 Pinot Blanc Bien Nacido Vineyard and ’12 Viognier White Hawk Vineyard – both a little taste of summer in a glass.  I also liked her ’10 Garey Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir, which had an elegant balance of vibrant fruit and spice.

C Nagy Wines

C. Nagy Wines

C Nagy Wines

C. Nagy Wines

 

a-non-ah-mus
Ron Hill of a-non-ah-mus released the label’s first vintage in 2007 and he’s been producing impeccably crafted Rhone varietals ever since.  I really enjoyed the ’12 Viognier which had a beautiful, crisp acidity and the tart, juicy ’10 Alisos Vineyard Grenache.

a-non-ah-mus

a-non-ah-mus

a-non-ah-mus

a-non-ah-mus

Ron Hill of a-non-ah-mus

Ron Hill of a-non-ah-mus

 

Weatherborne Wine Corp.
Winemaker Chris Carter of Weatherborne Wine Corp. was pouring his first vintage (2012) of the one & only varietal he produces (a Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir).  That being said, it was probably one of the best Pinot’s I’ve tasted – the perfect balance of juicy fruit and a hint of spice.  I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for Weatherborne…

Chris Carter of Weatherborne

Chris Carter of Weatherborne Wine Corp.

 

ONX Wines
I had the opportunity to try ONX Wines at the last Garagiste Festival in Paso Robles.  Since then, I’ve fallen in love with the unique blends ONX produces – particularly their Tempranillo based “Praetorian”.  When I found out they were debuting a ’13 Rosé of Tempranillo called “Indie”, I had to try it.

Just like all the other wines ONX produces, I can’t recommend the ’13 Indie Rosé enough.  Delicious.

Jeff Strekas of ONX Wines

Jeff Strekas of ONX Wines

The '13 "Indie" Rosé of Tempranillo by ONX Wines

The ’13 “Indie” Rosé of Tempranillo by ONX Wines

Once again, “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure” provided an invaluable opportunity to taste some outstanding, yet-to-be-discovered wines and to talk to the friendly, passionate artisans who make them.  I hope to see everyone at the next one… Cheers!

Related Posts:
2nd Annual “Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure” Returns to Solvang…

3rd Annual Garagiste Festival – Paso Robles

3rd_Annual_Paso_Robles_Garagiste_Fest

Last weekend, some of the finest winemaking talent around gathered in Paso Robles to celebrate the 3rd annual Garagiste Festival.

Gorgeous day in Paso Robles

Gorgeous day in Paso Robles

Dedicated solely to showcasing small production wines handcrafted by talented and uber-creative artisan wine makers, the annual Paso Robles Garagiste Festival has become my favorite wine event hands-down.  Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store this year.

Gorgeous Windfall Farms, Paso Robles

Gorgeous Windfall Farms, Paso Robles

We arrived at gorgeous Windfall Farms on Saturday morning and headed inside for our tasting.  I was particularly excited for the festival this year because I really hadn’t heard of most of the wine makers who were pouring.  In fact, half of the approximately 48 garagiste wine makers were pouring for the very first time.

This is exactly why I love the Paso Garagiste Festival so much – it’s an opportunity for undiscovered wine makers to share the fruits of their labor with those who truly appreciate unique, extraordinary wines.  The festival gives wine lovers a chance to try wines they may never hear about otherwise and offers them a rare opportunity to speak with wine makers one-on-one.

Baker & Brain Wines

Baker & Brain Wines

Our first stop was {baker & brain}.  {baker & brain} wines was founded in 2009 when two friends – Josh Baker & Matt Brain – realized they shared a common goal of creating a wine label that would highlight some of the best, consciously farmed vineyards from throughout California.  When they won a wine barrel in an industry raffle, they realized winemaking was their destiny.

Tasting at Baker & Brain Wines

Tasting at Baker & Brain Wines

We tasted three wines at {baker & brain} – a 2012 Grenache Blanc, a 2011 Central Coast Pinot Noir, and a 2011 Pendulum (60% Syrah/40% Grenache).  I personally loved the crisp, refreshing Grenache Blanc and the juicy, delicious Pinot Noir.

Our next stop was ONX Wines.  Last month, Wine Enthusiast magazine published an article titled “6 New Faces of Paso Robles” and ONX’s winemaker Brian Brown was featured.  I knew he was recognized for blending some interesting varietals and I was really excited to try his wines.

Jennifer Freck of ONX Wines

Jennifer Freck of ONX Wines

Honestly, I loved the wines of ONX.  There was not a single wine in the portfolio that I didn’t think was unique, well-balanced, and just plain tasty.  Brian uses Tempranillo and Zinfandel in a few of his GMS blends, which adds a whole new dimension to the wine.

The ONX Wines Portfolio

The ONX Wines Portfolio

We tried six different blends at ONX, all of which were outstanding.  If I really had to choose favorites, I’d probably pick the 2010 Reckoning (64% Syrah, 20% Petite Sirah, 8% Zinfandel, 4% Tempranillo, 4% Grenache) and 2010 Praetorian (64% Tempranillo, 12% Malbec, 12% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre), but they were all great.  The wines of ONX are not to be missed.

After ONX, we headed over to Dilecta Wines.  Dilecta was founded in 2011 by winemaker Orion Stang, a certified Sommelier who previously served as assistant winemaker to Eric Jensen at Booker Wines (one of my personal favorites in Paso Robles).

Dilecta Wines

Dilecta Wines

Winemaker Orion Stang of Dilecta Wines

Winemaker Orion Stang of Dilecta Wines

Very cool Dilecta Wines business cards (artwork courtesy of Orion's daughter)

Very cool Dilecta Wines business cards (artwork courtesy of Orion’s daughter)

Orion was pouring his Dilecta wines for the first time at the festival, and had two inaugural wines to try – a 2011 The Tiller (64% Grenache/36% Syrah) and a 2011 Unorthodox Syrah from Caliza & Alta Colina Vineyards.  Both wines were great, but I thought the Unorthodox Syrah was incredible.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Dilecta in the future.

Ghost Cellars

Ghost Cellars

Next we stopped at Ghost Cellars where owner James Cooper was pouring his very first vintage from a single varietal – a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Even though there was only one wine to try at Ghost Cellars, it was a pretty damn good one.  You could taste the focus and attention to detail in the glass, and James’ passion for wine was infectious.

Ghost Cellars

Ghost Cellars

After some great wine and good conversation at Ghost Cellars, we finished our tasting at Aaron Wines.  Winemaker Aaron Jackson was also featured in the recent Wine Enthusiast article and definitely has winemaking in his blood (he made his first Petite Sirah at the young age of 22).

Aaron Wines

Aaron Wines

We unfortunately ran out of time for the media tasting while we were at Aaron Wines, but we managed to squeeze in a taste of all four of his wines – a 2012 Aequorea Pinot Gris, a 2012 Aequorea Pinot Noir, a 2011 Aaron Trespasser, and a 2010 Aaron Petite Sirah.

Aaron Wines

Aaron Wines

Aaron WInes

Aaron WInes

I thought the Aequorea Pinot Noir was one of the best I’ve tried, rivaling some of my favorites from Santa Barbara, and the Aaron Petite Sirah was truly extraordinary.  You could truly taste the passion in these wines.  Aaron’s wines can be tasted at Paso Underground – a collective tasting room that features a couple other small production wine makers.

Overall the talent at this year’s Paso Robles Garagiste Festival was unparalleled. Just this week, Wine Enthusiast named Paso Robles 2013 “Wine Region of the Year” – an award the area couldn’t deserve more.  Congrats to all the Paso garagistes and thank you for sharing your outstanding wines.  I already can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year…

Exploring the Lompoc Wine Ghetto – Part 1

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

Lompoc Wine Ghetto

I’ve known about the Lompoc Wine Ghetto for ages, but for some reason, I never had a strong desire to visit. I had a preconceived notion that it was an easy access, multiple tasting room destination that catered to those who prefer quantity over quality. After visiting for the first time this weekend, I could not have been more wrong.

Tucked away in an industrial park in Lompoc, the Wine Ghetto is home to nearly 20 tasting rooms. It isn’t as visually appealing as some of the picturesque wineries in the area, but that’s what I loved about it. It actually deters large groups traveling in wine tour buses and limos. After all, it’s not exactly a place where you’d want to have your bachelorette party photos taken.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the Lompoc Wine Ghetto is very serious about wine. In the casual and inviting tasting rooms, passionate wine makers are pouring some incredible, super low production wines for their equally passionate fans.

Jalama Wines

Jalama Wines

Considering the number of tasting rooms in the Ghetto, I decided to try two during this visit and will continue my exploration over the weeks to come. My first stop was Jalama Wines.

Jalama Wines

Jalama Wines

When I pulled up to the Jalama Wines tasting room, I was very happy to see one of the resident winery dogs napping on the sidewalk outside. I discovered that almost all the tasting rooms in the Wine Ghetto allow dogs as long as they’re leashed and well-behaved. It made my desire to explore the area even stronger.

Inside the Jalama Wines tasting room

Inside the Jalama Wines tasting room

Winery dog Oscar relaxing in the Jalama tasting room

Winery dog Oscar relaxing in the Jalama tasting room

Once inside the tasting room, I was greeted by Mark Cargasacchi – the winemaker at Jalama who was guiding tasters through his portfolio of small lot, handmade Pinot Noirs, Grenaches and Syrahs.

Jalama Wines

Jalama Wines

A nice cheese & cracker plate to accompany the line up of Jalama Wines

A nice cheese & cracker plate to accompany the line up of Jalama Wines

The tasting at Jalama consisted of six wines, all of which were seriously good – complex, well-balanced and obviously crafted with care. I took home bottles of of tart 2011 Mourvedre ($36) and full-bodied, multi-layered 2009 “El Capitan” red blend ($36). I also loved the 2011 “Clementina” white blend ($26), which was full of mouthwatering tropical fruit, and the 2010 “Carg” Pinot Noir ($46).

Inside the Jalama Wines tasting room

Inside the Jalama Wines tasting room

For my next stop, I decided to try Zotovich Cellars.

Zotovich Cellars

Zotovich Cellars

Booker joined me in the tasting room and immediately made himself comfortable on the cold stone floor while tasting room manager Chelsea poured my first taste.

Tasting menu at Zotovich Cellars

Tasting menu at Zotovich Cellars

Booker made himself comfy on the cool tasting room floor

Booker made himself comfy on the cool tasting room floor

The tasting at Zotovich Cellars consisted of four wines (with a bonus taste of insanely good, wine club exclusive Viognier). Honestly, I was blown away by all the wines at Zotovich. The Chardonnay was beautifully balanced, the Rosé was like a glass of summertime with lots of strawberry and a nice crispness, the Pinot Noir rivaled some of my absolute favorites from the area, and the Syrah was complex with a blend of dark berries and spice.

Chelsea guiding tasters through the Zotovich Cellars portfolio

Chelsea guiding tasters through the Zotovich Cellars portfolio

If I didn’t already have several bottles of Pinot Noir in my collection, it would have been a no-brainer to take some home. Instead, I bought a few bottles of the 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($22) which will be perfect for warm summer days.

Delicious Zotovich Cellars 2010 Estate Grown Pinot Noir

Delicious Zotovich Cellars 2010 Estate Grown Pinot Noir

Zotovich Cellars

Zotovich Cellars

If you’re looking to join a wine club, the club at Zotovich Cellars was one of the most flexible I’ve seen with the option to do a yearly shipment of 3, 6, or 12 bottles AND the ability to choose your wines. I’m sure I’ll end up a member sooner than later.

Overall, my first visit to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto was such a great experience that far surpassed my expectations. If the rest of the wineries in the Ghetto are anything like Jalama Wines and Zotovich Cellars, I’m in for a serious treat…

Click here to visit the Jalama Wines website.
Click here to visit the Zotovich Cellars website.
Click here to visit the Lompoc Wine Ghetto website.

JALAMA WINES
308 N. 9th Street, Unit C
Lompoc, CA 93436
Phone: (805) 735-8937
Tasting room hours: 12PM – 5PM Thursday through Sunday, or by appointment

ZOTOVICH CELLARS
1500 E. Chestnut Court, Suite D
Lompoc, CA 93436
Phone: (805) 736-1600
Email: chelsea@zotovichcellars.com
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 5PM Thursday through Sunday, or by appointment

Terry Hoage Vineyards | Paso Robles, CA

Terry Hoage Vineyards

Terry Hoage Vineyards

Tucked away on an idyllic parcel of land on the Westside of Paso Robles lies the Terry Hoage Vineyards and tasting room. In the rustic winery perched right across the small parking lot from his home, Terry Hoage and his wife Jennifer are hand-crafting some of the finest wines to come out of Paso Robles.

Terry Hoage Vineyards Tasting Room

Terry Hoage Vineyards Tasting Room

Terry Hoage Vineyards Tasting Room

Terry Hoage Vineyards Tasting Room

Terry and Jennifer learned the art of winemaking from some of the artisan trailblazers in the area, particularly Justin Smith of the famed Saxum Vineyards. Justin made wine for Terry Hoage Vineyards and oversaw the winemaking process from 2002-2003 until Terry and Jennifer released their first vintage in 2005.

Terry Hoage Vineyards Tasting Room

Terry Hoage Vineyards Tasting Room

The Hoage’s take a very minimalist approach to making wine and do not incorporate any racking, fining or filtering. They personally oversee every step in the process, producing bold, juicy Rhone varietals that are 100% organically farmed and estate grown. You can taste the quality, creativity, and attention to detail in each sip.

Our dog Booker enjoying the beautiful grounds at Terry Hoage Vineyards

Our dog Booker enjoying the beautiful grounds at Terry Hoage Vineyards

Seating area at Terry Hoage Vineyards

Seating area at Terry Hoage Vineyards

During a pre-holiday trip to Paso, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Evan and Kellie in the Terry Hoage Vineyards tasting room. Aside from the Hoage’s, Evan and Kellie are the only other official employees at the winery, which made it feel even more like a true family style operation.

Evan & Kellie of Terry Hoage Vineyards

Evan & Kellie of Terry Hoage Vineyards

We were taken through the current tasting flight which included 4 incredible reds, and also got to try a couple of wines from the upcoming 2010 release.

Before embarking on his career as a wine maker, Terry was a professional football player and spent 13 seasons in the NFL playing for 6 different teams. He subtly pays homage to his football days through the names he give his wines (“The Pick”, “The 46″, “The Hedge”, etc).

Memorabilia from Terry Hoage's career in the NFL

Memorabilia from Terry Hoage’s career in the NFL

IMG_2727

Memorabilia from Terry Hoage’s career in the NFL

I thought all the wines at Terry Hoage Vineyards were outstanding and were on par with my favorites in the area (Booker, L’Aventure, etc). I wanted to take a bottle of each home with me, but I managed to narrow my purchases down to a 2009 “The Hedge” (a deep red Syrah named after the hedges of UGA where Terry played), a 2010 “5 Blocks” (a Syrah/Mourvedre/Grenache/Cinsault blend honoring the 5 blocked field goals Terry had in his college days), and a 2011 “Pik Pool” (a white Picpoul Blanc that tasted like summertime).

The Current Tasting Flight: '08 "The Pick" Grenache Cuvee, '07 "The 46" Grenache-Syrah, '09 "The 46" Grenache-Syrah, and '09 "The Hedge" Syrah

The Current Tasting Flight: ’08 “The Pick” Grenache Cuvee, ’07 “The 46″ Grenache-Syrah, ’09 “The 46″ Grenache-Syrah, and ’09 “The Hedge” Syrah

The 2010 Release - Currently available to wine club members

The 2010 Release – Currently available to wine club members

I truly can’t recommend Terry Hoage Vineyards enough and thank Evan & Kellie for sharing their knowledge, passion, and hospitality. To quote Robert Parker, “This is the kind of wine the Central Coast should be producing more.”

The stunning views at Terry Hoage Vineyards

The stunning views at Terry Hoage Vineyards

Click here to visit the Terry Hoage Vineyards website.

TERRY HOAGE VINEYARDS
870 Arbor Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 238-2083
Email: info@terryhoagevineyards.com
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 4PM Thursday through Monday

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines – *CLOSED*

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

* UPDATE 8/13: CLOSED. The tasting room is now owned by J Dusi Wines

I’ve wanted to try Edward Sellers’ wines for years. It was always on my list, however because the tasting room was located in downtown Paso Robles, it usually ended up at the bottom as a last place to visit before dinner. Unfortunately after a day of wine tasting outside of town, we usually skipped more wine and focused on food.

Now Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines has a gorgeous tasting room on the Westside of Paso and during my last visit, I made it the first stop of the day.

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

Driving down Highway 46 West, it’s easy to miss the entrance to Edward Sellers. Although the tasting room is not far off the highway, once you turn down the unpaved drive and head onto the vine-covered grounds of the winery, you feel miles away from everything.

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

The tasting room at Edward Sellers is modern, yet it fits in perfectly with the natural beauty around it. There is plenty of sunny outside seating that overlooks the acres of vineyards. We got out of our car and were greeted by two friendly winery dogs who quickly made friends with our dog, Booker.

Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

Outside seating at Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

Outside seating at Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines with a picture-perfect view

After soaking up some sunshine, we headed inside – Booker included – to try some wine. The inside of the Edward Sellers tasting room is just as lovely as the outside with dark stone floors, a bright green accent wall, and big window behind the bar that allows you to peek inside the barrel room.

Inside the Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines tasting room

Inside the Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines tasting room

Inside the Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines tasting room

Our tasting included two whites followed by a series of reds. Similar to other wineries in Paso Robles, Edward Sellers specializes in hand crafted American Rhone style wines. However, what I think sets them apart is the fact that most of Edward Sellers’ wines were perfectly balanced and surprisingly food-friendly. They had the classic, big Paso Rhone style that I love without being too big and bold to complement a meal.

Booker enjoying the cool stone floor at Edward Sellers Vineyards & Wines

All the wines we tried were consistently good which made it difficult to pick our favorites. We decided to leave with a couple of bottles of 2011 Grenache Rose – a juicy, strawberry-filled rose that is perfect for summer. We also took home a bottle of 2007 Vertigo (71% Grenache, 16% Mourvèdre & 13% Syrah) which was slightly tart with a nice hint of smoke.

I’m so glad we finally tried Edward Sellers. It is one of our new favorites and will be a regular stop on our visits to Paso Robles.

Click here to visit the Edward Sellers Vineyards website.

EDWARD SELLERS VINEYARDS & WINES
1401 West Highway 46
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 239-8915
Email: info@edwardsellers.com
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 5PM Daily

Brian Benson Cellars | Paso Robles, CA

Often it’s the people you meet on wine trips that you remember just as much as the wine. This was certainly the case with Brian Benson Cellars.

Brian Benson Cellars

Since second generation winemaker Brian Benson is the only employee at his winery, there is a very good chance he’ll be the one pouring for you at his tasting room. And this was exactly the case when we walked in on a recent Saturday.

Brian Benson Cellars & Dark Star Cellars

We had the tasting room to ourselves and Brian was indeed behind the counter. He is young (probably around 28 or 29 now), laid back, extremely knowledgable, and is already producing great wine using grapes from some of the most respected vineyards in the area, including Denner and Glenrose.

Tasting room at Brian Benson Cellars

Brian Benson got into the wine industry early. Having spent a great deal of his youth hanging out in his grandparent’s vineyard and later his father’s winery, Brian started to learn about the winemaking process and business before he was out of elementary school. Starting in 1995, when Brian’s father Norm Benson bought 10 acres in Westside Paso Robles, Brian worked part-time on the weekends learning the ins and outs of the business. And in 1997, at the ripe age of twelve, made his first wine – a Cabernet.

Brian Benson Cellars & Dark Star Cellars

In October of 2000 Brian became the full-time assistant winemaker for his father at Dark Star Cellars. With just Brian and his father working at the winery, Brian got a priceless crash course in all aspects of the wine business. In 2001, at age 19, Brian decided he wanted to start making his own wines. Starting with a little less than $2000, Brian worked deals with local Paso Robles growers and made his first commercial vintage, a Cabernet and a Zinfandel, totaling 147 Cases.

Brian Benson Cellars custom pinstriped “Kandy Red”

Nearly 10 years later, Brian has increased his production, designed an incredible label that pays homage to 2 very important people in his life who are no longer with him but who greatly influenced his decision to start his own label – his grandfather and one of his closest friends, moved his production operation to the new state-of-the-art gravity winery at Denner Vineyards, and opened his own tasting room right next door to Dark Star Cellars.

A serious hot rod and custom car fan, Brian has also partnered with world-famous pin striper Doug Dorr. Each year, Brian will build a custom car or hot rod and create a special custom blended wine and bottle to match the design of the vehicle. These limited edition wines – called the Brian Benson Cellars Kustom Series – allow Brian to bring his dream of combining two of his greatest passions to reality.

Winemaker Brian Benson pouring wine for us in his tasting room…

So back to our visit…

We spent over an hour at Brian Benson Cellars tasting his most recent releases (no whites) which included Kandy Red, an ’07 Cabernet, a series of 3 different vintages of Denner Vineyard Syrah (’05, ’06, ’07), an ’07 Glenrose Vineyard Syrah, and an ’07 S & M (67% Syrah, 33% Mourvedre) which Robert Parker rated 91 points. I couldn’t help but walk away with a couple bottles of Kandy Red in their unique pinstriped bottles. I still can’t decide if I want to drink them or just collect them.

Dark Star Cellars

While we tasted the fantastic wines, we also had great conversation with Brian about how he got into wine, about his passion for old hot rods, about his family, about why he loves Paso Robles and about which other wineries he recommends in the area. He had fun stories to tell about many of his fellow wine makers in the area – many of which seemed to be personal friends of his. I got such a sense of his love of winemaking and his pride in being part of the Paso Robles winemaking community.

I felt like we walked away with not only some great bottles of wine, but with a new friend in the area. Stop by and say hello to Brian next time you’re in town. You’ll be glad you did…

Click here to visit the Brian Benson Cellars website.

BRIAN BENSON CELLARS
2985 Anderson Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Phone: (805) 296-9463
email: brian@brianbensoncellars.com
Tasting room hours: 10:30AM – 5PM Friday through Sunday

A trip down the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail…Solo.

I’ve never planned a wine tasting trip alone, but today seemed like the perfect day to try it. I woke up early and headed up towards Santa Maria, CA – a relatively quick and easy 2 hour drive north of Los Angeles.

Solvang, CA

My first stop was the little Danish town of Solvang for some coffee, snacks and water. The picture-perfect downtown area of Solvang is a great place to grab a bite and stroll around either before or during a day of wine tasting.

Solvang, CA

By the time I left Solvang, the last little remnant of early morning fog had burned off and the sky was a sparkling shade of turquoise. I was ready to start my journey down the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. I decided I would visit three wineries during my trip, taking my time at each to really learn about the wineries and the wines they produce while soaking up the beautiful day.

The first winery on my list was Curtis.

Curtis Winery

While I’ve visited the wineries of Santa Barbara County more times than I can recall, I had never been to Curtis and was excited for the new experience. I was particularly excited because in an area that tends to be dominated by Burgundy styles like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Curtis focuses exclusively on Rhone varietals (Granache, Syrah, Mourvedre, & Viognier). In fact, the Curtis tagline is “We live for Rhones”. Winemaker Chuck Carlson recently held the position of president of the Rhône Rangers, “an organization dedicated to the appreciation, enjoyment and advancement of Rhône-style wines in the United States”. I had a feeling I was in for a treat.

Curtis Winery

Vineyards at Curtis

When I first pulled in to the parking lot, I immediately noticed how beautiful the grounds were. The winery is surrounded by vines that were full of grape bunches in the stage just before their skin becomes saturated with color. Assorted plants and flowers added splashes of color around the vine-covered building and a couple of signs noted trailheads with paths meandering up into the hills.

Grapes in the early stages of ripening

One of the trailheads adjacent to the parking lot

I walked into the tasting room and was fortunate to be one of only a few tasters – one of the benefits of starting the day a bit early. Nancy in the tasting room poured the current releases for me and explained each one (6 wines for $10 including a logo glass). The line up included a ’08 Viognier, ’08 Heritage Rose, ’06 Mourvedre, ’06 Grenache/Syrah blend called The Crossroad, ’06 Syrah, and ’06 Cabernet Syrah.

Curtis Winery tasting room

I was pleasantly surprised as each wine I tasted exceeded my expectations. They were well made, nicely balanced, reasonably priced, and just plain tasty. After chatting a while with Nancy and a couple of fellow tasters, I walked out with two bottles of Rose ($14/bottle), one Mourvedre ($25/bottle) and one Syrah ($22/bottle). Curtis was the perfect way to start my day. It’s a must-try for anyone who enjoys great Rhone wines.

Next, I was on to Foxen.

Foxen 7200 “the shack”

Obviously Foxen isn’t a new place for me and it has already been a topic on my blog, but I was on a mission. Just days ago, Foxen released a couple new wines and I was very eager to try them. I also wanted to try their ’09 Rose of Mourvedre as I’ve been stocking up on Rose for the summer.

Foxen Winery & Tasting Room

Foxen’s solar powered tasting room

I ended up doing a split tasting at Foxen (3 wines at the new tasting room and 3 wines at the Foxen 7200 “the shack” for $12). I won’t spend too much time on Foxen, but once again, they’ve proven they can do no wrong in my eyes. The newly released 2007 Grassini Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was fantastic, the ’09 Rose of Mourvedre (also referred to as “The Watermelon”) was fruity but not overly sweet – perfect for a warm day, and if you like Pinot Noir, the ’08 Block N – Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir is an absolute must try. But hurry… it was produced in such small quantities and is so delicious, they only had a case or two left as of today. You will not be disappointed.

View from the deck at Foxen 7200

After lingering in the sunshine on my favorite back deck at “the shack”, I headed to my final destination for the day – Rancho Sisquoc.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

Rancho Sisquoc Winery

Rancho Sisquoc has been a long-standing favorite of mine for a few simple reasons: a wide variety of really good wines at great prices. For 30 years, Rancho Sisquoc has been hand crafting small batches of estate wines from grapes grown on their 37,000 acre ranch. I also love the rustic and cozy little tasting room nestled far off the beaten path where lucky travelers might spot a group of deer roaming around in the fields or a few hawks flying overhead. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon relaxing on their outdoor tables.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery tasting room

Visitors to Rancho Sisquoc can sample any 6 wines from their list of many for $8. The list includes everything from Chardonnay to Riesling to Malbec and many more in between. I usually walk away with a few bottles of two wines unique to Rancho Sisquoc – Tre Vini and Sylvaner.

Tre Vini ($20/bottle) is a blend of 58% Sangiovese, 22% Malbec & 20% Syrah that goes perfectly with Italian food. Sylvaner ($14/bottle) on the other hand is a white blend of the Sylvaner grape with 16% Riesling. Rancho Sisquoc is the only producer of this varietal in California. It’s another great wine for summer with hints of light lime, apricot, sweet pear and roasted peanuts on the nose and a crisp, slightly sweet finish. It’s very unique and loved by many – including those who don’t typically enjoy drinking white wine.

So, with a great day of tasting behind me and a full trunk of wine, I started my journey back to Los Angeles. While I had reservations about my day of solo wine tasting before I left, it ended up being a wonderful day and a fun new adventure. Instead of feeling like the strange girl standing by herself in the tasting rooms, I met so many warm and friendly people both pouring the wines and tasting them. Best of all, I was able to go at my own pace, relax, and see where the day took me. Until next time!

Click here to visit the Curtis Winery website.
Click here to visit the Foxen Vineyard website.
Click here to visit the Rancho Sisquoc Winery website.

CURTIS WINERY
5249 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 686-8999
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 5PM Daily

FOXEN WINERY & VINEYARD
(business address & tasting room)
7600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 937-4251
Fax: (805) 937-0415
Tasting room hours: 11AM – 4PM Daily

(foxen 7200 “the shack”)
7200 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 937-4251
Fax: (805) 937-0415

RANCHO SISQUOC WINERY
6600 Foxen Canyon Road
Santa Maria, CA 93454
Phone: (805) 934-4332
Fax: (805) 937-6601
Tasting room hours: 10AM – 4PM Monday through Thursday. 10AM – 5PM Friday through Sunday.