Sta. Rita Hills Wine and Fire Weekend: Wrap-up!

General Wine Discussion (Tasting Notes, Reviews, Info, Etc...)

Sta. Rita Hills Wine and Fire Weekend: Wrap-up!

Postby Phil_Carpenter » Fri Aug 30, 2013 10:21 am

The definition of, "Blessing in Disguise", according to

A misfortune that unexpectedly turns into good fortune, as in Missing the train was a blessing in disguise, for if I hadn't, I wouldn't have met my future wife.

Or, "blessing" as in when you and your wife's visas get delayed and you have another month in California before moving to the UK. Or, "blessing" as in being able to get access to one of the best events in Santa Barbara, "Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance's Wine and Fire" weekend. Or, "blessing" as in the grandparents volunteering to watch our toddler so we can go to the events. Or, blessing as in being able to stay with friends, and be surrounded by even more friends throughout the weekend. I usually find myself rather blessed, but for those three days in the SRH...I felt REALLY blessed.

Wine and Fire has been around for four years now. This was the first one I could attend. I've always wanted to go since this AVA kicks out world class fruit, wine, and brings some of my favorite producers together in one room. There were three official events of of the weekend. One, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Barn Party. Two, Seminars (titled, "Treasures of the Sta. Rita Hills") and lunch at Hillard Bruce Vineyard, and three, the grand tasting at La Purisima Mission.

The Barn Party at the Sanford & Benedict vineyard was held on Friday (August 16th). Driving up with the Kesslers, I was in awe by the views. I couldn't believe the venue. This was the perfect event to preview the grand tasting. Very low key, great food, music, and a bunch of great winemakers and wines. I was able to catch up with a bunch of friends, and set my dance card for the grand tasting.

View from The Barn...stunning
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While tasting wine, I just kept looking through the open barn door. Beautiful picture frame.
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Mrs. SBWT, Moderator Laurie Jervis, and Clinton Froehlich of Jalama Wines talk and nosh
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Saturday (August 17th) started off with getting to Hilliard Bruce vineyard. I've always seen the vineyard from afar, but never up close. All I can say...WOW! Everything is beautiful! The vines look completely different from anything I've ever seen. The area where the seminars were being held was in the area of where the Hilliard's raise national champion Arabian horses. The stalls were nicer than my first apartment. I came with the Kesslers to drop off some stuff for the setup. Since I'm not one to sit around while others work, I dove in. I just felt happy to lend a helping hand in one of the best tastings I've ever attended.

After the tables, table clothes, place mats, stems, spit buckets, etc were set...wines started arriving. I was in the area where wines were going to be staged with local legend John Loewen. Brandon Sparks-Gillis (Dragonette Cellars, Liquid Farm) said, "Well, we could use someone to help stage the wines". John took lead, and I gladly helped him with all the bottles. John gave me direction in a frank and precise manner...which I LOVE! Reminded me of my past life. Before you knew it, corks were ripped, wines were tasted and tested, and stems were filled. Before you knew it, moderator Josh Raynolds (Assistant Editor of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar (IWC) was addressing the crowd.

First up, was the chardonnay seminar. The areas were set up in a split manner, same with the pinot seminar. First up was the Santa Rosa Corridor. These vineyards are located on the southern side of the Sta. Rita Hills. Three wines from three AMAZING winemakers.

Chard panel sets up...
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Chard lineup
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First up...

2010 Brewer-Clifton Winery Sweeney Canyon Chard
Steve Clifton presented his wine...and I don't know about you, but I listen when Steve talks. B-C has been making wine from this vineyard from the start in 1996. Site is dry farmed, is 18.5 acres, and Wente clone. Steve says this reminds him of a margarita, I can see that with the zingy lemon/lime and salinity (salt on the rim). I was getting a diesel like note when Steve said there is a small amount of grapes that are riesling and sauv blanc. So this is sort of an unofficial field blend that shows crazy complexity.

Second up...

2011 Ken Brown Wines Rita's Crown Chard
Excited to try this wine since this new site has such amazing potential. Ken said this wine comes from Block 16, which is just about at the top of the vineyard. Southwest facing slopes, elevations between 600-900 feet, heavily influenced by the maritime weather, with sandy and clay loams. There are some spectacular views from this site. This wine from Ken is barrel fermented and treated to batonnage. Definitely a creamy, lemon meringue, medium plus weight chard some gravely acid on finish. This could give some NorCal chards a run for their money...

Third up...

2011 Alma Rosa Winery Ranch El Jabali Chard
Richard Sanford was on the panel. Between Ken and Richard, there is some SERIOUS chard knowledge. These two have been making chard before it was cool in the valley. This site was planted in 1983, is seven acres, and has Mt. Eden and Wente clone. It is clay loam soil that has good drainage. Richard's chards, to me are so austere, refined, bordering on old school, but with Sta. Rita Hills panache. This wine was absolutely beautiful in glass, showing salinity, lemon crispness, with nice underlying notes of oak. So balanced...with a cool lime effect on finish.

Richard Sanford speaking
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Last three were from the 246 Corridor. The northern side of the valley, straddled by Highway 246. I could drive the 246/Santa Rosa loop all day...every day!

First up...

2010 Hilliard Bruce Vineyard Chard (from magnum)
Like I previously stated...this vineyard is pristine! Planted in 2004, first official vintage was 2008, it is a total of twenty one acres with sandy, super fast draining soil. The Bruces have spared no expense. The vineyard management is all by hand, they have a six acre reservoir that has an island that removes heavy metal and excess nutrients, and they use cutting edge computer telemetry to monitor the vines. Christine Bruce presented this absolutely stunning chard. 30% new french oak...100% WOW! Just an amazing weight and acid exchange here. The nose...just so aromatic. Exotic, with some high tones of citrus with some sweet baking spice. John Hilliard, Christine, and General Manager Rob Wyngard are going to be making the wines. They have an amazing site to work with. Just wait until the winery is completed on the property!

Second up...

2011 Foley Winery T Anchor Ranch Chard
This wine was presented by Foley winemaker, Leslie Mead Renaud. Leslie was there early, working hard to setup, and ready to present. So happy to help pour her wines. Leslie has been all over California making wines. The site this wine comes off of is MASSIVE according to the specs that were handed out at the seminar. 230 acres of land split into 59 micro-blocks. The chard is planted on the hills surrounding the winery. This one was a bit honeyed, with a lemon/limeade feel. Got some weight to it. It was yummy.

Third up...

2011 Moretti Wines 3-D Vineyard Chard
Antonio Moretti might have one of the best tasting rooms in the valley, "Taste of Sta. Rita Hills". Antonio features the AVA's best wines that don't have a tasting room. Antonio is a sleeper though. Antonio is from Italy and loves an old world style. He and Steve Clifton have worked together to make some really good wines. Antonio was featuring the 3-D chard for this seminar. I've had this vineyard before via Brewer-Clifton. Loved it. Antonio's was lively, aromatic, and a great combo of lemon/lime and salinity. Well done my friend...

Wes took the masses to the rows of vines while we setup the pinots. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain". Before you knew it, we were all sitting down for the pinot seminar.

This seminar focused on the 115 clone. 115...a sexy, more rich, bigger structure...but such a crowd-pleaser. Nestles in the Dijon clones quite well. I've noticed more rose with this clone lately. I have a feeling there is a good amount of 115 out there. Which is why I'm sure this seminar focused on it.

Pinot panel
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First up on the Santa Rosa Corridor...

2012 Dragonette Cargasacchi Vineyard Pinot (barrel sample)
So...I've written about Brandon Sparks-Gillis a lot on this site. I think he might be one of the brightest stars we have in California...if not the world. Brandon is an expert blender. Just get a Sta. Rita Hills pinot from the Dragonette label, and there might just be seven different vineyards in the bottle. I wonder how many clones are in that blend?! Brandon presented this barrel sample. This psycho site is farmed by the famed, Peter Cargasacchi. Don't think there is a variety of clones here...ALL 115. In the heart of the SRH...this site has winemakers fighting for clusters. I tend to find this site kicks out some of the most velvety, structured pinots...noticed some rose (as mentioned above) on the recent vintages. Always has a nice loaminess. This barrel sample was an eye opener. fruit...rather feminine. Just an amazing weight. Well done, Brandon!

Second up...

2012 D'Alfonso-Curran Rancho La Vina Pinot (barrel sample)
Kris Curran was on hand to present this wine. Kris is one of those legendary winemakers I've wanted to meet for a long time. Finally was able to hangout and spend some time with her. She is as fun as everyone says she is. This vineyard is exposed to the cool winds that whip through the SRH. I believe it has some nice elevation to it as well. This sample had not completed malolactic fermentation (ML)...but is showing some amazing potential. Peppery-smokey, meaty, with a touch of orange rind on finish. Kris keeps these wines in barrel for multiple years. CRAZY! Very nice when a winemaker does all the cellaring, FOR YOU!!

Third up...

2012 Sanford Rancho La Rinconada Pinot (barrel sample)
Sanford winemaker, Steve Fennell brought this beauty for the seminar. I met Steve for the first time at the Friday Barn Party. Really enjoyed our conversation and realized how good of a winemaker he is. This site is west facing, well draining Santa Lucia shaley clay loam, is a super cool climate site due to maritime influences, and has more chard on it than pinot! Steve stated the 115 portion goes into the SRH blend. This sample showed masculine, smokey, sagey, riper red fruit feel. Pretty crazy.

Fourth up...

2012 Flying Goat Rio Vista Vineyard Pinot (barrel sample)
Norm was on the panel to talk about this special site, and the pinot he makes off of it. I have numerous pictures of this vineyard in various seasons. A spectacular view, three different vineyards, soils consist of limestone, sedimentary soils, and sandy loam. This property is owned by a very special family, the Thornes. Norm spoke about how he was invited to the property and handpicked to tour the vineyards and given an offer to buy fruit. Brilliant red fruit intertwined with earthy loam.

First up for the 246 Corridor...

2012 La Montagne Kessler-Haak Vineyard Pinot (barrel sample)
The, "New Girl", Kimberly Smith was on the panel to discuss this exciting barrel sample. Kimberly trained with Wes Hagen (Clos Pepe) and has expanded her label quite nicely. Kimberly has lived in Lompoc her whole life, and decided to follow her dream. I recently wrote about Kimberly's wines, but I did not have this sample at that time. I've also written about Kessler-Haak and how excited I am about this site.

Kessler-Haak vineyard has a very interesting microclimate. In the morning, the site is covered in a thick blanket of fog, and can keep Dan up at night from the frost alarms due to the extremely cool conditions. The site is also subjected to it's fair share of wind...typical of a SRH vineyard. Of thirty acres planted, twenty seven is pinot...three is chard. This site just instills acid in both chard and pinot. Dan has a new vineyard management team (think Brewer-Clifton's team for Machado Vineyard, etc.) which has helped him take this site to a whole new level. The vines look amazing and the yields are up. That said, Kimberly's sample showed the lively acid I spoke about. A lighter garnet color. The fruit purity is just amazing. Great combo of winemaking and fruit.

Kessler-Haak Vineyard...morning of seminars and grand tasting
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Second up...

2012 Siduri Clos Pepe Vineyard Pinot (barrel sample)
Adam Lee, the ringer from Santa Rosa was in town to talk about the sacred ground we call, Clos Pepe vineyard. Steve and Catherine Pepe bought this fabled ground in 1994. Formerly a horse ranch, in the middle of what would become the SRH...thanks to the legend that is Wes Hagen...who helped establish the SRH AVA. This was the first vineyard I ever toured in Santa Barbara. Wes, and his vineyard hold a very special place in my heart. According to, Adam's first vintage from the site was 2000. So he is rather familiar with the site. This sample showed a bigger weight and structure with yummy red fruit.

Third up...

2012 Foxen Sebastiano Vineyard Pinot (barrel sample)
Bill Wathen is one of the great ones. He's been making amazing wines under this label since the mid 80's. Bill presented this sample from one of the hottest and new vineyards in the SRH. This is a massive site that sits both inside the AVA, and outside. Foxen's first vintage of this vineyard was in 2010. I've had a few different labels from this site. What I seem to get from this site is an amazing fruit purity. This one had some really nice piney/resin with gingerbread/baking spice. Starting to get the interest in this fruit.

After the seminars were done, helped with some breakdown and grabbed some lunch. Hitching Post II brought some KILLER food for the crowd. Winemakers walked around with their wine and filled our glasses. But behind my sunglasses, the wheels were turning. "What can I sneak in before the grand tasting". First up...hit up Rob Wyngard for a tour of Hilliard Bruce. Never have taken a tour of a vineyard in a Range Rover before. Just amazing views from the highest point of the vineyard.

Hilliard-Bruce from the highest point. Beautiful.
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Next...hit up Jake Lindley to tour his vineyard.

Lindley Vineyard...farthest west, and one of the newest sites in the AVA. I met Jake and Frankie (Jake's wife) a while back. We hit it off really well. Jake is full of energy and is so charismatic. His winemaking philosophy is old world...low alcohol...high acid. His vineyard, just a workhorse of efficiency. Here are the details:

6 1/2 acres planted. 6 acres pinot (roughly equal parts 115, Pommard, 667) 1/2 acre Wente chard
Planted in May 2011, this year is the first commercial vintage and expect roughly 3/4 ton/acre on the Pinot. 1 ton per on Chard.
Spacing is 6x2 1/2, vines are single cordon trained, soil is mostly sandy loam soil
Vineyard will be certified organic at the time of this year's harvest

Wind rustling through the innovative nets at Lindley Vineyard
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Vineyards end...great site
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Two "new kids" to the SRH. Watch out...they're coming!
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This will be a nice transition to my tasting highlights. Jake and Frankie have two current offerings from other vineyards. The chard is a 2011 from Sierra Madre vineyard. A Santa Maria special with 100% steel treatment, no ML. Pure, clean, and MEAN! The 2011 La Lomita vineyard pinot is treated with 20% new French oak. Earthy, beautiful fruit, lovely, and lively. Jake currently gets all the pinot off this small site. I hadn't heard of the vineyard before he poured me this. I love what the Lindley's are doing right now...can't wait to see what they do with their own fruit!

Lindley Chard
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Lindley pinot
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Tasting Highlights from Barn Party/Seminar Lunch/Grand Tasting

Quick note on the Grand Tasting. The tasting was held at the La Purisima Mission. Perhaps the best venue I've been to for a tasting. As the sun set, it just kept getting more beautiful.

Here are some highlights, in alphabetical order.

Greg Brewer was pouring some library wines out of mag. 08 Sanford & Benedict chard, and 06 Mount Carmel. Pinot was in a perfect spot. But that chard, that was amazing stuff. Greg was the very first Santa Barbara winemaker we met with. Can't thank him enough for making time for us on that day. Played a major part in establishing this SB wine passion.

Lovely chard
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Inline pinot
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Always gotta swing by and see peter. Pinot was stellar as always. Velvety goodness with great dark fruit.

Clos Pepe
Always seem to start at Wes' table so I can have his chards. 11 Barrel Fermented and "Homage to Chablis" are absolutely SINGING! Just an absolute perfect combo of new and old world...with the magic of the Clos fruit infused. Salinity, citrus, acid, weight...crazy.

Cold Heaven
Morgan Clendenen was on hand pouring some of the best vio in the valley. 2010 Sanford & Benedict...floral, herbs (fennel?), green apple, citrus, pear. Stunning.

Crawford Family Wines
So, this label was quite the buzz of the weekend. Mark and Wendy Horvath brought their first offerings from their new label. Needless to say, I was SUPER excited to try them. A little history, Mark used to make wine with Kenneth "Joey" Gummere under the Kenneth-Crawford label. I was lucky to taste with both of them when the label was wrapping up. LOVED the wines under that label. Joey has started Transcendence (more to come on this below), and Mark has started Crawford Family Wines. I was throttled by these wines. First up in the lineup...

2012 Crawford Family Wines Tin Shack Sta. Rita Hills Chard
Notes say from Rita's Crown...which is probably why I loved it. Multiple layers...what depth. Nice hints of oak with tropical fruit and mineral.

Beautiful chard...
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2012 Crawford Family Wines 22 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot
This one is just pure, hedonistic, yummy goodness. Darker red fruit with some loam. Great finish...

2012 Crawford Family Wines Zotovich Vineyard Pinot
Stark contrast to the 22. This one is lively, nimble, with red fruit purity. This made me close my eyes and shake my head. Couldn't spit this one. Great spice notes. One of my favs from the weekend.

2011 Crawford Family Wines Walk Slow Pinot
This is the best barrels from the vintage. Mainly Babcock Vineyard (where Mark started his wine journey) with some Radian vineyard. Radian is ascending my list of favorite pinot sites. Santa Rosa side of the valley, more west than Cargasacchi. A perfect meld of the two pinots, but taken up a notch. Lovely...

buy this pinot!
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If you get the chance, check out these wines!!

Jalama Wines
2010 Carg Pinot...Mark Cargasacchi's interpretation on the SRH site. Touch softer, nice florals and fruit

Jalama Carg pinot
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As mentioned above, BIG fan of this label. I kept coming back for Dan's 10 chard and 10 Pommard. Seek this label out if you haven't had it.

La Montagne
As previously stated above, amazing wines. Kimberly and John Loewen were pouring some barrel samples of Rancho La Vina (Clone 115), Buona Terra (Clone 777), John Sebastiano (Clone 115, 4a co-fermented), and Kessler-Haak (Clone 115). All were amazing. Just great acid and showing such potential.

Liquid Farm
Always great to see Jeff and Nikki. Just search, "Liquid Farm" on this site...obviously a freak for this label. I was able to get some of the 12 Mourved (aka, "Pink Crack"). Just so refreshing. Same with the 11 White Hills. The Four came out during the post-seminar lunch. This is just an amazing complex chard. The best four barrels. Mostly Clos Pepe fruit, with some Rita's Crown. One of the top wines of the weekend.

Aaron Walker had a great lineup to share. Got to taste through them and hangout with him. Aaron is a busy guy. Pali has numerous bottlings from all over California and Oregon. Aaron also has overseeing a new vineyard behind Hilliard Bruce. Not to mention he has a personal label named MoonWalker Cellars. Wines as amazing as the winemaker.

poppin' bottles
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As I mentioned above, finally met Steve Fennell at the Barn Party. What a great guy. Really enjoyed this lineup. The chards really stood out...but the 10 SRH pinot hit me perfectly. Don't get me wrong, I love vineyard designates, but the art of blending comes out, and Steve did a great job here. Cherry, raspberry, great mouthfeel...combo of oak notes and natural acidity. Bravo on the wines, Steve!

Sanford lineup, thanks Steve!
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Seagrape Wine Company
I've wanted to try these wines for a very LONG time. Karen Steinwachs' personal label. Karen is an ultra talented winemaker who has a day job at Buttonwood Farm. Karen had a 12 Zotovich barrel sample open. The nose was amazing! Exploding with white flowers, citrus, and mineral. There were three pinots open. 10, 11, and a 12 barrel sample. The pinots are named, "Jump Up". They were all different, super complex, with a foot in the old world. Some leather, meaty, tobacco going with darker fruits. The 12 was quite lively with a very good acid streak. These wines were at the top of my list. Great stuff Karen & Dave.

Amazing lineup from Seagrape Wine Company
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Lompoc legend Steve Schuler-Jones was pouring the wines with his lovely wife, Nancy. I'm kicking myself that I didn't go back for the reds. But the whites...the WHITES!! 12 Ranch Santa Rosa and 12 Zotovich chards. A ying-yang swing of pure deliciousness. Both on different spectrums, with the Zotovich singing to me.

Two beauties...
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Always great to visit with Britt. She was at all three events. Helping to setup, breakdown, and pour the amazing Zotovich lineup. The chard is one of the tops. The real mindfreak is the syrah though. Hints of the Northern Rhone. Great flavor...not too heavy on fruit, white pepper, earthy. Just great cool climate syrah.

Interesting Tidbits:

Adam Lee starting a discussion with Kris Curran about stopping ML in pinot to retain acid. Interesting since I've never heard this discussed about red wine. Hopefully Adam will try this with a future bottling.

Josh talked about how chardonnay is really making strides in the SRH. Which is true, a lot more publicity has been heaped upon the varietal lately. The problem, is there enough planted if the demand increases on this trajectory. Josh stated, before we know it, folks will start holding on to their grapes and start producing under their own labels, and/or with vineyard designates. This to me, would be very sad. Being a big fan of blending, I really hope it doesn't get that desperate. But will vineyard owners REALLY graft over pinot?!

All in of the best weekends of my life. Making new friends, meeting folks I've only talked to via social media, spending quality time with friends, my wife, and enjoying the company of hanging out with the winemakers, and trying their beautiful wine.

A big congrats and well done needs to go to Barbara Satterfield, Director of the SRH Winegrowers Alliance. She had everything organized amazingly. This event did not have an army of hired hands to do all the dirty work. Everyone associated with the alliance was there to lend a hand. Pouring wines into hundreds of glasses with Kathy Joseph, Jeff Nelson, and Leslie Mead Renaud. Lifting sound stages with Brandon Sparks-Gillis, helping Wes Hagen with the sound system by listening to my iPhone, or lifting what seemed like hundreds of tables with Aaron Walker into Peter Cargasacchi's trailer long after the sun went down. This AVA has some amazing folks in it.

Hope another "blessing in disguise" occurs next year.
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