A few months ago I ventured back across the Atlantic to the West Coast and found myself surprised by what Northern California had to offer by way of Spanish varietals (read Part I here). The wines of Bokisch Vineyards far exceeded my expectations. Incidentally, I am looking forward to my Fall shipment of reds just a week away! With one great California wine experience behind me I decided to try again - this time along the Central Coast of California (Santa Barbara County). Spanish varietals have found quite a home here as well, and I was bound to see if my first great experience could be repeated.
My visit took me to unknown places (at least to me) like Orcutt, Los Olivos, Solvang, and Santa Ynez. Our drive to (and through) this area was absolutely breathtaking and picturesque. Santa Barbara's winemaking history stretches back more than 200 years to before California was a state. (The first modern vineyards were planted in the area in early 1960's.) Grapevine cuttings were brought to the area from Mexico by Father Junipero Serra in 1782. The wine industry in Santa Barbara County has truly experienced a renaissance over the last 25 years. The area is cooler than most wine regions in Northern California and has an excellent balance of geology, climate, soil, and water. The area now boasts more than 100 wineries, located primarily in the Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, and Sta Rita Hills appellations. During my trip, I was able to taste wines from five different wineries. Below are some notes from my visits.
Core Wines (Personal Favorite)
Dave and Becky Corey have a combined 25+ years of experience working in the wine business, but you would never know by how young they look. It seemed only natural that they take their passion and love for wine and start producing their own; as a result, Core Wines was born. My trip to Core began with a visit to the tasting room where Becky poured some absolutely tremendous wines (all from Spanish varietals). Among the wines tasted were the 2007 Core Grenache (80% Grenache/Garnacha, 20% Syrah), 2006 Ground Around (Grenache/Garnacha, Syrah, Mourvedre/Monastrell), 2006 C3 (Tempranillo), and the 2005 and 2006 vintages of C3 Crazy Eights (Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon). Two wines were particularly amazing and among my favorites of the trip: 2005 Ground Around (Grenache/Garnacha, Syrah, Mourvedre/Monastrell), and 2007 C3 (Tempranillo). Following my time in the tasting room I headed to the "winery" where Dave proceeded to barrel taste me through some unique and interesting wines. From Grenache (Garnacha) to Mourvedre (Monastrell), these barrels are the home of what promises to be some amazing future wines. Should you find yourself looking at one of their wines do not stop to think - buy them!
After a bizarre and somewhat uncomfortable exchange with the tasting room attendant (the owner's son), I decided to give the wines of Louisa Sawyer Lindquist a try. Louisa's passion for Spanish varietals led her to plant small blocks of Albariño and Tempranillo in the valley. The wines are produced at Qupé under the direction of her husband, Bob. I tasted the three "Spanish" wines of Verdad: 2008 Albariño, 2005 Tempranillo, and 2008 Rosé (Grenache/Garnacha and Tempranillo). The rosé was crisp and fruit-forward and my favorite of the three. The other two wines appeared to lack some of what I expected (not enough Spanish "taste" and terroir) but were pleasant and certainly drinkable wines.
Longoria Wines (Personal Favorite)
Rick and Diana Longoria established Longoria Wines in 1982. Rick's desire to produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir drove him to the fields. Now he also produces two of Spain's prized (and signature) varietals: Tempranillo and Albariño. Might I add that he does them both extremely well. By far my favorite Albariño of the trip and one of my top two Tempranillos (Core Wines 2007 C3 was the other), Rick does an absolutely tremendous job of capturing the heart and soul of Spain. The 2009 Albariño exhibited the aromas and flavors of Galicia while the 2007 Tempranillo was big, rich, and reminiscent of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. I only tasted (for obvious reasons) Rick's two Spanish wines, but I would not hesitate to give his others a try if they are anywhere near as good as the ones I tasted.
Producing Spanish- and Italian-style wines, TreAnelli was one of two wineries I encountered who are producing a single varietal Mourvedre/Monastrell (Core Wines produces Mister Mourved - also delicious!). Their latest releases include a 2008 Albariño, 2007 Grenache/Garnacha, and a 2008 Mourvedre/Monastrell.
My final stop was purely accidental. Towards the end of a bike ride through the vineyards and valleys of Santa Ynez (in particular, Happy Canyon), my first winery stop was Bridlewood Estate Winery. It was here that I was treated to a wonderful Grenache (actually two) and some incredible Syrahs. Although Syrah is not primary varietal in Spain it is, however, grown quite regularly in Priorat and Montsant. This beautiful winery sits amongst the vineyards and this was certainly a treat - a truly unexpected treat.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised by the wines produced in my home state. Will you ever read "Confessions of a California Wine Snob" on my site? Never. But some of the wines from California (well, at least those of Spanish "origin") will hold a hallowed place in my heart. Whatever it takes to bring more of Spain to America, I am all for it.
Life is short. Drink Spanish wine!