Summer Sipping Tip: Relax and Chill (Your Reds)

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/21/18

In an industry wrought with rules – only whites pair with fish! – bending the rules of wine consumption is becoming increasingly hip. I was at a dinner recently where someone dropped a couple of ice cubes into their pinot grigio; I looked around -- no one batted an eye.

And pinot noir is my preferred wine with pretty much any fish, to be honest, even super light and flaky ones.
 
(Collective gasp from the wine snob section.)
 
One rule I’ve been bending more and more lately is chilling red wines down. We all know the rule: serve white wines cold and red wines at room temp. But the temp in the room goes up in the height of summer, making many reds seem flabby. What’s more, a red wine that’s just chilled and allowed to slowly rise during the bottle consumption process delivers several wonderful things
 
My wife began noticing this more and more at local Italian restaurants – that the bottle of red we ordered came to the table a lot colder to the touch than she was used to. At first, an eyebrow raiser. But then she began to tout the idea, because she found that the wine not only tasted fresher, was easier to sip and played nicely with our steamy pasta fare, but it evolved, too. New smells and tastes emerged as we mutually gulped our way through the bottle, and that made drinking the wine more fun.
 
My own eyes had already been opened, actually, by my friend, winemaker Larry Schaffer, whose label, Tercero, is a treasure trove of Rhone-inspired creations. At his Los Olivos tasting room, several of his reds are served with a bit of a chill. “Any wine will show different at different temperatures,” he tells me. And with his popular blend, Aberration, the sipping experience goes up when the serving temp goes down, and in a way that he prefers.
 
“My 2017 Aberration, which is a blend of grenache, cinsault and carignane, and which are all picked rather early, is quite fruity at room temperature,” he says. “When chilled, an earthiness from the 100% stem inclusion shows more prominently, as well as a ‘crunchiness’ on the finish that helps balance the fruit.” Suddenly, a colder version of the Aberration makes it more interesting.
 
Schaffer continues, “The challenge is that when you chill most reds, you numb them – the aromatics are subdued and the texture becomes muted. So it’s not an absolute situation.”
 
My friend, winemaker David Potter, just sent out an email to his Municipal Winemaker newsletter audience titled, “Ice Cold Red Wine.” It promoted three wines: a sparkling syrah, a grenache made from 80-year-old vines growing in Rancho Cucamonga and his popular, Rhone-centric Big Red blend, all sold as a three-pack, and shipped to your door, for $85. Potter tells the reader, “Chilling down [lighter-bodied reds] will show off the acidity, tannin, and overall refreshing-ness of the wine. Don't worry about the cold turning down too much of the volume on all that interesting wine, though.  If it's hot out, the wine warms up in the glass with a little time, and boom, flavor!  We pretty much always prefer to err on the side of freshness over loud flavor anyhow.
 
“Trust us, ice cold red wine is what you've been missing out on at those summer bbqs.”
 
So, slowly but surely, the word’s spreading. I know, nothing new here -- generations before us have been chilling their wine, regardless of color, to enjoy it better. Simple as that. But as more and more talented winemakers begin to promote their wines as better savored when a little colder, more and more of us consumers learn one more way to better savor what we sip.
 
Best ways to give your red a quick nip? Pop it in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes, or stick it in an ice bath for about 10.

Or put an ice cube in it – no one cares anymore.
 
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When in Chile: How Wine Consumption Differs South of the Equator

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 10/12/17

It’s been two years since I saw my younger brother, Luis. So with his quick California visit this week, we’ve done plenty of reminiscing, catching up and chatting life, all while going through several bottles of wine. Discussions about how wine is enjoyed in our native Chile, and how it differs from wine consumption in the U.S., have been especially interesting to me.

The winegrowing scene in Chile is actually not all that different from how it’s done in Santa Barbara: coincidentally, the heart of viticulture in both regions is equidistant from the equator – about 34.5 degrees – so things like topography and climate are similar. But a major portion of the wines produced in Chile are earmarked solely for domestic consumption, and wine drinking habits revolve around distinct nuances. Here are a few observations I made this week, between sips.

Variety
The Saglie Brothers, from left: Christian, me and Luis
Carmenère is generally considered the national grape of Chile,” Luis tells me. “And carignan has become really popular, too.” You’d be hard-pressed to find either of these grape varieties bottled on their own in California. Carmenère, for example, lives in the shadows of its more famous Bordeaux sisters, like cabernet sauvignon and merlot, and is used primarily in blends. It makes a dense wine: the 2011 Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Carmenère we shared this week was dark, deep and earthy. But in a country where red meat cuisine reigns supreme, carmenère, which thrives in many Chilean vineyards, fits. Carignan is a Mediterranean red grape that exhibits red fruit character and that’s made a few inroads locally; it grows at Camp 4 Vineyard in Santa Ynez and is used in blends by winemakers like Tercero’s Larry Schaffer.
 
Bang for Your Buck
“You can get a really good bottle of wine for about 4000 or 5000 pesos,” my brother says. That’s less than $8, making dependably good wine particularly affordable in Chile. Here at home, I’d put the comparable price point sweet spot at $15 to $20. Twice as much, and the quality you’re getting is often iffy, while $30-plus should always land you a great bottle. The affordability of good wine in Chile makes it pervasive. “Everyone buys wine, everyone has it at home waiting to pour for guests,” Luis says, “even people who know nothing about wine or who are happy to drink everyday wine out of just a water glass.” In the U.S., he continues, “the everyday wine experience is usually limited to actual wine aficionados,” who are simply more willing to pay more for good wine.
 
The Experience
Tasting at SB's Municipal Winemakers (I only look shorter because I'm standing further back)
When I last visited Luis in Chile several years ago, we visited Concha y Toro. The world-famous winery is set on a sprawling vineyard estate about an hour outside of Chile, and the visitor experience – from the one-on-one tour with the winemaker to a tour of the estate’s manor house to the sit-down wine lunch – was fantastic. Visiting wineries is common in Chile, although “it’s best to make an appointment and prepare for a full-on wine country experience,” says Luis. He contrasts the hospitality aspect of the Chilean wine experience with the tasting room-driven model in Santa Barbara. In truth, wine tasting in Chile is more immersive -- much more akin to what wine travelers find in Paso Robles and Temecula, where looser restrictions (compared to Santa Barbara) actually allow wineries to build restaurants and even hotels onsite to create an experience.  Many of us who are involved in the Santa Barbara wine industry have long been aware of this – that our county’s constraints may well have put our local wine industry at a competitive disadvantage. It’s interesting that someone visiting from the other side of the world notices this, too.
 
If you want to experience the wine harvest in Chile, just keep the seasons in mind: they’re flipped on that side of the equator, which means grapes come off the vine February through April.
 
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Summer Party: Santa Barbara's Natural History Museum to Host City's Premier Wine Festival

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 5/24/18

The Santa Barbara Wine & Food Festival changed its name just last year. Organizers at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the storybook setting for this annual wine fete, added the Food reference to reflect the culinary wow factor. This festival has grown, in fact, to become a feast for the taste buds, as it’s where dozens of the region’s top chefs converge.
 
To name a few: Bob’s Well Bread; The Bear & Star; Barbareño; Hitching Post II; The Lark; Industrial Eats; Finch & Fork; Les Marchands, Loquita; and Via Maestra 42. Longtime faves like Brophy Bros. and new arrivals like Blue Water Grill will serve up, too. Local foodie celebs like caterer Michael Hutchings and confectioners Jessica Foster will also be there.
 
So, you won’t go hungry when you go on June 30th.
 
The setting alone -- the oak-shrouded grounds of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History -- is a major draw
But make no mistake: the Santa Barbara Wine & Food Festival stays true to its wine roots. This may be the one festival where winemakers show up because they want to, not because they contractually have to. It’s the interaction with the crowd – winemakers engage with a captive, cheery crowd that’s there as much for the gourmet extravaganza as for the dependably sunny afternoon, along a creek, under the oaks. For those who pout, it’s also a lot about comradery, in a relaxed setting, in the middle of the wine grape growing season, several weeks before the rigors of harvest come calling.
 
Doug & Marni Margerum and Richard Sanford
Consider: Santa Barbara County’s first winemakers have been attending this even – laying claim to the same pouring spot, actually – for more than 30 years. “That first year, I remember pouring wines from bottles that didn’t have labels on them yet,” Alma Rosa Winery’s Richard Sanford once told me; the man who instinctively planted his first vines near Lompoc in 1971 is a legend.
 
Guys like Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Ken Brown, Fred Brander and Doug Margerum are there. Drake Whitcraft used to come here as a kid, when his dad, the late great Chris Whitcraft, doled out pinot and chardonnay; he’s doing the doling out now.  Among the dozens of other labels in attendance: Kaena; Area 5.1; Babcock, Blair Fox; Brewer-Clifton; Casa Dumetz; Carr; Tatomer; Sandhi; Fess Parker; Folded Hills; Tercero.
 
You won’t go thirsty, either.
 
And you may not even go empty-handed. The Every Cork Wins raffle ensures everyone’s a winner: pay $40, pull a cork, and win a guaranteed prize valued at least $40 (some are valued in the hundreds).
 
Winemaker Matt Brady and Blair Fox
The 2018 Santa Barbara Wine & Food Festival takes place Saturday, June 30th, from 2-5pm.  Tickets are $100, or $75 for museum members.  For $125, upgrade to the VIP Lounge and get early admission, chair massages and exclusive food and wine pairings. Buy tickets through the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History website, sbnature.
 
The money raised by this event, close to $100,000, funds enrichment programs for more than 40,000 California students who come to the Museum each year to learn about natural history.
 
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A Place to Pour: Iconic Santa Barbara Wine Label to Open First Tasting Room

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 5/17/18

The Hitching Post label is one of the most recognizable brands in Santa Barbara County. Consumers order it at wine shops and restaurants across the country, including the famous Buellton restaurant that shares its name. It’s never had its own destinations tasting room, however, until now.
 
This week, business partners and co-winemakers Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley announced that Hitching Post Wines’ first ever tasting will open in July. Mr. Ostini, the well-known chef who owns the Hitching Post II restaurant, has leased property that abuts his eatery, expanding his real estate holdings along E. State Route 246 from one acre to 12. The parcel is mostly open land that drops into a river basin that borders the popular animal haven, Ostrichland, but it’s also home to a wine tasting room that, until recently, housed the Loring and Cargasacchi brands.
 
Gray Hartley & Frank Ostini
“We’ve always wanted to have a tasting room, just never a satellite one in a place like, say, Santa Barbara or Los Alamos,” admits Mr. Hartley, who’ll be entering his 39th wine grape harvest with Mr. Ostini this fall. “Having it right next to Frank’s restaurant, though – that’s a natural.”
 
The Ostini-Hartley team has been making wine in Santa Barbara County since 1979, focusing primarily on pinot noir and on sourcing grapes from premier vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley. The Hitching Post label was born in 1984. The brand was propelled into the limelight by Rex Picket’s book, Sideways, and the Oscar-winning film it inspired in 2004. The restaurant is where the main character, Miles, comes to quench his sorrows – usually with Hitching Post pinot – and where he meets his love interest, Maya. The Hitching Post has been a household name among wine aficionados ever since.
 
“The wine business has always helped promote the restaurant, it’s always complemented it,” says Mr. Ostini. “But then it began to grow in a very organic way, so that now it stands on its own. And we’ve always been very serious about making it. So giving it its own tasting room just makes sense.”
 
Hear ye, hear ye
About 80% of the Hitching Post’s 17,000-case annual production is sold through distribution. The new tasting room will allow the winemaking duo to sell wine directly to consumers. “It’ll also help us grow our wine club,” adds Mr. Hartley, which ships wines out to members several times a year.
 
The Hitching Post tasting room, which will become the 10th wine tasting venue in the city of Buellton, will feature a patio and picnic grounds. Visitors will have the option to purchase food from a new limited lunch menu, which will be delivered “on foot or maybe by electric golf cart,” according to Mr. Ostini, from the famous barbecue-themed restaurant next door.
 
The signage for the new space, which will enjoy prime visibility near the Highway 101-SR 246 interchange, will also showcase a brand new look for the Hitching Post wine label.
 
“We just want to get people to the [Santa Ynez] Valley,” adds Mr. Ostini, “because it’s the true wine country.”
 
For more information, visit hpwines.com.
 
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For Mom, By Mom: Mother's Day Rosé Wines (Made by Moms)

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 5/10/18

A rose by any other name is still a rose. Unless it's rosé.
 
You can’t go wrong with the thorny beauty, a perennial symbol of love and appreciation on any day, especially Mother’s Day. But you can say the same for rosé, the soft-hued quencher that’s finally earning the notoriety among American drinkers that it’s been chasing for years – it has its own trending hashtag, after all, #roséallday! With colors that range from salmon to crimson, and with aromas often aligned with berries and flowers, the easy sipper is as pretty as it is tasty, making it the perfect gift for any thirsty mother. Even better, some of the best rosé in Santa Barbara is made by winemakers who are, themselves, moms. These three options, each one priced at around $25, deserve serious consideration:
 
A Tribute to Grace, 2017 Rosé of Grenache, 2017
Angela Osborne has three young boys, ages 6 months to four years. And yet, this New Zealand native still finds time to craft a thoughtful portfolio of lovely wines. Her Rosé of Grenache is delicate on the nose and bursting with minerality and freshness. Grenache grapes were sourced from Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, 60 miles inland and at an elevation of 3000 feet. The wine was bottled under an Aries moon in February and released in March. Osborne’s label is a tribute to her grandmother, Grace.
 
Carhartt Vineyard, 2017 Chase the Blues Away Rosé
These days, Brooke Carhartt splits winemaking duties with her 29-year-old son, Chase – pretty much 50-50. This familial cooperation, which also includes husband Mike, the Carhartt label’s chief grape grower, has led to one of Santa Barbara’s coolest wine brands. The bouncy and refreshing Chase the Blues Away Rosé, also all-grenache and fermented in stainless steel, was released in mid-April. Aside from ordering it online, that poplar Carhartt tasting room in Los Olivos is the only place where you can get it.

Cambria Winery, Rosé of Pinot Noir
Denise Shurtleff is an empty nester these days, her two adult sons currently pursuing careers outside the wine business. That means more time to focus on vines and wines, a gig she’s had at Santa Maria’s Cambria Winery for more than 15 years. Shurtleff uses estate pinot noir grapes from Julia’s Vineyard for the label’s 2017 rosé, which is smooth and bursting with flavors of strawberry and watermelon.
 
Happy Mother’s Day!
 
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Mud Reimagined: Santa Barbara Winemaker Uses Montecito Mire as Fertilizer

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Mo McFadden & Fred Brander
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/29/18


“It’s a pretty crazy idea,” admits winemaker Fred Brander, “but it’s a neat idea.”
 
For obvious reasons, there’s little more that the Montecito community likely wants to do with mud than to discard it. Dump it somewhere far away.
 
Mud, along with boulders and debris, thundered with deadly force through the luxe enclave on January 9th, and as cleanup and recovery continue, much of it remains.
 
Fred Brander at his Montecito property, post-mudslide
Mr. Brander and his son, Nick, were among those affected that morning, when they became trapped in their house just off Mountain Drive and along Oak Creek. “A culvert at the bottom of the road got plugged up with mud, and that made water and debris go over the road and into our backyard,” he recalls. Crews from Montecito Fire would rescue them soon after.
 
There’s an emotional connection to this property, since it’s a house his parents built in 1983, where they resided until they both passed away in recent years, and where Mr. Brander has been living ever since. “I have roots to this property,” he says.
 
There are also roots to Fred Brander’s namesake vineyard in Los Olivos, which is home to the first sauvignon blanc grapes ever planted in Santa Barbara County. His parents, Erik and Virginia, bought that land in 1974. The Brander Vineyard, established there in 1977, remains one of the most awarded wine labels in California today.
 
And in the vineyard, that mud suddenly offered opportunity.

“The disaster of the fires and the food was a really unusual event,” Mr. Brander says, referring to the Thomas Fire that roared through Santa Barbara in December – the largest in California history – and the Montecito mudslides that followed it so quickly.
 
“All that debris was unusually high in wood ash.”
 
Crews remove mud and rock from Brander's Montecito property
Mr. Brander set himself to study the potential benefits of ash in soil. It’s no secret, he says, that previous generations regularly used ash to fertilize their vegetable gardens. “Those veggies got nutrition because wood is high in potassium and other nutrients and minerals.”
 
He also learned that alkaline soils, like the ones that coat the mountains that embrace Montecito, could benefit acidic soils, like the ones across the Santa Ynez Valley. “It can increase the pH of the soil to beneficial levels, and that’s a plus,” he says.
 
So when construction companies came to clear the culvert by his house, Mr. Brander intervened. “’Where are you taking all the mud and rock?’ I asked them. When they said, ‘Los Alamos,’ I told them I had a place that was a lot closer.”
 
No less than 60 truckloads made their way to The Brander Vineyard. More than 900 tons in all. Most of it is rock, actually, which Mr. Brander has earmarked for decorative landscaping across his 52-acre property. But that mud – that mud's become fertilizer.
 
After drying out and going through a sorter and being cleared for toxicity, Montecito mud has been spread across three acres of cabernet sauvignon vines. “That was the most labor-intensive part, hand-fertilizing each plant,” he says. Another two acres of cabernet in the same block are being used as a control, and when harvest comes around this fall, Mr. Brander will be able to quantify the effects of his unique peat.
 
A sorter separates ash-rich mud from rock
Ash-rich mud is used to fertilize cabernet vines at The Brander Vineyard
“When we pick, we’ll test pH and acid and sugar to see if there’s a difference,” says the winemaker. “But we should be able to track progress during the growing season, within weeks even, if the leaves start to look healthier, greener.”
 
Mr. Brander believes that this may be the first time wood ash has ever been used as vineyard fertilizer, at least to this extent. The grapevines they’re nourishing were planted 10 years ago and generate fruit for Brander’s award-winning reserve cabernet program. “So we’ll make a good quality wine either way,” he says.
 
Mr. Brander is keeping a close eye on his vines
And when that wine is made and released sometime in late 2019, it’ll become a tribute to victims of the Montecito mudslides. The commemorative wine, with proceeds tagged for relief efforts, will even feature a label specially designed by “a top artist from Oaxaca” that Mr. Brander commissioned just last week.
 
“We all want to do something good to bring awareness and to help the community heal,” adds Fred Brander. “So it’s important to see that something good can come out of a bad situation. Even here, there can be a silver lining."
 
Brander Vineyard, 2401 N. Refugio Rd., Los Olivos. 805-688-2455. brander.com.
 
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Santa Barbara's Biggest Wine Party of the Spring: Vintners Festival Returns

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/12/18

Santa Barbara’s biggest wine party of spring is just days away. Santa Barbara Vintners, the group that represents more than 100 local wineries and vineyards, is hosting its 36th annual wine fete on Saturday, April 21st at sprawling River Park in Lompoc. Free-flowing world-class wine aside, here are five reasons to be among the 2000 thirsty revelers who’ll be there.
 
The Bubbles
The Bubble Lounge is new this year – a dedicated spot to all things fizzy! In a few short years, Santa Barbara has seen sparkling wine production soar, with some of the area’s top labels, like Riverbench, Lucas & Lewellen and Alma Rosa, cranking out bubbly yearly. The Bubble Lounge will be an effervescent oasis – a great way to cleanse the palate throughout the afternoon.
 
 
The Food
Wine lovers are food lovers, so the culinary spin to this festival is always a crowd pleaser. In fact, at some of the area’s most popular gastronomic hangouts, be ready to wait in line. More than 30 local restaurants, chefs and purveyors will be doling out edible treats, and look for some of the region’s top farmers to be serving up their in-season organic fare.
 
Frank Ostini, chef/winemaker
The Stages
This year’s festival will feature not one, but two stages. One will add to the event’s epicurean appeal, hosting several cooking demonstrations. The other stage will host The Bryan Titus Trio, a band known for its modern take on bluegrass. Toe-tapping to their high-spirited tunes is a great way to take breaks and pace yourself throughout the day.
 
The First Few This year’s event is a tip-of-the-hat to the 17 young winemakers who started it all. “No one has that ‘look at me’ mentality, it was about ‘look at us,’” remembers Qupe vintner Bob Lindquist in a recent interview with Santa Barbara Vintners. The first Vintners Festival took place in 1983 at Mission Santa Ines in Solvang, with the goal of raising enough money to print a wine trail map; with 500 tickets up for grabs, it was a sellout. And today, it’s one of the longest-running wine festivals in the country. Look for many of those original 17 winemakers –Lindquist, along with Jim Clendenen, Ken Brown and Richard Sanford, among others – at the April 21st event.


Norm Yost, winemaker
The First Responders
More than 8500 firefighters from 10 states descended on our area in December when the largest wildfire in California history roared through Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. The debris flow in Montecito a few weeks later showcased first responder heroism all over again. In gratitude, the Festival includes a First Responder Invitational, which allows members of the community to buy a ticket for a firefighter or police officer to attend the festival. The goal: at least 100 first responders in attendance.
 
Please enjoy this festival to the max, but please enjoy it responsibly. Bus transportation from Santa Barbara, Solvang or Buellton begins at $30 and non- drinking tickets for designated drivers and kids (ages six to 20) are $25. General admission to Saturday’s Grand Tasting is $70 and the five-day Vintners’ Visa Weekend Pass, which gets you complimentary tastings at 12 wineries of your choice all weekend long, costs $50; do the combo for $100. Check out sbcountywines.com.
 
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