(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/24/14)
I have tasted the future of Santa Barbara wine, and the future tastes good.
This past Saturday’s Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting at Les Marchands was a buzzing outdoor fete that liaised ready-to-buy-now consumers with yet-to-be-released wines. It was, above all, a lesson on how to taste wines young; guests sipped barrel samples from Santa Barbara’s 2012 and 2013 vintages, mainly, while discussing with the women and men who made them how their wines are likely to evolve. It was also win-win retailing; consumers enjoyed 20% savings while winemakers secured cash flow many months before their wines hit store shelves.
If you missed it, not to worry. The owners at the popular Funk Zone wine bar and shop are making the catalog available for purchase through the end of May. “The online campaign is afoot,” co-owner and Master Sommelier Brian McClintic tells me. Tasting and discussing the wines in person is a major plus, of course. But if you weren’t there, the catalog’s detailed notes and anecdotes – the product of numerous visits to vineyards and wineries by McClintic and his business partner, Eric Railsback – are a thorough, entertaining guide. Download it by visiting www.lesmarchandswine.com.
These are my own favorite takeaways.
|Stephanie Varner pours Alta Maria and Native9|
Kunin and The Valley Project: Seth Kunin’s 2012 Larner Vineyard Syrah ($32) was one of this tasting’s great finds for me; this wonderfully integrated wine (even now) displayed rich aromas, a supple mouth feel and delicious blackberry and blueberry flavors. He also poured a 2011 “Block 19” Chardonnay ($34) from a newly-named effort, The Valley Project; as he poured this layered Los Alamos-sourced wine, he told me, “I bottle early to trap in the terroir, and that makes for good bottle aging.”
|Winemaker Chuck Carlson|
|Winemaker Dave Potter|
Municipal Winemakers and Goodland: Dave Potter just needed two reds to draw a steady crowd. His 2013 Municipal Fox Family Vineyard Grenache ($33) is a juicy, bright, fresh red wine – “Super popping,” Potter described it; the balance of fruit and spice is totally on point. The 2012 Happy Canyon Red ($36) is a joint project by four winemakers, including Potter and Jonata’s Matt Dees, who brought his “tannin management skills,” according to Potter, to help craft a supple, silky, textured wine. Only about 50 cases of each of these wines were made.
|Winemaker Drake Whitcraft|
Whitcraft and Mes Amis: Drake Whitcraft’s hands-off and honest approach to winemaking leads to beautiful wines each year, including the heavyweight 2013 vintage. He poured two pinots side by side: the Pence Vineyard pinot noir ($60), grown in limestone soils just outside Sta. Rita Hills, has a rhubarb nose and luscious texture while the Kick-On Ranch pinot ($45), grown on far sandier earth in Los Alamos, is leaner and racier. Whitcraft also showcased one of the best white wines of the day – a 2013 Alabrino ($21) on the Mes Ami label; this joint project with Jaffurs’ Matt Brady, was quintessential sipping on a sunny spring afternoon, with animated fruit flavors and a crisp mouth feel.
|Winemaker Joshua Klapper|
Ojai Vineyard: assistant winemaker Fabien Castel was on hand to showcase one of the afternoon’s very best white wines, the 2012 Puerta Del Mar Chardonnay ($28), sourced just west of Sta. Rita Hills, with minerality and vibrancy that makes it an ideal match for sunshine-inspired fare.
|Brian McClintic sips as winemaker Blake Sillix pours|
Cebada: this very personal project by horticulturalist Sandra Newman includes about 5.5 acres of grapes on her Route 246 property near Lompoc. And in 2013, she made the wines, herself. The 2013 Estate Chardonnay ($39), which will be bottle sometime after August “depending on how it’s drinking,” she mentions, features brilliant acid and a mouth feel that is very much alive, as well as a neat peppery edge. Newman also grows blueberries and green tea on her land.
|Winemaker Ernst Storm, left|
Keep in mind: some of these wines see such small production, they’ll only be available for purchase until they sell out. And mark your calendars: Les Marchands’ next Futures tasting will take place sometime after tax season, 2015. See you there!