Thanks for the Wine: What Santa Barbara Winemakers Will Be Sipping this Thanksgiving

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/19/15

If you’re like me, there are at least a couple of rare or expensive or unique wine bottles that have been awaiting a special occasion all year long.  Invitations and invitees have come and gone.  But it’s not until the holidays that we find a supper special enough to open these reserved sippers and share them with those we love.

Many of our local winemakers are no different, it turns out, and I asked a few about the special bottles they’ll be what they’ll be popping on this Thanksgiving.

Dave Potter (my pic)
Dave Potter, Municipal Winemakers and Potek
“Since we are usually sharing the table with family and friends, it’s a nice time to share special wines,” admits Potter.  Next Thursday, he’s opening up bottles he picked up on a trip to Burgundy and Bordeaux in 2011, where he got engaged.  Firstly, with five years in bottle after release, those wines are really hitting their stride now,” he tells me.  “Also, all this insanity in Paris has really got me thinking about how wonderful France is and how special our trip was, and wine is a great way to transport us back there.”  The Potters are especially thankful for their daughter, who was born just six weeks ago.

Drake Whitcraft
Drake Whitcraft, Whitcraft Winery
“Well, I actually always just pick any of my dad’s wines,” says winemaker Whitcraft, whose father, legendary winemaker Chris Whitcraft, passed away last year.  ”They are all very special and very limited now.  And he always said wine is made to drink, preferably before it goes over the edge.  So this year, seeing as there is a turducken involved, I will reach for a high acid, early vintage Bien Nacido Vineyards or Hirsch Vineyards pinot. And for whites?  No offense pops, but I'm going with my current stuff.”  The younger Whitcraft’s own 2014 Presqu’ile Vineyards Chardonnay, vibrant and sophisticated, would be a perfect pick.

Aaron Walker, Pali Wine Co.
Aaron Walker
I will most likely open up a 2003 Syrah from Sine Qua Non called "Papa,” Walker (himself a proud papa of two) tells me.  He’s been hanging on to this bottle for 10 years, since his server days in San Diego, where his love for syrahs was sparked.  “This is a wine that I have wanted to open for some time now, and this Thanksgiving will be the perfect opportunity, with my family and loved ones nearby.”  For a versatile Thanksgiving white, try Walker’s 2013 Pali Wine Co. Huber Vineyard Chardonnay, with fruit-driven flavors and lively minerality that will match the entire feast.

 Jonathan Nagy, Nielson by Byron
“We will probably open a Delamotte Rosé as inspiration for the chefs,” says Nagy, who's also husband of Riverbench winemaker Clarissa Nagy.  “Clarissa loves rosé Champagne, and that makes it special to me.”  Nagy’s own specialty is pinot noir, and, for Thanksgiving, his 2013 Byron “Nielson” Santa Maria Valley pinot would be a versatile and very food-friendly wine.

Aaron Watty, Big Tar Wines
Pink bubbles also appeal to Watty, who's saving a Bliard Rosé Champagne for Thanksgiving.  It hails from Hautvillers, France, where Dom Perignon is buried.  “I smuggled a bottle back after visiting this amazing family,” Watty says.  “They’ve been producing biodynamic Champagne since 1970.”  For another perfect Thanksgiving red, try the 2012 Big Tar La Encantada pinot, with cherry fruit, smoky earthiness and bright acidity.

Ben Silver
Benjamin Silver, Silver Wines
"My Thanksgiving wine choice is a spontaneous decision and involves multiple bottles," says Silver.  "I'll look in my wine cellar for red fruit-driven wines with some structure: masculine-styled pinot noirs, Barolo or Barbaresco, medium-bodied Cabernet Franc, or medium-bodied sangiovese-based wines.”  Consider Silver’s own 2010 Nebbiolo, with a lively mouth feel and with enough acid and structure to hold up lots of Thanksgiving flavors.

Michael Larner, Larner Vineyards & Winery
Larner is going back to 1997 both because of the past and the future.  Among a few European selections, we’ll be pouring a ‘97 Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf Du Pape,” he says.  “We purchased our ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley to start our estate vineyard from scratch in that vintage.  My family traveled many times to France and specifically the Rhone Valley seeking inspiration, and I can remember the excitement my parents felt meeting the General Manager for La Nerthe.  Their philosophy is the task I charged myself with and still hold today -- focus on the vineyard, and the winemaking is easy.”  The 1997 vintage also marked California’s last visit by El Nino, and with the stormy period’s apparent return, Larner feels that “there is hope of relief from the drought we have experienced for the last three years.”  The Larners will also be sipping their own estate wines – all fantastic Thanksgiving matches – like robust yet refined 2011 “Elemental” blend of syrah, grenache and mourvedre.

Jeff and Nikki Nelson
Nikki Nelson, Liquid Farm
Nelson is reaching back to her birth year and opening up a 1982 Chateau Palmer.  She and husband Jeff won it at a Santa Ynez Valley charity auction last year.  “The projected decline of it is coming very soon, so no better time to open her up and see what she’s all about, after 33 years!” she tells me.  “Hopefully awesome, fingers crossed.”  Liquid Farm’s 2013 Golden Slope Chardonnay, with its citrusy minerality, would be a perfect sipper while this fancy Bordeaux breathes.

Geoff Rusack, Rusack Vineyards & Winery
For Rusack, the focus is on the wine for the end of the feast: a 1955 Dow’s Port.  “I acquired it even before I met my wife Alison, and that was well over 30 years ago!” he says.    The man behind Rusack Vineyards fell in love with Port in college, during a skiing trip to Idaho that included a serendipitous pairing of port, apples and Stilton cheese.   “I learned, for the first time, what true synergy in food and drink was,” he recalls.  “Back then, I was working at a fine wine and liquor store in Santa Monica – Pearson’s Brentwood.  I noticed they had a couple of bottles of 1955 Dow’s, and I was able to convince the owner into selling them to me.  I’m not sure I was even 21!”

A few Rusack reds by winemaker Steve Gerbac – including the 2013 Ballard Canyon Estate Reserve Syrah, with its buxom tannins and chocolate tinges, and the 2013 Ballard Canyon Estate Zinfandel, made from Santa Cruz Island cuttings and showcasing spice rack aromas and blueberry flavors – will grace my own Thanksgiving table next week. 

No matter what you’ll be popping open next week, just remember to count your blessings.  And don’t hesitate to splurge.  Happy Thanksgiving!


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