Intimate by Design: Turiya Wines to Host Open House

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/24/16

Turiya Wines’ Angela Soleno has a very intimate relationship with the wines she makes.

“Just look at the dark color she shows off,” she says of her 2011 Shapeshifter ($100), a sophisticated petit verdot-based blend.  “Who is she? Who cares – you’re in love,” she continues.  “But be careful with this crafty one: things are not always what they seem.”

The Shapeshifter name was actually inspired by a girl Soleno once knew – a young woman who was friendly enough when the evening was young but, fueled by several glasses of wine, would be devastatingly different when night fell.  A glimpse, if you will, into this winemaker’s personal side.  As a wine, the newly-released Shapeshifter is deliciously layered and profound, with bouncy fruit up front and a fleshy backbone on the back end.  “But it’s a little higher in alcohol, so I make no guarantees,” she jests.

Her 2011 Golden God ($125) is an homage to one of her favorite films, “Almost Famous.”  In one scene, a strung-out rocker uses the phrase to describe himself while shouting from a rooftop.  “It symbolizes all my dreams coming true, and just feeling good,” she tells me.  This 50-50 blend of petit verdot and sangiovese is powerful and voluptuous, a tasty balancing act between muscle and finesse.  “Who says God’s not a girl?” she says to describe this wine.  “This gentle beauty is a symbol of female strength – the darker undersides of the earth, perhaps where a volcano once erupted.”

Turiya, the Sanskrit word for “pure consciousness,” is the ultimate example of garagiste winemaking.  Soleno produces just 200 cases a year in her Lompoc winery.  And that’s only if the vintage permits; Soleno made no wine in 2010 because humidity prevented the late-hanging Bordeaux rapes she likes to work with to ripen all the way.

“My approach is really minimal intervention, letting the fruit decide when it’s ready to be picked, cold soaking, letting it ferment, putting it in barrel and just tasting it over time,” she says.  “My wines end up being the best representation of what’s going on in vineyard and of what’s not going on in the winery.”

Pretty deep for a young winemaker – Soleno is 36 – who released her first wines just three years ago.  But Turiya is clearly an inspired project, an endeavor driven by both intuition and knack.  And by patience: the 2011 wines spent 44 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle before they were released.  “I want to deliver wines that already have some age, that have already developed those layers and that finish,” she says.

The result?  Wines that are consistently complex, robust and multi-dimensional.

Angela Soleno sampling from barrels (photo by Tenley Fohl)

The 2011 vintage marks Turiya’s third vintage.  And a tiny annual production of just 100 to 200 cases – for 2011, 43 cases of the Shapeshifter, 23 cases of the Golden God, 23 cases of an all-Petit Verdot ($85) from Paso Robles’ Solana Vineyard and 26 cases of an all-Sangiovese ($150) from Ballard Canyon’s Stolpman Vineyard – means the wines are available only in limited quantities and only through an allocation list.

The public gets a rare chance this weekend, though, to taste the 2011 releases, as well as barrel samples from subsequent vintages.  The annual Turiya Open House, free to the public, takes place this Saturday, March 26th, from 11am to 5pm, at 316 N. F Street in Lompoc.  Appetizers, and live music from Ventura-based Alas Latinas, included.  Call 805-478-7016 for more information.


World of Pinot Noir 2016: My 5 Favorite Wines

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/10/16

Each year, World of Pinot Noir spotlights the overarching appeal of Burgundy’s favorite red grape.  For winemakers, pinot can be pernickety and challenging.  But the sense of place it delivers in the bottle – nuances imparted by the nature that surrounds it as it grows – makes mastering its expression the ultimate payout.  And for consumers, the inimitable elegance it delivers in the glass is little less than addictive.

I sipped a bevy of really good pinots at this past weekend’s WOPN, the annual powwow of the world’s best pinot makers that features, among star-studded seminars and dinners, two days of wall-to-wall tasting.  The experience, hosted by Bacara Resort, was intimate and informational, especially on day one, which is always limited to about 100 producers and draws a smaller consumer crowd.  Here are five local pinot projects that really stood out.

Dolin Malibu's Kirby Anderson & Elliott Dolin
Dolin Malibu Estate Vineyards: This was the Dolin label’s first showing at WOPN, and if they came to impress, they succeeded.  Entrepreneur Elliott Dolin established his label when he planted a one-acre chardonnay vineyard in the backyard of his Malibu home.  The label has since expanded to also feature four pinots, each carefully sourced by winemaker Kirby Anderson.  “We’re all about the expression of each vineyard,” Anderson told me.  The Bien Nacido, the Solomon Hills and the Talley-Rincon Arroyo Grande pinots, all vintage 2012 (and all $45), expressed remarkable texture and richness, each with a luscious mouth feel and their distinct balance of fruit and spice.  Santa Barbara restaurateur Tom Dolan, who came to discover bottles for the wine list at his popular Toma Restaurant, seemed especially impressed by the John Sebastiano Vineyard pinot from Sta. Rita Hills ($32), with beautiful cherry and berry character.

Lumen's Lane Tanner & Will Henry

Lumen: She’s back! Well, I guess celebrated winemaker Lane Tanner never really went away, at least not for long.  Although she attempted to shift professional gears and leave wine behind in 2010, her knack for making pinot brought her right back.  Tanner now makes Lumen Wines with Will Henry, whose family owns the Henry Wine Group distribution company.  Their 2013 Sierra Madre Vineyard pinot ($49) is wonderfully complex, with a pretty perfume and a palate experience driven by dark berry flavors and a lengthy finish.  It’s lovely now, with great aging potential.  The label is one to keep an eye on, with a portfolio that also includes chardonnay and grenache.  (Tanner also treated early visitors to a magnum of a Sierra Madre pinot dating back to 1990, “the first vintage I made wine totally on my own,” she told me.  Even 26 years later, the wine’s fruit and balance were inescapable.)

Brewer-Clifton: A two-fisted Greg Brewer had no problem drawing a crowd.  From the famous eponymous label that he mans with co-winemaker Steve Clifton, Brewer poured both the 2011 3-D pinot ($80), delightfully perfumed and spice rack-driven, and the 2013 Machado pinot ($90), an exuberant, bouncy, textured wine.  The Brewer-Clifton wines, with a vineyard-specific and super-small production focus, always impress. 

Pinot phenoms Greg Brewer (Brewer-Clifton) & Bob Cabral (Sonoma's Three Sticks)

Kita's Tymani LoRe & winemaker Tara Gomez
Kitá Wines: I’ve really enjoyed watching Tara Gomez’s label grow; I’d sipped on her whites and cabs before, but WOPN was my introduction to a wonderful lineup of pinots.   They all come from the Hilliard Brice vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, a celebrated site where “the soil bring out freshness” in the Kita pinots, according to the winemaker.  There’s delicious commonality to the 2011, 2012 and 2013 pinot noirs poured by Gomez and assistant winemaker Tymani LoRe: vibrancy, minerality and lusciousness.  The ’12 rendition ($55) spent 18 months in mostly neutral French oak.  They also shared sips of the yet-to-be-bottled 2014 pinot, which also exhibited a fresh, floral, Old World style.  Gomez is a member of the Chumash tribe and the fruit source for her other wines – a portfolio that also includes syrah, grenache and sauvignon blanc – is the famous Camp 4 Vineyard, which the Chumash own.

Alta Maria: James Ontiveros, the man behind the Alta Maria and Native 9 labels, had just touched down at the Santa Barbara airport when I stepped up to the tasting table, so it was up to the vivacious Stephanie Varner to pour a few treasures for me.  The Native 9 wines are sourced from a vineyard Ontiveros planted himself.  It’s on land that was once part of an 8900-acre land grant once bestowed upon Ontiveros’ ancestors, some nine generations ago; Ontiveros bought back a slice of it and planted vines on it a couple of decades ago.  The pinots it yields, the product of meticulous low-yield farming and crafted by winemaker Paul Wilkins, are consistently complex, high-acid and fruit-driven; the 2012 pinot I tasted ($64, $130 for magnum) was aged in 40% new oak and was deliciously fleshy, nuanced and layered.  And the 2014 Alta Maria Carbonic Pinot ($24), which employs a Beaujolais-inspired, carbon dioxide-driven fermentation technique, was fresh and animated!

Santa Barbara's C'est Cheese offered up an outstanding spread
The tasting on Day 1 of WOPN offers lots of elbow room and plenty of winemaker one-on-ones
Napa's Ancien Wines was one of my favorite beyond-Santa Barbara finds
The 17th World of Pinot Noir will be held at Bacara Resort & Spa on March 3rd and 4th, 2017.  For info, check out WOPN's website.


World of Pinot Noir: 5 Things You Shouldn’t Miss

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos of previous WOPN events by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 2/25/16

World of Pinot Noir, or WOPN (pronounced Whoppin’ by those in the know), is a wine enthusiast’s dream event.  For pinot noir lovers for sure, since the annual two-day fete brings together many of the world’s most talented pinot makers.  But it’s really a windfall for any wine drinker, whose access to specialty tastings, seminars and dinners – and to a slew of high-profile wine industry personalities – is rare.
WOPN 2016 takes place Friday, March 4th and Saturday, March 5th.  And for the third year in a row, it’ll unfold on the pretty seaside grounds of Bacara Resort & Spa.  Here are five WOPN happenings not to miss.
Pinot noir phenoms Dieter Cronje (Presqu'ile) & Clarissa Nagy (Riverbench/Nagy Wines)
Tasting by the Sea, Friday, 3:30-6:30pm ($110)
This three-hour tasting takes place on opening day and offers a wonderful chance to sip and mingle.  It’s limited to only 100 pinot producers, so the field of pourers is focused and the experience is a bit more intimate than the Saturday tasting, which features a bigger field.  Guests sample pinot noir wines from all over the world – many of Santa Barbara County’s best, for sure, along with wines from as close by as Sonoma and Napa and as far away as New Zealand and France.  A wonderful way to taste the nuances that terroir imparts on pinot.  Edibles by Bacara chefs and C’est Cheese.  An extra $25 gets you in the door a half hour earlier.
Pinot master Sashi Moorman & well-known sommelier Rajat Parr
The Terroirists: Bubbles to Burgundy Seminars & Lunch, Friday 9am-2pm ($225)
This is the official opening act for WOPN, and a must for any serious enthusiast.  The title plays on the French word terroir, or sense of place, and leads guests through two mouth-watering seminars.  The first focuses on bubbles and on new techniques that producers all over the world are using to make pinot-based sparklers.  It’s followed by a second seminar, this one led by Frederic Drouhin, fourth generation member of Burgundy’s famous Maison Joseph Drouhin; he’ll pour close to a dozen wines representing growing sites that, though nearby, are inherently different and render distinct pinot noir wines.  A gourmet three-course lunch closes out this five-hour experience.
Southwest Dinner Featuring Frank Ostini, Friday , 7:30pm ($120)
Any of the four wine dinners up for grabs on Friday night will do, of course.  But I always relish the chance to eat with Frank Ostini, one of our area’s top chefs and pinot makers.  His knack for standard-setting Santa Maria –style barbecue will lend flair to this dinner’s Southwest slant, especially when paired with a bevy of participating pinot noir wines.  The evening also features a Country French Dinner helmed by Bacara’s Executive Chef (and French native) Vincent Lesange ($120), a six-course Pacific Northwest Dinner highlighting Oregon pinots ($120) and a luxe Maison Joseph Drouhin feast with rare Burgundies poured by a select sommelier team ($350).  Saturday night features three high-profile dinners, including a sold-out affair with famous Master Sommelier Fred Dame.
Pinot savant Greg  Brewer
Myth-Busting: Pinot, Cheese & Chocolate Seminars, Saturday, 11:15am-2:15pm ($99)
No hard sell needed here – the title says it all.  This pair of seminars, though, explores everyone’s favorite treats – chocolate and cheese – and whether pinot noir really pairs well with them.  Many winemakers, for example, say pinot and chocolate is a no-go.  The seminars are also offered separately at $55 apiece.
Awards Ceremony for the International Wine Film Festival, Saturday (Free)
This year’s WOPN hosts the grand finale of the first ever fete spotlighting films about wines.  The three-week fest has sourced dozens of wine movies from around the world – from full-length features to shorts shot on cell phones – and the best will be playing in a loop throughout the two-day event.  Guests will have a chance to enter Bacara’s comfy, high-tech, intimate theater and watch films at their leisure; just look for the final schedule posted outside the theater.  Master Sommelier Fred Dame hosts the movie awards ceremony on Saturday at 12:30pm, followed by a screening of the popular new doc, SOMM: Into the Bottle, at 1pm.  For full details on the festival only, go to
For info and tickets to WOPN, go to