Ready, Set, Sip! Santa Barbara Vintners Host Vineyard Run

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/29/16

The Vintners' 5-Miler is open to runners of all abilities and ages (courtesy pic)
Call it the second vintage of the Vintners’ 5-Miler.

After a hit inaugural run last year, the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation is bringing back its jog through the vines on Saturday, July 23rd.  The five-mile race promises commemorative gold, silver and bronze wine medals for winners in a variety of age categories.  But the main draw may well be the course, itself: runners will be trekking across historic Sanford & Benedict Vineyard.

“The setting is truly special,” says Shelby Sim, Executive Director of Visit Santa Ynez Valley, who ran last year’s race alongside his then-12-year-old son, Aiden (who beat his das by eight minutes).  The pair is signing up again this year.  “At some points, you’re running right through the blocks.  You couldn’t get any closer to the vines."

Go Neon! Shelby Sim and son Aiden at the 2015 Vintners' 5-Miler starting line. Aiden will finish 8 minutes before his dad.
The storied vineyard was planted in the early 1970s by Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict and is considered by many as the birthplace of wine production in Santa Barbara County.  There have been subsequent plantings, the most recent within the last decade, but grapes from those original vines are still used in some Sanford Winery pinot noir bottlings to this day.  “This race is an authentic opportunity to be amongst the farming aspect of the wine drinking,” Mr. Sim adds.

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard is located along Santa Rosa Road in Lompoc, inside the famous Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

The five-mile course is designed for runners of all abilities.  It begins at 9am at the Sanford Winery tasting room and features relatively flat terrain for the first two miles.  Runners then take on gently rolling hills to an elevation of 350 feet, where sweeping wine country views prevail.  In late July, harvest season is a few weeks away, so the 500-acre ranch is typically marked by row after row of verdant vines.

The final two miles of the course are primarily downhill.

A festival with music, food and wine follows the Vintners' 5-Miler (courtesy)
This year, the event also features a One-Mile Wine Walk for those who’d rather take a leisurely stroll through the vineyard.

The race is followed by a wine festival, featuring live music from local bands, a kids’ fun zone and a wide array of food purveyors, including Buellton’s Hitching Post II Restaurant.  Wineries will be announced soon; last year’s pourers included high-profile labels like Sanford, Foxen, Casa Dumetz, Costa de Oro and Crawford Family Wines.

Registration for the run and festival is $50 through April 30th and then goes to $65 during the month of May and jumps to $80 for sign-ups in June and July.  Because the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Santa Barbara Vintners, monies raised will be earmarked for a variety of local charitable causes, including Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, People Helping People of the Santa Ynez Valley and Direct Relief.

To sign up, click here.


Melody in a Bottle: "Coda" Blends Passion for Wine and Music

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/21/16

Coda's Spencer Daley (credit: Anthony Horvath)
Spencer Daley is at Coachella for the first time this weekend.  The 26-year-old Goleta resident is an avid music lover, especially of the blues, jazz and classic rock-and-roll.  But he’s not there to join the close to 200,000 fans that descend on the Southern California desert for the very high-profile music festival.  He’s there to pour.

“I’ll be in the sectioned-off VIP area, representing Santa Barbara along with Andrew Murray and Steve Beckmen,” he tells me during a sit-down chat last week, referencing two of our area’s top winemakers.  “To pour with those guys is awesome, it’s an honor.”

It is, in fact, a pretty remarkable opportunity for any budding winemaker.  After all, Daley released his first wines just last year – a handful of 2013 and 2014 vintage reds and whites with a total production of just 400 cases.   But the buzz over his wines has been impressive; his inaugural wines are almost entirely sold out.  And the musical connection to the Coachella op is certainly apropos: Daley’s label is dubbed Coda, a word commonly used to designate a musical phrase.

Coda “is a way for me to bridge my two biggest passions,” says Daley.  His formative years were certainly music-infused, having learned to play guitar, bass and drums in middle school and having formed his own band by the time he entered high school.  But wine was in his teenage sphere, too, as his Italian dad taught him to manage the ¼-acre vineyard that he’d planted in the backyard of their Camarillo home.

Coda sources grapes from several top Santa Barbara Co. vineyards
“He was a home winemaker, but he took it very seriously and put together a beautiful vineyard,” says Daley, who also recalls making his own first wine – a sangiovese – at age 16 and “doing all my fermentation in trash bins.”

Fast-forward a decade and Daley now finds himself in very good company in Santa Barbara County.  After a harvest stint at Sunstone, he joined Andrew Murray’s team in 2014, where he leads educational tours and helps manage winemaking.  Daley’s regard for Murray, in particular, is high.  “He’s a pioneer in the Rhone wine movement,” he says of his boss’ prowess with wines like syrah.  “And Coda wouldn’t have happened without him.  He’s shown me not only how a cellar works but also how to develop a brand and run a business.  He’s a rock star.”

With Coda, Daley is able to underscore the connection he believes exists between music and wine.  “Both are artistic and both are a reflection of the artist,” he tells me.  “Like music, you’ll never get the same wine twice, and both bring people together.”

Daley makes wine inside "Area 51," a remote facility off Foxen Canyon Rd. that's also used by rock star winemakers like Chuck Carlson and Ernst Storm
Daley is in the tank for Coda Wines
Daley’s inaugural wines exude music in both nomenclature and design, and the winemaker pairs each one not with food suggestions but with some of his favorite albums. 

His 2014 Sauvignon Blanc ($22), the first white he’s ever done, features a large treble clef on the label and, as the first pour on his lineup, is dubbed Overture.  Clean and refined, with hints of grapefruit and grass, it’s refreshing and brimming with bright acidity.  Daley pairs it with the Cissy Strut record by the 70s funk band The Meters because their catchy rhythm goes really well with an easy-drinking wine, “especially after a couple of bottles.”  This wine is almost sold out.

The Coda2014 Rosé ($24) was an unorthodox blend of grenache, syrah and sauvignon blanc.  Labeled Medley, Daley matched it with Dave Brubeck’s 1959 LP Time Out because, like the assortment in the bottle, it features “musicians and instruments coming together.”  The wine struck a chord, because it’s gone.

Daley’s 2013 Sangiovese ($28) is also sold out but proved to be an especially personal effort.  It harkened back to the first wine he made as a teenager and, sourced from a vineyard near Solvang that he’d farmed himself, was a wine he oversaw all the way from beginning to end.  A single varietal bottling, it was named Sonata and, tannic and leathery, was paired by Daley with the Southern rock band Alabama Shakes’ Hold On record.  “Both are dusty and gritty,” he says.

We taste his last wine, the 2013 Syrah Cadence ($34), and it’s dark, concentrated, complex and full of dark berry flavors.  Sourced from Starfire Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley, which he also farmed, it’s paired with The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street.  “It’s got different musical elements – blues, jazz, rock – and it’s full of complexities,” says Daley.  “It’s also my favorite album, and syrah’s my favorite varietal.”

The next batch of wines – the ’15 Overture, ’15 Medley and ’14 Cadence – will be released in June.  Coda has a retail presence at a few Santa Barbara locations, including the Santa Barbara Public Market, and select venues in Ventura County, Mammoth Lakes, Lake Tahoe and Los Angeles.  The wines also sell online, through the Coda Wines website.

Daley is aiming to grow his production to 900 cases by next year, when he’ll open the Coda tasting room in The Commons, a large scale culinary complex currently in development in Buellton.  And he’ll soon be adding cabernet sauvignon from the Happy Canyon AVA, as well as a port, to his portfolio. 

Or should I say, playlist?


Fine Tuned: Santa Barbara's Goodland Hotel Opens Lobby Record Shop

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/20/16

The Goodland is turning up the volume.

The stylish hotel in Goleta, part of the boutique Kimpton brand, just launched VNYL, the area’s newest record shop.  The off-lobby venue is small – a few dozen square feet.  But the titles are wide ranging, from Led Zeppelin and Miles Davis to The Fugees and N.W.A., and the selections are slated to grow by at least 20 each month.

“We definitely stock vintage titles,” says Lea Sindija, The Goodland’s Director of Programming, who’s also taken on the whimsical title of Record Concierge.  “But we also want this to be a spot for discovery and to feature indie, emerging artists that you’re not going to find at other shops.” 

To that end, VNYL looks to feature any Santa Barbara band that has a vinyl album.  “We’re another platform for them to promote themselves,” says Ms. Sindija.  One of her favorite in-stock titles is the album Desert Boheme by the San Francisco rock band Zodiac Death Valley, which has previously performed at The Goodland.  “We’re the only record shop to carry it,” she adds.

Gramophone records have been part of the Goodland experience ever since the hotel, known for its Bohemian and surfer-chic vibe, opened its doors in 2014: every room features a record player and at least three vinyl records for guests to play.  The idea has always appealed to more mature guests who find the players nostalgic.  “So many of them reminisce and will tell me stories about specific songs they’d play on records,” says Ms. Sindija.  But the turntables are intriguing to younger guests too, who’ve grown up accessing tunes digitally and who actually see record players as a new way to listen to music.

Maybe too new.  “We did have to place title cards on top of the players because some people didn’t know how to operate them,” admits Ms. Sindija.  “Some were even pulling the needles out because they thought they’d scratch the records.”

The Goodland’s new record shop, which is located next to the hotel’s popular Outpost Restaurant, is open to the public and sells titles 24 hours a day, payable at the front desk and priced between $26 and $34.  It also lets guests borrow titles for enjoyment in their rooms.  And it features Sonos listening stations, complete with headphones, for sampling.

VNYL is in the lobby of The Goodland, right next to the hotel's popular Outpost Restauramt
VNYL's selection spans across multiple decades and genres. It's also focused on Santa Barbara-based bands
You can sample records before you buy at VNYL's listening stations

The shop is a satellite store for VNYL, a subscription-based music discovery service based in Los Angeles.  It represents not only VNYL’s first record store inside a hotel but also the first initiative of its kind for the Kimpton brand, which also manages Santa Barbara’s Canary Hotel and runs dozens of hotels in more than 30 U.S. cities.  The Goodland just launched an overnight stay package dubbed Positive Spin, starting at $199, which features welcome cocktails and the guests’ choice of record.

A grand opening party for VNYL is set for May 19th.  The event will feature DJs and several live bands, all of which will be stocked at the record shop, as well as artists in pop-up studios.  Tickets are free but limited and require RSVP.

For more information on The Goodland, click here.


Wine Weekend: 5 Things I’m Looking Forward to at this Month’s Spring Festival

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos of winemakers at the 2015 Spring Weekend by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/7/16

Santa Barbara wine country’s Spring Festival makes a comeback this month, April 21-24.  The annual fete is thrown by Santa Barbara Vintners, which represents most of the wineries in our county.  And it’s only one of two events during the year that all members are required to attend and pour.  That’s 117 labels.  So, a lot of wine to be had.

Here are five festival features I’m especially excited about.

Winemaker Andrew Murray
The Bash
The Big Bottle Bash is the Festival’s kick-off dinner, sponsored by Santa Maria’s tourism leaders.  The feast is served family-style and features big wine bottles – magnums and up – brought by the dinner guests, themselves.  This is a rare treat for consumers – mingling with winemakers and sipping from the unique, special bottles that they’ve brought to share.  Limited to 100 people, and one magnum (or bigger) per couple is required.  Friday, April 22nd, 6:30pm, Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley. $125.

Winemaker Doug Mrgerum
The Seminar
“As a longtime fan of syrah, I am puzzled as to why the wine variety’s popularity hasn’t skyrocketed with consumers!” fellow wine writer (and fellow former Central Coast TV news personality) Wendy Thies-Sell tells me.  And I agree.  I love syrah and am baffled when local producers talk about how a wine that can be so satisfying can also be so challenging to move off the shelf.  A tasting seminar moderated by Thies-Sell is sure to shed some light.  Seven local syrah masters, including Larry Schaffer (Tercero), Michael Larner (Larner Vineyard) and Mark Horvath (Crawford Family Wines) will share their experiences and pour their wines.  “I hope to learn whether we are tasting the vineyard site, the winemakers’ influences on the grape, or a combination of both,” Thies-Sell adds.  “I have tasted all of the wines we are pouring during the seminar, and I can tell you, they are fantastic!”  Saturday, April 23rd, 10-11:30am, Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, Buellton, $35.

The Location
The epicenter of the Spring Weekend is the Grand Tasting.  This three-hour event (four hours, if you splurge on Early Admission) is where people sip and mingle, and where winemakers and chefs spend the afternoon wowing a crowd of hundreds.  As wine festivals go, one of the best Santa Barbara has to offer.  For the last few years, holding this event at River View Park in Buellton has added to the charm of this fun afternoon – a rambling, sprawling setting drenched in green and located amidst some of the area’s premier vineyards.  The location alone is a festival calling card all its own.  Saturday, April 23rd, 1-4pm. $75 ($105 for noon admission).

The 2015 Spring Weekend at Buellton's River View Park
The Food
Good wine needs good food, right? More than 30 chefs and caterers will be doing the feeding during the Grand Tasting, and some of the lines that inevitably form are worth the wait.  Like the Hitching Post II, which always doles out generous fare, like tri-tip sandwiches, and Industrial Eats, easily one of the best restaurants in wine country.  All you can eat is included in the ticket price.

Qupe winemaker Bob Lindquist, left, and Kaena winemaker Mikael Sigouim
Winemaker Drake Whitcraft, left
Casa Dumetz winemaker Sonja Magdevski and me
KEYT Senior Reporter John Palminteri, left, and Hitching Post co-winemaker Gray Hartley
The Auction
At the Grand Tasting, look for the silent auction put on by the philanthropic Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation.  Teeming with wine and wine experiences, it raises money for Alan Hancock College students and local high school seniors interested in careers in viticulture and winemaking.  Lots of special cases and large-format bottles to bid on.  In the past, I’ve nabbed signed magnums and even a winery picnic.

For more info and tickets, check out the Santa Barbara Vintners' website.


All Ears: Santa Barbara Winemakers Lead Seminars at Disney Culinary Fete

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/15/16

After a five year hiatus, the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival is back.  Held on the weekends through May 1, the culinary fete is expected to draw thousands of foodies to California Adventure in Anaheim, the Disneyland Resort’s sister park.  Dozens of seminars, demos and celebrity experiences highlighting California-inspired wine, beer and food are scheduled throughout the month.

Winemaker Tara Gomez
Santa Barbara wine country is getting some high-profile representation this year.  Actor-turned-vintner Kurt Russell, for one, will star in an intimate conversation about movies and wine on April 16th ($199).  Mr. Russell apprentices under winemaker Peter Work of Sta. Rita Hills' Ampelos Vineyard and pours his GoGi wines at Los Alamos' 1880 Union Hotel.

What's more, two Santa Barbara winemakers – Tara Gomez and Eric Mohseni – are among the experts leading a wide range of beverage seminars.  Each 45-minute seminar costs $15 and includes at least three tastings.  They’re held at Sonoma Terrace of the California Adventure park’s Golden Vine Winery.

“I’ve never attended before and so I’m very excited,” says Ms. Gomez, winemaker for Kita Wines and a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.  The label sources the majority of its grapes from the 19 varieties planted at the famous Camp 4 Vineyard, located near the intersection of Highway 154 and State Route 246, which the Chumash own.  Her seminars, held in the afternoons of April 8 and April 9, will focus on blending.

“It allows me to show my artistic side,” says Ms. Gomez of the winemaker’s ability to blend several grapes into one wine, rather than bottling single grape varieties.  “Blending gives me the ability to be free, in the sense that I can create something that’s my own and I’m allowed to look outside the box.”  With Kita (which means “our valley oak” in the tribe’s Samala language), Ms. Gomez crafts blends with native names like T’AYA (abalone shell), SPE’Y (flower) and KALAS (breathe) and uses lesser-known grapes like carignan and marsanne to enhance qualities like color and aroma.

“I’m trying to be different in my own way,” she adds.

Eric Mohseni, director of winemaking at Zaca Mesa Winery, will also mark his Festival debut this year.  His three seminars will focus on California’s foray into Rhone wines – syrah, grenache, mourvedre – and are slated to take place on April 22, 23 and 24.  Zaca Mesa, located along Foxen Canyon Road, is famous for being home to Santa Barbara County’s very first syrah vines, planted in 1978.

Eric Mohseni leading a tour at Zaca Mesa Winery
“It’s always challenging when you’re working with varietals that the masses are not familiar with,” says Mr. Mohseni, admitting that more recognizable grapes like cabernet sauvignon and merlot offer stiff competition in the marketplace.  “But there’s a growing interest in red wine these days, and that helps open up the floodgates to a lot of the Rhone varietals I work with.”

Mr. Mohseni believes consumer education and exposure, especially through focused seminars like these, are essential to the growth of Rhone wines in California.  “My job is to show off these varietals and to show how versatile they are,” he says, “because once people taste them, they really like them.” 

Aside from other seminars on wine, beer and spirits, the Festival will also turn Hollywood Land into an exposition kitchen of sorts, with presentations by celeb chef like Guy Fieri and Robert Irvine ($99) and complimentary cooking demos.  There will be lifestyle roundtable discussions on topics like horticulture and gardening, as well.  For more information and tickets, go to Disney's website.