story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/2/17
“We’re not getting any younger, and neither are our wines,” the man behind Buellton’s Hitching Post II Restaurant and Hartley-Ostini wine label told me this week. “So let’s enjoy them! I mean, we do hoard these things forever sometimes, and they do have a finite life – they do start to fade at some point,” he continued, adding, teasingly, “Just like us!”
A simple premise, actually: that the present is as good a time as any to drink something special. And it was the only excuse he and winemaking partner Gray Hartley needed to revisit 11 of their earliest vintages, one big bottle at a time.
A special retrospective dinner featuring 1991 through 2001 vintage wines by Harley-Ostini is slated for this weekend. It’s part of World of Pinot Noir, or WOPN, which returns to Goleta’s Bacara Resort & Spa for its 17th run. The two-day affair, which highlights Burgundy’s most famous red grape and brings together wine experts and consumers from all over the world, features tastings, seminars and dinners. Ostini (one of the founding members of WOPN) and Hartley will host their throwback feast on Saturday night, March 4th, with most wines poured from a variety of large format bottles. The cost is $120, with seating limited to just 65 people.
“The wonderful thing about wine is that every bottle will be its own experience,” says Ostini. “Is every single one going to show great? Well, bottles vary.” But when so much of what’s available to the consumer are younger, forward, higher-alcohol wines, this event is “a chance for people to appreciate older flavors,” continues Ostini.
|Gray Hartley, left, and Frank Ostini, along with the large-format bottles they're featuring at WOPN 2017|
Several of the vintages stand out to this reminiscing winemaker. Like 1991, which marked the launch of the Hartley-Ostini pinot noirs. “That was Santa Maria Valley, a blend of Bien Nacido and Sierra Madre fruit,” recalls Ostini. The wines were made at the Au Bon Climat/Qupe winery back then (before the label moved operations to Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria in 2001 and then to Terravant Winery in Buellton in 2008).
Ostini remembers 1994 fondly, too, “because that was renowned as a very good vintage” in Santa Barbara County. And 1995, for what that year’s Santa Maria Valley blend became. “That wine was pretty weird when it was young, it had a stink about it,” he recalls. It turns out, though, that the pungent smell was the byproduct of an effective preservative, “so it has actually evolved into this fresh and young-like wine today in a wonderful way. I mean – it’s 22 years old!”
Ostini happens to like what age does to pinot – a funkiness sometimes develops that imparts unique flavors and smells, and that make it uniquely delicious. That’s why several older vintages are always available at his Buellton steakhouse, like a 2000 vintage pinot offered by the glass and a 1997 pinot poured out of magnums. But for those who prefer newer, fresher wines – and for the sake of age-inspired comparison – younger bottles from the 2006 and 2014 vintages will also be featured at Saturday night’s dinner. Throw in that quintessential Hitching Post II barbecue experience – Santa Maria-style wood fire-grilled meats and vegetables – and this nostalgic culinary journey may well be the one WOPN event not to miss.
“We’re really in awe – that we’re able to turn grapes into a beverage, and we put them into bottles, and that fruit can be preserved for so long,” says Ostini. “Fruit integrity doesn’t die over time. It evolves. But wine does not die. And to be able to feature these older flavors and aromas is special to us.”
For more information on this and all WOPN events, check out www.wopn.com.
For more information on the Hitching Post II and Hartley-Ostini Wines, go to www.hitchingpost2.com.