Friday, July 25, 2014

I Heart Central Coast Wine, Part 2

The Panel: Moderator Patrick Comiskey, Kimsey's Ruben Solorzano,
Steve Beckmen,  Pete Stolpman, Rusack's Steve Gerbac, Hilaire Clarke,
Michael Larner, Jonata's Matt Dees, and Keith Saarloos (out of picture)
The selection of Santa Barbara County as the setting for the 2014 Wine Blogger's Conference offered me a great opportunity to learn even more about this AVA, which I love so much.

What’s to love?

Well, as I Tweeted (yes, I’m learning to do that!) while at the conference, “Who needs Italy, France and Greece when we have Santa Barbara wine country!” My favorite wine friend and I often discuss the merits of living so close to the Central Coast, from our growing-ever-hipper little berg of Culver City in West Los Angeles. While we both love traveling in foreign countries, and plan to do more of it soon, we console ourselves with the knowledge that the countryside and wineries aplenty in Santa Barbara (and Paso Robles) are available to us in those years when foreign travel is prohibitive. And we don’t feel like we’re getting second best. The Central Coast is spectacular!

I've driven my car through Ballard Canyon, the newest AVA in Santa Barbara County, and been impressed with its topography and beauty – the perfect background for a video I was working on. I’ve ridden my bike through its glorious roads, viewing the vines up close and snapping pictures along the way during the Solvang Prelude ride, which I do most years. Just this year, I even ran through Ballard Canyon, trudging my way up Corkscrew Hill before descending into the gorgeous valley en route to the downtown Solvang finish line of the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon.

And now I’ve actually tasted Ballard Canyon, thanks to the “Syrah Territory: Ballard Canyon” session at the 2014 Wine Blogger’s Conference held mid-July in Buellton, Calif. And boy does it taste good!

The north-south running Ballard Canyon is a unique area of varying elevations, soils (limestone, deep sand), and climatic conditions (fog, wind, maritime influences). These conditions, combined with a rich, lengthy farming history in the area, have led to the realization that it is the perfect area to grow Syrah … uniquely American Syrah.

Syrah has never been my favorite varietal, as I’ve found it too intense, with its inky black color and dense ripe fruit and oftentimes harsh peppery taste. But now that I’ve experienced Ballard Canyon Syrah, I’m a convert. Syrah done right is divine. Session moderator Patrick Comiskey seemed to agree with my view that there have been a lot of disappointing California Syrahs up till now.

The panelists at the WBC14 panel included a star lineup representing eight Ballard Canyon vineyards, most with deep roots in the farming history of the Valley, with either their 2012 or 2010 Syrah vintages. The 2012 lineup included Kimsey, Beckmen, Stolpman Vineyards, and Rusack; the 2010s were from Harrison Clarke, Larner, Jonata, and Saarloos & Sons. Each wine, while unique, was elegant, silky, and lovely. (Actually, we did not taste Saarloos as their 2010 was sold out.) 

The 2012 lineup
The youthful but expressive 2012s offered plenty of dark fruit, including boysenberry, blueberry, and plums, as well as spices, like vanilla, cinnamon, anise, and dark chocolate. Yum. All of the 2012s but Kimsey (to be released this fall) are 100% Syrah; Kimsey co-ferments theirs with 5% whole cluster Viognier.

The 2010s were richer and more complex with explosive aromas and black pepper, minerality (from the limestone), nice texture, and a long, pleasing finish. Jonata’s, grown in deep sandy soil, had 5% whole cluster Viognier, while the other two were 100% Syrah. These wines were particularly elegant. And their prices reflected it.

With only a bit more than 3,500 acres of Ballard Canyon devoted to Syrah, the production of each of the wineries is relatively low, and artisanal-quality viticulture and vinification processes are the norm. The seven wines tasted ranged from $36 to $125, so they could not be everyday wines for me. But I love the fact that they are not mass-produced, commercial wines.  So for special meals screaming for Syrah, I will revisit Ballard Canyon’s offerings.

In my next post, I’ll focus on another WBC 14 winery excursion, this time to the Hilliard Bruce winery in Lompoc, where a new LEED- and SIP-certified winery is about to open.

Until next time,


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