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Vol. 11 No.1, March '03

Santa Barbara County
Vineyards & Wineries Visited -



Journal and tasting notes from visits to some Santa Barbara wineries and vineyards. After attending the Wine Cask's S.B.Co Futures Tasting the previous day, I decided to visit a few vineyards and wineries on Sunday.

Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are included in each winery section. The alpha scores are expressed in Aroma/Taste format, and may be compared to numerical scores by referencing the conversion chart. An "n/n" indicates that no notes were taken. Regarding any acronyms used in the notes, SBC refers to Santa Barbara County, SYV refers to Santa Ynez Valley, and SRH refers to Santa Rita Hills.

Barrel Tasting: even though barrel tasting is one of the most enjoyable and enlightening ways to sample wine, it is also be something that causes more than a little angst among winemakers. The fact is that the wines being sampled from barrel haven't finished developing - they are still going through growth and development in the barrel, and haven't reached the point of bottling. For instance, imagine you're an artist, with someone is looking over your shoulder as you paint. It would be somewhat difficult - maybe even unfair - for them to assess your painting, since it's still a work in progress. In the same way, winemakers are often reluctant to expose their barrel samples - concerned the wines may be misjudged or unappreciated by tasters during this growth stage. Since t he tasting notes in this report contain many barrel samples, please note that my impressions relate only to the wine at its current stage of development.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Loring Wine Company

Brian Loring has always taken a
"hands-on" approach with his wines

Selected Tasting Notes:

2002 Loring Pinot Noir - Brousseau. Big, almost chewy on the front end, with a nice core of fruit at mid-palate, and a long smooth finish. This vnyd is near the Chalone area, on the eastern hills overlooking the Salinas Valley. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

2002 Loring Pinot Noir - Ontiveras, 113 clone. Big nose - nearly Syrah-like. Excellent feel on the palate, long fuity finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

2002 Loring Pinot Noir - Ontiveras, 114 clone. Beautiful nose, silky and seductive on the palate, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Loring Pinot Noir - Ontiveras, 115 clone. Dark and brooding, with a nice "bass-note" throughout, and thick palate-feel. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Loring Pinot Noir - Rosella's, 667 clone. Fabulous! Big, rich nose and mouth, full mouthfeel, long finish - this one has it all! Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

2002 Loring Pinot Noir - Garys'. Big spiced black cherry nose, lots of concentration, long finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

2002 Waltzing Bear Pinot Noir - 115 clone. Bright bing cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors, excellent balance, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Waltzing Bear Pinot Noir - Cargasacci Vnyd, Mt. Eden clone. Bright and stemmy nose, touch of forest floor on the abundant nose and mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Leaving the SB Futures Tasting about 3:30pm, we drove up to Buellton to visit Brian Loring in his new digs. He's working out of the Kahn winery in a small industrial park on the outskirts of town (Brian had previously made his wines at Cottonwood Cyn Winery, near Santa Maria). Brian, and a few other fellow winemakers use this facility, among them Wes Hagen (Clos Pepe), Peter Cargasacchi (Cargasacchi Vnyd), and Brad Lowman (Waltzing Bear). Speaking of Wes, just like Elvis, Wes happened to be "in the building," taking a few friends through a some of his '02 barrels, and asked if we wanted to taste a few Clos Pepe wines as well. Well, duuuuh!! We tried both the stainless steel fermented Chard and the Pinot -- both excellent! Thanks, Wes!

Meanwhile, Brian started us out on some '02 Loring Pinots. After pulling a couple of barrel samples, Brian asked if he could excuse himself to finish racking his barrels (the real reason he was in Buellton in the first place). Sure, we said, fine by us -- just leave us the wine thief. Well, we knew that wasn't going to happen. However, Brian did ask us if fellow winemaker/cellarat Brad Lowman could finish us up tasting the '02 Loring wines. Well sure; if it didn't bother Brad, why the heck should we mind.

Brad pulled the balance of Brian's wines for us to taste, and then he asked if we'd like to try a couple of his own wines as well. (This is getting silly; yet another offer we couldn't refuse.) At slightly over 100 cases, Brad's ultra-low production Waltzing Bear can be found at the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium, along with Loring, Clos Pepe and several other local wines.

This is the second time I've stopped by this facility, and the place just oozes excitement. Every winemaker here is obviously in love with the process and the product. And, as a consumer, that excitement is infectious.


Sunday, March 16, 2003

Jaffurs Wine Cellars

Selected Tasting Notes:

2001 Jaffurs Viognier. Lush, floral, and apricot-infused - a real nice effort, with excellent balance, and long smooth finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Jaffurs Mourvedre - Stolpman. Meaty, and juicy, with a thick, rich and chewy mouthfeel, and long finish. 25% Syrah. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

2000 Jaffurs Syrah - Santa Barbara Co. Beautiful complex nose of blackberry, licorice, chocolate, and floral overtones. Seductive, immediately tasty, with excellent balance and long seamless finish. 5% Viognier. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

2000 Jaffurs Syrah - Bien Nacido Vnyd. Nose of lightly charred meats, dark berry, and licorice notes. Full on the palate, balanced to the acid side of things, with a nice long finish. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

2001 Jaffurs Syrah - Melville Vnyd. Lovely lush, floral and fruit-filled nose. A bit austere on the palate initially, but lots of body and grip lends a lip-smacking quality to the long gripping slightly tart finish. Should be killer with some time. Aroma/Taste: A-/A-

Arrived at Craig Jaffurs place about 9:00, to taste some wine with Dave Yates, Jaffurs' General Manager. By way of background, Craig's been producing Rhône-only wines since 1994, and is currently up to about 3,000-3,500 cases per year. Craig previously made wine at the large Central Coast co-op in Santa Maria. His own recently completed new winery is in a small mixed-use area near downtown, and was finished just in time to vinify the 2001 vintage.

The Jaffurs "Estate" Vineyard

Having visited here last year at the same time ('02 visit), we dispensed with the usual tour of the facility and went straight to tasting. Dave poured us through the current offerings, while we chatted about a Santa Barbara "style" and the differences between several other SBC vineyard-designates that Craig Jaffurs bottles. Finally, as another group arrived for their tasting appointment, we decided to move along and get on with the rest of our planned day. A nice visit, although we didn't get into any barrels this time around.

(The photo at left is a tongue-in-cheek look at the two vines Craig planted in the combination crush pad/parking lot/winery entrance, and is not meant to imply that there will be an "Estate" bottling.)


Curtis Winery

Sales floor at Curtis Winery
( photo, courtesy of Michael Poston)

Selected Tasting Notes:

2000 Curtis Heritage Blanc. Slightly sweet nose and mouth, nice toasty/wheaty note. Crisp, if a bit sweet, with long finish. 14% Reisling. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

2000 Curtis Viognier. Nice floral/fuity aromas. Touch of spiced peach on palate, with very good balance and long finish. SBC appellation, but majority of fruit is from the Vogelzang Vnyd in SYV. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

2000 Curtis Rose. Slightly tight, with a bit of must, hint of wood, and some meaty composition. Fleshy tasting, with good balance and long finish. Blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Curtis Grenache. More off-dry than fruity in the nose. Off-sweet mouthfeel, crisp and clean, and showing just a touch of heat on the otherwise finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Curtis Heritage Cuvee. Lighter style, fruity, touch of oak, mostly dry on the palate. More of a quaffer. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Curtis Mouvedre. Moderately full nose and mouth, good flavors, not a big style, lightly stemmy and meaty. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1999 Curtis Syrah - Ambassador Vnyd. Lightly sweet blackberry and tar in the nose. Full on the palate, with a slightly tart quality to the long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

2000 Curtis Syrah - Vogelzang Vnyd. Somewhat restrained in the nose, with hints of game and anise. Good concentration. Fleshy on the palate, with a nice meaty taste to the very long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

2000 Curtis Syrah - Ambassador Vnyd. Slightly reduced nose, a bit herbaceous, with tar and anise notes. Full and rich mouthfeel, with very nice blackberry, licorice and crushed flowers flavors. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Curtis Syrah - Crossroads Vnyd. Nose is somewhat barnyardy, with an interesting sauvage quality. Big and rich, very chewy mouthfeel, flavors of sweet blackberry, licorice and a bit of charred meat. Tasty long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Curtis Syrah Reserve - Ambassador Vnyd. Nose is somewhat barnyardy, with an interesting sauvage quality. Big and rich, very chewy mouthfeel, flavors of sweet blackberry, licorice and a bit of charred meat. Tasty long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

Arrived about 11:00 at Curtis. Located on Foxen Cyn Rd., Curtis is just up the road from its parent winery, Firestone. The tasting room is located in what used to be an art gallery, near the the junction of Zaca Station Rd and Foxen Cyn Rd. The building and surrounding area are very picturesque, and this a great location for picnicing or tailgating.

Established as an upscale Rhône-only producer, the Curtis label (Brooks Firestone's mother's maiden name is Curtis) is definitely more than just a spin-off from the Firestone label. It is in fact, a separate label in its own right. Although the Curtis project has always had its own winemaker (Chuck Carlson), as recently as a few years ago the winemaking was taking place at Firestone facility.

Focusing only on Rhône wines seemed like an ideal move for Curtis, especially in light of the fact that Syrah and Grenache were becoming fashionable (once again), giving the new winery a market niche of its own. It also didn't hurt either, that this that this portion of Santa Barbara Co just happened to be an ideal area to grow Rhone grapes. On my last visit about three years ago, the wines seemed to show a lot of potential. Now, with the winemaking facilities on the premises and a few vintages under their belt, I was interested to see how things were progressing at Curtis.

Since I planned to be up for the weekend to attend the Wine Cask Futures tasting, I contacted winemaker Chuck Carlson to see about paying a visit to the winery. Chuck was only too happy to oblige, but unfortunately, due to both the Futures tasting and to previous commitments he wasn't going to be available either Saturday or Sunday. However, he graciously arranged for a Sunday visit, instructing the winery staff to pull out new bottles of all the current Curtis offerings for us to taste. The tasting room was only moderately busy, but our pourer Maggie was very cordial, and took us through the wines, while fielding all the usual wine-geek questions (where's it from, how old's the vnyd, etc, etc.). It was a very enjoyable visit, and I'm happy to say that the wines seem to be coming along nicely.


Koehler Winery

Koehler Winery - Tasting Room
( photo, courtesy of Michael Poston)

Selected Tasting Notes:

2000 Koehler Sauvignon Blanc. Hint of sweetness to both the nose and mouth. Full on the palate, with a nice aroma and flavor of hay and roasted grains. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Koehler Chardonnay. Fairly light nose of lemon-lime with a touch of apple. Nice fruity taste and finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2001 Koehler Chardonnay. More effusive that the '00, with a fuller and richer mouthfeel. Chewy long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Koehler Syrah. Largely floral and black cherry nose, with hints of cinnamon and cola - almost a Pinot-like quality. Lighter body, with a nice balance, and a firm grip at the finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

2000 Koehler Pinot Noir. Monterey Co. Aromas of bing and black cherry, along with strawberry, and some spice. Very good balance, tasty fruit,long finish. Nice all-around Pinot from the Soledad area. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Koehler Cabernet Sauvignon Estate. Slightly burnished or oxidized in the nose. Good concentration of cassis, slightly herbaceous, chewy, touch acidic and grippy on the nice long finsh. 18 mos on oak. Aroma/Taste: B-/B+

1999 Koehler Cabernet Sauvignon Winemaker's Reserve. Very nice aromas of cassis, vanilla, some herbs and toast. Full and rich on the palate, very good balance, lots of flavor, long finish. 28 mose on oak. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2000 Koehler Reisling. Bit of diesel and stemminess in the nose. Clean, almost crisp, moderate touch of sweetness to the fruit. Aroma/Taste: B/B

Arrived at Koehler, which is also on Foxen Cyn Rd, just a mile or so north of Curtis. This was my first visit to this former grower's winemaking venture. I'd met Koehler's President, Jim Ryan at a tasting last summer, and after trying a few of the wines, I was interested in visiting the winery to try more of their wines. Time passed, and I never seemed to make it by the winery. Then, at this year's SB Co Assn tasting I met winemaker Douglass Scott, tasted more of their wines and decided I ought to drop by after the Wine Cask Futures tasting.

Koehler's grapes are mostly Estate grown, although they do bring in fruit from as far away as Monterey County. Considering their first commercial vintage was 1999, they've really only been making wines for a few years. From what I've tasted, they've done well in a short amount of time.

It turned out the winemaker couldn't come out to meet us on Sunday, but assured us he'd mention to the tasting room guy that we were coming. We met with Dan, at a small cottage that serves as the tasting room. It's very nicely merchandised; aside from the usual cards, towels, coasters and the like, I found a pair of interesting brass cookie cutters - one in the shape of a grape cluster, and the other a wine glass. Dan mentioned that he (or his wife) had used them to cut cheese to these shapes. Great idea!

Although the tasting room is inviting, Dan seemed a bit distracted. The wines were generally good though, and the rest of your tasting group will be able to amuse themselves with a little browsing.


Rusack Vineyards

Selected Tasting Notes:

...from barrel...

2002 Rusack Chardonnay - Goodchild Vnyd. This wine hasn't undergone any ML, and is quite tropical in its aromas and flavors, with pineapple, lemon grass,and a touch of lychee nut. Nice, very flavorful mouthfeel; silky, yet crisp on the palate. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Chardonnay - Bien Nacido Vnyd. Bigger on the mouthfeel, with a touch more tartness than the Goodchild Chard. Lots of body and presence, long finish. Tasty stuff! Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Chardonnay - Sierra Madre Vnyd. Recently completed ML, and the nose just drips with honey, caramel, and buttery apple nuances. Rich and full on the palate, with a nice crisp snap on the long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Chardonnay - Huber Vnyd. This vnyd is in the cooler Santa Rita Hills AVA, and the profile shows more clingy acid and ripe appley aroma and flavor, with a somewhat stemmy quality to the nose and mouth. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Sierra Madre Vnyd. Just pure fruit aromas, with a combination of bing and black cherry aromas and flavors, and an edgy young-vine quality to the mouthfeel. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Bien Nacido Vnyd. Quite ripe in the nose, with lots of black cherry, stems, touch of spice, and a little feral quality. Nice texture on the palate, with lots of dark cherry and spice flavors and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Huber Vnyd. Fabulous; very plush and floral in the nose, with ripe and seductive scents. Initially full on the palate, the wine gives a big blast on the front end, levels out in the middle, and comes on strong through the finish. This will likely be part of a blend with the Sierra Madre and the Bien Nacido. Aroma/Taste: A-/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Fiddlestix Vnyd, 667 clone. Rich, ripe and lush, with a nice stemmy/forest floor quality framing the aroma profile. Big and chewy in mouthfeel, with plenty of fleshy fruit and spice, and a nice long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Fiddlestix Vnyd, 113 clone. Very dense nose, with lots of dark fruit, touch of spice, and a hint of gamey quality. Lightly earthy on the palate, with strawberry and bing cherry flavors, and a slightly gripping finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Pinot Noir - Fiddlestix Vnyd, 4 clone. Slightly reduced, with a stemmy and earthy quality in nose and mouth. A Reserve bottling will probably be made from the Fiddlestix lots, and the final product ought to be something to behold. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Tempranillo. Very nice nose of dark cherry with a touch of coffee and spice. Delicious mouthfeel, plenty of dusty black cherry fruit, and gripping long finish. From a small 1-acre vnyd in Santa Ynez. 120 cases. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Syrah - Saarloos Vnyd. Rich, very smooth quality to nose and mouth. From a small steep very picturesque vnyd near Ballard Cyn Rd and Hwy 154. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Falcone Syrah - Falcone Vnyd. Nose exhibits a mass of dark fruit. Substantial mouthfeel, nice licorice accent to the black fruit, and a long dense finish. From John's own vnyd in Paso Robles, which was planted in 2000. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Falcone Cabernet Sauvignon - Falcone Vnyd. Just loaded with dark fruit, spice, and toasty qualities. Full on the palate, with a ripe cassis flavor, beautiful balance, and long finish. The wine was in a stainless steel barrel at the time of tasting. Will probably be blended in with the Falcone Syrah. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

2002 Rusack Syrah - Stolpman Vnyd. Clone 3. Very complex nose of dark berry, cocoa, caramel, and toast. Really nice! From a new section in the Stolpman Vnyd. Still undergoing ML, and will probably go into a blend of the Rusack Syrah lots. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

2002 Rusack Sangiovese - Stolpman Vnyd. Nice spicy dried cherry aroma. Elegant and silky on the palate, the ripe fruit has near perfect balance, and a very long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/A-

Arrived at Rusack about 1:00pm, to meet with winemaker John Falcone. I first met John at a Santa Barbara Co Vintner's Assn (SBCVA) tasting during 2002. The wines were very nice; but, I'd missed out on a Cab blend named Anacapa. (Although the SYV is not know for Cab blends, some of them are real finds!) John suggested that I visit the winery, where he'd be happy to pour me some of the Anacapa I'd missed, along with tasting some barrel samples. That was inducement enought for me. But, after hearing how he and owner Geoff Rusack's plans for a makeover of the Rusack vineyards, I just had to pay a visit to see what was happening with the former Ballard Cyn Winery.

Fortunately, I was able to stop by just a few weeks later, while on the way back from a trip to Napa & Sonoma ('02 visit). Although I'd visited Rusack on a couple of occasions before, I almost didn't recognize the place. The vineyards surrounding the winery were completely gone - replaced by a wide sea of soil! John met us inside the tasting room, and we chatted a bit with owner Geoff Rusack, before John took us back into the storage room. Tasting through most of the 2001 barrel samples, it was obvious that everything showed major promise.

Rusack Winemaker, John Falcone
( photo, courtesy of Michael Poston)

This year, I ran into John again at the SB Vintner's Assn tasting, and was able to taste through many of the bottled examples of the Pinots and Syrahs. The results were very impressive. I was now looking forward to trying the '02 vintage from barrel, along with a special treat - some wines from John's own label. John purchased about 11 acres up in the Templeton area, and has 8 acres under vine.

Rusack is currently sourcing fruit from several vnyds and AVAs - something that's likely to continue at least until the recently re-planted estate vnyds come back into production. Yet, even at that point, there may be a desire to continue obtaining fruit from some of the current sources - which would be fine with me. The barrel samples I tasted of wines made from Fiddlestix, Huber, and Stolpman fruit were all excellent.

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