Highlights from the Harvest
A Report from the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association’s Celebration of Harvest
Saturday, October 18, 2008
For any fan of Santa Barbara County wines, the acres of white tents spread across the green lawns of Rancho Sisquoc Winery on October 11 promised an afternoon of unparalleled pink, red, and white exploration. And for this first-time visitor to the S.B. County Vintners’ Association‘s annual Celebration of Harvest - the autumnal gathering of winemakers and gourmet food purveyors scheduled to coincide with the season’s frantic grape-picking - there seemed no better way to spend a lazy Saturday.
Unable to convince any friends to change their predestined weekend plans, I was dropped off alone and, at noon, more than an hour early, somehow thinking that the party started at 11 a.m., when it really started at 1 p.m. But the place was already a-buzz with activity, if not buzzing yet from the wine, and the extra hour gave me plenty of time to map out my course.
I took a seat near one of the stages and began fingering through the 67-page brochure, which laid out more than 105 wineries and 30 food servers that had come together for the event. My challenge was two-fold: one, taste from wineries I’ve never tried or, better yet, never even heard of; and two, search out the most obscure varietals and interesting blends I could find. Food-wise, I had no plans other than to smell, look, and then grab what looked tastiest - or, if possible, what would complement the wine in my hand.
So after a few hours of entertaining my taste buds and subjecting my innards to fermented saturation, here’s my report, broken down into handy, if entirely arbitrary, categories. And keep in mind that while I visited nearly two dozen tasting tables and at least 10 food booths, my sampling of the day’s offerings was fractional at best. So there was surely much more to love than just what I list here.
Most Obscure White Wine: Grenache Blanc
The D’Alfonso/Curran Wine Group is run by Bruno D’Alfonso of Sanford Winery fame and his winemaking wife, Kris Curran, who brought Sea Smoke Cellars so many accolades before recently moving to be head winemaker at Foley Estates. (Her top spot at Sea Smoke is now occupied by Don Schroeder, son of Rebecca Work who owns Ampelos Cellars with her husband, Peter.) Knowing the reputations of both Curran and D’Alfonso was one reason for this stop, but the main reason was because Curran’s eponymous label offers a grenache blanc, one of the rarer white wine varietals around these parts. It proved light and refreshing, as expected, and then I was happily surprised by the chardonnay poured from D’Alfonso’s Badge label. It had that tongue-soothing warmth I’ve come to associate with some oak and some malolactic fermentation, but the perfect amount, compared to many chards that go so buttery they fall flat. I also sipped the Badge pinot noir, and the DiBruno sangiovese. You can taste them all at Trio Tastings in Solvang.
Tastiest Morsels of Wild Game: New West Catering’s Green Chile Wild Boar
With the D’Alfonso sangio in hand, I hit up my first food stop: green chili wild boar served over seasoned fries from New West Catering. Paired with the wine, it proved to be the best foodie experience I had all day, the crispy fries lapping up the remaining boar juice.
With the sun starting to warm up the day and take the bite out of the chilly winds, I headed across the lawn toward the tent that had wineries starting with C. I wanted to search out CORE Wines, which produces some very interesting Rhone blends from a vineyard in the Cuyama Valley, but they weren’t there yet. So instead I found Coquelicot, which I knew to be owned by Bernard Rosenson, who purchased the Wine Cask from Doug Margerum last year. I started with the sauvignon blanc and was very pleased - crisp but flavorful, like the best ones I’ve tried from New Zealand, and probably the best white I had all day.