There’s plenty to love about the reds coming out of Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara County’s newest wine-growing appellation, but it’s hard to not let the white grape of sauvignon blanc steal the show.
“This is the best sauv blanc I’ve ever worked with; it’s the real deal,” said Andrew Levi, who started making wines for Grassini Family Vineyards this past spring after stints in Napa, Sonoma, and St. Emilion, France. “This is as good as it gets in the New World. Winemakers are always looking for wines that have the impression of sweetness but are dry. These sauv blancs all have it.”
He explained as much after a recent tour of Grassini winery, a reclaimed wood fortress a couple of miles east of Highway 154 where 35 acres of vineyards featuring all the traditional Bordeaux varietals climb from flatlands up steep hills toward towering oaks. In my glass was a golden, caramel-like sauv blanc, and up next were a couple of cabernet sauvignon–dominated Bordeaux blends, full of peppery, intriguing herbal notes that tend to be washed out in the cabs you get from other regions. Levi also got me fascinated in the possibility of a more obscure future offering, explaining, “There’s definitely room for a stand-alone petit verdot. The variety does so well down here.”
With us was, as the winery’s name suggests, the Grassini family, namely sisters Katie and Mandy, both gainfully employed by their father, a successful plaintiff attorney, and their mother, a therapist. The couple bought the bucolic property as a retreat in the 1980s with no wine on the mind, but started planting in the late 1990s when the region’s potential became better known. For years, they sold the fruit to a select few, and in 2010, the family began constructing a winery that’s as beautiful as it is functional.
“It was really important for us as a family to do something sustainable and environmentally friendly,” said Mandy during our walk-through beneath beams of wood that had been fished from the bottom of the Columbia River or ripped out of Colorado gold mines and fashioned by Tom Bryant. He also constructed a special area to wax the corks and label the wines, which the family has been doing by hand themselves. Explained Mandy, “It’s important to make sure that, every step of the way, our wines really have that personal touch.”
That touch — and that wood — lands downtown on Memorial Day weekend, when the Grassinis open their tasting room in El Paseo, just across from the Wine Cask courtyard and behind Au Bon Climat. “We wanted to bring the feeling of the winery down here,” said Katie last week, as the finishing touches were being applied to the tasting room all around her. Plus, they’ll have a spot to sell their other sister Corrine’s clothing line, Society for Rational Dress. “It brings the whole family together,” said Katie of the new room. “We’re really excited about it.”
Sip some Grassini Family Vineyards wine when the tasting room opens in El Paseo (813 Anacapa St.) on Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-28, noon-6 p.m. See grassinifamilyvineyards.com.