At one point during the 2008 Santa Barbara County Wine Futures event, an acquaintance has to stop her head-down husband, who is ready to charge off to the next tasting table. Upon seeing us she must rouse him from his single-minded purpose, semi-joking, “Honey, it’s a social break.” I can tell, however, that her husband is lost contemplating their homemade sheet set up in a neat drinking order by varietal. And I know what he’s thinking, having only met him briefly once before, “These people are keeping me from my wines!”
Wine Futures is Christmas, Opening Day, and the world’s best President’s Day Sale wrapped up into one for lovers of the grape. When people line up outside the Wine Cask, waiting for the noon opening, you can sense the anticipation, the whiff of worry in the air that someone is drinking the last of the best before you’re even in the door. Wine is serious-at least when it’s Santa Barbara good, you’re getting one of the first shots at buying it, and it’s slightly cheaper than it will be upon release.
The Wine Cask has had 19 years to figure this out. Of course this 2008 offering is the first with Bernie Rosenson as owner of this Santa Barbara institution, and former owner Doug Margerum is listed as a “wine consultant,” mostly writing up the old standbys like Beckmen and Qupe. Clearly there are changes, and not just because El Paseo is under renovation so that space can’t be used. The Wine Cask insisted they were underselling tickets to leave more room, and that seemed to be true-my note-taking arm got jostled by passersby rarely. Wine prices in general seemed up, but all prices seem up; soon it might be cheaper to fill up with premium wine than premium gas. Still, two wines almost broke the $100 summit to which no previous Futures wine has come close.
And while both the 2007 and 2008 Futures featured 58 wineries, 16 newcomers took the place of some very big names. Gone this year, sadly, were the likes of Ampelos, Badge, Cold Heaven, DiBruno, Fiddlehead, Palmina, Sea Smoke, and Stolpman-some of the best wines the county has to offer. Just the missing larger-than-life personalities of Bruno D’Alfonso and Kris Curran were a huge loss for any event to take. Good thing Jim Clendenen still held court from behind the Au Bon Climat (ABC) table, giving the event some of the rock star quality it deserves.
Not that other winemakers didn’t represent. Gray Hartley regaled us with the tale of why Hitching Post’s new top-of-the-line wine is called Perfect Set, detailing a harrowing but ultimately perfect catch back in his days as a commercial fisherman. (Somehow he snuck in an aside to Fred Brander about what seemed to be a naughty perfect set, but we missed that in the hubbub.) Ethan Lindquist recalled hearing of some marsanne grapes available, only to find out his dad, Bob Lindquist of Qupe, had already bought them-and he knew that meant he’d get none (luckily he got his hands on syrah and sangiovese). One patron asked Dave Corey-who not only had his core Core Wines but also a smashing tempranillo/cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend called Crazy 8’s from C3 (with his sisters Melanie Corey-Ferrini and Sherri Corey-Pinero) and a violety, spicy Turchi Malbec (with his brother and mother)-if he had any other things he was working on, and he replied, “We need some more projects,” which led his wife, Becky, to slap him on the wrist, not completely playfully.
You, dear reader, might want to slap me on the wrists, as I’m studiously avoiding the “let’s review the wines in alphabetical order” event wrap-up you might be used to. But Wine Futures has ever been for me an event, a local talent check, a thrill. It’s almost more sociological than oenological. Plus, despite wisely picking out Sea Smoke as brilliant when it made its debut back in 2003 (with its 2001 vintage) even at the end of three hours of wine tasting, I’m never quite sure one quick swirl, sniff, sip of a wine is enough. This year, I had about 62 tastes in three hours-indeed, that’s one every three minutes. Do you really want me to be your buying guide?
If you insist, here are some tips. The Wine Cask 2007 Pinot Noir Special Reserve is made by ABC’s Jim Clendenen. Jim Adelman from ABC said, “I don’t think you can buy a $17 pinot : except in Croatia.” If the Croatians are making pinot this good, I’m booking my flight tomorrow. It’s clearly the bargain play for Santa Barbara’s star grape. If money is no object, then the Foxen Pinot Noir Sea Smoke Sta. Rita Hills you should buy by the barrel, but, alas, you can only purchase two bottles max (at $74.95 futures price). This is a wine so powerful it practically smells as good as it tastes. Incredible wine. But somehow the Foxen gang just gets better every year-sort of like the Futures Program itself.