Vanessa Craig Dinner at Larner Vineyard

Vanessa Craig
Courtesy Photo

A bunch of wine folk were lucky enough to spend a recent evening under the stars at the home of Michael and Christina Larner, owners of Larner Vineyard. The event was in part a presentation of recent releases of wines on offer from Larner as well as celebration for Goleta-based chef Vanessa Craig, the recent runner-up on the Food Network’s “All-Star Academy.”

Larner’s vineyard is a popular Rhône grape source for Santa Barbara County winemakers, with a customer list reading like a who’s who of the syrah, grenache and viognier scene. But the always dapperly dressed Michael Larner makes some fine wines himself, such as the 2010 Elemental blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre, which offers flavors of a savory blackberry coulis and a hint of smoke from the oak ageing. His focus isn’t just for Rhônes, though.

In a corner of the vineyard that’s been dubbed “Little Italy,” Larner planted a few hundred vines of the Italian variety malvasia Bianca, which is rare in California. His inspiration came from spending time as a child in Italy. The dry wine from the 2014 is a perfect apéritif, crisp with flavors of passion fruit and nectarine. From the same vintage they also make a vin santo, at the request of Michael’s mother, another Christina Larner, who is a hilarious funny and vibrant woman full of colorful stories of her life living in 1970s Hollywood to now in Ballard Canyon. Larner’s vin santo is obviously inspired by the Italian dessert wine where the grapes are left on straw to dry, pretty much just leaving sugar to ferment. Rich with flavors of apricot and marmalade, this wine was far from cloying with enough acidity to cut through the sweetness.

Chef Vanessa Craig, meanwhile, went to high school with Larner’s Tasting Room Director Emily Dixon. When Emily saw Vanessa on the televised competition, they re-connected and planned this dinner.

Craig’s Santa Barbara ceviche appetizer, with a variety of fish caught that morning, matched perfectly well with malvasia bianca. The black pepper beef stew with morel mushrooms was sublime with the Elemental as well as the veal tenderloin with figs and grapes with the syrah.

The chef turned out to be quite cheeky herself, and is now running a catering company called Vanessa Loves Food, where she plans to do more events like the one at the Larners’ home. See

The Larner tasting room is inside the old gas station in the center of Los Olivos at 2900 Grand Avenue and is open Thursday to Monday, 11 a.m.-5 .p.m. Call 805-688-8148 or see

122 West Figueroa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101


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