The wine business is as incestuous as an industry gets, which I was constantly reminded of during last week’s trip to Monterey County, the subject of last week’s newsletter.
As a follow-up to that — by nature of deadlines, I actually filed last Friday’s post on Wednesday morning, before my trip was even half-done — I’ll give you a rundown of all the ways that Santa Barbara County’s wine world is intersecting with Monterey’s right now.
- David Baird is the winemaker at Carmel Valley’s Folktale Winery, which he’s turning into a pretty exciting place for a vast array of creative wines. His last stop before Folktale? Fess Parker Winery, back in 2013. We hung out at Alvarado Street Brewing in Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Baird drank a Bubble Bath Hard Smoothie, which was a new beverage for me. We then ate at the home of Folktale owner Greg Ahn (a quiet wine legend), whose mom had whipped up some Japanese curry.
- I first met Sam Smith, a k a Samuel Louis Smith, when he was working at Margerum Wine Company from 2012 to 2015. Today, in addition to crafting absolutely fantastic wines from across the Central Coast for his own brand, Smith is the winemaker for Morgan Winery, one of the earliest and always one of the most important producers in the Santa Lucia Highlands. I wrote about him in my “Monterey’s New Wave Winemakers” article for Wine Enthusiast back in 2019. Last week, we met at the Pelio Vineyard, which sits on a mostly protected perch next to Albatross Ridge high above Carmel Valley, with views of the foggy coast. There’s more plantings going in on this ridge, which is making some really special wine, so watch out.
- On the equipment front, while visiting Russell Joyce’s new digs in the old Ventana Vineyards, I learned that both Stolpman Vineyards and Chanin Wines had purchased some of the tanks that were being used in the facility for their own growing operations. Even hardware gets around.
- On the food front, I kept asking about winemakers’ favorite Mexican restaurants in the Salinas Valley, and La Plaza Bakery & Café kept coming up. I plowed through one of their carnitas tortas — maybe the best torta of my life — with Paul Clifton at Hahn Wines, and the Franscionis of Roar Winery also mentioned La Plaza when I inquired. That reminded me that my friend Fabian Bravo, winemaker at The Brander Vineyard as well as for his own Bravo Wine Company, got his start in wine because his mom befriended Gary Franscioni while working at La Plaza. Fabian, whose parents had emigrated from the town of Ameca outside of Guadalajara in the 1970s, fell in love with wine while working as an engineer at Raytheon in Santa Barbara. Gary hooked him up with Adam Lee at Siduri Wines for the harvest of 2007, and the rest is a history that’s still being written. (In related relative news, Fabian’s wife, Megan Bravo, just got a promotion at Folded Hills winery.)
- In a similar vein of first-generation American winemakers — but with no real Santa Barbara connection here — I hung out again with Miguel Lepe, the Salinas son of immigrants from Jalisco and Mexicali. He also chose a life of wine, which I explained in this 2017 story on Latinx winemakers for Wine Enthusiast. He recently opened a new tasting room for Lepe Cellars in Carmel-by-the-Sea, in the former home of Sabrine Rodems’s Scratch Wines. (Yep, visited her new tasting room in Carmel Valley as well, and came home with eggs and tomatoes from her Santa Cruz yard. She’s the winemaker at Wrath Wines, and Lepe is now the assistant there, it turns out.)
- I visited Miguel to taste his latest lineup, which includes a series from San Antonio Valley in the warm reaches of southern Monterey County. He’s tapping that terroir like few have done before, and it’s imperative that we support the rising class of Latinx winemakers if we ever want to see diversity and equity in this industry.
- On my last night in Monterey, I traveled deep into the Cachagua Valley, west of the Carmel Valley, to check out the fledgling syrah vineyard and bonded garage winery of Matt and Carrie Ferraro. They lived in Santa Barbara years ago, making underwater films for Jean-Michel Cousteau and others. Now, they’re making agrarian dreams come true under the label Dove & Sea Wine Co. I took Monterey wine guru Ian Brand out to the property for dinner, and he gave them some advice, which was primarily to taste more syrah. They’re the first to admit that they have a long way to go, but it’s hard not to feel hopeful and proud of such a bootstrap operation.
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Burrito Week Cometh
Here’s an inside tip: We are putting together our first-ever Burrito Week issue for late September. Like our (usually) annual Burger Week, this roving edible event is enlisting restaurants that will serve specially developed burritos for $7, prompting our readers to support their favorite places or try new ones, all while posting photos to social media along the way. If it’s anything like Burger Weeks of past, it will create quite a delicious buzz around town.
The bonus onus for myself and my colleagues is that we must try each burrito first. So we send out staffers to every participating restaurant to sample and report in advance, and then we write up short pieces about the food and the people serving it.
And to clear up any of the ever-present confusion that surrounds promotional events like this, Burrito Week is not about the best burrito or all of the burritos or the most authentic burrito. It’s about enjoying burritos, supporting our neighbors who support our journalism with their participation, and firing up community spirit, a social condiment needed perhaps more now than ever.
We’ve already got 11 restaurants signed up, but there’s still time to join the fun. Check out the details here, and send an email here if you’re interested.
Meanwhile, newspapers to the north and south of us — which awesomely have enough in their budgets to put numerous people on one-dish detail for extended periods of time — recently published extensive bang-up burrito jobs.
Last weekend, the Los Angeles Times came out with food critic Bill Addison’s “Best Breakfast Burritos in Los Angeles” roundup. It made me feel hungry and fat at the same time.
And a couple of weeks before, the San Francisco Chronicle went way deep into all things wrapped with their “Burrito City” project, which includes history, debates, “architecture,” and much more. The highlight, at least for those tracking down some grub, would be Soleil Ho’s exploration of the “Top Burritos in the Bay Area.” Somehow, she narrowed it down to 11.
From My Table
- My food feature for this week’s Independent was about the Coast Village Road stalwart Tre Lune, which I called “Transportive Ambiance and Classic Italian at Tre Lune.” As I mentioned in the article, I don’t get down there too much — it’s a little pricey, though it’s more because I rarely opt for classic pan-Italian when I do go out, as so many more modern options abound. But I can see why it’s so popular: Everything is quite delicious. What I don’t mention is that I used to go to that location during my UCSB days when it was Palazzio. My college girlfriend and I once waited two hours for a table on Valentine’s Day, which, in retrospect, was dumb. But that was so many people’s prime splurge back in the late 1990s, and your leftovers lasted for days, in part because you filled up on the hot garlic rolls before your uber-rich pasta arrived. When I got old enough, I indulged in Palazzio’s honor system of wine pouring, when you wrote you many glasses you had from the standing carafes on your paper tablecloth. Maybe I miscounted, but I hope that’s not why Palazzio is no longer.
- For my semi-regular Bottles & Barrels column on wine, beer, and other things made and/or served in such vessels, I rehash last week’s newsletter topic on Randall Grahm and The Language of Yes wines.
- I’ve been doing some writing for 805 Living magazine this year, and the issue that came out this week has two of my articles: “The Class of Clendenen,” in which I interview a number of winemakers who were inspired by the late Jim Clenenden, who died in May; and “Pushing the Coastal Extreme,” about wineries from across the Central Coast who are planting and making wines from vineyards that sit possibly too close to the ocean. Read it here.
- Down the coast, the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles was recently named an official wine-growing appellation by the federal government. I wrote about that for Wine Enthusiast here.