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Vitis Obscurus from Santa Barbara

A Look at Some of the Lesser-Known Grapes Being Turned into Wine


California’s current wine trend is exploring bottlings made from the world’s most obscure varieties. Their origins range from the Atlantic-influenced appellations of the western Loire Valley all the way up to the sub-alpine regions of the Jura Mountains. A lot of these varieties are actually harder to find in their own country of origin — good luck stumbling upon a straight counoise in a French wine shop.

Santa Barbara County’s producers are some of the leaders in this movement, and their wines are easily among the state’s best finds. Yes, the noble grapes will always be there, but check out these fresh, reemerging varieties.

Lieu Dit Bien Nacido Vineyard Melon 2014: Also known as the grape used in France’s Muscadet, this stunner is refreshingly crisp, with papaya and just under-ripe apricot. Sublime with oysters. $20

Bonny Doon Beeswax Vineyard Arroyo Seco Picpoul 2014: A southern French variety, the “pic” part of this grape loosely translates to spike, as this wine is acidic. Crisp with floral, lemon sherbet flavors, it’s a perfect wine for hot days. $24

Larner Vineyard Ballard Canyon Malvasia Bianca 2014: This grape is normally associated with Italy’s northeastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The wine is refreshing, full of apricot and peach flavors. Also find Larner’s sticky vino santo. $28

Stolpman Vineyards Combe Pet’Nat Trousseau 2014: A grape normally found in France’s Jura, it’s one California’s hottest new varieties. It’s a refreshing bubbly with citrus and Red Delicious apple flavors. Bring this to a party. $35

Amplify Wines Camp 4 Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley Carignane 2014: Winemaker Cameron Porter put this through carbonic maceration to lift the aroma and flavor, making it fresh and crisp, with some cranberry and hints of white pepper. $20

Municipal Winemakers Santa Barbara County Counoise 2013: Counoise is one of the 18 grapes allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is another bright and fruity little number, with strawberries and a sprinkling of spice. $27

Kenneth Volk Vineyards Cabernet Pfeffer 2009: Some mystery surrounds the origins of this supposed California native. Many believe it to be cab sauvignon crossed with trousseau. But Volk, who grows some of the last remaining vines, argues that it is pure gros verdot. A mix of blackberry, cherry, and peppercorns ends with grippy tannins. $28

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