Nine Days in Heaven: Day One: Start-in SLO

| January 31, 2015 | 0 Comments

I’ve never taken a trip to Santa Barbara wine country for granted. I used to drive from San Diego for even one-day visits! Now that we’ve moved to the United Kingdom, our trips to my favorite place in the world are even more valuable. The trip previous to this one was really short. This last trip, I knew we would be in California for three weeks and hoped we could spend a few extra days. Then I got this text from my Wife:

“I have to work a week in the San Diego office. Why don’t you go to Santa Barbara, then I’ll meet up with you over the weekend, and stay until following Tuesday”.

This was an unprovoked remark. Two things ran through my mind after I read the words:
1) My wife RULES!
2) I can’t wait to see everyone in the valley!

I quickly grabbed a notepad and made a list of folks I wanted to see. Two of the people I REALLY wanted to see; Eric Carucci and Ryan Deovlet. Fired up my Facebook messenger. Talked with my wine writer parter-in-crime Laurie Jervis (of Central Coast Wine Press), and we got things arranged quickly with Eric. Eric makes wine in San Luis Obispo (SLO). Ryan Deovlet does as well. Sent Ryan an e-mail. His schedule was open for Monday as well. BONUS! Looks like my trip is starting in SLO this time!

I had set my alarm for 4am. I woke up around 3:15am. Rolled around in bed a little bit but the adrenaline couldn’t be fought off any longer. Quickly got ready, grabbed my bag, snuck out of my in-laws’ house without making a peep, and fired up the rental car.

It was like it was destined. Set the cruise control and blazed right to LA. Since I was making such great time, had to stop in Silver Lake to grab a coffee at Intelligentsia. Grabbed a pour over but didn’t let it linger in the ceramic mug since every fiber of my being wanted to get where it feels at home. Grabbed a capp for the road and walked out onto Sunset as the sun rose between the single story buildings and onto the concrete. As much as I love being at this coffee shop…I was feeling anxious to get back on the road.

Got to SLO right on time. Pulled into “The Workshop”. This place is perfect for making wine. Similar to Central Coast Wine Services. Eric was getting ready to bottle some wines but was nice enough to make time for Laurie and me. He led us to the tasting room and to the bottles he had opened for us, and then took us into the barrel room.

Eric and Laurie

2013 Sanford & Benedict Viognier
Sanford vio…beautiful white Rhone fruit located in the Sta. Rita Hills. Barrel fermented in neutral oak. Full malo. Light apple notes with perfume. Feminine beauty. Consistent palate, with gooseberry acid finish. Also got a peppery, green apple skin note as it opened up.

2013 Zaca Mesa Roussanne
More about Zaca in a later post…but this is one of the legendary sites in the Santa Ynez Valley. 100% malo, barrel fermented in neutral oak. How is this wine so fresh?! Uplifting fresh pear. Just a little hint of those typical roussanne notes of savory herbs and oily texture. But nimble, live, and yummy.

2013 Grenache Murmur Grenache
This is a new site for me, and a great barometer of where Eric is going with his winemaking. This site is right off the 101 freeway in Santa Maria. Alban clone, planted in 100% sand. Not your typical central coast grenache. Running a parallel line with Cru Beaujolais with it’s earthy peat moss loam. Pinot noir-like with it’s berry purity, and Southern Rhone like with the black pepper. Lively gravel acid finish that has some baking spice on it. Leather on the re-breathe. Super complex.

2011 Thompson Syrah
Another legendary site. Thompson has been kicking out amazing fruit for a long time. 50% new oak, 50% neutral. Spicy, piney, dark red fruit, dusty rocks on nose. Completely consistent palate with a velvety graphite finish.

2012 Thompson Syrah
Next vintage, completely different. 24 months in 25% new oak. Lean, perfumed, feminine beauty. Hint of savory spicy and smoke. Bright cherry with a chalky, fresh and lively finish.

2013 Duvarita Syrah
Located right outside of the Sta. Rita Hills, this was known as Presidio until Brook Williams bought the vineyard in 2012. This has always been a sleeper of a vineyard that kicks out outstanding fruit. This syrah is Estrella clone and had 100% whole cluster. Stemmy, peppery, leathery, with dusty tannins. Dark cherry on finish with a crazy rocky acid finish.

2013 Duvarita Syrah
This sample was destemmed, and springs from the glass with dark cherry/blue fruit. Amazing purity in the mouth. Some iron Northern Rhone notes.

Eric is seriously hardcore. Living and working in Orange County, he comes up to SLO to make his wine, and has contracts with vineyards all over the valley. His wines and palate are evolving. I’m telling you, keep an eye on this label. The amazing liveliness and purity across the whites and reds show the potential of the winemaker, and perfectly represent the sites he gets his grapes from. I’m not sure if I’ve had mouthfeels like this before. If you want to get in touch with Eric, hit up his website.

Next visit brought us across town to Ryan Deovlet. Ryan is such a good dude, and his positivity is infectious. The facility he has in SLO houses barrels for his label (Deovlet), and Refugio Ranch, where he is the Head Winemaker. When we arrived, Ryan and his Assistant Winemaker from Refugio Ranch, Grace Kegel, had set up some bottles and a meal for us. After we were done eating, the thief came out. As always, the wines were impressive.

2013 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay
14% new oak on this beauty. So elegant. Lemon/apple with high toned perfumed notes. Some salty air. Consistent palate with such a killer weight/acid exchange.

2013 Zotovich Chardonnay
One of my all-time favorite sites. One of the vineyards I consider the, “Four Points of the 246” of Sta. Rita Hills Chard. Zotovich, Huber, Kessler-Haak, and Clos Pepe. All kicking out distinct fruit. 25% new oak. Lemon peal, sea air, and what Ryan calls, “peanut skin”. Lemon/lime mix in the palate. So lively.

2013 Solomon Hills Chardonnay
One of the best vineyards in Santa Maria. Fresh baked lemon meringue with a beautiful pear note. Completely consistent palate. Long lasting finish that is so clean and structured.

Non-Vintage Sparkling Program
Ryan and his friend McPrice Myers are working on some sparkling. This sample had Zotovich, Solomon Hills, Sanford & Benedict, and old vine Bien Nacido chard. Ryan said, “ginger and brioche”…I have to agree. Also some hazelnut to go with ripe lemon…almost lemon curd. Bright lime on finish. This is going to be a fun one.

2012 La Encantada Pinot Noir
One of my favorite, and most distinct sites in Sta. Rita Hills. Ryan’s interpretation is one of this site’s best. Typical sweet and savory spice from this fruit. Earthy, smoky, with an orange peel finish. Excellent.

2013 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir
Sacred fruit, from sacred ground. It really doesn’t get much better. Purple flowers, smokey savory spice, with mushroom loam. Completely consistent palate with red fruit purity.

2013 Zotovich Pinot Noir (Stem Inclusion)
Zotovich…this time the pinot. 30% new oak. Just amazing. Ryan nailed a great note. “Fresh flower cuttings”. Also got some pine needle with peppery, bright strawberry.

2013 Zotovich Pinot Noir (Destemmed)
Same fruit, but completely destemmed. Rose pedal, pepper, with some meatiness. Crazy…

Ryan has been all over the world. He has worked in Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina. He has worked with Matthias Pippig at Sanguis and Grassini. He is one of a small group of winemakers who are able to tread the fine line between power and grace, who wrangle back the opulence and purity of fruit with a beautiful line of acid that creates a crazy ying-yang of weight and liveliness.

It was amazing to see Ryan work with Grace as well. He is a perfectionist, I’ve known this for a long time. Honestly, all great winemakers are perfectionists. But he relayed tasks and how to accomplish them with a perfect note of patience and thoroughness. I observed an excellent teacher and mentor. It helps that Grace is smart as a whip and is a super hard worker. Keep an eye out, she will be making her own wine soon.

Always a great time hanging with Ryan

An AMAZING first day of the trip. These folks are doing such an amazing job. If in SLO, I highly suggest you get in touch with them.

Tuesday’s visits will be my next post.

Category: Featured, Santa Barbara Wine Talk, Wine Articles

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Hello, and welcome to “Santa Barbara Wine Talk,” a blog dedicated solely to the wines of the Santa Barbara area. Santa Barbara has so much to offer the wine world. The area is relatively young compared to its Northern California counterparts, but its fame is skyrocketing. Pioneer Richard Sanford planted the first Pinot vines in the diatomaceous earth of the Santa Rita Hills in the 70’s. Around that same time, Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, and Adam Tolmach worked together at Zaca Mesa on the Foxen Trail and established the fabulous Rhone varietals in the area. Fast forward to today, where Manfred Krankl’s wines garner a hundred points and a bunch of young guns are making world-class wine. The Santa Barbara growing region is incredibly diverse. From cool climate sites like Watch Hill, Thompson vineyard, and the aforementioned Santa Rita Hills, to the warmer Santa Ynez Valley and new American Viticulture Area (AVA) Happy Canyon. There is also the only north-south valley in California, the Ballard Canyon (the NEWEST AVA), Santa Maria, and perhaps the most famous vineyard, Bien Nacido. The towns of Los Olivos, Solvang, and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto have seemed to double the number of tasting rooms in the past few years! Happily for those with full tasting schedules, most sites are within twenty minutes of each other (at least when I’m driving!). As for me, I’ve had a passion for wine since 2004. In the grand scheme of things, that is a mere blip in the wine game. It wasn’t until my wife and her parents took me to Napa/Sonoma that I realized, “I love this stuff!” Ever since then, I’ve been on a quest to learn as much as I can about wine. I don’t think my wife’s family knew they were going to create such a monster… After a few trips to Sonoma/Napa, my wife and I decided to give Santa Barbara a try. Not expecting much, we woke up early to beat the LA traffic and headed up the coast. We had the great pleasure to meet with Greg Brewer at Brewer-Clifton. His chards and pinots left us speechless. Next appointment was with Larry Schaffer. Anyone who spends five minutes with Larry will be ready to run through a wall, jacked to try some Rhones. I’d never had a Grenache before…or a Syrah from a cool climate site and in neutral oak…again my mind was blown. A tour around Clos Pepe with Wes Hagen was an absolutely amazing experience and taught me the uniqueness of the Santa Rita Hills. Jaffurs was the last stop before we headed back to San Diego. I instantly fell in love with their wines. I couldn’t believe how amazing they were. I’ve been hooked ever since. As good as the wine is in this region, the people and the hospitality are even better. I’ve never had so much access to winemakers, facilities, and wines, and all are shared with great enthusiasm and passion. It’s because of this that I felt a need to share this special place with as many people as I could.

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