Nine Days in Heaven: Day Two: BIG Day of Tasting! Part 1

| February 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Day Two started hangover free. Which was surprising considering the night before, I capped Day One’s festivities with fellow Berserksers, Jim Salvito and Charlie Fu. Fun filled night of Burg and Pliny.

Day Two was going to be my busiest day. We had a morning appointment with Drake Whitcraft, an afternoon appointment with Mark Horvath at Crawford Family Wines, and a BIG tasting I organized with Laurie Jervis at the Zotovich winery (which will be chronicled in Part 2). Jim, Charlie, and I grabbed breakfast burritos early in the morning, then headed over to see Drake.

Drake Whitcraft is one chill dude. I love hanging out with him because his calm demeanor slows my nervous energy right down. Plus, he is a great guy. I wrote about Drake in a previous posting on this blog. He was raised around wine by his legendary father. But Drake has really stepped into his own. I have tasted his wines over previous vintages and I have to say, he is absolutely KILLING it.


When we walked into Drake’s tasting room, he had bottles prepped and ready for us. I was really excited to try his Pence Ranch stuff since he has choice rows, and I haven’t had wine from that fruit before. So let’s start there!

2013 Pence Ranch Chardonnay
Pence Ranch is just east of the Sta. Rita Hills (SRH). Blair Pence is currently applying to get the American Viticultural Area (AVA) boundary lines expanded to include his property (more about that here). After tasting this, I don’t think he NEEDS to have SRH on the label, it stands alone. Eden clone. Fermented and aged in neutral oak, 3/4 malo. Slight caramel, lemon curd with a PERFECT complex weight with a fresh acid streak. Took this one home.

2013 Pence Ranch Pinot Noir, Clone 828
All of Drake’s reds have 100% stem inclusion. Including this one. Stemmy pine needles, strawberry purity with super lively, orange peel, acidy grip.

2013 Presqu’ile Pinot Noir
One of the premier sites in Santa Maria. Just a beautiful expression of this AVA. Strawberry pie, salinity, characteristic Santa Maria baking spice. Total consistency to nose with a pure, fresh finish.

2013 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir
Drake’s big blend. Pence Ranch, Presqu’ile, Zotovich, and Kick-On. Beautiful ripe strawberry with a velvet touch that is splashed with a nice acid streak.

2013 Stolpman Grenache
Stolpman…gold standard site for Rhones in Santa Barbara in Ballard Canyon. Peppery, savory herbs with a delicate strawberry that leads to a great structure. Nice line of acid, too.

2012 Clover Creek Syrah
This vineyard is located in the Santa Ynez Valley, right next to Solvang. Darker cherry/blueberry. Super velvet structure.

Great tasting…actually, AMAZING tasting. I’m really falling in love with Drake’s wines and style. If you have time and are in Santa Barbara, check out the wines. Info is here.

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If you want to get on Drake’s good side…bring him REALLY good IPA.

Quick drive across the 154, we ran over to see Mark Horvath. Mark has been making wine for a while. He started at Babcock Winery and quickly founded a label with Kenneth “Joey” Gummere called Kenneth-Crawford. Those wines were absolutely DELICIOUS! As life usually goes, all good things must come to an end. Joey and Mark decided to go their separate ways and start their own labels. Joey started making unbelievable wines with his Transcendence label, and Mark, along with his wife, Wendy Gablehouse Horvath started Crawford Family Wines.

I had a preview of the Crawford wines at the Barn Party during the Sta. Rita Hills Winegrowers Alliance Wine & Fire event a couple years back. Instantly fell in love. I was thankful Mark could make time for us because I really wanted to delve into the wines. And oh, did he roll out the red carpet. Walked in, and the bottles were open, and the thief was ready.

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Bottles of beauty

2013 “Tin Shack” Rita’s Crown Chardonnay
One of the sites in SRH I love most. This site just kicks out amazing chard fruit. With this one, Mark used stainless steel tanks for fermentation, then ages in neutral barrels. Some malo took place. Perfumed floral notes, lemon peel, super zingy acid with a touch of savory, peppery notes. Crazy complex.

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Mark climbing barrels for us

2014 Watch Hill Grenache
Located in the cooler portion of the valley in Los Alamos. Bramble blue/red fruit with a juicy, strong structure. Nice acid as well.

2014 Zotovich Pinot Noir
Fresh red purity with rock acid. Strawberry pie on finish. Love this site in SRH.

2014 Bentrock Pinot Noir
Another newish site on the western side of the SRH. Amazing chard and pinot coming from this site as well. 30% stem inclusion. This wine had some candied raspberries with some pine. Nice rocky acid finish.

2014 Radian Pinot Noir
Radian is the most exciting site for me. Haven’t had a disappointing bottle from here. Also from the west side of SRH. This one has a 30% stem inclusion. Dark raspberry with hint of smoke.

2014 Babcock Pinot Noir
Full circle here. I know I haven’t seen Babcock on many other people’s label. This sample had 50% stem inclusion. Graphite, spice, smoke, raspberry, some salinity. Great tannin and structure.

2014 Lavando Mourvedre
A new site for me! This vineyard is in Ballard Canyon. Some crazy perfume/salinity with a juicy long structure.

2014 Zotovich Syrah
True cool climate syrah one of the best vineyards in SRH. Blueberry, lavender, underbrush, graphite. Consistent palate with some white pepper.

2012 SRH Pinot Noir
Blending of Babcock, Bentrock, Radian, and Zotovich. Pure, spice, mushroom, with some wet leather. Real nice.

2012 “Walk Slow” Pinot Noir
Combo of 50% Babcock, 50% Bentrock. Sweet baking spice, black olive brine, salinity, red and blue fruit. Lush, but lively as well.

2012 Babcock Pinot Noir
Jumps from glass. Perfume, fruit tart, sweet spice, touch of cola. Velvet, savory, olive tapenade, rocky finish.

WOW! Now that was a tasting!! Some serious good wine making going on here. As I mentioned about Ryan Deovlet in my previous posting, Mark is one of those winemakers that can walk a fine line between power and grace. He has a very talented touch. Down to earth, passionate, and an amazing vision for the label, and what is inside the bottle. Crawford Family Wines has a tasting room in Buellton. A must-visit!! Details are here!

This is Part 1 of Tuesday. As I mentioned above, I will write a separate post about the tasting Laurie and I organized. I want to dedicate a special section to it since I see the word count is getting over 1K.

BIG thank you to Drake and Mark for their time. Just amazing wines and people.

Category: Featured, Santa Barbara Wine Talk, Wine Articles

About the Author ()

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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