Central Coast Wine Tour, July 2017 (Part 2) – Claiborne & Churchill, Buttonwood, Baehner Fournier

Central Coast Wine Tour, July 2017 (Part 2) – Claiborne & Churchill, Buttonwood, Baehner Fournier

I’ve posted a portion of a report on a July wine trip with friends to the Central Coast. The report has been split into four parts, and the portion below is from Part 2 of 4. I’ll post segments from Parts 3 & 4 of the trip in the next few days. The full reports for each day of the trip can be found on the Grape-Nutz.com website – here’s the link for Part 2:
Central Coast Tour - July 2017 - Part 2

Claiborne & Churchill Vintners
Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard
Baehner Fournier Vineyards

Baehner Fournier Vineyards
Our second Sunday morning appointment was with Dr. Bob Baehner and Vickie Fournier Baehner of Baehner Fournier Vineyards. It was a fairly short drive into the hills not far east of the town of Los Olivos. I had come across the Baehner Fournier wines several times at the old Ballard Inn tasting bar when our friend Barry Rossum ran it. The wines struck me as some of the best red Bordeaux-style blends I’d tried from Santa Barbara County, and I thought this would be a good time to visit and learn more about the vineyard and wines. We were joined again on this visit by John Tomasso as well as by Amy Dixon, who runs The Baker’s Table artisan bakery in Santa Ynez. We drove up to Bob and Vickie’s home, on a knoll above their vineyard, and they warmly welcomed us inside. Their very friendly cat “Miss Bones” made sure to greet us as well!

Bob’s background is as a pediatric hematologist/oncologist (I had to look that one up!), while Vickie is a travel consultant. Bob and Vickie have enjoyed great wine and food during their travels over the years and the idea of having their own vineyard and making wine appealed to them. In 1999, Bob was teaching at USC and was looking to retire, so they started looking for land where they could plant a vineyard. They bought their 17-acre property in Santa Ynez Valley in 2001 and started planting five acres right away, and they’ve lived there full-time since 2007. The site is at about 1,000-foot elevation, around 400 feet higher than the valley floor, and just inside the boundary of the new Los Olivos District AVA.

photo: courtesy of Baehner Fournier Vineyards

Bob and Vickie had 5,000 vines planted on their hillside property – 60% Cabernet Sauvignon (two clones) plus 20% each Merlot and Petit Verdot. There are actually five separate small vineyard sites – Northstar, Rainbow, Moonglow, Sunshine, and Misty. The names are based on their experiences with nature at the different locations on their property. The site has rocky loam soil with a clay base and the yield from the vines is low, typically only around 1 to 1½ tons per acre. Bob and Vickie have worked with three noted local winemakers since their first commercial release from the 2005 vintage, and Steve Clifton took over the winemaking in late 2012. Steve makes the wines at his facility, and current annual production is about 500 cases. Steve also works with the vineyard management team to ensure that the vines are farmed in the way he wants. All of the Baehner Fournier wines are made from estate fruit except for their Sauvignon Blanc, which comes from Vogelzang Vineyard in Happy Canyon.

Inside their beautiful house, Bob and Vickie led us to a room that they use as a tasting bar, and they poured us a couple of their wines to get started with tasting. The 2016 Sauvignon Blanc was whole-cluster pressed and fermented in neutral oak, where it was aged for six months before bottling. Besides being the only wine not made from estate fruit it’s also the only one that does not go through a native yeast fermentation. The first vintage of Baehner Fournier Sauvignon Blanc was the 2012. Next was the 2015 Rosé de Merlot, crushed and kept on the skins before pressing in order to pick up color and complexity – this was particularly nice, with bright cherry aromas and more texture than many rosé wines.

After these two wines, we followed Bob and Vickie out to their rear patio and around the side of their house to look at one of the adjacent vineyard blocks. It was quite a view down the hillside, with old oak trees at the ends of the vine rows. Since the temperature outside was considerably cooler than the previous day, we decided that it would be pleasant to sit out at the large, shaded patio table to taste the Baehner Fournier red wines.

Our first red was the 2013 Petit Verdot, which has 10% Merlot blended in. The tannins in Petit Verdot can be harsh but this one had a nicely-managed tannic structure. We followed this with the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Bob and Vickie noted that the bottle had been opened up two days earlier, but this may have worked to its advantage, helping to soften the wine a bit though it still displayed plenty of structure. Our final wine was the 2014 “V3” – Vickie referred to this as “our vineyard in a glass.” Like the vineyard as a whole, it’s about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% each Merlot and Petit Verdot. The wine was aged for 18 months in barrel, with about 30% new French oak (typical oak program for the reds). The “V3” is the first of the 2014 vintage reds to be released.

In addition to the wines we tasted with Bob and Vickie, Baehner Fournier also makes a Merlot – the current 2013 vintage was blended with 17% Cabernet Sauvignon. The easiest way to taste and buy the Baehner Fournier wines is by visiting The Good Life Cellar on Mission Drive in Solvang, where all of their wines are available.

We all had a great time visiting Bob and Vickie at their home. They were gracious and generous hosts, and it almost seemed like a bonus that their wines were so good! It was nice to be able to take a look at their vineyard too – it’s quite a scenic spot. I enjoyed all of the wines Bob and Vickie poured for us, particularly the 2015 Rosé de Merlot, 2013 Petit Verdot, and 2014 “V3.” Over the years, Santa Barbara County wineries have not been known for wines from red Bordeaux grape varieties, though of course there have been some exceptions. But I’ve found that over the past 10 years or so, the overall quality of these types of wines from the area have taken a significant step up, especially as newer producers such as Baehner Fournier have started up. Bordeaux-style wines from the region now deserve to be taken seriously alongside Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rhônes, and Baehner Fournier’s wines are well worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Current releases
Baehner Fournier 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Vogelzang Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara. This was lightly floral, with notes of melon and stone fruit. Moderately creamy texture, with fine acidity and a lively finish.
Baehner Fournier 2015 Rosé de Merlot, Estate, Los Olivos District. Light pink/salmon color, with bright cherry aromas along with touches of flowers and fresh herbs. Medium-light bodied with a lively mouthfeel and just a hint of tannin on the finish, nice.
Baehner Fournier 2013 Petit Verdot, Estate, Santa Ynez Valley. Plum and darker berry fruit, spice, and dried herbs on the nose. Medium-full bodied with good structure and big but refined tannins, nice.
Baehner Fournier 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate, Santa Ynez Valley. Forward black cherry and plum aromas, with tobacco/dried herb, spice, and a touch of sweet oak in the background. Fairly big and structured, with a firm tannic finish.
Baehner Fournier 2014 “V3,” Estate, Los Olivos District. This displayed plum, herbs, earth, and notes of flowers and mocha. Bold mouthfeel but smoother texture than the other two reds, with fine tannins on the finish, already delicious though it should develop with further cellaring too.