Vines were first planted here in the 1700s by Spanish missionaries who travelled up from Mexico and set up missions along the Californian coast. Prohibition set things back and it took until the 1960s for grape growing to take hold. The Santa Maria valley produced the most grapes for the likes of Gallo. Santa Ynez valley remained more boutique and reached global attention after the blockbuster film ‘Sideways’ in 2004. We discovered on this tour many wineries have chosen to have their tasting rooms in towns such as Los Olivos, Buellton and Santa Barbara. Whilst this is clearly a good commercial and practical option for the individual business, it takes away the interest and romance of tasting on site and getting the full experience terroir and all.
Downtown Santa Barbara, Anacapa St
Au Bon Climat
Established by the famed Jim Clenenden in 1982 Au Bon Climat (a well exposed vineyard) is renowned as one of the best producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California.They use sites from various areas of central coast including Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria and their own Au Bon Climat Vineyard in Santa Maria ValleyThe wines tasted had great purity and exposed typical Pinot Noir characteristics and also showed the variation in styles depending on site selection.
Pinot Gris Pinot Blanc and Aligoté, aged 2 years in French oak
Lemon, lime nose subtle with good balance and acidity no major oak influence nice texture
Los Alamos Pinot Noir 2015
Red fruits medium intensity lively
Sanford and Benedict Pinot Noir 2014
From parcels in Santa Rita Hills, bright red berry fruit, spice and mineral notes
Runway Pinot Noir 2015
From a site near Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria. My favourite of the tasting intense rich red fruits with an earthiness and spice long length. Classic Pinot with great balance that I’m sure will age for years if you can keep your hand off it.
Isabelle Pinot Noir 2015 Composed of the best barrels of the vintage limited release dark rich complex beautiful balance and finish.
Great wines, I’d like to take a case of this and Runway home!
Santa Barbara County – Santa Ynez Valley
Margerum Wine Company
Founded by Doug Margerum restauranteur who worked with Jim Clenenden and Bob Linquist before starting up Margerum and now focuses more on Rhone varietals. Their winery is in Buellton 1 hours scenic drive on route 9 up the valley from Santa Barabara. We were lucky enough to arrive as the harvest was in full swing. Julia Weinberg gave us a fantastic tour of the busy winery including a traditional punching down caps of the grenache, smelling the yeasty, sulphurous, Carbon dioxide emitting from the open top fermenters and tasting fresh chilled Marsanne juice. We were lucky to meet the congenial Doug. They seemed to have an excellent team spirit and have a mandatory stop for lunch every day catered by their in house chef.
Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Restraint white flower jasmine great balance and texture.
M5 Los Olivos District 2017 Grenache Blanc, Viognier,Marsanne, Roussane and Vermentinto
Nice texture hint of nuttiness lovely mouthfeel white flower delicious
Barden Santa Rita Hills. 2016
12months sur lié French oak, Butter toast vanilla subtle nose lovely toasty notes
Barden Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills 2015
Red and darker fruits strawberries also baking spices clove long finish spiciness
Minerality. Cold soak free run 10% whole cluster.
M5 2016 Santa Barbara county Mourvèdre counoise Grenache Shiraz cinsault. Lovely front of blueberry with savouriness. Amazing balance 14.6% but don’t feel the alcohol as concentration tannin acid fruit is such balance. Brilliantly integrated wine length +
Uber Syrah 2016 Santa Barabara county
Co ferment of lots of parcels, Subtle blue fruits some spice Great concentration.
Margerum wines were some of the most outstanding of my tour. It was the incredible balance of the wines. I feel Doug’s skills and prior intimate knowledge of the food and restaurant industry helps in the complex process of blending five grape varietals in the M5’s with superb results. The benefits of working cohesively as a team is invaluable.
Bien Nacido Vineyards & Solomon Hills Estates – Santa Maria Valley.
This visit was very kindly arranged at late notice by Master Sommelier Will Costello who works as the Estate Ambassador. He told me afterwards the only way to arrange the visit at this very busy winemaking time was to say we were interns who had come to help. They must have been disappointed when we arrived! We drove North East from Buellton to Santa Maria Valley and Bien Nacido Vineyards. It is one of the major viticultural nurseries, much of the Chardonnay in California came from BN cuttings. Fruit from Bien Nacido is used for Jim Clenendens and Bob Linquist wines. Assistant wine maker Anthony hosted us with a tasting table right in the middle of the working winery.
The wines displayed a great purity and balance with a real sense of place and I shall be seeking them out from our main supplier, Armit Wines in London
Bien Nacido Chardonnay 2016
Solomon Hills. Santa Maria Valley 2016
Solomon Hills Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2014
Bien Nacido Pinot Noir 2013
Bien Nacido Syrah 2014 x block