Monday, February 29, 2016

Born in Babylonia, Moved to Sonoma--Siduri

Adam Lee and his wife Dianna founded Siduri Wines (Siduri was the Babylonian goddess of wine) in 1994, and since then their winery has become one of the best known producers of Pinot Noir on the west coast, working with 20 fine vineyards from Santa Barbara to the Willamette Valley. Things got so good, they even got to sell the winery to Jackson Family Wines last January--who says the big companies can only buy up craft brewers? Corporate insists they want Siduri to remain Siduri. Of course, that just means there's more financial oomph behind what the Lees want to do, which is, "letting the individual place show through in the wines and encourage people to be honest in their reactions to the wines," according to Adam. "If our Pinots have real personality then someone is going to prefer one over another and we like to hear that."

He gets to hear that often at World of Pinot Noir, where he's been coming for over a decade. He loves to attend to "catch up with old friends. Some of these friends are consumers, others are fellow winemakers. But there’s a general sense of friendship and joy in hanging out together."

While that camaraderie is something he looks forward to, he's less looking forward to what's up with the weather. "This was supposed to be an El Nino year and a season where we caught up from the drought," he says. "Yet, here we are going into early March, and my vineyards in the Central Coast still are in the single digits when it comes to rainfall. This obviously has me worried." Worries about weather lead to worries about yield, and low yields can be troublesome for a winemaker like Lee who owns no vineyards of his own, despite having worked with several for many years. Only time will tell how many grapes he can get his hands on.

As for what he'll be pouring Friday, tasters can look forward to "a 3 year side-by-side of the Ewald Vineyard, 2012, 2013, 2014," he says. "These have been three extraordinarily great years in California for Pinot Noir, and I thought it would be fun to see the differences in the wines from these vintages." While Ewald, in the Russian River Valley, might not have huge cachet, it turns out it's 4 acres tucked behind famous names Kistler and Dehlinger. That is, we all better pay attention.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Clarissa Explains Pinot Noir to You

Some winemakers would no doubt be happy being featured at World of Pinot Noir once. But then again, most winemakers aren't Clarissa Nagy, who will be at the event three times (pouring sparkling at The Terroirists – from Bubbles to Burgundy on Friday in addition to pouring at both main tastings), representing both her own label cnagy and Riverbench, where she is winemaker.

Nagy modestly puts it this way, "My goal as a winemaker is to capture the essence of each vineyard or block. I want those enjoying my wines to experience the character and flavors that I taste while walking through the vineyard at harvest in the finished bottle of wine."

Indeed, she is one of the champions of the Santa Maria Valley, in both meanings of the word. "Our transverse mountain ranges draw in the ocean breezes and marine layer, which helps maintain our bright acids," she explains about what makes this region special. "The sandy soils and fossilized oyster shells lend to mineral, floral and brown, Chinese 5 spice notes."

If you want to taste her elegant wines, here's what will be available. "At the sparkling seminar, I'll be pouring the Riverbench Blanc de Noirs and Brut Rosé," she begins. "I'll be pouring the Riverbench Estate and Mesa Pinot Noir at the Focus Tasting on Friday. They are our flagship wines and are a great representation of Santa Maria Valley. At the Grand Tasting on Saturday, I'll be pouring cnagy Garey Ranch Pinot Noir. I chose it because it exhibits the floral and spice notes so prominent in Santa Maria Valley."

It's not surprising her palate is so refined as she studied Food Science at Cal Poly before ending up in winemaking. It certainly helps her provide some perspective. "Pinot Noir continues to gather momentum," she says. "Wine lovers at events regularly share with me about their love of Pinot Noir. It still surprises me at the number of wine drinkers who are just discovering Pinot Noir. A whole new world has just been opened to them."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

You Need to Know Jack...Creek

Paso Robles tends to do its wine big. After all, it's hot there. They came up with that clever marketing cousin to the most interesting man in the world, Paso Wine Man. Justin was named Wine Enthusiast's American Winery of the Year for 2016. In Santa Barbara winemakers almost joke that if you ask a Paso winery "Which side of the 101 are you on?" you're not asking about the highway, but proof.

Well, like any broad brush, you can't tar everyone that way, at least fairly. And that's no more true than for Jack Creek Cellars, a Paso winery that makes, of all things, Pinot Noir. It helps the estate Kruse Vineyard is only seven miles from the Pacific. "We’re in the Paso Robles Willow Creek District and at that one of the most temperate climates in the region," says Brette Ann Womack, who is in charge of sales and marketing for owners Doug and Sabrina Kruse. "During the growing season we have a much more marine-like climate than what you would typically see in Paso. Our Pinots are similar to what you’d taste in Santa Rita Hills or warmer areas of Monterey County."

Jack Creek is a cautionary tale, however, when it comes to the recent drought years. Focusing on small production (they also make lovely Chardonnay, Grenache, and Syrah), low yield years like 2015 can be worrisome. "We’ve had to close our tasting room and wine club (The Wine Family) because the 2015 harvest offered extremely limited fruit," Womack explains. "So this year, while we’re serving our 2013 and 2014 vintages (some of the best to date) we are wary of 2017 when we’ll have barely any 2015 to serve. It’s too early to tell how the 2016 vintage will turn out, but we have high hopes for a stellar vintage, like the 2013 and 14."

That of course means getting the opportunity to taste their wines Friday at World of Pinot Noir is a special treat. "We only make two Pinots – our Estate and Reserve," Womack says. "The estate is a more traditional Pinot showing beautiful red fruit and earthiness; while the reserve is more robust, pretty big for Pinot Noir, showing darker fruits, rich oak notes, and firm tannins. We’ll also be bringing a few bottles of our 2015 Rosé of Pinot – it’s super limited so this will be a fun thing to sample!"

Friday, February 26, 2016

Gypsy Canyon's Deborah Hall Is in It for the Long Haul

I'd be writing about Deborah Hall even if she didn't say, "WOPN is where the magic happens." For her winery Gypsy Canyon is a place where magic happens, too, and that's not even talking about her nearly mythic mission grapes/ancient vines Angelica. She makes some of the best Pinot Noir in Sta. Rita Hills, and that's saying something. She gets press like The Wine Advocate to rave, "I came back to this wine often, and was consistently thrilled by what I tasted."

Much of that quality comes from keen attention. "I farm organically and live close with the vines," Hall says. "It was only then that I discovered the fragrance of the Pinot Noir flower. It can best be captured on a foggy morning as it hangs lightly in the air. The fragrance is not something I can describe. Just like the wine it can be elusive then surprise you with an experience you’ll never forget. My goal each vintage is to capture this fragrance, this experience, the pure reflective nature of Pinot and bring it to your glass."

Those at Saturday's tasting at World of Pinot Noir can reflect on two of Hall's wines. "Our signature Pinot, The Collector’s Pinot Noir 2013, presented in a hand blown bottle with hand made paper label and the cork sealed with estate bees wax" will be one wine, Hall points out. "We select the cream of the crop of the vintage for this bottling." The seocnd taste also exhibits Hall's connection to justice as well as good taste. "My philanthropic project, Ground Boots Pinot Noir 2013," she says, "100% of the profits are donated for animal welfare around the world. Not only do I love the wine, but the label is a treat too; it features art by renowned artist Donald Roller Wilson and prose by Oscar nominated screen writer Alec Sokolow."

As one very attuned to her historic vineyard, Hall admits about the past few vintages, "Mother nature being her natural self has created a roller coaster ride in the vineyard with high and low yields and historically early harvests. The vines naturally cope very well. It can be exciting for the optimist, this is after all what creates great vintages. Yet it can pose challenges for the winemaker. I am looking forward to coming out of the drought and the vines finding balance again. Let us all wash our cars and do the rain dance, anything for Pinot!"

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Failla Is Ooh-la-la

Yes. that's a photo of Chardonnay, but it's the best shot I've got from a visit to Failla, which is in Napa a bit south of Calistoga, despite the winery mostly working with Sonoma grapes. Why winemaker Ehren Jordan and his wife Anne-Marie Failla (it's pronounced FAY-la) chose this spot for their  winery and cave would make sense to you, too, if you saw it, an idyllic acreage once owned by Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill fame.

But Jordan appears all about contradictions. For most first knew him as winemaker for Turley, and his brilliant but bombastic zins helped set the stage for big is beautiful in the late 1990s. So when people look at Failla, which mostly makes very well-balanced, low alcohol Chardonnays and, yes, Pinots, it might seem odd. Until you realize it simply means that's how good a winemaker Jordan is. He lets the grape set the tone; warm weather zin goes big, cold weather Burgundies have to be something else. No matter, all his wine is delicious.

"Our Pinot Noir is crafted to demonstrate history," is how national sales manager Cat Fairchild puts it. "With almost 30 years of experience, Ehren Jordan can undeniably capture the essence of each vintage. Thus, our wines are the ultimate story tellers. We do not ‘manipulate’ during our winemaking process and produce wines that are the purest expressions of the vineyard sites."

We're talking serious vineyard sites, too. There's the Gualala Ranch Estate Vineyard Jordan bought before the Sonoma Coast was cool (well, hip cool that is), but also the Whistler Vineyard in the northernmost bit of  the Sonoma coast, Keefer Ranch in Russian River Valley, and the Savoy Vineyard from Anderson Valley. In fact, at the Saturday tasting at World of Pinot Noir Failla will be pouring: the 2014 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 2014 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir, and 2014 Savoy Pinot Noir. "We picked these wine because they give a holistic vision of Failla," Fairchild explains. "Our wines are made in the same fashion, so it is great to showcases the characteristics of each vineyard site. Consumers can then compare and contrast the Anderson Valley, Russian River Valley, and the Sonoma Coast."

Tasting Failla is always a treat since you either have to be on the mailing list or at a good restaurant (in Santa Barbara think places like Downey's or Barbareno) to get some. But Jordan and his team like pouring, for as Fairchild says, "We are most looking forward to sharing our wines, while having direct contact with consumer. We believe our wines speak for themselves, but it is always important to us to open bottles of wine with folks because we are able to relay our story and share in the enjoyment! It is also fantastic to be in the company of so many outstanding Pinot Noir producers."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Lumen Lights the Pinot Way

So far in our run of stories, we've talked about folks who've been around for awhile, like the Hitching Post, and folks coming to World of Pinot Noir for the first time, like Balletto. And then there's a winery like Lumen, which is new (2012 is yesterday in the world of wine, and just imagine what the French might say), but the project of two wine veterans, Will Henry, who had 20 years of distro experience with his family's The Henry Group, and esteemed winemaker Lane Tanner, whose first vintage in the area was 1981 when she was oenologist for Firestone. She later made some of the region's best Pinots under her own label until she retired it in 2009.

"Being a newer winery certainly has its challenges," Henry admits. "For one, we have to make a name for ourselves in the marketplace, and we have done so by keeping our prices very low--which isn’t exactly easy in terms of getting a return on our money." And he does mean low--it's hard to get a Pinot this good at $29, or a Chard that good at $25. "Lane thinks I’m nuts for selling our wines for what we do, but I am more interested in long-term success than short-term gain. And I can’t tell you how much I learn from and SB vet like Lane--the education is invaluable. Regardless I think we are poised for great things ahead, and that we are part of a group of wineries that will certainly make big waves in the world of Pinot."

Henry doesn't think Lumen is alone with the wave-making, either. "I love making wine in a region that is on the cusp of becoming something much bigger than it currently is," he enthuses. "Even though we have had some pioneers (like my partner) making killer Pinot here for decades, Santa Barbara County has just in the past few years become more widely recognized as a producer of some of the world’s best wines. And unlike Napa, we aren’t selling an image--it’s all about what gets into the bottle. We have such an amazing group of winemakers here that are utterly dedicated to the craft, and are more focused on the quality of wine they produce than building monuments to their egos. SBC is the real deal, and I’m proud to be part of it."

It doesn't hurt he gets to work with a master like Tanner, who made food-friendly non-monster wines even before it had become cool to do so. No ego, indeed. "The message I most want to impart about Lumen Pinot is that it is real," Henry says. "This wine is not manipulated in any way. We source the very best fruit from cool-climate vineyards and make an extremely honest bottle of wine out of it. Lane’s winemaking abilities are truly phenomenal, and she has one of the most developed noses (yes, the one on her face) of any winemaker I have ever worked with. Her nose trumps any kind of lab analysis, so when we run into challenges in winemaking, we are usually way ahead of any problems that might arise. Our wines are super-clean, and extraordinarily well-balanced, due to Lane’s amazing winemaking ability. They also age extremely well."

Since Lumen is small and young, their table at Friday's tasting won't be huge. "We currently have only two Pinot Noir’s on the market--our Santa Barbara County, and our Sierra Madre Vineyard--and those are what we will be pouring," Henry explains. "The SBC is a great representation of Santa Maria Valley, where we source all of our Pinot fruit. We take from three vineyards there, and it is a fantastic (and affordable) cool-climate wine. The Sierra Madre Vineyard represents the apex of what Lane and I can produce. It has, over the past three decades, become Lane’s favorite vineyard, because the wines that it yields are the prettiest, most complex and interesting, year in, year out. This bottle contains a barrel selection from Sierra Madre Vineyard, from the best vintage of the decade so far (2013), and WOPN is a unique opportunity to taste it. More single vineyard Pinot’s are online for next year, though."

Even though Henry is also in the midst of another big project, opening up a restaurant, Pico, in Los Alamos, that doesn't dim his excitement for World of Pinot Noir. "There is a reason so many people are fanatical about this grape," he says. "It produces the most seductive wines in the world, and can have so many different personalities. I also love seeing how our little wine region of Santa Barbara County has become an important player in the world of wine, especially concerning this varietal. We truly are producing some of the best Pinots on the planet right here in our backyard."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Balletto's First Time to the Ball

 (photo courtesy Balletto Vineyards website)

Half the fun is catching hot wine waves before they break, and World of Pinot Noir gives you plenty of opportunities to do just that. Take Balletto Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma. John Balletto ran one of the largest vegetable farms north of the Golden Gate Bridge, but the late '90s El Nino storms and NAFTA were too hard to recover from. Luckily there were already some grapes planted, and today it's up to 600 acres of vines. Each year they keep 10% to make their wine and sell the rest of their fruit.

"This is our first visit to World of Pinot Noir, so I’m looking forward to being the new kid at the show, meeting a bunch of new people and showing off some awesome pinots," says Anthony Beckman, Balletto's winemaker. "I’m so happy with the 2014s that we are just releasing now and will be pouring. There’s also a group of friends who will be there, too, so I’m sure the evening after the pouring should be eventful. (As long as I make a noon flight the next day, it’s all good!)"

Fest-goers who make it to the Balletto table at the Friday tasting will sample what Beckman calls "a super fun lineup for the event. I’m starting with the 2014 Sonoma Coast blend called ‘18 Barrel.’ This might be the best—meaning most distinct, structured and age worthy—wine that I’ve made in the last 10 years. It’s a blend from my favorite three vineyards in the Sebastopol Hills area: Sexton Hill, Burnside Road and Cider Ridge. They are all are hillside, high-elevation plantings located about 10 miles from the Pacific. It’s a serious pinot. My second wine is from a warmer site, BCD Vineyard, and is a classic Russian River Valley wine with dark fruit and a nice weighty and hedonistic mid palate and finish. The third wine is a library release. I thought it would be fun to pour the very first vintage of Sexton Hill Pinot Noir (2011) right next to the most recently bottled vintage of Sexton Hill Pinot Noir (2014). These two wines together really show how nicely the Balletto Vineyards wines age. The tannins and grip on the 2011 have slowly mellowed and show a softer texture. The aromas have shifted away from the black tea/hibiscus tones that it had five years ago and that the 2014 is showing now."

Beckman wants to stress that "Balletto Vineyards is one of the few wineries in Russian River Valley that is 100 percent estate grown and estate bottled. That’s a huge advantage for us. I have been making Pinot Noir from the same estate vineyards for the last 10 years. We have complete control from pruning to bottling and everything in between. I can’t stress how important this is. I know all the good spots, the challenging spots, and at what flavor profile to pick each separate block. I can sense when to harvest grapes so they retain the right levels of natural acidity that give vibrancy to the wines. This knowledge comes only from working the same land year in and year out.

"Being an estate winery allows John Balletto, Balletto Vineyards founder and owner, and me to fine tune both the farming and the winery practices as needed. Our goal is to make distinct and bright Pinot Noirs that are lower in alcohol but still have the weight, structure, and balance reflecting our individual vineyards and, of course, are delicious to drink."

The varieties of delicious to drink will just keep growing since Balletto purchased a new Pinot Noir vineyard close to the Middle Reach of the Russian River Valley. "New vines will be going in this spring, which is incredibly exciting," Beckman claims. "The site is hilly with all sorts of different aspects and slopes. Right now, in the early stages, it’s like a first date when you’re trying to figure out what exactly will make this site happy."

Of course, customer happiness is the most important, and at Balletto Beckman says, "In the end, I think that drinkability and yumminess are as important as it gets. If the bottle is not empty by the end of dinner with a guest trying to drip out the last drabs, then it failed as a wine. Balletto Vineyards wines are seldom left half full."

Eat This: "Half & Half" at Sly's

Face it: As much as fried foods beckon with a siren crunchy call, they too often lure us onto greasy rocks that then sit at our stomach’s pit.

Not this dish.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Tickle of the Taste Buds

You get to both eat and drink in the wonderful World of Pinot Noir. Take a gander at the photo above, one of the two seminars from last year's fest, matching Pinot with mushrooms. (I promise the "he's a Funghi" title was not mine, despite how I love a pun as much as delicious abalone mushrooms over a braised beef short rib.)

This year, the food seminars deal with cheese pairings, featuring Sophie Boban-Doering and Paul Doering of Fromagerie Sophie in SLO, and with chocolate pairings, featuring the ridiculously talented Jessica Foster.

I'll get to some interviews with both, but I found this photo and figured I had to share.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

WOPN'S Big Cheese

People do not live by Pinot alone, and that's why there's cheese. World of Pinot Noir knows that, so in addition to all the other fine Bacara food one can nosh on for ballast, for taste, just for the heck of it, Santa Barbara's beloved and somehow 13-year-old C'est Cheese has a giant station for both the Friday and Saturday main tastings.

"It’s so great to see peoples' faces light up when they see that there’s this huge cheese display--we bring over 200 lbs. of cheese!" says Becca Iglesias, catering manager. "It’s even better when they have that magical moment of discovering a new cheese for the first time. I don’t think there’s a more perfect pairing than cheese & wine…and we get a front row seat to people learning and enjoying that experience."

Of course, pairing cheese with a lighter red like Pinot can be a bit tricky--just ask the people arranging the Saturday morning seminar Myth-Busting: Pinot, Cheese, and Chocolate (you can get tickets for that, too, and will hear more about it soon). "Part of the fun of pairing cheeses with wine (or anything, really), is that everyone’s palate is different and it’s interesting to see that play out," Igelsias explains. "When selecting the cheeses, we try to show the versatility of pairing cheeses and wine by including a large range of varieties including some classic fan favorites (Ewephoria, anyone?), some stronger flavors like Camembert, and even bringing in new cheeses that we haven’t carried before (like this year’s Chabrin*). The goal is to let people try and experiment with lots of different cheeses to discover what they like best with what particular wine."

*A really old recipe Basque goat cheese with nutty notes

C'est Cheese has been more than pleased to be part of the Pinot-centric experience, for Iglesias says what they most love is "the people! Always the people. From all sides of it. The WOPN crew are all fantastic to work with, as is the Bacara staff. The wineries are all great and it’s just a really good time. And, of course, the guests. Seeing familiar faces from past years, both near and far, and getting to share and talk about what we do and love is about as great as it gets. It’s such a great little community and we feel honored to be a part of it!"

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Landmark Pinots Climb Out from Chard's Shadow

It's easy for a winery to have one varietal seem to make its reputation. Take Sonoma's Landmark Vineyards, which, since 1974, has been making a range of whites and reds. In 1997 its Overlook Chardonnay, originally overseen by the famed Helen Turley, won a coveted spot in the Wine Spectator Top 100 wines of the year--it would do so five more times. No doubt its Pinot was envious.

Tasting with Landmark at World of Pinot Noir's Saturday Pinot Noir by the Sea Tasting is a chance for wine lovers to rectify that misperception. "We selected a few of our favorite wines for World of Pinot Noir that reflect our diversity in sourcing," says Clarence Chia, Vice President of Marketing at FIJI Water, JUSTIN Vineyards & Wine, Landmark Vineyards. "At Landmark Vineyards, we look to unique vineyards in Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties for our Pinot Noir. We produce eight different single vineyard Pinot Noirs that represent the best of California."

Four of those Pinots will be on the table:
  • 2014 Overlook Pinot Noir Appellation: Sonoma, Monterey, San Benito
  • 2013 Rayhill Pinot Noir Appellation: Sonoma Coast (single vineyard)
  • 2013 Grand Detour Pinot Noir Appellation: Sonoma Coast
  • 2013 Solomon Hills Pinot Noir Appellation: Santa Maria Valley (single vineyard)
"We love to create wines that showcase the overall diversity of pinot noir in California," Chia explains about Landmark's plan, overseen by winemaker Greg Stach. "Each year we comb the state to gather some of the most exciting vineyards producing Pinot Noir including the Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River Valley, Santa Maria Valley and Sonoma, where we are located."

That Sonoma site is something (go look at the photos on the website, or stay in the swank Landmark Cottage)--founded by Damaris Deere Ford, the great-great-granddaughter of the John Deere. So you might say farming is in the family.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Highliner Is a Headliner at Hitching Post

Imagine they had a Pinot Fest and Hitching Post didn't come. (I'm assuming you've all seen that little film Sideways.) World of Pinot Noir knows better than that, so of course Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley (pictured above at an event at Alisal Ranch last year) will be there pouring their numerous Pinots at the Saturday Pinot Noir by the Sea Tasting. Their table is a fine spot to see what happens when winemakers blend the best of the Santa Maria Valley with Sta. Rita Hills, tying up Santa Barbara County in a beautiful Burgundy bow. As for which of their blends or single vineyard wines they'll be offering, Gray says, "We haven’t decided yet. Let’s let it be a surprise; anticipation is always a good thing." But Highliner (their top Pinot blend) is a better thing, Gray. Please pour that!

Still one of my greatest wine memories is attending a "tasting" at the Hitching Post II itself a good 10-15 years ago where for something ridiculously cheap (maybe $20) you got to take part in a vertical tasting of H-O Pinots going back to ones they made at home in the early '80s. That was something, an evolution of an era and region in one delightful drink around a room.

Hitching Post Wines capture not only some of Santa Barbara's best grapes, but the warmth of its makers--it's impossible not to be charmed by Gray and Frank. As Gray puts it, they provide, "Value — quality — honest soulful Pinots that can be enjoyed now and for many years to come." In fact, he looks forward to "being able to enjoy sharing 2016 Hitching Post Wine with friends and family in 2050." (May we all make it that long and remain worth sharing.)

As for the growing season at hand, Gray hopes, "That we have another vintage to experience with this mistress of allure. There is always a state of… I prefer to be in the state of here and now. Relying on the more than three decades of experience making Pinot Noir with Frank Ostini and enjoying the everyday decisions that make up what will become 2016 is I what I’m excited about."

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Working the World of Pinot Noir

Welcome to the wonderful world of Pinot Noir.

Or, as the case may be, The World of Pinot Noir, the amazing event that I hope many of you will soon be swimming in at the Bacara in Santa Barbara, CA, March 4 & 5. This is the first post I get to do as the official blogger of #WOPN16, so look forward to numerous posts highlighting producers who will be pouring, events that will be happening, regions that are more than happening.

To get things kicked off, it takes some work. Or it takes Peter and Rebecca Work, owners of Ampelos Cellars in the Sta. Rita Hills (aka Santa Barbara ground zero for pinot). Ampelos considers its wines from the ground up, and is one of the few vineyards to be certified organic, sustainable, and biodynamic. (Peter Work had a meeting canceled on September 11 at the World Trade Center, and that wake-up call led him back to the land.)

That's their land up in the photo. Any other questions? As they like to put it, they use, "A natural winemaking style with minimum intervention," which means the grapes get the final word. And grapes from an amazing growing region have a beautiful vocabulary.

Peter says he looks forward to WOPN to "meet old friends and passionate Pinot Noir lovers and share the latest wines with them. It's always great to reconnect with winemakers, sommeliers, and customers and have a great time."

Those who stop by the Ampelos table at the Saturday Pinot Noir by the Sea Tasting should get to sample the Ampelos 2012 estate “Lambda” Pinot Noir, the 2011 “Rho” Estate, Barrel Select Pinot Noir,  as well as 2014 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir. Peter hints, "There may be something under the table as well…," and any previous attendee knows what riches live under the table at some tasting spots. As if the "regular" stuff isn't enough.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

When one has no real life, one lives by mirages. It's still better than nothing.

So George Gaynes has passed, and while everyone else remembers Punky Brewster and Police Academy films, I'm thinking of Chekhov. In particular, the aching elegy that is Louis Malle's Vanya on 42nd Street. For Gaynes' Serybryakov is perfectly powerful and wasted at once, the kind of time in its moment of turning that Chekhov polished for all its perfect pain. (Because, while watching, we recognize these characters cross the fulcrum into the last sadness of their lives, a moment we know we are rarely privileged to find in our own. Well, until it's too late.)

The film came out in 1994, my first year in Santa Barbara, and is still one of my defining "well, huh, that's Santa Barbara is it?" moments. I caught a screening at UCSB Arts & Lectures, even then emceed by Roman Baratiak (he's SB's Kevin Bacon everyone is six degrees from, isn't he?). Baratiak introduced Gaynes, long a Santa Barbaran, who told us a bit about the making of the film, no doubt, since it was an odd making--Andre Gregory and his troupe keep working at the play, irregularly, for years, often inviting small groups to watch. One of those visitors, Louis Malle, asked to film it.

But, that's not the real Santa Barbara moment. Instead, it was that our screening turned out to be on Andre Gregory's birthday. So Gaynes takes out his cell phone, dials Gregory, who, of course is out on the New York town, but when the voice mail kicks in, Gaynes leads us all in a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday.

I can't think of anything as richly insider and unimportant and ridiculously pleasing. Except maybe Santa Barbara at its often best.

RIP, George Gaynes.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sip This: Snow Leopard Vodka

Snow Leopard Vodka: Named after an elusive, endangered creature (and with 15 percent of each sale going to preservation efforts), this spirit is also unique as it’s distilled from spelt, an ancient grain that’s a cousin to wheat. That’s enough to help it stand out from the premium vodka pack, in addition to the gorgeous frosted bottle featuring the titular cat.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Something to Fatten Your Tuesday

It's simple--New Orleans is the least American American city and that's why I love it so. Today's that thing called Mardi Gras, and if you toss me some cheap beads I'll show you a cocktail recipe. That kind of talk gets me thinking about previous potent potables I have poted (isn't that the verb form?), and leds me to the coolest bar of all-time. If you've been to New Orleans and drinks matter to you and you know Pat O'Brien's hurricanes are for people for whom 4 years of fratdom wasn't enough, then you go elsewhere, and first and foremost, you go for a merry-go-round ride. For in the Monteleone Hotel, you can sit at the Carousel Bar, where you end up spinning even before you've had a drink. It's at the Monteleone, where Faulkner, among others, used to sit deep in his cups, that you can get a Vieux Carré, which takes the basic Sazerac (not that a Sazerac is anything to sneeze at) and jiggers it up a notch. Turns out you can make a nifty variation at home, especially if you delve into Ted Haigh/Dr. Cocktail's indispensable Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails:

Vieux Carré

1 oz. rye whiskey (Old Overcoat is fine, but Costco sells Bulleit big and cheap)
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 tsp. Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashed Peychaud's bitters

Shake over ice in cocktail shaker, pour into chilled up glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Oh, and don't tell me you don't have the bitters, and no, you can't substitute and you can't leave them out. They do matter. You can buy a whole bunch at Still right downtown. Tell Jeremy George Eats sent you.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Food Magazine Founders Become Los Alamos Restaurateurs

(Photo courtesy Plenty on Bell's FB page)

Just 1,900 residents. A two-mile-long main street. No stoplights.

Nonetheless, Los Alamos was plenty for Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian, who founded the magazine Edible Ojai in 2002 and grew that into Edible Communities, a franchise-like network now 90 magazines strong across North America, including our own Edible Santa Barbara, run by Krista Harris and Steven Brown. The Edible empire of quarterly, perfect-bound, matte-paper magazines have become bibles for those seeking regional, sustainable, organic food, fueling both star chefs as well as farmers, ranchers, mixologists, brewers, winemakers, and even bitters makers.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sip This: Mama's Little Yella Pils

Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils: A Super Bowl party is to beer as the big game itself is to Roman numerals, so here’s some advice for what to keep in the cooler. While Oskar Blues was originally brewed in Colorado, they’ve got a spot in North Carolina now, too, so this beer will please fans with either rooting interest.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Independent's site.