Thursday, February 28, 2019

WOPN Wine Winds Back Time

It's not every day I swirl and sniff a wine and almost cry. But it's not every day I get to taste a 1997 Foxen Julia's Vineyard, and suddenly get sensorily sucked back a couple of decades into my life when I was a much younger man just beginning to learn and love Santa Barbara wines. Julia's Vineyard was one of the first vineyard designates I can recall once I moved out to California in 1994 (beyond the venerable Bien Nacido, of course), and something about that lovely enveloping barbecue+spice+deep fruit nose erased years for me today at a Julia's Vineyard Seminar and Luncheon at the Wine Cask today as an estimable overture to World of Pinot Noir.

Of course it doesn't hurt to have Julia herself at the lunch tasting: The vineyard was planted in 1988 when she was 6 months old. (And yes, Katherine's Vineyard, famed for its chardonnay, is named after Julia's sister.) It's owned by Jackson Family Wines, the ninth-largest wine enterprise in the United States that owns 55 wineries globally (including Brewer-Clifton, Byron, Cambria, Nielson locally).

But despite all that BIG, they certainly care about small, and about relationships. For the event featured five wineries/winemakers who have been making beautiful juice from Julia's grapes for decades now: Cambria (as they get to play with the whole vineyard), plus Lumen/Lane Tanner, Byron, Hitching Post, and Foxen. MC master sommelier Michael Jordan (no relation to any other famous MJs) asserted that he not only "had a flag and a drum for the Santa Maria Valley," citing its 212 days of hang time for pinot grapes, more than anywhere in the world, but also, "if there was an American Grand Cru designation, Julia's would be it."

Surely there's nothing better than tasting through bottlings of this vineyard from 1996 to a 2018 Lumen barrel sample that Lane Tanner cleverly compared to tasting cookie dough, as we had to imagine what it would be like after it had time to "bake," so to speak. (It's going to be a scrumptious cookie.) As she said about Julia's in general, "There's always a smokiness...I always imagine that bar you go into late at night and there's a gorgeous woman at the end of the bar and you don't know if you should go there....."

Fanciful, sure, but it's a vineyard that leads to wine that leads to such heady thoughts, something to dream on. For as Jordan put it, "We like to over-complicate ans over-simplify at the same time, not just as sommeliers--it's the human condition." A wine as profound as one from Julia's let's you find a just right space, with flavors expansive yet precise, with structure exact and elastic.

(The panel, from l-r: Michael Jordan, Lane Tanner, Will Henry, Jonathan Nagy, Frank Ostini, Bill Wathen, Dick Dore, Gray Hartley, Julia Jackson, Jill Russell.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Wild Wide World of WOPN

It's that most wonderful time of year, when the World of Pinot Noir, happily shortened to WOPN (it's fun to say--do it aloud!), sets up in Santa Barbara at the Bacara this Friday and Saturday, March 1 and 2. Here's how they sell themselves: "The annual World of Pinot Noir event gathers the planet’s foremost Pinot Noir wineries and winemakers, renowned chefs, sommeliers and leading wine scholars in a weekend-long seaside celebration of this delicious and storied wine."

I was really hoping someone might pour some pinot from Jupiter this year, but in the meantime, the numerous Earth-made wines available at Friday's and Saturday's Grand Tastings will have to do, I guess. It's 100 producers Friday, 120 Saturday, almost all with multiple wines, sometimes even some not pinot-centric ("What is lurking under your table, dear pourer?" you may learn to ask). It's easy to end up feeling you pinot no more than you did when you started if you don't pace yourself. (And hydrate. And eat the food--there's always food. And bid on silent auction, or at least roam the tables. Or go out and stare at the Pacific and think, "What a lucky f---er I am to be here." The wine will be there when you get back.)

How do you have a good time there? Well, pretty much any way you'd like (but don't be a table hog). Having a plan doesn't hurt. It could be as simple as: only go to the table where no drinker is standing. You still won't go wrong. Or you could consider the two questions I suggested a few years back: 1) wide or deep? 2) what you know or what you don't know?

But there are all kinds of ways to dice up a pinot pie. Only try older vintages, for instance, as so many of the winemakers kindly like to share them, mostly as it shows they really know what they are doing (locally, Rick Longoria loves to please this way, for instance). Of course, if you don't taste the most recent vintage side-by-side, you're missing the chance to learn about wine aging and the differences in vintages, but there's only so much learning anyone can retain in an hours long tasting.

Only drink wines from places that begin with a C. Sure, this is totally random, but here's the list (note, some are Friday or Saturday only): Calera, Cambria, Cattleya, Center of Effort, Chalk Hill, Chalone, Chamisal, Chanin, Chanson, Chateau St. Jean, Chenoweth, Cherry Pie, Chicken Dance, CIRQ, Claiborne & Churchill, Clouds Rest, cnagy, Cobb, Colene Clemens, Copain, Cordant, Cristom, Croix, Crossbarn, Cuvaison. And I only made one of those up.

And keep looking to this blog for more about what's happening--I will have reports on the tastings, on the Savoy Vineyard/Anderson Valley seminar and the rosé by the sea lunch, too.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Dinner Comes to Renaud’s (Well, Briefly It Did)

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Just days after this article published, Renaud’s stopped serving dinner at the Montecito location, choosing to focus on breakfast and lunch.]

If you think of the Coast Village Plaza complex as a sort of mall, it now features two anchor tenants, with Khao Kheng (somehow even better than sister restaurant Empty Bowl) on the west end and Renaud’s on the east. That’s especially true since the latter began serving dinner right before the New Year. “Guests have been asking me for dinner service for a really, really long time,” says founder Renaud Gonthier. “And I wanted to give it a shot.”

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