Even Keel (Presqu’ile Sets Down Roots in SMV)

“The idea is to do the anti- of whatever it is tasting rooms are about right now. We want a place where people can hang out.”

Dieter Cronje in the new Presqu'ile barrel cave

Dieter Cronje in the new Presqu’ile barrel cave

That’s what I first heard when I met the affable but focused Matt Murphy, proprietor of Presqu’ile (pronounced “press-KEEL,” strong Southern drawl required) about a year ago. At the time, we (along with Presqu’ile’s young, wiry and dreadlocked winemaker, former South African native Dieter Cronje) were all wearing hardhats.

I’d entered Presqu’ile en medias res, navigating the detritus of plastic tarp, concrete, power tools and wood that are the hallmarks of large construction sites. Their new winery and tasting room was being constructed on a hillside that offered as pretty a view as one could ever hope of the picturesque expanse that is the Santa Maria Valley, and I had to use a healthy dose of imagination to picture what Murphy had in mind for the building’s end state. A tasting lounge modeled after the Murphy’s modern-but-inviting glass-and-stone home here; a blending room and small wine library there;  a bocce court over there; a barrel cave leading to an with access to a terrace and those sweeping views down there. All accoutrements meant to extend the Murphy’s Southern Hospitality into the Santa Maria wine biz. It wasn’t all clear to me then, but there was no doubting their enthusiasm about the future of the spot. Beyond the bustle of the massive construction project, vineyards had been planted by the Murphy’s (mostly to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc) on seventy-two acres that were once leased to a gladiolas farmer.

And then there was the new winery, which Cronje was most excited about: entirely gravity-fed (“everything can be done without moving grapes up or down… it’s a bit slower, but who’s in a rush, we’re making wine, right?”), with state-of-the-art equipment that could monitor most of a wine’s vitals while in the tank, and software that could adjust cooling remotely if needed.

Fast-forward a year later, and the result – now open to the public, including by-appointment tours complete with food-and-wine pairings – might be the most stunning piece of wine-related construction that Santa Barbara County has yet seen. Presqu’ile is now the kind of monument to wine culture that you’d expect to find in Napa Valley or Mendoza. Except it happens to be where no one would have expected it – in the hamlet of Santa Maria Valley, instead.

A view of Santa Maria Valley from Presqu'ile

A view of Santa Maria Valley from Presqu’ile

“It’s legit,” is how Cronje sums up that result. What he means is not just that it’s an impressive place to hang out, but that it’s a symbol of his employers’ staunch desire to plant family roots along with grapevine roots in the area. “It’s just such a serious commitment to the valley and to making great wine here,” he adds. “It’s astonishing to me the time and investment that the owners spent in the valley.”

Spoken like someone who wants to keep his job (he did mention that he wanted “to retire at Presqu’ile”), right? But legit is legit, after all. “Hey,” he offers in response, waving his hand inside the impressive and now-finished Presq’ile barrel cave, “they could’ve just built a big square building.” Good point.

I couldn’t help but ask about the second thing one naturally ponders about Presqu’ile’s new digs (the first, by the way,  is “holy wow!”): how much does something like this cost? According to Cronje, the figure is “somewhere between five dollars and none of my business!”  What were we just saying about job security?

Presqu'ile tasting bar

Presqu’ile tasting bar

None of the building, hospitality or ultra-modern equipment would matter a hill of gladiolas if Presqu’ile made bad wine, of course. But tasting through their recent releases leaves little doubt as to Cronje’s ongoing employment potential. The wines are, if anything, transparent; the kind of wines that practically scream of place, and neatly bundle up the results of hard work, nature and weather into elegant and pithy packages.

Presqu'ile Pinot

Presqu’ile Pinot

The 2012 Presqu’ile Sauvignon Blanc is full of lemongrass, verve, richness and character. It will make you friends, particularly if served on a hot day. Their 2011 Chardonnay, which apparently was a problem child of sorts in the winery, turned out a capable citizen, and is almost instantly recognizable as Santa Maria Valley: spicy, mineral-driven, paradoxically both silky and electric.

As good as their white wines are, It’s the Presqu’ile Pinot Noirs that are really going to get wine geeks excited. The 2011 carries the fingerprints of SMV – peppery spices, tea, savory, expressive and smoky fruit – with nothing getting in the way, a sort of glimpse into the elements that make SMV Pinots such revealing wines.

The 2010 Presqu’ile Vineyard Pinot Noir is the one for the steak lovers, and which probably most marries what Presqu’ile is doing in the vineyard with what they’re doing in constructing that tasting room. A product of sandy soils (“it’s basically a beach!” according to Cronje), there’s sage, underbrush, earthiness, spices, and deep, dark, structured fruit, powerful in tannic grip and acidic intensity. Buy a bottle, put it somewhere safe, and don’t even look at it for another eight years (your future steak will thank you).

“We’re looking at the long term,” Cronje ponders over a glass of that 2010. “That’s when you don’t get repeat customers – when the wine spoils in the cupboard!”

Dieter Cronje

Dieter Cronje


Some of my favorite Santa Barbara County chardonnays

We’re less than 30 hours away from the kick-off of the Fourth Annual Chardonnay Symposium, which opens Friday evening with a tribute dinner honoring the work and wine of Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat.

The symposium continues Saturday morning with a panel tasting that will target clones of chardonnay, and is followed by the grand tasting.

Yesterday I offered to share a few of my favorite chardonnays from grapes produced throughout Santa Barbara County, and specifically in the Santa Maria Valley, where chardonnay — and pinot noir — rule.

I’ve enjoyed many a chardonnay during my time in Santa Barbara County; I’m sure I cannot list them all.

Following are some producers with chardonnays that please my palate. They may not be your favorites, but remember: Your palate and my palate are different.

Tickling my fancy are the chardonnays from Alta Maria, Au Bon Climat, Bien Nacido Vineyards, Costa de Oro Winery, Dierberg Vineyard, Ken Brown Wines, Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Wines and Sierra Madre.

I have one or two other favorite chardonnay producers among the list of those pouring Saturday afternoon, but they hail from outside of our county.

See you Friday evening!

Chardonnay is Queen Bee this weekend in the Santa Maria Valley

I started to create an acronym using the word “chardonnay” — you know: “C” is for “chardonnay,” “h” is for “historic” grape, “a” is for “aroma” … but I ran out of descriptors starting with the “r” and the “d.”

No matter. It’s best to speak plain about chardonnay: It’s just good wine.

Chardonnay reigns in popularity across America, both with an older generation of wine drinkers who gravitate toward traditional, oak-infused chardonnay, and those who prefer stainless-steel aged — or a blend of the two styles.

At this weekend’s Fourth Annual Chardonnay Symposium, “America’s Sweetheart” grape is the star of the show.

This will be my fourth symposium in four years, but while looking over the list of participating winemakers earlier today, I found there are still several I have yet to try.

What are some of your favorite California, Central Coast and Santa Barbara County chardonnay producers?

Visit www.centralcoastwinepress.com Thursday and I’ll talk about a few of my favorites.

Vintners’ Festival 2010

It’s almost that time of year again for winemakers to come together and celebrate spring at the Vintners’ Festival in Lompoc. Hosted by the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Association, there will be over 100 wineries pouring wine in addition to numerous restaurants with tasty bites to sample.

Vintners' Festival 2010

Holiday Gifts: Beyond the Bottle

Wine makes the perfect gift but sometimes we need to get something more than just wine for that special someone. So whether you’re buying for your friend, your mom, or your dog, there are many gifts available in the tasting rooms for the holidays.

Gifts to make an impression:

A gift basket is a sure-fire way to make an impression. Perfect for family, your boss, or clients, a gift basket can be custom made or picked up already packaged. Summerland Winery offers a variety of gift baskets to choose from on their website.

Summerland Gift Basket

Gifts for the Green (one gift at a time):

Packaging for gifts can really add up and lead to a lot of waste. What better way to eliminate waste than purchasing a gift basket or wine gift pack that is in a resuable container? Riverbench Winery sells 2-packs of wine in reusable shopping bags. Cottonwood Canyon, Consilience and Kenneth Volk (just to name a few) sell wine in engraved wooden boxes. These boxes make an excellent display item for wine lovers and act as a storage container for your wine cellar.

Costa de Oro Wine Boxes


Gifts for a Man’s Best Friend:

Many wineries are dog friendly and allow dogs into the tasting rooms while you shop. Better yet, treat your dog to a gourmet wine-shaped dog biscuit as seen below from Riverbench Winery. While you’re there, pick up a squeaky toy that could almost be mistaken for a half bottle of wine ($13.25).

Dog Biscuit

Wine Squeaky Toys

Gifts for Foodies:

Tasting rooms such as Costa de Oro and Cambria carry food products that are made with their wine. Everything from chocolate wine sauce to wine brittle to salad dressing can be found in tasting rooms.

Cambria gifts

Riverbench also has many foodie-friendly gifts:
-Stylish Vintage Aprons by Jessie Steele ($32), matching pot mitt ($6)
-Olive Oil Collection: decorative wine country olive oil container + a bottle of local garlic infused olive oil ($43)
-Black Blind Tasting Riedel Glasses, (set of 2 $44)
-Christmas Dish Set: 1 patter & 2 serving bowls ($80)

Gifts to make you laugh:

Show off your sense of humor with witty phrases on napkins like this:

Funny Holiday Napkins

or pickup a few funny wine stoppers to go with a bottle of wine:

Holiday Wine Stoppers

Both gifts are available at Costa de Oro Winery.

Gifts for the Young:

Costa de Oro Winery sells a book called What a Grape Can Be that is perfect for the future winemaker or as a souvenir from your trip to the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country.

What a Grape Can Be book

For those who need a last minute gift for the kids, stop by Tres Hermanas on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail and choose from a number of kids’ gifts.

Happy Shopping!

Holiday Wine Discounts

Byron Wines Holiday

For many of us, our wallets are a bit thinner this year. We want to show our family and friends how much we care without breaking the bank. Fortunately many wineries are offering discounts on individual bottles and cases of wine for the holidays. Why not stock up on wine for your family, friends, and yourself? Here are just a few:

CORE Wine Company:
Need wine for the holidays? This is a deal you don’t want to miss: 50% Wednesdays in the CORE wine company tasting room. 50% discount every Wednesday on 5 randomly selected wines. They are open from 1-5pm. www.corewine.com

Cottonwood Canyon:
Now through December 31, receive a 30% discount on any purchase of 2000 Blanc de Blanc, 2001 Blanc de Noir, 2008 Rosé of Syrah, or 2005 Dessert Syrah 750ml bottle. www.cottonwoodcanyon.com

Flying Goat Cellars:
25% off the following wines for the entire month of December: 2007 Pinot Gris, Nielson Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley; 2006 Salisbury Vineyard Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County; 2006 Rio Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir, Clone 2A Sta. Rita Hills. www.flyinggoatcellars.com

You asked for it, so you’ve got it! One of our most popular wines, the 2006 Estate Pinot Noir, is on special for $250/case (regular price $336)! That’s a 25% discount and just in time for your holiday gatherings! www.riverbench.com

Summerland Winery:
We are offering 30% off 12-bottle cases and 6-bottle packs through December 31st. www.summerlandwine.com

The discounts don’t stop here. Visit any Santa Maria Valley winery to find out more about their holiday specials.