Los Olivos for Grownups: Alta Maria Vineyards

Alta Maria Vineyards tasting room in Los Olivos, CA

Alta Maria wines (along with Native 9 wines and Autonom wines) have been around for almost a decade, but now that they’ve opened a tasting room along the main drag in Los Olivos – the tasting room town of Santa Barbara wine county – I’m even more inclined to make a run through town.

Alta Maria Vineyards tasting room in Los Olivos, CA

In a typical weekend rush of tourists from Orange & LA counties plus Santa Barbara wine tour companies, the Alta Maria Vineyards tasting room is a lovely and cool respite from any wine-tasting-bachelortte-or-birthday-partying on the street. It’s sophisticated and down-to-earth. It’s western and classy. It’s minimalist and Pottery Barn.

Alta Maria Vineyards Chardonnay & Pinot Noir in Los Olivos, CA

The wine on the tasting list also demonstrates such duality. In addition to the Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Alta Maria is known for, they have a unique Sauvignon Blanc and solid Cabernet Sauvignon on the list, just created for the tasting room. The Chardonnay is half oak-fermented and half stainless steel to give us a lemon cream tart with lots of acidity. And the Alta Maria Pinot Noir is a perfect blend of fruit, wood and earth, a basic Pinot Noir that’s a steal at $28 a bottle.

Autnom Syrah & Native 9 Pinot Noir in Los Olivos, CA

But the list has more. Viticulturist James Ontiveros is pouring his baby here: Native 9 Pinot Noir. And this is the only place you can taste the 2009 Pinot Noir. This wine is from a vineyard on his multi-generational family’s property in Santa Maria valley, where he grows 8 different clones and blends different concoctions each year to create a fuller, exotic Pinot Noir.

And the winemaker of the duo, Paul Wilkins, got his love for Rhone varietals working for John Alban of Alban Vineyards. His Autonom SM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) is almost sold out because if its nose of bacon fat and pie crust (this sounds like heaven in a glass) and perfect balance, and his Autonom Syrah is a blend of cold-climate fruit and warm-climate fruit that manages to be vegetal, fruity and spicy.

Grown-up heaven.


Presqu’ile: Almost an Island

Check out this video from Presqu’ile Winery. They have a very interesting story and are already developing a name for themselves. On July 31st, they poured their Chardonnay at The Chardonnay Symposium and received excellent reviews. Click here for a recap of the symposium as well as information about Presqu’ile’s Chardonnay.

Sisters, Grapes & Cowboys: Tres Hermanas Winery

Tres Hermanas Winery Barn

Tres Hermanas Winery Barn

There are several clues at Tres Hermanas Winery in California’s Santa Maria Valley that you are among cattle ranchers: the big red barn next to the tasting room (used by the Teixeira family’s ranching forefathers), the miles of ranch land and small herds of animals surrounding the winery, and the mechanical horse proudly displayed in the tasting room (and yes, customers can still ride this horse).

But what you really want to do is taste the wines. There are around 20 small-lot production wines for sale, with 6 on the current tasting sheet. If you get one of the family members behind the bar – it’s not hard to do…Paulette Teixeira, her sister Beverly and her daughters Stacey, Tracey and Marcey (the three sisters) frequently work in the winery – or even better, the wine maker Mark Horvath, ask if anything else is open for tasting.

You won’t be disappointed. Every wine on the sheet is unique, interesting, well-made and highly enjoyable. Exceptional even, especially the 2007 Roussanne – a white Rhone varietal that has been gaining popularity, some of which Luke made with wild yeast – and the 2007 Refosco, a grape native to northern Italy, Croatia and Slovenia and hardly made in California, or in the US at all. Deeper and more complex than a Sangiovese but lighter and easier-to-go-down than a Cab or Syrah, this Refosco is a real find here in Santa Barbara wine country. All these wines are gems.

Tres Hermanas Barrels

Tres Hermanas Barrels

Mark is intent on doing something different, something new, while retaining all the heritage and traditions of old world wine making. And it shows. Ask for a tour of the winery and vineyards and you’re in for a real treat: learning about terroir, trellising, bud break and shatter, seeing wines in various stages of cold fermentation and aging, and visiting horses, cows and sheep.

In fact, this is still the headquarters for the family cattle operation and if you happen to be enjoying this countryside along Foxen Canyon road on an early spring morning, you could witness a Cattle Branding right here in front of the barn. Cattle will fill the hills with their plaintive moos while young calves are herded into groups, then roped and branded one by one with the JT cattle brand by a host of neighborly ranch hands.

This is cowboy wine country.

Trattoria Uliveto

Written by Cliff Stepp –

Rural charm, gourmet Italian, wood fired pizzas and a micro brewery next door. Pinch me!

Trattoria Uliveto

Trattoria Uliveto in Old Town Orcutt, a setting a like no other and combined with it’s ambience, cultured cuisine and friendly staff it’s destined to be your next destination spot for lunch or dinner. It is for me, anyway.

I’ve had Uliveto on my list of must stops for nearly four months,having heard nearly every foodie and wine person I know spoon heaps of praise on this little trattoria in the movie-set-charming town of Orcutt.

You would feel equally at home sauntering up on your pinto pony of gliding in aboard your Prius.

We started off with their Parmigiana di Melanzana; baked egglplant, tomato sauce and mozzarella. If I didn’t know Id be getting plenty o’carbs from the pasta dish I was eyeing I would of ordered their appy, Rollino Veneto; rolled pizza with braised radicchio, onion, smoked mozzarella. Served with tomato, basil and garlic.

Trattoria Uliveto's Pizza Oven

The pizzas coming out of their wood fired pizza oven were mighty tempting but I had my heart set on the Linguini Mare Monte pasta made with garlic, olive oil, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, tomato filet and white wine. Speaking of which, the Kenneth Volk Chardonnay from Uliveto’s great wine list was the perfect pal di vino for this dish.

The entrée hit every note my palate had anticipated and more. I was thrilled with the dish. We then split a chocolate flourless cake with espresso sauce. It certainly wasn’t calorieless or caffeineless. Perfect combo of sweet tooth appeaser and mild to jolt to help me out of the chair and back to our travels.

If not for the wine and chocolate I would have made my next stop Orcutt Brewery right next store.

Gourmet relaxation in picturesque, pastoral surroundings and right down the road for most lucky residents of the Central Coast. The rest of y’all will just have to salivate while planning your next wine country vacation.

Trattoria Uliveto
285 S. Broadway St.
Orcutt, CA 93455

Ken Volk with a Portrait of the Sierra Madre Vineyard

The Sierra Madre Vineyard is located in the Santa Maria Valley of Santa Barbara County. Originally established in 1971, this unique property consistently produces some of the finest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California. It was the source of my first professional wine bottling—a Pinot Noir in 1983—at my first winery, Wild Horse. The Sierra Madre Vineyard was also the source of my first release of Pinot Noir at Kenneth Volk Vineyards in 2004. I have great respect and sentimental love for this particular vineyard.

During the last two decades, the vineyard has changed ownership several times and has been completely redeveloped and replanted. Despite these changes, the distinct character of wines produced from this property has remained very consistent. The interaction of natural forces, the vineyard’s location, and attentive wine grape growing allow for the production of highly expressive wines.

Located on the Santa Maria Mesa, the vineyard lies fifteen miles east of the Pacific Ocean and is the first high spot west of the Guadalupe Dunes. One of Santa Barbara’s transverse valleys, the Santa Maria Valley runs east-west, allowing unobstructed northwesterly winds from the Pacific Ocean to buffet the vineyard. With a truly maritime climate, the Sierra Madre Vineyard rarely experiences more than a 20° swing between the daytime high and morning low temperatures. An average daily high of 75° in August and September make this an extremely cool-climate site. The onshore winds that buffet the vineyard vary from gentle onshore airflow to gale force winds.

The soils of the Sierra Madre Vineyard were once part of the ocean shore that has been uplifted. The soils are extremely infertile, sandy and well drained. The combination of cool onshore winds and low vigor soils likely contributes to the uniquely attractive wines of the Sierra Madre Vineyard.

The Sierra Madre Vineyard fruit consistently has the highest content of malic acid of all the vineyards in the valley. High malic acid content in the fruit tends to produce wines that have supple, creamy mouth-feels as well as a texture and richness when malolatic fermentation has converted the tart malic acid into lactic acid. The effect of latic acid on a wine’s mouth feel is typically thought of more frequently as a white wine characteristic. However, when malic acid levels are as high as in the Sierra Madre Vineyard (typically 40% of the total acid content of the grape juice), the bacterial conversion of malic acid to lactic acid exerts a major impact on the mouth feel of Pinot Noir produced from this vineyard.

Ken and Lola

Another calling card of the Sierra Madre Vineyard is an inherent Asian spice nuance that can range from cinnamon, clove and sandalwood to five-spice. I find the wines produced from this vineyard to be elegant, earthy, and feminine, qualities that are especially intriguing in a glass of Pinot Noir.

[Ken Volk founded Wild Horse Winery and Vineyards but these days he’s producing a wide range of varietals for his own label, Kenneth Volk Vineyards.]

This article has been provided by Color and Aroma, an online wine magazine.

Radio Interview with Nipper’s Table Talk

Written by Kady Fleckenstein –

I was pleased to be invited to discuss the Wine Christmas Passport on Nipper’s Table Talk radio show on the Santa Barbara News Press radio station yesterday morning. Honestly, I was unfamiliar with the show but felt at home right away when I heard the host, Arthur, discuss delicious food from local restaurants.

The show has a fun contest each week where they give away dinner for 2 to the restaurant of the week. The callers have to guess the restaurant from the clues that Arthur reads on the air. This week’s restaurant was Cold Spring Tavern (off Highway 154 as you head north towards Santa Maria). When our interview was wrapping up Arthur mentioned that they should have a Santa Maria restaurant join the contest sometime. I can think of some fun hints right now. Should we make it easy for the Santa Barbarans?

Santa Maria is known more for its Santa Maria Style BBQ than its restaurants but we have some real gems throughout the valley. The key is that you have to know where to go. There is a restaurant for everyone. For BBQ or steak (Far Western Tavern), bistro lunch (Testa’s bistro), Italian fare (Trattoria Uliveto), super affordable, tasty and quick lunch on the wine trail (Garey’s Store & Deli), a gourmet meal prepared with local ingredients (Adelina’s Bistro), Cajun-inspried cuisine to comfort the soul (Chef Rick’s) and much more.

The interview was brief but fun. I mentioned the new tasting room in Orcutt: CORE wine company is a convenient tasting room to visit right before dinner in Orcutt. They have an incredible deal with Trattoria Uliveto’s and Chef Rick’s. If you buy a bottle of their wine from their tasting room and bring it to either restaurant they will waive the corkage fee. This is a great way to save money on your restaurant bill! You will receive a card to show the restaurant and it is good for 48 hours after you buy the bottle. So you could go to one restaurant one night and the other the very next day! I definitely plan on taking advantage of this deal soon.

CORE wine bottle with glass in tasting room

If you’d like to check out my interview with Table Talk visit their website. The show will be archived so if you find this post well into the future you can search for the interview on November 19, 2009. Tune in to 1290AM on Thanksgiving or the following Saturday at noon for Michael Cervin’s “Cervin’ It Straight” radio show all about wine. I’ll be on the show around 12:45 for his “5 Minute Chat” about the Wine Christmas Passport. Hope to see you on the wine trail during the passport on December 5 & 6, 2009!

Wine Christmas Passport 2009

Bien Nacido Vineyard 2009 Harvest

Bien Nacido Vineyards after harvest

Both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were average-to-above-average in size this year. Syrah came in slightly below average. Weather was close to ideal until a big storm in late October brought 2″ of rain. This was followed by warm, humid temperatures. The small amount of fruit that remained held up for about a week before we began to see the onset of rain-induced diseases, mainly botrytis. Fortunately, we received the heat we needed to ripen the grapes sufficiently after the storm and got them off the vine. Good year.

Chris Hammell, Vineyard Manager of Bien Nacido Vineyards in Santa Maria Valley

Photo by Ragan Fife.