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 Thursday and I’ll talk about a few of my favorites.


Sold-out Chardonnay Symposium Scores Another Hit with Winemakers, Guests, Chefs

Participants in Saturday’s third-annual Chardonnay Symposium at Byron Vineyard & Winery enjoyed chardonnay from 56 California winemakers during a summer day that showcased both the gentle warmth and gusty winds for which the Santa Maria Valley is famous.

The symposium’s morning panel session and afternoon grand tasting both sold out, said Chris Slaughter, executive director of the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association, event sponsor. “We are thrilled to be able to share our Santa Maria Valley hospitality with so many people from throughout the state of California.”

Some of the Central Coasts most popular restaurants and caterers, among them Full of Life Flatbread, the Ballard Inn, Central City Market and Trattoria Uliveto, offered guests some of the freshest fare around, as well as cooking and wine pairing demonstrations.

Eight chardonnay producers from throughout California participated in the symposium’s morning panel: Bob Cabral of Williams Selyem; Joshua Klapper of La Fenetre Wines, (subbing for Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi of Bonaccorsi Wine Company, who had a family emergency); returning 2011 panelist Dieter Cronje, Presqu’ile Wines; James Hall, Patz & Hall; Eric Johnson, Talley Vineyards; Heidi von deer Mehden, Arrowood Vineyards & Winery; Bill Wathan, Foxen Winery; and Graham Weerts of Stonestreet Wines.

Led by moderator Steve Heimoff, each speaker offered a variation of the panel’s theme, “Chardonnay & Terroir.” Heimoff is an editor at “Wine Enthusiast” and wine blogger.

Klapper noted that Byron’s Nielsen Vineyard, one of the Santa Maria Valley’s oldest, produces grapes that are “very much Santa Maria Valley” in that they showcase the balance of acidity and sugar for which the region’s chardonnays and pinot noirs are known.

The cool area leads to vines’ early bud break and a long growing season, one described by panelist Bill Wathen of Foxen Winery as lasting an average of 125 days from bloom to harvest.

While winters are “warm,” and the warmest time each day tends to be around 11 or 11:30 a.m., by noon the winds pick up and the window for the vines’ photosynthesis closes, Wathen said. “There’s a very short growth period during each day.”

At Stonestreet Winery’s Alexander Mountain Estate Vineyard, winemaker Graham Weerts has learned that “cooler climates make better chardonnays — and better wines” in general, he said.

The South African native described how the vineyard that produces Stonestreet’s Broken Road and Bear Point chardonnays ranges between 1,800 and 2,000 feet in elevation. “We grow chardonnay right about at the fog line” on the property, he said.

The Stonestreet 2010 Upper Barn Chardonnay radiates flavors of white peach. To be sure, Weerts noted, some of the best characteristics of chardonnay are “peach pits” and an essence of gravel on the palate.

As California’s most widely planted grape, chardonnay is “even more diverse” than it was 25 years ago when some of the state’s earliest vineyards were created, said panelist Bob Cabral, winemaker for Williams Selyem.

With so many chardonnay styles from which to choose, Cabral urged panel attendees to “find the one that you like, and just drink wine.”

At the panel’s end, Heimoff led panelists in saluting the Wente chardonnay clone, which was imported to California in 1912 by Ernest Wente via cuttings in France and cultivated at the famous Wente Winery in the Livermore Valley.

Local chefs who offered live cooking demonstrations were Budi Kazali of The Ballard Inn; Alfonso Curti of Trattoria Uliveto; and Ryan Gromfin, consulting chef for the Santa Maria Inn.

The weekend event, in its third year, featured a “BYOC (chardonnay) barbecue Friday night at Sierra Madre vineyard, Saturday’s Byron events, a sold-out winemaker dinner Saturday night with longtime area winemaker Kenneth Volk, a seafood-and-chardonnay dinner at Riverbench Vineyard & Winery and a Sunday brunch at Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard & Winery.


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.


Join Wine Country Orcutt and Riverbench Vineyard & Winery tomorrow, May 26 2011, to sample world class Chardonnay and participate in the global #Chardonnay Day. The 24-hour virtual Twitter event is expected to attract thousands of Chardonnay enthusiasts to share tasting notes, information and wines with Chardonnay lovers around the world.

The Wine Country Orcutt @WCOrcutt Meetup will begin at 5:30 pm with Chardonnay tastings and a live interactive twitter stream in their new location at 130 North Broadway in Old Town Orcutt. Tweeters are encouraged to bring their laptop and share their own unique wine experiences and tasting notes.

Tomorrow from 10 am to 4 pm, Riverbench Vineyard & Winery @Riverbench will feature a special tasting of their distinctive Chardonnays for $5, alongside a full day of live Chardonnay tweeting at their Foxen Canyon tasting room. Riverbench will offer a number of tasting room specials, including 20% off all Chardonnay magnums.

Friends of the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country are encouraged to include The Chardonnay Symposium @ChardSymposium in their tweeting conversations to spread the word about our premiere July 22-23 (2011) weekend event. The Chardonnay Symposium is the only event of its kind in the United States enlightening wine consumers, industry professionals and the media on America’s favorite wine. Go to for information and tickets.

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.


“DineOut: Santa Maria Style”
Offers Special Reduced Price Menus at
Participating Santa Maria Valley Restaurants
From April 12 through April 25

Santa Maria, CA—Locals and visitors alike are invited to savor and save as eight participating restaurants in the Santa Maria Valley offer special reduced price menus from April 12 through April 25 under the banner of “DineOut: Santa Maria Style.”

The fixed menu prices start at $10.10, and continue with the “2010” theme at $20.10, $30.10 and $40.10, depending on the restaurant and meal (see below for full menus listing).

“The event dates were chosen to coincide with an established culinary event, the Santa Maria Valley Strawberry Festival, in order to encourage locals and visitors to experience a taste of the Santa Maria Valley,” said Gina Keough, manager of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau, which is coordinating the promotion.

The participating restaurants are The Hitching Post in Casmalia, Trattoria Uliveto, Far Western Tavern, Garden Room Restaurant at the Historic Santa Maria Inn, Vintner’s Bar & Grill at the Radisson Hotel Santa Maria, Portabella at the Holiday Inn and Suites, Quizno’s on South Bradley Road and Adelina’s Bistro at the Monarch Club at Trilogy Central Coast.

For example, the Historic Santa Maria Inn is offering a Grilled Salmon Filet atop grilled basil polenta for $20.10, which includes choice of soup or salad, tomato bruschetta and a dessert featuring vanilla ice cream, seasonal berries served in a caramel basket. Prices do not include tax or tip.

Diners are encouraged to make reservations in advance, and to mention the “DineOut: Santa Maria Style” promotion when dining or making a reservation as regular menu items will also be available.

Says Keough, “’DineOut: Santa Maria Style’ is a great way for people to affordably experience the variety of our local flavors.”

“DineOut: Santa Maria Style” Details

What: A two-week promotion featuring eight participating restaurants offering special prix fixe menus featuring entrees and extras.

When: Promotion runs from April 12 through April 25, 2010

Cost: Prices range from $10.10 to $40.10, depending on restaurant and menu

Menus: See below. These same details are available online at Hot Travel Deals at, or phone (805) 925-2403 x814.

3325 Point Sal Road, Casmalia
(805) 937-6151 or (866) 879-4088
Open Monday – Saturday 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Sunday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Steak & Shrimp $30.10
Australian Lobster Tail $40.10
Complete dinners include: bay shrimp cocktail, dinner salad, potato
or vegetables, entree, coffee/tea and ice cream.

899 Guadalupe Street/Highway1, Guadalupe
(805) 343-2211
Open: Tuesday – Fri day 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
LUNCH $10.10
Spinach Steak Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette
DINNER $30.10
Petit (6 oz) Filet, Jumbo (9oz) Lobster Tail. Served with reduction of Syrah, polenta, roasted garlic and choice of soup or salad.

Menu pending

801 South Broadway, Santa Maria
(805) 928-7777
-Salmon Filet $20.10:
Served with grilled tomato bruschetta, choice of house made soup or salad,
grilled basil polenta garnished with a citrus salad, and vanilla ice cream and seasonal berries served in a caramel basket

-Black Angus Rib Eye Steak $30.10:
Served with grilled tomato bruschetta, coastal greens salad, creamy mashed potatos, grilled baby vegetables and crème Brulee.

-6oz Bacon Wrapped Black Angus Filet Mignon $40.10:
Served with risotto lobster cake, baby spinach salad with wonton skins, strawberries and mandarin oranges and cheesecake with vanilla bean ice cream.

2202 South Bradley Road- ONLY
Santa Maria, CA 93455
(805) 928-4280
Large sub, chips, cookie & drink retails for $10.10

PORTABELLA BAR & GRILL (Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites)
2100 North Broadway, Santa Maria
(805) 928-6000
Open 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. nightly
-Seafood Pasta $20.10:
Scallops, tiger shrimp and Atlantic salmon sautéed in garlic, butter
and white wine then served over a bed of fettuccini Alfredo.

-Beef Short Rib $20.10:
Slow cooked with a flavorful demi-glaze, served with choice
of two sides. Also served with a fresh garden salad or cup of soup.

-Atlantic Salmon $20.10:
Grilled with sun dried tomato pesto or Cajun style with herb butter.
Served with roasted asparagus and cheese-filled tortellini.
Also served with a side of scampi style shrimp.

-Steak & Ribs $30.10:
A juicy char-broiled Rib Eye and 1/2 rack of mouth watering ribs.
Served with two sides and choice of garden salad or a cup of soup.

VINTNERS GRILL (Radisson Hotel Santa Maria)
3455 Skyway Drive, Santa Maria
(805) 928-8000
Served 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. only
-English Cut Prime Rib $20.10
-Champagne Chicken Picatta $20.10
-Blackened Snapper $20.10
*Served with house glass of wine and scoop of ice cream for dessert

Pandee Pearson
Pandee Pearson, Executive Chef, Adelina’s Bistro

1645 Trilogy Parkway, Nipomo
(805) 343-7501
Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Chef’s Selected Entrée $30.10
Four course menu changes nightly to include amuse bouche, choice of soup du jour or bistro salad, chef’s selected entrée, and featured dessert. Call for menu details.