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December 12, 2014
Holiday Weight-Watching?
By Cheryl K Stauffer
 
Ah yes, the holidays are approaching. And with them, comes the myriad of tempting yuletide treats and fattening holiday meals.
 
And of course, the wine that comes with.
 
But the holidays are a joyous time, not a time to deny yourself the season of savory. So, how can you stay svelte through the celebrations and still enjoy a glass or two of celebratory wine?

 

 
November 30, 2014
By Cheryl K Stauffer
SYV Wine Country Association

There are so many wine glass designs available today, that even the most studied sommelier may have difficulty identifying all of the varietal specific glasses. As you can see from The Wine Folly’s infograph, gone are the simplistic days of choosing between a red or white wine glass.

 

 
November 23, 2014
By Cheryl K Stauffer
SYV Wine Country Association
Let’s be honest. If you’re reading a blog on a wine-related website, you most likely are a wine drinker. Maybe even a wine lover.
 
And you’ve probably amassed a fair amount of 750ml empties over time. They’re competing for space with old magazines, newspapers and gnarly smelling empty milk cartons in your recycling bin.
 
Go fish them out—and wash them out—and prepare to tap your inner creative. 
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November 14, 2014
By Cheryl K Stauffer
SYV Wine Country Association

In less than 2 weeks, our nation will celebrate its 393rd Thanksgiving. Give or take. This holiday—which as far as I can tell, is just a green light to eat yourself into the next size—first burst onto the scene in 1621. 
 
The Pilgrim’s spent 3 days celebrating their first successful harvest. Yay Pilgrims!  What we call “Thanksgiving Day,” the participants of the inaugural meal called
“The Harvest Celebration.”
 
While we don’t know exactly what they ate, historians agree that Venison was probably served at celebration zero—a thoughtful gift from the “Indians.”
 
There was most likely wildfowl as well, along with native fruits, local vegetables and nuts.
 
All washed down with water.
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October 19, 2014

By Cheryl K Stauffer
SYV Wine Country Association

 

Everything has a name – you, me, your pet, and the street where you live. Some names are simple; did you know the most popular cat name in the United States is Kitty?  Other names are more nuanced, such as the café in the Santa Ynez Valley called Sides, Hardware and Shoes.

And what about winery names?  They run the gamut from family names to names that have special meanings— meanings that, until now, were known only to a select few.  It appears that older vineyards used more traditional naming techniques, whereas newer wineries seem to be choosing names that embrace a journey, or pay homage to some person or thing.

 

 
July 10, 2014
By Julie Farrell
Cimarone Wines

It seems that we frequently find ourselves saying, "This is an exciting time in the vineyard." And rather than apologizing for it, we'll just own it. The fact is, producing wine means that every year we hang on each stage of our fruit's development. One may liken it to raising children. Just as parents are over the moon when their baby first smiles or sits up independently, so do we feel exhilarated when the first signs of budbreak emerge and when flowering begins.

Right now we are witnessing the onset of veraison. Véraison is a French word which has come to mean the beginning of grape ripening in English. Why is it exciting? Because we get a palpable visual image of what our little grapes will become. It's like hearing the first cracks in an adolescent boy's voice or seeing those first whiskers sprout. Up until this point, the vineyard is straight green: green leaves, green shoots, green grapes...all thanks to the green pigment chlorophyll. In red and black grape varieties, anthocynins now become responsible for the blue-purple-red color of the fruit. During this transition, the berries begin to accumulate sugars in the form of glucose and fructose, while acidity begins to diminish. The grape varieties used to produce our red wines begin to turn various shades of purple, and our white varieties begin to turn to a yellow-green hue. In addition, the berries begin to soften.

The color change may occur in just one grape in a bunch or many grapes in a bunch may change color simultaneously. Our hot and sunny micro-climate in Happy Canyon, coupled with low-volume pruning techniques, mean that veraison is early in our vineyard...an indication of high-quality fruit...and that little Johnny may grow up to be a fine man...or in this case bottle of wine!

Stay tuned...


 

 
February 2, 2014


Although it’s balmy here compared to the low temperatures on the East Coast and in the Midwest, it’s still chilly at night. This week we’re looking at nightly temperatures in the mid 40′s, but we’ve had our share of icy mornings. Whilst the vines sleep, the vineyard is still bustling with the activities of winter.

The pruning of heartier varieties: Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Syrah, takes place at this time of year. They get first dibs with the pruning shears because they are less sensitive to fluctuations in the weather at time of flowering here. These varieties tend to deliver a balanced crop more consistently. In contrast to these reliable grapes, our capricious French beauty, Merlot, and our impetuous Italian, Sangiovese, are more likely to either produce big crops or barely deliver. Pruning is delayed for these and other Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon to avoid exposure to inclement weather during flowering. Pruning may occur as late as March for these more vulnerable globes.

Different varieties are subject to different pruning techniques, some of which have existed for millennia. For example, the Sauvignon Blanc blocks are cane-pruned, followed by cane tying…all by hand. To observe the vineyard crew tying canes, watch the video below. Some left-over canes can be used as starts for self-rooting grapes. Select canes are properly cared for, then shipped off to other vineyards for storage and planting.

Alternatively, some varieties, such as Cabernet Franc, are spur-pruned and cordon trained. Size of grape clusters, position in the vineyard, irrigation and nutrition of the vines, target yield, and wind vulnerability are some of the contributing factors to the selection of pruning technique. It may be winter, and the vines might be dormant, but vineyard workers are awake and bustling with winter activities in preparation for the 2014 vintage.

 

 
June 30, 2013
By Julie Farrell
Cimarone Wines

A barn-burner article was published recently regarding wine tasting. Perhaps the more appropriate phrase is wine judging. This is tricky topic for wineries.

A great score from one of the major critics almost definitely translates to increased sales, particularly if a large portion of the winery’s inventory is sold through distributors. For the harried wine-lover who

has little time to kibitz in an independent wine shop, a high scoring wine found at a Big Box store offers purchase security when making an otherwise uninformed wine selection. It’s the if the guy or gal who tastes wine for a living thinks it’s good, it probably is mentality…and typically that’s a pretty reliable purchase philosophy.

As one might surmise, a poor score will likely precipitate the opposite reaction: 1) the big stores might not carry the wine; 2) the distributors may pay less attention to the brand; 3) the consumer looking at several scored wines will likely select the wine with the higher score within his/her price range .

Seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it? Not according to Robert Hodgson. In an article from the UK’s Guardian, we learn that Mr. Hodgson, a California vintner, has been running a little test since 2005. Turns out Mr. Hodgson, make that Professor Hodgson, came up with some pretty interesting data from his study of the California State Fair Wine Competition. The net result? Only “…about 10 percent of the judges were able to replicate their score within a single medal group. Another 10 percent, on occasion, scored the same wine Bronze to Gold.” And significantly, “…a typical judge’s scores varied by plus or minus four points over the three blind tastings. A wine deemed to be a good 90 would be rated as an acceptable 86 by the same judge minutes later and then an excellent 94.” The variation in score can be the difference between a sold out wine, and a wine that lingers on the shelf…and it’s the SAME wine!


But hold the phone. A study conducted by Penn State and Brock University, showed that some people DO have a better sense of taste than others. “What we found is that the fundamental taste ability of an expert is different,” says John Hayes of Penn State. Another argued that it may not be nature as much as nurture. Perhaps experiencing a broad array of wines allows the critic to hone his/her skills to develop a more differentiating palate. Makes sense. If you’re a seasoned tennis player, you might feel the difference in the tension of tennis strings, but if you’re just starting out, it’s the last thing you’ll notice. But if the average consumer is not in the ‘supertaster’ gene pool, and doesn’t regularly sample myriad wines, where does that leave us?

We say, drink what you like. Don’t let the potentially pretentious side of wine get in the way of enjoying a variety of wines. Are we delighted when one of our wines receives a high score? You bet. And you may find over time that you share a similar palate with a particular critic. This may be helpful when seeking out new wines. But in general, we feel that wineries that are dedicated to small lot, handcrafted wines tend to place greater emphasis on quality vs. quantity. Add a talented winemaker, and carefully farmed fruit planted in targeted terroirs, and whether you have a highly trained palate, or you’re new to the world of wine, you’ll likely be pleased with your purchase.

Cheers!

 

 
June 4, 2013
By Ross Rankin, Winemaker Imagine Wine, Santa Ynez, CA

Not everyone likes to talk about aging, but I’m a big fan of it. Aging wine, that is.

There are many different kinds of wine making styles but two are distinctively different: the first is wine that is made in stainless steel vats. The grapes are often picked slightly before they are ripe to ensure that the alcohol content is below 14%. Grapes picked at lower Brix (sugar level) required to keep the alcohol level down tend to be more tart and contain higher acids. Below 14% the wines escape the higher tax threshold which can be very expensive for large scale producers. Wines produced in stainless steel most often are bottled and sold within one or two years of their production. Wines produced this way require less processing and are less expensive to produce and are therefore often a price value to the customer. The vast majority of wines are made this way.

The second type of wine making often involves picking the grapes when they are considered ripe by the winemaker and often result in higher sugar content. Depending on the wine and the winemaker’s preference wines from the warmer areas of Santa Barbara County may produce wines over 14% alcohol. Wines like these can be stored in stainless steel or aged in Oak Barrels. Wine aged in “active” oak barrels (1-4 years old) allow the wine to gain body, structure, and layers of flavors. It can be an expensive proposition to age wine as oak barrels are pricey. Oak barrels also allow the wine to evaporated concentrating the flavors, aromas, and body of the wine. The wine is also often kept in expensive cold storage during aging, again, adding expense to the process. Many wines processed in oak barrels are purposely made to improve with age both in the barrel and ultimately in the bottle.

So, what is the difference in the finished product? Stylistically, the wines are just different. There are many delicious wines that are born from stainless barrels and bottled and sold within the one to two years. Wines produced in oak will have greater structure and layers of flavors and aromas not possible if they were produced in stainless steel. They also will be more likely to improve with age and preserve well due to the added influence of tannins picked up from the oak. Ultimately the wine consumer makes the decision which wines they prefer. It comes down to an individual’s palate, tastes, and preference.

At Imagine Wine, we produce wines that are Aged by Design©. Aging wine for many years allows our wines to evolve and change during the process in no small part due to the influences of the oak and the original winemaking techniques. In 2013 we are bottling our 2007 vintage limited edition Paradise Mountain Syrah which has been aged six years in three different kinds of oak. It is an extraordinary wine not to be missed (projected release Fall of 2013) by those that find it difficult to find wines that are aged and that have developed unique characteristics and complexity. In the tasting room, we’re currently serving and selling various varietals of our 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 vintage wines.

 

 
October 18, 2012
Angie Parks, Wine Club Manager, Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards

Rules, rules, rules. In traffic, in math, in parenting, in society – I could do with a few less rules! Wine, like art or stargazing, is best studied for its splendor, for its haunting mystery, for the miracle of its existence with such simple origins.

I’ve served many a taster who is clutching his scorecard, quoting wine punditry and trying to impress me with comments like “Quite obviously, this wine underwent 50% malolactic fermentation,” that he misses the point. Wine tasting is fun!

I was reluctant to issue The Rules to a shy young lady who phoned me last week. “Hi. This is a weird question, but how do you taste wine? I have a new boyfriend and he’s taking me wine tasting and I don’t how to do it. I was hoping that you
could tell me the rules.”

The Rules.
I’ve taken an informal poll of friends in the industry and they all agree: there is a place for The Rules within the wine-tasting experience.

So here is my list of unofficial list

DO:

Walk in like you own the place!
Enter the tasting room, have a look around, and approach the tasting bar, fully expecting to enjoy yourself. Take a look at the tasting list. If you like what you see, be prepared to pay $8-12 per person to sample the list.

If you know for sure that you only enjoy white wines, red wines, or even sweet wines, tell the tasting-room staff in advance. Feel free to share one tasting with a companion, bearing in mind that your pour will not be heavier than the standard ounce or so per wine sample.

Trust the progression
The staff knows their wines and has put some thought into the tasting order. Let your pourer decide which wine sample comes next. Take the chance that the winemaker has a style all his own, even if the Merlot is listed after the Cabernet.

Skip over any that you know that you don’t enjoy, but you shouldn’t expect that the tasting room will always have an open substitution.

Read the notes
Educate yourself, even if you know it all, by reading the winemaker’s tasting notes. Take note of grape varietals, vineyard designations, appellations, and styles of your favorites so that you may narrow down your list of choices the next time you’re shopping for a bottle of wine.

See, swirl, sniff, sip, swallow

See the color of the wine you are tasting. Compare the clarity and brilliant color of each wine. Hold your glass up to the light and look at the wine where it meets the glass. Gauge a wine’s age by using a color scale: purple around the edges tends to indicate youth in a wine and deep amber or brown tones tend to indicate some age.

Swirl the wine in the glass vigorously to increase the surface contact to air and release the aromas. If you’re not a practiced swirler, don’t despair! Place your glass on a flat hard surface and move the base in relatively fast and even circles, holding the stem firmly so that it doesn’t tip.

Sniff the wine from outside the glass, swirl again, and then put your nose inside the glass (you saw Miles do it on Sideways so you know that it rarely looks pretty!) and inhale sharply. Aromas refer to the odors of grape while the bouquet refers to the more complex odor which develops while the wine is aging.

What comes to mind?
Leather? Berries? Tropical fruit? Grass?

Sip. It’s sipping time! Let a sizeable sip roll around on every part of your tongue and hold it there for a moment. Is the taste consistent with the aroma? You can detect sweetness in the wine on the tip of your tongue, acids on the sides of your tongue, and bitterness in the back. Swallow and note the finish or the lingering sensations left in your mouth.

Tipping is optional.
Tipping is not required, but if you have had an exceptional time, learned something new, asked the pourer to recommend a restaurant, call for your reservations, and carry your cases to your car, by all means, tip! Wine bars are the exception. Generally speaking, if the tasting bar sells wine by the glass, tipping is the standard.

DON’T!
(Warning: this section should probably be titled: “Rantings of Frustrated Tasting Room Staffers!”)

It’s just not funny anymore.
Don’t quote Miles from Sideways when your Merlot is poured. Your pourer has heard it 750 times already that day. He or she might pour the dump bucket on your head and save you the trouble!

Light up near a tasting room.
Smoking before wine tasting will alter the taste of your wines and the lingering odor that follows you through the door may adversely affect the guest next to you.

Use perfumes or colognes.
You and your fellow tasters will have a harder time picking up subtle aromas and flavors if you bathe yourself in aftershave. At wine-tasting affairs, skip concentrated scents and let the wine have the spotlight.

Chew gum.
One would think this one was a given. Leave breath mints and chewing gum in the car.

Gab on your cell phone.
I’m guilty of this one. A friend told me a hilarious story about a visitor who perched herself near the crowded bar and gave her caller a loud commentary about her entire tasting. “Guess what? I’m in a Santa Ynez Valley wine-tasting room! Now I’m tasting the Sauvignon Blanc. Wow. Lots of melon and honey! Uh huh, now for the Chardonnay…” Please chat outside.

“Make out” at the bar.
Alcohol intake tends to decrease inhibitions of normally civilized adults. Enough said.

Confuse the crackers with a buffet.
Sometimes, crackers are provided to cleanse your palate between tastes, not to substitute for your lunch.

Pour your own wine.
You may think nothing of reaching across the bar and helping out the hassled tasting-room staffer, but the winery could be shut down for allowing you to pour for yourself. Never touch an open bottle at the bar.

Protest showing ID.
Even if you’re a senior citizen, be prepared to show ID. The winery’s license is at stake and the A.B.C. has taught them to take their responsibilities seriously. Along the same lines, if the tasting-room staffer tells you that you’ve had enough, simply walk away. Chances are good that they will call the police if you spend too much time trying to convince them otherwise.

Neglect to designate a driver.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this rule. It is foolish and dangerous to spend a day wine tasting and then slide behind the wheel of a car. Arrange for transportation, check any contraindications with medications that you take before wine tasting, and limit yourself to 4-5 tastes per winery and 4-5 wineries per day.

California’s best kept secret is out and the Santa Ynez Valley now has a reputation for producing some of the best and most interesting wines in the United States. Enjoy them, and taste by The Rules!

 

 
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