On special assignment for the Santa Barbara Vintners
To claim you don’t like rosé is about the same as saying you don’t like cheese or people. While Limburger or a crowded bus might be too stinky for you, have you tried a nutty-gouda delight like Ewephoria or met Pope Francis? While these particular examples might not float your cheese or human character boat, I promise there’s a rosé out there that will.
Especially if you’re drinking Santa Barbara County rosé. That point became transparently clear at a recent Santa Barbara Vintners Road Trip to Santa Barbara itself, the first after the group had such success bringing the brand to Los Angeles recently. On a relatively balmy day on Sama Sama’s back patio, 15 area producers poured a rosé or three and made clear, as usual, for variety this region can’t be beat.
Consider the lessons we can learn from two of the county’s veterans, Fred Brander of Brander Vineyard and Gray Hartley of Hitching Post Wines. Brander can regale you with the story of the 1976 vintage at Sana Ynez Valley Wines, before he had his own winery, when five or six inches of rain right at harvest wiped out the white grapes. “The Cabernet grapes, thanks to their thicker skins, survived,” he recalled, “so we made what we called a Blanc de Cabernet. Back then rosés were sweet like Mateus or Lancers.” Since Brander Winery focuses on Bordeaux varietals, it took a bit before they opted to go rosé. “It’s only the last five years,” Brander says, “Cabernet is an expensive grape to make it from.” The resulting wine is quenching and delicious and as hearty a rosé as you can have.
But just as delicious in a different key is Hitching Post’s Pinks, made of Valdiguié (70%) and Pinot Noir (30%). If that first grape puzzles you, that’s ok—only 300 acres of it are planted in California (Navarro in Anderson Valley is a big fan) despite its popularity in southwest France. But it’s at least a flavor if not necessarily a genetic cousin to Pinot, and, as Gray Hartley points out, much cheaper. “We blend it into our Gen Red and bottle it on its own,” he says, “plus we use it to top off Pinot barrels.” That end result means better prices for premium Pinot, later. And scrumptious rosé now, bright with strawberries.
Along with these rosés, the tasting offered ones made from Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre/Counoise/Cinsaut, Counoise/Cinsaut, pure Pinot, and Malbec. Yes that’s Bordeaux, Burgundy, and a whole host of Rhone—how could someone not find something to appeal to any palate? Santa Barbara winemakers also approach rosé in two typical ways: some grew grapes specifically to make theirs, while others use the saignée or bleed method, taking the early run of juice from the process that will then go to make, for instance, a Grenache (and therefore make that Grenache richer too) to create the rosé version.
Tara Gomez at Kitá Wines make her Grenache rosés from grapes specifically grown for the wine. Despite not being a saignée, her 2015 is deceptively light in color for the amount of flavor, not to mention the great aromatics. Brett Escalera at the Sanger Family of Wines does use the saignée method for his Tre Anelli Grenache, but he tries to give the wine enough time on the skins to develop lovely flavors. (He succeeds.)
And then Santa Barbara winemakers are also adept at playing the hand dealt them by Mother Nature any given vintage. Sonja Magdevski at Casa Dumetz hopes to make two rosés a year, one each from Syrah and Grenache. But with the low yields 2015 offered as the California drought wore on, she couldn’t get enough grapes to do both, and instead co-fermented the varietals into one lovely wine that gives you all the goodness of both. Makes the wine a perfect emblem for what rosé can be.