by George Yatchisin
On special assignment for the Santa Barbara Vintners
Since Santa Barbara County is so good at growing so many varietals of grapes so well (more than 50, if you cared to know), it makes sense its winemakers start to wonder, “What will happen if we put a bit of varietal A with some of varietal B?” Often that algebra of blending might mix varietals G, S, and M, but we’ll get to that.
Recently the Vintners Association hosted a tasting at Santa Barbara’s delightful and delicious Barbareño that featured 13 wineries pouring 33 red blends that attested to the palates and creativity in the region. While the red blends tend to play in century-old patterns begun by the French – people generally either mix Bordeaux grapes or Rhone grapes together – of course there’s always a wildcard or two. One of the region’s long-standing leaders, Fred Brander, makes a non-vintage F/Red that’s 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon (his declassified cab) and Syrah from Zaca Mesa. In addition to being a practically historic wine created from two of the pioneering spots of Santa Barbara, it’s a pure pleasure, with lively acidity and bright berry fruit. How nice to learn the two different grapes can play so well together.
Generally, though, the Bordeaux blends are more traditional, like the trio of just released 2013 stunners from Star Lane Vineyards: their Cab is actually 83% CS, 10% Cab Franc, 4% Merlot, 2% Malbec, and 1% Petit Verdot; their appropriately named Astral 99% CS and 1% Merlot; and their Merlot contains 7% CS. Star Lane seems to grow into their property with each passing vintage, as they help put Happy Canyon on the map for California’s best Bordeaux with other producers like Grassini Family Vineyards.
Similarly, the Rhones tend to be GSMs, or Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre, if you don’t speak abbreviations. Even there, though, Santa Barbara winemakers like to muck with the order to make fascinating wines, like Jaffurs – who had new owner Dan Green and assistant winemaker Matt Brady pouring their 2012 High Tide that’s 50% Mourvedre, 33% Grenache, and 17% Syrah. It’s hearty as heck with that Mourvedre leading the way, brooding and beautiful and age-worthy.
On the other hand there’s Dragonette Cellars, who opt to leave out the Mourvedre completely in both their 2014 Seven and 2012 MJM, blends that feature Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier for some aromatic lift and complexity. Both are delightful, but the MJM – “named in honor of our wives and co-conspirators Mitchi, Jen and Michelle,” as the winemakers put it on their website – is meant for aging, getting 27 months in barrel.
An event like this one was also notable, for while it featured wines from the founders of the county’s start – Bob Lindquist is still nailing things at Qupe, and proved it by pouring both a 1988 Los Olivos Cuvee and 2013 and 2014 vintages of this Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache that all simply knocked it out of the park (he also makes wines for the Dodgers, so that description was chosen very much intentionally) – it also featured someone who was pouring his first vintage ever. Scott Sampler, under the name Central Coast Group Project (to honor everyone who has helped him), is taking a unique approach to almost everything. Based in Buellton Bodegas complex, he gets to work with the likes of Larner and Liquid Farm, creating very small amounts (only 300 cases of the 2012 vintage) of very delicious wines. Take his GSM Barrington Hall, about which he aptly writes, “as if a classical form of Chateauneuf-du-Pape were a prism, refracting pure beams of modern California sun.” Or his fascinating “Variations on a Clone, Op. 1,” Syrah and Viognier, 100% whole cluster, co-fermented – the most raspberry on the nose any wine will ever deliver.
Past, present, future, it’s a gorgeous blend for Santa Barbara.
Below is the list of wines poured at the tasting. This is a good starting point to discover some new red wine blends from Santa Barbara County.
Andrew Murray Vineyards
2014 Esperance (Grenache 60%, Syrah 25%, Mourvedre 15%) Curtis Vineyard, Estate Grown
N/V Brander Vineyard F/Red (Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Syrah 50%), Santa Ynez Valley
2014 Brander Vineyard Bouchet (Cabernet Sauvignon 72%,Cabernet Franc 20%, Merlot 8%, Santa Ynez Valley
Brophy Clark Cellars
2014 Brophy Clark GSM, Santa Ynez Valley
Casa Dumetz Wines
2013 Casa Dumetz GSM (Grenache 52%, Syrah 29%, Mourvedre 19%), Santa Ynez Valley
2014 Casa Dumetz GSM (Grenache 52%, Syrah 29%, Mourvedre 19%), Santa Ynez Valley
2013 Dragonette Grenache (Syrah), John Sebastiano Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley
2014 Dragonette Seven (Syrah, Grenache, Viognier), Santa Ynez Valley
2012 Dragonette MJM (Syrah, Grenache, Viognier), Santa Ynez Valley
2013 Fess Parker Big Easy (Syrah 66%, Petite Sirah 18%, Grenache 16%)
Frontier Red Lot 94
2013 Epiphany Gypsy
2013 Epiphany Relevation
Grassini Family Vineyards
2013 Equipo (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot), Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
2013 Grassini Articondo (Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot), Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
2013 Grassini Cabernet Sauvignon(with Petit Verdot), Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
2012 Jaffurs High Tide Red
2012 Magia Nera (Sangiovese 60%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%)
2012 Les Trois (Grenache 67%, Mourvedre 23%, Syrah 10%)
Lucas & Lewellen
2012 Toccata Classico (Sangiovese 40%, Merlot 25%, CS 20%, CF 5%, Petit Verdot 5%, Freisa 5%)
2012 Lucas & Lewellen Cabernet Sauvignon Valley View Vineyard (CS 75%, CF 8%, Malbec 7%, Merlot 7%, PV 3%)
2012 Toccata Riserva (Cabernet Sauvignon 50%, Sangiovese 30%, Petit Verdot 10%, Merlot 5%, Freisa 5%)
2014 Qupe Modern Red (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre)
2013 Qupe Los Olivos Cuvee (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache), Santa Ynez Valley
2014 Qupe Los Olivos Cuvee (Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache), Santa Ynez Valley
Star Lane Vineyard
2013 Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon (CS 83%, CF 10%, Merlot 4%, Malbec 2%, PV 1%), Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
2013 Star Lane Astral (Cabernet Sauvignon 99%, Merlot 1%), Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
2013 Star Lane Merlot (Merlot 93%, Cabernet Sauvignon 7%), Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
the Central Coast Group Project
2012 CCGP "Barrington Hall Wine Dinner Special Cuvée" (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Syrah)
2012 CCGP "Names" (Syrah,Viognier)
2012 CCGP "Variations on a Clone, Op. 1" (Syrah/Viognier)
Interesting stories from Santa Barbara Wine County.