Artisanal Wines of Santa Barbara

This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

Cult winemakers Bruno D'Alfonso and Kris Curran, craft Tempranillo, Pinot Grigio, Grenache Blanc as well as outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under the D'Alfonso-Curran label.

Blame it on the hangover from the movie Sideways, but Santa Barbara County is still known for its bright, fruity Pinot Noirs along with its often exquisite Chardonnays and Syrahs. But the now famous wine country has other stars. Recently, I got an opportunity to taste varietals such as Tocai Friulano, Albariño, Gruner Veltliner, Arneis and Dolcetto from this always-surprising region.

The event was the 9th Annual Stars of Santa Barbara held at the tony Peninsula Hotel where I met several artisanal winemakers and savored their handcrafted wines. Many of these winemakers producing small lots don’t own vineyards but know where to source the best fruit in the region. Some set up modest production facilities in the industrial complex dubbed the “Lompoc Ghetto” — a designation not all of its winemakers embrace — while others may custom crush at the Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria.
Newly appointed winemaker Clarissa Nagy of Riverbench Winery that produces just 3500 cases annually.
I was delighted to see winemaker Steve Clifton and his wife Chrystal of Palmina and the other half of hard-to-find Brewer Clifton label. While Brewer Clifton makes only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (annual production 5,000 cases), Palmina with an annual production of 10,000 cases specializes in Italian varietals. I loved the fragrant 2010 Tocai Friulano from Honea Vineyard and the aromatic Malvasia Bianca from Larner Vineyard. A 2010 Dolcetto was lush with smooth tannins while the 2007 Nebbiolo had hints of spice and a bracing acidity.

Then there was an Albarino de Moto from Old Creek Ranch Winery, a Gruner Veltliner from Vino V Wines, Gerwutztraminer from Tercero Wines and a ‘Volpino,’ a Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot from Foxen, a winery better known for its Pinot Noir, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.

I’ve always enjoyed wines made from acclaimed Bien Nacido Vineyard fruit by noted winemakers, but this was the first time I savored wine produced by Bien Nacido under its own label. The first vintage of 2007 was made for family and friends, said winemaker Trey Fletcher as he poured the 2008 vintages of two Pinot Noirs, one from Solomon Hills and the other from Bien Nacido Vineyard. The small production (1,000 cases annually) also includes Syrah and Chardonnay and is available at fine restaurants.

Winemaker Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi who sources grapes from 12 different vineyards, poured her delicious Pinot Noirs from Cargasacchi, Melville and Neilson vineyards. But it was the aromatic JL White, a blend of 85% Viognier and 15% Chardonnay that turned out to be my favorite. What a refreshing wine!

I also discovered La Fenétre, made by Joshua Klapper, former wine director of Sona restaurant, who launched his label in 2005. His small annual production of 3,500 cases includes Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Others showcasing their wines were such known names as Cambria, Tantara, Buttonwood, Summerland, Jaffurs, Zaca Mesa and Alma Rosa, the new label from pioneer vintner Richard Sanford, who will be inducted next month in the Vintner’s Hall of Fame at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley.