Santa Barbara never has a shortage of events one could attend on any given weekend, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s worth paying for and what’s not.
Last weekend, I attended and participated in all three of the events that made up the annual Urban Wine Trail’s Summer Celebration and got to the bottom of things (and some wine bottles) for the average Santa Barbara consumer.
Red & White AVA Seminar
While the Passport wine tastings started Friday, the Urban Wine Trail weekend officially kicked off with the Red & White AVA Seminar on Saturday morning at Wine Cask.
There’s no question that I love wine, but sipping anything stronger than tea before 10 a.m. usually doesn’t evoke smiles from this girl.
However, last weekend proved to be an exception to my usual ritual as I thoroughly enjoyed having a front row seat to a panel of some of Santa Barbara’s best winemakers and a spread of wines just waiting to be swirled, sniffed and sipped.
I’ll admit this was my first wine seminar, and I was the rookie in the front row.
I may know a thing or two about wines that are already in the tasting rooms and on store shelves, but this was an education about the politics and science of winemaking that left me wide-eyed and reeling with a thousand questions left unanswered.
I audibly sifted through panelists’ comments about different appellations, fermentation, and whether harvests should happen on leaf day, fruit day or vine day while furiously taking copious notes about the ins and outs of a winemakers history, and how much I loved or hated what was being poured down my throat.
While I have much to learn about the American Viticultural Area of the Santa Ynez Valley, I do know a good wine when I taste one.
Without question, the showstopper at this event was the 2011 Deep Sea Syrah, White Hawk. This tantalizing red wine, with a sweet vanilla bouquet tumbling from the glass, tasted like a perfect first kiss — full, satisfying and slightly sweet.
As Deep Sea winemaker Andrew Adam says, don’t judge a book by its cover. This fruit-forward wine with its juicy plum flavor, picked late in the harvest season, is a definite sleeper hit.
One thing I did learn, while Santa Barbara’s wines may not hold the behemoth title of Napa Valley, there is no question that our winemakers are most likely the most dedicated and passionate guys in the industry.
While the atmosphere in the Carrillo Ballroom was decidedly casual, the night was nothing short of a taste explosion.
While the auction items all seemed to be selling the same product over and over again, and a fair amount of the wines were less than memorable, a few shining stars stood out among the 23 wineries lining the room.
Buried deep in the corner was AVA Santa Barbara, Seth Kunin’s pet tasting room, featuring a limited release, 100 percent single vineyard 2012 Cabernet Franc.
I am a big fan of a Cabernet Franc that boasts a unique, earthy flavor and an even bigger fan of a wine that stands out among the many after a full day of imbibing some of Santa Barbara’s finest. This particular Cabernet Franc denotes a strong jalapeno scent on the nose and lingers with a smoky, leather flavor on the palate.
When paired with Chocolate Maya’s blood orange and smoked sea salt truffle, the flavors were otherworldly.
Across the dimly lit room, I spied winemaker Aaron Walker of Pali Wine Co. and remembered him from the morning’s AVA seminar.
As I sidled up to the table full of pinots, I caught him red-handed with a rosé I hadn’t seen before.
Rosé is not for everyone. There. I said it. You may find a willing soul to occasionally sip on pink wine to be gracious to an unknowing host, but few wineries actually produce a rosé worth purchasing let alone serving to guests.
Pali is planning to release Shea Rose this Thursday, its first ever single-vineyard rosé of pinot noir from Shea Vineyard in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
Being incredibly enjoyable and with a very limited release of only 20 cases, this wine is sure to sell out fast this summer.
Overall, the three-hour event was well worth the $75 ticket to get a mouthful of some of Santa Barbara’s award-winning wines and dishes.
For a ticket price of $50, guests were treated to complimentary tastings at 23 Santa Barbara wineries, which included the chance to meet winemakers in their tasting rooms, an incredible value if one were limited to attending only one of the events.
Every place I visited felt like a mini seminar on each winery’s history and its current winemaking processes.
I have gone wine tasting on a normal weekend or weekday and have found that while pretty much every tasting room in Santa Barbara is accommodating, last weekend proved to be one’s best shot at getting in some quality time with your local winemaker.
While I didn’t meet the winemaker of Whitcraft Winery, I did experience the most educational and enjoyable tasting.
Located well off the beaten path at 36-A S. Calle Cesar Chavez, this tiny tasting room with all the comfortability of a New York City subway car is home to a collection of Old World style pinots, chardonnays and syrahs and possibly the most charismatic tasting room host in town.
I was inundated with stories of its hand-produced wines, how it still foot-stomps some of its grapes, and the detailed maps of the vineyard locations.
This charming tasting room may not have the swagger of the Funk Zone, but it definitely promises an enjoyable and unique tasting experience.
With its eclectic location at 120 Santa Barbara St., wine aficionados will be wowed with their sophisticated syrahs. Having stumbled across its boutique tasting room in Los Olivos last summer, I couldn’t resist stopping in for a quick sip of its 2010 Santa Barbara County syrah.
This bold, velvety wine does not disappoint, and is worth seeking out in the far corners of the Funk Zone.
I may not repeat all the events next year, but you can be sure to find me on the Urban Wine Trail with my Passport in hand.
— Tara Jones leads Eat This, Shoot That! and welcomes reader tips and ideas for future columns. She can be reached at [email protected]. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.