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Vol. 9 No.1 - March '01

Santa Ynez Valley

Vineyards & Wineries Visited -


Journal and tasting notes from visits to several Santa Ynez Valley wineries.

Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are included following the winery write-up. An "n/n" indicates that no notes were taken.

Sun, March 18, 2001

Since I'd been in Santa Barbara for the Santa Barbara Futures Tasting on Saturday, I decided to head over the hill on Sunday to the Santa Ynez Valley for a little more wine tasting. Left Santa Barbara about 10:15am.

Arrived at Bridlewood Winery about 10:45. Located in the middle of the Valley, the beautiful grounds is the first thing one notices about this former equestrian rehabilitation facility. Cory Holbrook established the winery in 1998, electing to retain the property's mission architecture while renovating the 105-acre estate into a winery and vineyards. The very spacious and well-appointed tasting room opened in April '99. Behind the tasting room and large courtyard is a picnic area, as well as more parking. From here, the view includes a horse training track, lovely pond, and some rolling hills, all of which makes for some very Disneyesque scenery. The winery and storage facility now occupy the previous stable area, and Bridlewood produces about 25,000 cases annually. On the wine side, Kevin Willenborg is winemaker, and Dan Gehrs is consulting winemaker. Tasting fee is $5, including a logo glass. A very knowledgeable and gracious staff member, Keith Biggars, was kind enough to open new bottles, taking the time to explain the sources and styles of each wine. Although they are cranking out a lot of juice at this winery, I'm impressed with the quality level of these wines, and the prices seem really great. Out at 11:50

Tasted at Bridlewood:

1998 Bridlewood Saddlesore Rose - California. $4.50. Fruity, floral and slightly singed nose. Lightly fruity on the palate, with a decent balance, and shows a little heat at the finish. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Zin, it's certainly an affordable Summer quaffer. The price of this wine had been reduced, and there was some speculation that it may be the last vintage for this proprietary blend. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Bridlewood Chenin Blanc - Santa Barbara Co. $6.50. Floral and fruity nose. Slightly off-sweet taste, crisp acids, with a medium-long finish and toasty aftertaste. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Bridlewood Sauvignon Blanc - Santa Barbara Co. $12.00. Lemon-scented aromas, with some hay/grass hints. Clean light mouthfeel, good balance, crisp lemony fruit, and a medium-long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1997 Bridlewood Sangiovese - Santa Barbara Co. $16.00. Nose of dried cherry with a bit of chocolate - almost Mourvedre-like. Dried cherry flavors and mouthfeel, somewhat chewy, with good fruit and balance, and a long finish. Seems to give off a bit of heat, although it's only 12.1% alcohol. 25% Merlot. Not a prototypical new world Sangiovese, but an interesting one. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Bridlewood Grenache - California. $12.00. Old viney aromas, with candied and burnished fruit in the nose. Big mouthfeel, nice off-sweet fruit with a touch of chocolate, good balance, and long finish. 200 cases made. Fruit from Collins Ranch, Cucamonga. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Bridlewood Zinfandel - Paso Robles. $12.00. Beautiful floral, raspberry, chocolate and stemmy nose. Nice full mouthfeel, very ripe boysenberry flavors with just a hint of prune, long finish and delicious aftertaste. The 7% Rhone varietals blended with the Dusi Zin have undoubtedly helped flesh this wine out. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Bridlewood Syrah - Central Coast. $20.00. Toasty, slightly restrained blackberry nose. Young, and somewhat chewy mouthfeel, with a bit of stem and pepper on a long finish. The successor to their really nice '98 Syrah, this has been in bottle for about three months. Fruit source is mostly Meeker Vnyd in Paso Robles. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1997 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon - Daly Vnyd, Santa Ynez Valley. $24.00. Stemmy nose of chocolate, shoe wax, and a bit of petrol. Full mouthfeel, toasty cassis and chocolate flavors, long finish. The Daly vnyd is apparently located near the Stolpman Vnyd, and its fruit has produced an interesting example of a SYV Cab. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Bridlewood Arabesque - California.$14.00. Very nice nose, with lots of slightly ripe black cherry, a bit of raspberry and cranberry, along with chocolate and some sage. Chewy mouthfeel, toasty ripe fruit, long finish, nice aftertaste. About 60% Grenache, with equal parts of Syrah and Mourvedre. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Bridlewood Ranger Red - California.$8.00. Nose of slightly burnished fruit with a bit of stem and floral notes. Stemmy mouthfeel, decent fruit, yet a bit light on the palate, medium long finish. Not a bad quaffer. As with the Zin above, I suspect the fruit was rescued by the addition of some Rhone varietals. About 75% Zin, with equal parts of Grenache and Syrah. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Bridlewood Chardonnay - Santa Barbara Co. $18.00. Nose of lemon/apple fruit, with touches of caramel and oak. Initially sweet mouthfeel, with crisp green apple fruit, nice acidity and balance, very long finish and a nice aftertaste. Definitely fruity, but made to cut through cream sauces. Fruit sources 50/50 Santa Ynez and Santa Maria. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Bridlewood Merlot - Santa Barbara Co. $22.00. Fleshy and chocolate-influenced black cherry in the nose. Nice ripeness. Rich and lush mouthfeel, with the barest hint of stem. Moderate black cherry, toast, and chocolate flavors, with a long finish. 100% Merlot from Firestone Vnyd. Aroma/Taste: B+/B


Arrived at Foxen at 12:20 to an unusually light crowd. However, the lack of a crowd is often just the calm before the storm. Judging by the frequent mass-arrivals of tasters, one gets the feeling that people are meeting up somewhere else, and forming a convoy to arrive at the winery at the same time. Tasting fee is $3 for the pours of the day - usually 5 wines. Two ladies were tending the small tasting bar, while another person appeared to be assisting a guest with wines on the small concrete pad just behind the rustic tasting room. Foxen always seems to do a nice job with their wines, but this time I found the '98 Cab and Merlot particularly interesting. Out at 12:45.

Tasted at Foxen:

1998 Foxen Chardonnay - Santa Maria Valley. $20.00. Fruity/grassy and toasty nose. Big rich mouthfeel, with lots of fruit throughout, and a very long tasty finish. Fruit is 60% Tinaquaic, 40% Bien Nacido Vnyd. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1997 Foxen Chardonnay - Tinaquaic Vnyd, Santa Ynez Valley.$30.00. Nose of minerals, mown grass, toast, and a bit of stem. Grassy and toasty flavors, full and chewy mouthfeel, long finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Foxen Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Valley. $24.00. Lots of black cherry fruit in the nose, with some stemmy spice background notes. Quite chewy mouthfeel, nice black cherry fruit, touch of cola and spice, long finish. Fruit is approximately equal amounts of Bien Nacido, Gold Coast, and Julia's Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Foxen Syrah - Santa Barbara Co. $22.00. Toasty and slightly stemmy blackberry nose, with hints of shoe polish and a slight green vegetal background note. Toasty and surprisingly moderate mouthfeel, nice fruit, medium-long finish. While the nose has some complexity, I'm worried that the mouthfeel is a little soft to go the distance. Fruit is sourced from Morehouse, Carhartt, Alisos, and Ambassador's Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Foxen Cabernet Franc - Santa Barbara Co. $25.00. Stemmy and steely, with a slightly vegetal nose. Steely and lean mouthfeel, with ample slightly underripe yet fleshy fruit, and a long finish. Seems mostly tight and tart right now, time will tell whether this loosens up a bit. Fruit is sourced from Tinaquaic, Westerly, and Alisos Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Foxen Merlot - Santa Barbara Co. $25.00. Fleshy and slightly stemmy nose, with toasty, plummy and black cherry aromas. Rich somewhat spicy mouthfeel, the black cherry and cassis fruit gets a bit tart/sour and tannic through the latter palate and the long finish. Fruit is sourced from Tinaquaic, Westerly, Carhartt, Alisos, and Rancho Sisquoc Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B+/B

1998 Foxen Cabernet Sauvignon - Santa Barbara Co. $25.00. Nose of rose stems, toast, cassis, and a bit of chocolate. Full mouthfeel, nice toasty off-sweet fruit, and long finish. Big surprise here; left me wondering where the green went. Nice job. Fruit is sourced from Stolpman, Rancho Sisquoc, and Daly-Forthman Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1998 Foxen Syrah - Morehouse Vnyd. $35.00. A bit closed in the nose, but has slight aromas of blackberry and peppery beef jerky. Big chewy mouthfeel, nice fruity flavors, with a bit of spicy quality to the long tasty finish. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+


Arrived at Rusack at 1:20. Hadn't been here is a while, and I was interested to see if some of the wines were as good as I remembered. Very friendly staff working the tasting room. Tasting fee is $4, including a logo glass. Since my last visit, hey've relocated the tasting bar to a different side of the room, making their beautifully shaded redwood deck and patio much more obvious and inviting. Once known as Ballard Canyon Winery, Rusack Vineyards was established in 1995 by Alison and Geoff Rusack on the 48 acre site, 37 of which are planted to Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Muscat Canelli, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. Production is about 5000 cases per year. Resurrecting a familiar, yet welcome theme from the Valley's past, Rusack also produces a Riesling and Muscat Canelli. This, along with other white varietals and blends, make the lineup more appealing to a wider audience. These are all nicely made wines. Yet, I just wasn't as impressed with them this time around - especially the reds. However, the ambiance is very nice, and the redwood deck and patio area just begs you to sit around relaxing with a glass of riesling. Out at 1:50.

Tasted at Rusack:

1999 Rusack Chardonnay - Huber Vnyd, Lompoc. $20.00. Still opaque/cloudy looking (only been in bottle 1-1/2 mos.), with a tropical fruity and slightly toasty caramelized nose. Medium-full mouthfeel, with crisp clean apple flavors, and a caramel/butterscotch flavored long finish. Probably a bit to cloying with it's caramel apple qualities, but also very tasty. Aroma/Taste: B+/B+

1999 Rusack Chardonnay - Santa Maria Valley. $20.00. Nose is lemon-scented and toasty, with a bit of soapy/swampy quality. Nice body, crisp apple flavors, with hints of toast and a bit of hay, and a nice long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1999 Rusack Pinot Noir - Lake Marie Vnyd, Santa Maria Valley. $25.00. Slightly burnished and stemmy nose of strawberry/black cherry, and cola. Medium-full mouthfeel, very stemmy-influenced fruit flavors, long somewhat stemmy finish. Gosh, I wonder where all this stem quality stems from. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Rusack Merlot - Santa Ynez Valley. $29.00. Nose of cassis and shoe polish (the good kind). Full mouthfeel, somewhat green and steely flavors, long finish. 15% Cab Franc, and it definitely comes through on the palate. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Rusack Cabernet Sauvignon - Estate, Santa Ynez Valley.$25.00. Nose of cassis, strawberry, black cherry and a bit of chocolate. Somewhat astringent and grainy mouthfeel, narrowly focussed fruit, and very long finish. Nice enough nose, but the mouthfeel lacks some fleshiness and seems a bit too stern. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Rusack Riesling - Santa Maria Valley. $13.75. Slightly sweet and lightly spiced fruit in the nose. Fruity mouthfeel, light-medium body, nice balance, clean taste, and long finish. Seems well made, just lacks a little grip. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1999 Rusack Muscat Canelli - Santa Ynez Valley. $12.50. Sweet tropical fruit spicy nose, with a slight swampy/sweaty aroma in the background. Medium body, nice balance, clean spicy fruit flavors, and long finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1999 Rusack Soul of the Vine - Santa YnezValley. $20.00. Fairly light mouthfeel, spicy flavors, fruit falls-off briefly on the otherwise long clean finish. A 50/50 blend of Riesling and Muscat Canelli, that is picked nearly 'late harvest' and force-frozen at a market in Solvang. Aroma/Taste: B/B



Arrived at Rideau at 2:05. I was interested to see if any changes had been made to their program since the last visit. As it turns out, not much has changed. Rideau pours the first few wines in the front room of the adobe house, then pour the final selections on a covered patio expansion near the rear of the house. Tasting fee is $5, including a logo glass. The wines here are made in a lighter style, attempting to focus more on the delicate qualities of certain varietals and blends. Unfortunately, it's mostly lost on me, and the wines come off more as under-filled or thin, rather than delicate. The pricing seems a little ambitious as well. With ten acres of Rhone varietals planted in the Spring of 2000, Rideau expects to produce their first estate Syrah and Viognier wines in 2001. At that point, we'll see if a change in fruit source translates to the wines. Out at 2:25.

Tasted at Rideau:

1999 Rideau Viognier Reserve - Santa YnezValley. $27.00. Slightly sweet and dense-smelling peach and orange aromas, with a touch of toasted nuts. Somewhat sweet mouthfeel, with a nutty peach and apricot flavors, and long finish. Fruit from Stolpman and Lucas Vnyds. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Rideau Chardonnay - Bien Nacido Vnyd. $23.00. Nose of grass/hay, with additional notes of apple and tropical fruit. Medium-full mouthfeel, nice body and toasted flavors, long crisp finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B+

1998 Rideau Tempranillo - California. $20.00. Rustic and somewhat astringent floral nose. Medium-full mouthfeel, slightly burnished fruit and a biting stemmy quality that leads to a mostly tart finish. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Rideau Syrah - Central Coast. $28.00. Somewhat burnished and overripe in the nose. Full bodied, but astringent and tight mouthfeel, with long finish. Fruit from French Camp Vnyd. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Rideau Chateau DuPlantier Cuvee -Santa Ynez Valley. $25.00. Seems a bit simple in its floral and fruity aromas. Medium-full body, toasty mouthfeel, long finish. A blend of Mourvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Viognier. Aroma/Taste: B/B

1998 Rideau Vin Blanc - California. $8.50. Appealing fruity and floral nose. Clean and light mouthfeel, off-sweet fruity flavors with a hint of stems, and a clean long finish. Mostly Chenin Blanc. Aroma/Taste: B/B



Wrap up: covered just 4 wineries, and 34 wines in this short trip. But, Bridlewood was an eye-opener. There seems to be a lot of potential here, and the '98 Syrah was something of a Central Coast star for the vintage - especially for the price. Excellent hospitality staff as well. Foxen is always good - especially if you can visit without a large crowd in the room. Now, if you're just crusing through the area with no particular goal or schedule in mind, I'd recommend planning on a lengthy and relaxing visit to Rusack - and just hang out on the patio/deck with a glass in hand. Finally, Rideau does have a very inviting tasting room and surroundings, despite my lukewarm opinion of the wines I tried.

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