7 No.1. Mar
Journal and tasting notes from one-day tour of the Santa Maria and Santa
Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are
included following the winery write-up. An "n/n" indicates that no notes
Sun, Mar 14, 1999
Since we hadn't really hit many of the Santa Ynez/Santa Maria wineries
for nearly two years (May '97),
it was time to get back into the saddle and see what the familiar folks
and some of new starts were offering up. Having attended the Santa Barbara
Futures Tasting the day before, we stayed the night in Goleta. Plan was
to start up in the Santa Maria area, and work our way back South through
the Santa Ynez wineries so that we could end up having dinner at the Hitching
Post. Left from Goleta about 9:45 and headed up Hwy 101.
Arrived at Cambria at 10:55 to some departing customers, and had
the room to ourselves for awhile. This is one of the Kendall-Jackson
properties. Thus far, I've only been to one K-J tasting room (Healdsburg)
and was less than impressed with most of the company's wines -- Stonestreet
being an exception. But, after trying several Cambria Pinots at the '97
SB Futures Tasting, I was ready to add it to my "thumbs up" list as well.
The winery, which sits up against the San Rafael Mtns, has been around
for the about nine years, ever since Mondavi and Jackson came to an understanding
about dividing up the 1,400 acre Tepesquet Vineyard during their "colonization"
of the area (K-J took 1,000 acres and retained the name). The addition
of a tasting room finally came about year-and-a-half ago. Initially open
on an "appointment only" basis, Cambria is now open daily to the general
public. The setup inside is somewhat similar to Zaca Mesa, with tasting
done at a large table over to one side of the nicely appointed and merchandised
room. Tasting was $3 - keep the glass. Friendly staff pouring 7 wines,
plus they had an eighth wine open from day before. Out at 11:30.
Tasted at Cambria:
1997 Cambria Estate Club Vin Gris. $10
1997 Cambria Viognier - Tepesquet Vnyd. $16
Nice strawberry nose and flavors. Somewhat sour
1997 Cambria Chardonnay - Kathrine's Vnyd. $19
Nose and flavors of honey, pear, and pineapple.
Somewhat less viscous that most.
1995 Cambria Chardonnay - Reserve. $36
Grassy, toasty, buttery nose; toasty off-sweet
1996 Cambria Pinot Noir - Julia's Vnyd. $24
Nose of oak, butter, anise(?), and butterscotch.
Oaky mouthfeel, with fruit that was a little too sour and
1997 Cambria Pinot Noir - Julia's Vnyd. $?
Nose of strawberry, cinnamon, and cola. Nice warm
strawberry fruit, with touch of spices.
1996 Cambria Sangiovese - Tepesquet Vnyd. $18
Nose was sweeter, bigger and fruitier than the
'96. Good, smooth full mouthfeel, but with just a bit of
1997 Cambria Syrah - Tepesquet Vnyd. $18
Slightly sweet, Chianti-like nose of dried cherry
fruit. Sweet mouthfeel, toasty mid-palate, smooth mouthfeel,
very nice balance, hint of bitterness at finish. Pretty
good rendition of a CA Sangio -- though I have had better.
Quite dark color. Blackberry and stemmy nose.
Slightly leafy, with hints of raisin and prune. Very fleshy
mouthfeel, toasty and stemmy, even chewy. Flavors of blackberry
Arrived at Byron at 11:35. Just a few people in attendance when
we arrived, but this fairly small room was getting a little crowded before
we left. This is the other "big guy" property in the neighborhood. Byron
Ken Brown is still around running the operation, but Robert Mondavi, in
order to lock-in a continued and future supply of grapes, bought Byron
Winery as well as the remaining portion of the Tepesquet Vnyd in 1990.
The Pinots and Chards have consistently been good-to-very good here. Friendly
pair of staff pouring 6 wines N/C. Out at 11:55.
Tasted at Byron:
1997 Byron Lineage. $14
1997 Byron Pinot Gris. $17
An interesting, but somewhat simple quaffer. Roughly
equal amounts of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.
1997 Byron Chardonnay - Santa Maria Valley. $19
Somewhat dishwater smelling nose. Decent mouthfeel
and flavors. Seems a bit pricey for a Gris.
1996 Byron Chardonnay - Reserve. $24
Once again with the dishwater nose. I'm beginning
to suspect a tainted glass. Fairly middle-of-the-road effort,
with the obvious sense of residual sugar in the mouth. This
is textbook stuff -- from the K-J textbook.
1997 Byron Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Valley. $20
Very complex nose of fruit, grass, oak, and toast.
Light, but very nice mouthfeel and balance. None of the
extra sweetness found in the regular bottling.
1996 Byron Pinot Noir - Reserve. $24
Nice nose of strawberry, cola and cinnamon. The
nose promise was not delivered, with the wine a bit light
on fruit, and bitter as well.
A bit dumb in the nose, but faintly deep and fruity.
Very nice mouthfeel, and a no-brainer over the regular bottling.
Arrived at Foxen at 12:10. New tasting room manager (formerly
at Wild Horse) in attendance here today. We'd met her the day before at
the SB Futures tasting, and she invited us to drop by the tasting room
today. Moderately busy room when we arrived, the crowd continued to arrive
at a pretty steady pace. Co-owner Dick Doré wandered by, and while
he and the manager conferred on some business matters, the other staffer
was left to work the barn...'er, room. She seemed fairly new, but held
up quite well under the frequent onslaught of new tasters. While the chalk
board indicated they were pouring 4 wines for $3.50 - keep the glass,
the new manager was pulling out all the stops and pouring pretty much
everything in stock. Now that's what I call a good tasting room! Quite
rustic in style, this tasting room and it's roadside location make one
want to just sit and relax the rest of the day. But, we had an agenda
and had to get moving. Out at 1:30.
Tasted at Foxen:
1997 Foxen Chin Blanc. $14
1996 Foxen Chardonnay - Santa Maria Valley. $20
Dependable offering. Quite dry and fruity.
1997 Foxen Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Valley. $24
Very nice nose and mouthfeel. Toasty fruit, excellent
1996 Foxen Pinot Noir - Julia's Vnyd. $25
Strawberry fruit, with spices and cola flavors.
1997 Foxen Pinot Noir - Julia's Vnyd. $25
1997 Foxen Syrah - Santa Barbara County. $22
Nose of strawberry, spices and toast. Moderate
mouthfeel, nice fruity and spicy flavors.
1997 Foxen Syrah - Morehouse Vnyd. $35
Blackberry fruit with spices. Very fleshy mouthfeel,
with nice fruit. 20% Mourvedre
1996 Foxen Merlot - Santa Barbara County. $25
Very similar to SBC version, but with much more
character and complexity. Really nice.
1996 Foxen Cabernet Franc - Tinaquaic Vnyd. $25
Cool, floral, and sweet leafy nose. Substantial
mouthfeel, and very Cab Franc or Chinon-like in flavors.
A little muted at present, but the wine carries
many of the steely, floral and somewhat leafy notes that
I find from this vineyard. But, I liked it more than the
Arrived at Babcock at 2:05 to a quiet place. Been a long time
sine we were last here. "Be there in a minute," came the call from the
back. "Take your time. We'll just help ourselves," came my stock reply
to such suggestions. With the staff preoccupied in the back, we just browsed
a bit around the small tasting room, until Terri, the tasting room manager,
hobbled out on crutches to greet us. She chatted with us a bit until the
regular pourer emerged from the back to start the pouring. We had the
place all to ourselves for awhile, but a small pre-arranged tour/tasting
arrived about mid-way through our tasting which slowed down things a bit.
Out at 3:00.
Tasted at Babcock:
1997 Babcock Estate Gewurztraminer. $16
1997 Babcock Chardonnay - Santa Barbara County. $18
Spicy and floral nose - sort of like applesauce
w/cinnamon. Moderate mouthfeel of lightly spicy fruit.
1996 Babcock Chardonnay - Grand Cuvee. $30
Clean and fruity nose; lightly toasty and fruity
1995 Babcock Sauvignon Blanc - Eleven Oaks. $22
Slightly grassy and fruity nose. Very clean mouthfeel,
with light and soft fruit.
1996 Babcock Pinot Noir - Mt. Carmel. $35
This wine is quite different from most typical
Sauv Blancs - it's thicker, chewier, and sweeter. And, while
it's not my style, it does present a certain "richness"
to the palate. But then, so does Karo syrup.
1997 Babcock Pinot Noir - Casa Cassera. $30
Quite unusual nose of smoky grass, bacon, ink
well, and floral nuances. Mouthfeel quite stemmy, with smoked
bacon, and leafy/floral qualities. Somewhat hot finish.
At $35, it's more than a little pricey, but very...uh, interesting.
1996 Cuvee Lestat Claret $35
Nice nose of strawberry, stems, cola. Big mouthfeel,
young fruit, very long finish.
1996 Cuvee Lestat Syrah $35
Nose of cool raspberry fruit, floral aromas, beet,
and ink well. Big mouthfeel of stemmy and fleshy raspberry
fruit and toast.
Just a massive offering. Very nice indeed. But,
the price could put a real biteinto your wallet.
This wine will sport the Grand Cuveé label next vintage,
as the Lestat deal with Ann Rice is over.
Arrived at Sanford at 3:15. Two lonely ladies doing the usual
two table weekend affair on the pouring duties. (During the week, the
room is usually handled by one person working the tasting bar. But on
weekends, the crowds often get quite heavy, so they set up a large table
at the other end of the medium-sized room.) Today was something of an
exception, as it had been light traffic all day. Pouring 4 wines N/C --
as always. I can't say enough good things about this winery. Always friendly,
always generous. No one else arrived after us, so we had the place to
ourselves. Although we didn't get rushed through the tasting, with closing
time at 4pm, the staff was just as happy to cut out when we did. Out at
Tasted at Sanford:
1997 Sanford Pinot Noir Vin Gris. $12
1997 Sanford Sauvignon Blanc. $14
Very nice light strawberry flavors; fruity and
dry, with a very clean taste.
1997 Sanford Chardonnay - Estate. $27
Grassy and clean tasting, with a light touch of
1997 Sanford Chardonnay - Santa Barbara County. $18
Probably the best Estate Chard I've tasted from
Sanford. Slightly buttery, perfect fruit, excellent balance,
lightly acidic, and very nice weight on the palate.
1996 Sanford Pinot Noir - Santa Barbara County. $22
Pineapple and pear nose. Clean and slightly oaky,
with hint of grass.
Fairly dependable offering from Sanford, with
medium strawberry fruit, clean stemmy taste and medium finish.
Arrived at Rideau at 4:05. No other tasters in this lovely restored
victorian-style house in the Santa Ynez Valley, so we had the place to
ourselves. The pouring of 7 wines was split-up into two parts of the house.
The first three were poured by tasting room manager Kathryn Kepler in
the large front room, while the latter four were poured on the enclosed
patio by another staff member. Thus far, the wines here have been made
by Rick Longoria, through the '98 vintage. But, he has left to concentrate
fully on his own venture (Longoria).
James Rutherford is the new winemaker. Promotional literature indicated
that Rideau's wine program was dedicated to Rhone varietals. So, I was
prepared to taste the usual Roussanne/Marssane opener, followed by a Syrah,
a Mourvedre, and maybe a Grenache. What I was NOT prepared for
was an exclusively white wine program (at least for now). What the heck
were they thinking? I must admit that I was a bit reluctant to pay $4
- keep the glass, for tasting 6 whites and a rosé. Somehow, a bunch
of white wines seem like second shrift. But, curiosity, timing and Kathryn's
plea that "...the glass is from France," persuaded me to give them a try.
And, the wines were all quite pleasant. Well, this certainly provided
a big palate contrast to our previous stops. Actually, this probably would've
made a good 1st stop of the day, when palates are fresher, and attitudes
are less jaded. Out at 4:43.
Tasted at Rideau:
1996 Rideau Semillon. $9
1996 Rideau Chardonnay. $16
Grassy, lemon-lime nose, with flavors of grass,
hay, and lemon on palate. Clean, without any over-oaking.
1997 Rideau Chardonnay - Huber/Sweeney Vnyds, Lompoc. $21
No malolactic on this baby. Just pears, pineapple,
apple nose and flavors. Another very clean wine that's light
on its feet.
1997 Rideau Vin Blanc $16.50
More and more, we're starting to see fruit from
what will be come the Santa Rita Hills AVA and Westward.
This Chard from the Lompoc area (near Vandenberg AFB), exibits
a lushness to its grassy and spicy apple fruit. Medium weight
on the palate, long clean finish.
1996 Rideau Viognier $25
A blend of 35% Chenin Blanc, 38% Roussanne, 20%
Pinot Gris, and 7% Viognier, showing lots of lightly floral
characteristics, as well as crisp and slightly tart apple
1996 Rideau Vin Rouge - Stolpman Vnyd. $20
Here's a major surprise! Light and crisp, this
wine stands apart from the many thick and viscous renditions
that appear more often. Lightly scented with peach, hazelnut,
and apricot. Palate feel is light and clean with interesting
1997 Rideau White Riesling $12
A 50/50 blend of Cab Franc and Merlot. Nicely
done, but a bit pricey.
Lightly spicy nose, with a meaty and leafy quality
on the palate.
Arrived at Foley at 4:45. Arrived near closing time, but were
not hurried through the selections nor out of the tasting room. This is
the former J. Carey winery. Two staff still pouring for a few others.
Our friendly staffer seemed quite content to just chat up a storm. He
did seem a little surprised when we opted for "reds only" from their list
of 9 wines. Tasting was $3 - keep the glass. Out at 5:10.
Tasted at Foley:
1997 Foley Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Hills Vnyd. $28
1996 Foley Merlot - La Cuesta Vnyd. $22
Fairly average offering. Good nose of strawberry
and cinnamon; decent mouthfeel. Priced way too high.
1995 Foley Cabernet Sauvignon - La Cuesta Vnyd. $25
A bit too vegetal in the nose, but comes across
somewhat better on the palate.
1996 Foley LH Sauvignon Blanc $16
Yet another V8 nose, but with the added dimension
of ink. Good mouthfeel. Cab Sauvs are an iffy thing in this
Slightly pungent sugared pink grapefruit nose,
with spicy sweet and thick mouthfeel.
Wrap up: Off to the Hitching Post for our traditional steaks.
Very satisfactory day. Totals for the day: 7 wineries, 47 wines.
As a postscript, it looked as though we got out of town just in time.
San Marcos Pass, the dividing point between Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez
Valley, received snow the next day and night.
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