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Vol. 7 No.1. Mar '99

Central Coast

Vineyards & Wineries Visited -

Journal and tasting notes from one-day tour of the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys.

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

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
Nice strawberry nose and flavors. Somewhat sour finish.
1997 Cambria Viognier - Tepesquet Vnyd. $16
Nose and flavors of honey, pear, and pineapple. Somewhat less viscous that most.
1997 Cambria Chardonnay - Kathrine's Vnyd. $19
Grassy, toasty, buttery nose; toasty off-sweet fruit.
1995 Cambria Chardonnay - Reserve. $36
Nose of oak, butter, anise(?), and butterscotch. Oaky mouthfeel, with fruit that was a little too sour and grassy.
1996 Cambria Pinot Noir - Julia's Vnyd. $24
Nose of strawberry, cinnamon, and cola. Nice warm strawberry fruit, with touch of spices.
1997 Cambria Pinot Noir - Julia's Vnyd. $?
Nose was sweeter, bigger and fruitier than the '96. Good, smooth full mouthfeel, but with just a bit of fizz detected.
1996 Cambria Sangiovese - 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.
1997 Cambria Syrah - Tepesquet Vnyd. $18
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 and cinnamon.


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
An interesting, but somewhat simple quaffer. Roughly equal amounts of Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc.
1997 Byron Pinot Gris. $17
Somewhat dishwater smelling nose. Decent mouthfeel and flavors. Seems a bit pricey for a Gris.
1997 Byron Chardonnay - Santa Maria Valley. $19
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.
1996 Byron Chardonnay - Reserve. $24
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.
1997 Byron Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Valley. $20
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.
1996 Byron Pinot Noir - Reserve. $24
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
Dependable offering. Quite dry and fruity.
1996 Foxen Chardonnay - Santa Maria Valley. $20
Very nice nose and mouthfeel. Toasty fruit, excellent balance.
1997 Foxen Pinot Noir - Santa Maria Valley. $24
Strawberry fruit, with spices and cola flavors.
1996 Foxen Pinot Noir - Julia's Vnyd. $25
Nose of strawberry, spices and toast. Moderate mouthfeel, nice fruity and spicy flavors.
1997 Foxen Pinot Noir - Julia's Vnyd. $25
1997 Foxen Syrah - Santa Barbara County. $22
Blackberry fruit with spices. Very fleshy mouthfeel, with nice fruit. 20% Mourvedre
1997 Foxen Syrah - Morehouse Vnyd. $35
Very similar to SBC version, but with much more character and complexity. Really nice.
1996 Foxen Merlot - Santa Barbara County. $25
Cool, floral, and sweet leafy nose. Substantial mouthfeel, and very Cab Franc or Chinon-like in flavors.
1996 Foxen Cabernet Franc - Tinaquaic Vnyd. $25
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 Merlot.



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
Spicy and floral nose - sort of like applesauce w/cinnamon. Moderate mouthfeel of lightly spicy fruit.
1997 Babcock Chardonnay - Santa Barbara County. $18
Clean and fruity nose; lightly toasty and fruity taste.
1996 Babcock Chardonnay - Grand Cuvee. $30
Slightly grassy and fruity nose. Very clean mouthfeel, with light and soft fruit.
1995 Babcock Sauvignon Blanc - Eleven Oaks. $22
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.
1996 Babcock Pinot Noir - Mt. Carmel. $35
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.
1997 Babcock Pinot Noir - Casa Cassera. $30
Nice nose of strawberry, stems, cola. Big mouthfeel, young fruit, very long finish.
1996 Cuvee Lestat Claret $35
Nose of cool raspberry fruit, floral aromas, beet, and ink well. Big mouthfeel of stemmy and fleshy raspberry fruit and toast.
1996 Cuvee Lestat Syrah $35
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 3:45.

Tasted at Sanford:

1997 Sanford Pinot Noir Vin Gris. $12
Very nice light strawberry flavors; fruity and dry, with a very clean taste.
1997 Sanford Sauvignon Blanc. $14
Grassy and clean tasting, with a light touch of oak.
1997 Sanford Chardonnay - Estate. $27
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.
1997 Sanford Chardonnay - Santa Barbara County. $18
Pineapple and pear nose. Clean and slightly oaky, with hint of grass.
1996 Sanford Pinot Noir - Santa Barbara County. $22
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
Grassy, lemon-lime nose, with flavors of grass, hay, and lemon on palate. Clean, without any over-oaking.
1996 Rideau Chardonnay. $16
No malolactic on this baby. Just pears, pineapple, apple nose and flavors. Another very clean wine that's light on its feet.
1997 Rideau Chardonnay - Huber/Sweeney Vnyds, Lompoc. $21
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.
1997 Rideau Vin Blanc $16.50
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 flavors.
1996 Rideau Viognier $25
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 fruity flavors.
1996 Rideau Vin Rouge - Stolpman Vnyd. $20
A 50/50 blend of Cab Franc and Merlot. Nicely done, but a bit pricey.
1997 Rideau White Riesling $12
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
Fairly average offering. Good nose of strawberry and cinnamon; decent mouthfeel. Priced way too high.
1996 Foley Merlot - La Cuesta Vnyd. $22
A bit too vegetal in the nose, but comes across somewhat better on the palate.
1995 Foley Cabernet Sauvignon - La Cuesta Vnyd. $25
Yet another V8 nose, but with the added dimension of ink. Good mouthfeel. Cab Sauvs are an iffy thing in this valley.
1996 Foley LH Sauvignon Blanc $16
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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