Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Northern Santa Barbara County wineries see a sunny 2017
Your Christmas tree is in a pile in the garage and you’re still trying to find the cellphone you lost during that New Year’s Eve party. But that was last year—it’s time to focus on what 2017 has in store. And whether you’re a fan of the many wineries in our area, or a newbie looking to get off the couch in 2017, Santa Maria area vintners have a lot fermenting.
One of the first things 2017 brought us was a long stretch of badly needed rains. It’s hard to remember how vital rain is for our community when you’re stuck in rush-hour traffic on the 101 in the middle of a downpour. Sure, the mid-January rains may cause the sky to darken and the mood to turn gloomy, but for area wineries, it’s nothing but cause for celebration. Tasting rooms along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail and other areas like Los Alamos aren’t looking back to the days of the drought, they’re looking forward to new products and events in the coming months.
Cambria Tasting Room Manager Nate Axline said the weather is an inviting sign for the new year.
“Overall we’re looking at a good crop,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of rain and a lot more wet weather.”
Cambria plans to release six new wines in 2017, including several 2015 vintage first release wines, which are exclusives (available for purchase only in the tasting room or on Cambria’s website). Two are chardonnays: Westpoint chardonnay is named for grapes picked from the western end of the vineyard near the ocean, and Fog Tide, named for the morning fog that rolls over vineyard fields.
“That fog keeps us cool and makes for great tasting grapes,” Axline explained.
Two winery 2015 vintage first release pinot noirs, Element and Mesa Terrace, are both exclusives scheduled for release this year too. All the winery exclusives are expected in May or early summer.
Additionally, two wines that carry the name of Cambria owner Barbara Banke’s daughters will hit the shelves. Katherine’s Chardonnay and Julia’s Pinot Noir will make their debut sometime in February.
Over at Bedford Winery in Los Alamos, Stephan Bedford, a 30-year winemaking vet, is similarly hopeful about the change in weather.
“I’m very excited that we’re finally getting some rain,” he told me. “I’m looking forward to some great weather, great wines, and some great crops here. We’re getting some moisture into the ground. The timing has been uniquely perfect. We still need a lot more to make up for the incredible drought conditions. But I’m excited about this.”
In 2017, Bedford plans to introduce a variety of new wines, including a chenin blanc, grenache, syrah, and a chardonnay.
“Our style is sort of comfy,” he said, explaining the new chardonnay. “People describe us as being old world. We try to make balanced wines. It’s higher in acidity, lower in alcohol. These are food-friendly wines that go well with a lot of foods you like.”
Costo De Oro winery owner Gary Burk said he wants to encourage customers who drive by the tasting room visible along Highway 101 to come inside and check out the 2017 wines debuting over the next few months. Highlights include a 2015 estate chardonnay, described as “citrus and pear with a touch of caramel and spices,” and a 2016 pinot noir rosé, which is “dry with flavors of spice and minerals.”
“I love the pinot noir rosé for food,” Burk noted. “It is delicious with barbecue. Another wine, set for release in early March, is the Spring Fling, a blend of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. It’s light and crisp, real bright and fresh.”
Fans of the reds can look forward to syrah and cabernet sauvignon sometime in spring or early summer as well as the 2015 estate pinot noir, which features bright notes of dried flowers and Asian spices. If you favor a trusty pinot grigio like I do, look no further than Cost De Oro’s 2016 offering.
“These are all my babies,” Burk said, when asked to pick a favorite. “I’m excited about different ones for different reasons.”
Over at Riverbench Vineyard and Winery, Director of Hospitality Danae Smith said she is looking forward to several wines in 2017, including a 2013 blanc de noirs sparkling wine, one of her personal favorites. Another highlight for the new year is the 2014 Riverbench clone called 115 Pinot Noir. Riverbench’s website describes the 2013 Clone 115 as “unique,” with “black and blueberry flavors, a hint of tea leaves, and a touch of bacon.”
“It’s very elegant,” she said. “It has a nice body to it and it’s very subtle.”
But wineries aren’t just anticipating better crops and new wine offerings. The new calendar also offers plenty of big and small events, including recurring activities as well as major festivals.
Fans of Riverbench can now look forward to vineyard tours offered one Saturday each month. Smith said the tours feature a 90-minute walk through the vineyard with a guide and a wine tasting featuring some of their most popular varieties.
“In April, we start our Sunday events, which feature food trucks every Sunday,” she said.
Live music is also featured periodically between April and October. Additionally, the vineyard will once again host its popular Easter egg hunt on April 15.
At Costo De Oro, weekly events are a mainstay throughout the year. The tasting room features live music Thursday nights from 5 to 7 p.m. and “Wine Downs” with music and food on Friday nights from 5 to 7 p.m. Upcoming special events include the Pre-Superbowl Library Tasting and barbecue on Feb. 4, as well as a movie night on Feb. 25 with a showing of Sideways, pizza, popcorn, and Costo De Oro’s wine. If you enjoy winemaker dinners, Costo De Oro will enjoy its own on Feb. 9 at Trattoria Uliveto.
Axline said Cambria will host an Earth Day event in April. The celebration will highlight a cause close to Axline’s heart, as well as just be a great time at the winery.
“In the late fall/early winter we do a pork and pinot event, hosted here at the winery,” Axline said. “We’re also looking to try and add new smaller events which are more intimate. We want to draw the enthusiasts, not necessarily just the big crowds.”
Bedford Winery has an abundance of events lined up this year, including the annual Mushroom Festival in February, a honey tasting in April, and a festival celebrating locally grown tomatoes in September.
The Mushroom Festival, scheduled for Feb. 4, features a tasting of local mushrooms (as well as some from out of the region) such as chanterelles, shitake, porcini, oyster, black trumpet, and many others. Bedford said guests can look forward to unique dishes from participants, including a truffle saffron sourdough bread.
Whether it’s the wines or the events that attract locals, area vintners hope they will take advantage of what the wineries have to offer.
“The scenery itself is totally different from the city,” Smith said. “It’s very rural ... it’s a beautiful drive. There are a variety of wines, from pinots to chardonnay to cabernets and syrahs. You can always find different experiences and events continuously going on.”
“You have all of these incredible places,” Bedford said. “The quality of everything produced in the Central Coast is unbelievable. It’s just mind blowing.”
And it’s all the more reason to kiss your couch goodbye in 2017 and explore Santa Maria’s backyard.
Rebecca Rose can be reached through Interim Managing Editor Joe Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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