Out in my part of the county-in and around Los Alamos-you start to take on a different perspective of the world of wines and grapevines than when you lived down on the south coast in Santa Barbara as I did for over two decades.
When I lived in Santa Barbara writing for The Independent and being a radio station program director, I loved going to the wonderful Little Audrey's in the 900 block of State Street picking up the gossip and scuttlebutt. Audrey's was a hangout for notable wags, city hall folk, politicos like former Supervisor, David Yager, and media heavyweights like John Palminteri of Channel 3, and Barney Brantingham of the News-Press.
Now, I find myself at the Twin Oaks Restaurant running into people like Joe Carrari, his son Ron, and grower Louis Lucas who owns several vineyards of note here in Santa Barbara County.
Over at Charlie's, an honest burger joint like Little Audrey's was, on the other end of town, you run into people like Kevin and Dana Merrill of Mesa Vineyard Management, and folks like the Ackermans, a couple who own a small, yet very good five-and-a-half acre vineyard out on Highway 135 west of Los Alamos lovingly named Wind Willow Farm.
I also find myself paying more attention to weather, becoming a fan of Sharon Graves, the meterologist on KSBY TV, and religiously reading the weather page every day in the Santa Maria Times. And again, weather is a topic of conversation, and a concern, because so much of our county's economy depends on its affect.
Two weeks ago I spoke to Dale Hampton of Santa Maria-based Hampton Farming and to Jeff Newton of Coastal Vineyard Care, in the Santa Ynez Valley. Dale told me what we need now is normal weather and temperatures for this time of year. He added, as it stands right now, with this cool weather, harvest will once again be late. Jeff Newton agreed, and he added that it looks like crop levels will more than likely be down for the 1999 harvest because he is seeing a lot of single clusters on shoots, an effect of El Nino from last year.
The next critical stage in the cycle is bloom, which Dale Hampton told me will occur in late May or early June. Wind, fog and rain are always the nemesis to bloom and when conditions are not right at this critical juncture, yields can be grossly affected as they were in 1995 and for some varieties in for the 1998 harvest.
Sadly, maybe Santa Barbara County vintners are not just one big happy family afterall, as our viticultural area gets more Napa-like by the second.
According to Dick Dore and Bill Wathen, owners of Foxen Vineyard, Fess Parker's winery has used Foxen Vineyard's registered trademark, "FOXEN " on two of it's own wines without Foxen's permission. In a press release I received, Bill Wathen explained, "'it is unfortunate that, although Parker and Foxen agreed in principal to all settlement terms, at the last minute they [Parker] backed out.' Last week, Foxen received a letter from a large San Francisco law firm stating that Parker had withdrawn all previous offers [to settle] and intended to initiate a legal proceeding to try to cancel the FOXEN trademark."
On a happier note, Firestone Walker Brewery has officially opened its tasting room which is located at 620 North McMurray Road in Buellton. Tasting room hours are set for Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday, May 29, 6 p.m., Bedford Thompson winery, at 9303 Alisos Canyon Road near Los Alamos presents an evening of "Fine Wine, Food & Theater," with a performance of Phillip Safley's "The Anthill," starring Phillip Safley and Eddie King and produced and directed by Gordon Drake. Opening the evening is a wine reception at 6 p.m. followed by an upscale Tex-Mex trail drive dinner created by winemaker and chef Stephan Bedford. $40. For reservations call (805) 344-2107.
Bob Senn writes The Independent's monthly wine column, "Grapevine," lives in the Los Alamos Valley and owns the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium.
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