Harvest 1997! From all of the reports I've heard, this harvest has been good to extremely good, and I've been hearing this appraisal from very credible sources too, such as Chris Whitcraft, Bob Lindquist of Qupé and Bill Mosby of Mosby Winery.
Mother Nature can be totally unpredictable, and can sometimes be a "mean old lady" to quote esteemed California winemaker, Joe Heitz. This harvest, she was generous with the bounty, and wineries found more grapes than they had tank and barrel capacity for.
Earlier this month, I was a judge at a Central Coast Home Vintners event which was held up at the beautiful White Hills Vineyard off of Highway 135 between Los Alamos and Santa Maria. The 3,000 acre vineyard, planted mostly to chardonnay, is on a 4,300 acre ranch owned by Beringer Wine Estates which is the parent company of Meridian.
Vineyard manager, Dale Hampton of Santa Maria-based Hampton Farming, spoke to the group and made the prediction that by the year 2001, Santa Barbara County would have 20,000 acres of winegrapes (in 1997, there is approximately 12,000 acres).
Hampton also noted that winegrapes are now the number one crop in dollar value for the county, in 1996, totalling $52 million dollars. He added that projections for 1997 are much higher.
As the Santa Ynez Valley becomes more Napa-like, another new winery operation plans to open its doors soon.
Oregon's revenge. Cory Holbrook, president of Medford, Oregon-based National Flora, has bought the old Mandysland Farm horse operation in the Santa Ynez Valley and plans to turn it into a winery operation--The Winery at Bridlewood.
Holbrook tells me he plans to plant 40 acres in the spring of mostly Rhone varietals such as syrah and roussanne. He also plans to plant zinfandel, cabernet franc and the Italian varietal, sangiovese. John Belfy will be the vineyard manager and Dan Gehrs, Zaca mesa's winemaker, will be the consulting winemaker.
Although the winery has been permitted to produce up to about 40,000 cases, Holbrook tells me, initial production will be around 5,000 cases.
Holbrook has also filed a trademark on "Rhone Rangers" for a future wine club. As fans of California Rhone varietals know, the "Rhone Rangers" are a loosely organized group of quality-minded and like-minded producers of fine Rhone varietal wines, started back in the 80s by such producers as Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, Steve Edmunds of Berkeley-based Edmunds-St. John, and Bob Lindquist of Qupé.
Listen up home winemakers! Although the 7th annual Edna Valley-Arroyo Grande Vintners Harvest Celebration scheduled for Saturday, November 1 is sold out, the organization is looking for home winemakers "who want to show the pros how to make wine!"
If you are a home winemaker who has made wine from grapes grown in either the Edna Valley or Arroyo Grande Valley for the 1996 harvest, you still have time to enter the wine first annual Amateur Winemaker Competition. For details, contact, Vicki Carroll at (805) 541-5868.
In conjunction with the harvest celebration, Steve Dooley of Stephen Ross and Steve Rasmussen of Talley Vineyards and Rosso di paso will host a dinner, "Dinner with the Steves," 7 p.m., Friday, October 31 at their tasting room in Los Olivos. $38. Reservations a must. 688-4409. The dinner will be catered by Bernard Roth and Sam Shepard. For more information, click here.
Someone recently e-mailed me, "Hey Bob--it's been my understanding that when ordering wine with dinner, if one decides the wine is unsatisfactory and wants to send it back, one is still obliged to pay for the opened, yet un-drunk bottle."
My answer: Absolutely! I believe the only justifiable way to return the bottle and not have to pay for it is if the wine is flawed (smelling of nail polish remover or acetic acid) or corked (smelling of clorox), etc.
In cases where restaurants feature extremely old and rare vintages, either the sommelier or waitperson should make it perfectly clear to the patron, or the winelist should carry a strong disclaimer to the effect--"if you order it, you pay for it"--and this prevents the freeloaders or "tastyloos" from ordering a bottle so they can taste the wine without having to pay for it.
Two remarkable white wines from Byron from the 1996 vintage: Byron's pinot gris and Byron's pinot blanc. Both fine quaffs and excellent alternatives to chardonnay--and just $16 suggested retail. Search 'em out!
Bob Senn writes The Independent's monthly wine column, "Grapevine," and owns the Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium.
Back to News Leads . . . .