||Thursday (March 12)
Into work at 3:00 to get in a half-day, home for a quick BB workout,
then pack up and head for Albq, with the usual stop at Sage Bake House
for a badly- needed double espresso. Get to the Albq & find I had grabbed
the wrong luggage key.... which means I can't load my luggage up w/ wine
on the return trip; a minor crises I can live with. The epee makes
it thru airport security with nary a glance; my gamma ray transponder antenna.The
flight to LA rather uneventful w/ a lot of needed ZZZ's the
entire flight. Catch the shuttle to my car rental and then a genuine disaster
hits..... my NM driver's license has expired (in NM it's your responsibility
to keep track of this; they don't automatically notify you). Nooooo way
will they rent me a car. I'm stuck in LA. Panic ensues; visions of having
to return to LA (the REAL one) flash thru my mind. So back to LAX to try
to cobble something together. Dave is on the road South and Deirdre I can't
reach. So decide to go ahead & catch the bus up to Santa Barbara &
then wing it from there.
After a 3 hr wait in LAX, finally board the bus north. And the ride
is an absolute hoot. If you've read the Dilbert cartoon strip and are familiar
with the genuis, quantuum-mechanics spouting garbage collecter; then that
was Ted, our bus driver, who I sat right across the aisle from. First off,
he feels the basketball in my luggage and asks if I'm a BB player (yes...
if you stretch the definition!); which leads him into one of his favorite
subjects.... UCLA BB. And he knows all the names of Wooden's boys, way
back to the famed '65 team. What a trip down nostalgia lane. The he finds
out that I work at Los Alamos, knows exactly what it's all about, a starts
pumping me w/ questions about use of nuclear weapons to defend the earth
against incoming asteroids (how many kt's it'd take to knock it out; what's
the CEP at that distance, really detailed stuff). And the he starts
asking me about things from cosmology, string theory, grand unification
theory, etc..... stuff way out of my expertise. It boggled the mind; I
was flabbergasted!! And, finally, we get onto the subject of being full
time single parents to kids, and the trials & tribulations that entails.
Make it to Santa Barbara in no time & deboard the bus in a whole lot
better frame of mind then when I boarded. Catch a cab to my motel about
9:00pm; absolutely ravishing ....er... make that famished. The neighborhood
looks grim, food-wise, so catch a bite at a dreadfully ordinary Thai
restaurant nearby. Manage to get hold of Deirdre & line up a ride for
the next morning.
Friday (March 13, 1998)
Up early and out for some fencing drills under mixed/foggy skies, with
rain threatening. Get hold of Dave up in Santa Maria & map out transportation
for the remainder of the trip.... it's going to work out after all. But
w/o a car, it's much more difficult to make folks toe the line, itinerary-wise!!
Picked up at the motel by Deidre & we
head North for Arroyo Grande to meet up w/ Dave & a visit to Alban
Vineyards. I had been there only a yr ago and never (well... with exception
of Rosenblum) make a return visit to a winery that soon; so this was unusual.
The leaden skies start to pour, then turns to a drizzle. Dave catches us
going into Arroyo Grande & blythely follows us onto a wrong turn. Make
it on out to Alban right on time.
I had first tasted John Alban's Syrah some
4 yrs ago at The Taste of Vail; the '93 it was; & was rather underwhelmed....
very hard, tannic, very oaked, lean, rather atypical of Syrah. But visiting
with John Alban there, I was quite impressed w/ his ideas, his vision
of where he wanted to go, his passion for Rhone varietals in Calif, focus
on the growing the grapes in the vineyard. I knew this was somebody that
I probably should keep my eye upon. THIS is exactly why it is so important
to meet the person/people behind the wine; just tasting the wine seldom
hacks it. My prescient hunch paid off; John's wines have continued to improve
each yr; and this last Fall's release of '95 Syrahs (REVA and Lorraine)
were his best ever, and raises John Alban Vineyards into the first tier
of Calif/Rhone producers. And they're going to be getting better.
Joining us is Augie Hug (OsoBlanco to those
on the 'Net); part-time well driller, part-time winemaker, part-time wine
shop owner (in Harmony); full-time wine geek. Augie buys some grapes from
John, some grapes elsewhere, and makes his wines there at Alban Vineyards.
I had met Augie on the 'Net 3-4 months ago & asked if he would join
us & show his wines.... took a lot of twisting his arm to do that!!
:-) Also get a chance to meet Paul, John's new assistant winemaker at Alban
We spend some 30 minutes catching up on what's
new at Alban. Discuss quite a bit the evolution of the Rhone Rangers organization
(baaad name!!), the Viognier Guild, and the upcoming Raisen' Rhones Festival
in Paso Robles. Find out that John is also putting up a team for the Rhone-n-Bowl
competition; in fact, blatently recruiting talent right in front of us!!
I make it clear that our team, "Only The Rhonely", composed of myself,
Dave Jones, Larry Archibald, & Laura Chancellor (plus our very own
cheerleader, Claudia Lampner, Dave's wife; cheerleader's costume &
all), are certain to sweep the competition & his efforts are destined
for failure. With a fencer & BB athlete leading the way, our training
at a 5,000' altitude; the bloodshed & mayhem that will transpire at
the Paso Robles Bowl that Friday night will make the Texas ChainSaw Massacre
look like a gathering of little old ladies for a White Zinfandel Sip; a
sight for mature audiences only. John appears uncowed!!
I find out that John also has some acreage
up in Paso Robles on Hwy46W from which he get Rousanne & Viognier for
the Central Coast version of his wines. He's a bit reluctant to describe
some of the exciting things he's doing in the vineyard w/ some new varieties,
for fear of appearing to be on the fringe (or look like a Randall Graham,
perhaps?). He's got a bit of Mourvedre coming on line, with a few plants
of both Folle Noir (the red version of Folle Blanche, the grape of Cognac)
and Rolle (Vermentino) in the works. John's convinced that the next step
up in quality is going to come in the vineyard and laments the lack of
interest in all the 100's of other potential varieties in the world. And
he's right.... it's tough to even get people serious about Grenache.
So, we get down to some serious business:
The folklore is that Viogniers don't age; that you must drink them up young.
Almost every article written on Viognier parrots this same old nonsense.
So John pulls out his very first estate Viognier:
Hug Rousanne (Mer et Sole Vineyard, Monterey; 15% alc) '96: Very
strong fragrant floral Rousanne bit oaked nose; soft very rich textured
very lush ripe light floral very glycerined flavor; a big rich huge Rousanne
and then his first Rousanne (of his last remaining 18 btls):
Alban San Luis Obispo County Viognier (50% Alban
Estate) '92: Med.dark gold color; rather pencilly smokey pungent
some minerally complex nose; tart apricotty minerally bit metallic rather
smokey/pungent light peachy flavor; very long strong pear/apricotty rather
metallic minerally smokey complex finish; sure doesn't taste like young
Viognier but still a healthy complex interesting wine a bit like old WhiteBurg.
John discusses a bit the differences between Marsanne/ Rousanne within
the context of French Rhone wines; that the Marsanne is so much easier
to grow but the top producers much prefer the wine that comes from Rousanne;
that they usually have a real problem with the pH in Rousanne but that,
nonetheless, they seem to age very well. This first Rousanne of John's
had a pH=4.0, quite high; but is aging quite well. It all confirms my belief
that Rousanne is a grape to watch in Calif. And then into the barrels:
Alban San Luis Obispo Rousanne '92:
Strong toasty/pencilly smokey light floral complex rather old WhiteBurg
nose; big rich smokey/pencilly/toasty almost honey/botrytis old WhiteBurg
textured light floral very complex flavor; very very long very textured
smokey/toasty/pungent old WhiteBurg very complex finish; a bit like old
WhiteBurg and a bit like old Aussie Semillon; incredible stuff
Augie's plan is to blend the Syrah into the Cab. Hope he keeps some separate.
Reminds me a bit of John's early Syrahs. And then out of the barrels and
back to taste from the bottle Augie's first Syrah:
Hug Edna Valley Chardonnay (Lewis Vineyard) Chardonnay'97: Lovely
floral smokey/toasty oaked some earthy/melony nose; tart rich some melony/pineapply
spicy/creamy toasted coconut flavor; a delicious spicy floral Chard, rich
Alban Estate Viognier (barrel frmtd; 1/3 barrel aged w/ lees stirred)
'97: Very fragrant/floral/peachy rather minerally/dusty nose; tart
spicy minerally apricotty/peachy rich flavor; good minerally component.
Alban Vineyard Central Coast Viognier '97:
Big lush peachy/fragrant up-front Viognier nose; soft lush ripe peachy/Viognier
textured flavor; long lush floral ripe peachy/Viognier finish; classic
up-front Dolly Parton Viognier; good stuff.
Alban Estate Rousanne '97: lees just
stirred the day before; Slight floral rather yeasty/fresh fermentation
nose; very tart lean hard metallic light spicy/floral flavor; a very tight
lean unfinished wine; can't tell much.
Hug Mission View View / San Miguel Cabernet Sauvignon '97: Stron
cinammon/cloves some herbal/earthy nose; strong pungent/herbal cinammon/cloves
flavor; a bit like a young Eberle Cab
Hug Alban Vineyard Syrah '97: Intense pungent/smokey/licorice/charred
bit H2S nose; terrific pungent/charred/ smokey hard/tannic some blackberry/Syrah
flavor; a big hard lean very flavorful/intense Syrah.
And then back into the barrels:
Hug Central Coast Syrah '94: Black color; intense horsecollar/barnyardy/
Beaucastel gamey some violets very peppery charred nose; tart charred/peppery
big huge tannic pungent violets/blackberry Syrah; it has all the stink
of Beaucastel w/ loads of other stuff therein; this is how Beaucastel would
make Syrah if they could/would; a huge immense Syrah that needs age.
Alban REVA Syrah '96: Black color; intense
lush blackberry/Syrah licorice toasty/ smokey gamey nose; big huge rich
hard very spicy/gamey/ espresso coffee/pungent intense blackberry/Syrah/roasted
tannic flavor; hard to believe but even better than his '95 REVA Syrah;
mich in the style of the Edmund St. John Durell '95; a huge blockbuster
of a wine; Fall release, a must buy.
I recall seeing John's first Grenache ('93) and blanching a bit at the
price (around $20) and then being quite impressed with it when I tasted
& grudgingly acknowledgeing the fairness of the price. John laments
the fact the fact that Grenache gets no respect & it's a hard sell
at the price the wine fully deserves. He working w/ some 5 or so clones
of Grenache from France and honing in on a few that really make spectacular
wines. I expect, as more people see what a great wine Grenache can really
make in Calif, that there will be more interest in it. John really likes
many of the Aussie Grenaches (Clarendon Hills OldVine Grenache and d'Ahrenburg
Grenache for two) and equates them to Ch.Rayas in quality. And then:
Alban Estate Grenache '97: Black color;
intense licorice/pungent/bit rooasted/ strawberry/Grenache dusty nose;
very intense bit fizzy intense strawberry/ blackberry tannic flavor; still
some fermentation stuff going on but a Grenache like none other I've had
than maybe Aussie. This is how Jaques Reynaud would make Ch.Rayas if he
could (& were still with us!!).
John describes his Syrah vineyard as having distinctly differing soils
as it runs from east to west. The eastern block makes up his Lorraine,
the middle block his REVA. The western block (so far, nameless) used to
be where he grew his rootstock (he does quite a big nursery business) but
decided it made more sense to get rootstock from Valley nurseries; so top
grafted the vines over to more Syrah. They take has been rather poor so
the age of the vines is a bit spread out, but got his first crop off in
the last vintage.
Alban REVA Syrah '97: Rather funky/reduced
some blackberry/black cherry intense nose; hard black cherry/blackberry/
violets/peppery bit smokey/gamey flavor; too much fermentation stuff going
on to tell anything. John's confident it'll be another killer Syrah.
Alban Lorraine Syrah '97: Bit H2S/burnt
rubber/rather reduced nose; more intense blackberry/Syrah rather funky
flavor; still fermentating & too much going on to tell anything.
All in all, a terrific visit. The wines just
keep getting better & better and I would have to say John is making
truly world-class Rhone wines. He sells some of his grapes (Jim Clendennan,
Bob Lindquist, Sean Thackery, Steve Edmunds, Augie Hug) so, with such heavy
hitters, others clearly think highly of his work. It's very satisfying
to me that my early faith in Alban Vineyards was totally warrented.
By now the skies have cleared and so we head
south for an afternoon appointment at Foxen Vineyards, just south of Santa
Maria. Pass by Qupe/ABC/etc and take in the Bien Nacido vineyard across
the river. The Hillside Estate Syrah block sits way up atop the ridge above
the wnry. There's a new block on the hillside above the Syrah that turns
out is Pinot Noir for Foxen.
Stop at the Foxen tasting room on Foxen Canyon
Rd just as Bill Walthen returns from his noon-hour run up in the hills.
We taste thru a few things they have at the tasting bar:
And then Bill starts bringing out some of the more special wines:
Foxen Chenin Blanc '96: Strong fragrant grapey/ light oaked attractive
nose; dry rich pears/grapey tart flavor; more like a lightweight Chardonnaybut
a very nicely done atypical Chenin.
Foxen Chardonnay (Bien Nacido/GoldCoast/Sisquoc vineyards) '96:
Rich oaked lush melony ripe Chardonnaynose; soft lush rich light oaked
flavor; a very tastey Chard.
The Foxen wines have been some of the most interesting Santa Barbara wines
I've followed. They tend to be a bit on the unusual/eccentric side w/ lots
of extracted flavors & plenty of toasty new French oak. The Rhone wines
are particularly good and seem to have less opulent fruit & more pungent
character than others in Calif.
Foxen Bien Nacido Chardonnay'96: Same lush ripe nose; bit tarter
leaner harder on the palate; needs a yr or two
Foxen Estate (Tiniquonoc Vineyard) Chardonnay'96: Big lush leesy/ML
toasty oaked very ripe melony bit floral nose; huge lush very ripe toasty/charred
Fr. oak flavor; a big rich powerful Chardonnaybut w/ good acidity; will
Foxen Rothberg Vineyard Viognier '97: Beautiful lush peachy/Viognier
blowsey nose; rich spicy minerally peachy/Viognier flavor; very well done
Foxen Santa Maria Pinot Noir '96: Light bright cherry/Pinot Noir
light oaked nose; tart spicy bright cherry light tobaccoy flavor
Foxen Reserve Julia's Vineyard Pinot Noir '96: Bigger richer lush
cherry/spicy/tobaccoy nose; bright very spicy cherry/Pinot Noir light tobaccoy/pungent
Foxen Bien Nacido Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir '96: Bigger deep black
cherry/tobaccoy/pungent/ smokey bit charred nose; soft deep lush black
cherry/charred/toasty flavor; classic BM character w/ lots of oak
Foxen Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir '96: Bigger toasty/pungent/charred
oak less fruit nose hard smokey/toasty/charred rather tannic bit lean flavor;
not the fruit of the Bien Nacido
Foxen Rothberg Vineyard Mourvedre '96: Med.light color; bit herbal
rather spicy/floral/ dusty nose; tart bit cherry/floral/spicy light toasted
flavor; an interesting more elegant style of Mourvedre; more acid than
Foxen Morehouse Vineyard Syrah '96: Fregrant tobaccoy/oaked light
blackberry spicy nose; spicy elegant gamey/light blackberry flavor; not
as big & extracted as '95
Foxen Estate Cabernet Franc '95: Strong herbal/smokey/tobaccoy bit
licorice nose; tart spicy very tobaccoy/pungent some herbal/CabFranc flavor
Foxen Cuvee Jean Marie (Syrah/Mourvedre) '96: Big ripe dusty/tobaccoy/pungent
bing cherry very spicy nose; tart smokey/tobaccoy/oaked/pungent ripe bing
cherry flavor; a very good Rhone blend
Foxen Santa Barbara County CS (Rancho Sisquoc/Daley vineyards) '95:
Strong tobaccoy/smokey rather herbal cloves/cinammon nose; tart rather
herbal spicy pungent/tobaccoy flavor
Deirdre has to head back to UC/Santa Barbara
for an afternoon seminar, so Dave & I head on down Foxen Canyon Rd
to Los Olivos. Grab a sandwich at Pannino. I stop briefly at the Los Olivos
Tasting Room by the flagpole, receive the customary uncaring/disdainful
tourist treatment here, but see nothing I wish to taste. Note that Rick
Longoria will soon be opening a tasting room there in town. We head to
the south edge of town for the traditional stop at The
Los Olivos Wine & Spirits Emporium. Here the reception (for
strangers, alike, as well as friends) is more more cordial & friendly.
Difference of night & day between the two places.
A visit w/ Bob Senn is always a highlight
in my visits to the Santa Barbara area. He has a very extensive selection
of some of my very favorite Santa Barbara wineries. The enthusiasm &
passion Bob has for wine is infectuous; I always come away from here w/
all sorts of new information. Today was no different. We taste thru Bob's
current lineup & he pulls out a few extras:
Fill out the case of the Alban stuff I had previously ordered. Before we
depart, Bob grabs a bttl of the newly arrived Lane
Tanner Syrah '96 for me to share w/ our group. This is a
wine, her first Syrah, that I had been dying to try since I've been mightly
impressed across the board w/ her wines.
Bid adieu to Bob & head back to Santa
Barbara. First stop is The Wine Cask to say hello to friends there. Former
employee Steve Clifton, now working time & a half between his own Brewer-Clifton
and Brandner's Domaine Santa Barbara, is there; looking a bit frazzled
in preparation for tomorrow's tasting. Back to my motel for a quick change
& then off to dinner at Cuvee restaurant.
This is a restaurant started a bit over a
yr ago by some of the Wine Cask people and designed to be a lower-key down-scale
sorta version of Wine Cask. The meal we had here last yr was very very
good. Apparently, there's been a change in ownership. The food tonight
was good... but just that. It was 7:30 pm on a Friday night and the place
was mostly vacant.... not a good sign.
So it's Dave & I; rejoined by Deirdre;
and Dave's friend, Lucinda. She's just taken an exciting new job here in
Santa Barbara and has barely had any time to get out much here, so seems
to enjoy tonight's opportunity. Not quite the wine geek like the rest of
us.... but THAT can be changed.