I solved it! The back seat of my car is huge and I slept like a rock. I awoke early Wednesday morning and took a tour of Solvang, which is about five miles east of Buellton. It is the most tourist driven town that I have visited in the county, but it seems to have missed the boat when it comes to the wine crowd. Lots of quaint inns and faux-medieval architecture, but only one wine bar and few tasting rooms.
My first winery of the day was Buttonwood, a producer who focuses on grapes from Bordeaux. This is an oddity in the Santa Ynez Valley, but they are in a warm, well-elevated pocket. Their flagship wine is a tasty Sauvignon Blanc. They also offer a wine called Sibling Revelry, which is the best wine I’ve ever had under $5 per bottle. They only sell it by the case.
For me, the best wines are those that communicate the climate and the history of the vines’ surroundings. My next stop provided a taste of the very early days of California wine.
Grapes are not native to California, but they have been grown here since the Spanish ruled. One grape variety, called Mission, produced the wines used by missionaries in their church services. Most of it was simple red wine, but the missionaries made a small amount of Angelica for themselves. It was fortified and exposed to oxygen; similar to the sherries made in Jerez. One very small producer, Deborah Hall of Gypsy Canyon, is making a modern homage to this lost classic. She undertook the project when she discovered a Mission vineyard on her property that was planted in the 1880s and had been forgotten since Prohibition began. We took a tour of the vines to the chagrin of my shoes. A more complete description of the wine and its production is coming tomorrow.
The next day I met with Peter Cargasacchi, who farms two of the best vineyards in the county. The more winemakers I meet and the more wines I taste, the more I learn how direct the effect of the vineyard is on the finished wine. The planting, pruning and trellising decisions do not simply produce good or bad grapes. They determine if the wine will be fruit forward or earthy; full-bodied or light.
Peter began our visit on a mountain road, where we pulled over to see a side of the hill that had been cut away when the road was built. Here we saw layer upon layer of marine sediment that had turned into shale over millions of years. It was thrust out of the ocean when the Pacific plate collided with the North America plate. This is the primary soil type in the Santa Ynez Valley. It is very crumbly and has a high calcium content, which lowers the perceived acid level in the finished wine.
I was due back in Paso Robles that evening so I could get an early start on the bottling line at Dubost. They do not have the equipment at the winery so they hire a mobile unit in a trailer. I was chosen to feed the foiling machine and to serve as quality control after the wine was corked. If the fill level was too low or a cork was missing, I pulled it off the line and sent it back to the beginning. The foil machine is an ingenious invention that pulls the foil from its stack and places it on top of the bottle for another machine to twist it down. It worked really well – for the first three hours. Then it didn’t. My cushy quality control gig devolved into an I Love Lucy episode on the assembly line.
On Saturday I returned to Los Angeles to relax, which sounds weird. On the way I drove through the hills where the Santa Barbara fires had burned days earlier.
In the days since, I have been focusing on getting A Really Goode Job. Murphey-Goode is a winery in Sonoma that is going to hire someone to live on their property for six months, tour Sonoma wineries and picnic sites, and make a wine to commemorate the harvest. The Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent will be charged with blogging about the experience. They are paying $10,000 per month! The selection process has three stages. The first involves submitting a resume and a sixty-second video showing your production prowess (or lack thereof) and personality. It is progressing well and I will certainly have a good piece in time for the June 5th deadline.
To view more photos from this week, click here.