December 16, 2015

Vintastic Voyage: Amador County and Los Olivos/Lompoc

Even though the month of October was filled with nonstop studying, I still managed to make some time to head to the local wine countries in the area. This is the beauty of California.....from pretty much about anywhere, you are usually no more than 2 hours from land under vine!  At first I thought I shouldn't spend these precious weekend hours away from my books and flash cards. Then I realized that getting out and tasting is as important as memorizing my flash cards.  I'm glad I did, as I explored two areas I was not familiar with.

Amador County

Amador is about 45 minutes Southeast of Sacramento. My husband and I were in the area visiting an old friend and her new family, and she wanted to show me their local wine country. Amador was beautiful. There are the typical rolling hills/vineyard views, but there is also a distinct outdoorsy feel. Almost as if you were not too far from a forest, or the mountains.  There are 40 wineries in the Amador area.   The area is known for Zinfanel and the Rhone varietals (Syrah and Grenache).  Lodi, the Zin capital, is not too far from Amador. We first stopped at a delightful little gourmet food spot called Andrae's Bakery. We picked up fresh sandwiches, sardines, and some sweets for lunch. They had a really nice selection of artisan food products to peruse through as well.

Our first stop was my favorite of the day, Andis Wines. Minimal/sustainable decor (versus the usually cluttered wine country tasting room).  A great selection of wines to taste. We were lucky, as we got to taste with one of the winemakers. A charming young guy from Kentucky.  We loved getting to know him and hear his story as to how he ended up in Amador. I found the wines approachable and enjoyable. Nothing too overly complex or sophisticated. And honestly, sometimes that's ok. I don't want to always have to work for my wine. Sometimes I just want something quaffable and tastes good.

Next up was Jeff Runquist Wines. The tasting room was really busy, as they were having some sort of a wine club event. Good wines here. Though nothing I opted to take home.   I find that if I am too distracted in a tasting room (i.e. with a big group of people, or the tasting room is busy on its own), that I have trouble really getting "into the zone" of tasting.  I feel distracted and unable to truly give my time to the wine.  In those times I just focus on the company that I am with, and try to not take the wines so seriously.

The last stop was Dobra Zemelja Winery, and what an interesting place that was. The tasting room was in a "cave" underground that was built by the former owners Milan and Victoria Matulich, of Croatia.  Milan was there in the tasting room, and we were lucky enough to have him guide us through the tasting. He was a great guy and we heard all kinds of stories of his colorful life. He grew up in Croatia, and my friend that I was with had spent some time in Croatia, as his father was in the military. The wines, on the other hand, were nothing to write home about, and at times, difficult to drink.  However, the focus was not on the wines.  It was in laughing and listening to Milan share his interesting life story!

Los Olivos/Lompoc

The next field trip was to the Los Olivos and Lompoc area. I went with a couple girlfriends of mine for a fun Saturday field trip, and the first stop was Andrew Murray Vineyards in Los Olivos where my one friend had to pick up a wine shipment of hers.  And let me tell you, their tasting room is stunning. We were lucky enough, as we got to taste in the private wine club area, which was beautiful. A clean, sleek aesthetic, yet it still had a comfortable living room feel.

Photo courtesy of: Andrew Murray Vineyards

We tasted quite a few wines there. I found them a bit hard to distinguish and came to the conclusion that a lot of the wines were still too young to enjoy. They were a bit harsh and the tannins and acid were a bit out of whack. I predict that a good chunk of the wines we tasted could benefit from 2-5 years in the bottle.

Drinkability/ageability of wines, is something that I am slowly starting to understand and be able to apply in the real world. I used to determine the quality of a wine based solely on what I was tasting that day. What I have learned is that a key part of that assessment is "where is this wine in its life cycle today?" Is it too young to drink, just right, or is it past it's prime? If it is just right, will the wine improve with age in the bottle? Or is this the best it's going to get? If the wine is too young, when will be the prime time to drink it?

In addition to the wine tasting, we also did a truffle chocolate pairing that was delightful! The chocolates had some interesting flavors such as white chocolate rosewater and milk chocolate star anise.  I walked away from Andrew Murray with a bottle of 2013 Syrah Alisos Vineyard.  This was $36/bottle and only 400 cases were produced. My note was that this wine was a tannin bomb.  But I saw some potential for aging.  This wine is a cooler climate Syrah.  30% whole clusters were used in the fermenters, and a bit of Viognier is blended in.  This wine will hold in the cellar for a decade or more.

Chocolate truffles paired with the wines

Our next stop was Industrial Eats in Buellton for lunch. I had gotten some recommendations from blogger friends who had eaten there when the Wine Bloggers Conference was in the area in 2014. It is exactly as it industrial place too eat. A super cool aesthetic and plenty of seating, including a large communal table in the middle. We split a Margarita pizza and a Caesar salad that was to die for. Great food and good prices...I highly recommend it.

Industrial Eats, Buellton

Then we were off to the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  We were there on a Sunday, so quite a few of the tasting rooms were closed, which was a bummer. If you recall in an earlier blog post, I shared about Sashi Moorman (a Santa Barbara winemaker) who spoke to our class back in August. I loved his stories and values in regards to the wine business. He has his own winery in the area called Piedrasassi, and also makes wine for Stoplman Vineyards, both who have tasting rooms at the Ghetto.  Piedrasassi was closed, so we headed to Stoplman. One thing about the Ghetto is that it is a "no frills" kind of place. You literally feel like you are in an industrial/warehouse area that should not be open to the public.  The Lompoc Wine Ghetto is a community of urban winery tasting rooms in an industrial setting.  The first tasting room was opened in 2005 and now there are 26 tasting rooms onsite. It's not about hospitality there, it's about the wines. The gentleman who poured wines for us was a nice guy with a dry sense of humor. Stoplman had a range of very interesting wines in a no-frills setting. Unique blends and things such as a semi-carbonic Syrah and an unfiltered Rousanne. I would say that a good chunk of the wines we had here would greatly improve with bottle age. The tannins were a bit harsh and needed some time to mellow out. These were interesting wines...wines you have to work for. My friends didn't love the selection here...their palates are more accustomed to more approachable wines. And that is ok. The beauty about a wine country is that there is something for everyone. It's not about going to multiple tasting rooms and loving everything you try, it's about having an experience and seeing the multitude of wines that can be made in one area/region.

Our last stop was Ampelos Vineyard and Cellars, which was recommended by a cohort in my WSET class. They were the first biodynamic winery in the area. They definitely catered a bit more to the customers here. Multiple seating areas, a bar at which to taste, cheese/crackers available for sale, etc. The gals who worked there were cheery and had a decent amount of knowledge about the wines they were serving.

I hope you enjoyed this recap of my two most recent Vintastic Voyages.  Stay tuned for next week when I will discuss my opinions of Big Box Wine Retailers.  Right in time for Christmas!

Stoplman Vineyards at the Lompoc Wine Ghetto

I hope you enjoyed this post. If you are looking to Drink Better and Up Your Wine Game, check out my latest virtual wine tasting offerings, including both public and private wine tasting events. For virtual events, my tastings feature a small-format wine tasting set sent to each attendee for a shared tasting experience. What can you expect from a Virtual Vino event? Fun, approachable, interactive, and unpretentious wine education as we share smiles and wine!
Brianne Cohen is a certified sommelier based out of Los Angeles, California.
She has been producing events and weddings for over 10 years in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and also offers her services as a wine educator, writer, and consultant to inspire people of all ages.

Brianne completed the entire curriculum with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and traveled to London in order to receive her Diploma certificate, which is one of the most coveted and difficult wine certifications. Most recently Brianne judged at the International Wine & Spirits Competition and the International Wine Challenge in London.
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