Today, Santa Barbara County is celebrating International Grenache Day. Yes, Santa Barbara wine country; Yes, Grenache. Santa Barbara County has achieved much acclaim over the years for its outstanding Pinot Noir, perhaps to a degree in which many of the other wonderful wine varietals being produced in this wide and varied grape growing region have been overlooked. Not only does Santa Barbara County produce outstanding Pinot Noir, it also produces superb Rhone varietals including Grenache and Grenache based blends.
From the cool, foggy Sta. Rita Hills AVA (famous for its Pinot Noir), one can travel east through the Santa Ynez Valley, gaining one half to a full degree fahrenheit each mile, and within a 20 minute drive experience superb, estate grown Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. The vast Santa Barbara growing region contains 5 distinct and varied AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) each representing unique microclimates, terrains and soil composition.
Santa Barbara County: A prime growing region for Grenache
Ballard Canyon AVA, on the far eastern edge of Santa Ynez Valley, and the areas of Santa Ynez Valley nearest to it have a climate and soil reminiscent of French Rhone regions such as Cote Rotie and Chateauneuf du Pape. Of all the regions in the Rhone Valley, Chateauneuf du Pape is known far and wide as producing the world’s finest Grenache based wine. To learn more about what makes Santa Barbara County ideal for Grenache, be sure to read Santa Barbara County: a prime growing region for Grenache.
Save your visit to Rideau for lunch—bring your own, or order a snack from their cafe. Grab a glass of Grenache and plan to linger. Picnic tables under ancient canopied oak trees await you. Or enjoy your lunch with a glass of Rideau’s Chateau Duplantier Cuvee on the porch of their restored 1800’s homestead, enveloped by a lush Victorian garden.
If you hail from the deep south, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back home, and this is no mere happenstance. Owner Iris Rideau, a native of Louisiana, exudes southern charm and hospitality, as do her tasting room staff. You’ll frequently find Iris planning extravagant celebrations, always including plenty of creole cuisine and jazz. If you’re planning a trip to Santa Barbara wine country this weekend, do not miss Iris’ Birthday celebration on Saturday afternoon.
Rideau Vineyard’s wines are as inviting and vibrant as Iris herself. Iris has dedicated her entire estate vineyard to Rhone varietals, finding her Santa Ynez Valley location perfectly suited to varietals such as Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. Garnering critical acclaim from publications such as Wine Enthusiast, the 2012 Chateau Duplantier Cuvee is not to be missed. A GSM blend with 18 percent Petit Sirah, this wine presents with an alluring chipotle-cherry nose. Soft ripe tannins and moderate acidity create a wonderfully round mouthfeel for the blackberry and raspberry flavors that mingle with notes of white pepper and earthy mushroom straight through the long, flirty, caramelized finish. The 2011 vintage was just as enticing, and has long since sold out. The 2012 vintage will no doubt sell out quickly as well.
The 2011 Estate Grenache is also not to be missed. Aged 18 months in 30 percent new French oak, the delicate, sea breeze, white floral nose belies this chocolate covered cherry beauty that dances across the palate with notes of leather, chocolate, and exotic, Indian spices.
Larry Schaffer, owner and winemaker at Tercero Wines, dedicates his winemaking efforts exclusively to Rhone varietals sourced from vineyards in Ballard Canyon and Los Alamos. He creates bright, delicate wines; true expressions of the varietals he works with. Do not mistake “delicate” to mean uninspired, bland or boring—far from it. Slowly sip a glass of his Roussanne, Syrah, Viognier, or any number of his wines, and experience the complex, delightful journey a delicate Tercero wine can bestow.
When you visit Larry Schaffer at his tasting room in Los Olivos, be sure to pull up a chair. An engaging and knowledgable character, Larry loves to talk wine. Larry admittedly loves to talk, period—so much so he’s named his Grenache blend after his tendency toward wordiness. And his 2010 “Verbiage” is worth more than a word or two. A GSM blend, Verbiage is comprised of 62.5 percent Grenache, 25 percent Syrah and 12.5 percent Mourvedre. Aged 42 months in older French oak barrels, Verbiage tells a tale of chocolate covered raspberries, hints of beef jerky and a smooth christmas spice finish.
Do not miss the 2012 Grenache from Dragonette Cellars. This Grenache comes from John Sebastiano Vineyards, located on the border of Santa Rita Hills, and given the distinction of being one of the coolest vineyards in all of California planted to Rhone varietals. The hot, sunny days and cool nights of this vintage allowed for long hang times, and thus ripening, while also preserving this grape’s acidity. The result is a concentrated, complex wine, full of the flirtatious, sexy character Grenache is famous for.
An enticing nose of dark cherry, soft leather and baking spices are but a prelude to the seductive experience offered by this wine. Powdery, soft tannins and moderate acidity create a luxurious, round mouthfeel, while complex layers of cherry, raspberry, leather, tea and tobacco tease the palate straight through the long, satisfying finish. Sexy, flirtatious, approachable–everything there is to love about Grenache.
Proprietor of the 365-acre Purisima Mountain Vineyard planted to a variety of Rhone varietals, Beckmen Vineyards prides itself on hands-on craftsmanship from vineyard management to wine making. Beckmen offers a variety of Rhone wines including Grenache and Grenache blends. Be sure to view Crushed Grape Chronicles’ video featuring Steve Beckmen describing the Ballard Canyon Purisma Mountain Vineyard (featured above).
Other Grenache based wines from Santa Barbara County not to be missed include Andrew Murray’s 2012 Esperance, which received a 90 point rating from Antonio Gallioni, and Margerum Wine Company’s M5 and M5 Reserve Rhone blends, produced by winemaker Doug Margerum, who also makes Happy Canyon Vineyards’ wonderful Bordeaux style wines featured in last week’s Sideways in Solvang article.
These are only a few highlights of the many wonderful Rhone varietals Santa Barbara County has to offer, which leaves visitors no shortage of opportunities to celebrate International Grenache Day in style.