Wine Weekend Away Part 1

We had an awesome time up in the Santa Barbara Wine Region last weekend.  First off, so sorry for being radio silent last week.  After what turned out to be an amazing weekend of wine tasting and education, I returned to my alter ego life and immediately jumped on a flight for a marketing consulting gig.  I needed that time away to dry out and was so crazy busy last week that I simply didn’t find the time to whip up a post..

This wine tasting trip was different for me than most in the past.  First off, we went with friends that we’ve never been to wine country with before, although we’ve done that a 100 other times.  Our friends were awesome and I believe had a great birthday weekend away.  The key difference this time is that for the most part, we avoided the large vineyard tasting room experience (also known as crazy tour bus infested tourist traps) and instead met one on one with some amazing people in the wine trade – sellers, wine makers, field harvest hands, and winery operations staff.  It was one of the most educational and fascinating wine tasting weekends that I can recall.

Now I’m not completely against the tasting room setup, although I do long for the old days when tasting was free (or comp’d if you purchase), when staff seemed to enjoy their jobs, and when you could taste and learn and enjoy before they throw the “wine club” brochure in your face.  This all said, more often than not, I taste in tasting rooms, and enjoy chatting wine with other visitors and wine lovers.

This trip rocked because we got face time specifically with the people making the wine, and to be honest, their passion for the craft was completely contagious.  Our first stop of the day was a private tasting and lunch with Jeff Fink, winemaker/owner of Tantara Winery.  Now after driving through the rolling hills out to the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley, we arrived to what looked and feeled like a scene from BottleShock.  Jeff was there with a huge smile and down home style to welcome us, and he immediately introduced us to his team and colleagues that were in attendance – everyone from the sales manager, harvest field hands, to fellow winemakers.  We sat down to a wonderful meal catered in from a local Italian joint and immediately jumped into some time.  Jeff told us they love to “brown bag it” and we simply went for the ride.  In this case, all of the bottles of wine on the table were concealed in brown lunch bags, hiding their identity.  All we knew for sure, was that we’d be tasting several Pinot Noirs, and a handful of whatever else they stumbled across that morning.  Speaking for myself, I felt completely at ease with this group, although clearly out of my league on wine knowledge.  I could often pick varietal (sometimes even guessing right), but choosing the vintage, region,  and clone were well above my and my groups level.  We loved the game, and once each wine was revealed, we enjoyed chatting and talking about the tasting notes. 

In the end, we learned a lot, both about the wine and the personalities behind them.  As the lunch went on, friends simply stopped by with bottle in hand and we kept on tasting and learning.  In the end, I think we tasted as many wines from Tantara as from elsewhere in the region.  By this point, I was a bit fuzzy on Tantara’s tasting notes and styles, however we still managed to leave with a 1/2 dozen bottles to revisit at a later date.  If your looking for a fun, educational experience, definitely check out Tantara.

From here, we immediately headed over to Foxen Winery.  As members, we love their big, spicy, bold reds and were happy to brings friends to “the Shack” tasting room.  I know, I should embrace Foxen’s grown and new tasting facility, literally 1000 feet down the road, however, the small rustic charm of the Shack is Foxen to me as much as their wines are.  Here, we simply tasted and relaxed.  We needed a more casual tasting after our lunchtime session and Foxen and their cult worthy Reds were exactly what was needed.

A quick stop in Los Olivos, well ok, maybe not that quick now that I think of it.  Wine country tends to close down around 5-6pm, so we went to the local wine shop/restaurants on the strip to enjoy some casual appetizers and a bottle of wine.   Dinner this evening was at Jocko’s in Nipomo, California.   Now we’ve been loyal fans of The Hitching Post II for well over a decade now, but eager to try something new we ventured north.  In the end, the wait was beyond insane, the wines were good, and the steak was excellent.  For me, not quite Hitching Post quality, but then again, the prices were half!  I’d  highly recommend it, although learn from our mistake and call ahead to get on the list.  If you forget, plan on sitting in the bar, working your way through a couple bottles of decent local area wines, and snacking on relish trays.  Oh yeah, the girls working the front desk, don’t take bribes (from what I hear!).

Part Two, coming up later…..

Wine Country Preparation – Santa Barbara Region

OK, I’m excited.  This weekend we’re heading up to the Santa Barbara wine country region.  My wife and I love wine, love wine country, and love being away from Los Angeles on weekends like this.  I’d say we head up there 3-4 times a year, minimum.  It’s more or less become a tradition on Mothers Day ever since our almost 7 year old son was born.  Picture a tiny baby, sitting in a Baby Bjorn (baby carier), while Mommy and Daddy talk with people at the tasting bar and compare tasting notes.  Believe it or not, he loves going up to wine country (I’ll talk about this on another post).

So wine country.. I love going!  Being surrounded by people who make their living from the grapes they grown, being surounded by those who cook with and incorporate this wine into everything about their everyday is just so much fun for me.  We often do day trips, but this weekend is a full blown weekend away with friends to celebrate two birthdays.  That gives us, almost 3 full days immersed in the world of wine.

While we don’t want to, or plan to, map out a detailed itinerary, we have decided to scope out the basics so we can maximize tasting and minimize driving.  Day one is simple – drive up, hit a little breakfast joint near the beach in Carpinteria in route, then boogie all the way up to Laetitia Winery.  We’re members here and need to pick up our September wine club shipment.  Since we’re there, why not taste a bit too!  I must say, while we’re members of their sparkling club (the wife loves her some bubbles), they make some awesome reds! 

After that, our friends should have made their way up to the hotel in Buellton so we’ll find a meeting place and jump into one car.  Our opening day will be to hit a few wineries in the area and potentially hit either Hitching Post II or Jocko’s up in Nipomo for dinner.

While we don’t yet know where to hit, some of those on our radar for the rest of the weekend include:  Tantara, Demetria, Sans Liege, Cottonwood, Foxen, Tres Hermanas, Buttonwood, Coquilocot, Pali, and the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.  Both Tantara and Sans Liege are by appointment only, and I think we’ve got one of them booked already for a little 1-1 time with the winemaker.  I’ll report back !

So fellow wino’s, especially you out here on the left coast.  Where do you go?   What do you taste?  Where to eat?   Advice please!!!   I’m not a newbie to the area but love finding that new (or old) hidden gem and getting referrals from other like minded people.

Dont just voyeur on by this little posting – stop, tell, talk, share….

 Cheers, Doug !

Education – Self or Official Certification Programs ?

Ok so now that I have jumped onto the internet blog bandwagon here’s a quick update on some key things.  We know I have passion, practice, and interest.  I’m self taught and have visited too many tasting rooms to list.  But I want more..  Recently I went to a friends birthday gathering, the theme was a wine tasting party conducted by a Sommelier.   While I may not have been the professor sitting in the room, I did know the a majority of the information that she was sharing.  We did a tasting of 9 different wines, in 4 different segments: Chardonnay, Rhone Reds, Bordeaux Reds, and dessert wines.  Each segment offered a tremendous range, showing the guests the diversity of wine. 

I loved it and will go into the differences and walk you through the tasting in another post someday.  The point here was that my passion was on fire.  I spoke with the “instructor” who strongly suggested that I pursue my interest in formal training.  This is where the true confusion began – where does one  go and how to begin?

In doing my standard google searches, I ran across what would later come to be known by me as the “big boys” of wine education – Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), Society of Wine Educators (SWE), and Court of Masters (COM).  I think I’ve ruled out the Court of Masters programs as they are highly geared to on-premise personnel training (restaurant/hotel/bar workers). While the program looks informative, I don’t think its for me.

This leaves me bouncing between WSET and SWE programs and I can admit that I’m frustrated, confused and excited, and back to frustrated.  Here in Los Angeles there is a well known local wine retailer that offers the WSET Intermediate program that I am interested in to get started.  I think this is the one I’ll take.  On the other hand, the SWE offers training materials and a test for their CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) which has tremendous appeal for me as well.  Oooh ok, well maybe this one.  I think I’ve ruled out any of the local college/university programs, but maybe not as some of them seem to offer a nice, base level education, maybe to be used as a lead in for the CSW exam.   See, told you, I’m confused.

What to do?  Both of these two programs offer what I want, nice well rounded, recognized, wine education.  One is more of a home study that you do in conjunction with other outside courses, and one is a sit down seminar series.  I do know or think I know that I want a weekly seminar type program, I want tasting involved (partially to learn, and partially to drink), and I want a recognized exam at the end (ideally one that I can pass).  Each of the above looks very cool and I’m interested. 

Anyone know which way to go?  Advise?  Thoughts?  What have you taken??

The First Post – Why?

OK ok, why even start a blog.  Excellent question and one that I really don’t have a good answer for.  Over the last year, I’ve been the behind the scenes guy for my wife’s blog, RomyRaves, which is a beauty and lifestyle blog.  I enjoy the tech side, usually, but have no interest in the topic in all honesty.  I do get products to try for her now and then but I really just do it to help her.  Over this time, I’ve helped her build a huge twitter following (12k+) and an active blog following.

I’ve been very into wine, spirits, cooking, and entertaining for well over a decade now, purely on the amateur side though.  For years now, I’ve been asked questions or for referrals from friends for wines to match with foods, restaurants to check out, recipes I like, or what scotch to bring to a friends house as a gift.  While I am no expert, I am a highly experienced amateur.  I know scotch, food, wine, beer, all very well.  I love hitting the local tavern or pub and trying something new and different.  Now and then, I actually find something I love.  Others, well not so much.

I’m not a writer by any means.  I plan on using the blog to share ideas, new products I run across, tips, tricks, recipes, new restaurants (or old ones I just found again), and almost anything else I can think of in this space of food, wine, and booze..  I know I’ll be reviewing wines and spirits, testing out restaurants, and sharing recipes now and then.  If you have something on your mind, tell me.  Want me to check out your stuff, tell me.  Think I’ve lost my mind for liking that $6 bottle of Syrah for a casual Tuesday, tell me.

I always have an opinion and so far in my 40+ years haven’t exactly been shy in expressing it.  Tell me what you think.  If you agree, excellent.  If not, well, I guess I’m open to hearing that too.

For now, Cheers, Salute, or see ya.