Charity Event Tasting: Vino de Suenos

A charity event raising money for Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People (PHP)

A charity event raising money for Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People (PHP)

We had a trip planned for Santa Ynez Valley this past weekend and I decided to check out in the Santa Barbara area to see if there was anything going on we’d like to add to our itinerary. Indeed there was! Dean was kind enough to provide free tickets in exchange for our coverage of the event (the FTC requires me to disclose that to you).

Here’s an overview of the event:

Vino de Sueños, “Wine of Dreams,” is a wine brand conceived by the non-profit human services organization, Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People (PHP), and a small group of premium Santa Barbara County vintners. This group wanted to make a difference in the lives of vineyard and farm workers who are at the very heart of the County’s agricultural economy and more specifically, the vineyard and wine businesses. Founding Participant Wineries of Vino de Suenos include Alma Rosa, Buttonwood, Clos Pepe, Feliz Noche, Foxen, Longoria, and Presidio.

The Vino de Sueños wines will be sold in order raise funds to give workers and their families the assistance they need during difficult economic times. PHP will administer the funds to furnish basic needs (food, rent, and utility assistance) and family support services (counseling, youth after school programs, parent education, and scholarships). Services are directed to giving families a hand-up to achieve their dreams of a better life.

When I arrived, the staff was friendly and the crowd was pretty big. There was a beautiful tented set-up with a large catering area and plenty of tables to stop and chat at. Most wineries sent emissaries, and some of them were the famous winemakers themselves. It was heart-warming to see these big names and faces at an event designed to help the communities they, and their workers, live and work in.


About the Wine (General)

Top wineries & winemakers from Santa Ynez Valley were invited to participate and the showing was impressive. Each wine was given a unique bottle with a custom-made piece of artwork adorning it. The original art the labels were based on were available for silent-auction. One piece had the media listed as “wine on paper” and it was evocative of an Old World winery… and unusual. The wines were available for purchase at the event at a little bit of a discount from their normal release prices, and some wines are only available from Vino de Sueños directly.

I’ve now attended a few different types of tasting events and I have to say each has had its own unique flair. I’ve been to a Rhone Rangers event (30+ wineries, very professional vibe), a BevMo! Mega-Tasting event (hundreds of wines, beers, and spirits, mass consumer crowd), a Learn About Wine event (unoaked theme, pretentious but consumer-oriented), and now this Vino de Sueños event (a charity event with a blue-blood feel, despite the presence of rancheros and vaqueros).

I highly recommend tasting events to anyone who wants to learn more about wine or expand their palate quickly. Arrive as early as possible, take notes, and remember to dump most of the wine or you’ll be drunk inside an hour! (Which is fine, if that’s what you’re aiming for… it’s almost inevitable anyway.)

About Each Wine

Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards – Santa Rita Hills

“For over 20 years, my wife Thekla and I have focused on what’s most important to us: sustainable business practices and organic farming. We are deeply committed to the environment and the soulful connection with our employees and the people who enjoy our wine.” says Richard Sanford.

They presented their 2008 Alma Rosa Pinot Gris, Santa Barbara County ($16 per bottle, 1201 cases produced)

What they say: Like one of the models in a Modigliani, lean yet full of curves, our 2008 Pinot Gris is a bit softer and more rounded than the prior vintage. It retains that wonderfully brilliant nose of fresh orchard fruits and a pleasant bitter-almond quality, along with apple-pie like flavors and cleansing acidity that lead us to recommend pairing this wine with Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, or inventive Pacific Rim dishes… Let’s do some lightly-fried or grilled fish in garlic-lime butter with a spicy tropical-fruit salsa…

What Jess says: Produced in the Burgundian style with stainless steel fermentation and neutral oak. No malolactic fermentation. Has a screwcap closure. On the nose I detected grapefruit and pineapple. This was a smooth wine, showing green apple and a bright, but not overly so, acidity. I also detected something that seemed “nutty” to me, but that seems strange.

Au Bon Climat Winery – Santa Maria Valley

au-bon-climat-logo“The Au Bon Climat winery is located on the world-famous Bien Nacido Vineyard, and is owned by winemaker Jim Clendenen. Au Bon Climat was listed on Robert Parker’s Best Wineries of the World in both 1989 and 1990, while Jim Clendenen has been named Winemaker of the Year in 1992 by the Los Angeles Times, and Winemaker of the Year in 2001 by Food and Wine Magazine.”

They presented their 2005 Au Bon Climat Santa Maria Petit Verdot ($32 per bottle)

I was unable to find any information about this wine online and they didn’t send me home with any goodies so that I could reference those materials… so folks, you’ll just be getting my review of this one!

What Jess says: The nose was earthy and bore the scent of many other Santa Maria Valley wines I’ve tasted. It was aged 36 months in oak and reminded me of a Merlot (which isn’t really a compliment coming from me, but they ARE growing on me a little… thank you BevMo!). I’ve only ever had one other pure (or nearly pure) Petit Verdot and it was from Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles. The Au Bon Climat sample was better.

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard – Santa Ynez Valley

“Buttonwood’s varietal mix of sauvignon blanc, semillon, marsanne, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and syrah reflects the preferences of owners Betty Williams and her son-in-law, Bret Davenport, for Bordeaux and Rhone style wines. As we expected, they grow perfectly in our warm, eastern Santa Ynez Valley location.”

They presented their 2008 Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc ($13 per bottle)

What they said: The 2008 Buttonwood Sauvignon Blanc is the perfect melding of our warm Santa Ynez Valley climate, careful cultivation and winemaker know-how. Imagine what sunshine would taste like if you could bottle it and you come close to the bright and tangy flavor of our favorite white wine. Flavors of lemon-lime edged tropical fruit with a creamy core and tart finish offer a rare treat at the end of a warm summer day. A high acid profile makes Sauvignon Blanc the perfect food wine and we like it best with seafood. Try our latest edition with chilled English pea soup served with a dollop of crab salad topped with lemon infused creme fraiche.

What Jess says: The 20% Semillon was a great idea to cut through the acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc from this area. On the nose: bright, grapefruit. In the mouth: Light and buttery. This was my first stop at the event (right next to the door) and my palate was at its freshest. I’m a fan of Sauvignon Blanc from this area (thank you Fiddlehead!) and at $13 a bottle, this is a great value wine.

Cold Heaven Cellars – Santa Maria & Santa Ynez Valleys

“My mission and goal as a winemaker is to illuminate and define Viognier, to elevate its profile and explore its potential through keen observation and copious tasting. I seek to sound the depths of this enigmatic grape, to reveal its secrets and shine a bright light on the extraordinary fruit grown in the cool vineyards of the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez Valleys of California ‘s Central Coast.” – Morgan Clendenen

Morgan was representing her own wine and was delightful to speak with.

She presented her 2005 Cold Heaven Syrah Santa Barbara County ($30 per bottle). At first I thought it was the “Second Sin” Syrah, but now I’m not so sure. She’s launching a second label (focusing on Sauvignon Blanc) called Strangelove. The order form for the wines says Strangelove Syrah. Regardless, I don’t have the winemakers’ notes for you, and again, you’re stuck with my interpretation (but since I can’t identify the wine, it will make it hard for you to argue with me!)

What Jess says: I found the wine to taste quite a bit like a Pinot Noir from the area. Since this was the sixth or seventh table I tasted at I figured it was just me, but someone else asked Morgan and she said it herself (something to the effect of) “everyone is trying to make their Pinots taste like Syrahs and here I am trying to make a Syrah taste like a Pinot.” If nothing else, it’s a testament to the effect winemaking can have on a grape! The wine was “pre-release” and even though it’d had 2 years in a barrel and 2 years in the bottle, it could have used a little more time to rest… and beef up.

D’Alfonso-Curran Wines – Santa Rita Hills

“D’Alfonso – Curran Wines is the identity for two very successful and celebrated wine makers – Bruno D’Alfonso and Kris Curran. The two together bring decades of knowledge, artistry, experience and accolades to their personal labels – Curran, DiBruno and BADGE. Their wines offer an array of sought-after, limited production wines, each with its own unique characteristics. Grenache Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, Syrah and Tempranillo all from locally grown fruit are just some of the varietals offered. The company operates a tasting room located in downtown Solvang and a new winery located in the heart of the Santa Rita Hills AVA on Rancho La Vina.”

They presented their 2006 BADGE Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills ($30 per bottle)

What they say: I can’t locate any of the winery’s tasting notes on this one.

The person pouring (I’ve now forgotten who it was) told me about their unique “triple finish” which consisted of 1/3 Oak fermentation, 1/3 Malolactic fermentation, 1/3 Stainless Steel fermentation. So I’d expect oaky, buttery, and citrus or tropical fruit.

What Jess says: Smells like pineapple. In the mouth it was bright and buttery, but I lost the oak layer in there. Perhaps what I detected as “Viognier-like” was in fact oak?

Fiddlehead Cellars – Santa Rita Hills, Santa Ynez Valley, and Willamette

“Kathy Joseph established Fiddlehead Cellars to capture the pure essence of the two grape varietals that she loves best – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Now in her twentieth vintage

as “Head Fiddle”, Kathy continues to passionately pursue her goal of creating stylistic Sauvignon Blancs and silky, intense Pinot Noirs. Terroir-driven, Fiddlehead’s Sauvignon Blanc wines hail from the stellar eastern-end of the Santa Ynez Valley, while her estate Pinot Noirs showcase the cooler Santa Rita Hills in the western-most part of that transverse valley. And loving the nuances of place, Kathy continues to craft intriguing Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.”

The opportunity to meet Kathy Joseph was a big one for me personally. Fiddlehead was the first wine club we joined (we joined our second on the same trip as this event) and it was the first time we were blown away by everything we tasted in a tasting room. We’ve enjoyed every shipment of wine we received and were seriously bummed when our financial circumstances didn’t leave room for us to join their Stradivarius Club (small group, library wines) and we were forced to give up our spot on the long waiting list. With every tasting note packet, personal recipe, and enthusiastic email I grow to appreciate Kathy and her passion more and more.

As a side note: Doing what you are most passionate about for a living, or making wine, clearly is the secret to good, healthy living. When you see Kathy in person she doesn’t look like someone who should have 20-something vintages under her belt.

Kathy Joseph herself presented her 2005 Fiddlehead Cellars Seven Twenty Eight Estate Pinot Noir – Fiddlestix Vineyard ($38 per bottle)

What they said: This cuvée struts the beauty of the varietal: classic black cherry fruit, hints of black pepper and an underlying earthy signature; together they express layers of finesse and concentration. Laden with silky, sexy tannins and spot on acidity that ensure vibrancy through to the finish and which predict long life in your cellar. A selection of six clones: Pommard 4 and 5, and Dijon clones 667, 777, 113, and 115, each adding significant layers to this charming wine.

Aged 16 months in our favorite selection of tight-grain French oak (Rousseau, Bel Air, Cadus, Saury, Seguin Moreau, Marcel Cadet) and held an additional year in bottle to allow the pinot charm to shine in all its glory!

What Jess says: I loved the wine. I always do. A special wine, balanced and luxurious in the mouth. A long finish with red fruit that makes you relish the last sip and reach for the next.

Foxen Winery – Santa Maria Valley, Santa Rita Hills, Santa Ynez Valley

“Bill Wathen and Dick Doré have been making wine together since 1985, when they founded Foxen Winery & Vineyard at the historic Rancho Tinaquaic in northern Santa Barbara County.

Since that time, their dedication has remained the same—the creation of very small-production, vineyard-designated wines using a “minimalist” approach to winemaking.”

They presented their 2007 Cuvee Jeanne Marie (GSM – Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) ($30 per bottle)

What they say: I can’t find any tasting notes on this one. What’s VERY interesting to me though is that they give you every detail about how the wine was made, and don’t tell you anything about what it tastes like. I was told a story by a younger woman at one of the other tables about how the wine is named after her grandmother, and her father (or uncle?) was pouring the Foxen wine. Perhaps this family understands that everyone will taste the wine differently and the art is in the growing of the grapes and making of the wine rather than in the poetry that sells it?

What Jess says: I love GSM. It’s one of my favorite “varietals.” (Like my interpretation of the four food groups: Bread, Cheese, Garlic, and Wine.) On the nose this wine was hearty and smelled of that ever-unidentifiable “purple fruit.” In the mouth it was flavorful but a little “thin.” I noted that it started to fill out with more and more sips. I’d bet this would be great in 6-months to a year… but not at $30.

Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Winery – Santa Barbara County

“Frank and Gray believe that great wines are made in the vineyard. Their winemaking philosophy is that they are caretakers who guide the wine into the bottle. As the wine matures it is simply left to gently age in the barrel. This minimalist approach allows Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post wines to reflect the character of the vineyard and the vintage, preserving the essence of the grape for you to enjoy when you open the bottle.”

Frank Ostini himself presented a special blend of 2007 Santa Maria Pinot Noir & 2007 Highliner Pinot Noir ($25 per bottle)

Frank was charming and gracious. He reminded me of one of my friends’ Dad when I was a kid. It was nice to meet the man who would be responsible for my dinner that night (a separate review of my experience tasting Hitching Post wines will be available shortly). Since this was a blend made especially for this event (and probably some private labeling venture), there aren’t any winery tasting notes.

What Jess says: Nose was earthy and otherwise like a local Pinot Noir. It was a little thin, even for Pinot. It was aged 3 months in the bottle, but not scheduled for release until the Spring. And it could use the extra few months.

Kalyra Winery – Santa Ynez Valley

“With a strong conviction of creating food compatible wines and simply not making the same wines as everybody else, the Kalyra wine portfolio is as interesting as it is varied.
Winemaker Mike Brown holds true to the new world philosophy that a wine should be a reflection of the grape as well as the unique characteristics of where it is grown.”

They presented their 2005 Late Harvest Riesling ($27 per bottle)

What they say: Tasting notes from Kalyra are MIA, but that’s okay. You’ve got me!

What Jess says: Made in the “Ice Wine” style (properly called Eiswein), I was impressed. My husband is from Ontario and I always stare at the little Ice Wine bottles at the LCBO and wonder why anyone makes wine that sweet. You expect Ice Wine from the northern grape-growing regions as it can be damn cold early in the year (I remember from my Chicago-dwelling days), but it’s pretty unusual to find it in Southern California (the presenter pointed out that you can freeze anything). Honestly, I don’t like sweet wine and the only Rieslings I like are the dry ones. So let’s just say I was more than a little surprised to enjoy this Late Harvest Riesling. It was very sweet, but subtle, well-balanced and layered. I detected pineapple and other tropical fruit that I would expect from grapes grown in this area. If you like sweeter wines, I’d chase this one down.

Makor Wines – Bien Nacido Vineyards, Santa Rita Hills

“If you look at the Au Bon Climat triangular labels, a line near the bottom says “Produced and bottled by Jim Clendenen, Mind Behind.” And while Clendenen is the sole provocateur of the label, when he’s on the road promoting Au Bon Climat and Santa Barbara County, the daily winery tasks

fall to Jim Adelman, production winemaker at the joint Au Bon Climat/Qupé facility, located on the Bien Nacido Vineyard property. Effectively, he’s the mind behind the mind behind!

Adelman makes a small amount of wine under his Makor label, though it’s usually his own spin on something neither producer makes.” (Source: Appellation America)

Jim couldn’t be there that day and the event kindly provided a volunteer to pour this wine. She didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it was a 2007 Merlot from Santa Maria ($14 per bottle). I’m not a Merlot fan, so bear with me.

What Jess says: The nose was peppery (a good start!). It was a well-balanced wine with a nice finish, but it had that grapey thing going on that I don’t like about Merlot wines in general. If anybody knows why Merlot tastes grapey to me, please let me know! (That’s if you’re even still reading at this point.)

Richard Longoria Wines – Santa Barbara County

“My belief that the Santa Barbara wine region would someday produce world class wines has come true,” Rick states, “and my dream of having my own winery has also come true.”

Longoria wines are handcrafted in very small quantities ranging from 50 cases to 500 cases. Total production at this time is about 3,500 cases.”

They presented their 2007 Syrah Cuvee blended specifically for this event ($25 per bottle).

Rick Longoria created this special blend of Syrah from two of the top Syrah vineyards in Santa Barbara County, Alisos and Clover Creek. The blend is 71% Alisos Syrah, 24% Clover Creek Syrah, and 5% Viognier. The resultant wine is a delicious, complex blend that is enjoyable now but will also benefit from two to three years of cellaring.

What Jess says: The nose was smoky and chocolatey. This is a gentle, unusual Syrah. Thin and light, and Pinot Noir-like.

Vozelgang Vineyard – Santa Ynez Valley

Vogelzang Vineyard team is proud to have winemaker Robbie Meyer, former assistant winemaker at Peter Michael and winemaker for Lewis Wines. Over the last year, Robbie and the Coastal Vineyard Care team have worked together to fine-tune the growing of our Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc varietals in preparation for our coming estate wines.”

They presented their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc featured in the June 17th Wine Spectator Insider and rated 94 points ($25 per bottle).

What Jess says: The nose is like a Chardonnay to me. The wine was bright with pineapple, and acidic, with a little butteriness… despite the fact that there was no malolactic fermentation used for this wine. A very unique Sauvignon Blanc that other event-goers couldn’t get enough of.

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wine Tasting Trips

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