Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

President's Day in the RRV and DCV.

Posted by Richard Foxall, Feb 21, 2012.

I generally avoid wine clubs of any sort, even at my favorite wineries--I'm too promiscuous to sign up to drink 12 or 24 botles of someone's wine in a year--but I am a member of Mauritson's Rockpile list, because there's no longer any way to get the Cemetery Zinfandel and good luck getting any of the others, either.  Since I have in-laws up that way, I generally go to the winery and pick up my allotment and combine it with a trip to see my grand-nephews or my brother and sister in law.  This weekend, other considerations made visiting them impractical, so my wife--how'd I get so lucky?--suggested that she would stay home with the kids and my friend Chuck and I could make the trip.  "Take the whole day, or as much as you need, and do some tasting."  Lincoln and Washington never got a birthday present so good.

We left Monday morning at 9 a.m.--Chuck wanted to be back early to take his son to a basketball game--and there was hardly any traffic, so Chuck, the mind reader, said, "Let's go through Sebastopol and up through the RRV."  Chuck likes pinot, albeit not as much as Zin, and he used to do some wine journalism in Sonoma, so he knows the landscape and he knows what I like. 

First stop was Hartford Court on Martinelli Road.  It's a big building, lovely and warm.  Inside, there were throngs of young German tourists.  Turns out there was a connection between one of the Hartford interns and the young people.  They parted way for us and we went to the far end of the tasting bar.  I managed to eavesdrop a little and realized they were having to convert acres to hectares--a conversion I know because I reinforced it here--thanks, dmcker.  Sadly, even Americans in the tasting rooms don't know it.  I didn't interject because they were handling it fine, and mein Deutsch ist ein bischen rustig. 

We started on a single vineyard pinot, MacLean's Block.  The nose was amazing, fruits, forest floor, and layers of ever-changing fruits.  Truffley, then floral.  I spent a good minute just sticking my nose in the glass.  Finally a slurping sip... and just a little letdown.  Good, but the nose promised so much more.  This is pricey juice, too, so the bar is set high.  We talked some more with our pourer.  (Two pourers, one just pouring for us, the other for the Germans, who were being really patient.)  Then sip two, hey, it's early in the day, maybe with a little air...  Sip Three, this is good!  Just a few minutes in the glass, a little extra swirling, and it was putting on weight and complexity.  Cherries, a little banana (weird and good, usually a sign of carbonic, right?  Which it didn't go through...), spices...  NOT a cherry coke wine--really free of that cola that plagues some Sonoma PN.

Next up, the Lands Edge Pinot.  A good nose, more earthy smells, not quite in that MacLean category, but still the kind of aroma that you want from your pinot--ethereal, constantly shifting.  The first sip was much more evenly matched to the nose--but the expectations of this blend of two vineyards was lower.  MacLean's block is actually closer to the ocean than the Far Coast vineyard, so this was a little weightier, a little warmer. 

Then some Zin. My preference in Zin is DCV, and my preference in the RRV is pinot.  So, with those prejudices, it was good, but not great.  Light and agile, balanced, probably a good call with food.  Chuck had been a fan of their zins in the past, but he was clearly more impressed with the MacLean--he was still raving about it. 

We convinced our pourer--it wasn't that hard--to open up a Syrah.  This wine isn't even mentioned on their website.  Outer Limits is the handle.  Now this was impressive.  I am starting to think that a lot of these cool weather sites in "true" Sonoma Coast are actually better suited to Syrah than to Pinot.  (The Pinots from Santa Lucia in Monterey routinely outscored the Sonomas in the Spectator last fall--even as the articles talked about Sonoma.) I had been drinking a Sonoma Syrah the night before--one Chuck and his partner gave me for my birthday--and pontificating on it in the car.  This was my idea of paradigmatic N. Rhone style Syrah--a stiff backbone, sufficient acids to age well and pair with fruit, and a bomb of savory tastes--meat, mushroom, forest floor, more roasted meat, pepper--chased by improbable dark plums and violets.  Afterwards, Chuck went back to the MacLean's Block Pinot.  I could see where that was headed.

I forgot to mention that the tasting fee was a very reasonable $5--refunded when Chuck bought the MacLean PN and I bought the Syrah.  Now if I can keep my hands off it for a while... and Chuck promised not to drink the PN until our annual NYE get together this year.

Onward, to Porter Creek, up on Westside Road, which connects the RRV to DCV.  The opposite:  a small, homey lean-to/cottage of a tasting room, staffed by a guy who lived in NY and really wanted a job at Chambers Street and knew a ton more about wine than I did at his age.  No tasting fee that I am aware of.  Another reco of Chuck's--I have always missed it for time reasons in the past.  Really reminded me of Amity up in Oregon, minus Myron Redford's unmistakable imprint.  (Never met him, but you can't miss his influence and presence in the wines and the winery.) First up was the "standard" Fiona Hill PN.  I liked it a lot, but thought it was, like a lot of PN, a bit pricey at $36 for what was basically a Friday night with roasted chicken wine, and not a special occasion wine.  (When I run out of reasonably priced PN, there's always Cotes du Rhone...) We also tasted the "reserve" PN, which was from a section of the vineyard a bit higher on the hill, apparently justifying the $60 price.  Nice, but not as good, IMO, as the standard bottling.  While having a nice conversation about natural wine--and French cooperage, which seems not that natural in California--the wines were heading the wrong way.  Then we tried a Carignane from grapes from Mendocino.  Bright, fruity, with about as much acid as I can handle, this screamed for a couple of different dishes, including the barbecued meatballs with Zinfandel sauce we had later at Yoakim Bridge.  At $24, a pretty reasonable bottle.  I bought one, but not till after we had tried the Syrah from the Timbervine vineyard.  A few folks source this cool-weather vineyard, and this one is co-fermented with Viognier in true Rhone style.  Great nose, right up there with the Hartford's, but the flavor was not quite as deep and the focus was missing just a bit.  Chuck, who likes Syrah but is not the fanatic I am, bought a bottle. 

Two stops, two bottles, and Mauritson still a good piece up the road.

We stopped at Lambert Bridge, which wanted $15 for a tasting and no refund if we bought a bottle.  I get that they are allocated about 100%, but the general lack of welcoming attitude was a little much, considering they have a sign out saying they are open for tasting.  We left without tasting.  No knock on the wines, and, if their model is to sell $90 wine and never replenish their customer base, more power to 'em.  It was a totally unplanned stop.

Before we had even gotten off the highway, I had called Michael Talty at Talty Winery--yes, Snooth winery of the year.  Accolades notwithstanding, and he's had plenty of them before this, too, Michael called me back and said he was going to be in the tasting room around noon, but he could open it earlier if we wanted.  No, we had enough to occupy our time, noon was going to be fine.  So we headed north on West Dry Creek Road.  We past bunches of wineries till we reached Yoakim Bridge, which is both a road and a winery, right next to Talty.  Talty is a small operation, but Yoakim is basically a couple who own 40 acres and do everything.  The tasting room is officially open Sat and Sunday, but we pulled up and there was the owner, working on the books and tending some meatballs.  We drank the Zin--good, definitely in the DCV mold, but not amazing.  Still, progress was being made.  We moved on to a merlot.  Yep, merlot, in the DCV, my least favorite noble grape, probably.  But maybe it just needs to be made like this.  The opposite of flabby, this had taut acidity, red currants, I could see the value in aging.  This was an '07, and pretty good.  David, the owner, said he had 4 bottles of the '06 left--not enough to have out for tasting.  But it was just coming around and had the better aging potential.  Did we want a taste?  Oh, yes, we did.  So he had a bottle he'd opened, and it was definitely the ager of the two.  More of that acidity, tannins that are still coming into alignment but showing lots of promise, more of the currant flavor.  Chuck bought the 2007, I bought the 2006.  Can you say mini-vertical?  We tried a Petite Sirah, which had typicity, but didn't really blow my mind, and a Napa Cab that David said was unlikely to be repeated--it was good, but he didn't think he'd be able to get the grapes again.  If you like your zins dry farmed rich, but a little more restrained, get on the mailing list. At $25 a bottle through the list, your going to be happy.  And if you like low key wineries, this is the ultimate in low key--David was really welcoming, but he does almost no advertising, relying on his location for good grapes and traffic. 

It was 12:30 or so and time to go up the driveway and right back down Michael Talty's driveway.  We got to the door to the tasting room and there was the printed page from Snooth announcing the award.  And there was Michael Talty, ready with two glasses on the barrelhead.  We shook hands, got re-acquainted, and got down to tasting.  First, the new Dwight Family Zin.  Without being a pinot, this has the lightness, freshness, agility, and sophistication of a pinot.  You could have it with your roasted chicken for a different experience.  We talked winemaking--Michael pretended to not have heard of the "natural wine" movement, or maybe he wasn't pretending.  He's consulting on a project out of another facility and they're freaking out at his technique, or maybe lack of said.  Michael isn't totally afraid of volatile acidity, since his grapes produce such big flavors and he makes them for a bit more aging than most.  but the Dwight is lighter, not just in color.

Then the Filice Connolly.  This is a vineyard in Napa, only one other winemaker has the grapes and calls it something else.  This is like a mature woman in a silk dress.  Somewhere between Kristin Scott Thomas and Helen Mirren at Oscar time.  Elegant, classy, and knows how to make things happen.  As Chuck said, "Your wine comes out at special occasions."  Michael: "That's all I can ask." The Filice takes about a year longer than the Estate to really show--it puts on a little voluptuousness that's sometimes missing if you catch it a bit too young.  Michael claims not to like high alcohol wines--but his wines routinely carry 15% and more with no hint of heat. 

We hit the Estate next.  This was the 2008, and just making its bones.  This is why we came to DCV--and why "Winery of the Year" is so deserved.  The wine has a little Carignane and a little Petite Sirah--a la Ridge, but that's probably also just because they really do something for the Zin.  It's all from the vineyard right outside the door, which was planted before Talty bought the land, for the most part.  He's done amazing things with dry farming (like Yoakim Bridge) but he pays the price in tough years.  There won't be a ton of wine from the 2010 vintage and Michael will really scrutinize what he puts out there.  Balancing stress is the key to flavor, but don't be fooled by the colors:  Talty wines don't always appear the darkest, but you'd have a time finding anything more complex.  Michael commented that he doesn't get a lot of the labels--old vine, natural winemaking--he just makes wine he likes and can't get behind calling it reserve: He wouldn't sell it if it was less than what he wanted, and he's not going to jack the price up to $65 and call it reserve. 

We drank some of Steve Law's MacLaren Syrah, which he makes at Talty, and heard his story--how he followed Michael around for almost two years to learn about winemaking, then threw himself into Syrah and put out a 90 pointer in his second vintage.  Unfortunately, Steve was out of town--we'll have a glass with him some other time, I hope.  We also learned that Michael limits the numbers of bottles of any one Talty wine you can buy so that more people can try it.  Steve talked him into breaking the rule, and that's how the relationship began. 

Chuck bought four bottles of Talty Zin, two of Filice and two Estate.  I still have some in the cellar, so I got two Estates and two of Steve's new, long-ager Syrahs--the acids on those need a little time, but they have a lot of promise.  Then Michael said, "I want you guys to share this, it proves that these wines can age for 7 years or more and be in their prime," and handed us a bottle of 2005 Estate, gratis. 

Highlight of the trip, for sure. 

After a quick lunch at Dry Creek Grocery, off to Mauritson, where we picked up our allotment.  We didn't spend a lot of time there, but we tasted the new Rockpile Ridge Zin that was coming home with us.  Chuck looked at me and said, "Now I remember why we like Talty and Mauritson so much more than the others."  Okay, I'd toss Bella in there, maybe a few others, but this was the other end of Zin--not jammy, balanced, but where Michael's starts nimble and then deepens, it's right into the diving pool with Clay Mauritson's Rockpiles.  The Mauritsons own the biggest chunk of Rockpile, by far, and have gradually been turning the AVA into a brand, which is lucky since they also own the name as a wine brand.  (The only comparable dominance I can think of with an AVA is the monopoles of DRC, but Rockpile is bigger.  There are a couple small patches that they don't own, but Clay's family have been on that land for a long time, and lost more than they have now when Lake Sonoma was created by damming the valley.  Chuck covered that story back at the time.)  Clay was not in the tasting room, but his wife and other family members, including his dogs, were there.  We also picked up our bottles of Syrah from Madrone Springs vineyard in Rockpile as part of the shipment, but there's not a lot around, so we put off the tasting till we open it.... which I promised not to rush.  Chuck bought an extra bottle of Cab Sauv from Rockpile, even though he's got a bottle or two in his basement now. 

Long post, but thought some of you would be interested in how things are in the RRV and DCV--nothing better than a jaunt through here on an uncrowded day.

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Reply by dmcker, Feb 21, 2012.

Great travelogue, Fox, and looks like your wife was smart to let you off the leash. Smart enough that she probably gains with interest in return, my guess.  ;-)

No time for a proper reply right now but will check back in later. Several items that warrant discussion...

Reply by outthere, Feb 21, 2012.

Nice post. I worked ;-(


Reply by shsim, Feb 21, 2012.

Wow thanks for the post! I dont know much about Rockpile so it was nice to get a glimpse of it. And I enjoyed the details you did for Talty! The only thing I know about them is they received the winery of the year award so it was fun to read through your experience about it! I like his philosophy of making wine he enjoys and not jacking up the prices like many others...

Reply by JonDerry, Feb 22, 2012.

President's day is a good day for wine, great that your wife green-lighted this mission. The Hartford Court Pinot sounds really good, and you had mentioned single variety carignan in another thread.

I like when I hear people talking about "the wine is gaining weight", though i'm not sure I've noticed this much myself.

Great run-down at Talty, seems like Talty Zin must be checked out.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 22, 2012.

GdP is certainly a looking-ahead wine writer, but Michael Talty has been getting notices for a while.  The WSJ gave him a "best Zin" nod a while back, even before I started going up there.  But my friend Chuck, who lived up in Sonoma before the lake existed and wrote about the biz of wine fro one of the papers in Sonoma County back when, was the one who put it on my radar.  For those of you out of the area, it's really hard to get--once in a while, Invino will have a special, but not much.  Michael's not looking to get a whole lot bigger--he has a great life, makes the wine he wants, won't sacrifice quality, can do the wine at a comfortable, albeit not daily drinking price... so far, people aren't beating down the door because of the award, but that's because he's not making a supermarket wine with wide distribution.  More power to him: I don't think you can control it like he does if you get really big.  And he's not giving a distributor a cut of the $38, so that helps, as long as he can keep it moving. 

The only downside to his wines, and Clay's, is that they recognize that even balanced Zin is going to be over 14% ABV, and probably over 15%.  There's no heat, or I wouldn't call them balanced, but it's dicey to polish off a bottle between two people.  Of course, other Zins hit higher levels, but few of them provide me with a ton of enjoyment--they go overboard on the jamminess and pick up heat.  But 15+% throws even the dedicated drinker for a loop if he lacks caution.

JD, when I say"gaining weight," a combination of things are occurring:  The wine is becoming more aromatic, with more layers of aromas and weightier ones, and the mouthfeel is becoming weightier.  The fruits are filling out from lighter to stronger, or some of the secondaries that give deeper flavors are appearing.  Finally, some of the things that can jut out like bony elbows--tannins, acids--get integrated more, giving the whole wine a little less angularity. None of this totally gets it, and the factors don't all have to be present.  But I definitely think that, while subjective, we have a commonly held sense of what it is.  A "know it when I see it" feeling.  It's where tasting a wine over time--sometimes an evening, sometimes bottles years apart--is necessary.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 22, 2012.

Outthere, next time I should plan ahead and try to stop in wherever you are!

Next trip, I want to go to the PN producers who don't have their own vineyards, like Holdrege, Siduri, Scherer, just do PN.

Reply by EMark, Feb 22, 2012.

This was an excellent report Fox.  I am quite envious of the geographic advantage that you have to be able to walk out to the car and drive to these amazing destinations in a matter of hours.

Reply by dmcker, Feb 22, 2012.

Mark, dare I say the names Ojai and Santa Barbara (or even Temecula)?

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 22, 2012.

We do pay for it in other ways, but it's ungracious to complain.  What's really crazy is that I used to have an office just a few blocks from Dashe/JC here in Oakland. 

Having the physical access also means that you can go at somewhat off times, which affords opportunities like we had at Talty.  After a while, that stuff snowballs a bit.  A lesson I learned a long time ago was that opening acts at club and smaller venue shows are happy to talk to the fans.  When they get more popular, especially if you brought them fans, that isn't forgotten, because that snowballs for them, too--in new fans, in label interest (labels want bands to already have a following to build on).  Winemakers at the family operations are not that different.  And they know that they every bottle they sell without a distributor adds right to the bottom line--their marginal costs are not that huge, it's the fixed costs (land and winery buildings and equipment) that make it hard.  So word of mouth means a lot to them. Thanks to email, if I refer someone there, I can let the winery know ahead of time, and then the taster gets a better experience and the winery knows how they came to be there. 

Can't really complain, even though I envy GdP sometimes...  then I think about tasting 100x as many wines as I do now and wonder if I could handle it.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 22, 2012.

dmcker: I dunno, can you get there in 40 minutes, like I can get to Napa?-)

Reply by dmcker, Feb 22, 2012.

Don't know exactly where Mark (or Jon) lives, but if he dodges traffic it'd be interesting to hear how long from where he is up to Santa Paula and over to downtown Ojai, then on the backroads to Santa Barbara, and further on to Santa Ynez. Ojai and Santa Barbara can definitely be done as a day trip, though I'd come back late night along 101. If not pressing it, can be a very pleasant drive. If Santa Ynez is to be included, would be nicer with an overnight.

Now tell me, really: best case to Napa town 40minutes, but how about on weekends to the actual wineries, and, more to the point, how long to DCV or the Sonoma Coast (all up and down it)?  ;-(

Nevertheless, if I needed to be in the Bay Area I'd be happy to be based out of Oakland, Berkeley, Albany or maybe Marin. Like those areas a heckuva lot better than Palo Alto and its neighbors where I used to have to hang out. Wouldn't mind south of Santa Cruz, I suppose, if I still had to access the Valley. Get a nice little place up in Timber Cove for weekends and holidays...  ;-)

Reply by JonDerry, Feb 22, 2012.

I'm about 67 miles, or about an hour and twenty minutes from Santa Paula, not bad...

Anything near Tahoe? Will be there this weekend.

Will have to file Timber Cove away in the memory bank.

Reply by dmcker, Feb 23, 2012.

An easy shot up a backroad to Ojai. Nice drive. Ojai Vineyard a good place to visit, and some good places to eat and laze around if you don't want to drive on to Santa Barbara on any given day. Faster up 101 to Ventura if you can dodge traffic but the Santa Paula route is nice, especially in the early spring. Maybe snow on Topa Topa but wildflowers along the roadside.

If Tahoe, you realize you're talking side trips to bigZin country?  Alternatively, find a comfy place to hunker down and drink in Truckee....  Which mountain?

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Feb 23, 2012.

Wow, great read Foxall. Love to see other people's perspectives on the wine world. Porter Creek used to make some lovely wines from things like old vine Carignan and Isuch. Got to see if they're still offering those wines in addition to their more obvious line-up. And Yoakim Bridge was not on my radar but it'll be an easy add to my next visit! Thanks very much for sharing!

Reply by outthere, Feb 23, 2012.

Boy D, not feeling the love up here in the RRV. Gotcha all beat. I can stop for a tasting on my way home from work. From my front door as the crow flies I'm probably a mile or less from Wind Gap, Hartford and then a couple more miles to dozens of others.

Like Fox sid, it comes with a  premium attached but it's worth every penny.

Reply by dmcker, Feb 23, 2012.

Was waiting for you to weigh in, outhere. A mile from Wind Gap, eh?   :-)

Now in Tokyo, it takes longer to get to the airport than it takes Jon to get to Santa Barbara, though there is *one* good sake brewery about that long away, too....

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 23, 2012.

Outthere has me beat, no doubt--although I can taste at JC on my way home, also RockWall, TwoMile, and a few others.  Not too many people I envy, but he might be high on the list.

d, I used to run a race at Bothe Park, back in my serious running days.  That's almost in Calistoga.  From my door to there, 40 minutes.  The trick is going at 6 or 7 a.m.  Another trick is that I live right by the Macarthur Maze--I can get to SF and be parked in 15 if there's no major bridge traffic.

JD: Hope I catch you in time.  Depends a little on which side of Tahoe, but there are good places in the Sierra Foothills.  One that's kind of on the way from Bay Area, close to 80, is Secret Ravine.  I haven't been, but I just drank some of their Cab Franc (it's the one I mentioned in another thread in a shout out to humpdog) and it was fascinating.  If you are going on the south side of the lake, you could drop down from 50 and go to Easton/Terre Rouge--Zins and terrific Rhones-- in Plymouth.  I've had their Rhones and consider the blended one a top-bargain that rivals what the Rhone producers in the Central Coast are doing.  None of these are in Tahoe, depends on where you are coming from and what part of the lake you are going to.  For other ideas, just search "Sierra Foothills wine."

In any case, red wine pairs really well with altitude, but it will go to your head and cause hangovers at lesser amounts--hydrate, by all means!  Couple years ago we got a place at Northstar for the middle of the week on the kids Spring Break.  Brought a few bottles off Truett&Hurst Zin, lucked into perfect conditions (2 feet new powder fell as we drove up, then it got warmer the last couple days).  A highlight of my whole family's life, but the expectations it set for the kids are pretty high. Have fun!

Reply by Mr Dolce, Feb 23, 2012.

The fiance and I visited the Dry Creek Valley on President's Day which was a conclusion to our jaunt to Napa the previous day.  As I constructed our intinerary for the Napa venture, upon arriving to Highway 29 we noticed and overwhelming amount of traffic, making the Siverado Trail a more enjoyable route to begin our wine journey at Chateau Montelena.  On the way to the Chateau, an associate of mine from the Testarossa Winery reccomended Raymond Vineyards and Winery which just happened to be in the general direction as we made our ascent... plus we need to use the facilities. 

Upon entrance to Raymond Vineyards we noticed the grounds were typical of a regular winery Napa Valley winery and were curious as to why he would reccomend Raymond.  My fiance made her way to the restroom as I entered the tasting room only to be greeted by a represenative who took a look at the industry business card I placed on the wine bar and immediately reccomended we head down the hallway to the Crystal Experience.  Momentarilly, my fiance rejoined me and I lead her down said hallway.  We opened a door to a caberet-styled room with very low lighting, mirrors, and many crystal figurines and chandelliers.  There were a few scantilly clad manequins, including one hanging upside down from a swing.  The wines were delightful, the ambience was sexy, but I have to admit the room was a but chilly.  And although not on our list of scheduled wineries, we enjoyed our complimentary tasting, purchased their flagship wine, and we were back on the Silverado Trail. 

As I mentioned, our first stop was the Chateau Montelena Winery with rich history dating back to 1976 as the "Judgement of Paris" gave praise to Napa Valley wines by giving the best in show award to the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay over all the Paris wines that year.  "Bottleshock" the funny and intriguing movie, was based on this winery's story.  The Chateau Montelena Winery is very deserving of it's title for the beautiful grounds, the small lake, the imensity of the Chateau and the wonderful wines it produces.  We were greated by a nice gentleman behind the bar who was very knowledgeable and made our experience very pleasant.  Taking pictures and revelling in the beauty of the winery, we noticed a overly confident swan making it's way out of a pond, wings slightly up and pulled back resembling a tough little child.  Yes, it was a sight and adorable to boot. 

As we serpentined our way down toward the town of Napa to reach our final destination, the Marriot Hotel and Spa, we made a wrong turn and ended up at Twomey Winery, an offspring of the famous Siver Oak.  Twomey (pronounced "too-me") was on the smaller side which only made Merlot on the property yet produced some excellent Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, Russian River Valley, and the Sonoma Coast.  One of the associates kindly took us into the barrel room where the 2010 Merlot was being aged giving us an impromptu tour.  The tasting room was very quaint and as a person with an attention to detail, I noticed that all the T's on the top of the wine foils were right side up.  I mentioned it to an associate and it was confirmed that it definately not a coincidence.  Personally, I like the idea, it shows that they care about there image.  And we were off to the next destination of Clos Pegase.  

As a couple who appreciates the arts, we were captivated by the infusion of sculpture, painting, and architectural design that is the inspirtation of Clos Pegase.  Although we did not have a chance to view all of the pieces the winery had to offer, what we did in enjoy mostly was eachother's interests in each piece we viewed.  The owner of the winery happens to be one of the top 10 art collecters in the world, amassing over 4000 pieces to date.  That's all for now, thanks for your interest and my apologies for the spelling and grammatical errors .

Reply by EMark, Feb 24, 2012.

I have been catching up on this conversation.

Dm, you caught me.  I have no excuse.  Temecula is about an hour away and it has been a while since I visited any wineries there.

It's worse than that, however, Guasti Winery and J. Phillipi have tasting rooms only about 20 minutes away.  The Cucamonga/Ontario area used to be big time agriculural--citrus and grapes.  Most of it is now plowed over and replaced with tract homes, shopping malls and industrial parks.  There are still some vineyards.  Every now and again I stumble onto a Cucamonga Zinfandel, and they've been OK.  Guasti and Phillipi are very old and quite historic wineries.  However, I have never heard anybody say that their wines were worth seeking.  So, I've never checked them out.

Santa Paula is about an hour and a half drive for me.  Santa Barbara and Ojai are somewhat more than and somewhat less than 2 hours.

In spite of my local opportunities, it is my considered opinion that driving through Sonoma wine country sounds a lot more appealing than Temecula, Ontario or Santa Paula. ;-)

Reply by dmcker, Feb 25, 2012.

Mark, I'll agree with you cetainly on Ontario and maybe Temecula, but Santa Paula (you can stop off there if you want but I was only talking about the highway through) to Ojai to Santa Barbara to Santa Ynez is a lot more interesting, IMHO, than, say, Paso Robles. And certainly than just driving through the flats of southern Sonoma. Lots of good wines to find that haven't been played up so much in the Ojai/Santa Barbara connection, too, and thus make you feel particularly good about discovering.

I'll save Santa Barbara for another thread. But if you want a perfect day in Ojai, take that drive up in the early morning, early Spring. I5 up to Santa Clarita, then 126 over through Piru and Fillmore to Santa Paula where you turn right onto 150 and head along what seems like the foot of Topa Topa, with Sespe and the condors behind it, to your right. Oak forests and low hills, wildlowers in the spring, occasional orange orchards and an increasing number of large estates, though usually not visible from the road--a winding road that's fun to drive. Air clean and crisp, lightyears distant from the L.A. experience, even tho so close. My family used to have a ranch on Spring Mountain (I believe you can still stop and fill waterbottles at the spring beside the highway) along it, so I took that road often, and it hasn't changed as much as landscapes have over on the coast. You'll come into Ojai from the east, past Boccali's (referenced later), then into the old downtown area.

For me, just a visit to the Ojai Vineyard tasting room there warrants the trip. Great wine, generally good across the boards but some real highpoints including their syrahs. The winemaker started, I believe, at Zaca Mesa way back when, then moved to Au Bon Climat with Clendenen, subsequently starting his own operation in the early mid '80s on some land his family owned outside Ojai. His wines used to be big, but he's toning them down and finessing them up these days. His syrahs, and others, can be special.

I'd do that tasting room visit (ideally confirming whether Adam Tolmach, the proprietor and winemaker, might be there) then some more touristy stuff around Ojai, whether it's a spa visit (Ojai Valley Inn or competitors), art museums, golf or tennis, boutique shopping, a walk in the foothills or just finding a place to sit down, eat and drink. Azu is very good tapas and drinks. The Ranch House (towards Meiner's Oaks) is an institution from an earlier era where the founder (now deceased) did lots to help trends in restaurant and other foods head in locavore, California cuisine (OK, a little, anyway, early stages back when) and creative vegetarian directions, though they also serve meat. Great winelist there. One of the very particular places in Ojai that comes from its decades as a kind of residential retreat for artists and writers (and Krishnamurti, the Rosicrucians et al.), coexisting with horse, ranching and fruit farming culture. You could do worse than to go sit at one of Boccali's (east end of town) outdoor tables and have their pizza or pasta with wine they make themselves. Extremely fresh ingredients and they sell the veggies they don't cook. Perhaps end with their strawberry shortcake that's become a local tradition. If you do that towards dusk and can watch the moon rise it's pretty spectacular. I've never seen a larger moon anywhere on earth than in the Ojai Valley--must be something to do with that unique Ojai atmospheric light. Also good is Deer Lodge, up toward's Wheeler Gorge north of town, but it's a new iteration and not the classic roadhouse of old. Suzanne's in town also has good food. The places in my book to spend a few hours with friends/family/dates and wine in the afternoon would be the garden at the Ranch House, the patio at Deer Lodge, or the picnic tables at Boccali's, kinda in descending oder of food ambitions and price. Azu and Suzanne's are more standard restaurant experiences, though quite good at what they do.

The Boccali wine is for drinking there, IMHO. The Ojai Vineyard wine can be up there with the best of the Central Coast and even the rest of California, and is to be loaded up and taken home. There are other wines made around Ojai, so they also could be chased down. But Tolmach's are the best I've had (with the exception, perhaps, of Manfred Krankl's down along Ventura Avenue, but Tolmach wins the QPR battle hands down). There's also an Ojai wine festival event near Lake Casitas in June, I believe.

Or, you could do the Ojai visit in a half day, then drive up the rest of 150 beside Lake Casitas and join with 101 at Carpinteria to continue on a bit to Santa Barbara. That's also a nice drive with options (kayaking on the lake, anyone?), including hills and mistletoe-hanging oaks, stream crossings and fun curvy roads (my family also used to have avocado orchards along it). Then to Santa Barbara for tasting at a bar or winestore or restaurant or two, then head up 154, the San Marcos Pass and Santa Ynez Valley. Another windy, fun road with a bit of a climb to it, that I used to race in my youth. Anyway, Santa Barbara drinks and wineries are for another thread, as mentioned earlier, and I'd personally prefer to spend a night each in Ojai and in Santa Barbara, and make it a three dayer....

A couple references for that Hwy 150:

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