The Tasting Panel magazine

January 2014

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Special Terroir THE SOMMELIER TRADE'S ROLE IN THE BALLARD CANYON AVA by Randy Caparoso PHOTO: RANDY CAPAROSO I Hilarie Clarke of Harrison Clarke Wine pours for Ivy Nagayama of Sansei Seafood, Honolulu during the Sommelier Journal–sponsored visit to Ballard Canyon in 2010. PHOTO: RANDY CAPAROSO Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard helped organize the Ballard Canyon AVA. n The Gray Report this past November, Blake Gray wrote about how Ballard Canyon—America's newest American Viticultural Area (approved September 2013)—came about. "The growers," says Gray, "credit the impetus for creating an AVA to Sommelier Journal," citing a threeday visit of 40 sommeliers from around the country to Santa Barbara County that took place in the spring of 2010. "Ballard Canyon wasn't anything at the time," Gray quotes Michael Larner, owner of Larner Vineyard (Ballard Canyon's best known vineyard site). Larner and a handful of other vintners put together a tasting of Rhône-style wines followed by a Syrah seminar for the Sommelier Journal group. The wines showed so much regional distinction as a group that the question was inevitably bounced around: Why isn't Ballard Canyon an AVA? Larner admits that, at the time, organizing their little region (consisting of barely 500 acres of planted grapes) into an AVA had not occurred to them. The Sommelier Journal seminar was the first time most of the Ballard Canyon growers had come together to taste their own wines. Says Larner, "We had a meeting—there were only ten of us—and said, 'The market's calling for it, the sommeliers are calling for it, let's go for it.'" Here's the inside scoop: It is not as if sommeliers are thrilled by new American Viticultural Areas. Like many others in the trade, most sommeliers think wine is confusing enough, without having to ask consumers to geek out on still another obscure AVA. Yet Ballard Canyon is so geographically distinctive—a fairly warm hillside region contained at the center of Santa Barbara's Santa Ynez Valley AVA, marked by sandy, gravelly, limestone rich soils and dramatic diurnal temperature swing— that the terroir-driven impact on its wines simply make the argument compelling. I myself had been coming back and forth to Ballard Canyon since the late 1990s, originally to work with Bryan Babcock of Babcock Vineyards on exclusive bottlings of Ballard Canyon Sangiovese and Syrah (grown by the Stolpman family) for my multi-unit restaurant group. Even then, the potential for elevated perfumes (beyond simple varietal fruitiness), terroir-related tertiary aromas and balance of higher acidity made possible by the region's calcareous slopes seemed stunningly unique. Another geological gem, waiting to be "discovered" by the rest of the wine world. Sangiovese is no longer a popular choice among the growers; but our group of sommeliers was persuaded by Syrahs of enormous scale, yet stupendous balance and intensity, Roussannes and Viogniers of thick texturing and electrical acidity and Grenachebased reds with a peppery pop and strawberry liqueur–like concentration screaming for comparisons with Rayas or the best of Gigondas. If this is not special terroir, I don't know what is. I remember Sandy Block, MW, Corporate Wine Buyer of Legal Sea Foods, turning to me during the Ballard Canyon tastings and saying, "This is not something that can be demonstrated with scientific precision, but it is a reality, even if an ambiguous one." For a taste of the distinctive wines grown in the Ballard Canyon AVA, look for any of the Rhône inspired bottlings by producers such as Beckmen, Harrison Clarke, Herman Story, Jaffurs, Jonata, McPrice Meyers, Rusack, or Stolpman—and prepare to be suitably wowed. 38  /  the tasting panel  /  january 2014 TP0114_034-65.indd 38 12/19/13 9:27 PM

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