The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2010

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WHAT’S NEXT IN WINE “You didn’t say Bordeaux varietals in the same sentence when you’re talking about Santa Barbara County wines,” relates Doug Margerum, a former Santa Barbara restaurateur, “but you do now.” In 1981, Margerum founded The Wine Cask, a dining spot that epitomized “wine country cuisine” when the term had barely been coined. He sold the restaurant in 2006 to pursue his career as a winemaker in the Santa Ynez Valley. Located about 35 miles north of Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez Valley has long been synonymous with splendidly crafted Syrahs, brilliant Grenache and other Rhône reds and whites, as well as Pinots and Chards from the much cooler Sta. Rita Hills AVA further west, where Burgundian fruit thrives. But until recently, the Cabernets, Merlots and other Bordeaux blenders from here have been pooh-pooed as vegetal, as this lush region is known for cooler climes, windy afternoons and foggy mornings. Due east of the Santa Agueda Creek, however, in the easternmost portion of Santa Ynez Valley, just off Highway 154, is a remote chasm with undulating hills, mineral-rich terroir and its own microclimate. This is Happy Canyon, where the fog pulls out first thing in the morning or sometimes does not appear at all; sun and heat hit earlier in the day, and the ridgetops cool more slowly than in the western part of the Valley. “Phrase Two”: Bordeaux varietals and the Santa Ynez Valley Thanks to a mesa on the eastern side of the Valley, Happy Canyon enjoys a unique microclimate, with separate soil sets (high magnesium and serpentine-laced minerality) and a unique climate (warmer, with minimal maritime influence) that induce a viticultural oddity here: flavors develop before sugar in the grapes. “In other growing regions you usually have to wait for flavor,” Margerum explains, as he allows us to sip a bright, juicy and oh-so-impressive Sangiovese grown at Cimarone’s Three Creek Vineyards in the new AVA. “The wines are remarkably deep and rich,” he notes. “As a winemaker, I dig it: stressed vines with low yields. As a grower, well, it’ll kill you.” Margerum is right. As winemaker for Happy Canyon Vineyards and consulting for several wineries (Cimarone, Cent’ Anni and, in the Rhône Valley, Chêne Bleu), in addition to crafting wines under his own Margerum Wine Company label, he brings his winemaking expertise to the aid of the grower, such as Cimarone owner Roger Higgins. “Higgins started out as a grape grower, but he brought me in for the 2006 vintage.” For Higgins and the Cimarone label, Margerum kept the wine program estate-focused; a bucolic backdrop of voluptuous hills and invitingly blue waterways enhance the winery’s 100-acre Three Creek Vineyards, with 26 acres planted to organically farmed grapes. “It costs more than $7,000 an acre to farm,” notes Higgins, “and I only can make $4,000 an acre as a grower.” That’s where Margerum comes to the rescue, producing high-end wines in small lots. The Cimarone “Le Clos Secret” (a blend of 45% Cab Franc, 35% Cab Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot and 5% Malbec) can fetch $60, and the ultra-lush Grand Premio Sangiovese easily brings in $40 per bottle. Star Lane Vineyards “Astral” (the name is Spanish for “stellar”) is an out-of-this- world Cabernet blend (890 cases, SRP $85) that offers creamy luxury in a textured and richly juicy body. VP of Winemaking for Star Lane Vineyards, Nick DeLuca. The winery, designed to resemble a cross between a French country manor and a Tuscan castle, has an archway that looks into the fairytale canyon bearing Bordeaux varieties on extreme hillside sites. But Cimarone’s second label, 3CV, tacitly acknowledges the realities of economic downturn with a brightly-lit-from- within Syrah at $24 and ultra-perfumed Sauv Blanc and Viognier for about $20. A Sliver of France in Santa Barbara The new winery at Star Lane Vineyards and Dierberg Estate was a seven-year project that has resulted in one of the most elegant state-of-the art facilities in the Central Coast. With a 24,500-square-foot facility and a half-acre of underground caves, Jim Dierberg, the winery’s proprietor, takes the art of creating Bordeaux reds in a Rhône-oriented valley pretty seriously. “We’re at the warmest and the highest elevation in the appel- lation,” explains Nick DeLuca, VP of Winemaking for Star Lane Vineyards, pointing to the 1,500-foot- high site, backing up against the San Raphael Mountains, where the april 2010 / the tasting panel / 73

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