The hit 2004 film Sideways put Santa Barbara’s Wine Country on the map. After the success of the film, audiences were treated to a snapshot of what this stunning region has to offer – awe inspiring vistas with endless rolling hills concealing a patchwork of windy roads and charming towns possessing a distinctly old western feel.
And lets not forget the authentic examples of cool-climate Pinot and Chardonnay, or the fact that in just a short two hour drive from the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles one can quite literally escape to this otherworldly paradise that’s seemingly frozen in time.
But dig a little deeper, and the plot thickens. After spending a week in Santa Barbara Wine Country, I feel it’s the regions unexpected diversity, tightly-knit community of passionate farmers and winemakers and its unique topography directly exposing it to the harsh cooling influences of the Pacific Ocean that tell the whole story. Oh, and even Miles might be surprised to find that not only is there such a good thing as great Merlot, but there’s even great Santa Barbara County Merlot!
Belden Barns | Your Wish for Affordable Pinot Just Came True
Quietly tucked away off of windy Sonoma Mountain Road is where you’ll find Belden Barns Winery. Resting at roughly 1,000 feet of elevation on the Northwest shoulder of Sonoma Mountain, this unique property is the original home of Steiner Vineyard, the acclaimed site that has provided the foundation for sought-after wines from producers such as Donelan Family, Carlisle and Eric Kent.
Originally founded by Bennett Valley/Sonoma Mountain pioneer Dave Steiner (who was actually married to the founder of Matanzas Creek), the property had fallen into disrepair and most of the vineyards were badly damaged by phylloxera; until Nate Belden recognized the potential of this site and acquired the property in 2005.
Growing up immersed in agriculture, Nate spent his youth on a horse farm in Colorado until a career in finance transported him to the sometimes harsh realities of city life. But as time went on he began to miss his former agrarian lifestyle more and more. He dreamed of getting back to his roots, and a trip to wine country with friends ignited an idea and a passion that he couldn’t resist. After a year of searching and dreaming of the perfect property, Belden Barns became a reality.
Fall for Cabernet! | My Best Cabernet Under $100 Selections
As the vestiges of summer become nothing more than warm fading memories, what do you look forward to most? For me, the cooler weather brings with it a few of my favorite things. From watching the spectacular fall foliage transform the landscape, to sipping warm chai lattes in the brisk sunny weather or scouring the pumpkin patch with my girls for the finest specimens possible. But there’s yet another pastime of paramount importance to me… hunting for the Best Cabernet Under $100!
As the holiday season kicks off in earnest (can you believe it’s almost December?!) and we transition from crisp, refreshing whites to robust, warming reds, I thought readers might be wondering which Cabernet’s were worthy of their consideration. I hope you’ll find this compilation of the best Cabernet under $100 resourceful as you celebrate with friends and family this season – there’s something for every budget!
Turnbull Winery | A Napa Stalwart Finds Renewed Focus
Napa wineries located directly off of Napa’s bustling main artery Highway 29 sometimes get a bad rap – although maybe not for the reason you’d expect. You see the issue typically isn’t the quality of the wine, as some of the most respected wineries in the valley enjoy the level of visibility and prestige afforded by such a location.
But the crowds and overall guest experience can be quite a different story. Let’s just say that tour buses and bachelorette parties are not an uncommon sight, and sadly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found yourself wrangling with some Napa snobbery here and there.
My suggestion? Make your way to one of Highway 29’s most underrated gems: Turnbull Winery, where the only wrangling you’ll have to do will be with yourself when you’re forced to figure out which wines you enjoyed the most!
The New Lokoya Estate | Lokoya Finds The Home Its Always Deserved
Visiting Napa’s New Lokoya Estate
Lokoya needs little introduction to avid collectors. For over twenty years, these highly-acclaimed wines have found themselves right at home in the cellars of discerning enthusiasts throughout the world. Yet the brand itself never really had a place to call home, until now.
While existing fans and collectors could taste the wines at Cardinale’s Oakville estate on the Napa Valley floor, it was always more of an accommodation for loyal supporters rather than a complete Lokoya experience.
While Cardinale aspires to be the perfect blend of benchland and mountain vineyards, Lokoya is always 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a single mountain AVA (Veeder, Spring, Howell and Diamond) vinified in the same exact way to communicate the purest singular expression of mountain terroir possible. As Winemaker Chris Carpenter’s sees it, Lokoya is a study of the mountain through the lens of Cabernet Sauvignon.
In 1976, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District stunned the world by outclassing its French counterparts in the now infamous Judgement of Paris blind tasting. Since California had not been deemed capable of producing world-class wines by established old-world wine regions before, the results sent shockwaves throughout the wine world, forever cementing Napa’s reputation as a world-class wine producing region and catapulting it onto the world stage.
That very same year, Ron and Diane Miller acquired the Stags Leap Vineyard that would become home to Silverado Vineyards. In 1968, it has become the third vineyard to be planted to Cabernet Sauvignon within this now highly sought-after AVA, and also included plantings of Riesling and Pinot Noir at the time of the Millers’ prescient acquisition. But they immediately recognized the sites potential for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, quickly replacing those under-performing varieties with the the traditional Bordeaux ones that thrive there today.
From my Instagram – click the image to see more of my wine adventures!
The Silverado SOLO is produced solely from Cabernet Sauvignon from the original Stags Leap Vineyard that surrounds the winery. It represents the highest expression of Cabernet Sauvignon crafted at Silverado Vineyards. It was conceived to commemorate the winery’s 25th anniversary of producing wine from this special vineyard, a collaborative suggestion from Winemaker, Jon Emmerich and General Manager, Russ Weis.
Spring Fever? | 6 California Chardonnays You Can Count On Under $40
From my Instagram page. The Frank Family Chardonnay traveled with me all the way to Newport Beach! You can click the image to see more.
To say it has been an uncommonly warm winter here in the nation’s capital would be quite the understatement. In the last week of February alone, I witnessed cherry blossoms in bloom, heard the hair-raising crackle of intense thunderstorms, and played tennis in record-setting sunny seventy-five degree weather. Thank goodness climate change is a complete farce, right?! (Insert sarcastic, scared to death emoji here.)
So understandably all of this warmth has me reaching for chilled, crisp white wines far earlier than usual. I mean, this should be Cabernet Sauvignon prime-time for me! So I thought I would take this opportunity to point out some Chardonnays you can reliably count on in the coming months, as temperatures promise to rise alongside political tensions.
Reliably Good Chardonnays You Can Actually Find, and Afford!
Lake County Cabernet | The Other Other California Cabernet
If you’re not familiar with Lake County, that’s okay. Most aren’t yet aware of the potential of this sleepy section of Northern California wine country. But that’s about to change, as one of Napa’s power players just made a Warren Buffet style investment in these sun-drenched hills.
What’s interesting is that up until 1861, Lake County and Napa County were actually the same county – yet this quiet community with deep farming roots has mostly missed out on the fantastic wine industry successes of neighboring Napa and Sonoma counties to the south – and with it all of the tourism and hospitality fueling those economies today.
Though still quite small in comparison to Napa, vineyard acreage is on the rise, with around 9,000 acres now planted to vine, up from just around 100 in 1965. Compare that to over 45,000 in Napa and 60,000 in Sonoma, and you’ll see that Lake County has room for growth – and none other than Napa grape-grower extraordinaire Andy Beckstoffer has taken notice, in a big way.
Perliss Vineyards | Expect Big Things from this Small Producer
When you think of Calistoga, you would be correct in thinking that this sleepy locale nestled within the Northern stretches of Napa Valley is known for its relatively warmer temperatures than those areas of the valley located further south, with their proximity to the cooling influences of the San Pablo Bay.
Yet on the beautifully clear August morning when I visited Perliss Vineyards, I pleasantly surprised by the cool, persistent breezes serenading me as I explored the organically cultivated, gently sloped 2.6 acre Raven Vineyard with vintner Anthony Perliss.
Your Virtual Visit to Lodi | Uncorking My Favorites!
In my recent post, A Renewed Perspective on Lodi Wine, I enthusiastically raved about my recent visit to this often underappreciated region. Meeting the innovative, down to earth winemakers and tasting the fruits of their labor amongst the very vines responsible for their production was enough to convince me that Lodi is doing something right.
But I realize that not everybody is able to hop on a plane and travel to Lodi (though do I hope that you’re able to make it there, eventually!); which is why I put together this compilation of the most compelling, interesting wines I tasted in Lodi. Consider this list the itinerary for your virtual visit. You might even find, as I did, that you wish to revisit a glass or two of these beauties!