When I travel to taste wine, I am a man with a mission. I'm up early. Get a good breakfast in me and I'm out the door. I drove from Santa Maria to Los Olivos on Saturday morning and was there about 20 minutes before any of the many tasting rooms opened up, just enough time to walk around and get reaquainted with the town and make a game plan. This was a freeform morning and I knew I had a few places I had to hit, but only had a couple of hours before my first scheduled appointment closer to Buellton.
When I arrived in town, the Country Market was already cooking up the tri-tips for their excellent sandwiches as I waited for Qupé to open up. Tasting at Qupé is really tasting three very different wine brands and styles in one tasting room. Rob Wyngard is the tasting room manager and he pours Qupé as well as Verdad (Bob Lindquist's wife, Louisa's brand) and Ethan (Bob's oldest son Ethan's brand) wines. For a great overview of their portfolio, I would recommend the blog that Rob has started.
I've been a Qupé fan for 20 years. And I discovered Ethan's rich Syrahs and Sangioveses five or six years ago and snatch them up whenever I can buy them. I left the tasting room with several choice bottles! Out of the eight or nine wines I tried, here were my favorites:
2010 Verdad Grenache Rosé, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard (Edna Valley) - This is a 100% Grenache rosé from a biodynamic vineyard and it hit me like a good Tavel from the Southern Rhone Valley. It smacks of fresh strawberries and watermelon and would be great on a hot summer day.
2009 Ethan Grenache Blanc - Good body to this wine from 50% malo but neutral barrels keeps the aromas of lemon and tangerine peels fresh.
2008 Qupé Los Olivos Cuvée - 14 mos. in neutral oak from 3 vineyards. This is always a great deal and offers up soft spices, strawberry and cranberry aromas. Only about 13% alcohol, so this is a quaffer.
2008 Qupé Syrah “Bien Nacido Vineyard” Santa Maria Valley from Block 11, and x-block. Beautiful spiciness on this syrah and blue fruits.
2008 Verdad Tempranillo - a blend with 20% Grenache. This took a bigger oak hit, with about 40% new, but it is by no means "oaky". It still has a nice tempranillo tang to it, big fruitness, and clean finish. Very good.
2007 Ethan Syrah Purisima Mountain - I have always really liked this biodymanic wine and the 2007 is no exception. It has a round, earthy sweetness to it and now shows a bit of new oak, but in a few years this will be a very good wine.
Next up is a winery that is generating a big buzz in the area: Dragonette Cellars. Everyone in the area was saying that if you go to Los Olivos these days, you can't leave without going to Dragonette, and if you're lucky, Brandon Sparks-Gillis, the winemaker, may just be pouring.
I got lucky and indeed Bandon was working the tasting room. He had also brought in some barrel samples which I was able to try as well. Brandon is full of enthusiastic energy and because he knows each of the wines he's pouring so intimately, it's a joy to taste when he's there. This is more proof that there are some great young mavericks in Santa Barbara County. I really liked all their wines and came home with several bottles to turn my friends on to. Many of these are sold out anywhere else but at the tasting room
2009 Dragonette Cellars Sauvignon Blanc - Vogelzang Vineyard - Grapes from the Vogelzang Vineyard, part of the new Happy Canyon AVA, are popping up in some great new wineries in Santa Barbara County. Dragonette's Sauvignon Blanc is barrel fermented with 40% new oak, 12 months on the lees and it shows. This is a creamy wine full of tropical fruits with excellent acid balance. Delicious.
2010 Dragonette Cellars Rosé of Pinot Noir - My notes say "close your eyes and it smells like fresh Pinot. Holy crap!" Best Rosé of Pinot I have ever had.
2009 Dragonette Cellars Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills - nice perfume of spice and blackberries. Very pretty wine.
2009 Dragonette Cellars Pinot Noir - Hilliard Bruce Vineyard from Santa Rita Hills - darker and more brooding but still with the great cool weather freshness. Highly Recommended.
2009 Dragonette Cellars Pinot Noir Fiddlestix Vineyard - barrel sample. This will be a winner when it gets realeased.
2008 Dragonette Cellars Syrah - Shadow Canyon. This is a big syrah, chewy and pretty dense but with excellent aromatics of black fruits and meat.
2008 Dragonette Cellars MJM - This is mostly Syrah, with a bit of Grenache, Viognier and Mouvedre in it. Another substantial, meaty wine, but not over-ripe. It's a delicious blend and would be a perfect pairing with some nice Santa Maria Tri-Tip!