Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Taking a Side(ways) Trip to Fess Parker, Firestone Vineyard and Zaca Mesa Winery

After spending four days in San Diego and Temecula it was time to head back home to the Bay Area. I hadn’t planned on making a side trip to Santa Barbara during my vacation in Southern California. But I left early on Monday morning (about 5:30 a.m.) so I figured I’d make the best of being 500+ miles from home with a short 3 hour visit.

I had first visited the wine country in Santa Barbara back in 1999 during a Christmas semester break when I was in seminary and I have been back few times during business trips. Santa Barbara is second only to Napa in terms its beauty and it is one of the finest areas for Rhone varietals (Syrah, Viognier etc.) and Pinot Noir in the state. This was the first time to the area with a camera handy so I was excited to be able to snap some shots for my wine blog.

Before the movie Sideways was released I considered the Santa Barbara Wine Country to sort of be my personal “secret getaway.” But now it has become a major tourist destination. Fortunately I was dropping in on a Monday while most people are at work, so the roads weren’t too busy and there were few people in the tasting rooms.

Driving up Interstate 15 from San Diego (to avoid the heavy traffic on I-5in Los Angeles) I then headed west on Highway 210, then cut over to briefly drive up I-5 to begin the climb over the Los Angeles mountains and then I got off at highway 156 to head west on the Ventura freeway. It’s a lovely drive through an agricultural valley loaded with orchards, vineyards and various fields of vegetables.

As I approach Santa Barbara I ran into a fog bank which I feared might make it difficult to take pictures in the wine country. I then merged onto north bound Highway 101 and began a scenic winding drive up the coast. I then decide head to the north end of the county to Los Olivos and travel up the wine trail that Miles (Paul Giamatti) and Jack (Thomas Haden Church) made famous in Sideways. As I headed over the hills the sun appeared to reveal an absolutely beautiful day.

Firestone Vineyards – Los Olivos

My first stop along the wine trail was at Firestone Vineyards ( http://www.firestonewine.com/ ) which is perched on top of a small hill that provides a gorgeous view of the Santa Ynez Valley below. These hills and vineyards appear in the movie Sideways in the scene in which Miles and Jack and running down a hill swigging from a bottle through the vineyards.

The tasting room is located at the southern end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail just a few miles east of Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County. From either direction on Highway 101, take the Zaca Station Road/Highway 154 exit. If coming from the north, turn left and over the highway. If coming from the south, turn right. As the road dips and curves southward, take an immediate left onto Zaca Station Road and continue for 2.5 miles. Firestone Vineyard is located on your left at 5000 Zaca Station Road.

I my first wine was the 2007 Chenin Blanc, a fruit forward wine with pear, melon, citrus with a medium body. The wine normally sells for $14 but it was on sell from the tasting room that day for only $10.

My second wine was the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Estate is fruit forward, has bright acidity crisp with honeydew melon, cantaloupe, guava, passion fruit and white grapefruit on the nose and palate. I’m not the biggest Sauvignon Blanc fan but third was a fine representative for only $14.

My third taste was the 2007 Gewurztraminer. The grapes come from the Carranza Mesa block of their estate in the Santa Ynez Valley. On the nose there are notes of mandarin orange nutmeg, grapefruit, and a hint of sweet baking spice. The wine tastes slightly sweet or “off dry” and has a .56 residual sugar. This is a really nice wine for $13

My fourth wine in the line up was the 2007 Cabernet Franc Rose. It has refreshing fruity notes of watermelon, cranberry and strawberries. A fun summer wine that sells for only $10a bottle.

My fifth tasting and first full-bodied red was the 2004 Merlot Reserve, Santa Ynez Valley. This is a wine Merlot that even Miles would enjoy as it layers of cherry, cocoa , spice on the nose. On the palate the wine has a full-mouth feel, with supple tannins and layers of black cherry, plum and that evolve into prolonged fruit and subtle spice finish. A fair priced wine at $25.

My sixth wine was the 2005 Malbec, Santa Ynez Valley. This wine is deep scarlet in color that exhibits classical Malbec character with notes of blueberries and pipe tobacco on the nose. On the palate there are well concentrated and well integrated flavors of coca, blueberries and pomegranate with subtle fine tannins. I really enjoyed this wine so for only $22 I had to bring a bottle home.

My next wine was the 2005 Cabernet and Syrah blend. This wine displays the best of both varietals with a fine integration of black currant, bing cherries, plum, cocoa, plum, a little fresh cracked pepper and just a hint of vanilla. An awesome wine for only $22, another fine prize for my wine cellar.

My final wine was the 2005 Lineage Reserve. Normally this is a club-members only wine but the server allowed me to sample this fine wine. This is a Bordeaux style blend of 40% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Malbec and 5% Petite Verdot. On the nose I find hints of black currant, pipe tobacco and anise. On the palate it is loaded with dark ripe plum, dark chocolate and coffee. It has a great back bone with well balanced and integrated tannins. Unfortunately at $60 a bottle is a little too steep and I know of similar wines for about half the price.

Fess Parker Vineyards and Winery – Los Olivos (Santa Barbara County)

My second stop was just down the road a bit at the sprawling Fess Parker Vineyards & Winery (http://www.fessparker.com/) . The grounds and front of the winery are beautiful where you can either picnic on the large front lawn or relax on the long front porch that wraps around the ranch house style tasting room.

The owner and founder Fess Parker made his claim to fame playing the role of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in the mid-1950 and 1960’s. He later purchased 714 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley and in 1989 and the winery now farms almost 700 acres on four vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County. Inside the tasting room there is a large fireplace, two tasting bars and a collection of Boone and Crocket souvenirs to take home along with your wine.

Before I talk about the line up of wines I tasted, let me just say that I was very impressed with everything! I first visited this winery in 1998 and returned about two years ago. The quality of the wines has improved immensely and I foresee them becoming a huge contender as world-class wines to compete with ones that sell for twice the price. My only hope is that they don’t actually increase their prices when they make front page news in Wine Spectator or other wine magazines.

My first wine was the 2008 “Santa Barbara County” Viognier (96% Viognier, 4% Rousanne). This wine has classic white Rhone character of fresh bananas, peaches, tropical fruit, pineapple with a little vanilla and nuttiness. A great wine for $24, I brought two of them home.

My second wine was the 2006 Chardonnay from Ashley’s Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. This chardonnay has crisp acidity and has complex layers of pineapple, citrus, fresh pear, and lychee nut, baked apple, vanilla and spice on both the nose and palate with a buttery finish. A well balanced wine but a little steep at $30 a bottle.

My first red was the 2007 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir. Although Fess parker’s specialty is Syrah I’d have to say that the Pinot Noir is definitely no slouch. If you are a Pinot lover, this wine will not disappoint you! On the nose and palate I picked up fresh raspberry and sarsaparilla followed clove, a hint of tobacco leaf, cinnamon and cranberry and a touch more minerality. This is a great Pinot but $50 a bottle was a bit much for me.

My second red, the 2006 Pommard Clone Pinot Noir was more even impressive. On the nose I picked up fresh cherry, blackberry, cola, flint, strawberry, bacon, and a smidgen of spice. On the palate Cool the texture is soft and round at the front of the attack, ultra velvety at the mid-palate with soft tannins. An exceptional wine that sells for $58 a bottle.

My final red wine was the 2006 “Big easy:” Syrah. Deep garnet in color, dark plum at the base and cherry-colored near the rim. On the nose I picked up blueberry, blackberry, dark plum, beef jerky, bacon fat, vanilla and a hint of pepper. Supple on the palate, medium bodied, very dry, with plenty of well balanced fruit, acidity and tannins followed by a prolonged finish of black fruits, black pepper and dried meats. A great wine for $45 so I put two of them in my wine cellar.

Zaca Mesa Vineyards and Winery - Los Olivos (Santa Barbara County)

My third and final stop for the day was Zaca Mesa Vineyards & Winery. With camera in hand I first walked around the grounds snapping pictures and for some strange reason this placed looked very familiar and yet I knew I had not been to the tasting room before. Then in donned on me… I visited this winery about a year ago during harvest time but the tasting room was closed for the day. Yet, I also had a distinct memory of writing about one of their wines for my wine journal. 

Then I remembered that I reviewed their 2004 Z Cuvee as a class project last Thanksgiving. So, now I was excited to finally be able to taste an entire line up of their wines.

Overall I have to say that I enjoyed their wines but found their prices a bit expensive in the tasting room. For example, the 2006 Z Cuvee was fine but they sell it for $20 and yet I had purchased 2004 last November for only $15 at Beverages & More. Their 2005 Syrah goes for $23 in the tasting room but Beverages and More (Bevmo!) sells this wine for $19.99 and K and L Wines sells it for only $16.99! The 2006 Grenache is $32, the 2006 Eight Barrel Syrah is $38 the 2005 Z Three $42 and the 2006 Late Harvest Viognier goes for $20. While the quality of these wines were fine (but nothing to rave about) I thought the prices were insane.


By the way… in case you are wondering how I can taste so many wines and not get drunk… I use a spit cup rather than swallow.