Tuesday, August 30, 2011

THE DAYS OF WINE & SOAPS - Standing Sun Wines

Standing Sun Wines

OK, I admit it, I love soaps (the television serial kind) and I love wine… and did I find the perfect place to mix them both – from soapland’s Port Charles, NY to real life’s Santa Ynez Valley.

The soap part:

My addiction to ‘love in the afternoon’ dramas started in college with the character-driven, New York produced “Another World.”  This was a jewel of a show and when it was canceled, my heart was broken.

I needed a replacement.  A soap ‘fix! (Well, I did say I was an addict, right?) I soon found one when I was mentored by Doris Silverton (who also became my surrogate mom when Richard and I moved to LA).  Doris wrote for “General Hospital” (GH as it’s affectionately referred to) and soon I was involved (even writing a bit) in the lives and loves of the citizens of Port Charles.

It was in Port Charles that I met Carly (Benson, Spencer, Quartermaine, Corinthos, Jax), a complex “bad” girl created by the wonderful Sarah Brown and who is now played by the sublime Laura Wright, both Emmy winners for the role.  So, what has that got to do with wine?  Well, when you spend so much time with soap characters (5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, year in and year out), they become family.  So, like a lot of family members I follow on Twitter, I follow a few favorites and Laura/Carly is one of them.

Now the wine part:

While reading Laura’s tweets, I discovered that she and her husband, John, own and operate a winery in the “Sideways” Santa Ynez region.  I began following the winery and learned that John grows the grapes, blends...

...bottles and sells the wine.  Since I write about wine it was a match made in heaven.  So, when I knew Richard and I were going to be in the neighborhood, I tweeted John to see if we could visit Standing Sun’s new winery and tasting room even though it was still under construction. 
Graciously, he said yes.

When we arrived mid-afternoon, John was knee-deep in hammering and sawing, but stopped and warmly welcomed us into a small room with a plywood bar set up for wandering tasters.   

As he uncorked the wines, he told us how the winery’s name and label came into being.  The label is a photograph of his and his son’s shadows as they stood side-by-side in the setting sun.  John, who’s also an architect, designer, artist and cook (a true renaissance man), used that photograph to design the wine’s label.  A sun was born.

We tasted five of Standing Sun’s wine and all five were truly scrumptious.

The first was the 2010 Blanc ($24) – I’m not usually a ‘blanc’ lover in the sharp sauvignon blanc sense (I’m more of a buttery chardonnay girl), but this wine was an interesting complex blend of 34% Grenache blanc, 33% Rousanne and 33% Viognier that I’d never had before. I fell in love in the afternoon.

Next was the 2010 Pinot Noir Rose ($20).  It was Richard’s turn to fall in love at first blush (I know, I know – I couldn’t help myself), and I joined him (I’m just a fickle wine lover).  Delightful, slightly fruity (but not sweet), we loved this rose so much, Richard paired it w/ an entree of sea scallops in an orange-mustard-basil sauce served w/ a citrus couscous that he made last night.  A perfect marriage of delicious food and wine.

The 2010 Pinot Noir ($20) is a marvel for the price - filled w/ tastes of berries and spices and aromas that brought back childhood memories of the rich tobacco blend that my father tamped into his pipe. 

Time for the 2009 Grenache ($28) – I had been reading the Twitter love letters to this wine and have joined them in their love affair.  I told you, I’m fickle.

Last – and my very favorite Standing Sun wine (well, at that moment anyway), was the 2009 GSM which is 30% Grenache, 40% syrah and 30% Mourvedre.  100% delicious!

Laura tasting the 2010 GSM blends - I'm jealous

John then took us inside and shared his plans and his vision for the soon to be finished winery and tasting room he’s designed as a mix of cozy comfort and industrial chic.   

He projects that it will all be completed mid-September and Richard and I hope to be standing at the bar for another tasting in Standing Sun’s new winery as the sun is setting.  Or rising.  Or at high noon.  I'm easy!

So, if you find yourself on the 101 approaching the town of Buellton and looking for a little liquid love in the afternoon, take the next exit and head to Standing Sun.

Standing Sun Wines
(Rhone Variety wines)
P.O. Box 1944
Santa Ynez, Calif.  93460

Discounts for Wine Club member


Sunday, August 21, 2011

TASTING IN ARROYO GRANDE - Laetitia Vineyard & Winery


Laetitia Vineyard & Winery

Before heading back to LA, Richard and I had one more winery stop in Arroyo Grande...

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery has been making wines since 1982… and its brochure promises: “The Land Is Ours – The Grapes Are Ours – The Wine… Is Yours.”  OK, we’d bite.  Well, “sip” anyway.

Selim Zilkha, the founder of a successful wind power development company and champion of environmental sustainability, is the winery’s current owner and has insured that all Laetitia wines are “sustainably-produced.”  He’s also done a fine job to insure that they taste good, too!

The tasting room amid the sprawling vineyard is in a large modern structure with a manicured front lawn adorned w/ Adirondack chairs and yellow and white striped umbrellas, allowing tasters to sip wine as they enjoy the gorgeous vineyard view.

Inside, the room has a barn-like feeling with its beams, pitched ceilings, and wooden barrel tasting tables

We opted for the tasting bar.   Bob, w/ a welcoming twinkle in his eye, was our barista.

One of the first things we noticed was a very large bottle on the fireplace mantel behind the bar w/ the mask of the Phantom of Opera as its label. 


As Bob poured our flight, he told us that Laetitia was chosen to supply wine for the Phantom movie’s opening night party.  To honor the occasion, the winery commissioned an artist to etch the Phantom logo into the glass of the magnum.  When the party was over and the clean-up underway, the winery crew found the bottle in the trash.  Aware of the work and creativity that went into designing that bottle they rescued it and brought it home to the winery, where it proudly sits, perched on that mantel like the treasured art piece it is.  Oh, those movie people!  What do they know?  At least they didn’t try to sell it on eBay.

Our tasting started with a couple of whites:  the 2010 chardonnay ($18) and the Nadia White, a blend of 56% viognier, 33% Grenache blanc and 11% Roussanne ($30) – Both wines, simply stated, were sublime, especially the Nadia White!

Laetitia is famous for its pinot noirs (434 acres of pinot noir grapes), so we were anxious to move from blanc to noir…

We tasted four: The 2009 Estate Pinot Noir ($25), the 2009 Reserve DuDomaine ($40), the 2007 Single Vineyard La Solline ($60) and the 2007 Single Vineyard Les Galets (The Rocks) ($60).  Even before “Sideways” pinot noir was Richard’s favorite red wine grape and would be happy serving and sipping any of these wines paired w/ salmon, or roast turkey, or a crown roast pork or just w/ nothing but a glass to pour it in.  I agree.  All these wines deserved their over 90 pt. ratings from Wine Enthusiast. 

Time to move from the pinot noirs to the more earthy full-bodied reds.

First up was the 2009 Barnwood Grenache ($22) - Laetitia’s Barnwood label, as Bob explained, is dedicated to Bordeaux and Rhone wines, and are made from grapes from the highest vineyard in Santa Barbara.  And this wine lived up to that heritage… smooth to the taste w/ hints of cherry and tobacco.

Our next taste was the 2008 Laetitia Syrah ($25) – w/ a deep plum color, I tasted berry pie and spices as my nose was filled w/ aromas cedar and rose.  A garden of earthly delights in a bottle.

Last but not least, Bob poured the 2006 Barnwood Port ($30) – a cab/cab franc blend – this is a spectacular, full-bodied wine w/ all the dark cocoa and citrus notes you want in a good port w/ a little graham cracker to conjure up thoughts of s’mores and more.

Our tasting done, Bob had one more thing he wanted to share w/ us.  A silver saddle.  We were intrigued.  Why would a winery display a saddle… silver or otherwise?  Well, as he told it, Laetitia had entered a Houston Rodeo Wine competition and became Grand Champion for red and was awarded the silver saddle.  And, like the Phantom bottle, the saddle was displayed proudly.  And that’s a saddle tale if I ever heard one.

So, if you saddle up and ride into Arroyo Grande, you won’t be sorry if you sidle up to the Laetitia Vineyard and Winery. (I know, I know... my fingers made my type that...)

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery
453 Laetitia Vineyard Drive
Arroyo Grande, Calif.  93420

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

TASTING IN ARROYO GRANDE - Kynsi Vineyards & Winery

Kynsi Vineyards & Winery

As we drove through the “Tuscany-lite” landscape, our next ‘tasting’ stop was Kynsi Vineyards & Winery.  The winery itself is in a renovated 1940’s dairy farm.  

The cozy tasting room is located in the old milk processing room, but tall barrels are set up just outside the room for outdoor tasting.

Richard, Candace and I opted for the tasting room where the charming sisters, Allyson and Brittni, were our baristas.

As we sipped wine, we learned that the winery was started by a Finnish family 17 years ago. I burst w/ Finnish pride since all my grandparents came from Finland (there’s not a double “a” in my last name for nothing), but then I thought:  Finns make wine? 

When I asked about the winery’s name and owl logo, the girls told us that when the winery was set up in the neglected old dairy, they had a gopher plague of “historic proportions.”  Because owls are gophers’ #1 predator, owls were moved into the barn at the same time the family was figuring out a name and label for their wines.  The gophers disappeared, so since the owl represents wisdom and is a good omen, the family chose the Finnish word “Kynsi,” meaning “talon” to honor their owls and to pay homage to their family heritage… and the owl label?  According to the winery’s website, “the female in her preening pose was chosen to represent our brand, a pedestal duly earned.”  I liked that! 

Allyson and Brittni started our flight w/ the 2009 Edna Valley Chardonnay ($18).  Dreamy creamy dance of honeydew, macadamia nut, honey and mango.  A mango tango!

The 2009 Barn Owl Blush ($18), a central coast pinot noir rose is a blend of fruit and vanilla aromas w/ tastes of fruit and almonds.  A portion of all proceeds from the sale of this pink wine is fittingly donated to breast cancer research and awareness.  This wine is also very delicious and when Candace came for dinner last night, she surprised us by bringing a bottle that we served w/ salmon stuffed w/ roasted peppers, spinach and walnuts. 

OK, enough gushing about the blush.

We then sipped three pinot noirs:  A 2007 Edna Valley pinot ($32) w/ hints of raspberries, cola, a bit of pepper and maple syrup.  A divine wine – just don’t pour it on your pancakes!

Next up was the 2008 Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley pinot ($39) which had a silky texture w/ aromas of cherry and violets and tastes of black raspberries and a hint of tea – giving new meaning to “high” tea.

The third pinot was the Estate Pinot – Stone Corral Vineyard, Edna Valley ($48)...

...that balanced berries and oranges and hints of allspice that made this a truly lovely wine.   

Next up was Hutash (Harvest Celebration) – Harvest Cuvee, Central Coast ($28) – a 50% grenache, 25% syrah, 25% pinot noir blend that had scents of plums and mulberry, pepper and flowers and tastes of cherries, bay leaves and strawberry jam.  I loved this wine.

The Merrah – San Luis Obispo County ($22) – 65% merlot, 35% syrah was a rich red wine w/ a nose of dark plums, blueberries, allspice and vanilla that you could also taste, along w/ a bit of cola and cherries.  The merrah the merrier.

Another favorite of mine was the 2006 Syrah – Edna Ranch Vineyard, Edna Valley ($28) – rich fruit and ‘earthy’ aromas w/ fruit, herbs and even chocolate tastes.

And last, but absolutely not least, was the delicious 2007 Syrah – Kalanna, Edna Valley ($44) – a truly smooth, rich, velvety wine w/ a bouquet of blackberries, nutmeg and violets w/richly layered tastes of  berries, pepper and cocoa. 

So, to answer my own question:  “Finns make wine?”  Yup.  Evidently not all of us live in climes of terminal winter milking cows.  A few make very good wine.   Kippis!!!!  That’s Finnish for skoal.

Kynsi Vineyards & Winery
2212 Corbett Canyon Road
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Talley Vineyards

Day two in Arroyo Grande had us leaving Craig & Candace’s charming cottage above the creek for a long walk along the Pacific coast...

all the way to Pismo Beach.   

That would have been a great walk, but noooooo, we then had to walk back.  Candace is in way better shape (as is Richard) than I am, so by the time we returned to the car two hours later, every old knee, hip and joint injury I ever suffered from dance or cheerleading or volleyball or tennis or softball decided to make an unwelcomed appearance.  A few Advil later and a fabulous cheeseburger lunch (my not so NuAtkins reward – hey, I burned a lot of calories, right?!) made it all worthwhile.

It was now time for wine tasting.  First on our itinerary was Talley Vineyards – so it was tally ho and go (I know, I know – my hound, if I had a hound, made me write that).

The tasting room, a lovely Spanish structure w/ a manicured courtyard...

is surrounded by acres of grapevines.  The setting definitely set the mood.

Anna, our lovely and knowledgeable barista set wine glasses in front of us and began the pour.  

Private Tasting Room
Our first taste was the 2010 Bishop’s Peak Riesling ($16) – Estate grown, this was one of the closest Rieslings for me to the really good, dry Rieslings we had when Richard and I were in Germany.  Fruity aromas w/ hints of honeysuckle and vanilla and fresh tastes of citrus w/ only a slight sweet finish.    Delikat!

Next we tried the 2009 Talley Vineyards Edna Valley Chardonnay ($19.20) – a nice, medium-bodied, oak-y wine w/ citrus flavors that made me think how much I’d love to be sipping this as I cracked the shell of a steamed lobster and dipped the meat in warm clarified butter. 

The 2009 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay ($26) aged 30% in new French oak had all the fruit aroma bells and whistles, but w/ a little roasted almonds thrown in.  Smelled good – tasted even better.  A good wine paired w/ cheese, fish or chicken.

Our last white was 2009 Oliver’s Vineyard Chardonnay ($32) aged 16 months in 30% French oak.  It had that creamy finish I love in a chardonnay.

Our first red was the 2009 Bishop’s Peak Pinot Noir ($20) – a really nice silky wine w/ cherry notes and a hint of anise for the nose.  Notes and nose.  I think there’s a song there somewhere.  Cole Porter where are you when we need you?  It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely…

2009 Talley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir ($36) – this is an earthy, lush, but not heavy, red that has aromas of cherries and figs – even a hint of lavender.  Lavender festivals of the world, take note of this nose.

The 2007 Bishop’s Peak Rock Solid Red ($14) is a blend of 60% syrah, 20% cab franc, 10% cabernet sauvignon, and 10% petite syrah – this is a delicious, “big” red table wine.  Want to have it w/ your grilled steak or burger?  Perfect.  And what a pairing it would make w/ pizza or lasagna.  It’s a yum from me.

Last but not least was my favorite of the Talley wines – the 2008 Bishop’s Peak Petite Sirah ($25) – a deep royal purple-y red in color, it was a wine fit for the royals.  Breathing in the wine like Paul Giamatti in “Sideways” I smelled the cedar and dates and maple syrup and strong dark fruits.  I don’t know which was more satisfying – the aroma or the rich fruit taste w/ soft tannins.  It was the finest wine among fine wines.

After 25 years in the wine making business, Talley Vineyards has definitely learned its craft and can be found nationally or ordered online through its wine club.

It was time to say good bye to Anna… but Talley Vineyards was a great way to start the day’s wine tasting adventure.