Loring Wine Company: 40th Birthday Road Trip

We knew we only had time for one more winery. We dithered for a moment in the pouring rain, then dashed to Loring Wine Company for one reason: because their graphic design is darn cool. Little did we know that many of their grapes are sourced out of our very own Monterey County!

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Mike strikes a wine-tasting pose.

Loring focuses largely on pinot noir. I was feeling a little pinot-whelmed, but I bucked up, put on my big-girl palate and did my darndest to key into the fine distinctions between the various vinos on offer.

2009 Sierra Mar Vineyard Chardonnay: This had a caramelized oak scent and tasted of honeyed oak with a hint of kiwi.

2009 Keefer Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay (Russian River Valley): I was surprised by the smell, which was a mix of oak and burnt popcorn. After that smell, the fruity taste was unexpected. Lest you think this was a fruit bomb, know that there was enough oak to round out the flavors.

2009 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: The smell reminded me strongly of Dr. Pepper. Its texture was surprisingly thick, almost syrupy, with light tannins at the end to add complexity.

2009 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir: Clearly I was in a soda pop state of mind, because this wine’s scent reminded me of nothing more than grape soda. It tasted like blueberries with heavy spice at the finish.

2009 Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir: It smelled like a leather shop located next to a winery. Its flavor echoed the smell, with a little licorice to round the taste out.

2009 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir: My notes consist of “Candied fruit tannins YUM!!!”

2009 Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: This smelled of caramel and leather, and tasted of burnt sugar and leather (but less sweet than that description implies).

2009 Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir: This nose was loaded with musky tannins, but the flavor was full of fruit, like an alcoholic version of Izze’s Sparkling Blackberry juice.

Boy, at the end of this tasting, did I ever wish we’d booked the Super 8, Travelodge or Best Western that are all just a block away rather than booking a hotel all the way out in Thousand Oaks. (I’d wish this even more after we got to our allegedly-swank but actually-skanky hotel, but that’s another story.) Clearly, one of these days we’re going to have to book a weekend stay at one of those lodgings, just to try all the wineries in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. Who’s coming with us?

Taste of Sta. Rita Hills: 40th Birthday Road Trip

Ah, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto. So unassuming outside, so delicious inside.

Sta. Rita Hills is a teeny tiny little appellation located between Buellton and Lompoc, in Santa Barbara County. Some of the wineries there are so small and personal that they don’t have their own tasting rooms. Enter Antonio Moretti and his Taste of Sta. Rita Hills tasting room.

Mr. Moretti is a more than a wine aficionado. Proof? He’s got his own label, Moretti Wine, which you can sample at the tasting room. He also provides an outlet for nine other wineries from the same appellation.

With some excellent jazz playing in the background (another of Antonio’s passions) we tasted five wines from Sta. Rita Hills. It quickly became clear why he’s so enthusiastic about the appellation.

The Wines

2009 Moretti Bianco: This combination of Tocai Friulano, Arneis and Traminer has flavors of apple and pear, and while the fruit is evident it is never too sweet. It’s a bright wine, destined to be enjoyed with food. Nikki also got an impression of citrus and honey and declared that this would be fantastic to have with cheese.

2008 El Rey Pinot Noir: This had a very pleasant and intriguing aroma of oil paint! I know it sounds strange, but there it is. Medium body, good structure from not-too-assertive tannins and an unbelievable dark, smoky character. Some of the flavors reminded me of an artisinal smoked black tea liqueur we have at home. Nikki notes: That liqueur is Qi Black Tea Liqueur by the amazing Hangar One. One of these days our wine travels will bring us to Alameda and we’ll do a whole column or three on Hangar One! There was a lot going on in this young wine, which seemed wise beyond its years. I was quite captivated by this wine, and I’d love to try it after it’s had a chance to mature. I’ll get the chance, too, if you know what I mean. Nikki’s notes indicate a masculine character to the wine – she got hints of leather, tobacco and wood in addition to blackberry, strawberry and patchouli. Nikki adds: It’s no wonder that man of mine would enjoy such a macho wine!

2007 Thorne Estate Pinot Noir: An aroma reminiscent of salami? I’m intrigued. The flavor is one of soft fruit at the beginning, followed by a gentle swell of tannins. There’s a faint but definite flavor of cherries in there too. Nikki noted the fuller body of this wine and a peppery quality accompanying the fruit.

2007 Ken Brown Pinot Noir: The aroma of this one is nice and sweet, full of fruit and just the slightest hint of something savory… dare I say it? A hint of thousand island dressing. Nikki got caramelized blueberries from the aroma. The flavor continues the slightly savory impression with just a trace of sulfur playing off cherries and a delicate layer of oak. The oak hit Nikki’s palate a little harder. This is a full-bodied, complex wine.

2007 Huber Dornfelder: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a wine this dark. It’s almost opaque, and even the thinnest residue clinging to the glass displays a deep red-purple hue. On the nose you get a beautiful fruity impression with a touch of black pepper. Despite the intense color, this is more of a medium-bodied wine, and the flavor is a bit more restrained than the very fruity smell. This would definitely make friends with food. Nikki found figs and a touch of spice in the flavor.

Palmina: 40th Birthday Road Trip

For the day after my 40th birthday, we decided to go to a wine area we’d never been to before. But there were so many to choose from! Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ynez Valley, Solvang, Santa Barbara…Then I read a great comment from reader Christine in which she mentioned “the ‘ghetto’ in Lompoc.” Ghetto, huh? We were intrigued and had to give it a try.

A furious storm was battering the Central Coast as we tried to make our way down Highway One. We drove through Pismo Beach and past the campground we’d planned to camp at that night, only to find it closed. A bit further on, we found Highway One was closed and followed the detour signs…only to find that the detour was also closed! After close to another hour on the road, we finally got to Lompoc.

We weren’t sure if the tasting rooms would be open. The streets in Lompoc (pronounced Lohm-poke, as the locals pointed out to us) were rushing with water, so much so that at times it seemed like we were driving through a river. The power was out in every building we passed for blocks on end. But, miracle of miracles, the Lompoc Wine Ghetto appears to be on a different section of the power grid, and was brightly lit and awaiting us.

The Lompoc Wine Ghetto is the nickname for a small industrial park behind Lompoc Valley Medical Center. According to an article in the Lompoc Record, there are 12 tasting rooms in the eight industrial buildings that make up the Ghetto, although according to one person we spoke to that number may by now be as high as 20. Clearly, one could spend a weekend here, and someday we will, but on this day we only had a couple of hours before we had to forge on to our hastily-Hotwired hotel.

On Christine’s recommendation, our first stop was Palmina, one of the first wineries to open a tasting room in the Ghetto. Let me say right now, when Christine gives you advice, follow it! This was the first of her winning recommendations we visited in our trip, but it wouldn’t be the last.

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Palmina’s tasting room is charming, decorated in a country-Italian style that reflects the Italian heritage of their wines. In addition to their bottled wines, they also have house wines on tap that they will decant into bottles or growlers for patrons, an eco-friendly and budget-friendly option. While we were there, a regular from the Bakersfield area came by to have four growlers filled, a testament to the quality of the wine.

We got to taste both of the wines on tap. The Tavolo Bianco wasn’t complicated, just an easy-drinking white wine that I would enjoy having on hand at home. The Tavola Rosso had a chocolate and caramel nose and was very fruity with a deep caramel finish.

I had the same problem with this winery that I do in a really good bookstore: everything was so good, and I wanted to take every single one of these wines home!

2009 Tocai Friulano:  A little nugget of trivia for you wine nerds out there: This is the most widely planted grape in the Friulia area of Italy, and is unrelated to the Tokaji grape of Hungary or France’s Tokay d’Alsace. It had a saffron scent with a hint of sweetness and tasted citrusy, with a touch of minerals and a hint of maple syrup. If you were feeling decadent, this would make a great breakfast wine. And, for those of you keeping score, this Santa Ynez Valley appellation wine was our first new appellation of the day.

2009 Arnes: Our pourer described it as “oily,” and that’s true, but in a good way. It had a lively citrus taste and a honey-citrus scent.

2009 Dolcetto: This Santa Barbara County wine is meant to be drunk young, which is a darn good thing, because even if I had three cases of it in my house the bottles wouldn’t last through the year. It’s full of fruit and caramel with some sultry tannins at the end, and dangerously easy-drinking.

2006 Nebbiolo: At this point the tasting room staffer brought out some salami and cheese. The salami provided a good counterpoint to the Nebbiolo, Mike said, and I could believe it, because the wine smelled like salami! The tannins were strong but not at all unpleasant, and there was a hit of stewed plums toward the finish.

2008 Lagrein: We held this up to the light, which took one look at this wine and said, “Yeah, I’m gonna go somewhere else.” Seriously, this wine was utterly opaque. It smelled and tasted of blackberries and raisins. Delectable.

2009 Savoia: This was fruity with big, big tannins at the finish. I would need to drink this with some food in order to enjoy it.

We also got to try a surprise tasting while we were there.

2010 Pinot Grigio: This was bottled only two weeks before we tried it. It smelled of (cover your eyes, Mom!) sex and pineapple, and tasted like lemon zest and warm minerals.