Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival 2015

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Helen Melville at Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival 2015 for Sippity Sup

On the morning of the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival there was a 60% chance of rain, or so the weather report said. Taking no chances, I opted for layers topped by a Patagonia rain jacket. I had hoped to dazzle in a beautiful sundress with purple flowers (to match the color of my post swishing teeth). After all, there’s a highly social aspect to consider at the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival in Buellton, so I’d carefully considered what to wear. Large groups of people tasting a huge variety of wines tend to become friendlier and friendlier as the afternoon winds on. Still, rain or no rain, there’s to be no flirting for me – now that I’m a “spitter.”

The day got off to an adventurous start with my car hydroplaning (mud-planing?) on the way to the parking field during the sad little sprinkle of rain heralding the early entry contingent of wine tasters. I heard one car slid into a tree but no real harm was done. Shortly after 1pm, the wind blew away the clouds and bestowed a glorious temperate day on the event, though a little too late for the sundress.

Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival

On the upside, little bites of delicious food were more abundant and varied than I remember at prior events. Still, the longest lines of the afternoon seemed to be for pizza so I think there’s room for more food to be provided next year. A tent devoted to wine-themed arts and crafts provided an opportunity to give the taste buds a respite. Little gardens of succulents in wine bottles, cork jewelry and paintings in wine were available for purchase. Wines were not for sale at this event, but if you had the urge to leave lighter in the pocket, you could head to the silent auction tent. I have been lucky here in years past, but alas, starting bids were so high this year I was discouraged from my usual bidding frenzy.

Varietals from Albarino to Zinfandel were being poured and Santa Barbara County Syrah is really taking off, but the largest interest is still with the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I’m pleased to report that more and more wineries are now offering first bleed* dry rosés as a summer perk. As Blair Pence from Pence Ranch put it, “We use the same grapes to produce a $22 bottle of wine as we do in our $50 bottles.” Pence Pink works for me!

Helen Melville picks her favorites from Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival 2015 for Sippity SupI tasted some spectacular wines from the usual suspects. Maybe the weather influenced my preferences but a lot of my wines of note brim with warmth and sensuality: Brewer Clifton’s Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir scored off the charts for their 2012 blend at last year’s event. This year they’re pouring the 2013 – I can report a near perfect experience of sandalwood and exotic spice in this lush and lovely follow-up. Kenneth Volk was offering a 2009 Sierra Madre Pinot Noir from a magnum bottle bursting with Bing cherry and cedar wood spice. Yum. Dragonette Cellars’ Radian Vineyard 2013, produced a delightful walk in the woods displaying notes of pine, spruce, cedar and herbs.

My standout for the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival 2015, however, was the  2011 Sky Pinot Noir from Hilliard Bruce. The nose conjures a stroll through a fruit orchard after (appropriately) a rain with notes of plums, dried cherries, rose petals and rosemary. The fruit, acid and tannins are exquisitely balanced and produce a mouthfeel that is both elegant and substantial with a long finish – the Audrey Hepburn of Pinot Noir.

The Hilliard Bruce wines impressed me so much that I visited their winery to taste the entire flight. I even joined their wine club. I think they deserve an entire Sippity Sup feature of their own, so please, Greg, give me a deadline and I will devote one to them. HELEN

*A first bleed is when the wine maker draws off some of the initial juice of his/her grapes prior to fermentation. The remaining juice will have a higher ratio of skin in order to produce a richer, darker wine with a fuller flavor which caters to the Californian palate. The run off can make an exquisite rosé.

Hilliard BruceI was given a press pass to attend the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Festival, all opinions are my own.