Pouring, Sipping, Savoring, Learning

Part of my wine education is experiencing all aspects of the
business, and pouring wine for consumers is something I had on my spit bucket
list. Until last week, that is, when I
got to pour at a really cool event, The Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure
, held March 29 and 30 in the historic and beautiful Veterans’ Memorial
Hall in Solvang, Calif.

I poured at the
Saturday morning seminar, “Rhones Rule: The Wines of Ballard Canyon,” which featured three vintners: Michael
Larner of Larner Vineyards, Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines, and Mikael Sigouin
of Kaena Wine Company.  Each vintner
brought along two wines, either Grenache or Syrah.
These three vintners either grow or buy grapes in one of California’s
newly minted AVAs (American Viticulture Region), Ballard Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The
Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) recognized this new AVA on October 1, 2013,
and Ballard Canyon joined Santa Rita Hills AVA and Happy Canyon AVA as the
three distinguished growing areas of Santa Barbara County.
Comprising 7,800
acres, it’s located in a canyon located between the towns of Solvang, Buellton,
and Los Olivos.
What significance is
this to wine consumers?
First of all, we
will now begin seeing wine labels from Larner, Tercero, and Kaena, as well as close
to a couple dozen other wineries, carry
the term “Ballard Canyon,” whereas before they might say “Santa Ynez Valley” or simply “Larner Vineyard.”
But even more
importantly, the AVA designation signifies that the grapes used in these wines
have a proven track record for producing high-quality, world-class wines
particularly in the northern Rhone style.
And while there may
be similarities in Ballard Canyon AVA wines, there will be significant
differences too. There may be more minerality or earthiness to the grapes,
depending on which vineyard within the AVA they are grown in, or even within the vineyard, as the geological
difference of just one row can create two distinctive grapes styles. 
In general, the
grapes grown in Ballard Canyon AVA are aromatic varietals such as Grenache and
Syrah for reds and Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne for whites. Many other
varietals are grown in Ballard Canyon too, including Sangiovese, Cabernet
Sauvignon (reds), Sauvignon Blanc, and Grenache Blanc (whites).
Now, back to the
seminar.  How did the Ballard Canyon AVA
wines taste? Were they distinctly different or similar? Yes and yes.  
Kaena Grenache label
2011 Kaena Grenache

The two Kaena Grenaches were from two different
Ballard Canyon vineyards. Both were
lovely, but the 2011from the Tierra Alta
($38) blew me away with its beautiful fruit – raspberries mostly –
its lightness, and its refreshingly long finish. It’s a very feminine wine, in
my opinion. I would describe the 2011Kaena Grenache from the Larner Vineyard ($44) as more masculine,
with pronounced minerality, richer tannins, and an earthiness … but lovely too.
Mikael Sigouin hails from Oahu and his
winery name and labels reflect his background:  Kaena, per his Web site (www.kaenawine.com) is a shortened version
of his native name and means “potential for greatness.” I would agree with

Tercero Grenache bottle
Tercero Grenache
Larry Schaffer of Tercero (www.tercerowines.com) also had a 2009
Grenache ($35), which he sourced from the Larner
. His tasting notes state he, “
Just took what I was ‘given’ and made the best wine possible.” And that
he did. Also lovely, this version was
different from Kaena’s, even though they were sourced from the same vineyard – Tercero’s
being less fruit forward, and more earthy and full-bodied.
All three Syrahs
were also similar yet distinct.
Tercero’s 2009 Syrah, sourced from Larner Vineyards, was blended with 5% Viognier, which brings a smoothness
to this bold, black fruity, spicy wine. It’s drinkable now, but also suitable
for aging five years or more.
Larner Syrah label
2018 Larner Syrah Santa Ynez Valley

Michael Larner, a second-generation vintner, is from the
family that owns Larner Vineyards. His label is Larner Wines (www.larnerwines.com).
At the seminar he showcased his 2009 ($38) and 2010 ($38) Estate Syrahs. Both
displayed the bold black fruit richness of Syrah, with spices and espresso
notes. The difference was in the barrels, with the 2009 using some American oak
and the 2010 using all French oak – nuances that affect the outcome.

The takeaway from this seminar, besides the fact that all
three vintners are passionate, articulate and instrumental in the development
of the Ballard Canyon AVA, is that the same grape from the same AVA may find
different expressions depending on the exact location within the AVA as well as
the wine maker. And, Ballard Canyon AVA is one to watch. All of the wines poured
at this seminar were small lots, ranging from just 100 to 300 cases total, so I
suggest you hunt them down now before they sell out.
All the wines can be purchased directly from the vineyards
or from The Wandering Dog (http://wanderingdogwinebar.com)
wine club in Solvang.
Until next time, Cheers!
A special thank you to the producers of The Garagiste Festival: Southern Exposure – Stewart McLennan, Doug Minnick,
Lisa Dinsmore, and Melanie Webber. I will pour for you any time! For more
information visit http://californiagaragistes.com/.