Celebrating My Wine-iversary

Claiborne & Churchill sign
The Santa Lucia Mountains form a gorgeous backdrop to the Claiborne & Churchill property.

I celebrated 27 years of marriage on September 7th, 2018. And one year ago I found out I passed the final exam for the WSET Diploma. My Wine-iversary needed to be celebrated!

My husband Bruce and I are still going strong, and we decided to mark the occasion of our now 30-year relationship with a long-overdue trip to the beloved Central Coast of our home state of California. It seems to beckon us every so often, so we booked an Airbnb in the quaint coastal town of Cambria.

Wine trail sign for San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo Wine Trail sign

We did the usual things: a walk on Moonstone beach; lunch at our favorite foodie joint Robin’s Restaurant; and shopping at the treasure-filled antique shops. We also tried some “bucket list” things, like a hike in Montana de Oro State Park (this time without infant and toddler in tow), with its breathtaking views of the ocean, and an impromptu horseback ride in the Cambria hills through Cambria Horseback Rides. This was probably the highlight of our four-day escape, as I had always dreamed of climbing the beautiful rolling hills that dot Route 1, but block the view of the Pacific Ocean just on the other side. What a thrill to climb those hills on the back of “Uber,” my gentle but solid horse, then to see the expansive ocean from the hilltop. We suffered with sore hips and thighs for a couple of days, but it was well worth it.

I could not leave the Central Coast without doing some “wine things.” So we visited one of the few tasting rooms on Cambria’s Main Street, which happens to also be one of my favorite small producers, Cutruzzola. This artisan winery crafts Riesling and Pinot Noir from their estate vineyards outside of Cambria, and also does Zinfandel from Paso Robles and Russian River grapes.

The tasting room is managed by Reyna Jonas, who is knowledgeable, friendly, and attentive. We loved our conversation with Reyna, and we always love the wines, so we took home a good supply, which I may break out this Thanksgiving. Our haul included the 2015 Riven Rock Vineyard Riesling (retail about $30) and the 2014 Gloria Pinot Noir ($42). The former has some petrol, bright citrus fruit and a nice acid backbone. The Pinot is a juicy but balanced mouthful of cherry and other red fruits with again, a nice acidity.

Straw bail building
California’s first “straw bale building”

My only other desire on this trip was to finally step foot into the Edna Valley wine region. I’m embarrassed to say that I had never been there. When you consider that we had a son at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for four years (which is minutes away from this beautiful place) and I’m in the wine business, that’s not good. All the times I drove right by the valley, it was as if it was hidden in plain sight!

We could only visit one winery, since we were driving back to Los Angeles that day, so Reyna recommended we visit pioneering producer Claiborne & Churchill. She said their Dry Gewurtztraminer is the best around. I had a glass of Claiborne & Churchill Pinot Noir with dinner a couple days before at The Galley restaurant in Morro Bay, and it was delicious. So, that was good enough for us.

And what a treat it was! I cannot think of a more pleasant tasting room visit than this one. The winery/tasting room is situated in California’s first “straw bale building,” which features 16″-thick walls made of rice straw, which gives the winery a constant cellar temperature. The wine barrels and stainless steel tanks are part of the tasting room decor. And Riesling the winery cat stands guard.

cat in winery
Riesling the winery cat 

There is a small vineyard of Pinot Noir grapes outside the winery, and I noticed a “SIP-certified” sign, which means that Claiborne & Churchill is focused on sustainability. I like seeing this at a winery.

Two Cal Poly wine program students were working the tasting room, and Kyle, our taste guide, cheerfully greeted us and took us through the lineup. Like other wineries in the Edna Valley, there are close ties with the Wine and Viticulture program at this state school.

As promised, the 2017 Dry Gewurtztraminer was wonderful — clean, crisp, and aromatic, without being too much so, which is my usual complaint about this variety. This racy, young wine retails at $22, a bargain in my opinion. The cool-climate acidity that the Edna Valley allows is evident in this little gem.

The owners, Claiborne (Clay) Thompson and Fredericka Churchill Thompson, early settlers in the Edna Valley, are heavily influenced by Alsatian wines from the northeast of France (with major German influences). Edna Valley’s proximity to the ocean, cool coastal breezes, and morning fog
create a growing environment similar to that of Alsace. Its “terroir” produces floral and spicy dry Rieslings and Gewürztraminers with an array of fruit
notes balanced with excellent acidity.

We also sampled the two different Pinot Noirs and a Syrah, both of which were wonderful and again well priced.

Other producers in the Edna Valley include Center of EffortKynsi, and Baileyana, and in the Arroyo Grande Valley, Talley Vineyards. I need to do more exploring in the Edna Valley and surrounding areas. I feel like I just stepped my toe into it. I’m so looking forward to it!

Until next time, Cheers!

Claiborne & Churchill wine glasses with wine
Happy Anniversary to Us!

Until next time, Cheers!