California wine country
In September 1997, Fiona and I took a two week holiday in California, and among the other attractions we managed to squeeze in two half-days of winery visits, the first in the Santa Ynez Valley (this page), just north of Santa Barbara and the second in Sonoma (next page), a short drive north from San Francisco. Below are my no doubt rather superficial impressions of the wineries we saw. In the tasting notes, you'll see I've given the wines scores: the intention behind this rather silly practice is to give you a rough idea of how much I liked that particular wine. I'm no expert, and I don't pretend that these are objective evaluations, but when I read the tasting notes of others I'm often left wondering how much they actually liked the wine. The 100 point scale is used because we are all familiar with this sort of scale at school, where 70 is good, 80 is very good and 100 is just about unattainable.
Heading out of Santa Barbara on Highway 154 brings you into the Santa Ynez mountains, home to over 30 wineries. Of these, we chose three to visit. Santa Barbara is a super place to stay, and this is a beautiful area and a great place to go wine tasting.
Not having been brought up in the USA, my first question on visiting this winery was 'Who on earth is Fess Parker?' I got the impression I was supposed to know who he was, as there were pictures of him all over the place wearing a strange fur hat. Well, he's some sort of iconic TV/film star who set this winery up relatively recently. As Jancis Robinson says, to make a small fortune out of owning a winery in California, you first have to start off with a large fortune. Overall a good to very good range of wines, but they err on the expensive side. The tasting room was well laid out, and the staff were friendly but alas not too knowledgeable. There is a charge of $3, but for this there is a good range available and you get to keep the glass. Unfortunately the free tour wasn't operating on the day we visited.
1995 Chardonnay Santa Barbara County ($16)
Excellent Chardonnay with a powerful nose and palate: flavours of buttered toast, vanilla
and tropical fruit. Dry finish. 81/100
Here we tasted a good range of fairly priced wines and had an excellent free tour around the winery. We encountered friendly and knowledgeable staff. Generous cellar door discount of 15% per case. A charge is made only for tasting limited production reserve bottlings.
1996 Sauvignon Blanc ($8.50) Some varietal
character, but the palate is dominated by vanilla/spice oakiness from partial barrel
fermentation: if I'd tasted it blind I might have guessed it was a Chardonnay. Not what
I'm used to, but tasty enough. 78/100
A relatively small, friendly winery to visit that is a Rhone ranger's paradise. Good range of wines at largely reasonable prices. Friendly staff.
1996 Chardonnay Zaca Vineyards ($14.50)
Includes some Viognier! Good nose and dry palate. 78/100
On to Sonoma...