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Next Exit? Buellton!

The Hitching Post II is a great restaurant in Buellton, CA, a small town smack dab in the middle (maybe not literally, but dang close) of the Santa Ynez wine region in California’s Central Coast AVA. You may know of The Hitching Post from the 2004 hit movie Sideways! If you’ve had the pleasure of seeing the movie, you undoubtedly know of the wines associated with this popular restaurant too!

Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines is the collaboration of two good friends who seem to have very different backgrounds. Gray Hartley (a former professional fisherman) and Frank Ostini (chef and owner of The Hitching Post) first made “home wine” in 1979. Their first Pinot Noir came in 1981, and their wine “project” moved to a winery in 1984. Initially the wines were made exclusively for The Hitching Post, but now the country is happy to have them distributed so that we can enjoy them even when we’re not visiting California!

My husband and I have visited Buellton and The Hitching Post II several times, and we’re always sure to stock up on some of their wines to bring home with us. They make a fun Rosé, some nice Merlot and Syrah, and an interesting (and very affordable) red blend called “Gen Red”. Their specialty, though, is killer Pinot Noir!

The other night I pulled a Hartley-Ostini 2012 Pinot Noir Highliner out of our cellar. Their flagship wine, this Pinot Noir has a beautiful nose! With aromas of violets, cherry, raspberry and some wet earth, this wine rocks. The velvety palate has bright cherry, raspberry, pomegranate, and that lovely earthiness that I pray for when cracking open a Pinot. This is one heck of a wine!

Whether you enjoyed the movie or not, definitely check out The Hitching Post II and the lovely Hartley-Ostini wines! The Santa Ynez Valley is a fabulous wine region to visit, so if you haven’t been, definitely put it on your bucket list. The fabulous wines, the delicious food and the gorgeous scenery will entice you to go back time and again! Just make sure that you’re not chewing gum while tasting!

Check out the Hartley-Ostini wines here: 


This Wine is “Fergalicious”!

I’m having a “ME” night tonight. The hubby is off working and I’m on my own with a good book and a hopefully good bottle of wine. So I went into our cellar and pulled out a bottle of 2011 Ferguson Crest “Fergalicious”, knowing only that it’s a blend of 56% Syrah, 25% Merlot, 13% Grenache and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m a huge lover of Syrah (in case you didn’t already know that) and the price wasn’t outrageous (I feel guilty opening an expensive bottle with my husband off working), so I grabbed this bottle thinking that it was the perfect wine for the night.

I popped and poured it without decanting … and actually really liked it right off the bat! I’m used to Syrah from the Rhone Valley, which this is NOT! Well, of course it’s not! This is only 56% Syrah, and it’s from the Santa Ynez region of California’s Central Coast AVA. The “Fergalious” is an interesting blend of Rhone varietals with Bordeaux varietals. It’s a lush, full-bodied wine with lots of dark fruit, violets and some spice on the nose. On the palate are the ripe dark fruit, mocha, olives and sweet tannins.

Holy crap! After reading up a bit on this wine, I realized that it’s a family-owned boutique winery established by Pat Ferguson (whose passion for years has been growing many different types of fruits) and his daughter Stacy Duhmel. In case you don’t know, that’s THE Fergie! Yes, THAT Fergie, the vocalist from Black Eyed Peas. I had no idea that she has a wine!!!!

I want to try to find a few more of these, hold on to them, and see how they taste after a few years in the bottle. I can’t help but think that they’ll get even better than they already are. I also look forward to trying some of Ferguson Crest’s other wines!

Meanwhile, I’ll be sure to save the other half of this bottle for my husband to try tomorrow night! It’s right up his alley, AND he thinks that Fergie is hot!

If you want to learn more about Ferguson Crest, check out their website here:

History (and great wine!) at Halter Ranch Vineyard

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I’ve just returned from a visit to the Central Coast AVA. We stopped in Santa Barbara County for a couple of days, but my main focus on this visit was to taste in Paso Robles. We had the opportunity to taste at many wonderful wineries, but today I’m going to focus on Halter Ranch Vineyard, located in the heart of Paso Robles’ Westside Adelaida District.

Full of history, Halter Ranch is one fun winery to visit. We were fortunate enough to embark on the full tour, hosted by our informative and personable guide Ray King. After checking out the Victorian farmhouse built in 1885 (which is a Paso Robles landmark!), we were loaded into a Jeep and crossed their picturesque covered bridge. Then off we drove into the 280 acres of vineyards!

We were shown some of their newly planted vines as well as a lot of old vine plantings. We stopped along the way for some breathtaking views, all while Ray was sharing a lot of the winery’s history and explaining which varietals were planted in which blocks, and why!

The highlight of the vineyards may not have been vines at all (although they WERE spectacular), but a huge, very old Coast Live Oak tree.  Thought to be about 600 years old, it is one of two largest trees of this variety in the world.  The tree sits in the middle of their Block 11 Syrah vineyard.  The rows of vines were planted in a radius around the Ancestor Oak (as they have named the tree) to twelve foot spacing so that the tractors could get between the rows when the vineyard was first planted back in 1996. This was definitely a photo op. As you can see by the picture, the branches have reached down into the ground and now help to support the massive tree.

At one point in the tour we hooked up with another group headed by Assistant Winemaker Molly Lonborg. Our two groups became one as we began the tour of the winery itself. 

Halter Ranch’s winery is the most state of the art I’ve seen. Architect John Mitchell worked closely with the winemaking team (headed by Winemaker Kevin Sass) to design this multi-level facility that employs gravity flow in all facets of the winemaking process. This allows the fruit to be handled in the gentlest way possible to get the grapes from the de-stemmer to the tank.

Molly showed us around the pristine facility, stopping to explain some of the many green aspects of the new facility, including rain harvesting water systems, the night cooling system, and a gravity based CO2 evacuation system. After showing off their new de-stemming machine and all of the other amazing features, she lead us to the cave where we saw barrels and barrels of fermenting juice!  

Next up was a visit to their lab. Again, the lab was immaculately clean and fascinating. Molly shared some of the fun (and not so fun) stories of their days in the lab.

Last, but certainly not least, we were led to a beautiful outdoor patio where Ray began pouring us some of the Halter Ranch wines.  This gorgeous spot was the ideal place to enjoy our tasting.

All of the Halter Ranch wines are good, but a few of them stood out for me.

Firstly, they make a rockin’ Rosé! Their 2014 is a blend of 71% Grenache, 9% Syrah, 13% Mourvèdre and 7% Picpoul Blanc. With aromas of strawberry and watermelon, it is made in the Provençal way and is refreshingly dry on the palate.

Another of my favorites was the 2012 Ancestor Estate Reserve. This is their flagship wine and is named after the “heart and soul” of their property, the Ancestor Tree. Comprised of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot, this lovely Bordeaux Blend has lots of dark fruit and mocha.

I also loved the 2012 Malbec Estate Reserve (76% Malbec, 20% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) and the 2012 Syrah Block 22! Honestly, all of the wines we tasted were very well made and enjoyable.

So, if you’re in the Paso Robles area and would like to have a very memorable wine experience, be sure to put Halter Ranch on your list. You might even get really lucky and see the resident chickens.

Oh, and by the way … don’t forget to take your camera!

Halter Ranch is also SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified. To learn more, click here:

Old World Style in the New World!

If you follow my blog, you know that I love to travel! And when I travel, it’s usually to a wine region somewhere in the world! Well last week my husband and I hit California’s Central Coast AVA. We visited a few different areas, but today I’m going to tell you about three wineries from Santa Barbara County that really stood out to me!

First up was Whitcraft, located in Santa Barbara! Fresh off the airplane, this was our first stop. I’ve always wanted to taste here and was very excited.  I wasn’t disappointed! Sadly, Chris Whitcraft (who started making wine as a hobby and turned it into an award winning winery) passed last year. Happily, his very talented son Drake is now in charge of the winemaking and operations of Whitcraft Winery. He also happened to be pouring in the tasting room that day!

We had a wonderful tasting here, perhaps my favorite of the entire trip!!! Whitcraft’s Chardonnay is powerful with fruit, and has notes of earth and minerals. The Pinot Noir and Syrah are lovely “Old World” representatives that make me very happy! I can tell that Drake cares about the fruit! The wines are not overdone; he lets them speak for themselves. I bought three of his Pinots and one of his Chards. Believe me, if I lived in the area I’d buy his wines by the truckload!

Oh, and by the way, Whitcraft has a very cute Wine Dog named Terra!

Another winery that definitely stood out was Transcendence! I’m a very picky Pinot Noir drinker (see above). I admit it! Most “New World” Pinots just don’t rock my boat. Transcendence, on the other hand … WOW! 

Once again we were fortunate to taste with owner/winemaker Joey Gummere in their Lompoc tasting room. His Pinot Noirs are (in my opinion) being made the way Pinot Noir is supposed to be made! There is some earthy funkiness behind the fruit, along with lovely floral notes. He also does some nice Chardonnay and some rockin’ Rhone blends. In fact, I’m drinking a bottle of his 2012 Parea (50% Syrah, 29% Mourvèdre and 21% Grenache) as I write this! I bought a bunch, and he gave me a nice deal on shipping.

Last (but not least!) was Liquid Farm. Located in Buellton, this winery focuses on Chardonnay. I love the name (their goal is to promote that what happens above and below the ground produces the liquid in the bottle) and I also love the wine.

Anna set us up with a tasting with the Assistant Winemaker Tanner and his playful Wine Dog Button. We tasted through 5 different Chardonnays, and there wasn’t a dud in the group! My personal favorites were the 2013 Golden Slope, named for the famous Côte-d’Or of Burgundy France and the 2013 Bien Bien, which had a wonderful finish and reminded me of a Chassagne-Montrachet! I’m a sucker for Chassagne-Montrachet, so you can imagine how much I loved this wine!

Again, wish I could have bought a heck of a lot more, but thankful that I can order online!

As you can imagine, this was a great start to a very rewarding wine excursion.  I look forward to sharing more in future blogs!

If you’re interested in visiting any of these wonderful wineries, or are simply curious to check out more about them, here are links:

2003 Talbott Diamond T Estate Chardonnay

I’ve been saving a wine to crack open, and tonight was the night!

I knew that the Talbott 2003 Diamond T Estate Chardonnay could be cellared for a while, and I was excited to see how it’s drinking.

The grapes in this wine come from the heralded Diamond T Estate Vineyard in the Carmel Valley of California’s Central Coast AVA.  Planted with the Corton-Charlemagne clone in 1982 by Robb Talbott, this vineyard grows on a 1,200 foot mountaintop, eight miles from Carmel Bay.

The Diamond T Estate Chardonnay is 100 percent barrel fermented and has full lees contact for over a year.  The wine spends a total of 14 to 18 months in French oak and is then bottle-aged for almost two years before it is released!

Now I know what you’re probably thinking!  OAKBOMB!  Because of the acidity, though, along with the time in the bottle, it’s really not.

The color is deep golden.  The nose is wonderful, with gorgeous aromas of honey, pineapple and lots of ripe pear coming through.

On the palate the once obvious oak has calmed down.  Acidity dominates now, but the ripe pear, peach, pineapple and vanilla still come through nicely.  If this wine didn’t have the crisp acidity to balance it out, this ’03 would almost be sweet.

The finish is creamy and lasts a good long time.

I’m glad that I opened this bottle when I did.  It doesn’t have a lot of time left.  Tonight, however, it didn’t disappoint!

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