4 Oct 2011

"Sideways"... anyone? (Santa Ynez, California)

After spending the weekend in LA it was nice to get into a car and head north towards wine country. The 2.5 hour drive along the coast is gorgeous and quite spectacular. It does take a while to get out of Los Angeles, but the traffic wasn't too bad. I'm also glad to have had experience of driving on the right-hand side of the road in France last year. As I started to approach Santa Barbara I started to get tingles, as I am a huge fan of the film "Sideways", as I'm sure many of you are.

Los Olivos Cafe, where Miles gets drunk at dinner
Market where they pick the girls up from
OK, I understand that the humour is not to everyone's taste, it is kind of middle-aged and blokey in style. There is also the fact that the wine related content gets glossed over a little. It is however the most realistic and genuine depiction of wine and wine culture that I've ever seen in a film, and I found it hilarious when it came out. Naturally I wanted to hit the major spots to get some photos, which included; the Los Olivos Cafe where Miles and Jack have dinner with the girls; The Hitching Post where Maya worked; Fess Parker where they set Frass Canyon, where Miles famously poured a spittoon over his head; and the Windmill Hotel (which I couldn't find unfortunately). I also visited some other wineries and locations used in the film. Geographically they don't make a lot of sense, but who cares, it's a movie!

Hitching Post
The setting for the famous spittoon scene
Anyway, Los Olivos was lovely and I tasted some good wines. It is an interesting set-up in Los Olivos, where several wineries have tasting rooms in town, so if you are staying there you can just walk around to them. Byron had some good single vineyard pinots (and yes, they no longer make sparking wine), Alta Maria's wines were very good, particularly the 2008 Pinot Noir, and I tried the Andrew Murray wines with the lovely Kelly. Whilst I agree with Maya that the alcohol in some of Andrew Murray's wines is a little high, I don't think that it overwhelms the fruit, they totally are in balance. The wines so far are generally a little full in fruit and alcohol for my tastes, but this certainly doesn't make them bad wines at all. I can appreciate them for their expression, and they certainly are reflections of where they come from which I am all about.

Andrew Murray Tasting Room in Los Olivos
Although insanely busy at his winery with vintage and bottling, Andrew Murray was nice enough to chat with me. It was interesting to hear his philophy not only on regionality and site selection, but also blending and focus on Rhone varieties, considering Santa Barbara (especially since "Sideways") has such a reputation for pinot. He clearly has some serious credo in the area as he consults and contracts his winemaking, and I'm sure does a great job. It's also really nice to see a winemaker/owner who is so hands-on in his winery, and not just at vintage. There I found him on the bottling line dealing with some misbehaving capsules. Really lovely guy, wish it had been a less busy time for him.

Andrew Murray checking a ferment
On the way up to San Luis Obispo where I am staying I managed to sneak into Cambria Estate in Santa Maria, which had been recommended by the girls at Byron (understandable as they are sister wineries). Sweeping vineyards and a large facility greeted me, but this was not necessarily a bad thing. At Cambria they mainly produce pinot noir and chardonnay, but they have an interesting focus on single clone wines, which thus far I have only seen a few times in my career. There are at least six different clones each of chardonnay and pinot noir made into single wines, a few blends and some other approaches (e.g. extra barrel work). There was some good consistency across the range, and in both cases the Clone 4 was the best for me. Some of them did start to look a little overworked and didn't allow the fruit to be expressed. Alcohol was also a little high, one chardonnay being 15.2%. Again, they are not bad wines, just not my kind of wines, nor are they wines people in Australia tend to be into.

Click here to see more photos from Santa Ynez, California.

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