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California, Santa Barbara County & Wine - Part 2: Oakville Sommelier

photo-21 | C. Silversides
photo-21 | C. Silversides

Lucas & Lewellen Tasting Room in Solvang Photo credit: C.Silversides Lucas & Lewellen Tasting Room in Solvang

Lucas & Lewellen Tasting Room in Solvang

Photo credit: C.Silversides

Further exploration of wine in Santa Barbara County brought me to the tasting room of Lucas & Lewellen in the Danish Village of Solvang, California. My outstanding host Michael Hartmann, Director of Sales & Marketing, told me about the winery history, lead me through a fantastic wine tasting, and showed me around their Valley View vineyards near the home of Louis Lucas in the Santa Ynez Valley AVA where they grow Bordeaux-based varietals, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Known for his innovative grape growing techniques, Lucas comes from a fruit growing family from the Central Valley of California. Incidentally, the crops that grow best in this part of the world are grapes, strawberries, cauliflower, and stone fruits. Business partner, Royce Lewellen, is a retired Superior Court Judge and businessman with a love of wine. L&L is a family owned winery with over 400 acres of vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley AVA, Santa Ynez Valley AVA, and Los Alamos Valley viticultural area.

Lucas & Lewellen Valley View Vineyards Lucas & Lewellen Valley View Vineyards

Lucas & Lewellen Valley View Vineyards

Photo credit: C. Silversides

About 1/3 of the L&L acreage is planted to Pinot Noir and the remaining acres are planted to 23 other grape varieties. I loved the Pinot Noir wines I tasted from their 2010 vintage: Queen of Hearts - a fruit forward blend from their Santa Barbara County vineyards, Lucas & Lewellen - an earthy blend from their Los Alamos Valley and Goodchild vineyards, and Goodchild High 9 - a smooth single vineyard Pinot from their terraced vineyards in Santa Maria Valley, a 9 acre block located on the highest terrace there. The vineyard crew works year-round as opposed to only at harvest time and have been with the estate for many vintages. All grapes are hand harvested. As the wine industry shifts, the vineyards are adjusted as needed to accommodate the market. Lucas is a master at grafting with a 95% take rate allowing him to convert his vineyards to different varietals bearing fruit in roughly 2 years as opposed to planting brand new vines which can take 5 years. He also uses varied trellis systems and spacing techniques appropriate for each varietal in order to produce the best quality fruit for their wines.

Rusack Vineyards Rusack Vineyards

Rusack Vineyards

Photo credit: C. Silversides

I also visited Rusack Vineyards, another family owned winery in Solvang located off of Ballard Canyon Road. Their Enologist Amy Paynter gave me a terrific tour of their facility and the 17 acres of vineyards they have on site which includes plantings of Syrah and Sangiovese, about half of their vines. Their canyon location runs north-south making this area a little warmer than some in the region, a good micro-climate for their Syrah vines. They also grow vines and purchase grapes from other Santa Barbara County AVAs. Annual wine production is approximately 8,000 to 10,000 cases. All of their grapes are hand harvested. The winery is entirely gravity flow and they do not do any pumping. Back in the tasting room Joe shared with me a brief history of Rusack which opened in 1997, and introduced me to their wines. I tasted a selection of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah, and a Semillon based dessert Wine. Among these I tasted the gorgeous 2010 Rusack Chardonnay from their Santa Catalina Island Vineyards, El Rancho Escondido. Rusack produced the very first wine to come from grapes grown on Catalina with their 2009 vintage!

Thinking about wine, what is happening in Oakville? In lieu of wine events this week I am going to share with you the names of two local breweries in Oakville you beer drinkers may want to check out: Cameron's Brewing and Trafalgar Ales & Meads.

So there you have it: California, Santa Barbara County, Wine