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Kathy Marcks Hardesty: Vineyard tours create unforgettable lessons
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From the Vine

Kathy Marcks Hardesty: Vineyard tours create unforgettable lessons

From the What you need to know for Monday, August 24 series
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Some of the best lessons I’ve had while learning about wine took place in a winery’s vineyards. There’s little, other than wine tasting, that is quite as eye-opening as hearing about the hard work of farming.

Until I moved to the Central Coast nearly three decades ago, I never equated growing grapes as similar as growing crops like strawberries, corn, or bell peppers. Yet that was one of the lessons winemaker Jim Adelman, general manager at the Au Bon Climat/Qupe winery in Santa Maria Valley in 1996, taught me when I first visited him. And he still holds that esteemed role today.

I recently learned of some very creative ways local vintners are making the wine tasting experience much safer and fun for all of us. And I’m with you if you’re thinking this COVID-19 pandemic is going on far longer than we have the patience for. That’s why I love the fact some wineries are inviting wine lovers to take a harvest walk through their gorgeous, fruit laden vineyards, while tasting their wines.

This year it’s going to be an early harvest. I caught that news from local wine producers, those who make sparkling wines are already harvesting wine grapes. One was Stephen Ross in SLO (of course, sparkling wine grapes are always picked earlier than than grapes intended for still wines). Once the full on harvest is going, they will have to hold off on vineyard tours. We don’t want to get in the way of their rapidly moving picking crews. That said, you should get your reservations soon for these elucidating vineyard visits while you learn how to appreciate the wine you’re tasting.

Among the best offerings in Buellton, Alma Rosa has created a harvest vineyard walk on Sunday, Sept. 6th, promptly from 10 a.m. until noon, reception begins at 9:30 a.m. This is important, space is quite limited at 20 people to ensure proper social distancing during the walk and tasting. They entice you with breathtaking views of the Alma Rosa vineyard and the Sta. Rita Hills appellation, while you taste their delicious white wines.

The hike is followed by a tasting of select red wines that takes place at the ranch house. Their pricing is reasonable at $35 per person for wine club members, and $50 for the general public. You can make reservations at 805-691-9395 or at info @almarosawinery .com.

Another piece of great news about Alma Rosa: Santa Barbara County (SBC) pioneer Richard Sanford was the first to plant pinot noir grapevines there in 1971, in what would later become the Sta. Rita Hills appellation. After selling his namesake winery, Sanford, he created Alma Rosa. Both brands have always been tributes to the wine growing region. In the Alma Rosa newsletter they stated:

“We are pleased to announce that winery founder Richard Sanford has been named 2020 vintner of the year by the Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance.” There was an online tribute to him in mid-August with winemaker guests paying tribute to Sanford’s lifetime dedication to this very special appellation. “A living legend in the world of California wine, commonly referred to as the ‘Godfather of Central Coast pinot noir.’ Sanford planted the first pinot noir vineyard on the Central Coast, and has lived and worked in Sta. Rita Hills, a region he helped create, for nearly five decades.” Signing up for the newsletter is free, but joining the wine club offers great specials.

In 1983 Sanford planted the Rancho El Jabali, which he created using traditional organic farming and environmental stewardship. It was one of the first organic vineyards in SBC, and at the forefront of the movement to farm wine grapes organically. It’s now the Alma Rosa Vineyard with 45-acres, planted mostly to chardonnay and pinot noir, and experimental blocks of Rhone varieties. The vineyard is 100 percent organic, and a member of California Certified Organic Farmers. Their dedication is admirable and if you already like their wines, it’s well worth joining the fan club.

Another very popular Central Coast winery is Tolosa in SLO, on Broad St. (Highway 227) across from the SLO Airport. They, too, are now offering six unique tasting experiences that are reasonably priced. Some are priced only $25 per person, while the rarities are priced up to $65 for each person and includes a delectable cheese plate by Cured and Cultivated.Tolosa is generous in offering to waive the tasting fee if you purchase a bottle of wine. All of the tastings take place over 90-minutes, giving your party time to savor every sip. The tastings are safely held on their beautiful Terrace, where you’re surrounded by their lush Edna Valley estate vineyard, laden with fruit nearing harvest.

Although they invite you to make tasting reservations through Explore Tock (which I don’t use), you can still make reservations online at Concierge@ Tolosawinery .com. I don’t know anything about that reservation manager, but you can always call Tolosa at 805-782-0500. I think this sounds like a great way to taste their newest releases. The tastings include a 1772 flight, single vineyard tasting, Perinet tasting of their Spanish brand, and twilight at Tolosa tasting on Friday nights. There’s also a corporate virtual tasting you can sign on for, all great options.


Reach Kathy at kathymhardesty @ gmail .com


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