Recently my husband, Steve and I went on a wine tasting tour with Sustainable Vine Wine Tours. I have to confess that I have never actually gone on a wine tour. We've been to plenty of wineries on our own or with a group, but never actually done the tour approach. Perhaps it was because the idea of getting into a giant gas guzzling bus with a horde of people didn't sound all that appealing. But the premise of Sustainable Vine Wine Tours is altogether different and quite appealing. In the interest of full disclosure, they also happen to be an advertiser in Edible Santa Barbara for which I am the editor and co-publisher. I knew that their business seemed like a good fit for what we were doing with the magazine, but I really wanted to experience one of their tours first hand to find out more about it.
To start off, transportation is in a 9-passenger Mercedes biodiesel van, so right away you're feeling better about the environment. Owner and tour guide Bryan Hope is as passionate about sustainability in all things as he is knowledgeable about the wine industry in our area. So, as soon as he started to give us a little overview of organic and biodynamic winemaking on the drive out there, I knew this was going to be an incredible experience. The day's agenda is paced perfectly: three vineyards/wineries to visit and lunch in between. The wineries can vary, so the three that we went to on our tour were Cimerone, Alma Rosa and Demetria. Others in the lineup might include Beckman, Ampelos, Coquelicot, Sunstone or Presidio.
Bryan Hope of Sustainable Vine Wine Tours
We started off our tour at Three Creek Vineyard which makes Cimerone wines. It is located in the area known as Happy Canyon, which will soon have it's own sought after AVA (American Viticultural Area) status. Cimerone is not open to the public, so we would have never have been able to go there on our own. And what a treat to meet owners Roger and Priscilla Higgins.
Above Roger shows us the ripening grapes protected from the birds by netting. We tasted a grape and learned what they look for to determine when to pick — the taste of the grape and the taste of the seed, as well as how the color of the skin influences the flesh of the grape.
The vineyard grows their grapes organically but the wine is not technically organic, due to the fact that sulfites are used to protect the wine from damage by oxygen. Without the addition of sulfites, wine is much more unstable and susceptible to spoilage. So rather than try to look for organic wines, you are much better off looking for wines which are made from organic grapes.
The winemaker for Cimerone is Doug Margerum, who is well known as the original owner of The Wine Cask, and he also produces critically acclaimed wine under the Margerum wine label.
Stepping into the immaculate and chilly barrel room, we were all overwhelmed with the delicious smell of the wine, and we were thrilled when we got a barrel tasting of some of their fantastic syrah. Notice how winery dog Kali, who is the mascot on their logo, keeps an eye on us.
Our next stop was Alma Rosa. Owner Richard Sanford first planted Pinot Noir vines in Santa Barbara County in 1970. Whether you refer to him as a pioneer or a legend, clearly he is a pivotal figure in the wine industry, and he was on hand to chat with us as we tasted some of their delicious wines. Their vineyards are certified organic and owners Richard and Thekla are both committed to the environment and to promoting sustainability. From their Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris to their well loved Chardonnay and their stellar Pinot Noir, it was a fantastic tasting and a perfect prelude to our gourmet and organic lunch.
Left to right: myself, Michael, Trish, Bryan, Steve and Tiffany (from New Hampshire)
We gathered in front of the winery for a group shot and Richard Sanford joined us (second from right).
Our final stop for the day was Demetria Estate, one of only a handful of biodynamic vineyards in Santa Barbara County. Demetria is only open by appointment, so it is not for the casual visitor. Tucked amidst stunning scenery, the winery is picture postcard beautiful.
We sat out on the terrace and tasted the wines while learning a little bit about the principals of biodynamic farming. Similar to organic in that they don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, biodynamic goes a step further in trying to achieve a holistic and balanced ecosystem. The features of biodynamic farming include using a lunar calendar when planting, pruning and picking and controlling pests or weeds by using their ashes as a deterrent. Some of the attributes of biodynamics seem to stray into philosophy and the concepts of anthroposophy as taught by founder Rudulf Steiner... and as the conversation become more esoteric it all somehow seemed fitting while relaxing on the terrace and drinking their stunning wines.
After a tour of the winery and a more detailed description of how they make the wine, we were all completely satisfied, and it was time to head back to Santa Barbara after a full and rewarding day.
I felt so privileged to have gone on this tour—what a fantastic experience. Many of us who live in this area forget how amazing our wine region is. We have so many world class vintners in our midst. But finding out about some of these organic and biodynamic vineyards takes it to another level. Going on this tour deepened my awareness and respect for what they are doing, and once again reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in Santa Barbara County.
For more information about taking a tour with Sustainable Vine Wine Tours call (805) 698-3911 or visit their website.