So, this is the third in my series of, “why would you live anywhere else?”
The first featured Rideau, the historic home of a guest ranch serving weary stagecoach travelers near Solvang. Now, it’s where a transplanted French-Canadian man gambles that his love of Rhone grapes — especially the white ones — will find ready and frequent customers.
The second was Stolpman Vineyards. The tasting room in delightfully tiny Los Olivos boasts offerings of the unique partnership of Peter Stolpman and Rajat Parr, who are pushing the boundaries of what California wineries should be bottling. Their Combe Chenin Blanc stands testament to why we shouldn’t be satisfied with the status quo.
Craig Jaffurs, who can be considered one of the first California “garagiste” winemakers because his winery is actually in a garage, back in the ’90s, eschewed tradition by focusing on Rhone varietals — long before it was a “thing.”
Nine years ago, wine critic Robert Parker said, “One of Santa Barbara’s superstar wineries, Jaffurs has been on fire over recent vintages. Craig Jaffurs is certainly one of the pedal-to-the-metal, brilliant young winemakers in Santa Barbara, and his wines reflect his commitment to quality and dedication to such extraordinary grapes as syrah, grenache, viognier and roussanne.”
Uniquely, Jaffurs sits smack dab in the middle of the city of Santa Barbara, just off Milpas Street. But they are, as of yet, largely undiscovered, so you can stop by and enjoy a tasting without battling hordes of wine tourists or groups of bachelorettes.
Well, that’s what Terry and I did after visiting Rideau and Stolpman.
This was our first stop since Jaffurs sold the winery to Dan and Janelle Green, who had the good sense to keep the Jaffurs name. We wanted to see if quality had degraded or the place was any less friendly than it was under Craig. Happy to report, Jaffurs remains an enjoyable destination.
We tasted eight wines. None received a grade below 89 from either of us.
These were our favorite three: 2016 Roussanne, Stolpman Vineyard; the 2014 Syrah, Bien Nacido; and the 2014 Upslope.
The Roussanne is a labor to produce.
After the fruit is picked, one barrel is set aside that is aged in new French oak. The other grapes are equally divided – 50 percent aged in steel, 50 percent in neutral oak.
All of these versions of the same grape are then blended together, producing a round and balanced wine. Terry loved the tropical nose and bold, multidimensional taste. With a hint of a buttery note, it finishes delectably.
Jaffurs’ long suit has always been its spectrum of Syrahs.
The Bien Nacido fruit often highlights pepper and strong black fruit. The 2014 was true to form. After swirling, the aromas from the glass range from blackberry to cherry to baking spices. The taste is, as expected, peppery and almost meaty. I’ve had the Bien Nacido that is 8 to 10 years old, and it always hangs together — still jammy and tasty.
Upslope marks the epitome of what Jaffurs can offer year in and year out.
This is how the winery describes its creation, “One of the most exciting tasks each year is tasting through all of the reserve red wine barrels and crafting Upslope — the best Syrah from the vintage.
We look for intensity, concentration, balance, complexity, aging potential and that mysterious “wow” factor. Jaffurs took six barrels of its very best Syrahs from all of the vineyards, crafting a powerful wine that is a step above the rest of Jaffurs’ offerings.
An amazing, powerful bouquet of smoke and berries, the masterfully balanced tastes of pepper, loam, jammy blackberries and meat result in a sensational wine. It is the wine to open on special occasions.
For me, these three wineries and their people exemplify some of the best of what California has to offer.
Gotta love California.
Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.