By Sue Shelden   |   Tuesday, November 25, 2014 at 8:17 pm   |   Leave a Comment »

I should have seen it coming–in fact, I should have thought of it–but then I don’t have my own vineyard. Lydia Mondavi–yes, Mondavi, as in wife of Rob, the grandson of Robert–has been busy turning the refuse of winemaking into some pretty wonderful skin products. We already knew that grapes have lots of health benefits. Lydia, in an interview with “Wine Fashionista” Mary Orlin, described the anti-oxidant powers of grape seeds as being “”50 times more powerful than vitamin E and 20 times more powerful the vitamin C.”

I first learned of this new line of skincare products, called “29,” when I was recently shopping at Target and found a tube of “29 First Crush Lip Scrub.” The product is in a lipstick tube and applies like a lip gloss, but has little grape-seed nubbies in it to exfoliate dry lips. With a tough winter ahead of us, I knew this would provide some welcome relief. I was so happy with the lip scrub that I went back for a “Starter Kit” for the skincare collection. This reasonably priced collection ($35) contains the following: Cream of the Crop Cleanser, D’Vine Day Cream with Broad Spectrum SPF30, Replenishing Toner & Pore Purifying Treatment Pads, Secret of the Vine Serum Extract and Vineyard Repairing Night Cream–all in travel sizes and in a nice travel cosmetic bag. This is a perfect gift–especially for yourself. I’ll be trying all of these products tonight–I expect that I won’t recognize myself in the morning!

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By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Monday, November 24, 2014 at 12:05 pm   |   Leave a Comment »

Traffic was slow on U.S. 101 as we drove past SLO (San Luis Obispo), and I feared I may violate my own number one rule about being on time when visiting a winery. But we just did make it at 10:00 a.m. to the Tablas Creek Vineyards just west of Paso Robles where Joell A. Chiff had a couple of white wines ready to pour as we walked in.

Tablas Creek Winery is an interesting partnership between two distinguished wine families thousands of miles apart. Robert Haas of Paso Robles and Jean-Pierre and Francois Perrin of Chateau Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape looked far and wide to find the right California plot for producing Rhone-style wines. I witnessed their success some years ago when Jason Haas (Robert’s son) came to Bloomington to introduce us Hoosiers to Tablas Creek. As I sipped his wines back then, I could only recall my visits with the Perrins over the years. Tablas Creek had become a priority visit for me on my first detailed look at Paso Robles.

I like their flagship wines — Esprit de Tablas: red based on Mouvedre, white based on Roussanne. So too do I appreciate their Cote de Tablas¬†– Grenache red and Viognier white. Of course, as in the Rhone Valley, the Tablas wines are blends requiring skillful juggling of harvest and fermentation times as the various grapes ripen at different times.

It took the Perrins and the Haases four years to decide that the soils along Tablas Creek were just what they needed for the vines they brought from France and which had to be put in quarantine for three years. That was in the 1960s when they decided to go organic and have done so from the beginning. They keep herds of sheep, alpacas, and burros to help with weed control and fertilization.

Joelle smiled when I asked her about the significance of the new American Viticultural Areas for Paso Robles. “For one thing,” she said, ” “it means that producers over here on the west side of town can no longer bring in grapes from the east side!”

Tablas Creek may not rival the Rhone River in size or ancient history, but it certainly holds its own in the growing of quality grapes, and these two friendly partners have taken full advantage of that.

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By Allen Dale "Ole" Olson   |   Friday, November 21, 2014 at 11:10 am   |   Leave a Comment »

At the end of the twisting, hilly Ballard Canyon Road the words had become almost a mantra: “Harvested two and three weeks early. Water not yet a problem but…” The Rusack winery has its own well system, but the tannish-brownish Santa Rita Hills tell the story. Like the rest of California, Santa Barbara County is experiencing extreme drought.

Joe Melatti, our host at the handsome bar in the tasting room, beautifully ornamented with native pottery, told it like it is — a really very early harvest this year. Though the Ballard Canyon seems more like the Rhone Valley and the wines it produces are predominantly Rhone-style, Joe says the Zinfandel is “History in a bottle.” The Zinfandel cuttings were saved from the cuttings on Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina Islands after Prohibition, hence the history. In Ballard Canyon, they vinify Zinfandel in the style of the Old World, imparting a more feminine, nuanced style than one expects of a Zinfandel from California. The connection to Catalina Island goes back to Alison Wrigley Rusack’s childhood on that island when her family owned it, the chewing gum industry, and, of course, the Chicago Cubs, which endeared the place to me immediately.

More than half of their 17 acres are planted in Syrah, the flagship Rhone-style wine. Here the Syrah finishes with a touch of licorice and a concentration of cherry and chocolate, not unlike those of the Northern Rhone. But the Rusacks also source Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the cooler Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley to produce some Burgundy-style reds and whites. Though total poroduction is only from eight to ten thousand cases, the  diversity of production is impressive.

Particularly noteworthy is the extent to which the Rusack vines follow the contours of the surrounding hills, making for excellent drainage and maximum exposure to the sun. Ballard Canyon is not defined as either a cool or warm climate. From the hills, as mentioned, the grapes are Burgundian; the opposite end of the canyon is the warmest land in Santa Barbara County, where they produce some Merlot and Cabernet for a Bordeaux style red.

My first day of work ended on the redwood deck fronting the winery, basking in a late-afternoon sun sipping a refreshing Santa Maria Valley Reserve Chardonnay. Next time, I’ll remember to bring a picnic lunch.

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