Over the weekend at the behest of Santa Ynez tasting room queen Maeapple Chaney (ex Tercero) who has been a friend for many years, I had two different tastings with Refugio Ranch.
The first round was in their very casual, comfortable and convenient tasting room as one enters Los Olivos. There's so much parking there that it makes it the first stop on a weekend when Grand Avenue is jam packed with cars, as well as people popping in and out between them. Think of the Refugio Ranch location as a safe haven for you, and your car.
The second tasting was more of a party as Maeapple snagged me an "invader pass" to their July Intimate Wine Club dinner at the very bucolic and serene winery property at the south end of the valley. If you're familiar with Sunstone's location, keep going south, and you arrive at a very rustic winery ranch, with a massive barn that is just the ultimate place for a party. There I had the good fortune to meet up with the entire Gleason family. Kevin, Niki, Max, and Callie. Much like the family business of wineries in France, I'm close to, Chene Bleu and Aupilhac to name drop two, you can't but immediately like the Gleason clan. Welcoming, inviting and all aware, with a passion that shows through from "hello."
Then there's the winemaking team of Ryan Devolet and Grace Kegal. The duo is turning out some of the most inspired wines I've had in a long time out of Santa Barbara. Cold Heaven's Morgan Clendenen wasn't wrong when earlier in the day she said "Ryan is one great winemaker" to me as we were sipping her stunning new 2014 Santa Barbara County Viognier.
The Refugio Ranch 2016 Malvasia Bianca is a perfect summertime white wine. Light notes of lemon, lime, and grapefruit, with a lingering finish has me yearning for Asian fusion dishes or a summer salad of either tropical melons or cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. It's a yummy wine that can also just be tasted all by itself.
The 2016 Tiradora Sauvignon Blanc is a 90 percent Sauvignon Blanc, 10 percent Semillon blend that is more Bordelais than Loire or Kiwi in style. In many ways, it reminds me of winemaker Herve Dubourdieu's Château Graville-Lacoste blend imported by Kermit Lynch. The grassy notes that one typically finds in Sauvignon Blanc are there, but it's the elegance that the delicious Semillon fruit adds to the blend that gives the wine body and style. This wine though is a more flint like and lemongrass, and another wine that will go well with Asian inspired cooking.
The 2014 Ineseno Roussanne Viognier blend was my favorite white from Refugio. It has the Northern Rhone white wine style I crave. Richness, without weighty, flavorful, but melded, and with a lingering finish. The lemon zest attack is quickly buffeted by peach melba like flavor, that and some pear, granny apples and lime. What I also like is the light oak kiss that still shows through, which likely will drop out while the wine ages nicely.
The 2015 Roussanne was my second favorite white. As a long time fan of Hermitage Blanc from Chave and Qupe's Roussanne, I'm always looking out for Roussanne that can be enjoyed with salty fish dishes or savory vegetable melanges. This white falls right in that vein. It's got the body and structure to age too, as Santa Barbara County Roussanne has shown. A few months back the WineSiders group held a tasting of Qupe Wines and had a vertical of 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Qupe Roussanne where all showed very well, and all youthful to boot. The Refugio Ranch Roussanne is in that same caliber.
The 2014 Viognier was the one wine that didn't hit me right. As I shared with winemaker Ryan Devolet, the problem with Viognier is it can get flabby or thick in odd years. 2014 was one of those drought years along the Central Coast, and the Viognier suffered as a stand-alone wine.
I also really enjoyed the 2016 Rose. Made from Syrah and with some Sangiovese dumped in, the wine has a dark rose petal pink color, crisp acidity and a nice, dry blueberry and blackberry flavor. Unlike so much of what is coming out of Provence these days in the way of Rose, this is a more intellectual wine, which goes well by itself but better with light finger foods.
As for the reds, I was blown away by the two reds at the dinner party, which were served both at the reception and the very comfortable "family" dinner in the barn. The 2015 Grenache was everything I look for in Grenache. Bold and spicy, with a lingering finish. The Grenache was very much a Southern Rhone clone of the first magnitude. Lush fruit, great balance, black raspberry, ripe strawberry and black plum flavors were all there. It's also a charming wine, with the kind of finish that has you wanting to drink more of it. The 2015 Econdrijo, is a Grenache, Syrah, and Petite Sirah blend. The blend harkens back to the kind of field blend wines I used to enjoy from the Ridge ATP program, or friend Patrick Campbell's REDS from eons ago. Much like the wines of Northern California's Bedrock Winery or Sparkman's Wilderness Red. That makes the Escondrijo from two years ago is one of those "don't think about it, just drink it and enjoy it" types of red wines when young. But make no mistake, this wine is a serious red wine which in time will be far more elegant and structured, given its fruit and tannic backbone. The addition of Petite Sirah to the Grenache and Sirah will be what adds years to the wine's life.
As far as the rest of the reds which I tasted at the tasting room, the 2014 Escondrijo, 2014 Petite Sirah and 2014 Barbareno Syrah and Petite Sirah blend were all well made, well balanced and excellent examples of Santa Barbara reds. The Barbareno red is a masterpiece in my view, and clearly, needs cellaring. Made from 75% Syrah and 25% Petite Sirah, this is a gem of a red wine and one that would stymie many a Rhone wine fan as it has the quality of a well made Cornas, but with a bit more plum and herbal notes.
Not a bad day for me, and clearly, a new spot to stop on my trips to Santa Barbara County for wine..