It’s no secret that the Sta. Rita Hills AVA is my favorite. I try to give the other regions their due, but when it comes down to it. there is no wine that gives me more enjoyment than a Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.
So naturally, the Sta. Rita Hills Wine and Fire weekend was going to be a hit in my book, even if the event only consisted of more opportunities to drink some of the region’s best Pinot.
The three day event, was of course, much, much more than that and Wine and Fire not only showcased the best the AVA has to offer, but also allowed for a much deeper engagement with the region with informative seminars and tastings held right in the midst of the vineyards, only days before harvest.
Yet what stood out the most during the busy weekend was the relaxed, casual feel to each event.
The Kick-Off Barn Party at the Sanford Barn involved a La Paulee style wine tasting and dinner, provided by New West Catering. The social tasting allowed guests to wander the grounds, interact with winemakers, and help themselves to a number of single vineyard, older vintage and magnum bottles that were scattered amongst the various tables.
The next morning was a two-part seminar entitled “The Dirty Truth” held at the Fiddlestix Vineyard and moderated by Josh Raynolds of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar. A spirited discussion by the region’s leading winemakers and growers, the seminar covered a range of topics centering around the growing practices of the region. The merits of biodynamic vs organic viticulture were discussed as well as the uniqueness of the 2014 vintage. As Raynolds stated “the more you understand what it took to get there, the more you are going to appreciate what is in the glass.”
Following the seminar was an outdoor luncheon, catered by Hitching Post, complete with enough wine to last those gathered for days.
Later that evening was the Grand Tasting at the Purisima Mission. Generally, grand tastings are the events I look forward to going to the least during festival weekends, preferring to spend my time at the smaller seminars, winemaker dinners, and other more personal experiences. As grand tastings are often mobbed with consumers lining up for their next taste, they generally offer very little time to interact with the winemakers and their wines on a more intimate level.
Wine and Fire was a refreshing break from the norm and as the hosts capped the ticket sales to ensure a much smaller attendance than other similarly run events, the tasting had little to no lines and an all-together, much more relaxed feel.
The final day featured numerous open houses during which wineries opened their doors to welcome guests to taste through wines not poured at the tasting as well as special food options, such as Cold Heaven Cellars’ goat cheese ice cream and Late Harvest Viognier pairing or Kessler Haak’s afternoon of Pinot and Paella.
Pictured above: Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars, Gray Hartley of Hitching Post, and Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe, Photos: Courtney C Walsh
Perhaps it was all too fitting that while the boundaries of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA are currently being challenged, (for an excellent impartial look at the ongoing conflict, click here) the Wine and Fire Festival would bring together producers and consumers intent on celebrating the region’s many diverse offerings.
Regardless of the outcome of the proposed border shift, the Sta. Rita Hills will always be a special place and an appellation to treasure.
Original Sta. Rita Hills AVA Petitioner and Clos Pepe winemaker Wes Hagen says it best:
The Sta. Rita Hills exist in a small blip in geological time, and it is in that time that we, as winemakers, can coax greatness from the earth.