Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ladies of Champagne...and the Santa Maria Valley

If you've ever heard any of the stories of how Champagne got started (read: The Widow Cliquot by Mazzeo), then you're familiar with those hard-working, brilliant, inspiring women of the region who, let's be honest, made it all happen.

Mme. Cliquot was essentially the heroine of those days, which were particularly unstable and troubling thanks to wars, weather, a terrible economy and lack of funds, and, of course, the attitude of the world against women in business.

Most people, even the strong willed ones, would have given up trying to make Champagne successful, but Mme. Cliquot just kept at it. She believed in her product and relentlessly studied the science behind making sparkling wines, constantly set about improving the process, and knew, very deep down, that someday it would all come together.

Now, I'm not about to start comparing myself to this extraordinary woman, but I can't help but be inspired by her as not only a woman in the wine industry, but as one who has fostered a deep and passionate love affair with all wines sparkling for many years. This obsession has led me to not only taste, examine, and enjoy countless bottles of bubbly, but to learn the process of making exquisite sparkling wines from the grapes to the end product. It's fascinating and relatively untouched, especially in Santa Barbara County, where few pioneers have dared to even try it. (Definite props to Flying Goat Cellars, who really got into it first.)

We started experimentally making sparkling wine in 2008 out of only Chardonnay, operating under the assumption that if it turned out tasty, then one made with Pinot Noir would be outstanding. Winemaker Clarissa Nagy is an admirer of sparkling wines and Champagnes as well, and immediately showed excitement in our budding program, adding her own unique touches. Gerald Ployez, a Frenchman whose family hails from Champagne and has made it for centuries, offers his insight, experience, and equipment, which help us as newbies make the best quality sparkling wine. The process is long, arduous, and sometimes dangerous (Gerald's arms are scarred from explosive bottles!). Yet we have continued to combat the obstacles against making sparkling wine to introduce the three in our portfolio that have, quite simply, become some of the most gorgeous bubblies made domestically.

Trust a girl who's tasted 'em all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Wanna See My Shake Face?

My world is wine with a little beer mixed in, so cocktails are relatively new to me. But they're making a comeback, and the more I taste some of the purer, fresher quality concoctions, the more intrigued I become. I gotta start out slow, so right now I mostly enjoy drinks made with a little wine.

Making cocktails is a little like being a mad scientist. Limitless different ingredients, mixed together in different ways to make thousands of different drinks. And when you shake your masterpiece with some ice, the expression on your face is called your "shake face." One bartender I met claims to have seven different faces; I'm gonna stick to just perfecting one.

My friend Jason Burton (pictured here with Brent Anderson, Stir Branding) from The LAB is a pro, and this summer he invented a drink that uses Riverbench Chardonnay. He served it at a recent tasting we hosted, and it was, in short, eye opening. I might be in love with St. Germain Elderflower. I bragged about our Riverbench cocktail to my owners and it ended up on the Far Western Tavern's bar menu, named, embarassingly, for me: the Mohseni. I'll probably always think of it and remember this past (unbearably hot) summer's trip in Kansas City, where it was invented, but I'm super honored.

The takeaway here? Dive in, folks. The cocktails are fine.

Try our very own Riverbench cocktail, and work on your own shake face. Here's the recipe: