In August 1987, some associates and I engaged in wine tasting at the Santa Barbara County wineries. Anybody can enjoy this relaxing hobby. First review the wines and wineries listed here and then go out and try the vineyards for yourself.

Wine Basics-

Nose- A combination of the scent of the grape and the scent imparted to the wine by fermentation and aging.

Balance- Refers to all the components in the wine (acidity, sugar, tannin, flavors, etc.) being in harmony.

Body- The richness and fullness of the wine in the mouth.

Tannic- Tannins in a wine originate in the skins, seeds, and stems of the grape. Fermentation of a red wine includes the grape skins, seeds, and occasionally the stems, so for this reason, tannins are most noticeable in red wines. A tannic wine will make the mouth pucker.

Acidity- There are three major acids found in wine: malic (C4H6O5), tartaric (HOOC(CHOH)2COOH), and citric (C6H8O7). Acidity adds a tartness to the wine and contributes to the overall flavor structure.

Appearance- That's what it means. No wine that is properly made, stored, and served looks turbid, meaning murky. You might see if a white wine has a greenish gold color, or if a red wine has a black, orange, or brown edge to it.

Aroma- Many people claim to detect subtle aromas as remote as asparagus, oak, or walnuts. This is not necessarily a defect unless in your opinion it's overpowering. A varietal wine should smell like the appropriate grape.

Finish- How it tastes after you swallow.

Varietal- Wine in which the actual grape employed is listed the label, such as Zinfandel or Chardonny, and at least 75% of the wine is from that particular grape.

Generic- Wine which simply indicates whether the wine is red (burgundy), off dry white (chablis), sweet white (rhine), or some shade of light red (rose).

Propriety- Wine that is a trademark generic. They are produced by just one winery, blended to their own design An example is Hearty Burgundy from E&G Gallo.

Less than 1% sugar- dry
1% - 1 1/2 % sugar- off-dry
1 1/2- 2% sugar- semisweet
2% and above- sweet
1 1/2 sugar and low acid- sweet and mellow
1 1/2 sugar and medium acid- semisweet
1 1/2 sugar and high acid- off-dry

On Thursday, Aug 13, 1987, we set off to the wineries in Santa Barbara County. We stopped at Byron, Rancho Sisquoc, Zaca Mesa, Firestone, and Sanford. We left Cayucous at about 10:00. We probably should have left earlier, as most of the wineries open at 10:00 and close at 4:00. We had lunch at Solvang.

Byron Vineyard & Winery

5230 Tespusquet Rd. Santa Maria CA 93454

This quaint but modern winery was off the beaten path. They had a small giftshop as well as few but knowledgeable staff persons. Actually, there was only one person working there. They had red tile floors. These are some of the notes taken by my uncle Rick.

1986 Sauvignon Blanc- Fruity, grassy in nose, very varietal, quite tart, clean, high acid, straight forward.

1985 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay- Vanilla, fine nose, slight fruit flavor, soft and round in mouth, no tannin, medium acid, no complexity.

1986 Pinot Nor- Apply, fruity, soft, slight sugar, clean wine

1984 Cabernet Sauvignon- Medium vegetable nose, some oak, slight mint, slight green peppers, good tannin, medium acid, bitter finish.

The Cabernet Sauvignon was the first crush of 1984. The Byron Vineyard puts out about 10,000 cases a year.

Rancho Sisqoc

Rt. 1 Box 147 Foxen Canyon Rd. Santa Maria CA 93454

Rancho Sisquoc was an old Spanish land grant owned by the James Flood family The mild climate and gravely soil are ideally suited for the growing of fine wine grapes. The ranch is located on the Sisquoc River, 18 miles east of Santa Maria.

This vineyard was more rustic. We had to travel up a long dirt entrance way. There was an elderly woman tending the place that apparently hated having to deal with visitors. She mumbled to herself insulting comments about the guests in their presence. Perhaps she had worked for the family for 80 and they hadn't the heart to fire her.

Here are more selections from Rick's notes.

1986 Chardonnay (The grapes for this dry white wine were picked on September 1, 1986 with an average ripeness of 22.2o Brix. The Brix scale is a measurement of sugar content. The hydrometer measures specific gravity and from that you can estimate the amount of sugar present. It was crushed and hand pressed in French Oak barrels. Aged 7 months)

Sulfur in nose, lacking fruit, off sweet, medium acid

1986 Sauvignon Blanc (It was planted in the most gravely soil on the ranch. It was extensively pruned to expose more fruit to sunlight. Aged 5 months)

Very grassy, sulfur, tart, no fruit, acid finish

1986 Franken Riesling (It was made entirely from Sylvaner grapes. Residual sugar: 1.5o Brix, total acid: .97)

Lacks fruit, sweet-medium acid, apply fruity finish

1986 Johannesburg Riesling (Residual sugar: 2o Brix, total acid: .97)

Slight sulfur, slight apples, nice fruit, apples and mint, off sweet, good acid, best we've had so far

1984 Carbarnet Sauvignon (Sauvignon grapes are fermented in small redwood tanks and aged in French and American Oak barrels for 18 months)

Quite vegetable, green peppers, strong asparagus, slight oak, medium dry, medium tart, not as Vegas in mouth

1986 Johannesburg Riesling (These grapes were left on the vine until mid-fall when a mold appeared on the fruit called "Botrytis Cineria". This "Noble Rot" covers the grapes, puncturing tiny holes in the skin. This causes water to evaporate which increases the sugar density. Thus the eventual alcohol content is greater. The fungus also lowers the pH. Residual sugar 23.5o Brix, total acid: 1.15)

Very fruity, apples and pears, almost sweet on nose, lacks complexity in mouth (sweet, not as fruity), sulfur, somewhat harsh finish

Zaca Mesa Winery

Foxen Canyon Rd. Los Olivos, CA 93441

Nestled in a canyon at the north end of the Santa Ynez Valley, Zaca Mesa Winery was in it's 11th year of producing outstanding wine. The wines are produced from grapes grown on Zaca Mesa's 213 acres on two large mesas overlooking the valley. This winery seemed to have a much larger tasting room than the last two. The other two were held in small rustic rooms with oak or redwood paneling. Zaca Mesa had a much larger room, much more like a shopping mall. There was also much fine reading material on champagne and other factes of this glorious tradition.

1983 Sauvignon Blanc- Medium grassy, no fruit, clean tart, slight sulfur

1984 Sauvignon Blanc- Nice grassy, varietal, clean nose, clean tart, no problem, simple

1984 Chardonnay- Clear fruity, apple, soft clean fruity, slight oak, vanilla, very nice

1984 Riesling Chardonnay- Nice subdued fruit, distant oak and vanilla, complex mouth (distant oak, vanilla, apples) clean finish

1985 Reisling- Clean fruit, subdued peas, clean tingling on tongue, nice fruity, no problems

1983 Cabernet- Medium vegetable, slight green peppers, initially soft, some tannins, no fruit

1983 Riesling Cabernet- Subdued vegetable, subdued fruit, green peppers, very tannic, bitter finish, needs aging

The Firestone Vineyard

5017 Sac Station Rd. Los Olives CA 93441

The land surrounding Firestone appears more suitable for growing cactus than grapes, but it's the limestone gravel, or "white sage", that gives the wine its character. The winery is operated by Brooks and Kate Firestone. Brooks is grandson of Harvey Firestone who founded the tire company. Apparently, Brooks was wild when he was in college and his father Leonard exiled him to a cattle ranch. Not to be discouraged, the boy turned the ranch into a winery and vineyard. This was by far the biggest winery we had been at so far. Each seemed to have been bigger than the previous one, but this place looked like it was for tourists. There was even a tour bus out front. Inside, everything was rushed. They filled the glasses and didn't allow time to truly savor the texture and aroma of each wine.

1985 Johannesburg Riesling (alcohol 10.8%, Residual sugar 2.45o Brix)

Medium austere fruit, citrus, apricot, medium sweet

1985 Sauvignon Blanc (alcohol 11.3%) Medium grassy, fruity, mouth-soft fruity

1985 Geruztraminer- very sweet, lacking in mouth

1985 Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon- excessively veggy, green peppers

1983 Pinot Noir (alcohol 12.1%) nice austeric earth nose, overly tart, flat taste, no complexity

After Firestone we drove to Solvang, a beautiful Danish village, and had lunch at a charming restaurant. This was the first time I was in Solvang since I was three years old. I remember the water tower made to look like a teapot. There is a city ordinance in Solvang that all buildings, even gas stations, must be made with fake half timbers.

Sanford Winery

7250 Santa Rosa Rd. Lompoc, CA 93436

After lunch we drove to the Sanford winery. Sanford is an old friend of my Uncle Rick. Sanford was traveling through the country giving out samples of his wines, and he stopped in Albuquerque. He was speaking about his wines, and afterwards Rick went up to him and told him that he made his own wine. They chatted at great length so Rick was eager to his winery. It appeared rather shabby. We almost missed the tiny sign, and then drove up rugged dirt roads and through unplanted fields. After following tiny signs and dodging tractors, we arrived at a tiny shack with a tin roof. However, it was the most quaint and personal we visited. Inside, where they served the wine, there were shelves of musty arcane volumes. I remember one book about the girl scouts, written shortly after its creation, where they sought to reassure the reader that they were not trying to "breed a race of tom-boys". Outside two lazy hounds slept. I stirred one of them. I picked up a piece of wood and threw it. The dog slowly walked over to it, picked it up, and walked back. The dog left and returned much later with a tennis ball. I threw the ball and from then on, I couldn't get rid of the mongrels. Sanford said he planning to replace the current building, such as it was, with a modern winery. Rick was glad he got to see his winery before that happened.

1986 Pinot Noir Vingris- Complex, earthy nose, nice fruit, medium-high acid, mouth- nice finish

1986 Sauvignon Blanc- Medium grassy, herbal, complex aroma, off-dry fruity in mouth, complex

1986 Chardonnay- Austeric, green apples and pears, soft vanilla, fruity, California style, solid oak, good

1984 Pinot Noir- Complex, earthy, herbal, nice, fruity, high acid, long fruity finish

1985 Pinot Noir- Hidden earthy nose overlaid with intense fruit, balanced nose, mouth- tart, hard yet complex, tannic backbone

1983 Pinot Noir- Earthy with slight oxidation, mouth- tart, tannic, austeric, earth with bitter finish

1984 Merlot- Reserved herbal, green peppers, nice fruit, intense fruit in mouth, nice tannins, good acid

Care of Bottled Wine

Wine has often been described as living thing. While this is ridiculous, it does contain amino acids, phenols, carbohydrates, and other organic and inorganic components that make it necessary to treat it with utmost care. Obviously, you can't always have your wine at the correct temperature. For instance, you can't control the temperature the wine is subjected to while you're driving home with it. However, you should keep in mind the supposedly ideal cellar and serving temperature for different types of wine.

    Ideal Cellar Temperature                                         Ideal Serving Temperature
                                             C              F      
                                            20o            68o    
        Red Wines                                                        Cabernet Sauvignon
                                                                         Pinot Noir
                                            15o            59o    
        White Wines                                                      Merlot
                                            12o            54o    
                                                                         Sauvignon Blanc
                                                                         Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon
                                            5o             41o

Cellaring- Most people don't have separate cellars for red and white so it's best to keep it at the lower temperature, around 55o F (13o C). Most importantly, stay away from a fluctuating temperature.

Serving- By keeping the wine in the refrigerator for the right length of time, you can achieve the right temperature. Usually, putting the wine in a bucket of ice makes it to cold.

Wines can be stored safely from 40o F to 65o F, as long as the temperature doesn't vary by more than five degrees. The cork can work loose due to pressure changes, allowing exposure to air. The storage temperature also depends on the wine's age and how long you want to keep it. If you want to drink the wine within two years, 60o - 65o is sufficient. If you want to keep the wine longer, a lower temperature is preferable. Chemical reactions usually double with every 18o F increase in temperature. If a wine is stored on its side or upside down, the cork remains wet and transmission of air through the cork is minimal. Wine corks tend to deteriorate after about 10 years. If a cork is crumbly, it should be replaced. Wine people recite four standard tenets of wine storage: "Cool, Constant, Dark, and Dry".