Sunday, January 23, 2011
Sally's Oceanside Tasting; Charlie's Pioneering Spirit
Friday's journal or blog entry opened with a photo of the sunrise over the Pacific. Perhaps it's appropriate to lead this one with this photo I shot around 5:30 this evening of the sunset. After all, it's the last day of a press writers wine trip sponsored by the Mendocino Wine Grape and Wine Commission.
The pace was a little more relaxed Saturday though it was still a full and satisfying end to the trip.
We started with an inconic female winemaker who combines a curiousity for new and different grapes and an incredible tasting room on the coast with just a touch of sass!
In the afternoon we joined 400 locals for the annual Crab & Wine festival which supports local healthcare charities. The $75 entry fee allowed visitors to taste crabcakes from 10 different chefs and wines from more than 20 wineries.
The trip ended Saturday night at Charlie Barra's home. Barra, owner of Barra of Mendocino is an iconic figure. Charlie and his wife Martha own a beautiful Fort Bragg home with that incredible view shown above.
Charlie has not missed any of 65 straight harvests and has sold grapes and conducted business with just about every big name in California wine.
The day started with that wonderful view of the Pacific - here is a short video showing what I had outside the double glass doors of my hotel room this morning.
Pacific Star Winery's tasting room is about 12 miles north of Fort Bragg on Highway 1. The rocky cliffs behind the business might make it one of the best places in the world to sip a glass of wine.
Sally Ottoson got started in the wine business in 1972 managing California's first wine bar. She had a Napa Valley winery but eventually returned home in 1987 to Mendocino. The charismatic Ottoson likes to make different wines and age a number of cases from each vintage.
In her tasting room you can find almost anything you'd expect at any Californa winery, except Cabernet, and many seldom found. She makes a 100 percent Carignane and the ancient Italian Charbono.
Her wine making style? "I like to add a little bit of this to a little bit of that," she explains with a big grin and laugh. "We make a huge effort to make wine fun. Don't agonize over it. I make wine the old-fashioned way. I make wine in barrels."
She has several blends on her tasting menu and the label always tells the tasting room visitors what grapes are in the wine. But not always ALL the grapes. "I like to think of that as just a guideline," she laughed.
Most of her business comes through a big wine club membership and tasting room sales. Many come for the view. It's not hard to imagine that if a curious visitor stops by that they're destined to become one of Sally's friends. She'll charm then into a return visit and probably sell them some wine.
The view behind the winery is several degrees beyond stunning. Here is a 30-second video clip I shot of the ocean shore behind Pacific Star Winery.
Charlie and Martha Barra were incredibly gracious hosts to wrap up our trip. Charlie is known for his California wine stories and he sure didn't disappoint. Their home features large glass windows across the back of the house with a stunning Pacific Ocean view.
We tasted our way through the evening and dinner on Barra's wines. An added special twist was to have Chef Silver Canul of Silver's at The Wharf cooking for us in Martha's kitchn. Earlier in the day, Sliver was honored in the professional category for his crabcakes at the Crab/Wine Fest.
Barra got started in the wine business as a 19 year old. He calls himself "just a farmer." Through the years he has built a label and stable of wines respected throughout the state and enjoyed around the world. He's never made the wine and insists he doesn't make too many suggestions. He laughs aloud when noting that winemakers often want to tell him how to grow the grapes, though.
The stories range from funny to wise and are filled with the names who've made Californa wine great. When Charlie talks about "Bob," it's Robert Mondavi, of course. He has been friends with the Wente family (premier Chardonnay producers) for decades. The list goes on and on. He is one of those pioneers who has seen every change since California wine became a world force.
Barra wines are sold in Japan, Sweden, and Canada and most of the U.S. I didn't take any notes. It just didn't seem right. We were invited into the Barra home to hear Charlie's stories and share their great wine. It's all part of a lifestyle the Barras embrace and represent.
I'll have more video, photos, and some overall perspective of this area in the coming days. Sunday it's time to go home and face the snow and cold. I also have two or three stories for the newspaper and probably Palate Press.
But the trip left an impression. Mendocino is real farming with respect for the land and great wines worth their price point. It's a real contrast to some of the state's better known wine regions. Mendocino is worth a visit and a taste.
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