Oh… The Ojai Wine Festival. Longest-running wine festival on the Central Coast–yes, even longer than Central Coast Wine Classic. I had followed along and read about it for many years, but never bit off actually attending. This year, I changed that. And oh boy am I glad I did. There are lots of reasons a wine festival comes back year after year and outgrows its original venues and sells out tickets. I bumped into several founders’ relatives and continuous attendees at lunch and they easily reflected on the growth and fundamentals of the festival. These reasons are obvious all over The Ojai Wine Festival. But I just write about wine. So here’s a few quick notes.
First up: straight to the VIP tent. There’s a huge line for Stella Artois and cocktails, and I side-step it for THE GAINEY VINEYARD. Wait, do they still call it The Gainey Vineyard? Or is it just Gainey? I’m old. Probably just Gainey. I haven’t visited for almost 20 years and see that golden G pop up fairly often, but rarely get to taste them. Now’s the chance! Big, lush ripe-fruited wines, with generous oak and all that Santa Ynez Valley beauty.
Here on the banks of Lake Casitas in June, it is WARM, and sharing VIP-tent duties was DERBY ESTATES with huge ice-buckets of chilled Rosé. All Grenache–THE WAY IT SHOULD BE–it was a nice introduction to the entire Derby line–all solid wines, all estate, NONE displaying tourist affectations. I drive by their beautiful restoration of the Paso Grainery Building all the time and am planning a visit soon after experiencing their wines at this event.
Cruising outside the VIP area, you are met with hundreds of wineries scattered around the park. I first was introduced to the name TW FERM CO a year or so ago when I read the address on the back of a can of PORCH POUNDER WINE. I have never seen them pouring at a wine festival–but there were LOTS of people pouring at OJAI WINE FEST I had never seen or experienced before. This is why it is important to go to wine events outside your own backyard sometimes! Anyway… I was excited to taste these TW FermCo flagship wines and they did not disappoint. Big bruisy blustery–and expensive–Paso Cabs, BDX blends and components, with the winemakers themselves pouring (and cute girls pouring Porch Pounder next door for the extra point). Glad I got to taste and meet.
Been a huge fan of Etienne Terlinden and his several projects for many years. He calls SUMMERLAND WINERY “his day job” and what a fabulous job he does. From $30 entry-level stuff to $60 single-vineyard specialities, LOVE his Pinots, Chards and Syrahs.
DUSTY NABOR WINES is relatively new to me–discovered them recently and have had them ALL on the blog of late. Never met him or his wine, so imagine my surprise to round the corner and see them both standing behind the full line-up! This tri-athelete and motor-sports racer-turned-winemaker is doing EVERYTHING right. Tiny production from well-selected vineyards in Paso Robles and Santa Barbara wine country, no-expense-spared production and hands-on attention, plus gorgeous packaging. Both the Viognier and Grenache (the art labels) are sold out, but the big, pricey flagship Cabernet Sauvignon shown (and tasted) releases September and will sell out immediately. Get on the mailing list or lose out.
Karen Steinwachs has practically achieved iconic status in Santa Ynez Valley wine country in her scant 20-year existence there. BUTTONWOOD WINERY often gets overlooked amongst all the bling and flash of Santa Barbara Wineries, but you are doing yourself a grave dis-service by not experiencing. This Merlot being poured at the festival is ridiculously fruited and structured–not flabby or cloying at all, no heavy-handed oak or crazy stand-a-fork-up-in-it concentration. Clean, beautiful and NOT SHY on tannin. I think I might want some of these for my cellar.
Moved on to another booth and who’s standing there at his requisite spot behind the TABLAS CREEK offerings? Mr. Darren Delmore himself of course. I had only recently tasted through the Beaucastel line-up with him at another event, here with Tablas, everything seemed even more at home. A quite shortened grouping of their huge array of Rhone bottlings, these three PERFECTLY sum up the roster. Bright, clean, and always focused on old-world standards with new-world fruit. The stone caverns of France and the sunshine of California. In a bottle.
Oh, and what better way to close out a fabulous day than with some cellar selections from BECKMEN VINEYARDS. There were some older ones too. Santa Barbara stalwart, they haven’t even so much as changed the label in a decade. These are great wines–young or old–but they especially are nice to find with some polish on them.
There are only SO many wine festivals you can attend every year, and here in wine country–especially May-September–they stack up fast and hard. In a perfect world, you could choose location, weather, ambiance, and of course participating wineries and related vendors to create the perfect wine-fest. I go to a lot of wine festivals. Ojai Wine Festival checks off ALL those boxes. Subscribe to their list for notifications and early-bird ticket pricing for 2019.
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