I admit that the Santa Barbara Wine Country near the Californian coast was always a bit of a mystery to me. It took a 5 hour car journey from the San Francisco Bay Area and a conveniently located Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton for me to really appreciate this enigmatic gem of a wine destination. Santa Barbara Wine Country sits between San Francisco and Los Angeles and about forty miles NW of the coastal city of Santa Barbara. The coastal mountains unusually transverse East to West instead of the the typical North to South coastal ridge seen elsewhere along this Western stretch of California. This geology allows the climatic Pacific breeze to penetrate deeper inland and provide a cooler and longer growing season for the perfectly positioned Santa Barbara Wine Country. The resulting style for both the red and whites is generally a more sophisticated glass of wine. Unsurprisingly, it is the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape that seem to enjoy these slightly cooler growing conditions and the marine-calcium rich soils that lend the wine a certain elegance. If I were to take away from the wine conference one recommended Pinot and one Chardonnay it would be the Hilliard Bruce 2010 ‘Sun’ Pinot Noir ($55 approx) and the Alma Rosa 2010 ‘El Jabalí’ Chardonnay ($28), both from the Santa Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara Wine Country. I matched the Alma Rosa Chardonnay with a chicken and peach skewer recipe I created a little while back - see the blog post. The Hilliard Bruce Pinot went down so well with another Jambip food creation - my blackberry and basil pork with couscous - I actually forgot to immortalize it via a photo. Fortunately, I have a lasting memory of an evening tour around this unique winery where John Hilliard’s dedication to vineyard quality and SIP certification and Christine Bruce’s passion for perfection are unsurpassed. This talented partnership follows through into an incredible bottle of wine.
Very often I start with a recipe and then I select the wine to match the food. However, this time the wine came first and I was confronted with the pleasurable task of creating a dish to match its enticing tasting note of a particular wine. While at the annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton, Santa Barbara I got the opportunity to taste some excellent wines from the Santa Barbara County including the Alma Rosa Vineyard in the Sta Rita Hills AVA. Thekla and Richard Sanford started the winery after their move in 2005 from their highly regarded namesake Sanford winery in the same AVA and along the same Santa Rosa Road. At the conference Richard spoke passionately about his lifetime in the local wine industry and, like me, a graduate of Geography, he chose to make a natural progression from his subject major and move into the wine industry. I was taught at an early age to realize the enormous breadth and importance of understanding Geography in our lives, particularly with regard to horticulture. Several physiological factors such as temperature, soil type and aspect all play an important tole in defining what the French like to call terroir. I like to think the somewhat unromantic English equivalent, would be termed “local Geography,” - but that could just be the times-past Geography teacher in me reaching out and flying the flag for the subject. I certainly felt Thekla and Richard had taken on board the terroir of Sta Rita AVA and their passion for practicing what they preach with their slogan: “Nature and agriculture in perfect harmony.”
It’s cheeky chutney time of year. Along with homegrown tomatoes, those Californian peach nectar varieties can be put to good use in a tasty chutney. I have a good friend who offers organic peaches to the highest bidder at the annual school PTA auction. Every year I make sure I win a tray. I can’t get enough of the sweet and sour chutney combo flavor. This is all thanks to a lasting childhood memory of the British cheddar and Branston Pickle sandwich. These days I like it with buttered crusty baguette; a slab of strong cheddar and an oaked Chardonnay with refreshing acidity. The peach and tomato season conveniently coincide in California during July and August and the resulting flavor is perfect for al-fresco culinary indulgences. This easy recipe also makes an attractive gift that lasts for three or so months. Plus, you get to feel oh-so-very-productive in the kitchen and garden if that works for you.
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