Tag Archives: Santa Barbara

Location determines Sea Smoke wines’ quality

The saying goes that three things are critical to real estate success: location, location, location.

The same holds true for successful winemakers, who realize the hackneyed phrase really refers to vineyard topography, climatic conditions, soil quality, elevation and a host of other more specific characteristics. Great wine starts with great grapes, and that means grapes planted in the right location, grown and harvested under the proper conditions, and then passed into the hands of talented winemakers.

At Sea Smoke Estate Vineyards, in California’s sprawling Santa Barbara County, topography is critical to setting the high-end vineyard’s wine apart from its peers, according to Victor Gallegos, the winery’s director of winemaking. In fact, the contours of the land are among the vineyard’s most distinctive and influential features.

“The Santa Rita Hills American Viticultural Area (AVA) features a Region 1 microclimate, among the coolest for growing grapes,” says Gallegos, a 14-year Sea Smoke veteran who also has made wines in New York state, Spain and France’s Bordeaux region. “Region 1 is located at roughly the same latitude as Tunisia, which leads to a very unique combination (of climate characteristics).”

What’s critical to the pinot noirs and chardonnays that Sea Smoke produces can be found in the nature of the land itself. The contours of the land, located near the “knee” of California that juts into the Pacific Ocean, is thought to be the result of a long-ago tectonic plate shift that fractured the traditional valleys that run through portions of the Golden State.

Rather than running primarily north to south, like the more familiar Napa and Sonoma valleys, the wine-growing regions in Santa Barbara County tend to perch on the hillside in valleys that run at an angle to the ocean and are subject to its influences more so than their cousins to the north.

Because the area is just 7.5 miles from the Pacific, its most influential characteristic may be the ocean fog, or “sea smoke,” that floods the valley’s higher elevated vineyards every evening, Gallegos says.

“The predictable daily ingress of fog from the ocean into the Santa Rita Hills can drop the temperature from 85 degrees to about 55 degrees in a couple of hours,” Gallegos explains. “The fog and resulting temperature drop shut the vines down for the evening and allow the wines to retain their characteristic cool-climate acidity.”

The temperature change also creates an extended growing season for the biodynamically managed vineyards, the winemaker adds. The grapes have more “hang-time” on the vines, which allows them to naturally develop ripe tannins, optimal flavors and lovely aromatics.

The net result of the longer growing season, as well as a cooperage program that utilizes new and used French oak in differing combinations, yields pinot noir and chardonnay varietals of exceptional quality.

The 2013 Sea Smoke “Southing” Pinot Noir ($60) is complex and elegant, offering a nose of red fruit and spices with pliable tannins and a distinct minerality that balance well on the palate. The 2013 Sea Smoke “Ten” Pinot Noir ($82) is a more robust and full-bodied wine with spice and black cherry flavors supported by firm tannins that indicate a long cellar life. The variation in character comes from the differing grapes themselves matched once again to variance in vineyard characteristics, Gallegos says.

“’Southing’ refers to the fact that all of our vineyard blocks are south-facing, while ‘Ten’ refers to the 10 low-vigor pinot noir clones planted in our vineyard,” Gallegos explains. “Each of our wines is stylistically distinct, and the objective of the barrel grading and our blending efforts conducted by our wine team is to maintain these distinct styles.”

Gallegos and his team also produce sparkling wine, and the 2012 L.D. Sea Spray ($80) is a lighter and brighter pinot noir, with a more floral nose and the suggestion of pastries on the palate. Sea Spray spends nine months in oak, compared to 16 months each for the previously mentioned wines.

“In addition to less barrel time for the Sea Spray base wine, we choose lower-impact coopers,” Gallegos says. “This allows us to develop barrel-aged characters in the base wine, without a great deal of oak impression, which would be enhanced on the nose and palate by the bubbles.”

The 2013 Sea Smoke Chardonnay ($60) also spends 16 month in a blend of new and used French oak, resulting in a floral wine redolent of apricots. But then oak is part of the Sea Smoke process and figures prominently in the profile of its wines.

“We feel that all of our wines are improved by elevage in barrel – it is part of the ‘house style’ of Sea Smoke,” Gallegos says. “In the case of our chardonnay and Sea Spray, we are looking for the aromatic character as well as a hint of oak aromatics. In the case of our pinot noirs, we are looking for both a balanced aromatic component and the polishing of the tannin profile of the wines.”

Environmentalists seize on latest Santa Barbara oil spill

The latest oil spill on the California coast at Santa Barbara is just a drop in the bucket compared with the area’s catastrophic blowout in 1969, but it has become a new rallying point for environmentalists in their battle against drilling and fossil fuels.

No one expects damage on the order of the 1969 disaster, which helped give rise to the modern environmental movement and led to passage of some of the nation’s most important environmental laws.

Nevertheless, the new spill from a ruptured underground pipe is being held up as another reason to oppose such things as fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Canada to Texas, the moving of crude by train, and drilling in far-flung places.

“What we see from this event is that the industry still poses enormous risks to an area we cannot afford to lose,” said Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The timing of the leak — days after a federal agency approved Shell’s plan for drilling in the Arctic, and while the Obama administration considers opening the Atlantic to exploration — could work to the advantage of environmental groups.

Closer to home, it could galvanize opposition to plans for new drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, where Union Oil’s platform blew out 46 years ago, spewing an estimated 3 million gallons of crude along 30 miles of coast. Some 9,000 birds died.

The spill involved an estimated 105,000 gallons of crude; about 21,000 is believed to have made it to the sea and split into slicks that stretched 9 miles along the same stretch of coast fouled in 1969. A 23-mile by 7-mile area was closed to fishing.

There was no estimate on the cost of the cleanup.

The 24-inch pipe, built in 1987, had no previous problems and was thoroughly inspected in 2012, according to its operator, Plains All American Pipeline. The pipe underwent similar tests about two weeks ago, though the results had not been analyzed yet.

Company officials said it can take weeks or months after excavation and inspection of the broken pipeline to determine the cause of the spill.

The 1969 spill was a watershed event in the area and also for the nation.

Artist Bud Bottoms remembers yelling, “We’ve got to get oil out!” thus coining what became a rallying cry and the name of the organization he founded, Get Oil Out, or GOO.

“We made so much noise about the oil spill in our pristine Santa Barbara coast that it was called the ‘environmental shot heard ‘round the world,’” Bottoms said.

The stench was terrible, and he remembers people crying at the sight of the beaches. Inmates were brought in to help spread bales of straw to sop up the mess.

His group helped gather 200,000 signatures to get the oil rigs removed from the coast. That never happened, but over the next few years significant legislation was passed to protect endangered species and the air and water. The first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970.

Sean Anderson, environmental professor at California State University, Channel Islands, said he doesn’t think this week’s spill will have any effect on policies or regulations, mostly because there are so many already in place.

“The 1969 spill created a panoply of federal, state and county level regulations and laws,” he said. “From that watershed event, a huge array of policy and procedural tools emerged.”

Tupper Hull, a spokesman with Western States Petroleum Association, said the industry expects a certain amount of blowback but not necessarily new regulation.

“It’s no secret that there are groups that have an agenda to curtail energy production in California,” Hull said. “They will no doubt reference this tragedy in their advocacy. We will respond with a measured, thoughtful response that will make full use of facts.”

Plains All American and its subsidiaries operate more than 6,000 miles of hazardous liquid pipelines in at least 20 states, according to company reports. Those companies handle more than 4 million barrels of crude and other liquid fuels daily.

Since 2006, the companies have reported 199 accidents and been subject to 22 enforcement actions by federal regulators. The accidents resulted in a combined 725,500 gallons of hazardous liquids spilled and damage topping $25 million.

Corrosion was determined to be the cause in more than 80 of those accidents. Failures in materials, welds and other equipment were cited more than 70 times.

Enforcement cases against the companies resulted in the collection of $154,000 in penalties, according to a federal database.

Patrick Hodgins, senior director of safety for Plains All American, said the company has spent more than $1.3 billion since 2007 on maintenance, repair and enhancement of its equipment.

“Safety is not just a priority; it’s actually a core value at Plains,” he said.

One local group that arose out of the 1969 disaster was the local Environmental Defense Center, which is now trying to block certain drilling projects.

“It doesn’t matter how many laws you have on the books or how many regulations you have and it doesn’t matter what advancements are made in technology,” said Linda Krop, the group’s chief counsel. “Oil development is risky business and will result in oil spills.”

U.S. has no moral authority concerning violence against women

Two unspeakably cruel incidents that recently occurred half a world apart are terrifying reminders of the world’s growing misogyny. 

On May 23, in the upscale environs of Santa Barbara, California, a 22-year-old man went on a deadly stabbing and shooting spree that left six University of California, Santa Barbara, students dead and another 13 young people wounded. The provocation for Elliott Rodger’s attack, as outlined in his 137-page “manifesto” was to punish attractive women for not dating him.

In faraway India, where the rape, torture and killing of women has seemingly become a national pastime, two girls — ages 14 and 15 — were gang-raped, tortured and hanged. The latest (as of this writing) Indian atrocity occurred in a rural area where girls are forced to go outdoors at night to relieve themselves, due to the lack of indoor plumbing. That’s what led the girls outdoors for the final time on May 30.

Indian authorities, who seem reluctant to prosecute male perpetrators, have reportedly responded more tepidly than usual to this case, because the girls were from a low caste. 

In Nigeria, 300 schoolgirls who were abducted for the sin of seeking an education have remained missing since early May. Sympathizers of the girls say law-enforcement officials have declined to make any serious effort to locate them; instead the government has banned protests on behalf of the girls. Many Nigerians fear the girls were sold into sexual slavery — an increasingly common practice.

Here at home, one out of every five American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape (girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely to be victims). But including unreported rapes, only about 6 percent of rapists serve time in prison, and 15 out of 16 perpetrators walk free.

More than three U.S. women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. Women serving in the U.S. military were more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq. 

Is there any connection between the growing violence toward women and the political “war on women” in the United States? In the last four years, Republican leaders (including here in Wisconsin) have abolished pay equity laws for women, and conservatives have sued to prevent health insurance providers from paying for women’s birth control. Republican leaders “slut shame” women who demand access to affordable birth control and foam at the mouth over use of the word “vagina” in public, even as they seek to put every vagina in America under their control.

The rise of anti-feminism on America’s political right prevents us from convincingly shaking a finger at the atrocities against women elsewhere in the world. 

Once people looked to the U.S. as a leader in justice and fairness. But when it comes to the treatment of women, our nation appears to be heading in the direction of the primitive barbarity of other nations rather than securing and protecting women’s rights.

Police investigate assault as hate crime

Following a festive New Year’s Eve celebration Jan. 1, at about 1:42 a.m., two men exited a downtown bar and were walking to their car in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Three male suspects confronted the two men. One of the suspects, according to Santa Barbara police, focused his attention on the victims and made a derogatory comment.

The suspects then attacked the two men, resulting in one victim suffering a broken jaw and a head injury requiring staples to close.

The other man suffered minor injuries that did not require medical attention.

Based on the ongoing investigation, the police say the suspects perceived the victims to be gay, and that is believed to be the motivation for the attack.

The suspects were described as in their 20s, with shaved heads.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez, in a statement, said, “Hate crimes like these will not be tolerated and those responsible will be held accountable.”

He said his department is actively investigating the assault as a potential hate crime and sought the public’s help in identifying the suspects.

At a press conference this week, Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider joined other elected officials and about 60 activists in denouncing the crime.

“This city, this community does not tolerate hate crimes period,” Schneider said.