Wainscott Main Wine & Spirits “Workshop Wednesdays” are a bargain. At $10 a pop, you learn a ton, meet new people and get spoiled. The sophisticated tastings are always “well curated,” even though general manager and sommelier Chimene Macnaughton, thinks the phrase is overused.
“These are not entry level wines,” she said of the wines selected for the April 18 class “What Do You Mean, ‘The NEW California’? The Case for Santa Barbara.”
“They have a lot to offer,” she said.
Unofficially, Mcnaughton described the workshop as a “Major, epic Santa Barbara wine making showdown.” It didn’t hurt that the she described the dueling winemakers “hotties.”
She was right. Steve Clifton of Palmina & La Voix Wineries and Justin Willetto of Tyler and Lieu-Dit wineries were informative, entertaining and yes, hot. Clifton, the debonair singer with the dry wit to Willetto’s nerdy but endearing wunderkind.
“Grab some cheese,” Macnaughton said. “There’s enough for everyone.” Two dozen attendees gathered around an L-shaped table in the spacious shop as she poured a “welcome wine,” the Palmina 2012 Tocai Friulano. The name alone causes Clifton distress thanks to court battles over linguistics and labels.
The Italian-inspired white wine has the distinction of being the rare wine that pairs well with sulfurous asparagus, a springtime favorite.
“A close cousin to sauvignon blanc” Clifton told the rapt crowd. “The same sort of attack, different finish, an almond, citrus flavor.”
Uniquely, Santa Barbara’s mountains turn east and west to create two fog filled valleys. Point Conception marks the elbow of California, which juts out into the Pacific Ocean, the largest body of water in the world, and meets the Alaskan and Hawaiian current, forcing arctic influence into the valleys, creating the coolest growing region in state.
Lively, high acidity, salinity, brine and an “oceanic quality” are classic hallmarks of what Santa Barabara is capable of, considering its marine sediment, soils and clays. It’s known best for pinot noir and chardonnay, but Santa Barbara also grows every major variety of grapes and produces wine with such remarkable freshness, brightness and crispness.
“Marine soil makes wine with a lot of energy and freshness,” said Clifton.
Both winemakers pride themselves on sustainability, using “all indigenous” materials, only “what is naturally happening,” in the entire process. “Sustainability is great but you have to sustain a business too,” said Clifton, who added that the industry should be less like western medicine and think “preventative care” as opposed to fixing a problem in the cellar.
Santa Barbara wines are so transparent. They convey type and place while having fought an honest battle with the elements, like cool and windy growing conditions that go along with farms at high levels.
If you really want a treat, meet Macnaughton, the Energizer wine bunny, on Sunday May 1. A private jitney leaves Wainscott Plaza at 10 a.m. and makes pit stops at Shinn Estate Vineyards, and Paumanok and Palmer vineyards. Three flights of wine, lunch, lessons from the saucy sommelier, like-minded wine drinkers and a driver, for $100.
RSVP by calling 631.537.2800 or email: [email protected]. Seats are limited and filling up fast.
“So flipping fun,” said Macnaughton.