Imagine you’ve walked into someone’s living room, with very hip western decor – bohemia meets California ranch style. Warm wood accents, local flowers, and graphic designs add an artistic element. Vintage sofas and club chairs invite you to sit and stay for a while, which is exactly what I wanted to do. Welcome to the tasting room of Refugio Ranch in Los Olivos, California.
Refugio Ranch was my third and final tasting of the day, and though my host, Taylor, hinted I was in for a special treat, I was in no way prepared for what was ahead.
Instead of the typical tasting room experience (which would have been great), I was taken to the estate vineyards – 415 acres of rolling hills, oak trees, vineyards, and some of the most romantic views in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Though the vineyards were only about fifteen minutes from the tasting room and five miles from the coast highway; surrounded by hundreds of acres of mostly raw land (only about 26 are under vine) it felt extremely remote. Refugio Ranch used to be a working cattle ranch, and you definitely feel the essence of the place.
The owners thoughtfully chose the location after several years of searching for that very essence. They desired to create something special, where the use of the land was uniquely reflected in the end product. Careful attention to the land assures that everything is in balance with nature.
Proprietor Kevin Gleason summed it up best with “Our family believes it is “terroir,” or that sense of place, that gives a wine its soul. We feel connected to our land, and it is our hope that our wines will leave you feeling connected to Refugio Ranch.”
In order to make the best use of the land and produce exceptional wines, Gleason called on wine maker Ryan Deovlet. Together with vineyard manager Ruben Solozano (aka the Wine Whisperer), Refugio Ranch produces excellent Rhone varietals and Sauvignon Blanc from 100% estate grown grapes.
Tucked in at the bottom of a hill is a perfect wooden cabin, the personal getaway of the Gleason family, a place I felt very privileged to be invited to experience. Taylor and I sat on the porch watching hummingbirds and bees buzzing around the garden, while Chase (the tasting room manager) poured one delicious wine after another. Good thing I took a few notes because I’d never be able to remember them all.
2014 turned out to be the year of the vine for me. I’ve visited some truly remarkable wineries and vineyards . Each vineyard has a distinct personality and offers a unique sensory experience. This, along with the people I meet, is why I love wine travel – aside from drinking wine, of course. You don’t have to know a lot about wine to enjoy it.
It wasn’t long before I did feel connected to Refugio Ranch, and was ready to move to the Santa Barbara wine country and dedicate myself to the wine business (with a sideline in makeup of course!). I’m pretty sure that’s a standard reaction for anyone who visits this remarkable estate.
Now let’s talk about the wine! Each is an exquisite expression of the terroir.
2013 Agua Dulce – This wine is produced from 100% Malvasia Bianca grapes. Slightly effervescent with only a touch of residual sugar, this was a lovely wine with acid and minerality nicely balanced. An aperitif-style wine, it pairs well with a Manchego or Pavia cheese and olives. Refugio Ranch is one of only two vineyards in the area to produce this wine.
2011 Tira Dora – 100% Sauvignon Blanc, fermented mainly in stainless steel with a small amount seeing neutral oak, the nose is of lime zest, wet stone, Bosc pear, white peach, and gooseberry. The logo shows the owner’s daughter Mara, shooting at some empty wine bottles. (You will also see this logo used in the tasting room). Perfect with seafood and perhaps a spicy Asian dish. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave this wine 89 pts.
2011 RR Sauvignon Blanc – a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion, this wine is produced in the new world style, by malolactic fermentation. Creamy on the palate.
Knowing in advance that I prefer white wines (reds with food), Chase brought along the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc made in the new world style, to compare with the 2011 Tiradora, made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Very thoughtful!
2011 Ineseño – 57% Ruson 40% Viognier This Rhone style blend won a silver medal in the San Francisco 2013 wine competition was given 92pts. by Wine Advocate. Pairs well with shellfish, scallops, salmon, and oysters.
2012 Viognier – 100% Viognier; this is a “big white wine” (just released to wine club). Notes per Chase: very easy to over oak Viognier. Floral varietal, rich, but not over oaked, mostly neutral oak and 25% new French oak. Pair with pork, shellfish, spicy food, ahi tacos. I love Viogniers, and this one was really luscious.
2011 Escondrijo – Robert Parker 92 pts. Blend of Syrah, Petite Syrah, Grenache. RR will release a 2012, 100% Petite Syrah in September.
Per Chase: the barrels have toasted heads so the nose is smokey, pepper, red raspberry. This would be awesome with lamb!
2010 Barbareño – This wine was recently ranked #40 in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 wines! 74% Syrah and 26 % Petite Syrah, it’s a lovely dark garnet in color. The nose is lavender, black cherry, smoke, and cacao. Lush. Try it with a nice filet, of course!
Visits to the vineyards are by appointment or reserved for wine club members. Don’t hate me…I got lucky – believe me!
If you’re not a wine club member, don’t worry, you can enjoy the wine at the tasting room located in Los Olivos at the corner of Grand Ave. and Hwy. 154. Even if you’re not a wine drinker, stop by the tasting room and check out the décor.
To get to Los Olivos: From Santa Barbara, follow the 101 to take CA – 154 toward Santa Ynez Valley. The scenery will suddenly change as you wind your way through spectacular views: the Los Padres National Forest on one side, and rocky cliffs and rolling hills on the other. Continue on this road until you come to the intersection of Grand Ave. and CA-154. The Refugio Ranch tasting room is on the corner.
My visit to Refugio Ranch was sponsored by Santa Barbara County Wines. All opinions expressed are my own.