Larner Vineyard Santa Barbara

di Daniele Cernilli 13/09/17 0 | |

Michael Larner, with his winery in Ballard Canyon (in the Santa Barbara region, California), is one of the best interpreters of Syrah.

Outside the United States, and I’d say even California, Santa Barbara is not an area known for winemaking. It had a moment of fame thanks to the film Sideways, which was set there, but only a few people really know about it and that’s a shame. And this because, in my humble opinion, it is one of the most interesting winemaking areas in the so-called New World, with three, distinct microclimates which allow for the cultivation of different varietals. Santa Rita is cooler and more ‘oceanic’ and thus well-suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; Santa Ynex, with its often sandy soil, is good for Syrah, Viognier, Grenache and even some Italian varieties; and Santa Maria, where it is warmer and drier, as well as windier, is fine for the Bordeaux varietals, above all Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc. 


This is, of course, a simplification but will allow you to get the picture. Michael Larner’s vineyards and winery are in Ballard Canyon, a stone’s throw from the unusual town of Solvang which is inhabited by a community of Danish origin and where the buildings and traditions seem straight out of a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Michel’s story is an odd one because even if he is considered to be one of the best, if not they best, interpreters of Syrah, almost no one writes about his wines. The reason for this is that his sister Monica is a famous wine critic who for years worked for the Wine Enthusiast and is now a close and respected collaborator of Robert Parker Jr. who specializes in Italian wines for the Wine Advocate. Thus Michel’s wines are not reviewed to avoid any conflict of interest and other American publications do not write about them to avoid publicizing a competitor in any way. We, obviously, do not have any of these problems and so here I will gladly write about some truly interesting wines and of Michael’s passion that makes him a winemaker of great sensibility. He has only 15 hectares of vineyards and produces tens of thousands of bottles a year of different wines including four that are Syrah-based. His grapes – which also include small quantities of Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and even Malvasia Bianca – are in part made into wine and in part sold, or traded, to neighboring wineries. Thus among the Syrah he makes is one that also has grapes he acquired and is thus classified as Santa Barbara, while the other three, made in small quantities, are made with the grapes grown in the sandy soil of the Ballard Canyon vineyards and have their own appellation.

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