Only 1% of the grapes grown on Steinbeck Vineyards go into their own label. They primarily sell grapes to the bigger folks in the region, such as Justin and J. Lohr. The Steinbeck family has been farming on this land for six generations, since 1884.
One of the first questions the Steinbeck family is always asked—"so are you related to the author?" The short answer: probably not. There are no direct links, but you kind of want there to be given Steinbeck's works on nearby Monterey.
Steinbeck's tasting room is built on the site of Grandpa Frank's blacksmith shop. It's filled with old musical instruments, some great-great-somebody's wedding dress, the forge, and newspaper clippings from a plane crash that took place on their pasture back in 1956. It was a B-26 bomber that went down. One airman was killed and four others parachuted to safety. Years later, they named one of their wines The Crash. It's a blend of 72% Cab Sauvignon, 18% Zinfandel, 14% Petit Sirah, 6% Viogner. We tried this soft red with a frittata breakfast. (Never too early, right? Actually in this case, I had just finished my coffee about three minutes before, so maybe it was too early.)
Halter Ranch's Mitch Wyss is holding up some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes here. The 1,000-acre Halter Farm has only been making wine since 2002, so they're still considered the news kids on the block. Mitch is very committed to make sure it's a sustainable farming operation.
Vineyard tours usually mean some traipsing around the vines, admiring the irrigation and unique soil. Then, of course, a visit to the tasting room to sip whatever they're pouring. But when we visited the Halter winery, we also got to visit their lab. Here they're testing field samples for pH levels to record the titratable acidity and the sweetness, measured in brix.
Beakers and tubes
Merlot samples bubbling in the lab. How much sugar do they want? It really depends on the winemaker's style, but these samples were recorded at 22.6 brix.
We hopped in the Steinbeck family's rugged Jeep to get up close to the grapes. We grabbed a bunch of Zins to taste straight from the vine. Thick skinned and juicy.
Pork Loin; Rosé
Halter Ranch's juicy, effervescent rosé paired nicely with cheese, figs, and roasted pork loin for lunch. The Southern Rhône Valley-style rosé is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. It's a dry pink wine with aromas of cherries and raspberries.
Oysters Rockefeller; Syrah
After touring the oyster beds in Morro Bay, we sat down to eat the delicious creatures. The five-course oyster lunch was paired with Niner Wines. We washed down buttery, bread-crumby Oyster Rockerfellers with their Syrah, which had nice acid and a long finish. Notes of brambly blackberries, black and white pepper, and some oak.
During the Crazy Blends seminar at Sunset's Savor the Central Coast festival, winemakers from eight wineries (Vina Robles, Niner, Clayhouse, Justin, Le Vigne, Thacher, L'Aventure, and Roxo Port) shared their intriguing blends. Even with eight different grapes in Clayhouse's Adobe Red wine, it achieves a nice balance of fruit, tannins, and acidity.