A U-Turn with Wine

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This guest post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

I love the postage stamp-size hamlet of Los Alamos in Santa Barbara County. It’s what Bob Hope once called “a U-turn with a mayor”. When traveling back and forth from Los Angeles to Paso Robles, I make it a point to stop by and visit my good friend Stephan Bedford at his Bedford Winery tasting room on Bell Street.

Stephan Bedford with a bottle of Dear Prudence Chardonnay, a tribute to his mother. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The Winery holds a special place for me as Kirk and I got married in 1999 when it was called Bedford Thompson Winery and located a few miles away in Los Alisos Canyon. A few years later, Stephan went solo and moved to the current location in 2005.

Stephan, who’s known for his signature syrahs, has kept the production low, around 4,000 cases annually of reds and whites, most of it sourced from his 12-acre Alisos vineyard in Santa Barbara County. I’ve been tasting Stephan’s wines since 1997 and they have been consistently outstanding.

Although he is noted for his syrah, chardonnay, riesling and gewürztraminer, he also likes to tackle blending varietals like cabernet franc, mourvedre and the newest addition, carignane, as single varietal bottlings. Among the current releases, we tasted his first vintage of carignane (2009) blended with a touch of grenache. The wine had an earthy brambly character yet was supple and elegant with a long finish. Stephan called this grape an “antique” varietal.

“At one time Carignane was the second most widely planted grape in California after zinfandel,” he said.

While most tasting rooms pour recent vintages (not more than 2 years old), it’s a treat to see Stephan pour some earlier vintages. We tasted the two syrahs (both 2007). The Reserve Syrah Archive had a richness of fruit with good acidity, while the deep colored Syrah Comet Holmes exploded with note of spice and earthiness.

“We saw the comet while night harvesting,” said Stephan on naming the wine.

Among the whites, we tasted the 2009 riesling, a citrusy and fresh wine with integrated flavor, and the Dear Prudence Chardonnay. Barrel aged for 20 months in 50% new oak, the wine had a crisp Chablis-like character. Stephan made just 90 cases of this delicious wine as a tribute to his mother. The label, he notes, is Prudence’s photo taken the day his father proposed to her.

Bedford Winery's syrah, carignane and chardonnay
Bedford Winery’s syrah, carignane and chardonnay (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Stephan is more than a brilliant winemaker; he is a serious food historian and fabulous chef. Among his cookouts for wine club members and friends, he has re-produced Shakespearean dinners as well as American theme feasts such as Songs Lincoln Loved (Stephan re-created sourdough dumplings) and Jefferson’s Fiddle (including a hominy style soufflé). These dinners are staged at Bedford’s tasting room courtyard, which is equipped with an outdoor kitchen.

The 7th Annual Mushrooms Gone Wild is coming up on January 26. The tasting, discussion and digestion of the venerated fungi will be celebrated with local and Oregon varieties. The ‘shrooms and Bedford wines will then be accompanied by an outdoor screening of the Japanese film, “Attack of the Mushroom People.”