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Arroyo Grande



Harvest 2015 is underway!  To fully appreciate the art of winemaking, VAULT29 is taking you behind the scenes during the busiest - and most exciting - time of year in wine country. This week, Central Coast favorite Laetitia Vineyards & Winery gives us an exclusive look at the 2015 Sparkling Wine production. 

The first fruit of the season, Chardonnay, arrive at the winery and are destined for sparkling wine production.

The harvest workers are shoveling the fruit to make for even pressing

The fruit is being pressed in Coquard basket presses, the only two of their kind in North America

When the Cuvee valve is open, that means that is the cleanest juice or the first press Otherwise known as the cuvee.

VP of Production and Sparkling Winemaker Dave Hickey checking the brix (sugar levels) on the juice to make sure it’s where he likes it.

The fruit after it is pressed, will next head back to the vineyard to be used as compost.

Learn more about Laetitia on our Wine Mic Monday series and check out experiences happening, in our app, at the winery and beyond! Search by the winery name "Laetitia", as well as by hashtag: #Laetitia -- Cheers!

 Wine Buzzin'

Wine Buzzin'

 "A Day in the Central Coast"

Wine Buzzin' | VAULT29 blog

If you have been following our Wine Mic Monday series, we've had the pleasure of sharing stories from some of the best wineries in this area. After a quick drive from the Bay Area down the picturesque 101, we were able to check out these great wine experiences we've read about for so long!

On our itinerary -

1.  Presqu'ile Winery: Located in Santa Maria Valley (Santa Barbara County), this state of the art winery is not to be missed. As you make your way from the dramatic entryway up through the vineyard hillsides, you'll find a modern tasting room with all the amenities including a Tesla charging station. Inside the tasting room, floor to ceiling windows open up to breathtaking views of the Murmur Vineyards and Pacific Ocean to the West, and renowned Bien Nacido Vineyards to the East. 


2.  Laetitia Vineyards & Winery: Head 20 minutes north on the 101, and you'll find Laetitia. This is a must stop for anyone who loves quality wines for unbelievably affordable prices. Naya loved the bubbles; I loved the Pinot Noirs. There is something for everyone here: expansive wine list, picnic tables, bocce court, a trail through the vineyards and even music on the weekends.


ONX Estates Tractor Shed | VAULT29
ONX Wines tasting Line Up | VAULT29

3.  ONX Estate: ONX is located about 45 miles north in the Templeton Gap region of Paso Robles. After reading about the various oases on the property in their Wine Mic Monday piece, Naya and I couldn't wait to experience the winery firsthand. We were greeted by Annie who invited us into their tractor shed turned tasting room, and we later moved to their tasting deck under the large oak trees. Rather than a seated tasting, you can book to take a vineyard tour in a spruced up golf cart.


4.  Caliza Winery: After featuring Caliza's Wine Mic Monday story on Monday, 6/8, we had to stop at Caliza Winery and meet Carl and Pam. If you're looking for one centralized place to taste great wines, we highly recommend this area of town in Paso. Tucked at the end of Anderson Road is the cute tasting room surrounded by vineyards. If you're lucky, Nicky the dog will greet you! 

Search the VAULT29 app to view additional wine experiences happening at these locations. We encourage you to get out and explore the Central Coast, too! 

Central Coast

Central Coast

"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog...because every glass and bottle of wine has a story. The last two weeks we've recapped "Napa Valley Wineries" in Season 1, partand "Sonoma Winery Techniques" in Season 1, part 2.. This week we take a look back at wineries from California's Central Coast. Discover Pali Wine Co. tasting rooms in Lompoc & Santa Barbara's Funk Zone;  the unique tasting experience found at ONX in W. Paso Robles Templeton Gap; how four couples turned a passion for winemaking into a business at Phantom Rivers in Arroyo Grande; and the sweeping coastal views overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Laetitia.  

When Visiting Santa Barbara

Tim Perr and Scott Knight founded Pali, named "Pali" after the coastal Los Angeles County city and their hometown, Pacific Palisades. Their main goal is to deliver small lots of quality artisinal wines to consumers while maintaining affordable price points. Their 2012 Huntington Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County) made a big splash when it was named one of Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2014 list. The price point: a mere $22.50/bottle! While this wine is already sold out, there are other great wines available, like the 2012 pinot noir from Sta. Rita Hills. Pop in and taste their line up at one of three locations: The state-of-the-art tasting room in Santa Barbara's "Funk Zone" just blocks from the beac;, the Lompoc tasting room amidst the barrels; or at the winery (by appointment only). You're bound to enjoy these quality wines at an incredible value! Read more here.


Gorgeous Grounds, Sweeping Views

Take a scenic drive, about an hour north of Santa Barbara's Funk Zone and Pali Wine Co,. and you reach Laetitia Vineyards & Winery. Owned and operated by a father/daughter duo who purchased the property in the 1990's, they decided to keep the name given it had meaning to the previous owner. The grounds are gorgeous and the landscape is picturesque: gentle rolling hills with larger unobstructed vineyards. They specialize in Methode Champenoise sparkling wines, pinot noir, and chardonnay which you can find in retail outlets.  They also make 8 different pinot noirs strictly for the tasting room. With a deep commitment to sustain the land for future generations, they create quality wines by harvesting during the night and carry the distringuished certification of Sustainable-in-Practice (SIP) certification. Read more about the history of Laetitia, their second label NADIA, and the unique parrellels between the two brands.


Home Winemakers to Business Partners

Five minutes from Laetitia, in the Village of Arroyo Grande, is the quaint tasting room of Phantom Rivers. The name, Phantom Rivers, derives from the streams of misty fog that roll in during the evenings in many of their vineyard sites; hugging the paths of the ancients rivers, now valleys, that once flowed to the sea. You may recognize this brand as it has received many awards, including Best in Class, from the San Francisco Chronicle's Wine Competition. It all started when four home winemaking couples became friends. The common passion among the eight are making good wines which pair well with food. While all have a winemaking passion, John Thunen holds the winemaker title (also winemaker for Double Bond). The focus is to source fruit grown on the Central Coast of California, from as far north as Paso Robles; far south as Santa Ynez; and the north east corner of Santa Barbara County. Read more about how they turned their passion into a thriving winery!


Vineyard Tours at its Finest

Making your way north (30 miles) and into the Templeton Gap district of Western Paso Robles, you will find ONX Estate, bordering the Santa Rita Creek. Their focus is to produce wines that portray individually distinct personalities, yet possess consistent commonalities recognizable as a family of cuvees. The six blends produced are a true expression of the ONX Estate. Learn how to take those six blends and pair them with an unforgetable vineyard tour! Rather than a conventional tasting room, they developed an old tractor shed in the vineyard into a hospitality and education center where they greet their guests before touring the vineyards. You'll definitely want to read more about sinking your boots into authentic wine country soil and the all the fun experiences that come with immersing all five senses during an estate visit! 

Wine Mic Monday: Phantom Rivers

Wine Mic Monday: Phantom Rivers

"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog...because every glass and bottle of wine has a story. This week we are proud to feature Phantom Rivers., an Arroyo Grande (SLO) winery typically producing lots of between 50-200 cases or 2-8 barrels. Their 2012 Confluence (GSM blend) was just awarded "Best of Class" in the 2015 San Francisco Chronicle awards!

Meet Phantom Rivers & The Nipomo Wine Group by Steve Mathis

The Nipomo Wine Group was created in 2004 by four couples who share a passion for making wine and enjoying the life style of the California Central Coast.  Each one of us brings a unique skill to the company which includes: wine making, business administration, marketing, scientific theory, cooking, and wine & food pairing.

The name Phantom Rivers was selected for our winery as it pertains to the misty fog that evaporates into the air.  Streams of fog flow in and out of the valleys and wind their way up the old maritime valleys hugging the courses of ancient rivers.  This fog cools the vineyards at night and early morning which extends the hang time of the grapes on the vine.  This all adds to the distinctive flavors and complexities of Central Coast Wines.

Food & Phantom Rivers Wine | VAULT29

We met and became friends as home winemakers. We share a passion for making wines that pair well with food. What better way to enjoy life than to be surrounded by friends who share a passion, and love to drink fine wine and eat delicious home cooked meals?!

While we are all winemakers, the title of Wine Maker for Phantom Rivers belongs to John Thunen, PhD.  John had an extensive career in the aerospace industry during which time he stayed “grounded” by making wine.  During the past 40 years, John has honed his skills as an exceptional winemaker in much the same way he did as a Physicist, using scientific method coupled with natural artistic ability.  For years John led a team of scientists, now he leads our team of winemakers.

John Thunen, winemaker

John Thunen, winemaker

We do not believe a single property is capable of producing the best fruit for every varietal, as the terroir required for each varietal is different.  Therefore we focus our efforts in finding the perfect area for each varietal we are looking to produce, and purchasing grapes from those farmers.

For us, the beauty not owning a vineyard is not being tied to the varietals that excel on that piece of property. There are only so many years a winemaker has a chance to produce wine and there are so many different varietals to choose from. Since beginning the winery in 2004, we have produced some phenomenal wines that include:  Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Grenache, Mourvedre, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Vin Gris, Muscat Blanc, and a Zinfandel Rose’ as well as a Zinfandel dessert wine.  We have also made several red blends including our new award winner, Confluence which is a GSM (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre) blend.

We decided to focus all of our efforts on fruit grown on the Central Coast of California. We purchase fruit from select vineyards from as far North as Paso Robles to as far South as Santa Ynez and the North East corner of Santa Barbara County.

There are literally hundreds of micro climates in this range, allowing vineyards unique terroir for their varietals. It is an amazing experience to search for a vineyard that offers the characteristics we are looking for in a specific varietal. Once found, we try to develop a long term relationship with the vineyard owner/manager.

Another decision we made was to produce our wine in small lots. We typically produce lots of between 50 to 200 cases or two to eight barrels. This allows us to pay a lot of attention to each lot from harvest to bottling. Small lots of wine allow the winemaker to exert a lot of influence.

When all is good, and your fruit has had sufficient hang time, the brix, TA, and PH are in range, chances are you are going to have a great wine. Selection of yeast, fermentation, decision to use extended maceration or not,  malolactic fermentation, type of barrel, time in the barrel, racking, filtration all come in to play during the winemaking process. The smaller the lot, the bigger the influence each of these decisions has.

Mother nature does not always cooperate. If the fruit comes in with high or low brix, too much or to little TA, then the winemaker, in our case John, has decisions to make, and these decisions have a dramatic impact on the quality and taste of the finished wine. The ability to fix flaws and overcome fruit that was either not fully ripened or over ripened is what distinguishes a winemaker as much as their individual style. We feel so very lucky to have John as our winemaker. His background in research has made him invaluable to our winery.

So now, the grapes have come in, adjustments have been made, fermentation is completed, the must has been pressed and the juice is now in the barrels. Over the next 14 to 18 months, there is still a lot the winemaker has to contend with and decisions to be made.

(L-R) Phantom Rivers Owners: Steve Mathis, John Thunen, Gary Smith, John Klacking

(L-R) Phantom Rivers Owners: Steve Mathis, John Thunen, Gary Smith, John Klacking

Do we make this a single varietal with 100% of the fruit from a single vineyard? Do we add a complimentary varietal to add character, depth, backbone? Do we blend cool and warm weather Syrah to make or more complex wine? Will we do a blend or more than one blend this year? For us, these decisions are made as the wine matures and develops in the barrel.

I find this to be the most fun and fascinating time to be involved with the winemaking. We gather the troops, pull samples of wines from the barrels, and the tasting begins. We make notes for each barrel, what it tastes like when blending from barrel to barrel and above all, we have a good time.

Decisions are reached over what to blend, what to bottle and when, and exactly, how much of each wine we will produce. While we are a democracy, we have all agreed to allow John to have the final say on all winemaking decisions. Stop by our Tasting Room in Arroyo Grande or visit us online. We think you will like Phantom Rivers Wine.

(L-R) John & Linda Thunen, Gary & Diana Smith, Steve & Sue Mathis

(L-R) John & Linda Thunen, Gary & Diana Smith, Steve & Sue Mathis

From our family to yours, Cheers!

Be sure to add your Phantom Rivers Wine experiences in the VAULT29 app!

"Like" Phantom Rivers Wines on Facebook & "Follow" them on Twitter: @PhantomRivers



"Wine Mic Monday" is a VAULT29 series based on an "open mic concept" where wineries take over our blog...because every glass and bottle of wine has a story. This week we are proud to feature Laetitia Vineyard & Winery. The passion behind the brand is displayed by their premium estate wines showcasing the distinctive qualities of the Arroyo Grande Valley. Located in Southern San Luis Obispo County (SLO), their beautiful costal property overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

My Family Vineyard by Nadia Zilkha

VAULT29: How did the winery get started?

Nadia: Laetitia Vineyard & Winery was originally planted in 1982 by Champagne Deutz from France, recognizing it was the perfect location to create Methode Champenoise sparkling wines in California. Contrary to so many French houses that settled in Napa or Sonoma, Maison Deutz settled on the Central Coast close to San Luis Obispo to plant Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc for our sparkling wine program. We still use Pinot Blanc in small quantities as we really like its unique textural quality that softens and imparts creaminess to our bubbles.

NADIA Tag Line | VAULT29

VAULT29: What's the origin of the winery name?

Nadia: In the mid 1990s the winery changed hands and was named Laetitia after that owner's daughter. When we bought the winery in 1998, we liked the name very much and decided to keep it. In 2005, we were looking to name our wines from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard; we named it NADIA after me, the current owner's daughter. We appreciated the synergy between the two names, and I very much liked the fact that both our brands names end in IA, it's very pretty and poetic, and feels quite fitting. At times it's been confusing to hear people discussing NADIA the wine and not me the person but I've become more comfortable with it as time has passed. I'm also quite proud that I've been able to leverage the tagline on the NADIA cork, "You never know wher life will take you," into our present campaign that shows me, Nadia the person, promoting NADIA wine all over the country and world.

VAULT29: Tell us a bit about the people behind the brand.

Leatitia is SIP Certified | VAULT29

Nadia: Without sounding biased, the team at Laetitia is absolutely brilliant. My father, Selim Zilkha, who at 87 is as vital, smart, sensitive, curious and innovative as a businessman as he ever was, is someone who really cares for the wellbeing of his emplyees as well as the growth of our brands. He even went on Facebook in 2004, but by 2008 he'd had enough! I think we can all understand his feelings about that! Eric Hickey, our talented winemaker, grew up at Laetitia alongside his father Dave Hickey, who makes our sparkling wines, and couldn't have a better understanding of how to perfect the product due to a lifetime around the vines, grapes and wines. Lino Bozzano our visionary vineyard manager has implemented many great practices to improve our vines. These include night harvesting, Sustainable-in-Practice (SIP) certification to ensure we care about the land for the future generations, using goats for weed abatement and new types of trellising to maximize sun protection at our Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard.

VAULT29: Why did you choose the region and/or varietals?

Nadia: As I mentioned earlier, the French recognized the potential for planting Burgundian varietals on our rocky volcanic limestone soils that benefit from being in the cool Region III climate. (At Laetitia, we’re only three miles away from the ocean and the maritime fog layer sits on our land keeping it cool all morning long during the summer). Our other vineyard at Santa Barbara Highlands is at 3,200 feet in elevation, inland and is very mountainous, making it better suited to Bordeaux varietals with its hot days and cold nights. The hearty Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc grapes there are able to withstand and thrive in the Region III climate and the short and intense growing season. We’ve really matched soil to varietal to create wines that ring true, showcasing our commitment to the region we love that’s been so good to our brand.

VAULT29: What can wine lovers expect to experience when visiting?

Nadia: When I think about Laetitia I'm proud of our family owned and family estate run vineyard. We have melded our international roots and sensibilities to very American soils. The landscape is beautiful: gentle rolling hills with larger unobstructed vineyards. Our tasting room is friendly right off the 101 Freeway on the way to San Luis Obispo, a three-hour drive from Los Angeles, making it very convenient to visit. We have many interesting wines to taste there beyond our 8 core broad market wines. We make 8 different Pinot Noirs for the Tasting Room. My favorite is the Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, sold exclusively there. We have 8 different wine clubs to choose from including a sparkling club. So we offer a great deal of variety partly because of our size but also because we really enjoy showcasing the many clones and wine making possibilities our estate has to offer.

VAULT29: What does owning and working in a family business mean to you?

Nadia:  In our family it's a tradition that sons automatically work with their fathers; I feel so blessed that for the past 15 years my father has enabled and encouraged me to work directly with him. More recently, I've become the family face for our brands. 2015 marks our 17th year in the wine business and it's been a remarkable journey. We make delicious wines that are true to the terrior and pair beautifully with all kinds of food. This is particularly important to us. After all what's better than wine with food or food with wine?


VAULT29: Plan to attend any wine events locally or nationally? If so, where and when?

Nadia:  One event that I'm especially excited for us to be attending is a Laetitia/NADIA dinner at the James Beard House in New York City on Saturday April 25th. Eric, Lino and I will all be there talking about our wine. Chef Chris Manning from Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Roble will be cooking. He's already familiar with our wines having cooked at the Laetitia Estate House last November. It was a faboulous pairing all round and I have no doubt this will be as phenomenal as the last one!

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