Being the wineaux that we are here at Hg2, the launch of our Hg2 San Francisco guide has got us pining for a bit of New World vino – California vino, to be exact. Over the years, the California wine industry has grown into its own, producing some of the best and most respected New World wines out there.

Carhartt Vineyard Sunset

When most people think of California wine, places like Napa and Sonoma come readily to mind, but the lesser known Santa Barbara County region also produces some fine wines that aren’t to be snuffed at. We caught up with Brooke Carhartt – one half of the boutique Carhartt Winery, a family-run vineyard located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County – to find out more.

Carhartt Vineyard Family

Tell us a bit about how you got started in the winemaking business. What attracted you to wine?

We planted 10 acres of our 50-acre ranch to grapes back in 1996. Initially, our intention was only to farm and sell the grapes. The Santa Ynez Valley was beginning to expand more into wine-grape growing, our site was well suited to grapes, and we loved wine. We planted Merlot and Syrah onto this site that sits on a mesa (plateau) about 800 feet above street level. When we had our first crop in 1998, we sold the grapes to two local winemakers and I made two barrels, one Merlot and one Syrah. By then, we knew enough about winemaking to be “slightly dangerous,” but without knowing all that could go wrong, the process itself seemed very organic and rather uncomplicated.

Carhartt Bottle Glasses

After the second crop year, we realised that just selling the grapes would not be sufficient for paying the farming expenses, so we decided to begin a plan for making wine to offset the expenses. I went back to school as we converted our 100-year-old hay barn to what is now our winery. Today, 16 years later, we make about 4000 cases and continue the journey! Our son just graduated from Cal Poly, SLO in winemaking and has just returned from France, where he was interning at a winery there. We look forward to his involvement and expertise here at Carhartt.

You’ve claim to have the “world’s smallest tasting room” – what can people expect on a visit?

Our tasting room is only 99-square-feet, housed in an “antique” building in Los Olivos (south of San Francisco and north of Los Angeles) with a great history. We have a wonderful deck out back where people can relax in our wine barrel Adirondack furniture, sip wine, listen to music and enjoy the atmosphere. We are pretty easy-going here and everyone seems to have a good time at what we fondly refer to as “the love shack”! In addition, the winemaker and the family are always around to pour, tell stories, and entertain (Mike Carhartt especially).

Is your wine available in any restaurants, or do folks need to come to the tasting room to get it?

We only distribute our wine through the tasting room and to our wine club. Because we are so limited in production, the wine sells out very quickly and we simply don’t have enough for distribution. We do produce about 15 different wines, but all in small quantities which, unfortunately, don’t last very long!

Carhartt - 'World's Smallest' Tasting Room

The tasting room is located in Los Olivos – between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Do you have any favourite places to wine and dine in those two cities?

Well, gosh – they both have an abundance of great restaurants.  I’d love to say we get out to visit two of our favorite cities on a regular basis, but the truth is, because we are farmers and winemakers, we work just about everyday and don’t get away as much as we’d prefer. On the other hand, we have some really great restaurants right here in Santa Barbara County. Some of our favorites include The Ballard Inn (Los Olivos, CA), Sides Hardware and Shoes (Los Olivos, CA), Aru (Buellton, CA),  Olio E Limone (Santa Barbara), Julienne (Santa Barbara, CA), Downey’s (Santa Barbara), Opal (Santa Barbara)…there are some really great spots here and we are almost halfway between L.A. and San Francisco.

What are your personal favourite wines you’ve got now? Does any one in particular stand out as your star?

Well, I sort of feel like a parent with my wines – I love my “stars” and are proud of each of them equally. Having said that, so much for me depends on time of year, time of day, what I’m eating (or not), who I’m with, my mood or frame of mind. In other words, for me, wine is very situational and is such a perfect complement to both food and company – there is always a wine for every situation…even if I just want to sip a little on the porch at the end of a long day. Our estate wines are Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Rose, Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah and Petite Syrah, but we also make Grenache Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvedre and both a Rhone and a Bordeaux blend. I truly believe that there is a wine for everyone!

And for a bit more Santa Barbara County wine inspiration (as if you needed any!), check out this clip from the 2004 cult wine film Sideways, which was set and filmed entirely in the Santa Barbara wine region.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgDxPPOHy_U&w=710&h=399]

Interested wineaux can join the Carhartt Wine Club to get a selection of their boutique wines once a quarter. Or, if you’re planning a trip to California, the Carhartt Tasting Room in Los Olivos is only 2.5 hours’ drive from Los Angeles or four hours from San Francisco.