A Trio of Rhône Reds

In a way the 2017 Spanish Springs Grenache and the 2018 Edna Valley Syrah bookend the 2017 Spanish Springs Syrah/Grenache blend. You have the blend nestled between the two single varietal bottlings if you will. If you have the occasion to open all three bottles together you can investigate what each varietal is like on its own as well as how they interact. Many of you will be opening these wines individually so each will be addressed in and of itself. If I were to taste all three it would be in the following order.

2017 Spanish Springs Grenache – This vineyard located hard up against the final hills that separate the Edna Valley from the ocean has sandy soils and very cool and foggy coastal weather. This always results in a late harvest, and flavors which are vibrant and exciting. Grenache tends towards a floral/herbal aroma that is lovely when young. There are hints of orange zest, black pepper, and smoke that lead into flavors of fresh blue fruit and confectionary notes. This wine will be best with food during its youth.

2017 Spanish Springs Syrah/Grenache – In its native habitat, the Rhone Valley, Syrah and Grenache are rarely bottled as single varietals. They’re almost always blended with each other and an assortment of other reds and a few whites. The Syrah adds seriousness to the more exuberant Grenache, or you could think of the Grenache as giving the Syrah a sense of humor. Either way they make a cute couple. The aroma is dominated by dried herbs and leaves in a pleasantly autumnal way. The flavors are surprisingly bright with fresh red and black berry tones layered over some floral. It’s a perfect medium weight which will improve with 3-5 additional years of bottle age should you so choose.

2018 Edna Valley Syrah – For the past few years we have made this bottling from fruit grown on the Wolff Vineyard on the far west side of Edna Valley. This vintage we livened it up by adding a single barrel of Spanish Springs Syrah to the twelve-barrel blend. The ’18 growing season was exceptionally cold and late, but because of the dry farmed nature of the vines the wine has both ripeness and freshness – an unusual and charming combination of traits. Despite its youth this wine is ready to drink due to its broad and soft palate. It has a lovely combination of fruit, spice, and savory aspects. It may very well age gracefully as well, but it’s so tasty now I doubt any will survive into middle age.

Your C&C Holiday Wine Guide

‘Tis the time of year for eating lots of delicious foods, gift giving and celebrations! With that said, we want to make sure that you have the perfect wines for every occasion and love to be apart of your holiday spread. View the guide below for some our favorites.

Claiborne & Churchill Holiday Wine Guide

C&C Summer Cellar and Vineyard Report

The beginning of summer is busy enough, but there’s no unifying theme or overly pressing tasks in the cellar. Much of the bottling has been completed. All of the blends are made and resting comfortably in barrel. There’s routine winemaking to do in the form of regular barrel topping and tasting (not particularly onerous this time of year when the wines are quite approachable). It’s a good period to take a little time off and be fully rested before the madness of harvest commences sometime around Labor Day.

Claiborne & Churchill Estate Riesling

The vineyard on the other hand is going gangbusters at this point. Now that a bit of warmer sunnier weather has arrived the shoots are growing at a crazy pace, and will soon need to be hedged. Many are commenting that they cannot remember ever seeing such vigorous growth. Flowering and fruit set are complete now, and the tiny berries are starting to size up. Based on the timing of bloom we can expect harvest to start around the 10 th to 15 th of September – a bit on the late side for us.

Winston Churchill was reputed to have said that the three most beautiful phrases in the English language were, “summer day, summer day, and summer day”. I couldn’t agree more.

Spring Cellar Notes

Winemaker Zack Geers preparing our Pinot Noir Blends.

While much attention is devoted to harvest as it must be, there are parts of winemaking largely hidden from view that are at least as important, and in some years equally crucial. The late winter and early spring are when blends are put together. For barrel aged wines such as Pinot Noir this entails tasting and grading every single barrel in the cellar before you can even begin to think about putting the first trial blends together. Once blends are proposed and tasted another round of even more detailed barrel tasting begins especially in regards to the top reserve wines where even a single barrel can make a big difference in the outcome of a ten barrel blend. The reality of this process involves scrambling up and down the barrel stacks at nine in the morning with a glass in one hand and a piece of chalk in your pocket for marking the head of the barrel.

New growth on our 2019 Estate Riesling, Claiborne Vineyard

At the same time the vines are beginning to set the pace of the upcoming harvest. This winter’s relentless rains and cold has made for a late start to the growing year. Whether this will be a good or bad thing will remain a mystery until the harvest is complete. We are just now seeing the young shoots emerging – at least three weeks later than average. Each growing season is a bit like having a child – you hope for the best, but you really have no idea of how they will turn out. Your job is to do the best you can.

Wine Library

OK, when you hear the word library what comes to mind? Perhaps someone telling you to be quiet, or maybe the long aisles of books waiting patiently to be pulled from the shelf and finally rescued and read. The image is one of dim filtered light and endless book spines with their barely legible titles.

Now, wine library, that’s another thought altogether. Immediately 13th century underground stone vaults come to mind with bottles patiently approaching perfection complete with cobwebs and fading chalk markings on the walls.

The reality is of course a bit more mundane – usually a back room or rarely visited storage area well removed from the daily traffic of the winery. It’s rarely perfectly well organized, and that’s part of its charm. There’s the potential of finding hidden and forgotten gems in the jumble of cases and bottles piled up in corners.

Winemakers are very interested in how wines age. Most customers less so. Probably because they don’t have the space or resources to age substantial amounts of wine. And if you can’t keep it cold, dark, and damp that bottle is probably not going to age gracefully.

Library Dry Gewurztraminer: 2012, 2013 and 2014

What we’ve done is taste back through all the vintages we’ve made searching for the exceptional vintages that actually achieve some sort of state of grace with time. This is the exception. Most wines don’t get better – they just get tired. So, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you, and picked out the wines that have improved with age.

When we tasted back through the Gewürztraminers we found three of the older vintages in fine shape, the ’12, ’13, and ’14. There was very little of the ’12 left. The ’13 we sold through in a week or so around the holidays. So, now we are offering the ’14. It is a beauty! It has a pale greenish gold color which is a good sign given its age. The aromas are very fruity still with honey, leechee and lemon obvious. It is intense yet balanced with a grainy mid-palate and a long finish.

The ’14 Gewürztraminer will be in reserve flight until it’s gone, which will not be long. Give us a call a (805) 544-4066 to make a reservation for our Reserve Tasting. It will also not be long before the newest wine the ’18 is bottled and released on February 26! And lastly, don’t forget to mark your calendars for our 2019 Wine Library Weekend: March 23 and 24 (Wine Library Dinner with Ember and our Library Wine & Cheese Pairing).

2018 Harvest Recap

We are happy to report that the 2018 Harvest at Claiborne & Churchill is complete, and the new wines are resting comfortably in barrel and tank. We had a lot of fun sitting down with our Assistant Winemaker, Zack Geers to catch up on some highlights from this 2018 harvest.

How was the 2018 season?

Cool throughout which was exceptional during the fall when heat events are pretty normal. The last harvest since this one that had no heat during September and October was 2007. This type of weather benefits Pinot Noir in particular.Processing Fruit in the Europress

What variety are you most excited to work with this year and why?

Rhone varieties from cool climate vineyards are making exciting wines which are getting a lot of attention from winemakers. We get Syrah and Grenache from Spanish Springs Vineyard a few miles up Price Canyon Road from the winery. These vines are only two miles from the ocean so are about as cool climate as you can get.

What made you laugh hardest this harvest?

It’s the first time I had to strip down to foot stomp some fruit. The French use the term pigéage à pied (or “punch-down by foot”).

What is one aspect of your job that people would be surprised by?

I often describe winemaking as glorified janitorial work. Get it dirty – get it clean – repeat.

Processing Fruit

Has the drought affected this year’s growing season at all?

No we didn’t see any direct effects from the drought this year. We received some rain in late March that really set things up nicely for a moderate growing season. All of the vineyards we work with are able to supplement with irrigation if needed.

Harvesting Estate Pinot NoirWhat are ideal conditions for the aromatic whites and Pinot Noirs you produce?

This vintage, while still very young, looks to be ideal. The varieties we produce do well with moderate temperatures and long days that are not too hot and not too cold. These conditions allow the fruit to stay on the vine as long as long as possible. The marine layer from the Pacific Ocean also plays a big role in the growth cycle by helping cool off the fruit at night. These conditions are especially vital at the end of the grape growing season to help the plant shut down for the winter time.

Encompassing the Charm of Alsace

A Brief History of Alsace Wines

Part of what makes Claiborne and Churchill so unique and special is our production of Alsatian white wines.  These wines  are virtually unheard of among novice wine enthusiasts.  Alsatian wines originate from the region of Alsace in France, producing delicious, high quality wines, dryer in contrast to their neighbors in Germany.  The German-influenced wines are often sweeter, but produced from the same grape varietals.

Map of Alsace Region of France


Wines such as Rieslings and Gewürztraminers are today generally misconceived as being “too sweet” in the United States.  This is mostly due to a sweeter style with higher residual sugar evident in these wines in the 90’s.  Many producers who work organically didn’t want to pick grapes before they reached total ripeness and didn’t want to add store-bought yeast to complete fermentation that indigenous yeast couldn’t.  This resulted in the wines retaining more sugar post fermentation.  Due to the popularity with consumers and some wine critics preferring the sweeter wines and rewarding them with high scores, winemakers were discouraged from changing their methods until more recently.


Vintners began to adjust their viticultural methods to define ripeness with lower sugar content in the grapes.  Winemakers have worked to achieve beautiful acidity and vibrancy rather than letting the sugars take over and being stuck with a syrupy product.

Gewürztraminer Grapes on the Vine


Embracing Tradition

Our take on Alsatian wines pays homage to how they were traditionally produced and enjoyed. Because of our proximity to the ocean, cool coastal breezes and morning fog create a growing environment similar to that of the Alsace region, yielding in Rieslings and Gewürztraminers with evident floral, spicy, and an array of fruit notes balanced with excellent acidity.  We celebrate a harmonious balance of fruit and oak, structure and texture.


For more information, click here for a fabulous article that goes more into depth on the history of the Alsace region wines.


Winemakers Harvest Playlist

Getting Down While Punching Down

There is no doubt that Harvest time is the busiest time of the year for a Winemaker.  From picking the grapes to processing the fruit it is constant hard work from sun up to sun down. A great way to keep their spirits high and minds focused throughout the day is through the beats and rhythms of music. We asked Winemaker Coby Parker- Garcia along with assistant Winemaker Zack Geers what their favorite artists and genres are, and created a winemaker’s playlist. Two of Coby’s favorite genre’s includes Reggae and Rock Music, some of his favorites include: The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, and Burning Spear. Zack appreciates the lyrical genius that Hip Hop contains such as G-Eazy, Milky Chance and Quinn XCII.

Happy listening!

Harvest Interview with the Winemaker

Harvest 2017 Q&A with our Winemaker Coby Parker- Garcia

Pinot Noir Clusters at Twin Creeks Vineyard

In general how does this year’s crop look?

2017 Vintage is looking average for most varietals. The only varietal where we see lower yields is with Pinot Noir.  Rain and cool weather contributed to poor flowering within our Pinot Noir Vineyards.

Which varietal will Claiborne & Churchill be harvesting first?

Pinot Noir from Greengate Ranch & Vineyard will be picked first starting this Thursday!  We will be picking two select clones of Pinot Noir,  Pommard and 2A. This makes up about 8-10% of the total amount of Pinot Noir for C&C. The soils at Greengate are not as heavy as the soils in the Twin Creeks Vineyard which allows the fruit to ripen sooner.

As weather changes during the harvest season, how do you adapt?

As harvest progresses, things get crazier and more compacted with less free time. We closely monitor and watch the weather making sure we are still on track to pick at the best time for each varietal.

How do you decide when is the optimal time to pick a vineyard?

It all depends on the varietal. We typically pick Aromatic White Wines earlier at lower sugar levels. This allows us to make white wines with lower alcohol and higher acidity. For Chardonnay and Pinot Noir we pick a little ripper allowing the flavors to fully develop.  Syrah and Grenache are picked last and at the highest sugar levels. Another factor in harvesting our fruit is tracking weather patterns. If the weather starts heating up, some grapes may be picked earlier before they get too ripe. If there is a cooling trend there is no need to panic and the grapes could stay longer on the vine.

Pinot Noir, Pommard: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Pommard Clone: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Pinot Noir, Clone 2A: Greengate Ranch & Vineyard

Are most grapes harvested around the same sugar levels?

No. Each varietal is treated differently. We look at the sugar levels but we also look at the pH and acid levels. It also depends on the vintage; certain vintages allow for grapes to be picked earlier where flavor profiles develop earlier and need less time to ripen. Sometimes the grapes taste better at lower sugar levels and are more balanced between the sugars and acid.

Do you typically go in and harvest from each vineyard all at once or do you do multiple picks from each vineyard?

We typically pick multiple times through a vineyard. If we are only getting a small amount of fruit then we pick it all at once. For our Estate Twin Creeks Vineyard we pick multiple times to get grapes at different ripeness levels.  Harvesting a vineyard at different times allows us to get different flavor profiles that add to the complexity of the wine.

What is one of your biggest challenges during harvest and how do you manage this?

Time is a big challenge. From the actual harvest and making sure we pick at the right time, to making sure each person on our production crew is doing their part to processing the fruit into wine.

Multi-tasking is another challenge with the different grapes coming in to make the variety wines we produce. I’m constantly traveling back and forth from vineyard to vineyard and then back to the winery.

During harvest we put in long hard hours day after day. As a winemaker this is what I look forward to each year, it’s my time to shine and make the best wine possible.

Harvest has wrapped up early in the last couple of years, what are you expecting for this year?

Last year was one of the earliest harvests on record. It looks like we are two weeks behind last year which puts us closer to our average cycle. I’d say we should wrap up harvest with Grenache sometime in late October or early November.

What are you most excited for this harvest?

It is always interesting to see what the “ theme” of the vintage will be (high acid year, good color, bold flavors). After spending so much time in the vineyards, it is exciting to get my hands on the grapes and make wine. I always look forward to the smells of fermentation; this is something that never gets old, even after my 15th vintage at C&C!

Meet Brook Our Cellar Club Manager

What brought you to Claiborne and Churchill?

I have been working for C &C since June 2008 shortly after graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I was looking for a local, full time job after graduation and was in the process of interviewing for different positions. One of my favorite Agriculture business professors from Cal Poly was looking for someone to pass along to Claiborne and Churchill. She had a great relationship with Coby, our Winemaker, and recommended me for the Cellar Club Manager position. I went in for a couple of interviews and got the job!

The defining factor for my job search was to be in the business marketing for the wine industry, and this was totally the right fit. I liked everyone working here and it clicked.

Claiborne & Churchill Cellar Club Manager Brook ThompsonWhat does your job entail?

The job can be split up into a few things. First and foremost, my job is make sure that wine club members new and old, feel connected with the winery, receive the wines, and enjoy the wines. A large part of that is the communication and correspondence with club members, updating their information, organizing shipments and making sure everything runs smoothly. Another part of my job is the marketing aspect and looking into growth potential for the club as well as sustaining retention with current members. We are always looking at what makes members fully committed and what the key things they enjoy most about our winery and club. It’s important for me to create an environment that really holds true to what Clay and Fredericka started with back in 1983. Welcoming people to our winery and treating them like family is an essential part of our ethos.

Collectively we are able to create some special long lasting bonds with our members. Wine is magical and I truly believe it brings people together. There are wine club members that have been apart of the C&C family since before I was born!

What is the best thing about working at Claiborne and Churchill?

A lot of us have grown up working here for most of our adult lives. That says a lot about how the winery is run and the vision Clay and Fredericka have instilled in all of their employees. They create wines that are unique, captivating, and can be shared with friends and family. It starts with them and is passed down all the way to the tasting room staff. We want everyone on board to continue the wonderful 35 years of winemaking while continuing to grow and meet new people. The right atmosphere mixed with the right wines really makes my job great!

What sets the C&C Cellar Club apart from other wineries?

We produce and release a lot of stylistic and unique varietals. On a local level we produce beautiful Dry Riesling and Dry Gewürztraminers, two of the ten white wines we make each year. People connect with our Pinot Noir and seem to really dig the various small production Pinot Noir bottlings we release each year. It is such a key part of the Edna Valley and is one of our favorite wines to produce. Matching the love for Pinot Noir and desire for white wines puts us in a great spot to attract wine lovers to C&C. We are small production but still able to challenge each person’s palate with different aromas, textures and flavors.

What are the perks of being a Cellar Club Member?

It is free to join! Throughout the year, Cellar Club members can savor our flagship and small production wines, many of which sell out shortly after their release date. I love the fact that club members can pick between a Red Only selection, White Only selection, Dessert Only selection, or our popular Winemaker’s Selection (this is a mix of whites and reds). We also allow our members to customize their shipments! The flexibility to change and try new wines is a great way to engage and have the personal relationships with the members. We understand people spend their hard earned money on wine and we want to make them proud and happy with their purchases.

Cellar Club Manager Brook ThompsonWhat made you so interested in wine?

Unfortunately I don’t have a romantic answer for that.  During my second year at CalPoly I noticed some of my classmates were getting their minor in Wine & Viticulture because many of those courses double counted as required support courses.  This immediately attracted my attention.  The only experience I had with wine before that was when my parents let me try some of their wine at the dinner table. I didn’t realize how remarkable the wine industry was until I got deeper into those courses.  I admired the evolution of wine from grape to bottle and after working my first harvest in Paso Robles in 2007, I knew this would be the job community for me.

What kind of hobbies do you have?

I literally have grown up at Claiborne and Churchill; from a recent college grad to the man I am today. I like to think I have learned to grow through the winery.  Outside of the winery, I spend my time with my family, creating music, and watching Star Wars.

My wife and I are huge Disney nerds and we do our best to turn our 1 year old daughter into one as well. On our days off, we’re finding any excuse to get out of town for Disneyland, concerts, or any worthwhile adventure.  I love the two of them and they make for great co-pilots.

Music has been a part of my life for the past 17 years. Through music, I have played in bands, met people that have become life long friends, toured the country, recorded records and released them. I am not in the band anymore, but this past year I have gotten into writing film scores.

Any last thoughts?

Thank you to everyone who has supported Claiborne and Churchill, from our Cellar Club members to the casual Gewürztraminer fan that buys a bottle here and there. Without any of you folks we wouldn’t be here today. I am so excited to keep meeting people and continue on the journey we have been traveling on for the past 3 decades.