One of our favorite places to visit in Santa Barbara is the Grassini Family Vineyard.
We recently sat down with Bradley Long, their winemaker, to take a deep dive into the philosophy behind the Grassini wines, after he hosted our closest family and friends for a fun-filled tasting during our Birthday weekend! We had so much fun exploring the vineyard, and it was delightful to learn from Bradley about the many aspects of this vineyard.
How does your location in the Santa Ynez Valley influence the type of wine you produce?
The Santa Ynez Valley is arguably one of the most diverse growing regions in the country. The area is able to grow a wide range of varietals depending on how close or far to the ocean a producer resides. Grassini Family Vineyards is in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara which is the farthest east AVA in the valley and is the warmest area too. Because of the long warm days, we grow more heat tolerant varietals. Our focus, which happens to be that of most of Happy Canyon, is Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.
How is the history of the Grassini family reflected in the wine you make in the present day?
The Grassini’s have always focused on family and being stewards of the earth. We have a wine that truly pays homage to the Grassini’s history called Articondo. Articondo was the first Grassini to immigrate to the states from Italy. He grew vegetables and raised chickens while building his family and sharing his love of the land with them. The family’s history is certainly something I want to be reflected in the wines I help craft for them.
There’s a saying that the best wines are made in the vineyard so we have implemented many sustainable systems to accomplish this through our farming practices like nutrient fixing the soil with cover crops during the winter, raising chickens to fertilize our vines, reclaiming all of our winery wastewater and turning it into compost tea for irrigation, and using solar energy for power.
In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of winemaking?
Fruit expression. There are a few variables to consider with great fruit expression. Good fruit is the best place to star, then not overcomplicating the process.
Winemakers don’t make the wines, the fruit does. We should just be there as more of a guide by giving the fermenting grapes what they need to express themselves. Every variety and vineyard block is different and therefore should be treated differently throughout the process.
How have you adapted your winemaking technique over time? What is the most important lesson you have learned from the past generations?
I am a product of all of my mentors. Luckily, I had the opportunity to learn from quite a few amazing winemakers earlier in my career. There is no one way to grow grapes and craft wines. I have definitely cherry-picked processes and approaches over the years to help create my style.
What’s most important in creating almost anything is to always be adaptive. I started my career in Napa Valley and now make wines from the same varietals in Santa Barbara County. Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Napa is not the same here. There was a bit of a learning curve to give my wines their sense of place. The climate is always changing and the weather is unpredictable at every physiological stage of the growing year. Adaptation is the most important lesson I learned from past generations. They had to do it too.
In your tasting room, you have chocolate pairings. What about pairing wine with chocolate inspires you?
Our wines by themselves are delicious but wine paired with food and more especially chocolate is divine. The different flavors of the chocolates help express certain underlying flavors in the wines. It creates a completely different experience to have the wines transform over your palate. We also offer cheese plates to accentuate the savory side of our wines too!
Where is the wine industry going and why does it matter? Where do you want to take Grassini Family Vineyards in the next 5 years, and what are your hopes for the upcoming years?
I have a bit of tunnel vision regarding where I have been in the industry so trying to forecast where it may be going is quite challenging. I tend to stay focused on what is right in front of me which is either the vineyard or a wine barrel.
What I can comment on is how far we have come in innovations with growing grapes and making processes better through efficiency while raising quality. I know I am always working to make things better and my peers are as well.
As far as Grassini Family Vineyards is concerned, I am always looking forward. I want the wines we make to be the best they have ever been in five years, and also every year after that. I want this brand to thrive. I want us to be a known fixture for some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc not only in Happy Canyon or Santa Barbara but far beyond. I am always most excited about moving forward with every vintage and sharing our story through the wines because they keep getting better and the story gets more interesting.
Can you share the story of Equipo with us?
This is one of the biggest reasons why I love being a part of this company! The Grassini family started this program a number of years ago to give thanks to our vineyard crew. This project started in 2009 when Sharon Grassini found out that our vineyard manager, Manuel’s, infant son needed life-saving heart surgery. Sharon organized an impromptu emergency fund to help with some of the unexpected costs. That is the moment that set the Equipo project in motion. A way to give back to our team through full-control of their own portion of the 35-acre vineyard to turn into a special vintage. The proceeds of this wine are then given back to the team, or “Equipo” in Spanish, as an added thank you for all of the work they put in throughout the vineyard.
Thank you to Bradley for answering our questions! Next time you are in Santa Barbara be sure to stop into their tasting room, or get a bottle of their fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon from the Wine Shop.
Cheers from Your Pocket Somm! – ARGAUX