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California Wine: Tasting the Future

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Generally speaking, artists don't want you to peek while they're working. Sure, sometimes playwrights offer workshop versions of what they're cooking up, but most writers would rather eat glass than share their early, what they believe are no doubt embarrassing, drafts. Painters don't mind sharing their sketches ... once they're famous and can sell them for a pretty penny.

So that's one reason the idea of wine futures is so fascinating: winemakers let you taste juice out of barrel, convinced you, too, will see its promise, its structure ready to fill in, its fruit ready to burst and mature. You do this at a winery and they'll grab you a taste from the barrel with a tool called a thief, making it seem even more illicit. But luckily you can sample under-age wines without doing hard time.

Such was the case this past weekend in Santa Barbara, where the just-opened Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant held a resurrected (for the third time now -- this event has more lives than Jason Voorhees, but the red that pours is in much better taste) Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting. Long run by the Wine Cask, and then briefly by the Winehound, Futures is a glorious chance to taste wine (and buy it at a 20% discount) before it's on the market -- often it's still in barrel, or as was the case with a few samples, only one grape, if a representative one, of what would end eventually up a blend. It's a fascinating way to see how much wine evolves, but even more, how winemakers think and taste. They're very willing to talk you through the process: what's in the glass now, why, what it might become. And even better, it's actually the winemakers pouring. There's Gavin Chanin at the Chanin table; Joshua Klapper at La Fenêtre; Sashi Moorman at Piedrasassi and Stolpman and Sandhi (he's a busy, talented man); Jim Clendenen from Au Bon Climat (actually tasting, too, at Moorman's table); Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi at Bonaccorsi, of coursi [sic].

So much wine was so delicious that running through a hits list seems pointless; the good news is that Santa Barbara has at least three generations of talented folks doing amazing things with grapes. Wines made from the practically perfect growing season of 2012 all seem strong, but as Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi pointed out, it's 2011 that's more interesting because of the rains that fell at harvest. She says, "Some people picked early like we did, others picked later and risked losing grapes and grey rot. This all leads to very different wines." And a very good reason to go to a futures tasting and try them for yourself.

Here's to Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback for hosting at Les Marchands and may it be a fine kickoff for their new store/bar. It's just too bad they didn't get to hold the event in May when they originally hoped, as a few of what were meant to be futures then were already sold out because so many of these wines are such small productions.

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