Westside Coastline

Westside Coastline
Westside Coastline

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thirty Years of Hitching Post Wines

The 30th Annual Central Coast Wine Classic took place last weekend at the Avila Beach Country Club in Avila Beach, California.  I will be reporting on that event on a later date, but today I want to talk about a very special lot that was presented at Saturday's Rare & Fine Wine & Lifestyle Live Auction.

CCWC Lot No. 47

Frank Ostini, owner of the Hitching Post II restaurant in Buellton (the restaurant prominently featured in the wine cult classic movie "Sideways") and his partner Gray Hartley of Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines wanted to create a very special auction lot to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the CCWC.  They created a lot with at least one bottle of wine from every vintage since 1984 reflecting 30 years of winemaking at Hitching Post Wines.  Arranged in multiple issues of 750 ml., 1.5 liter magnums, 3 liter double-magnum bottles and one 5 liter bottle, the overall lot consisted of a whopping 60 bottles of wine, the equivalent of over 100 regular sized (750 ml.) bottles of wine.

Gray Hartley and Frank Ostini
CCWC Lot No. 47
30 Years of Hitching PostWines

This is a world class collection of some of the finest Pinot Noirs ever made in California, or anywhere else for that matter.  I know, because for years Jodie and I along with our wine appreciating friends have have had many wonderful Hartley-Ostini / Hitching Post Wines and Au Bon Climat wines that were all well past their 25th anniversary.  Back in the early 1980's, Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen and his partner Adam Tolmach began making Pinot Noirs in the classic style of first growth French Burgundies - more on that story below.  Clendenen's buddies Hartley and Ostini had been making wines, starting with their first batch at their home in 1979 and had adopted many of the same classic French winemaking techniques.  The end result were some beautiful Pinot Noirs that would not begin to reach their potential until they were twenty years old or more.

Old Pinot Noir wines are very special.  As they age, the combination of acidity and just the right level of alcohol allow the fruit to burn off in a very delicate fashion.  While many California wines are made to be consumed while young, during their first five to ten years, these classic wines want to lay down in the cellar and grow old gracefully.  When these California Pinot Noirs get into the 25-30 year maturity level, they present a totally unique and special character that simply has to be tasted and experienced to be understood.

Knowing what a rare opportunity it was to acquire this exhaustive library of Pinot Noir wines, Jodie and I decided to try to win the bid.  At first, Jodie was a bit hesitant to take on a lot with this many large bottles.  We have several 9 liter bottles in our collection from prior year's auctions and it is always a challenge to find events with enough people to justify opening such a big bottle of wine.  Since a 9 liter holds a full 12 bottles of wine, one needs to find an event with 25 or more wine drinking people to open it up.  In this case, I was able to reassure Jodie that there was really only one large bottle, the 5 liter.  The other bottles were all 3 liter or smaller and the three liter bottles (equivalent of 4 bottles of wine) could be put away at a dinner for 8 to 10 people.  So we were in for the bidding.  I don't know who the under-bidder was, but they were pretty aggressive.  Regardless, we persisted, largely at Jodie's urging and finally won the day.  This amazing collection was ours.

The First Bottle

1985 Hitching Post
Santa Ynez Valley
Pinot Noir
Sanford & Benedict Vineyard
Produced and Bottled by Byron Vineyard & Winery
Santa Maria, CA

When Jodie and I got home from the CCWC, we wanted to celebrate by opening one of the older bottles in the lot.  We selected a 1985 Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Pinot Noir.   The Sanford & Benedict vineyard is a legendary vineyard for growing world recognized Pinot Noir grapes.  These grapes were grown at a time when the region was simply recognized as the Santa Ynez Valley. Years later in 2001, the now-famous wine growers in the region marshaled their resources to have the area designated as the Santa Rita Hills AVA.  The area is so successful for growing excellent Pinot Noir grapes because of the hot dry days and the cool moist nights as the ocean fog comes up the valley from Lompoc to quench the sleeping grapes.

Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict created the S&B vineyard in 1970 and operated it as partners for the next decade.  Frank Ostini recalls that the 1985 S&B was their first from the vineyard.  Partners Sanford and Benedict had created a world class Pinot Noir in 1976 at a time when most California Pinots were hardly drinkable.  According to Ostini, "Heads turned around the world - delicious Burgundian styled P/N from the Central Coast of California.  Many of us here took note: Jim Clendenen, Adam Tolmack, Rick Longoria, Brian Babcock, Ken Brown and us (Ostini & Hartley).  Sanford and Benedict would not sell grapes in the early years.  A $25 Pinot was a tough sale in those days and the partnership eventually broke up.  Mildew struck in 1986 hurting the crop yield, so 1987 was the first year for most other wineries to get S&B fruit."

Ostini shared his experience with his first pick of those S&B grapes back in 1985.  "I remember hauling the grapes.  We made 1.5 tons, just 100 cases.  (You have one of the last 6 bottles) There were two picks.  The first pick was in S&B's 1/4 ton bins with no liners.  By the time I got to the Byron winery where we made our wine, juice was dripping on the ground.  On the second pick, I brought a 1/2 ton bin with a plastic liner so no juice was lost."

He continues, "I was so proud of the grapes that I detoured to Au Bon Climat (at the dairy barn near Rancho La Cuna).  Jim and Adam were crushing their first Willamette Valley, OR PN grapes.  Both those batches were the best grapes we had ever seen.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  What an amazing time of discovery and growth."

I pinged Frank and Gray by email when we opened that 85 S&B to let them know that it was drinking very nicely straight out of the bottle.  We had a little trouble with the cork, which is to be expected as old corks can be temperamental.  But we got the bottle properly decanted and I was delighted to see that even after 25 years, there was precious little sediment in the bottle.  Jodie and I took our time over the next three hours, refreshing our glasses with small pours every 30 minutes or so.  As the bottle opened up, the aromas became more pronounced and the tastes on the palate were smooth and rich.

Frank was gratified that we had given him a heads up about drinking this very special bottle of wine and he came back with a really amazing offer.  He wrote:

Jim and Jodie,

We want to give you an official thank you for buying our donation to the Central Coast Wine Classic. We knew when we assembled this, that it was really something special, and actually represents a huge part of our creative lives.  We weren't sure if any bidders would comprehend and appreciate this.

Now that you have it, and you have noticed us on opening your first bottle, it has brought back so many memories that we are anxious to share.  Thanks for your communication, as we realize we have given more than 60 bottles here, and we are willing to continue to comment on each bottle that you open.

If there is any way to give us a few days heads up on your plans to open bottles, we would be happy to supply our stories so that you can share them as you enjoy the wines.  I think we have discovered an amazing and interactive level of giving and receiving of a vertical auction lot.  As Archie and his friend Emeril would say, we are 'Kicking it up a notch!'.  A very special thanks to you for the inspiration.

Best Regards,

Frank Ostini
Chef Winemaker
Hitching Post II Restaurant & Winery
Buellton, CA

To Frank and Gray, Jodie and I give you this reply.  We are thrilled to have this rare collection of the fruits of three decades of your dedicated and creative labors.  We are going to open one of these bottles every month or so, often in the presence of fellow wine lovers.

We will definitely give you the heads up that you requested and once the stories have been told and the wines have been enjoyed, I will chronicle each episode in a continuing story on this blog.  Hopefully, in time it will become somewhat of a living history of and tribute to your efforts.

We look forward to our mutual adventure!

Jim and Jodie Rea

The Central Coast Wine Classic

Hitching Post Wines

Hitching Post II Restaurant

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Team Derek

Imagine you wake up one day, groggy from the barrage of drugs and painkillers you have been given.  You are told you were in a bad car accident, that your spine is broken and that you will never walk again.  That is the story of my wife's cousin Derek Berry.

Derek was a young professional soccer player and coach living in El Cajon, California.  One night he got into his car and drove to a fast food restaurant to get something to eat.  Driving home, he reached for his soda, lost control of the car and hit a tree, thus beginning a very difficult new chapter in his life.

For the past several years, with the unbelievable support and assistance of his mother and father, Sharon and Dave King, Derek has fought untold adversities from diabetes, to uncontrollable physical tremors, to internal medication pumps that stubbornly refuse to correctly do what they are supposed to do.  He fought these battles as a full-on quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair.

He had victories as well.  As a young professional athlete, his academic career was never his foremost priority.  However once his condition became more or less stabilized, he correctly reasoned that the one thing that worked well in his body was his brain.  So he enrolled at San Diego State University where he earned a Business Degree in Accounting with honors.  He went to work for Ernst and Young and followed on with a position at a medical equipment company, but the rigors of long hours and severely limited mobility proved to be too much to maintain on a day-to-day basis.

Graduation Day - SDSU

He also learned how to drive.  He has a limited amount of mobility in his arms.  He has enough movement that he can feed himself and he re-learned how to drive with the assistance of a tricked out van that he completely operates with his hands. It has an automatic ramp that folds out through the side door where he can roll up into the van and then into the driver's position where he locks his wheelchair into place.

Derek's first tricked out van.

During the last few years, he has done some fun things as well, like skydiving out of an airplane.  He went on world cruises with his parents, even though the logistics of traveling half-way around the world in an airplane is a huge challenge for a quadriplegic.

Getting ready to jump
In the wind!

Then one day a couple of years ago, he started a new journey to change his life in yet another major way.  He set out to learn how to walk.  He has been working at a special facility called Project Walk, that specializes in rehabilitation of spinal chord injury victims.  Here are a few photos from earliest days at Project Walk around the end of 2012.

Fast forward to October of 2013 and we have a short video clip of Derek taking a few steps down the red carpet.  This is a dress rehearsal for Project Walk's annual Steps to Recovery event where all of the participants walk down the red carpet accompanied by the cheers of loving onlookers.

He has continued his therapy at Project Walk and now walks over 100 feet every day at his home.  But this therapy is expensive so several of his friends got together to hold the first of several fundraisers to underwrite his rehabilitation.  Known as Team Derek, Derek's friends and family gathered together to make it happen for him.  The event had some exercise activities to entertain the guests.  T-shirts were for sale along with tickets for several raffle prizes and a number of silent auction items.  I won a very cool long-board skateboard in the silent auction.  I don't know how much they raised, but I am sure it was a great start!

Team Derek Logo
Jodie and Derek
Raffle Prizes
So we wish Derek all the best.  He has shown amazing perseverance and determination.  We are looking forward to the day when he jogs up the big hill to our house!

Project Walk Website: http://projectwalk.com/

Prix de West - 2014 - National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The 41st showing of the Prix de West invitational art exhibition opened at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City on June 13th.  One of the top western art shows in the country, it features the foremost painters and sculptors of western, southwestern, landscape and wildlife genres from across the country.

Jodie and I always enjoy attending the Prix de West to catch up with the collectors, artists and museum folks who have become close friends over the years.  Two days of events include seminars, book signings, receptions, the Prix de West sale, and the awards banquet that features a smaller auction of fine western art.

This year, the big surprise for us was that long time friend and CAC Signature artist Jeremy Lipking was awarded the coveted Prix de West Museum purchase award in only his third outing at the show.

Silence & Sagebrush
64" x 64" Oil on Linen
Jeremy Lipking
Prix de West Museum Purchase Award

Silence & Sagebrush on display at the exhibit
  Here is Jeremy receiving the award medal at the awards banquet and another photo of his wife Danielle and their baby as they look on when the award was announced earlier in the day at the luncheon.

Other award winners included Trust by Carrie L. Ballentyne winning the Donald Teague Memorial Award.  Carrie does phenomenal work in oil, pencil and conté crayon.

21 1/2" x 16 1/2" Conté
Carrie L. Ballantyne
Donald Teague Memorial Award

Wildlife sculptor Tim Shinabarger won the Major General and Mrs. Don D. Pittman Wildlife Award for "The Mountaineers", a very cool wall mounted sculpture of three Dall Sheep standing proudly on top of a mountain crag.

The Mountaineers
52" H x 23" W x 10" D Bronze
Tim Shinabarger
Major General and Mrs. Don D. Pittman Wildlife Award

CAA Artist Loren Entz won the Express Ranches Great American Cowboy Award for his oil painting "When the Work's All Done This Fall".

When the Work's All Done This Fall
48" x 48" Oil on Canvas
Loren Entz
Express Ranches Great American Cowboy Award

George Carlson won the Frederic Remington Award for achievement in a painting for his painting "Ravens of the Palouse" and the Robert Lougheed Memorial Award for the best display of three or more works for "Ravens of the Palouse", "The Tempest" and "Reflections".

Ravens of the Palouse
42" x 42" Oil on Linen
George Carlson
Frederic Remington Award

Finally, John Coleman won both the James Earle Fraser Sculpture Award and the Buyer's Choice Award for his stunning monumental sized "Honeymoon at Crow Fair".  It was definitely a crowd pleaser.

Honeymoon at Crow Fair on display at the Prix de West show
8' 2" H x 80" W x 38" D Bronze
John Coleman
James Earle Fraser Sculpture Award
Buyer's Choice Award

The rooms were full both at the Friday night reception and the Saturday evening sale as buyers worked the room to figure out which works they wanted to put in to purchase.

Linda Teague Biro, daughter of the late and legendary painter Donald Teague gave a wonderful presentation about her father's career entitled "Donald Teague, A Life In Color".  I wish I had the space to completely cover her presentation because it was enlightening, entertaining and quite fascinating.

Linda Teague Biro

"Donald Teague, A Life In Color"
Donald Teague, the artist at work
Pete Biro, Jodie, Seth Hopkins head of the Booth Museum,
Linda Teague Biro and myself
John Geraghty, Special Advisor of the Masters of the American West was in attendance with Jay Grodin, the Chairman of the Masters Committee.  Their attendance was recognized during the banquet.  John, who many years ago was involved with the Cowboy Museum and the Prix de West has been running the Masters of the American West at the Autry National Center for over 15 years.

Juhn Geraghty & Jay Grodin being
recognized at the awards banquet
Jodie with John Geraghty
Another great surprise at the show this year was to learn the Dr. Steven Karr had been selected to be the new CEO of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, replacing Chuck Schroeder.  We initially knew Steven when he was Director of the Southwest Museum, one of the museums in the Autry National Center.  He then moved to San Antonio to start the Briscoe Museum and there saw to the completion of their new world class facility.  We were thrilled to learn that he will be joining the Cowboy Museum and look forward to working with him there.  He was joined throughout the festivities with his lovely wife Carrie.

Dr. Steven Karr being recognized
at the banquet.  His wife Carrie
is seated behind him.

Jodie with Carrie Karr
Of course it is always great to see our many artist, collector and museum friends at the show.  I posted lots of photos of them along with many other images from the show on my website at jimrea.com/zenphoto/PDW2014.  I would like to wrap up with one photo I took of our friend, sculptor Gerald Balciar.  Jerry carved the huge monumental sculpture of a mountain lion climbing down a canyon from a single piece of marble weighing more than 31 tons.  It sits at the end of the main foyer before the entrance of the Gaylord Exhibition Wing.  The sculpture was so tall that he had to sculpt it laying on its side.  The finished sculpture weighs more than 8 tons and stands 15' above its base.  Toward the end of the festivities, I grabbed this shot of Jerry next to his "Canyon Princess"
Canyon Princess with Gerald Balciar

For more photos from the show: 

For images of the art from the Prix de West: