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The Freewheel line with a couple of English friends.

It takes a lot of beer to keep the wine business running smoothly. Here in Redwood City, we are very fortunate to have a great English style ale producer right in our backyard: Freewheel Brewing Company. The staff of K&L are fictures at our local pub, and it is a rare moment when one of us isn't there having a pint and a bite of their excellent food. We are also lucky enough to be the first place to offer their bottled beer for sale. If you have never had it, the Freewheel Brewing "FSB" Freewheel Special Bitter, California (500ml) is the benchmark in fresh, balanced, smashable ale. We will do our best to keep some in stock for you, the customer too!

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Behind the Wine: Ernst Storm & Storm Wines

Winemaker Ernst Storm in a scene from the film STORM by Daniel Addelson which premiered this week online on Uncorked.

South African transplant to California's Central Coast, Ernst Storm handcrafts small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in a style that combines old world sensibilities with new world technique. We were really impressed when we tasted recent releases from his own label, Storm, in our Los Angeles store and believe this talented young winemaker's star is only just beginning to rise. So, when filmmaker (and K&L customer) Daniel Addelson approached us about hosting the official online premiere of his film 'Storm' based on Ernst's life and passion as a winemaker, we were honored to oblige. You can watch the film here and read on to go behind the scenes in our winemaker interview with Ernst, below.

Behind the Wine: Meet Winemaker Ernst Storm

K&L: Please tell us a little about your background. Where are you from and how did you end up in the wine business in Santa Barbara County?  

ES:  I grew up in South Africa and spent the last of my teenage years in a town called Hermanus which is in the Western Cape. Known as the appellation of Walker Bay, this region has a cool maritime climate where Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay ripen perfectly.

This small production Sauvignon Blanc is balanced and refreshing, a great value at $17.99. It "pairs really well with a summer afternoon in the sun overlooking the ocean eating butter lettuce, shallots, and avocado salad with a light lemon vinaigrette dressing," suggests Storm, but is also lovely on its own. Try a bottle tonight! Better act fast, supply is limited.After graduation, I spent a year working in Britain and Europe trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. In the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to find a way to be creative and work with nature. My brother, Hannes, was studying wine at the time and it just felt right to pursue winemaking. I completed my studies at the Elsenburg Agricultural School outside the town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. After completing the third year, I worked as winemaker at a winery called Amani in South Africa under the guidance of Rod Easthope, a New Zealand winemaker. I also consulted on a few small projects with my brother, who is the winemaker at Hamilton Russell Vineyards in the Walker Bay Appellation.

I  wanted to experience a Northern Hemisphere harvest and took a job in the Sierra Foothills. I spent two years working in this warmer climate—learning a lot about how to deal with higher pH wines and how to keep these wines stable. Having come from a cool climate region, I longed to make more balanced wines from Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. I went searching again. After visiting Santa Barabara County and having lunch with Jim Clendenen, I fell in love with the area. The Mediterranean climate shared many similarities with that of the Western Cape. I worked at Firestone for three years, which proved to be a great learning experience. At Firestone I worked with bigger lots and did plenty of experimentation with Sauvignon Blanc and other varietals. After several years, I became involved in the winemaking at Curtis Winery, where the focus is Rhone Varietals. I have been with them since 2008.

Where do you make wine and how many different wines do you make?

At Curtis Winery I work with fruit grown on the Estate at the North-Western end of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. The focus is Estate driven Rhone varietal wines that include Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Viognier, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. We also do a Red, White and Rose blend of these varietals that are very accessible and food friendly. Soon we will be adding Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from our Estate.

Under my label Storm, I produced only Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc with the focus on wines that have personality of both vintage and site.  For the 2012 vintage I will have two Pinots and two Sauvignon Blancs in bottle.

What wines, experiences, or individuals helped influence this philosophy?

I think South African winemakers were more influenced by European winemaking at the time. Growing up in the Walker Bay area and drinking a lot more balanced delicate wines made me realise that those were the type of wines I wanted to make. Working in different regions and being exposed to different climates and ideas helped me formulate a philosophy.  Finding vineyards where you can pick fruit for each varietal at a point where flavours, tannin ripeness and acids are all in balance at a decent potential alcohol was and is still important.

I will lie if I say great Burgundian wines have not had a big influence on my stylistic approach.  Wines that tell a story and are able to evolve has always been the focal point.  Working in Santa Barbara County it is possible to not only do this with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also Sauvignon Blanc and Rhone Varietals if it grown in the right spot and picked at the right time.   

Grapes at harvest, a scene from the film Storm by Daniel Addelson. Describe the vineyards you work with to make the wines under your own label, Storm Wines.  How involved are you in the viticultural side of the production process?

For my Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc the vineyards were chosen to represent four different corners of the Valley, each with a distinct climate and soil. Each vineyard brings a different element to the blend, which at the end broadens the spectrum of the wine and is a good representation of Santa Ynez Valley. 

My Santa Maria Pinot Noir comes from Presqu’ile Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley. This is a newer planting with naturally low yielding vines planted on well drained soils. This makes farming easy and little intervention is needed. I get a lot more involved closer to harvest to dial in yields and watering. This vineyard is showing early on that it has great potential to make very site specific wines that speak volumes of the climate and soils. Tasting the 2012 out of barrels I know it is Presqu’ile and Santa Maria. It is red fruit driven with lots of spice and texture.

My Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir at John Sebastiano Vineyard is planted in two blocks. Dialing in the yield is a little more challenging here and we work hard to get it just right. The fruit from this vineyard is darker and more powerful, so making the right picking decision is crucial.

Eighty percent of my fruit is farmed by the same farming company, which make it easy. They have a good understanding of what the needs are and the style of wines I make. We dial yields, leaf removal and watering in keeping the final wine in mind. All the vineyards are farmed sustainably and I have a lot of trust in my growers. I work with the same rows and blocks every year which keep things consistent.

"I used to be obsessed with finding flavours and certain nuances in wine," Storm explains. "Dissecting it, braking it down to all its parts. Looking for faults. As I grew, I learnt to look more for texture and harmony. This has helped me to make decisions in the vineyard and the winery with the final wine in mind."(Image courtesy of Daniel Addelson)

How dramatic is vintage variation in Santa Barbara? How was 2012 compared to 2011, 2010?

Being a little further South it feels like we miss some of the rain that can sometimes hit during harvest in areas like Sonoma and Napa. So we are lucky in that regard. Compared to other regions outside of California we do have it pretty good.  But things have changed in recent years. We have seen frost, heat spikes and cool weather at the end of harvest which have made things a little more challenging though. So, whether this is climate change or just a cycle, it has definitely forced  people to scramble and go outside of their comfort zone.

In my opinion  2012 was perfect for the folks that are into making more restrained balanced wines. We had moderately warm days, little rain and never did the night temperature go very  high. The resulting fruit had great balance and ripe flavours at lower sugars.  It was a perfect year for balance and finesse. Compared to 2011 where  yields were reduced due to frost and heat spikes that lasted for five days it was a dream. In 2010 we also saw some heat spikes early on  that effected the early ripening varietals like Pinot.

What do the terms “old world” and “new world” mean to you in terms of winemaking practices and style?  Where do think your wines fit into the spectrum?

When trying to make Pinot Noir in a style that is pure and more delicate it is important to embrace as many old World techniques as possible. Letting the fruit speak without adding water, filtration, fining or manipulation is key to portraying vintage and site. I try to keep things simple without cosmetics when it comes to making red wines.

With white wine a combination of Old and New World techniques works really well in order to make the wines I want to make. When combining the right yeast choice, fermentation temperature  and lees interaction you can achieve both freshness and texture. I think it is important to constantly be searching for a balance between the two.

How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? How do you think that has influenced your winemaking?

I used to be obsessed with finding flavours and certain nuances in wine. Dissecting it, braking it down to all its parts. Looking for faults. As I grew, I learnt to look more for texture and harmony. This has helped me to make decisions in the vineyard and the winery with the final wine in mind.  

What are your thoughts on food and wine pairing? Do you have any favourite or recommended pairings with your wines?

Pairing should always start with your personal preferences as to wine and food. Once you start playing around in the kitchen trying to match the texture and the richness of your wine with dishes you love,  it becomes a fun experience.

My Sauvignon Blanc pairs really well with a summer afternoon in the sun overlooking the ocean eating butter lettuce, shallots, and avocado salad with a light lemon vinaigrette dressing.  Food or no food…

I like pairing the 2009 Pinot Noir to duck because of the gaminess. I think there is something similar in both the wine and the duck that come together seamlessly.

With some of the richer Rhone wines there is nothing like making a big red oak fire and grilling up a tri-tip and keeping it simple with rustic flavours.  The surrounding environment, the fire, the people has just as much to do with how everything is going to come together.

"It is no secret that most critics like riper, more extracted, softer wines with less acid," Storm points out. "If you put yourself out there you have to be able to take criticism, it is just part of the game. I try to remind myself that it is one person's opinion. The important thing is to stay true to yourself and not to follow trends when making wine. Searching for likeminded critics, wine buyers and customers on the street is very important to keep focus." (Image courtesy of Daniel Addelson)

What do you project for upcoming vintages in comparison to the past? Any changes or new developments on the horizon?

Well, it seems like mother nature has changed things up on us in the last decade. So whether this is Global Warming or just a cycle we are going through, only the future will tell. I try to take each vintage as it comes, making the best of the weather, yields etc. 

It seems like the average consumer is getting more educated, which means they are starting to explore and develop their own personal preferences more. They are starting to really get into the story behind the wine, not only what they taste and smell. As winery owners it will be important to tie this all in and to make wines that really represent the story.

In each region there are a growing number of growers and winemakers that are returning to the simple, trying to make more personality driven wines from carefully chosen sites.  Here in Santa Barbara County things have changed a lot in the last five years with new and exciting  projects coming up giving certain varietals and sites exposure. I think this will continue to happen with varietals like Chenin Blanc and other lesser known varietals getting into the limelight. Old planting that were neglected are getting love and the potential is being exploited.

Is there a style of wine that you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style? How do you handle this?

It is no secret that most critics like riper, more extracted, softer wines with less acid.  If you put yourself out there you have to be able to take criticism, it is just part of the game. I try to remind myself that it is one person's opinion. The important thing is to stay true to yourself and not to follow trends when making wine. Searching for likeminded critics, wine buyers and customers on the street is very important to keep focus.

What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine?

I enjoy drinking wines made by my friends, where I know the story and methodology behind them.  Burgundy is also high on the list with South African wines from the cooler regions. I definitely go through phases where I buy a case or two of something and drink just that for weeks, then switch to something else.

Do you collect wine? If so, what’s in your cellar?

I buy I fair amount of wine, but most of it doesn't sit around too long. There are a few bottles of Burgundy and some local Pinots stashed away though. 

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the local Santa Barbara and greater California wine industry today?

With more and more brands popping up locally there is more competition out there. That and the fact that consumers and wine buyers have the option of buying really good imported wines at great prices only make it harder to sell wine and make your margins. Staying on top of your marketing and aligning your brand with the right brokers and distributors is getting more and more important in the industry today.

Related Links

STORM by Daniel Addelson will be screening in the 2013 Sonoma Film Festival. Click to watch the online premiere now on Uncorked!Shop Storm Wines on

Check out other K&L Top Picks from the Santa Barbara/Santa Ynez Regions

Visit Storm Wines Website




K&L Book Club: Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla by Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín

*Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla* by Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín is available in hard copy at K&L!By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer (& Sherry Lover)

K&L Book Club Project #1: Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla by Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín

Here at K&L, we not only need to keep learning about wine and spirits to stay current in our profession, but are compelled to learn because it is our passion. I had an idea in the back of my mind for a while about doing a book club with the staff and when Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín published Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla ($29.95) I knew the time was right to stop thinking about it and launch the project. Currently we have more than a dozen of our wine staff here at K&L reading this book, and we are planning to meet to discuss it (and drink a bunch of Sherry!) late this April. If you have a tasting group, or just some friends who love wine, I suggest that you do the same.

Author Peter Liem by Michael Boudot. Liem also has an excellent Champagne website, Champagne Guide. Click the image above or visit to learn more.Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla by Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín is one of the top wine books that I have had the pleasure of reading. It is incredibly clear, and the authors manage to explain complex material in a way that is very easy to understand. I could not keep my nose out of it until it was finished. I have known Peter Liem for many years, as he lives in Dizy, in the heart of Champagne. He is the only American wine writer living in that region, and takes his work very seriously.

K&L Spanish Wine Buyer Joe Manekin and I were lucky enough to interview Mr. Liem about his new book, and the following is what we learned from him:

G: How did you get the inspiration to write Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla?

P: Along with Champagne, Sherry is one of my great passions in the wine world: I have been drinking Sherry all my adult life, and have been traveling to the Jerez region since 1998. I’ve also been fascinated with the body of literature surrounding Sherry, not only in Spanish but in English as well. From the early nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, there were a great number of texts written about Sherry in both languages, yet over the last thirty to Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino #18 Macharnudo Alta Jerez ($41.99) forty years there have been comparatively few, and the number of English-language books about Sherry published in the last 25 years can be counted on one hand. I thought it was time that someone wrote a new book on Sherry, one from a much more contemporary perspective, and I wanted to be the one to do it.

How did you meet Jesús Barquín? How does the process of co-authoring a book differ from writing it oneself?

Jesús and I met in Spain a number of years ago, shortly after he started the Equipo Navazos project. He opened my eyes to many things that were going on in the Sherry country, and through him I gained a much more personal and insider perspective on the region. I had initially conceived of this book as a solo project, but Jesús eventually proposed a collaboration between us, with me as the primary author. As far as co-authorships go, ours was probably one of the easiest, since Jesús insisted from the beginning that I maintain complete creative control. I wrote the majority of the text, with Jesús editing and making notes along the way, and I also consulted his existing body of writing, using themes and ideas that we thought would be appropriate.

Layer of flor inside Sherry barrel. Source: Wikipedia commons. I have read everything I could get my hands on about Sherry and visited the region, but when I left, I still did not know what flor really was or how it worked- I only knew the wonderful results. I was fascinated by your clear, detailed explanation of biologically aged sherry, who did you learn about the process from and was it difficult to get the information? Also, what sorts of ongoing studies are out there regarding the formation of flor and its implications for Sherry as well as other types of wines?

Gonzalez Byass "Matusalem" Oloroso VORS 375ml ($39.99) The majority of what I have learned about flor certainly comes from speaking with cellarmasters and winemakers in the Sherry region, many of whom have spent their entire lives working with Sherry. I owe a great deal to people like Eduardo Ojeda of Valdespino and La Guita, Antonio Flores of González Byass, Monse Molina of Barbadillo and Javier Hidalgo of Hidalgo-La Gitana, among many others, who have taken the time to educate me about the biological aging process and how it is illustrated through the criaderas and soleras of their wines. On the scientific end, there has been a lot of research done over the last 50 years by people such as M.A. Amerine, Kenneth Freiberg and J.G. Castor, and the flor aging process continues to be carefully studied by people in the Sherry region and beyond.

Palo Cortado fascinates me and I was very intrigued to learn from your book that part of the reason the style might have been more common in the past was because of old grape varietals. Has anyone shown interest in replanting some of these ancient varieties?

Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada Sanlucar de Barrameda ($26.99) The idea that authentic Palo Cortado is attributable to heirloom grape varieties is a speculative one, and only one factor in a larger theoretical hypothesis on the development of Palo Cortado in the past. It's true that prior to the arrival of phylloxera in the late nineteenth century, there were dozens, possibly even hundreds of grape varieties grown in the Sherry region. However, palomino was already becoming the dominant variety by at least the mid-nineteenth century, singled out for its exceptional quality and its affinity with albariza soils. Today I know of at least one winegrower, Dr. José Cabral in Trebujena, who has planted old varieties such as Barcelonés and Castellano in order to make white wine, but I don’t imagine there's anyone who thinks that there’s anything superior to palomino for the production of Sherry. Palomino has become the primary grape of the Sherry region for a very good reason.

Looking ahead, do you foresee an increased interest in a more hands on, personal approach to viticulture in Jerez?

Valdespino "Inocente" Single Vineyard Fino Jerez (375ml) ($18.99) I definitely think that the question of viticulture in the Sherry region is going to become more significant in the future. The first step towards that is simply addressing the issue of vineyard ownership: many people are surprised to discover that most Sherry bodegas do not, in fact, own any vines. There has historically been a clearly defined, three-tier system in Jerez that has worked very well, with growers growing grapes, almacenistas producing and aging wine, and shippers bottling and marketing the finished product. While this has become more blurred in the modern day, the structure and economics of the Sherry business still make it more practical for most shippers to buy stocks of wine from almacenistas rather than to press grapes and make young base wines of their own. One of the only shippers who is actively seeking to enlarge its vineyard holdings right now is the Grupo Estévez, who owns Valdespino, La Guita and Marqués del Real Tesoro: in 2012 the group purchased an additional 400 hectares (988 acres) of vineyards, expanding on its already impressive estate and making it the largest vineyard landholder in the region, with nearly 800 hectares of vines in total. The Grupo Estévez is still something of an anomaly in this regard, as other houses are often seeking to sell vineyard land rather than buy it, but I don’t think that it will be the only one in the region to place value on vineyard ownership, and we may well see others follow suit.

I love the parallels that you draw between Champagne and Sherry in the book. What do you think the Champagne producers could learn from the Sherry producers? What do you think the Sherry producers could learn from the Champenois?

Antonio Barbadillo "Obispo Gascón" Palo Cortado ($34.99) There are more parallels to be drawn between Champagne and Sherry than most people imagine, both in terms of the wines themselves and the ways in which they are made. In our book, I talk about the increased importance that the Champenois are placing on viticulture and vineyard terroir, and the corresponding change in the way that they view their base wines, with a movement away from the idea that these wines need to be neutral in character in order to make high-quality Champagne. While the needs and concepts of base wines are not identical in Champagne and Sherry, I would definitely like to see a similar shift in attitude occur in Jerez, as there is strong historical precedent for the importance of the vineyard in Sherry production, and a rediscovery and reevaluation of terroir and viticulture can only be of benefit to the region as a whole.

Regarding the Champenois learning from the Jerezanos, one very minor and nitpicky issue concerns the use of a so-called “solera” for blending reserve wines in Champagne, which is almost always more properly termed a perpetual cuvée, as it involves only one tier of blending: essentially, it's a solera with no criaderas. A small handful of Champagne producers are working this way, including growers such as Bérèche et Fils, H. Billiot, Francis Boulard, De Sousa, R. Dumont, Laherte Frères and Pierre Péters, and their numbers seem to be increasing. The only one I know of, though, who actually uses a true solera in the Sherry sense—that is, a system of fractionalized blending with multiple criaderas—is Anselme Selosse. I wonder if there is a substantive difference between making a reserve blend in a true solera and in a perpetual cuvée, and I would like to see some Champagne producers explore this idea. 

Sherry solera. Source: Wikipedia commons


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The Book: Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla by Peter Liem & Jesús Barquín ($29.95)

Date of Discussion: End April 2013

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A toast to you,



Winemaker Interview: David O'Reilly from Owen Roe

Photo by Zoe Mendell, Owen Roe WineryName: David O’Reilly

Winery: Owen Roe

Number of years in business: 11 years


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