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It was over two decades ago when I first heard Santa Barbara County winemakers share the news at a press conference that some planned to plant the Spanish wine variety albarino. I wondered: How do you know it will grow successfully here, and will people like it?

It seemed a brave move. Yet after writing about winemakers for 22 years, I know our artisans are driven by passion for their craft. Lucky for wine aficionados, they are the dreamers who produce our most highly sought after wines, even relatively rare wines such as albarino.

I'm a longtime fan of winemaker Rick Longoria’s brand, Longoria Wines. His interest in albarino began in the mid-’90s during a family vacation in Spain.

Smitten by the white wine’s exotic flavors and refreshing acidity, he decided to find a vineyard to grow the grapes. His first small block of albarino was planted in Clover Creek Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley in 2000. After it matured, he harvested his first grapes to make the wine in 2004. He produces his remarkable wine from that vineyard annually, and it sells out rapidly.

“We are fortunate to be one of a handful of wineries in California able to produce wine from this rare Spanish white grape varietal," Longoria posted on the website www.longoriawine.com. "As we do with all of our wines, we look to Europe for inspiration on how to style our wines.”

“For this wine, he continued, we get inspiration from the wonderful albarinos from the Spanish region Rias Baixas and we’ve been delighted with the results. Very dry and lean with subtle aromatics, this is the perfect wine to accompany shellfish and other seafood dishes."

He serves it with paella or chicken chile verde enchiladas.

Longoria’s new winery and tasting room is in Lompoc, a fews blocks away from the Lompoc Wine Ghetto.

Another favorite is Sinor-LaVallee in Avila Beach. Mike Sinor has a long history of working as a winemaker on the Central Coast. His range of Burgundian and Rhone varieties have earned acclaim from wine critics. He has years of experience working in Santa Maria, Edna Valley and Avila Valley, cool climate wine growing appellations.

In 2013, Mike and his wife Cheri Sinor-LaVallee realized their dream of owning a vineyard. Bassi Vineyard hugs the oceanside hills of Avila Valley, just 1.2 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Their estate vineyard is mostly planted with chardonnay, pinot noi, and syrah, but there is one block (1 acre) devoted to growing albarino.

Like Longoria, Sinor also strives to produce the Rias Baixas-style albarino. Bassi Vineyard is farmed organically with biodynamic inputs.

“These practices are observed, first and foremost, because they help make better wine," Sinor explained to guests touring the vineyard. "No stone is unturned in that pursuit. What is great tor the wine is also good for the land and the surrounding environment, so the rewards are ample for keeping everything in balance.”

Although the last two vintages, 2017 and 2016 were uniquely different due to the growing season, we still bought more of both vintages as each was excellent.

The Sinor-LaVallee tasting room is in Avila Beach. Learn more at www.sinorlavallee.com.

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When winemaker Louisa Sawyer-Lindquist created her new label, Verdad, she dedicated the brand to Spanish varietals. Her husband and partner is Bob Lindquist, a highly regarded winemaking pioneer in Santa Maria Valley. She makes Verdad wines at the Clendenen Lindquist Winery, home of Au Bon Climat Winery and Qupe Wine Cellars, respectively.

The Lindquists purchased a prime property in Edna Valley, named it Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard and planted their first grapevines. A Demeter certified biodynamic vineyard, it’s where she harvests her albarino and tempranillo each vintage.

“The wines from our organic and biodynamic vineyards are minimally processed in the cellar," Louisa said. "The philosophy behind the winemaking is to grow the best fruit possible, pick at optimum balance and let the wines reflect what the vineyards have created.”

My husband, Dan Hardesty, and I have been avid fans since her first releases.

Learn more at www.verdadwine.com.

These excellent winery tasting rooms are open most days of the week. Do yourself a favor and check them out.

Kathy Marcks Hardesty can be reached at kathy@centralcoastcritic.com.

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