Friday, February 4, 2011

Wine and Waves & Bottles and Boards: The Central Coasts' Surfer/Winemakers

Some of the Central Coasts' Surfer/Winemakers

There has long been a romantic ideal attached with winemaking; the handcrafting, the upscale image, the near rock-star status associated with being a winemaker. Conversely, there has consistently been a slacker image attached with surfing; days wasted by the ocean, a frivolous lifestyle, and the ubiquitous use of the word “dude.”  But there are similarities between these two diametric opposites. The Central Coast is home to a number of winemakers who surf, or depending on your perspective, surfers who make wine. Some of them recently discussed the congruent nature of hang time and hanging ten.

Hanging out at Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara 

From Santa Barbara, Craig Jaffurs of Jaffurs Wine Cellars, Etienne Terlinden from Summerland Winery, Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines, Mike Brown of Kalyra and Steve Clifton of Palmina, joined forces with San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles guys; Craig Shannon of Per Bacco Cellars, Steve Kroener from Silver Horse Winery, Josh Beckett of Peachy Canyon, and Eric Ogorsolka of Zenadia Cellars. They each brought their wines, their boards and their thoughts on both. Steve Clifton grew up in San Clemente and the ocean has always been a part of his life. “Both surfing and winemaking have given me a relationship with nature, to understand its cycles, seasonal changes and how the earth moves and breathes,” he says. "It’s still the one and only place I feel truly relaxed and removed from the stresses of everyday life." Etienne Terlinden has the same affection for the water. As an avid surfer and member of the U.S. naval reserves the sea is an integral part of his life both inside and outside the vineyard. “The oceans have a profound effect on climate which ultimately regulates our macro, mezzo and micro climates around the vineyards. Winemakers, especially those who make pinot noir and chardonnay in Santa Barbara, realize the great quality of wines grown in proximity to the coast,” he says. “I appreciate the importance of the sea to make my living as a winemaker. I live my daily life in awe of its force," Terlinden adds.  

A perfect afternoon to shoot the breeze and sample each others wines
 Both surfing and winemaking have their ups and downs and often there are long bouts of tedium. “Surf travels with long flat spells,” Josh Beckett says. “It's frustrating and tiring but the surfer keeps going back for more, searching out new destinations.” He admits that the similarity in winemaking is that he’ll go for weeks on end with no days off during harvest. “As a surfer I look for the perfect wave, as a winemaker I'm searching for the best fruit," he says. Craig Shannon smiles and nods. “Paddling into a wave is like tasting a wine with all your senses keyed in,” he states.  There is a murmur of agreement. “During harvest," Jaffurs adds, “I'll check Jalama Point at dawn, then visit my Lompoc and Santa Maria vineyard sites before returning to the winery in Santa Barbara.” It makes for a long day, but he wouldn't trade is for anything.

For all surfers, the ocean can be fickle, creating a sense of danger as well as a natural high. But there is something more, something spiritual and grounding. “There is mostly a feeling of calm and clarity I get from surfing,” says Eric Ogorsolka. “This helps open a door into my creativity when I’m at the winery. Winemaking is hard work, but there are moments that take finesse, an artistic ability. Anyone can make wine, but it takes a little talent to put together a wine with style and grace.” He pauses and looks at the amber sun as it kisses the horizon. “When I surf I like to feel the wave beneath my feet and ride it out, not tame it or slap it into submission. It’s the same with my winemaking; I’m not attacking the grapes but guiding them along the path, riding them out," he says.

The benefits of a hard day surfing and making wine!
Craig Jaffurs is the most poetic about bottles and boards. “My best days at the winery always come after the best morning surf. The same joy I get surfing at dawn is the same joy I get walking a vineyard, tasting through barrel samples or just opening the roll up door at the winery.” Though surfing inspires and anchors each of these guys, ultimately it doesn’t pay the bills. “Look, when the surf comes up and I need to make wine, I make wine,” Jaffurs confesses. “The surf will be there another day, but the windows to success in winemaking are fleeting. You only get one chance a year to catch the perfect harvest.”
When you visit the Central Coast, be sure to check out these wineries, and toast them with a glass of wine while you’re at the beach. Wine and waves are just part of the Central Coast lifestyle. Come explore!

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