Chardonnay. Pinot Noir. Syrah. And Norm Beko.
Cottonwood Canyon Winery is an experience not to be missed. The vineyard sits on a serene 78-acre estate on the northern edge of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in the Santa Maria Valley. It’s such a beautiful place to witness Santa Maria Valley winemaking at its best. The day we were there, even the cows were laughing on the hillside.
Founded in 1988 by the Beko family, it is a winery embedded in the philosophy of aged wines. In fact, their tagline is “distinctively different age worthy wines.” And, yes, there is a difference.
This aging process allows Cottonwood’s wines to retain their distinct flavors. As we sat there with a crisp Chardonnay, in awe by Norm’s knowledge, he explains “sniff, then sip, then swirl.” This gentle coaching could possibly be a game changer for many of us. As we wondered, “were we doing it all wrong all this time?” – we happily sipped our Chardonnay. We definitely got a distinct flavor. We then swirled.
Next, Norm provided us with a spicy asparagus, a signature product that Cottonwood Canyon sells in their tasting room. Took a bite, then another sip of Chardonnay. It was surprisingly different. “The flavor changes as your palate is no longer shocked,” said Norm. What a treat to taste another distinct flavor, yet from the same Chardonnay.
As the tasting continued, we were exposed to new notes each time, all different – all distinct.
Perhaps the most special part of Cottonwood Canyon experience is the wine caves. Built in the mid 1990s, Cottonwood Canyon was the first winery in Santa Barbara County to build them. Wine caves are subterranean structures built for the purpose of storing and aging of wine. These caves provide energy, space and water efficiency.
Wine caves naturally provide both high humidity and cool temperatures, which is key to the storage and aging of the wine. Burrowed beneath Cottonwood’s hillside, their cave temperature maintains a constant 62 ̊F with a humidity level rounding up to 95 percent. This man-made cave is approximately 6,000 square feet. Its barrel capacity allows for storage up to 700 60-gallon wine barrels. Not to mention, Cottonwood Canyon hosts its annual Halloween bash in these caves (as well as other special events), known to be quite popular among locals.
The entire Cottonwood philosophy is to process grapes as naturally as possible; utilizing the near perfect conditions of the caves, which allow the wine to develop in barrels without any interruptions. To add additional character, Norm hand-built custom-made wine cave doors out of a 200-year-old redwood tree from an old Ohio bridge.
In the Santa Maria Valley, it is not unusual to meet directly with the owners and winemakers themselves. Friendly faces, like Norm’s, are as abundant as the grapes in the Valley. Each experience is unique and personable, and visitors will walk away with a little bit of history, more knowledge, and a new appreciation for the wines – all in an inviting and unpretentious environment.
For more information and for tasting room hours, visit cottonwoodcanyon.com or call 805.937.8463. Cave tours are available on weekends by appointment only and are subject to availability, weather permitting. They are $29 per person and include a full wine tasting flight, guided cave tour and a barrel tasting.