Latigo Q&A: Chase Carhartt
What did you have for breakfast today?
A cup of coffee, and a small bowl of greek yoghurt with granola.
You just recently returned from a 3-month winemaking jaunt to Patagonia. Could you chat about that?
One night at home, I drank a bottle of Bodega Chacra Pinot Noir and my previous idea of Argentinean wine completely shifted. The next day I made a game plan for how I was going to get there, and I didn’t stop until it became a reality.
My time spent at Bodega Chacra (the winery) was no question a priceless opportunity, but I also was lucky enough to stay on a “Finca” in Salta surrounded by some of the highest elevation vineyards (over 9,000 feet). Obviously the southern section of Patagonia was incredible, some of the most majestic landscaping I have ever traveled through.
How much luck is involved in making wine? Any examples of big successes vs. failures when you least expected it?
I would say winemaking is science and tradition in terms of hard work, but it is also very lucky, in terms of mother nature and the “magic” that goes on inside the cellar. Winemaking in my opinion is 80+% in the vineyard and 20-% in the winery. You must have good fruit to make good wine, period. As far as epic failures, we’ve been lucky enough to never have had anything go horribly bad. I have had unexpected results of course, but if you work as hard as you can and stick to the quality principles you know, a palatable product usually follows. In terms of successes, I once aged a Cinsault for 3 years (not entirely planned), and it ended up being one of the fastest selling wines we ever released.
Could you chat about the special geography of the Santa Ynez Valley?
The main geographical anomaly is the Santa Barbara Mountain range which basically runs East to West. This mountain range separates us from Santa Barbara, and subsequently all the fog etc. On the western end of the range, we have a cut in the mountains where HWY 101 runs through. This is a direct path to the ocean, and so cool air flows through, wraps around the mountain, heads west, straight to Lompoc, where there is also ocean influence. Along this path is the Sta. Rita Hills, an appellation that put the Santa Ynez Valley on the map in the early 70’s for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is still world renowned as a cool climate. From there, you head about 20 miles, as the crow flies, and hit the Happy Canyon AVA. This is the warmer climate of the valley where Bordeaux varietals are thriving. The rule of thumb is that the temperature can vary as much as one degree per mile between these two regions. That’s pretty dramatic in the world of wine, and so we can successfully grow the gauntlet of varieties within this relatively small area.
We just emerged from a pretty gnarly drought. How did that affect your business?
Initially (2012-2014) we saw great yields and the plants seemed to be showing very well even with the increased stress from the drought. However 2015, and 2016 more so, we saw the plants in our vineyard start to shut down during the harvest time a little earlier than usual. Everything turned our great in terms of the fruit, but I would have been seriously concerned about 2017 if we hadn't have received a solid rain this winter. Grapevines liked to be stressed, but too much can be a bad thing.
Was there ever a time when the business was seriously threatened financially?
We have never been seriously threatened. I think if you plan ahead, stick to your guns, and work hard, you will always make it through.
In your opinion, what are the most common misconceptions about wine?
Either that pink wine (rose) is sweet, or Merlot cannot make a quality wine. I believe we prove both of these wrong.
Tell us about the livestock on the farm (current and planned). How much of the food you eat comes directly from the ranch?
Aside from my mom, pretty much everyone that works for us or lives on the property eats meat. I personally do not consume drastic amounts, but try to have a varied diet. However, my belief is that if I am going to eat meat, I want to know where it comes from and how it was raised. A few years ago I decided that I have a unique opportunity in this ranch to raise animals for my friends and family, and so that started a small-scale operation. We currently raise three to four pigs per year, a couple steers, four lambs, and have free range chickens who we use for eggs. The meat from those animals is for family and friends, but I also work with a few restaurants who serve our product at select times during the year. It has been a really fruitful experience.
The tasting room in Los Olivos is one of the coziest places we're ever been. How would you say it compares to others in the state?
Not to be full of myself, but I don’t think it does compare. We are proud of the place we have built. We claim one of the coziest, most informative, and most service oriented tasting rooms in the state if not the world. We have a unique style and good service, and that is what separates us from the pack.
What other businesses (doesn't have to be wine) in the Santa Ynez / SB region to you admire, and why?
Ellen’s Pancake House Buellton – They have been true to their roots for as long as I have known them and before that. No flash, just original as it gets. Great service, classic diner food.
La Superica in SB – I believe they have always been true to their style even through all the hype they’ve received. Family, fresh ingredients, timeless ambiance. Always humble.
Richie's Barbershop in Montecito- I think these guys figured out a style and ran with it. Even though I haven’t cut my hair in a while I will always go back there. I dig the spot.
S Y Kitchen / Sides Hardware and Shoes / Industrial Eats – These restaurants in the Santa Ynez Valley have made quite a name for themselves for unique food and great service. They all have their own vibe, their own identity. I look for restaurants that will not only feed me, but provide an experience, and I think these three have it down.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Know yourself and your worth, and strive to be the best you can be every single day. However, within that, remember to stay humble, take your time, and never forget that what you think you want does not always come in the package you had anticipated. Take time to meditate on your goals, and always remember what really matters at the end of the day is your happiness.
Thanks so much, Chase!
Visit the Carhartt Vineyards Tasting Room in Los Olivos.
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