Local Love: 6 Ventura County Wines from Local Vines paired with Watkins Beef, Ventura Fresh Fish #WinePW

This is my 1000 post on Wine Predator.

“Congratulations on writing 1000 posts on wine predator!” says WordPress.

As such, it seems appropriate to make it about “Local Love, Local Wine” because while I first started going wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma then worked at Ridge Vineyards in the early and mid-80s, in the mid 1990s, I got back into wine as the Art Predator by writing a newspaper column that included “all that engages the whole soul” from art to literature to film to wine to food, all local. I didn’t make a lot of money in that gig, but I did have trade: free food and drink at many area restaurants.

One of the restaurants, the long gone Nora’s of Ojai, featured wines from The Ojai Vineyard and I soon learned that if they had The Ojai Vineyard wines by the glass to order up!  I will never forget how astonishingly good the Roll Ranch Syrah was, and being surprised that the vines were grown right in upper Ojai. (Subsequenlty I’ve written about Roll ranch a few times here, for example this 2012 article about Roll Ranch Viognier and Syrah, and more recently comparing a 2010 Syrah Roll Ranch with one from Clos des Amis from November 2019.

When we learned that the Wine Pairing Weekend group of wine writers was exploring “Under the Radar Regions In the US,” we toyed with a few ideas, including El Dorado and Amador, both in the Sierra Foothills, wineries we’ve visited and ones we have received samples from.

Read about El Dorado winery Di Arie here and Miraflores here and several wineries here with more to come! See what everyone chose and links to their posts below; join our twitter chat or check out our posts using the hashtag #WinePW. 

Lake County as well as Mendocino Counties are other places I’ve visited that certainly should be better known and appreciated. I’ve liked what I’ve tasted of wines in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, and I’d love to try wines from Nevada. Outside the US, I’d love to revisit Baja; it’s been a long times since I’ve tasted there, and I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to sample sparkling wines from The British Isles soon.

The world is full of under the radar regions as well as little known grapes that make great wine!

But with it being November, the month of Thanksgiving, we thought about how grateful we are to live here in Ventura County with several wineries we love making wines from local vines all within a quick drive, and we knew what we had to do: write about home and give some local love.

So speaking of drives, when you visit Ventura County wineries that feature wines made from Ventura County vines,  what you want to do is drive “the triangle” from Santa Paula to Ojai to Ventura.

You’ll start on South Mountain in Santa Paula at Clos des Amis (make an appointment by calling (805) 795-7743) where you’ll taste on a picnic table under a pepper tree beside the lemon orchards and next to the adobe winery.

Then cross the Santa Clara River and wind your way up Santa Paula Canyon along the creek smelling the sulphur, and seeing the Thomas Fire scars. In upper Ojai, look closely in the hills and you’ll find vineyards tucked away here and there below the Topa Topas and Sulphur Mountain; this is where Topa Mountain Winery has their estate vines and where they make the wines too. Roll Ranch is hidden in those hills also as well as other small vineyards including the Block Vineyard of Zinfandel I wrote about here.

After that mostly straightway through the citrus orchards and hay fields, you’ll drop steeply down Dennison Grade into Ojai Valley proper with your next stop being Boccali’s where, along with your tasting, you definitely want to enjoy pizza, and when in season, strawberry shortcake. Much of the food they make uses their own produce, and in the fall they have a fun pumpkin patch with hay rides.

From Boccali’s, head toward Ojai. Your next stop is Azu, a restaurant that is also the tasting room for Ojai Alisal, and a great place for a bite if you’re hungry. As you head out of Ojai, you’ll find Topa Mountain Winery just past the Ojai Valley Inn. Double back a bit to The Ojai Vineyard on Montgomery just off Ojai Avenue, then after tasting, take Montgomery the back way along the sycamores and the creek (and passing the The Ojai Vineyard Winery) to Highway 33. Follow the windy path of the Ventura River on Highway 33, then south on the 101 to make your final stop at Four Brix in an industrial part of Ventura which often has music in the evenings.

There are many more wineries than these, but this gives you a good start!  In addition to wineries in Ventura, Ojai, and Santa Paula, we’re looking forward to getting to know the wineries in the Malibu AVA. I’ve visited Semler, but there are several more that I’ve tasted at events and need to visit.

In addition to locally made wine from local vines, we also chose to focus on local food: vegetables from our gardens, seafood which I ordered from Ventura Fresh Fish and picked up at the Ventura Harbor, and beef from Watkins Ranch which has a storefront a block away from Sue’s house. We had our five wines and a menu with five courses planned then realized that an organic wine used grapes from elsewhere! So Sue and John headed out last Sunday to taste and choose wines from Boccalli’s and Ojai Alisal to replace and supplement. Tough job but somebody had to do it, right?

The final addition to the menu came from a beautiful batard bread I picked up that afternoon from local Lauren Mosinka who uses mostly organic ingredients in her sourdough.

Course 1

  • Cheese Plate
    St. Angel, French washed rind cheese, Port Salute, chèvre, pomegranate seeds; bread by Lauren Mosinka
  • 2019 Boccali Vineyards Shangri-La Grenache Blanc

Course 2

  • Black Cod and Capers
    from Ventura Fresh Fish with capers, butter, lemon, and dijon mustard served over a bed of arugula with a lemon vinaigrette
  • 2016 Topa Mountain Winery Picpoul, Rich Vineyard

Course 3

  • Sausage Puffs
    Watkins Ranch sausages wrapped in puff pastry, sliced
  • 2016 The Ojai Vineyard  Barbera, Rich Vineyard

Course 4

  • Pumpkin Soup
    kabacha squash Sue grew with tumeric and ginger with pepitas
  • 2017 Ojai Alisal Vineyard Syrah Mourvedre

Course 5

  • Meatloaf
    Watkins ranch ground beef with half roasted potato and sautéed kale
  • 2013 Four Brix Winery Cani Amante Block 4 Ventura County

Course 6

  • Tart of persimmon, apple, pomegranate
    on puff pastry with fruit from friends
  • 2017 Clos des Amis Late Harvest Riesling, South Mountain Vineyard


Boccalis Grenach Blanc

2019 Boccali Vineyards Shangri-La Grenache Blanc
ABV 13%; SRP $23
Cases: 56
Thanks to Sue for buying this wine for this article!

Boccali’s Restaurant has been an institution in Ojai for over 30 years. Located away from town, it’s popular with locals, and people in the know. In 2004 the Boccalis planted a vineyard where they had a Christmas tree farm and pumpkin patch; each year they’ve added more vines. By 2007, they offered up their first vintage to the public. Today the vineyard is about five acres, and they make 1500-2500 cases.

Color: Pale lemon yellow

Nose: Grass, mud, this is not a Grenache Blanc with a pretty floral nose, hay fields, while I had a hard time wrapping my head around the nose in this wine, Sue found it to be nice, very much like the French funk we experienced while in France last year.

Palate: Vanilla (maybe from Oak Chips) lemon, butterscotch, unpretentious, tart, not sweet,

Pairing: No surprising that we went with the French washed rind cheese, such a perfect pairing. I could even see pate on the plate as well to compliment the flavors. Fantastic with the St. Angel. Sue has always had a hard time pairing wine with Port Salute cheese, but this works with it bringing out a lovely melon quality to both the wine and the cheese, cutting down the rich creaminess in the wine.

Sue: “Bocalli’s makes food wine. People don’t go there to just taste wine. They go there to have their fantastic food and taste wine that goes well with it.”

Topa Mountain Picpoul with cod and capers

2016 Topa Mountain Winery Picpoul, Rich Vineyard, Ventura County
ABV 12.5%; SRP $
Thanks Sue for sharing this wine with us!

Sue’s been a member here from the beginning; we’ve featured their wines twice before in 2020, in this coursed meal with their wines here and in this article about the 2020 harvest here. Sue loves to hang out in their large patio outside summer and winter and bring a picnic.

Black cod with capers butter lemon and dijon mustard served over a bed of arugula with a lemon vinegarette. Locally caught fish. Definitely a wow pairing.

Color: Very clear pale straw

Nose: Not much fruit, all about the minerality, the earth, herbal chaparral, oak woodland, very much reflects the land where it is harvested. underlying citrus, and fennel pollen, fennel fronds, bee pollen. Much more herbal than fruit,

Palate: For Sue, the fennel came straight through to the palate as well, very clean, very clear, bright, light and lively, eureka lemon at the front of the palate, eureka lemonade with a hint of honey, fennel/licorice/fennel/sagebrush finish. There is a clay siltiness. Good acidity and very smooth. Definitely a keeper and totally in my wheel house. Thanks Sue for saving it for us to enjoy.

Pairing: We paired this wine with Seared black cod with capers and mustard, over a bed of arugula. Sue found everything in the recipe to work so well with the wine. I thought it had a bit too much mustard, but Sue disagreed with me, and in the end, it did not stop me from going back for more. As Sue mentioned the dish brought out fruit in the wine that was not present before pairing it with food. There is stone fruit and mellow citrus with the meal where as before it was all tart lemon bright fruit. What a great combination. The richness of the sea is forefront rather than the briny quality of the sea. Anything with butter and the sea is going to be a great pairing. Great wine on its own, even better with food. For Sue, this is not her go to type of wine, but give it a little fish butter capers and lemon and it is a game changer. so fantastic!

Ojai Vineyard Barbera

2016 The Ojai Vineyard  Barbera, Rich Vineyard
ABV 14.5%: SRP $
Sue and I are both wine club members here; thanks Sue for sharing this wine with us!

For the Watkins ranch sausage puffs, Sue took the sausages out of their casings, then wrapped the sausages in puff pastry like a pig in a blanket. Slice into 1 inch disks, then bake on parchment paper on a baking sheet for 20 minutes or until crispy.

Color: This is a 2016 but it looks like it is a baby, ruby with a mauve rim. rich legs on the glass. Dark in nature medium ++.

Nose: Cherry, more cherry, cherry and mint, cherry ricola.

Palate: So bright, so tart, all about the acidity in this wine. You would think the wine came from Italy. The tannins have integrated and mellowed the acidity is on the forefront. You could easily lay this down this wine for another 5 years. Cherry, tart cherry, super tart, tons of acidity, not much tannins, it is all about the fruit and the acidity. Yearns for food. Shelia who knows and understands Italian wine was intregued with the wine. It did not seem like the Barbera that she knows, however she kept going back for more commenting that it would be such a fantastic pizza wine. (which I was thinking about all along)

Pairing: Tonight we paired this with some Watkins ranch sausage puffs. Hot out of the oven and super crispy, what a great bite with the wine, making the wine taste entirely different with this course than on its own. The acidity is tamed by the food. The quality choice to go with this course. Both sausages (Spicy Italian and Traditional German) brought out different characteristics. The cooking spices(nutmeg) in the German sausages made a sweeter pairing, while the spicy Italian brings out fruit and sweetness of the fruit. I preferred the Italian sausage to the German sausage for this pairing, but they were both fantastic. Local quality beef, and house made sausages make all the difference, and the beautiful wine pairs perfectly with it. Available at WatkinsCattleCo.com or GotBeef@WatkinsCattleCo.com. It is worth the effort.

Ojai Alisal syrah Mourvedre

2017 Ojai Alisal Vineyard Syrah Mourvedre
ABV 16.1%; SRP $
Syrah 77%, Mourvedre 23%
Sue bought this wine a the Azu restaurant tasting room for this article.

Paired with tumeric, ginger, pumpkin soup.

Color: Medium density, ruby with a purple rim, nice clarity yet looks unfined or filtered

Nose: Florals and fruit, potpourri, black pepper, rose, blueberry pie, vanilla, cedar, juniper,

Palate: Light, fruit forward, sage, menthol, eucalyptus, Spicy pepper, a bit of earthiness, there is a really interesting saltiness, kind of like ground cinnamon and how it feels on your palate. Not the flavor, but the texture of ground cinnamon. very tannic, sweet oak is present, blueberry galette, fresh blueberries, this is not a jammy wine. The texture is very interesting. It is a different texture that I usually get from Syrah or Mouveddre. The husky musky Mouvedre is on the finish. Huskiness of a man or woman who has been out working. For such a high alcohol wine, it does not come across on the palate. Taste a bit more wood without food

Pairing: We paired this with a Tumeric, Ginger, Pumpkin soup. The Pumpkin were from Sue’s harvest. With the exception of the yogurt, this is a vegan dish. The earthy qualities of the food matched perfectly. There is an umami to the soup. Creamy and rich on its own without any cream added. When you talk about pairing there is contrasting and complimentary characteristics. These two match each other. They married beautifully together. You can use almost any winter squash with this recipe, but the richness of the Kaboch really matched well texturally. Creaminess without adding cream or butter, and oh so good with the earthy qualities of the wine, in the bringing forth so much fruit. Sue took a long time to get through this course savoring every moment. “More wine please!”

Four Brix Red Blend

2013 Four Brix Winery Cani Amante Block 4 Ventura County
ABV 14.3%;
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot
Sue is a wine club member here too! Thanks Sue for sharing this wine.

Color: Cherry cola, garnet with a tinge of brick, mauve rim, dense and dark, looks to be unfined or filtered.

Nose: For Sue, this has a very heady nose while for me it was Dr. Pepper and spice, sarsaparilla, vanilla. While the alcohol is present, it’s really all about fruit, bramble berry, and blue fruit.

Palate: Big and bold, very fruit forward, heavy hitter, cocktail wine, Lucious, cherry, blue fruit, raspberry, bramble berry, tons of fruit, as well as tannins. This is a wine that has laid down well and could even lay down longer. Mint and eucalyptus,

Pairing: Paired with meatloaf (Watkins ranch ground beef) roast potato and sautéed kale.Big wine meets big meat, and it works. The bold wine works so well with this rich beef meal. The sweet BBQ sauce on top of the meat loaf is also enhanced by the rich fruit in the wine. Prior to the meal, we were thinking that it might be too big to taste alone. The food and the wine together is a game changer.

2017 Clos des Amis Late Harvest Riesling, South Mountain Vineyard
ABV 14.2%; SRP $25 (375 ml)
Bruce and Gretel gave me this wine as a thank you for helping prune and then pick the 2020 riesling.Thank you! 

This wine is so varietally correct. Read about this year’s harvest of the 2020 vintage here.

Color: Golden buttercup

Nose: Petrol and honeycomb, fennel and freshness,

Palate: Bright fresh tart fruit, apricot, Shelia, “This is the best American dessert wine I have had.  The texture is different than most American dessert wines. There is a chalky texture because of the  acreage that it is grown on. chunks of limestone. and a steep slope. Kind of like a white chocolate and honeycomb wax.

Pairing: There isn’t a lot of viscosity for a dessert wine like this which is intriguing. Sue put a fried sage leaf leftover from the soup on the tart as a garnish and I really liked the wine with the bite of sage leaf.

Under the Radar Regions: Ventura County

For other under the Radar Regions in the US, check out posts by these participants: 

Twitter chat questions: 

  • 11:00 am ET Welcome to #WinePW chat for November on Under the Radar US Wine Regions! Where are you tweeting from? Introduce yourself, share a link to your blog. Visitors and Wineries too!
  • 11:05 am ET Q2 Which state or wine region did you write about? Tell us something you learned #WinePW
  • 11:10am ET Q3 Tell us about the wine you’re featuring today. Was it easy to find? #WinePW 
  • 11:15am ET Q4 Does the area you wrote about have a signature grape variety or do they produce many wines? #WinePW 
  • 11:20 am ET Q5 What surprised you about the area you wrote about? Was this a fun topic#WinePW 
  • 11:25 am ET Q6 What did you choose for your pairing? Reasons? Post a link! #WinePW 
  • 11:30 am ET Q7 Your thoughts on your pairing, success or failure, no matter! #WinePW 
  • 11:35am ET Q8 Do you usually drink domestic wines or are you more prone to order an imported wine? #WinePW
  • 11:40am ET Q9 What’s the next American wine region you want to discover or learn about? #WinePW 
  • 11:45am ET Q10 Can you find local American wines easily in your area? #WinePW 
  • 11:50am Q11 Do you have any final thoughts or new questions for the group? #WinePW 
  • 11:55am Thanks for joining #WinePW. 
  • 12:00pm ET Be sure to join #WinePW in December as we explore Cabernet Franc from Around the World with @WendyKlik.  See you then!



9 thoughts on “Local Love: 6 Ventura County Wines from Local Vines paired with Watkins Beef, Ventura Fresh Fish #WinePW

  1. Love the local focus…and I was wondering if you had baked that beautiful bread. It’s nice to live in a place where food artisans abound. And great wines, too, of course. Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gwendolyn what a lovely trip you took us on to Ventura County. I loved your descriptions of the turns in the road and I felt like I was right there with you. That dinner was insane and the wines seemed exciting too. I especially like the fact that there were so many different grape varieties from a host of countries. So much going on in your neck of the woods. Lucky you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Honestly, after a long hiatus, the scene here is just getting established and seeing what “Sticks” so lots of different kinds of grapes are being grown! We have a really terrific climate and soils for growing just about everything. We are really lucky.


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