The Wandering Wino Blog

Larner Corks

It is often said, "Wine is made in the vineyard." If this statement is true, then it might be a foregone conclusion that winemakers select their vineyards very carefully. Most industry professionals would likely agree that the fruit source is key, and is the reason so many consumers buy wines from specific regions and designated vineyards.


Larner General Store Vineyard


I had the honor being included in a rare viewing/tasting of the Larner Vineyard located in a newly (Oct 2013) designated AVA, Ballard Canyon, in Santa Barbara County. The tasting was a focused tasting of seven different winemakers' wines, all sourcing from the Larner Vineyard; and we, of course, tasted  the Larner wines among the seven. 


Michael Larner


Our Larner Vineyard tasting initiated with the man himself, the winemaker, the viticulturist, and family vineyard's second generation, Michael Larner. Michael offered us a  short vineyard walk/talk, while tasting a beautiful and bright, 129-case production Larner Malvasia Bianca ($28). 

Larner Malvasia Bianca


Malvasia Bianca is generally a rare (only 1.4 acres planted at Larner) and lesser known varietal. Malvasia is also often misunderstood to be produced exclusivly as a sweet wine. The Larner Malvasia is the type of wine I'd describe as the wine to open while cooking, when by the pool, while eating Asian or seafood, while walking, talking, breathing, or just when one might desire a beautiful wine. This is the wine that one might be comfortable imbibing earlier in the day, or perhaps to liven the palate with its beautiful acidity. 


Larner Syrah

Michael Larner


Morgan McLaughlin, executive director of the Santa Barbara Vintners Association fittingly has dubbed Larner, "the educator," as he holds a Bachelor's in Geology, Master's in Viticulture, enology, and teaches. Larner has much education, teaches at a local college, teaches wine industry professionals; he is a winemaker and a grower of top-tier fruit. I think of Michael Larner as " Dr Rocker" because he is one of the Santa Barbara County rock stars in the wine industry, and is the only one with a geology edge. 


Larner Vineyard


In Larner's words,"We were first Larner Vineyard. So for me it starts in the vineyard, it starts in the soil, it starts in the land, it starts in the territory. When we came up with our own estate wines, we wanted to bring in a way to convey my geology background and the land. So all my labels have a soil column on them if they are a mono varietal. Each soil column is slightly different to match the wine. I used a tool as a geologist that separates sieves of different sized particles." (The circles on the labels represent that geology tool.)


"Our logo has four rings and that is because we have four founding members: Stevan, Christine, Monica, and Michael Larner." - Michael Larner

(The family patriarch, Stevan Larner passed away in 2005).


Larner Barn


Our small group walked through the beautiful vineyard down to the barn for the full tasting with several producers. Many winemakers brought out some older gems from their private cellars, like Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines and his inaugural 2003 Pape Star, an homage to Chateauneuf-Du-Pape. Also, Russell from Herman Story (Paso Robles winery) pulled out a 2004 Larner Syrah among several other long sold-out gems. Mikael Sanguin from Kaena nearly poured a complete vertical of Grenache from 2006-2012.


Kunin Wine


The tasting was arranged for a select few media and nearly felt like we had a room of stars just waiting to share their own wines from the Larner Vineyard. The wines had different styles and approaches to the winemaking, but what remained consistent was the high quality, stand-out vintages, and vineyard signature characteristic. This was truly an event of "no bottle left behind," as each one would be prized on its own, no matter the vintage or producer. 

Casa Dumetz

Michael Larner

"I think the signature of this vineyard is minerality, a crushed rock or sort of a chalkiness to it. The way the chalk interacts changes the way the vine grows and may express a more mineral tone. So I always see it in the wines. There is a characteristic of minerality, even at different ripeness levels." - Michael Larner


Wandering Wino Michael Larner  

After tasting through the wines, I whole-heartedly agree with Larner's signature that brings me to a greater understanding of the vineyard, and reasons for such a demand and waiting list for Larner Vineyard fruit. Another consistent standout, to me, was the 2009 vintage as being rather exceptional for each of the producers. It is no wonder so many great winemakers surround Larner, and seek the vineyard's fruit. Picking any of these wine favorites would nearly be like going to major league baseball's Hall of Fame, and saying you prefer Willie Mays to Babe Ruth, or Clayton Kershaw. However, some highlights from the wines tasted would include:



McPrice Myers

McPrice Myers - 2012 Homeage A Stevan Larner (no 2009's poured)


Herman Story


Herman Story - 2009 Syrah




Kunin - 2009 Syrah /  2003 Pape Star  


Paul Lato Pouring


Paul Lato - 2009 Syrah / 2012 Syrah


Sonja Casa Dumetz

Casa Dumetz - 2012 Grenache (sole offering)


Kaena Grenache


Kaena - 2009 Grenache (Sadly I didn't complete this tasting)


Larner Barrel


Larner - 2010 Reserve Syrah / 2014 Malvasia Bianca / 2014 Rose (GSM) / 2010 Elemental (GSM) (No 2009's tasted)

One might easily come to the conclusion that if each winery poured at least one 2009 vintage wine, it would be clear that this vineyard, in this year, crushed it. One thing is for certain: There was not a single wine, from any vintage, from this vineyard, I wouldn't be proud to pour at a dinner party.

Every single wine tasted in this day proudly waived the Larner flag by including the Larner name on their own label, including many wines pre-Ballard AVA.   


Larner Vineyard Tree


After discussing my amazing experience of this day with a local winemaker, he said to me, "Shawn, you could make good wine from the Larner vineyard." Knowing full well I have no formal wine-making training. No more evidence should be required to demonstrate Larner as a premier vineyard in Santa Barbara County.  

If wine is truly made in the vineyard, then the Larner Vineyard is where many want to be - Swiss watches, Italian shoes, Russian Caviar, Cuban cigars, and Ballard Canyon Larner Vineyard wine (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Malvasia Bianca).


Larner Winemakers

Above Photo Top Row, Left To Right  - Mikael Sigouin/Kaena, Russell P./Herman Story, Sonja Magdevskii/Casa Dumetz, Mac Myers/McPrice Myers, Bottom Row - Seth Kunin/Kunin, Michael Larner/Larner, Paul Lato/Paul Lato



  • General Facts - 

  • Vineyard planted: 1999

  • Vines Planted: 34 acres - 23 acres Syrah, 6 acres Grenache, 2.5 acres Viognier, 2 acres Mourvedre, 1.4 acres Malvasia Bianca

  • Property total size: 134 acres

  • Clients: 23 wineries, including Palmina, Jaffures Wine Cellars, Sine Qua Non, McPrice Myers, Herman Story, Tercero, Kaena, Kunin, Casa Dumetz, and Paul Lato. 

  • Vineyard Designated: 30+ wine labels in market

  • Organically farmed

  • Michael Larner, founder of the Ballard Canyon AVA

  • Larner winery, founded in 2009: 1,000 case production

  • Tasting Room: 2900 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos CA (805) 688-8148