When we arrived, there was not one car parked in the front. In fact, I didn’t see anyone standing around either. The place looked deserted. Immediately, my friends turned to me to ask if I made an appointment to meet with the Wine Maker. What appointment? I had thought about taking a road trip to Sagebrush Annie’s yet in the planning stages, it never occurred to me that they would be closed in January for the winter. We drove the car to the front of the building to see if there was anyone inside. Peeping from the door was the Wine Maker, Larry Hogan. “Yep, that’s him,” I uttered to my friends so delicately, “I know that cowboy hat when I see it.” We parked the car and made our way inside the building.
Well, it turns out that Sagebrush Annie’s is closed for the winter months. However, when we arrived, they were planning for their spring opening. Because Larry can’t turn anyone away, he allowed us inside for an impromptu wine tasting. I was thrilled, because one, it really was my birthday that day and two, it redeemed me with my friends who were about ready to leave me on the side of the road to hitch hike back to Los Angeles. I have never hitch hiked before nor do I want to try it.
You’re probably wondering how I discovered Sagebrush Annie’s. Well, last year I ran into them twice. The first time was at the California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara. I couldn’t resist watching how long their line was in front of their booth. A long line at a wine tasting event is like a beacon of light that says, “Taste this wine now!” The second time I ran into them was at the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Festival, where I really introduced more of my friends to their amazing wines. What I find that is so special about their wines is that each one has some guts to it. It’s jammy, it’s leathery, it’s a bit smokey, and oily. It’s all pretty darn good. In his past life, Larry Hogan, the Wine Maker did other things besides wine making. He’s a pretty modest guy when talks about wine making. He says that he doesn’t deal with the arithmetic or chemistry that is associated with making wines. He doesn’t analyze the soils and the climate in which the grapes grow either. Instead, his wine making technique is just to taste the wines and if he likes it, he bottles it. A true maverick!
My friends brought an array of the Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons. I walked away with a bottle of Sagebrush Annie’s 2009 Santa Barbara County Merlot; a birthday gift from my friends who had a changed of heart after a couple hours of wine tasting and conversation with Larry Hogan and his wife Karina. Coincidentally, it’s this very Merlot that won at the Consumer Wine Awards in Lodi where I was last month to assist in judging a few wines. I didn’t judge Merlots that day, but having seen the list of wineries who submitted entries, it was no surprise to me to see Sagebrush Annie’s on the list of competitors. Larry Hogan said to us before we walked out the door, “I know my wines are good when they win an award.” Well, Larry, my friends and I knew you had a winning Merlot before it went into competition. A toast to you and more of your award winning wines!
Sagebrush Annie’s Winery and Restaurant
4211 Highway 33
Ventucopa, CA 93252
Call ahead to confirm hours of operation or to schedule a private tasting.