One of Los Olivos’ best kept secrets is Artiste located off of Grand Ave. Inspired by Hotel Baudy in Giverny, France, this wine tasting studio is also a functioning art studio and haven for local artists and wine lovers.
Not only do they make their own exclusive wine blends inspired by the fine wines of France, Italy and Spain but they also label their wines with art provided by local artists in order to make their bottles a true work of art inside and out.
In addition to wine tastings they also hold wine blending classes which is how Terri and I happened to fall upon this gem via Livingsocial.com. They were offering a one hour wine blending class similar to the one we took at Agua Dulce Vineyards several weeks back. Terri thought it would be the perfect way to kick off our wine vacation so she scheduled it as the first stop on our wine tour.
As soon as you walk into Artiste you are immediately greeted with vibrant colors and works of art displayed on their walls, ceilings and pretty much every surface throughout the studio. There are canvases, easels, paints and journals throughout the studio that are provided for you to unleash your inner Renoir and let your creative energy flow as you savor the wine. They also have art competitions to be their featured artist where your winning piece is turned into a wine label and matching Giclee prints are sold in the studio.
Laurie Blundell, the tasting room manager, was our hostess for the afternoon as she toured us through the studio and facilitated our blending class. Not only was she delightful but she was also incredibly informative as she explained the style of wine we would be focusing on – Super Tuscans. If you’re like me, you’re probably a little in the dark about Italian wines. Laurie was incredible in giving us the back story of what “Super Tuscan” means and how we would create it.
To give you the general low down on a “Super Tuscan” (gosh I hope I can explain this as well as she did) it is basically an enhanced version of the wines that traditionally came from the Tuscany region of Italy such as Chianti (made from Sangiovese grapes) – which were not so highly celebrated before the 1970’s. You might remember the traditional table wine you use to see on Italian restaurant tables? The kind that sat in the ugly straw baskets in the center of the table with no label and not much of a taste? Well, some rogue wine makers from Tuscany decided to be renegades and tried to increase the quality of those wines by blending non-Italian grapes into the mix to give the wine more punch. Although illegal at the time as Italian wine laws are incredibly strict, these wine makers found a loop hole in the laws and started infusing small amounts of French grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot and the like into the blends. These small changes made a big impact on the wine world. Famed wine critic, Robert Parker, was the first to coin the phrase “Super Tuscan” in the 70’s as he began to notice the increase in quality and cult like following of these new Tuscan wines. I believe the official classification of these types of wines are called “Toscano” although “Super Tuscan” is term used in the wine trade.
Terri and I blended our own Super Tuscan made of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cab and 20% Merlot. As the story usually goes, we spent so much time drinking and making conversation with Laurie that our one hour class turned into a two hour excursion as we laughed, drank and shopped. After we made and bottled our wine, we tasted the rest of their wines on their tasting menu. With wines called “Fools in love” and “En Passion” – I mean how can you turn THAT down? As expected, they were incredibly tasty and the labels were just beautiful! Part of our package was to paint our own wine label for our custom blend. However, we ran out of time as we shut the place down at 5:30 pm (most tasting rooms in Santa Barbara wine country close early due to permit restrictions).
We joined the Artiste wine club which not only includes quarterly shipments of their amazing and exclusive wine blends, but you also receive a 5×7 Giclee print from their many featured artists. It’s a win/win for the art and wine lover in you.
If you’re ever in the area, don’t forget to give them a visit. You’ll be glad you did. Just be sure to bring your $$$ because everything there is simply irresistible.
All photos taken with the iPhone: