One of our favorite stops on the Foxen Trail was Koehler Winery where we met with the winemaker, Colin Murphy.

After graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a Film degree, he started in a tasting room. The idea was to earn and save money to move to Los Angeles. Soon after he started, the “lightbulb” went off, and he knew the wine industry was where he belonged. Nine months later he was picking grapes and making wine.

Koehler Winemaker, Colin Murphy
Koehler Winemaker, Colin Murphy

He worked with and was mentored by some of the most talented Winemakers on the Central Coast. Stephan Bedford (Bedford Winery), Alan Phillips (Fontes & Phillips), Norm Yost (Flying Goat Cellars), and Kris & Bruno (D’Alfonso-Curran), all shaped his wines today. He looks up to Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, and Richard Sanford, to name just a few who are pioneers in the field in Santa Barbara County.

His goal is to make the best wine possible. He is a very hands-on winemaker. He single-handedly vinifies the grapes. He performs his own punch-downs, pump overs, pressing, racking, topping, and most lab work. He also makes it a point to walk through the Estate Vineyard every day on the property. Every vintage is unique and requires a different approach.

One interesting thing we learned is that Colin is experimenting with Diam Corks. The DIAM cork is a micro-agglomerated cork, also known as a “technical cork”. High-grade cork particles are immersed in supercritical CO², a liquid form under pressure. This is the sanitation process. The particles are bound together by the same binder used for sparkling wine corks. His experience with this cork has been positive, as he can report anecdotally, zero corked bottles. His experience with “natural” corks has been 2-3% of bottles showing signs of cork taint. All of his stainless whites get a screw cap finish, and the balance of the wines get the DIAM cork.

So what is a Diam Cork?

DIAM Cork
DIAM Cork

Some 95% of it is processed cork; the rest is acrylate and polyurethane. Diam uses only finely milled, de-lignified, suberin-rich cork (around 40% of the total raw weight of cork bark), which is then flooded with supercritical carbon dioxide. This is very hot, intensely pressurized carbon dioxide in liquid form which sluices out all of the chemical impurities in the milled cork, including TCA, which is just one among around 125 chemical products extracted by the solvent. The cleaned cork is then mixed with talc-like acrylate microparticles (which expand when heated to fill the minute air spaces between the fragments of cork) and a binder to hold the cork together. This ‘glue’ is a similar polyurethane to that used to link the different parts of a traditional Champagne cork. The corks are then ‘satinised’ with silicon (sparkling wines), paraffin (spirits) or a mix of the two (table wines).

Diam corks are available in three levels of permeability — and research director Christophe Loisel stresses that this permeability is right through the whole body of the Diam, not simply down the sides as tends to be the case for natural cork. Peroxide bleaching is available for those who want it – but, for example, Bouchard insists on no bleaching at all, and uses the most impermeable level of Diam. It’s recently launched a top-of-the-range ‘Diam 30’, guaranteed to perform faultlessly for 30 years. 

About Koehler Winery

Koehler Winery Sign
Koehler Winery Sign

Koehler Winery sits on a spectacularly beautiful 100-acre estate, surrounded by rolling hills and a small riparian stream that gently nestles its way throughout the property. The estate’s storied history includes ownership by one of the most successful television producers in history, renowned for such iconic shows as The Love Boat, Dynasty, and Wonder Woman. It was during this period over 40 years ago that the vineyard was expanded to its current sixty-seven acres. By the time the property was acquired by the Koehler family in 1997, the estate’s bountiful vines and superb fruit were documented as among the best in the Santa Ynez Valley. Once the Koehlers recognized that some of the best wines in the valley were being produced with grapes harvested from their vineyards, they resolved to launch their own winery and tasting room. Drawing on their own entrepreneurial experience, the Koehler’s mission was to create a world-class winery committed to making premium wines at affordable prices.

The Vineyard

Situated on the celebrated Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in the Santa Ynez Valley, Koehler Winery is located in one of California’s most diverse and distinctive growing regions. The micro-climatic diversity on the 100-acre estate results in a superb quality of fruit, and Koehler’s 40-year-old vines are recognized as among the best in the Santa Ynez Valley and surrounding area.

Winemaker Colin Murphy and Vineyard Manager Felipe Hernandez, one of the most skilled and knowledgeable vineyard managers in Central California, collaborate regularly to ensure the quality of the fruit improves from year to year. The vines are diligently tended, from pruning through harvest, to ensure they thrive in harmony with the natural conditions of the vineyard.

Since the Koehlers acquired the property, they have grafted six additional varietals to the original four, and plantings on the estate now include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Riesling, Syrah, Sangiovese, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Viognier.

Our tasting included the following wines:

Spring Vineyards
Spring Vineyards

2017 Rosé of Grenache

This is not your typical boring Provence. It is a Rosé that has depth, body and lets you know you are having something clearly unique. The grapes for 2017 Rosé were harvested the same day as the red wine harvest, in the cool early morning fog. Lighter clusters of lower brix were “cherry picked” for the press. Minimal skin contact delivered a wine with a pale shallot complexion.

The aromas are faint strawberry, tropical hibiscus, and wet stone. Notes of tart salmonberry, key lime, and plum skin characterize the palate. Although bright with acid, there is plenty of flesh to balance out the minerality. This was a very refreshing wine and a nice change from your typical Provence Rosé.

2015 Reisling:

This is one of the original varietals of the vineyard. Light straw in color, with aromas of fragrant nectarine, elderflower, and Honeydew melon, this Riesling is a show stopper. Juicy white peach greets one on the first sip, followed by spicy ground ginger, and ripe Meyer lemon. A residual sugar level of 0.05% adds length to the fruit on the palate balanced by substantial acidity. The wine finishes with bold key lime and luscious honey. Not too sweet
and very drinkable without food.

2015 Chardonnay Reserve:

All the fruit for this wine came from the four-acre Chardonnay block in the Casa Blanca Vineyard. The golden straw-colored 2015 Chardonnay has a nose of fragrant orange blossom, ripe quince, and traces of hazelnut. The first sip reveals flavors of baked lemon tart and crisp green apple. Secondary nuances of tropical guava give way to a finish of opulent honey and golden toast.

2015 Sangiovese:

Koehler Tasting Room
Koehler Tasting Room

The Estate Sangiovese is perennially one of the Winemaker’s favorite wines. The fruit for this wine came from two distinct blocks in the Casa Blanca Vineyard. The two blocks were picked and vinified together for a seamless blend. The wine was aged for 22 months in 25% new French oak barrels. Dark ruby with a violet edge, the aromatic Sangiovese is reminiscent of black cherry, purple violets, and ripe cassis. Black currants and juicy strawberries come to mind with an initial sip. Further examination reveals dried plum, fresh herbs, and slight tar on the finish. Straddling the New World/Old World paradigm, this bright, food-friendly Sangiovese displays a tannic architecture on which is hung the ripe and ample fruit.

This was clearly my favorite of the day! It easily competes with any Italian. This varietal is quickly becoming a popular grape in California as it’s being done by several vineyards.

2014 Mouvèdre:

When we have a good GSM we tend to overlook the qualities that the Mouvèdre brings. This clearly highlights its qualities. Estate-grown Mouvèdre shows its stand-alone quality year after year. This very limited production wine displays notes of fruit leather, floral violets, and baking spices in the nose. Soft red fruit and a savory mid-palate create a delicate interplay between earth and fruit. Long chain tannins provide a framework with which to balance the elegant flavors. I am a big fan of Mouvèdre as a single varietal and this wine did not disappoint. This is a “Must Have” for any cellar!

2014 Estate Syrah:

The grapes for the 2014 Syrah came from three separate blocks in the Casa Blanca Vineyard, planted to three distinct “clones”. (877, Noir, and Estrella) These lots were vinified separately and aged for 20 months in 30% new oak barrels, after which the best barrels were selected and blended. Slightly toasty notes compliment the typical aromas of spicy boysenberry, black olive, and smoked meats. While not necessarily fruit driven, there is still a juicy berry component backed by subtle cinnamon and vanilla. The Syrah finishes with dark jam, peppered with hints of cocoa and anise.

This was the overall favorite of our group. A big Syrah that screamed for a big steak or barbeque.

The wines here are high quality and made with a lot of passion by the winemaker. If you are on the Foxen Trail, do not pass this winery by. Pricing is very reasonable considering the others in the area and the quality of the wines. If you are lucky to meet Colin, tell him you read about Koehler on our website!

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Richard is a Sommelier who, along with his wife Jarlene, is a regular visitor to California's many wine regions, including those you've never heard of! He's also an aficionado of wines that are off the beaten path.

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