Crawford Family Wines: In pursuit of balance

Mark Crawford and Cori Solomon

Each year the wines from Crawford Family Wines get better and better. I first discovered Crawford wines at the Sta. Rita Hills Wine and Fire event in 2013. The growth and development of both the wine and the winery are impressive as the Horvath’s continue through their pursuit of balance. Since that time, they have expanded their focus of just Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills to include Santa Ynez Valley and the Rhone varietals grown in Ballard Canyon. In addition, they have transitioned their tasting room on 2nd Street in Buellton from by appointment only to being open to the public on weekends.

Crawford Family Wines is a venture between Mark and Wendy Horvath. The name pays homage to Mark’s mother’s maiden name, and their logo is themed on doors and keys because when you unlock and open a new door in life, you never know what to expect. Like wine, the unexpected can happen. You can discover the most wonderful wine, or the experience that occurs around a given bottle of wine may impact you significantly.

Mark Horvath Decanting Wine
Mark Horvath Decanting the Wine

For Mark Horvath, it is the pursuit of balance, and he certainly does that with his wines. You can definitely see that with his latest additions to his portfolio, the 2014 Rosé and the 2013 Second Street Cuvée, Rhone Blend, Ballard Canyon. Mark’s approach to making wine is hands-on but with little intervention. He wants the grapes to express themselves as well as the land they came from.

Wines And The Pursuit Of Balance

Recently at an LA Wine Writers luncheon at the Hotel Angeleno, Mark showcased his wines. We began with the 2014 Rosé, which is a blend of Pinot Noir from Bentrock Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills and Grenache from Ballard Canyon. Bleeding off the juice and then fermenting in stainless steel, one finds a delightfully bright wine. My first experience with this Rosé was at the Garagiste Festival in Solvang. I noticed that you could smell Crawford Rosé’s wonderful aromas from a distance. Up close, the wine has a nose of florals and strawberries. You can taste strawberries and also sweet peach.

This Rosé was paired with a Garlic Jumbo Shrimp. There is something about shrimp and Rosé that make it such a perfect match, whether it is a still or sparkling wine. Perhaps it is the color combination that adds to the quality and tastiness of both.

Crawford Crawford Family Wines Rosé
Crawford Family Wines Rosé

The 2013 Chardonnay, Tin Shack, Rita’s Crown, is a citrusy and zesty wine ith a clean lean structure. It evokes flavors of lemon with caramel and nutmeg on the finish. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged for 11 months in old neutral barrels. This wine is what I would call classic Sta. Rita Hills with its crisp minerality.

The 2013 Pinot Noir, Radian Vineyard, is a Pinot Noir coming from a very young vineyard with blocks located on very steep slopes. Wanting to really see what the area produces, Mark aged this Pinot in older neutral French oak. For a Pinot Noir, it is very bright with lots of minerality, yet it has layers of texture. The aromas are florals, including roses and some cranberry. The flavors of dark fruit and cola are quite apparent.

Next, we compared a 2012 Pinot Noir, Walk Slow, with its 2013 counterpart. The idea behind naming the wine Walk Slow is that one should take one’s time and enjoy the wine at a leisurely pace. It is like the saying “stop and smell the roses.” Perhaps it is a reminder that we should savor each sip of the wine and enjoy the pleasure of the moment.

Each year Walk Slow represents a blend of the best of the barrels in the Crawford cellars. In 2012 it was 50% Babcock clone 115 and 50% Bentrock clone 828 and was aged for 16 months in 1-year old French oak barrels. The 2013 is composed of 65% Bentrock and 35% Radian, was also aged 16 months, but 30% was in new French Oak. The later seemed to have more complexity.

Ballard Canyon Wines

Showcasing the latest Santa Barbara County appellation, Ballard Canyon, the 2013 Second Street Cuvée is a Rhone blend of Syrah and Grenache. The grapes come from the Tierra Alta Vineyard, which is at the top of Ballard. The Cuvée is very drinkable. It is soft yet round as well as balanced. This Cuvée shows this new addition in the Crawford portfolio is a very promising venture.

We ended our tasting with a barrel sample of Mourvédre. This barrel tasting reminded me of a similar one at the Crawford tasting room, where I sampled the components for the 2012 Pinot Noir vintages. Just like before, I was amazed at the quality, fruitiness, and balance for such a young wine. I will anxiously wait to see the outcome of this Mourvédre, discovering whether it will be utilized for a blend or stand on its own.

Crawford Family Wines in Pursuit of Balance
The Crawford Family Wines that are in Pursuit of Balance.

Thinking about Mark and Wendy’s decision to embrace the Rhone varietals makes sense since it was a trip in the 1990s to Chateauneuf du Pape that made them decide to pursue a career in the wine business ultimately. Their pursuit of balance has taken the Crawford’s a long way; bringing both a balance in their lives and into their wines.

For more information:

Crawford Family Wines
92 2nd Street, Suite G
Buellton, California 93427

Crawford Family WinesTasting Room -1661 Mission Drive, Solvang, CA 93463

Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Monday through Friday: By appointment only