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LOCALLY BOTTLED WINES : Fruitful Labor : French oak barrels provide Leeward Winery's Chardonnay with flavorful embellishments.


The next time you find yourself searching for a desirable bottle of vino to complement that rack of lamb, may we suggest a nice locally produced Pinot Noir? You heard me right. But I said locally produced , not locally grown .

Ventura County's fertile soil may be just what a plethora of vegetables and fruits need, but it doesn't do it for the wine grape. That commodity, which supports the local wine industry, has to be imported from coastal California counties to the north. Part of the reason is that Ventura County's more arid temperatures do not produce a comparable wine grape--and its loam is actually too fertile.

"Wine grapes can be grown in marginal soil," said Brooks Painter, the winemaker for Leeward Winery in Ventura.

"Farmers can do far better raising other, more prosperous crops."

Therefore, local wineries look to San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Clara and Santa Barbara counties for grape supplies. All of those counties offer grape varieties intended to accentuate taste differences.

Painter said the variety of the grape, its production location and the climate, weather and the soil in which it is raised all play a pivotal role in determining the taste of the final product.

Leeward Winery, Ventura County's largest, offers four types of wine.

"Our specialty is a Chardonnay variety," Painter said. "It's by far our most popular wine."

During the fermentation and aging process, Leeward Winery uses French oak barrels that provide its Chardonnay with flavorful embellishments such as a "vanilla and buttery flavor" with a "dry, tropical fruit pear and pineapple" side to it, Painter said.

The 60-gallon French oak barrels--at $600 apiece--are made of hand-selected wood and last up to 10 years.

"The first six years they are used for our Chardonnay and the last four for red wines," he said.

Leeward Winery produces an average of 15,000 cases a year. It also offers the following red wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and the blush variety Coral.

So what are the guidelines when serving wine with dinner entrees?

"The general rule through the years was to serve white wines with white meats and red with red meat," Painter said, "but that doesn't necessarily need to be adhered to." Dishes such as pastas with white sauce, linguine and clams, chicken and fish can be served with the versatile, full-flavored Chardonnay, Painter said.

"I personally like it with grilled swordfish and with lighter meats like pork tenderloins," he said.

Leeward's newest release, the Pinot Noir, is a "wonderful perfumed variety, smooth, and is excellent with baked salmon and lamb."

Leeward Winery, in existence since 1979, is located at 2784 Johnson Drive, Ventura. Tours and wine tasting are available seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 656-5054.

Wine enthusiasts can check out what area wineries have to offer at this weekend's Olivas Rancho Winefest. From 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Olivas Adobe Historical Park, 4200 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura, 12 vintners from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties will showcase their select wines. Proceeds will benefit restoration of the site. The four Ventura County wineries will be in attendance: Leeward Winery, the Ojai Vineyard (Oak View), Old Creek Ranch & Winery (Oak View) and the Rolling Hills Winery (Camarillo).

The afternoon includes live bluegrass music entertainment, and participants will receive a commemorative wineglass. Hors d'oeuvres, fresh breads and cheeses will also be available.

Tickets are $16 and $13 in advance. For ticket information, call the Ventura Parks and Recreation offices at 658-4732.


Queen Ranch--Is offering a variety of locally grown produce and items from neighboring counties. 3400 Los Angeles Ave., Somis.

Bennett's Honey Farms--Offers four varieties of honey, but this week watch for the avocado ariety. 3678 Piru Canyon Road, Piru.

Brandon King Seafood--A fresh catch of local spot prawns caught from the Channel Islands is offered this week. 3920 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Oxnard.

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