© Folded Hills
| Andy and Kim Busch – a beer drinker and a Pinot lover who somehow found themselves making Grenache.
The scion of a famous brewing family has shifted focus to make wine in Santa Barbara County.
By W. Blake Gray | Posted Wednesday, 19-Feb-2020
The Busch family isn’t in the beer business anymore, since the hostile takeover of Anheuser-Busch by a Belgian-based conglomerate in 2008.
But thanks to the 10th of 11 children of legendary brewer Gussie Busch, the Busch family is in the wine business in California’s Santa Barbara County. It’s kind of an accident, though.
After spending more than a decade managing the popular Busch tourist attraction Grant’s Farm in St. Louis – also taken over by the conglomerate – Andy Busch and his wife Kim wanted to move westward. They liked Santa Barbara, where they had been spending some of their winters since 1998. Andy, at the time a professional polo player, wanted a ranch where he could raise animals, play polo, and drink beer. Andy Busch likes beer. Of course he does.
In 2004, they bought the decrepit Folded Hills ranch soon after spotting that it had a large, flat expanse where a polo field could go. They restored the house where the Morton’s Salt family had once lived (it sleeps 26). Andy, a farmer at heart, planted blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, apples, pears, peaches, apricots, olives, spinach and herbs. He brought in pigs and horses, including Budweiser‘s famous Clydesdales. They have chickens and sheep and cows, and even a camel. Beer money goes a long way.
You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything about grapes. Even though the ranch is in Santa Ynez Valley, a great place to grow wine grapes, it wasn’t high on their list of priorities.
“When we first started, we were looking at, what’s another organic product we can grow? Let’s try grapes,” Kim Busch said.
So they asked their neighbors what grapes they should plant.
“People said, ‘Plant what you love’,” Andy Busch told Wine-Searcher. “I love beer. Kim loves Pinot Noir. But it was easy for us, after some thought, to plant what the land wanted. We respected the land.”
This is about time for my confession.
When I heard about Busches making wine, I thought, that’s a good story. I’d read that. But I didn’t know if I would like the wine. They invited me to stay on the ranch, where I fed tortillas to pigs and carrots to Clydesdales. I hadn’t tried the wines before I showed up. I expected a beverage professional to make something competent at least.
In fact, the wines are excellent. They’re much more sophisticated than you would expect from essentially wine novices. Only after spending some time with the Busches did I understand why.
Here’s to the farmer
Andy’s not a wine guy. He doesn’t spit in tastings. He’d rather have a beer. He doesn’t seem all that involved with the finished product.
What he is though, is a farmer. He takes his daily rounds of the farm animals with great enthusiasm. And he was excited about racing up to the vineyards with me in his ATV, proudly showing off the close-spaced plantings and lush cover crop.
Kim Busch likes wine. But her favorite wines are not 98-point monsters. So she’s not in it for the ego boost; neither of them are.
“I’ve been drinking French rosé for 20 years,” Kim told Wine-Searcher. “I like it dry and crisp. In 2013 I wanted to plant for rosé. I wanted to farm for rosé. [Local vintner] Peter Stolpman said: ‘You’re crazy, you’ll never make money that way.’ I said: ‘I don’t care.’ I had to push against everybody. I had to push against Andy. I had to push against the winemaker. Andy still doesn’t like it. It doesn’t make money. But (rosé) is our number one driver. It gets people in the door.”
© W. Blake Gray/Wine-Searcher
| Andy is a farmer at heart.
It turns out the Busches are the perfect combination: A guy who loves farming and a strong-willed woman who wants balanced wine, profits be damned.
And they luckily got some perfect land. The vineyard they planted on a hilltop has limestone in its soil – a rarity in California. Josh Jensen, when seeking to found Calera decades ago, drove up and down the coast looking for limestone before settling on an inaccessible mountain with no water or power, because it had limestone. The Busches happened to have some limestone in their own backyard.
Getting into Grenache
Based on the advice of Ruben Solizano, one of the area’s foremost vineyard managers, the Busches planted Rhône grapes on the hills. They planted some Grenache both for Kim’s rosé and for red wine, and some Syrah. Because they’re so far from other vineyards, they took a chance that phylloxera will not find them and planted about half of the vines on their own roots.
“We decided that the flavor would be better,” Kim Busch said.
The ranch gets quite chilly. Kim Busch said it’s the southernmost vineyard in Santa Barbara County, only 4.5 miles from the ocean, which, in a geological quirk is due south, not west, of the site. It’s too cold for Mourvèdre and might end being too cool for some of the more heat-loving southern Rhone grapes.
“Ruben the grower and we were all very surprised at how good the grapes were,” Kim Busch said.
Because they had mostly Grenache, they looked around for the most appropriate winemaker. Luckily there’s a winemaker originally from New Zealand, Angela Osborne, who is so obsessed with Grenache that she moved to the Central Coast of California to make it. Her wine brand, A Tribute to Grace, has 11 different Grenaches from sites all over the state. She thinks Folded Hills is a special place for the grape, which normally likes a little more heat.
“It’s a very balanced place,” Osborne told Wine-Searcher. “Nature still has the loudest voice. It still hasn’t been overtaken by agriculture, which in a winegrowing region is rare. It’s very cool climate with an ocean effect. From the 600 acres they have, they’ve only planted 15. The row crops are maybe an acre or two. It’s mostly open pasture land. It’s a very respectful place to the earth. This is a very small footprint on a much larger place.”
Osborne says that although Grenache takes longer to ripen at Folded Hills thanks to the chilly conditions, the fact that Santa Ynez Valley gets almost no rain in autumn allows the grapes the time they need.
“The proximity of the ocean makes it very interesting for Grenache,” Osborne says. “Grenache likes heat and a long, dry growing season, which is why I live here and not in New Zealand. [Folded Hills] is 15 degrees cooler than in the valley proper. We get really amazing flavors because of the long hangtime because it’s cooler.”
Osborne said she encouraged the Busches to plant more Grenache and also to plant the white Rhône varieties she loves: Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne and Clairette Blanche.
The funny thing, Kim told me, is that the Busches were close to retirement age. They found the perfect place to retire. Andy’s not even really into wine! And yet here, they are, starting up a wine business.
Fortunately for them, the wines are good enough that visitors to the ranch’s tasting room – which is conveniently located at a disturbingly quick turn right off of US Highway 101 – have been signing up for the wine club. But you can buy these wines in some stores and restaurants, and if you like Rhône wines with a distinct terroir character, you should. They’re the best alcoholic beverages now made by the Busch family.
2018 Folded Hills Santa Ynez Valley August White A blend of 68 percent Grenache Blanc with Roussanne, this wine opens with citrus pith and some savoriness and finishes juicy, with good length. Nice mouthfeel; rounded but fresh.
2018 Folded Hills Santa Ynez Valley Estate White A juicy, lightly spicy blend of 50 percent Grenache Blanc with Clairette Blanche and Marsanne. Well balanced and elegant, though pricey. I’ll happily drink it if you pay for it.
2017 Folded Hills Santa Ynez Valley Grant Grenache A delightful, easy-drinking wine that rewards the amount of attention you pay to it. Fresh berries and a light smokiness in a wine with good restraint. Includes 8 percent Syrah for complexity.
2017 Folded Hills Santa Ynez Valley August Red A lively, spicy blend of 67 percent Grenache with Syrah. Good balance, nice berry fruit and good complexity. The two August blends are the best values in the portfolio (and the two I asked to take home with me).
2017 Folded Hills Santa Ynez Valley Estate Grenache Nice juicy berry fruit, but I miss the additional complexity the Syrah brings to the blends. Pretty aromas and nice mouthfeel are good consolations.
2017 Folded Hills Santa Ynez Valley Estate Syrah The estate and the winemaker may specialize in Grenache, but this bottling of 100 percent Syrah shows that that grape, which is more famous in Santa Ynez Valley, also does quite well on the ranch. The densest wine they make, with blackcurrant fruit, a hint of licorice and spice, and slightly chewy tannins on the finish.