951 N. Rice Ave., Oxnard
Driving down Oxnard’s Rice Avenue, at noon on a Friday, feels a little like a commute to work. Industrial buildings line the road and semi-trucks often hog all three lanes. But tucked away on the corner of Rice and Latigo avenues is Strey Cellars, home to Ventura County’s youngest winemaker, co-owner Scott Ballew. Playing into the location, the cinderblock walls and concrete counters add an element of cool to your experience, also helpful during heat waves.
Setting aside my embarrassment for drinking at lunchtime on a weekday, I bellied up to the counter for a round of six tastings ($10). Co-owner and operator Katie Wiegers greeted me with “Hey, hun” and a sample of the 2014 chardonnay. Crisp and refreshing, I imagined it to be the perfect pair to a summer afternoon.
Next in my glass, a varietal I haven’t tasted in my 13-year love affair with wine — tannat. Often used as a blending grape with cabernet sauvignon, Strey’s 2013 tannat offered a platform for the plum fairies to take center stage in my mouth. The tasting suggestion for tannat — “Nobody puts baby in the corner.” Bucking tradition, 80 percent of the wines are made with 100 percent of one grape varietal.
Looking at the tasting menu, a 2012 durif was on deck. Perhaps seeing the confusion in my face, Wiegers explained that durif is a grape widely known in the U.S. as petite siyrah. The award-winning durif was a welcomed swig of heavy tannins. Sable in appearance, the powerhouse demands pairings with hearty meals such as stews, roasts or barbecue.
We sailed through tastings of a 2012 zinfandel and a 2013 tempranillo, both highly drinkable wines that fare well by themselves. Ending with the 2013 Cynder, a red blend, was the perfect finale. Barbera, Syrah, merlot, zinfandel, tempranillo and sangiovese collaborate to make a robust bouquet that made my wine-obsessed taste buds tingle.
Aside from the unconventional approach to winemaking, there is a sense that Strey Cellars is striving to achieve something else. With extended hours for Green Bay Packers games and ugly sweater parties, there is a youthful vibe that inspires the curious and expert alike to renew the “everyman” drinkability of wine.
After tasting the fruit-forward wines, I have no doubt I’ll count the days until I uncork a Strey Cellars bottle.