Central Coast AVA
This miniscule winery has won over 80 Gold Medals since 2008
In the incredibly competitive California wine industry, true mom and pop operations are few and far between. Oftentimes, their success is measured by the fact that they are able to remain in business.
The exception to that statement can be found in the tiny Ventucopa, California operation that is colorfully known as Sagebrush Annie’s. The fact that the miniscule winery has won over 80 Gold Medals since 2008 is a fact that sets it apart from all of its contemporaries.
The inspiration behind Sagebrush Annie’s is 80 year-young Larry Hogan and his Bay-area born and raised wife, Karina. The Hogans bought a smallish roadside restaurant in 1989 for Larry Hogan’s two daughters with the hope of providing them with a continuing source of income.
“My girls didn’t understand what commitment to a business was,” Larry explained recently, “so Karina and I decided to take it over ourselves.”
The decision was a wise one and the business has certainly flourished under the Hogans’ guidance. How it also became a world-class winery operation is the stuff that legends are made of.
Larry Hogan’s mother was of Czech origin and followed the European tradition of sharing watered wine with her children on weekends and special occasions. Larry remembers drinking wine around the age of four. Needless to say, he has continued that tradition until the present.
“I started making wine in the 1960’s,” he continued. “I was self-taught. I learned what not to do as opposed to what to do.”
In 1982, he planted his first vineyards in a remote area that carried a Ventura Appellation. The vineyards were planted at an altitude above 3,000 feet and produced a low yield of only around two tons per acre. Larry soon learned that these grapes were also special, in fact, very special.
“We have a temperature swing of 40 degrees from day to night,” he enlightened. “The area is also very low in humidity. The grapes get the benefit of great sun during the day and extremely cool nights. We even pick our grapes at night using artificial lighting. This allows the temperature and moisture to remain constant and permits us to use extended fermentation.”
Whatever the formula, Sagebrush Annie’s has been driven by impressive scores and an exceedingly high number of Gold Medals in top competitions. The Hogans utilize the restaurant as both a gathering place for food aficionados as well as a captivating environment for tasting their world-caliber wines. Barbequed steaks, chicken and fish dishes dominate the menu.
Only a small portion of the grapes come from Sagebrush Annie’s own vineyards. The remainder is purchased from several growers in the Santa Barbara Highlands Appellation.
“The grapes we buy are really special,” admitted Hogan. “We have proven the myth about the area’s inability to produce great Bordeaux and Rhône varietals to be wrong. Our appellation is now able to stand up to any successful appellation in California, which is really saying something.”
Sagebrush Annie’s production has begun and has stayed between 450 and 500 cases per year.
Larry Hogan’s simple philosophy explains it this way. “By staying small, we eliminate most of our problems. The entire business is run by Karina and me. She does all the cooking for the restaurant (with a decided French flair) and I handle the winemaking and vineyard end of the business. We have developed a wonderful following over the years and that provides us with a steady clientele.”
The location of Sagebrush Annie’s is quite remote. It is located in the southeastern corner of the Cuyama Valley, on an axis between Bakersfield and Santa Barbara. The exact location is on Highway 33 in the town of Ventucopa, a tiny dot on the driving map. Don’t drive through the area at a high speed, the fact is you might easily miss everything, including Sagebrush Annie’s.
There is talk of a new appellation that would feature Ventucopa’s wines, but at this point such talk is mere speculation. Sagebrush Annie’s would become a leader if such an action would ever reach fruition.
Little will change in the future for Sagebrush Annie’s or the well-respected Hogans. Their legion of followers will continue to enjoy food and wine in the manner that it was intended – non pretentious and incredibly crafted. They will continue to win Gold Medals at an elevated rate using the same fruit and same methods.
Sagebrush Annie’s is a tribute to American ingenuity and remarkable spirit. Would there be more similar places scattered around. Everyone would benefit!
Larry and Karina Hogan, Chief Cook & Winemaker
Dear Platinum Series Wine Club Members,
We are very proud of our 2009 Sagebrush Annie’s Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was well received by wine competition judges across the country, winning 9 Gold Medals and a Platinum Medal – Platinum meaning it was in the finals for the Best Red Wine. The wine is very reminiscent of our 2004 Sagebrush Annie’s Cabernet Sauvignon, which was named the best Cabernet Sauvignon at the San Francisco International Wine Competition in 2007. That competition contained 469 Cabs from 26 different countries.
For me, the wine is liquid velvet, while my wife refers to it as comfort wine. This wine is exceptionally smooth and well balanced. Personally, I very much enjoy this wine with Duck, which is one of my favorite dishes. For my wife, this wine is great with anything, or with nothing.
Since 2005, we have been competing in wine competitions. All of our wines are Gold Medal winners. To date, we have won 80 Gold Medals or better – one Gold Medal for each of my years.
We thank you for drinking Sagebrush Annie’s Cabernet Sauvignon and hope you enjoy it as much as we do.