“It is fairly easy to get interested in wine, it’s alcohol, it’s fun to drink, you are usually surrounded by great times and friends. However, there is a lot of work behind it. Long hours, early mornings, and late nights.” Fabian Bravo, winemaker for Brander winery has been devoted to the craft of winemaking since his first harvest in 2007.
Like many, Fabian didn’t take a direct path into winemaking. He grew up in Gonzalez California, in the Santa Lucia Highlands. One of California’s premier cool-climate winegrowing districts. Surrounded by agriculture Fabian decided to take a different path. He attended Cal Poly for electrical engineering, and after college began working for a company in Goleta. He worked 4 years in his field but realized he couldn’t see himself growing old doing that type of job. Entering an early “mid-life crisis” he began to explore other career paths.
During his soul searching he dabbled in baking bread at a bakery, looked into law enforcement, and taught high school geometry and algebra. Eventually he went back home to work as an engineer again. Shortly after, he met a friend who offered him a harvest position, he would have to take a leave of absence from work if he decided to do it. As harvest crept closer he finally decided to take the leap and began working for Siduri winery in Santa Rosa, California. That was the point where he decided this industry was something he could see himself doing for a while. Watch Part 2 of our interview with Fabian to hear his inspiring journey in his own words here.
Right after harvest Fabian celebrated his birthday in Santa Barbara County. He went wine tasting, of course! One of the wineries he found himself tasting at was Brander winery. As fate would have it, the next Monday he saw that a winery had posted a job for assistant winemaker, which turned out to be Fred Brander, of Brander Winery. About a week after harvest at Siduri he started working for Fred at Brander. He is about to celebrate his 9-year anniversary there.
Fabian’s passion for winemaking is easy to see, as he describs his devotion to the craft. “You want to capture the vintage, the vineyard, the varietal. You have one shot at each vintage. Keeping that in mind, you only have a certain amount of years to make wine, a certain window to capture each year. Getting up early and staying late in necessary. You want to make sure you showcase the vineyard and hard work that goes into the fruit and production.”
Brander is well known for their Sauvignon Blanc production, which is celebrating its 40th vintage. Making 11 different bottlings every year. The vineyard was planted in 1975, and was first harvested in 1977. 44 acres are devoted mostly to Sauvignon Blanc, with a few other varietals planted on property. Brander has been practicing bio dynamic farming since 2010 which Fabian observed has given the wines a cleaner, fresher feel than before.
Fred Brander has been working for many years to get the Los Olivos District AVA approved. All of his hard work has finally paid off, the 2015 vintages will be the first with this AVA on the label. Great work Fred!
Enjoy learning about the story behind the Los Olivos District in Part 3of our interview here.
During the entire month of October, we welcome you to experience Brander wines at a 20% discount from their regular retail price. The four wines we have featured are:
Dine with us at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café this month and enjoy a Brander tasting flight; they will also be part of our extensive by the glass menu.
Another way to experience Brander: On the night of October 28th, our dinner guests will get to meet Fabian in person as he mingles with guests and pours tastes of his Brander wines for our Final Friday Winemaker series (Dinner reservations are highly recommended. No extra cost.) 805-688-7265 Reservations also available online.
On our ten-acre property, less than a mile from our Cafe, four acres are devoted to Sangiovese, Syrah, Nebbiolo, and Cabernet grapes from which we create wines under our private label, Bernat wines. An additional 4-acres of prime land have been cultivated by local organic farmers for themselves through the years, but their focus wasn’t solely on providing produce for our restaurant. When Shu and Debby Takikawa, the last farmers to farm this section of land, took over the 40 acres behind us, Shu encouraged us to farm it ourselves. We were eager to try, but knew well that running a farm along with our current endeavors– a vineyard, winery, wine merchant, and restaurant– we needed help.
That’s when we found Matt McCurdy, or he found us, that’s another story. Eager to take on the project and apply his knowledge from his past endeavors– working at our local Windmill Nursery being one of them– Matt leaped in and started planting. Well, first we dived into organic heirloom seed catalogues. We chose all the flowers that would bring the bugs to benefit the farm and would also cut nicely for flowers to put on the Café tables. We brought chef Chris Joslyn into the discussion, and chose vegetables he would love to use for our restaurant’s menu. We’ve been very pleased with seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.
Our first summer was full of zucchini and cucumbers. The vision was growing…literally. We played around with various pickling recipes and pickled the cucumbers to place next to our Café’s burgers and sandwiches. Some of them we even put in jars and sold in our retail section, they were a hit and quickly sold out!
Well, it’s been almost a year now, our biggest lesson learned is the land has much to teach us. Will Rogers said, “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” — That’s the truth!– We planted green beans, carrots, beats, and reaped nothing from them. Yes, we watered, weeded, and provided healthy soil and sunshine, but they never ended up on plates at our restaurant. Why you may ask?
What we learned:
We initially started by planting a large amount of different types of crops. Planting many different varieties of each plant, gives us an idea of which species not only grows best in each area, but which of those tastes the best. We pay close attention to each plant and learn which ones like which soils, climate preference, and which are affected by pests and how. All of the varieties of Kale we planted thrived through the winter; red lettuce, and romaine were also very successful.
Pests have been our biggest problem. Our first crop was planted when one of our dogs, Gypsy, was on vacation. The gophers and ground squirrels noticed and began moving into the farm. They ate almost all of the green beans we planted. Of 600 plants only 10 survived! They also ate the tops off of the carrot and beet plants. Although losing their tops did not initially kill them, since the plant was working hard to regrow the tops, the produce didn’t survive after all.
The other challenge all farmers face, are weeds, we are no exception. Since our farm is CCOF certified organic, using herbicides is absolutely out of the question, not to mention it would deplete the nutrients in the soil and affect the quality of our produce. Being a small farm with only Sam and Matt to do the weeding, we quickly realized that we must be missing something– there was no way we could keep up. The weeds aggressively took over and whole rows had to be plowed back in to the soil before the plants had a chance to grow to maturity. Weeding through the research (yes, that was a pun) of all the various farm equipment to assist with this problem was overwhelming, even to a veteran vineyard farmer, like Sam. It was time to seek the advice of someone who had more experience in large scale farming than us. Sam met with a local veteran farmer, Steve Loyal, who shared valuable information. Steve directed us on the best equipment for a farm our size. We bought a hand hoe on a wheel that as we push, it slices under the soil cutting the roots of the weeds. Our tractor also needs some additional equipment to mechanize weeding, which we can tell you more about by the next time we post a Cafe Farm Update. We now look forward to watching our seeds grow to their full potential before the weeds can take them over (hopefully).
Though we are still in the midst of a big learning curve, we have had much greater success now that Gypsy is back on the job maintaining the ground squirrel population. Thanks to our hard working farm dog approximately 1500 heads of lettuce, 200 pounds of snap peas, and many, many buckets of onion, garlic, kale, swiss chard, arugula, spinach, turnips, and cilantro—came from our Cafe Farm since July 2015. We are getting a healthy head start for this summer with 900 plants of various heirloom tomato varieties in the ground, 10 types of lettuces, and squash and pumpkins ready for fall; we are excited to continue to expand the beauty and bounty on our menu at the Cafe.
While we are talking about the farm, it’s worth mentioning that we have an annual benefit Farm Dinner event called In the Vineyard & On the Farm . If you’d like to experience our Cafe Farm and our Bernat Wines firsthand click here for information. It’s a beautiful event that sells out every year, so if you’re interested, don’t wait to reserve your seats!
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Sam and Shawnda, owners of the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café and Bernat Winery & Retreats, are long-time advocates of using fresh, locally sourced produce for the meals prepared by Chef Chris Joslyn in the Los Olivos Café kitchen. This passion has led them to focus on their own property and create the Los Olivos Café Farm. By utilizing their own land, they will now have the ability to grow many of the vegetables they need for the restaurant’s menu, flowers for arrangements on the tables and, as an extra bonus, offer extra produce canned into delicious, fresh product for sale exclusively in their Wine Merchant retail store. The opportunity to serve dishes incorporating vegetables picked from the field that morning, insures that guests dining at their restaurant will be enjoying produce at the peak of flavor.
Matt McCurdy, also employed at Windmill Nursery, will be working with Sam and Shawnda on the farm. Growing up in Santa Barbara and later moving to Ballard before leaving in 1992, in his 20’s Matt was an environmental activist focused on protecting the remaining ancient forests in Northern California and Oregon. In his 30’s he worked as a project manager building affordable housing for low-income families. After being laid off, he decided to go back to the environmental roots of his 20’s and combine that with the skills he had learned as a manager. He followed his passion and went to work for an Organic Nursery in Texas, Redenta’s Garden, where he learned the ins and outs of Organic farming from co-workers who held masters degrees in Horticulture. Since then, he has grown Organic vegetables in Texas, Northern California, and throughout the Santa Ynez Valley, converting lawn areas into vegetable gardens and raised beds. He is very excited that nine years later, his efforts are paying off with the opportunity to farm a large area.
The 3 acres of the Los Olivos Café Farm, under the management of Matt, will help to maintain the vital agricultural open space needed for the long-term success of the Santa Ynez Valley. Farmed Organically, everything will be watered through drip irrigation (no overhead spraying), weeding and harvesting will be done by hand, and there will be no use of GMO seeds, fertilizers, or pesticides. Matt explains, “The primary benefit of local Organic farming is the food being served on the plate is the freshest possible. The harvest from the farm is delivered the same day to the restaurant insuring the highest quality of flavor and nutrition. Health-wise, for example, the Organic Heirloom seeds I am planting are of a known heritage spanning decades and in some cases a century or more. There are a lot of unanswered questions about what GMO crops will produce generations from now and the possible side effect to our health and food supply. Growing Organically is how it has been done for thousands of years prior to the industrial revolution.”
Currently, the Los Olivos Café Farm is growing Black Beauty Zucchini, Golden Zucchini, Yellow Crookneck Squash, Golden Beets, Kabocha Squash, Butternut Squash, Delicata Squash, Buttercup Squash, a variety of carrots, various Green and Purple beans, Sunflowers, Zinnia’s, and Cosmos. In addition, salads will be created from the Romaine Lettuce, Red Sails Lettuce, Oak Leaf Lettuce, Toscano Kale, and Smooth Leaf Spinach, while cucumbers will be used for both fresh in salads and canned for pickles.
August 8 dawned with perfect weather for a late summer afternoon event celebrating locally sourced food and wine! Held at the Bernat Vineyard in Los Olivos under clear, blue skies with just the right amount of warmth; “In the Vineyard & On the Farm” was beautifully orchestrated by Sam and Shawnda Marmostein to showcase the bounty of their own vineyard and neighboring farm “The Garden Of…” owned by Shu and Debby Takikawa.
Moving toward the entrance, guests were first introduced to local artist George Lockwood, in the field, actively working on an original plein air oil painting featuring the long community dining table, set with bright umbrellas and intensely yellow sunflowers, freshly picked the day before, against the green leaves of the vineyard beyond. Conveniently situated nearby, guests were able to check back in as the afternoon progressed and George worked toward completion. The finished piece was offered up over dinner in an auction, eventually selling for $2,000, with proceeds going to support the Jewish Foundation.
At the check-in table, Shawnda warmly greeted each guest upon arrival, explaining the activities coming up and answering any questions before handing them a wine glass and encouraging them on toward the lawn overlooking the vineyard. The terraced gathering spot was the ideal location to relax and greet friends new and old after choosing a favorite varietal of Bernat or Tercero wine to sip. Tantalizing appetizers passed by the Los Olivos Café staff, hinted at the delicious farm fresh meal yet to come, while the casual atmosphere encouraged conversation among guests waiting for an opportunity to tour the vineyard with Sam.
Sam and Shawnda bought the property in 1995 and began planting their vineyard. Sam had been creating wine with friends, and he wanted to continue the practice using his own grapes. He enjoys the cycle of winemaking and the ability to gaze out of his windows overlooking the vineyard and instantly know what time of the year it is by the look of the vines. Currently they have 3 ½ acres of CCOF certified organic vines from which they produce a Rose, with Nebbiolo grapes grown on 19 year-old stock, and a Syrah each year for Bernat Estate Wines. Everything is done by hand; they pick the fruit and bring it up in buckets to the destemmer and then to ferment. Finally they press the grapes and after the wine has aged appropriately, they bottle on site. During the tour, Sam encouraged guests to taste the grapes currently going through veraison. Not quite ready for picking, Sam will continue to test them daily until he finds the optimal flavor and acid balance needed for award winning wine.
After the vineyard tour, the group was invited to take a ride on a flatbed trailer decked out with hay bale seats for a fun trip to the Takikawa farm next door. Shu Takikawa offered interesting insight into his organic farming practices. He has been a farmer for 32 years, and his expertise has resulted in produce that is sought after at Farmer’s markets and restaurants locally and in Los Angeles. The evening’s meal would start with a wonderful salad freshly picked from his fields and filled with baby lettuces, cherry tomatoes, pickled carrot, and Japanese Cucumbers.
With the return to the vineyard, guests were invited to take their seats at the community table. A Bernat Grenache Blanc 2012 from the Santa Ynez Valley, Camp 4 vineyard was poured to accompany Farmer Shu’s salad, brightly dressed with a tangy, tarragon vinaigrette with tarragon grown in Shawnda’s herb garden. The delightful beginning to the meal, paired with the cooling fresh air as the sun set behind the fields, encouraged new friendships between guests seating along the table. And, by the time the main meal was served, everyone felt as if they had been fast friends for many, many years.
In addition to Farmer Shu’s salad, Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café’s Chef Chris Joslyn served a tender Hollister Ranch grass fed rib eye, garnished with seared tomatoes, green beans, and summer squash from Shu’s fields, along with basil olive oil smashed potatoes. Paired with Bernat’s ‘Intrigue’ 2010 Estate Syrah, guests lingered into twilight, until finishing the evening with a Lavender Panna Cotta, made with Lavender from Sam and Shawnda’s property, topped with locally sourced berry compote.
As dusk drew the event to a close, guests made their goodbyes and offered heart-felt thanks for a wonderful time to hosts Sam & Shawnda for a truly unforgettable evening.
In the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country, we are the premier wine merchant for California Central Coast wines, from Santa Barbara County to Monterey County, with select vintages from other areas of California’s Wine Country and noteworthy wines from around the world.