Jeff Fischer started small and dreamt big to make Habit Wines
What drives wine-lovers to Santa Barbara Wine Country? For most Californians, they visit because of the proximity and the refreshing rural escape from LA or the Bay Area– and of course for the quality of our wines. For Habit Wines owner Jeff Fischer, it’s all about the attitude our region exudes– a welcoming attitude with a willingness to share knowledge and support its fellow winemakers.
You might know Jeff from his eponymous character on the Fox show American Dad!.Balancing his two callings of acting and winemaking, Jeff started small, making several cases of wine out of a garage in Los Angeles, with a few hundred pounds of grapes he bungee-corded onto his truck and brought down from Santa Barbara.
Three defining moments helped Jeff get started: The first winery to agree to sell him grapes. The winemaking classes that guided him through the creation of his garagiste cases of wine he made in LA. And, Doug Margerum who opened his winery doors giving Jeff the opportunity to become a full-fledged winemaker. (Watch our interview to hear Jeff’s journey to winemaking in his own words.)
For a wine to grow as a passion into a business it takes a certain kind of creative energy which Jeff imbues in every one of his wines.
Mavericks in the industry like Jeff help define Santa Barbara wine country – and the winemakers who make it all happen. Like others before him, it’s this culture of expression and encouragement that helped him get started, or as he puts it, “it’s a great, great vibe!”
So, why the big hand on the Habit Wines label?
“It’s really all about art and addiction,” says Jeff – the art of acting and his addiction to winemaking. For him, the hand belongs to William S. Burroughs, Jeff’s favorite poet from his hometown of St. Louis, who “may be reaching for his own fix” on the label. The Habit label certainly does pop out on a shelf of wines – it’s easy to spot from a distance on our own wine wall – and the design even landed his wines in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Like most ‘misunderstood’ modern art, it wasn’t always as accepted. During one of his first vintages, Jeff brought his wines to the famed French Laundry restaurant in Napa. The staff loved the wine but refused to buy any for the restaurant giving the reason that the label was too modern, too out of the ordinary for the bourgeois Napa eatery.
Habit Wines are made from grapes from several vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County. Jeff prefers Happy Canyon grapes to grow his Bordeaux blends, keeping it hyper-local to the area. Most of his other varietals are grown in the Los Olivos District.
Say the words “California wine” and more often than not, bruiser Napa Cabernets or buttery Sonoma Chardonnays come to mind. There’s a certain irony to the fact that most consumers consider wine country of Santa Barbara County as a relative newcomer when in fact the area has had acreage under vine for over one hundred years. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that Santa Barbara County really took off, thanks in part to the UC Davis’s assessment of it having the optimal climate for growing grapes.
What makes the climate of Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast so unique? Three factors come into play: The Humboldt Current, the Coriolis Effect, and the Transverse Range.
The Humboldt Current, despite its name, has nothing to do with cheese or green pharmaceuticals. It’s actually a deep ocean current that comes up from Peru, bringing cool waters with it. That combines with the Coriolis Effect, which is a phenomenon that occurs when northern winds push surface-warm ocean water off the top of the Pacific and moves it further west. The Coriolis Effect truly is phenomenal because it’s not possible without the Earth’s rotation! When that warmer water shifts away, those deep, cool waters shift towards the top, ensuring a continuous cooling effect mid-California Coast. That cool air is then funneled inland due to the Transverse Range: that’s where the North-South running mountains turn East-West due to an early plate tectonic shift. That geological and meteorological combination add up to the unique microclimates we find around Santa Barbara County – which add up to a great variety of wine!
The two biggest AVAs, or American Viticultural Areas, in Santa Barbara County are Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley. Both are river valleys created by that plate tectonic shift, which means they oddly run west-to-east, funneling cool maritime air in with them. Both AVAs benefit from large diurnal swings because the cool Pacific influence brings in chilly fog overnight, lowering the nightly temperatures, before burning off midday at higher, hotter afternoon temperatures. That large temperature swing optimizes sugar levels in grapes while maintaining acidity. You’ll notice wines from both AVAs may be higher in alcohol but never taste out of balance: there will always be a refreshing prickle of acidity on the finish. Let’s take a moment to thank diurnal swings for that!
Within the Santa Ynez Valley AVA, the best known AVA is Sta. Rita Hills. (And yes, it is legally ‘Sta. Rita Hills’ and not ‘Santa Rita Hills.’ It seems the famous Santa Rita winery in Chile was a bit peeved when the Santa Rita Hills AVA was initially granted and sued to prevent consumer confusion.) Sta. Rita Hills is most famous for its Pinot Noir. The AVA benefits from that ocean air as well as very specific ‘chet’ soil that create the unmistakably bright and floral Sta. Rita Pinot flavor. It’s no mistake that some of the best-known California Pinot vineyards, including Sea Smoke, are located here.
Moving away from the ocean, we find the Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon AVAs. As their names imply, they are both lower altitude AVAs and, since they’re surrounded by mountains, heat and sunlight reflect off to create much warmer microclimates than those found in Sta. Rita Hills. Bordeaux and Rhone varietals do well here. In particular, Cabernet Sauvignon loves Happy Canyon and Syrah rules Ballard Canyon.
And, fun fact!: Happy Canyon earned its moniker by having the only working still during Prohibition, leading many a local to visit and to leave quite happy! We’re pleased to see this happy-making legacy continued with fantastic wine.
And finally, the newest AVA in the region is perhaps the closest to our heart: the Los Olivos District. Located in the area surrounding the Los Olivos Café, the Bernat vineyard is proud to be part of the Los Olivos District. Comparatively flat and warm, Syrah absolutely thrives here – which you can taste in the many different Bernat Syrah bottlings.
With the continued interest in Santa Barbara County, we feel that its potential is just now being brought to fruition. The various microclimates and unique topography allow for infinite possibilities, from rich, round reds to bright, acidic whites. Santa Barbara Country truly has a wine for every wine lover!
We love sharing Santa Barbara Wine Country! Shop our Wine Merchant here and we’ll ship our wine country to you! Consider choosing from our custom wine club selection that offers only the best of California Central Coast wines.
David Delaski has always been a unique and creative person, but passion is the essence of his personality that is infused into his winemaking for Solminer Wines. Passion leads to everything. It’s not just passion for great wine but for the whole of his life, and all his endeavors.
“Creative pursuits always called me. Wine is definitely one of those pursuits where you can be really creative.”
In 2009 David met his wife Anna, who had just moved to Los Angeles from Austria. The pair spent some time exploring wine regions of the world, including Anna’s home country of Austria. It was at that point in their lives they looked at each other and decided they wanted to pursue something in the wine industry. With the passion found while exploring wine regions, they “threw caution to the wind” and created Solminer.
Sol for sun and miner, to impart the idea of mining the sun, harvesting the bounty of things from the soil.
The couple found a farmhouse in Los Olivos which had 3 acres of Syrah planted. After much work, they had done it! Anna and David’s dream was now a reality. They are doing something so unique for Los Olivos, and California– they have taken from Anna’s heritage by planting two of Austria’s most famous grapes, Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch. The vineyard now called DeLanda (a combination of their names, Delaski, Anna, and David) is 100% organically farmed, to protect their family and neighbors from harsh chemicals. In addition to grapes, the property has animals, including sheep, chickens, and donkeys! It’s a passion looking at the farm as a whole system. They are in the process of undergoing their certification for being a biodynamic winery.
“When you are standing out in the vineyard it gives you a moment of self-reflection.”
David goes to the vineyard to describe his winemaking process, “Start with well farmed organic grapes and do minimal interventions.” Their goal is to get the purest expression of the site as possible. Spending most of the time on farming and less time doing things to the wine during the winemaking process. The wines are created purely from the DeLanda vineyard, and really speak what the terroir and property are about, exploring.
“In order to get into the wine business, you have to be adventurous.”
Ryan Carr of Carr Vineyard and Winery is indeed adventurous! His first job was making snowboards, then went to the University of Arizona for graphic design and worked for a landscape company. It was in college that he took a class on plant science, a seed was planted, and since 1999 he has been farming vineyards and making wine– what an adventure! When Ryan made his way to the Santa Ynez Valley he thought he would start a graphic design business. Little did he know he know the adventurous path that laid ahead…
Starting on the farming side of the industry in 1998, Ryan began working for viticulturist, Craig McMillan. Getting outside to escape the computer was a no brainer for Ryan, he fell in love with being in the field, and before he knew it he was helping lay out and plant vineyards.
Developing relationships from his vineyard work Ryan was able to get his hands on some extra Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in 1999. With that and the help of some food grade trash cans, he made his first batch of ‘home’ wine, producing about 10 cases. That wine was given to friends and family, who actually LOVED it!
In 2000 Ryan was approached by Andy Kahn who had just started his own winemaking facility. Starting up his new business and tight on money, Andy suggested Ryan work for him (for free) in exchange for winemaking help and the use of the facility. Not willing to pass up the opportunity Ryan jumped in. He made his first 325 cases with 1.5 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5 tons of Cabernet Franc, and .5 tons of Pinot Noir. That was the beginning of the Carr label. Each year they continued to make more wine, and after several years Ryan really had a good thing going.
“As a farmer I am trying to represent the exact location more than anything. So it’s a hands off approach to wine making. Very minimal additions, and manipulation.”
One of the main factors that sets Carr apart from other wineries in our area is that they lease vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County; including Sta. Rita Hills, Los Olivos District, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon, and Happy Canyon. Growing in all of these locations allows Ryan to get to know and see the differences in each growing region and make many different varietals.
California in general is a young wine region, so Santa Barbara is very new in the grand scheme of things. Being a young region we often look at older wine producing regions, such as France and Italy, for inspiration and advice. With that said, this is not Italy, or France, its California. We are finding our own techniches and styles over the years. You can see it happening in Santa Barbara, with all these sub appellations coming up. The basic understanding as to what our environment can do is increasing.
“Santa Barbara is such a special place, and without the influence of Burgundy we wouldn’t know that Sta. Rita Hills is perfect for the Burgundian varietals. Without the influence of the Rhone we wouldn’t know that Ballard Canyon is the place we should be growing the Rhone varietals, and same for Happy Canyon and the Bordeaux’s. It’s incredible what we can do within such a small area of California.”
Want to meet more local winemakers? Catch our current Featured Winemaker on our blog, or come meet them on the last friday of every month!
“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 as assistant winemaker 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.
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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The history of Los Olivos began with a stagecoach route in 1861, The Overland / Coast Line Stage established a station at Ballard, just south of present day Los Olivos. Running from San Francisco down to Ballard, and continuing south through Los Angeles before ending in San Diego, the stage provided important transportation back in the day.
In 1885, twenty-two year-old Alden March Boyd, from Albany, New York, paid $8,000 for approximately 157 acres of prime farmland on a bluff overlooking the Alamo Pintado Creek. Boyd constructed a two-story house, planted 5,000 olive trees, and named his new property “Rancho de los Olivos.” Two years later, on November 16, 1887, the Pacific Coast Railway successfully completed their narrow-gauge extension line from Los Alamos into the new town, which the developers successively called “El Olivar,” then “El Olivos,” before eventually settled on “Los Olivos” after Boyd’s nearby ranch. In 1988 the Boyd ranch was sold, and the new family built a more modern home next to the century-old two-story. Recognizing the historical significance of the farmhouse, the home was moved in two pieces to a new site at the corner of Nojoqui and Alamo Pintado Avenues in Los Olivos. Across from St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church, the elegant home with its wide, covered front porch, symmetrical arched windows in the center gable, and curiously low placed door knobs is well maintained and currently houses a variety of offices.
A development boom came with the anticipated arrival of the Pacific Coast Railway to a new station in Los Olivos. Chinese workers were hired to level the streets, and the developers boasted the town would become the “center” of northern Santa Barbara County. A Map of the town, created by the Los Olivos Land Association in the 1880s, shows a large “Courthouse Block” with elaborate walkways, and the location of the proposed “Los Olivos Hotel” with its own grand street named “Hotel Ave” leading up to the site. The Railroad did open the “Hotel Los Olivos” at that location May 1, 1888, but it burned down January 1890, and never rebuilt. The old map is carefully delineated with parcels, which extend way beyond the current township, and it is entertaining to try and match the present day reality with the optimism of the past.
Entrepreneur Felix Mattei had been watching the development of the Railway and was patiently waiting for the right moment. In 1885 he heard the news about the incorporation of the “Santa Ynez Land & Improvement Company” and its purchase of a large acreage in the area of Boyd’s ranch. Mattie hurried to San Luis Obispo to study the plat of lands. Locating the turntable and roundhouse that was to be built a block east of Grand Avenue, he recognized that this signified the southern terminus for the railway, and bought his land right next to the station in order to cater to rail and stage passengers making the north and south connections. Mattei’s “Central Hotel” was completed in 1886, but after the Railroad’s “Los Olivos Hotel” burned, he changed the name to “Hotel Los Olivos,” however the colloquial label “MatteisTavern” quickly became the recognized name of the establishment.
During this time period Los Olivos started to boom. A small Christian Church was erected at Santa Barbara and Alamo Pintado Avenue, which still remains to this day. False-fronted stores, a U.S. post office, public school, livery stable, and a blacksmith shop, along with a drugstore, and more graced Grand Avenue. A few of the buildings are still standing, and it is interesting to take a self-guided walk with the “Los Olivos Historical Walk Tour” map to check them out. Part of the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café, was formerly owned by a local Butcher, Bent Clausen, who operated “Clausen’s Old Fashion Deli” on the site, prior to being “Allmendinger’s Deli” before Sam bought the property.
Many residents still live in and around Los Olivos. They are inspired by the quite, country charm and sense of community. Their love for the area is probably still very close to those of Alden Boyd and Margeret Alexander Boyd’s daughter, Joan, who is quoted in William Etlings “Sideways in Neverland: Life in the Santa Ynez Valley” as remembering “There seemed so much to do – the hayrides; the horseback rides; the picnics and swims in the Santa Ynez River and Zaca Lake; picnics to Nojoqui Falls; the trips at Christmas time in the buckboard to the upper part of the Santa Agueda Canyon to get our Christmas tree, a digger pine; the long hot summer days, lying in the hammock on the veranda and listening to the bells on the grain wagon teams as they went by on the road below our hill, lost in a cloud of dust…it was such a thrill, too, listening to the eerie cry of the coyotes at night, in the hills across the road from our house – probably one or two, that sounded like ten.”
The identity of Los Olivos is so authentic that the iconic town has been used as the location setting for some of the scenes in the made-for-tv movie “Return to Mayberry” – based on the 1960’s “The Andy Griffith Show,” the infamous double date scene with Wine Wall backdrop at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café in the 2004 movie “Sideways,” and numerous commercials shot within the area.
This past year, Los Olivos District officially became the latest AVA designated in the Santa Ynez Valley. Named after Alden Boyd’s Rancho de los Olivos, it encompasses the townships of Solvang, Los Olivos, Ballard and Santa Ynez. This district has the largest concentration of vineyards and wineries, and is the oldest in the Santa Barbara County – going back to when the Spanish Franciscans founded Mission Santa Ines in 1804 and planted grapevines, which produced small quantities of wine. The Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Café are proud to have relationships with many of these boutique wineries, offering their unique vintages for tasting and sale. Be sure to stop in and speak with their knowledgeable Wine Merchants to discover these local jewels.
Currently, Los Olivos is home to unique, locally owned boutique shops, art, fine dining, and wine tasting rooms. The intimate nature of the town makes it easily accessible to explore on foot.
William Etling, Sideways in Neverland: Life in the Santa Ynez Valley The Los Olivos District Winegrowers Alliance
LOBO – Los Olivos Historical Walk Tour
Here are the TWO SELECTED WINNING STORIES of our, “Our Los Olivos Cafe Story” contest. First Place winner receives two seat at our 20th Anniversary Celebration, December 12th. Second Place winner receives lunch for two with Bernat wine. These are two well told, true stories, worth reading. Each uniquely reflect an experience at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe that is an honor to share. Vote for the story you pick for 1st Place on Facebook!
A Few, Small Steps Away By: Patricia M. Mahon
It was a cold and rainy afternoon in town. The tasting rooms were quieter in the rain, but the wine was louder. There’s something about inclement weather and a glass of pinot that is deafening. The sidewalks thundered with downpours and drizzle. The hillsides bellowed with streaming lavender and chamomile and the vineyards resounded with the rhythm of fruit ripening, developing, and evolving into perfect maturity.
As I walked with friends in and out of the welcoming counters and table-tops of smiling wine purveyors, we came across an elderly couple in the rain moving slowly toward a cafe. The older gentleman leaned heavily on his cane as a small, bent woman clung to his elbow. Rain cascaded off his plaid, newsboy cap and rolled down his ruddy face as he enquired about lunch. A young woman informed them that the café was “in-between” serving hours … meaning they were done with lunch and not yet ready for dinner. Looking aside to his wife who was unsteady beneath her bucket rain hat, the man turned back to the girl and asked if they could wait, or stand inside, or simply come in out of the rain. They were met with an “I’m sorry, no, and I can’t have you in the doorway so please clear the area.”
The man pivoted his cane back down into the street with his wife tightly hinged to his hip. With a chivalrous glare he pulled her close as sheets of rain undulated across Grand Avenue whipping the flag pole and rousing the tasting room canopies and awnings. Water erupted from down spouts and drive-ways as the run-off of the younger, mobile generation rushed along the curb side and swirled around their lace-up walking shoes.
As I watched them slowly move away, I thought about how many battles he had fought and how many wars he had won. I thought about how many tiny steps she had steadied and how many small hands she had held. I decided that we can do better … that we must do better. I ran ahead and intercepted them.
“Please, come with me.’ I said. “I know another place right across the street where you can have a late lunch and get in out of the rain.” The man looked at me with surprise and uncertainty. The woman looked up at him and then back down at her wet shoes.
“I’m sorry about that young girl,” I added gesturing back to the café. “That’s not how we are or how we should be.” His face slowly emitted a half-smile. He straightened up and said, “Okay. You lead the way. We’ll walk.”
I toddled beside them for what was mere minutes but seemed like a life time. I commented on the rain and the flowers. I talked about traffic and tourists. I chatted about wine and horses. They did not engage me. The walk was enough. As I looked across at him, I saw a man that had lived. His soft eyes and still-strong hands told a story of a patriarch and a provider. He was strength and resolve wrapped cavalierly in a British Khaki London Fog rain coat.
She was a caretaker. Her face was furrowed with the fine lines of patience and the deep folds of compassion. She was the kind of woman upon whose back generations were raised and upon whose fortitude the tradition of family endured. In a place where we revere classic cars and clamor for vintage wine, these two shuffled quietly along the sidewalk, moving inconspicuously through a world that had quite simply left them behind.
Step by step I felt the absurdity of the aging process. It is, after all, as Yeats said “tied to us like a tail to a dog.” Getting old is not random selection. It is not the luck of the draw or a tug of the short straw. But for the grace of God there go I, you and all of us.
As we reached, “the other place,” the old woman looked up at me for the very first time. She did not speak. She examined me, and I examined her. In the soft hollow beneath her cheek, I saw my grandmother’s face from so long ago when she confided in me one snowy afternoon back in New York … that life was 5 minutes.
I opened and held the door to the new café as the couple shuffled in. We were greeted by another young woman with a warm smile. “Three?” she queried. I said, “Well no, we are not together. You see, I just walked them over … they are looking for a warm place.” She smiled again, caught my eyes, and nodded, “Of course” and quickly seated the pair at a table by the fire. She set the man’s cane beside him, placed their hats by the mantle, and hung their wet coats on a spare chair. The old gent and his grand dame looked across at each other and seemed utterly transformed. I would be lying if I did not admit that they looked young again.
I quietly slipped out the door as the young woman popped her head out and called after me, “Thank you for bringing them,” she said. As I bounded into the street, I replied, “Of course,” and we shared an existential nod, and I felt in that moment that I had passed a torch.
I never saw the old couple again or since, and I know that bringing them some comfort was really a small gesture in the grand scheme of things. But, I firmly believe that it is the consistency of small deeds that can bring about monumental change. Sometimes life presents us moments that allow us to simply be people again. I firmly believe that part of our membership in the human race includes an inherent responsibility to protect and safeguard those that are weaker and more vulnerable than ourselves.
The Wine Merchant Café presented the better side of us that day, the quintessentially human side in a world that in so many ways has lost focus and perspective and manners. It truly is a gathering place where friends meet, stories are told, wine is shared, and despite an outside world that often rages beyond our control, we can take personal moments and make our part of everyday life a little more perfect.
Perhaps the larger lesson here is that within every tempest there is a calm harbor and within every storm there is a safe place. And that despite the tragedies that we have endured as a society, as a people, and as a town there is always a warm fire and a friendly smile … just a few, small steps away.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a celebration at Los Olivos Cafe! By Rachel Scott Everett
We first dined at Los Olives Cafe back in 2003 on a weekend getaway from LA. Driving into Santa Ynez Valley, the stress of our advertising jobs melted away. We were smitten with the beauty of the countryside, the quaintness of the area and the carefree vibe that instantly made us relax.
After a day of wine tasting, we ended up at Los Olivos Cafe, eating dinner in the corner seats of the bar. Everything about it was perfect – the wine, the food, the ambience. We were hooked. Little did we know how special this unassuming cafe would become.
While in LA, we visited wine country often and always got our Los Olivos Cafe “fix” when there. Our careers eventually took us to New York and later, Las Vegas – we even spent a combined 2 years backpacking around the world. But no matter what, we always made sure to return to Santa Ynez Valley, our favorite place of all our travels. When we did, it was at Los Olivos Cafe that we’d talk about our hopes and dreams for our life together. Sitting there in “our” corner of the bar, enjoying The Good Life… it felt like we had all the time in the world and that anything was possible.
Finally, after 12 years of love, loyalty and friendship, we made the momentous decision to elope to Santa Ynez Valley on December 31, 2012. We stayed at the Vineyard Retreat and enjoyed our first dinner as husband and wife that very evening at Los Olivos Cafe. It was a magical time!
We now live in Virginia, but always think of Santa Ynez Valley and our special spot at Los Olivos Cafe. In fact, we’ll be out there again to celebrate our anniversary next month. Who knows, maybe one day, we’ll stay for good…
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.
The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café has been offering quality dining for guests looking for excellent, freshly prepared food on a daily basis since 1995. Recently, they have expanded their service to bring that same level of expertise for intimate group experiences inside and outside the restaurant.
For those looking for a quiet place to meet, located in an exclusive section of the restaurant is a beautifully appointed room with rustic, wainscoted walls using recycled barn wood. The warm tones make this a perfect retreat for elegant private gatherings. Artwork on the walls creates additional charm, while a mounted high definition TV that can be used for presentations during corporate events or slide shows celebrating life moments, adds practical usability to the room. The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café is known for it’s inventive use of seasonal, locally sourced produce to create world-class signature dishes. Their knowledgeable and friendly staff is happy to assist in choosing wines and selecting a delicious customized menu to fit your budget
For off-site events, the Los Olivos Café will deliver everything needed for a successful dining experience with their new catering van. Serving up the flavors of the California Central Coast, private residences or businesses can now host a top notch dining experience direct from the kitchen of talented Executive Chef Chris Joslyn. In addition to working with staff to customize the menu, there is discount pricing available from the restaurants wine selection for all off-site events too.
The beautiful Santa Barbara Wine Country also offers many opportunities for an alfresco experience at a nearby park or winery. By calling ahead, a small group of 20 or more can order a 3 course gourmet lunch for delivery to any place with normal vehicle access in the Santa Ynez Valley or groups can pick up the budget friendly $20/per person lunch spread to take with them on their journey.
The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café celebrates the bounty of the region, offering the best of the local wines and working with nearby growers and farmers to insure each dish will be an exceptional and memorable experience for guests.
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.