We are thrilled to introduce Julie Cox, our new Wine Director at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant. Julie brings an impressive resume with tenured experience in the wine industry. She speaks fluent French perfected by her time living in France under the tutelage of French winemakers. Julie is an expert of local Central Coast wine, learning the various aspects of our local wine industry by working with local winemakers at tasting rooms and first-hand through creating her own locally-sourced wines. Now, we are lucky to share her wealth of knowledge at the Wine Merchant.
At the Wine Merchant, we always strive to bring a high level of personal connection to our restaurant and wine shop. Getting to know the tastes and needs of our customers is what we can do well, and is what sets us apart. We want to showcase the very best of Central Coast wine, and it is our hope that you will enjoy learning a little more about who we’ve entrusted in selecting the wines that make it onto our wine list and our shelves
We hope you enjoy this Q & A with Julie, our new Wine Director!
Q: Julie, the wine industry has inspired professionals from all backgrounds, one thing they have in common is they share a similar “Aha” moment when they decided to dig deeper into the world of wine. Did you have an “Aha” moment like this?
Julie: I didn’t grow up with fine wines in my house, but as a native Santa Barbarian, I was always surrounded by the wine culture. I grew up with great cooking in my household, and I feel like food is a natural segway for wine to be involved. My grandmother bought my first bottle of wine for me to use with cooking, and it was my first foray into the relationship of wine and food. My ‘Aha’ moment came to me on my first wine tasting trip to the Santa Ynez Valley. I was 21 (just before “Sideways” took the area by storm) and went down the Foxen Canyon Trail to stop at Curtis Vineyards. I tasted a Syrah made by Chuck Carlson and instantly knew wine was going to be in my life forever. I knew little to nothing about wine, but I knew that magic and nuance could be discovered in every individual bottle. I’ve spent every day since gaining a better understanding of what exactly creates our attraction to wines.
Q: I know you make wine as a hobby on the side. Will you share a little bit more about this and what you’ve learned from the process?
Julie: My background is in biology and chemistry, so I was naturally curious about how wine was made. I have participated in seven harvests in France, Switzerland, and our beautiful Santa Barbara Wine Country. I started to make wine on my own four years ago to create my own stamp on the wine world. It has given me insight into the small-production process and how it affects the wine. This is very important working in a close-knit small-production community.
Q: From your years of experience in the wine industry, what do you think is the greatest misconception about wine?
Julie: That is easy! Sulfites. The most common misconception about wine is that the sulfur dioxide in wine is responsible for allergies and headaches. Truth be told, there are more sulfites in apple juice or dried apricots. More likely people are having a histamine reaction to the tannins or other compounds naturally present because of the winemaking process.
Q: Do you have any guidelines or rules of thumb that you use for pairing wine with food?
Julie: For me, food and wine pairing is part education and part instinct. It is important to take into consideration the components of the dish as well as the elements and nuances of the wine. My rule of thumb is to consider the primary characteristics in the dish and find a wine that will highlight or counterbalance them. If I am unsure of what wine to pair, I often choose a red or white wine blend. The beauty of a blended wine is that by the winemaker’s intention the wine is meant to have a balance of acidity, fruit, and tannins. This makes them a safe bet when pairing with food and sharing among friends.
Q: What do you enjoy about working at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and what are some things you look forward to bringing to it?
Julie: The Wine Merchant is focused on personalized customer service. Having a restaurant and wine shop gives everyone who visits a well-rounded and wonderful wine country experience. With over 20 years of having an experienced staff makes and adapting to the needs of this community, the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Café is a welcoming place to dine and shop. This is why I am delighted to be the new Wine Director and share the experience with everyone.
Julie or another member of our fabulous Wine Merchant staff are always on-hand to assist anyone looking for their next great bottle of wine, at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe! Shop for wine online at shop.WineMerchantCafe.com or visit us at 2879 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos.
Doug Margerum has a very specific, direct goal for his Margerum label wines: making “Food friendly, at-the-table wines”. This approach is very evident in the design of Margerum’s Buellton tasting room & winery (open on the weekends behind Figueroa Mountain Brewing). The small tasting room opens into a large kitchen, where a fresh meal is often prepared for the winery staff’s lunch. A long communal table represents the bulk of the tasting room, demonstrating the clear intent to serve Margerum wines with a delicious paired plate of food.
An early introduction to Wine
Doug’s real wine roots start at the Wine Cask, a small Santa Barbara wine shop his family acquired 37 years ago, evolving into a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant. As one of Santa Barbara’s highly-decorated and venerable restaurants, Doug found the focus for his wines to-be: “I unabashedly make table wines!” Under his successful Margerum Wine Co. label, a steady production of food-friendly wines makes their way throughout Santa Barbara County and beyond. Margerum Sauvignon Blanc was even featured at President Obama’s final State Dinner in 2016.
Doug’s first foray into wine was on a European vacation in his youth, in dark French wine caves where so many have opened their eyes into wine culture. Chateauneuf du Pape helped Doug become the Wine Expert among his friends and family, an amateur sommelier to suggest wines. As Doug’s wine and food education grew, he became a true sommelier, a local winemaker under many labels (and in France!), and a successful restauranteur. Doug was asked to join the Smithsonian National Museum’s American History Kitchen Cabinet, a board of luminaries in the food & beverage industries. Doug also befriended Julia Child during her long time as a Santa Barbara resident.
Doug’s word for what he puts into his wine is “Personality” – Doug tries to bring wine to the table per his standards – wines he wants to drink and he hopes others love. His history in the restaurant business and as a consulting winemaker can attest to the success of these wines.
What brings each and every Margerum Wine together is that signature dash of Doug’s personality and approach to wine: High acidity, low alcohol wines that add punch and flavor to each and every meal. He freely compares his industry to “glorified drug dealers… because we get you on something.. and once you go that next step up in quality, you can’t go back down!”
The former Honea vineyard in Los Olivos, now a Margerum Rhône varietal vineyard, produces the heart of the “M5” Red blend – a crafty blend of Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. This Flagship wine of the brand is modeled directly after Châteauneuf du Pape style Rhônes.
The M5 White, a rich, fruity blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Vermentino, comes full circle from Doug’s travels through France, and his inspiration to make a white Rhône wine. As a second “M5”, it’s the spiritual companion to the flagship M5 Red. This organically farmed wine is also a product of the Los Olivos district.
A lasting influence on Santa Barbara County Wine
Doug continues to consult for La Encantada and Happy Canyon Vineyards, along with others. His influence and personality-driven wines are guaranteed to remain synonymous with Santa Barbara Country wine for decades to come. While the Margerum winery is open to the public on weekends in Buellton, you can visit their El Paseo tasting room every day in Santa Barbara, with a new tasting room coming soon in the Hotel Californian!
Doug’s incredible story as a successful Santa Barbara winemaker is part of Santa Barbara Wine Country history. Read more of our winemaker interviews in our blog here!
Many winemakers “fall” into winemaking as a side project that grows into a full-fledged company or a passing of the torch in a family-run business. However, Chuck Carlson got into the wine industry from the get-go with an early inclination to make wine. Growing up on a farm in the balmy San Joaquin Valley, Chuck admits he wanted to live closer to the coast. Like so many other talented Santa Barbara winemakers, Chuck started out at “Zaca University,” a colloquial reference to Zaca Mesa Winery.
In his early years, Chuck and others were still learning how to grow the best grapes in the valley. Through “admittedly” everyone stumbled growing Cabernet or other grapes we know now are best suited to Napa and Sonoma. Chuck can certainly claim to have seen it all in our corner of the winemaking world.
Carlson Wines doesn’t have their own tasting room; keeping his operation low profile with a limited, but exclusive distribution. Between this month as our featured winemaker in our Monthly Featured Winemaker Series and his normal bottlings, Chuck typically only produces 2,500 cases a year.
Traditional Approach to Wine
We ask our featured winemakers to sum up their winemaking style in one word. Chuck didn’t hesitate; describing his style as “Traditional.” We can vouch for this! In his decades in Santa Barbara County and Arroyo Grande, he’s kept a consistent, traditional style of winemaking dating back to early California labels.
After 37 years of winemaking, if Chuck Carlson has a preference, it’s Pinot. When his label started in 2004, his focus was creating outstanding Pinot Noirs from the Central Coast. Over the years, Carlson wines have expanded to five different vineyards across multiple local AVAs.
In Chuck’s own words he describes his Pinot: “The 2014 vintage provided Pinot Noirs that tend to reflect the sun year. These wines are impacted by the climate throughout the growing season. There tends to be slightly darker and riper berry flavors that show a beautiful restrained balance. The chemistry of the fruit yields wines that can age gracefully and have a beautiful balance.”
Chuck Carlson’s wine adventure is one of many local vintners in Santa Barbara County. Read our blog for our interviews with several local winemakers as part of our Featured Winemaker series.
Meeting and interviewing Pete Stolpman of Stolpman Vineyards and Winery offered a rare glimpse into how winemakers are born. Pete is the subject of our Featured Local Winemaker series.
We asked Pete to sum up in ONE word an aspect of his personality that gets infused into Stolpman wine. Pete’s answer: “Crazy”! He chose this word as he reflected on his father’s sheer determination to find a property with the same soil characteristics as the European wines he loved. Pete’s father, Tom Stolpman, knew that if he found the limestone soil he was looking for, the rest would fall into place. And… it did.
Pete’s parents, Tom and Marilyn Stolpman founded Stolpman Vineyard and Winery in 1990.
The senior Stolpmans envisioned winemaking as an investment worth pursuing because they could enjoy the fruits of their labor… together. And now, Pete and his wife, Jessica are partners in their family endeavor.
Their 220-acre property in Ballard Canyon— of which a whopping 153 acres are currently planted to grapes– lies on three major limestone ridgelines. By implementing revolutionary viticultural techniques, their mission is to push the dry-farmed limestone vines to unprecedented levels of quality.
Stolpman Vineyards produces Syrah, Roussanne, Grenache, and Sangiovese within the Ballard Canyon AVA. Petite Sirah, Viognier, and Sauvignon Blanc are also grown and produced in limited quantities, as well as some more obscure native French varietals that promise some very interesting wines in the not-so-distant future.
One of the first business decisions the Stolpmans made– a decision that gives them a reputation for being mindful of their role in our community– was to give all their workers full-time employment; they made a commitment to them and their families by providing careers, instead of temporary work. Ruben Solorzano is one of the key players that gives Stolpman wines their stellar reputation. As a 20-year veteran vineyard manager and local viticultural superstar, Ruben organically dry farms the vines for balanced concentration and a healthy ecosystem. Kyle Knapp, head winemaker, and consulting winemaker, Sashi Moorman, round out the team’s talent. Kyle and Sashi work hand-in-hand with Ruben and Pete in timing the harvest of their taut, fresh fruit. Kyle proudly sees himself as the steward, rather than the creator, of Stolpman’s “vineyard crafted” wines.
Here’s Pete Stolpman’s unique ‘how-I-became-a-winemaker” story:
After graduating from Georgetown University, Pete took a management job in Los Angeles. He became increasingly involved in his family’s vineyard operation until it became apparent that jumping into the family business was what he was meant to do. He quit his job, and embarked on a three-year wine training program; he refers to this as the “Master’s Degree by Tom Stolpman.” Pete made wine in Australia and in Italy before returning home to sell wine for the Henry Wine Group, where he was awarded the title, Fine Wine Specialist of the Year in 2008. AT 26 years old! He was the youngest salesman to receive this award (and still holds the record!).
Ready for THE challenge, Pete took over day-to-day management of Stolpman Vineyards in 1990 and hasn’t regretted his decision for one moment.
Pete’s time at Henry Wine Group was not only a great learning opportunity, it was also life- changing in terms of his personal life.
During his training at Henry WineGroup, he met his wife, Jessica. She attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she fell in love with the world of wine through her involvement in the Vines to Wines Club. Upon graduation, she joined the Henry Wine Group, where, she met Pete, AND won the award for Highest Sales Growth. After two years at Henry Wine Group, Jessica moved on to become the Western Regional Sales Manager for Zaca Mesa Winery, just 10 miles north of Stolpman Vineyards on Foxen Canyon Road. Now fully emerged in the family business, Jessica manages the California wholesale market for Stolpman Vineyards.
A long-term vision
The Stolpmans are recognized for their pivotal role in developing the Ballard Canyon AVA. Upon publication of the AVA, Pete was elected President of the Ballard Canyon Wine Growers Alliance. Through his travels promoting Stolpman Vineyards around the world, Pete is also spreading the word about Ballard Canyon’s commitment to Syrah, leading the charge to establish the area as the benchmark Syrah appellation in the New World.
The Stolpman Story is one very similar to many of the other local Santa Barbara Wine Country winemakers that we have interviewed. It started with a dream, that with hard work and determination has made our incredible niche in the world of wine something to be proud of. Having the legacy passed down to the next generation is a sign that our burgeoning wine country is here to stay!
Karen Steinwachs, the winemaker for Buttonwood, is an inspirational example of following your dreams. Although she has been a fixture at Buttonwood since 2007, her journey did not begin with anything close to where she is now. She was instead working in management in the technology industry, sitting in an office in a tall urban building and donning a suit. After 20 years in the tech world Karen decided it was time for a change, she wanted a new career one that allowed her to be outdoors working with her hands, a career change that would become a reality for her with hard work and persistence.
After several attempts to be hired to work the seasonal harvest, Karen was accepted to work at Foley Winery for just $7 an hour and only for a 6-week contract. She was warned that it might not be what she was imagining as many people romanticize the winemaking profession until they try it out and realize how dirty your hands really do get. However, after that 6-week harvest internship, she remained working for Foley for three more years and learned everything she could from highly respected local winemaker Norm Yost (who now has Flying Goat Cellars).
After three years at Foley, Karen was ready to take things to the next level and went to work at Fiddlehead cellars with Kathy Joseph, another local legend. It was while working for Fiddlehead that Karen began to learn about Buttonwood and their philosophies.
After three harvests as the assistant winemaker at Fiddlehead Karen went for her ultimate dream and has been with Buttonwood ever since. Betty would be proud, looking down at her farm where Karen works every vintage to express the land and craft a “wine that will provide pleasure at the table and in the glass.”
We invite you to discover more in our interview with Karen Steinwachs.
Betty Williams (1918-2011), was the founder of Buttonwood Farms in 1968. Her mission statement is all about having a “balanced ecological microcosm;” a living, functioning property with the vineyard, farm, animals, and employees all working together sustainably and in harmony. Betty was a founder of the Land Trust of Santa Barbara County and was very involved in local arts and humanities as well. All of this continues to shape Buttonwood as things grow and the world changes.
Buttonwood was sustainable before a sustainable certification was a thing. With vineyard plantings dating back to 1983, the now 39-acre vineyard boasts several different varietals. Sauvignon Blanc is what locals know Buttonwood for first, but taste the lineup and you’ll soon discover that the excellence doesn’t stop there.
What takes Buttonwood’s sustainability to the next level is the how the land is used, it’s not just a winery, it’s also a very productive farm.
Having the diversity of fruit trees along with the vineyard is how Betty’s mission to have a “balanced ecological microcosm” comes to fruition. A visit to this special tasting room in Solvang, California is an experience, and different throughout the year depending on the season. Peach season is one of our favorites!
January’s Three Featured Buttonwood Wines
During the month of January, we will be offering these three featured Buttonwood wines 20% OFF! (DISCOUNT APPLIED WHEN WINE IS PLACED IN CART)
Take advantage of this and stock up today! Expires January 31st, 2018. Not applicable with other discounts.
We’ve selected this Holiday Three Pack with three wines that will make your holiday gatherings impressive from start to finish! Start off with appetizers and salads paired with the 92 point Metz Road Chardonnay, then move on to your main course with the fun, classic flavors of Objet D’Art Pinot Noir, and when the conversation is warmed up and getting deep, unleash the Destinata GSM Blend. Purchase all three of these wines as a 3-Pack at huge savings while supplies last.
92 points- Wine Enthusiast! Juicy red apples, citrus and bright tropical fruit greet the nose, followed by lilting aromas of vanilla and toasty oak. The palate delivers concentrated apple and pear flavors with a distinct mineral component. Beautifully balanced, the well-integrated oak doesn’t overpower and a soft, full mouthfeel is complemented by a balanced acidity. Regularly $27
Metz Road, a family-owned winery, specilizes in small lot, single vineyard wines. Located in Monterey, 100% of the vineyards are officially certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, a statewide certification program that provides third-party verification of a winery’s commitment to continuous improvement and the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices. The namesake Metz Road runs alongside the family’s Riverview Vineyard, site of their 2012 vintage Chardonnay. Located adjacent to the Pinnacles, nestled on a bench overlooking the Salinas River, it is a Burgundian landscape dramatically influenced by the proximity of the Monterey Bay.
Fruit-driven aromas of cherry and redcurrant greet earthy whiffs of lavender, black pepper, and thyme before strawberry and clove commandeer the palate. Open a bottle at a classy dinner party, and pair it with figs and goat cheese. Regulary $37
Director of Winemaking Ryan Zotovich oversaw every step of this grape-to-glass Pinot Noir, from hand-picking the fruit in Santa Barbara’s Kick On Ranch Vineyard in late August 2015 (an early pick date that grants the eventual wine a leaner style and lower alcohol) to whole-cluster fermenting a quarter of the grapes to aging the wine in neutral oak.
The Kick on Ranch Vineyard has quite the history. In 1854, a determined family traveled to California almost 2000 miles by covered wagon on the Oregon Trail across open plains, mountains and desert. Outside the new village of Santa Rosa they established a “fine ranch” with orchards and 25 acres of vineyards, later lost by Prohibition. In 2000, they planted a new vineyard on the land these pioneers first settled. Since then, they have strived to grow premium grapes for a select group of winemakers, whose wines are defined by effort, promise and optimism, like Kick Ranch itself.
Bright and brooding collide, with lavender and violets, chocolate reduction, dried anise and dusty suede. Juicy, lush palate that delivers generous red fruits backed by dark yet soft tannins. Destinata is a Blend of 68%Grenache, 28% Syrah, and 4% Mouvedre. Regularly $40
Rabble Wine Company creates Central Coast flavors with edgy and historical labels. The end result? A bottle of wine that truly over-delivers. Their Central Coast winery showcases the best fruit from Paso Robles and the Santa Maria Valley.
This is a bottle for lovers of wine labels as well. The labels all incorporate beautiful public domain art rooted in history: woodblock prints from the 1500s, illustrations by John James Audubon, and etchings from William Blake and John Boydell. The labels, like their wines, are known to engage, evoke emotion, and spark conversation. The Destinata GSM Blend’s label story describes a marriage of heaven & hell; sun, moon & angels on the front, with “the damned” riding a serpent across the lake of fire on the back.
PURCHASE ALL THREE AS A 3-PACK AND SAVE 35%! (WHILE SUPPLIES LAST)
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.
For Ernst Storm, wine should tell a story: the story of the site, the story of the grape, and the story of the vintage. For us, his own story is an intriguing adventure that influences his unique approach to winemaking!
Ernst grew up along the Western Cape region of South Africa, an area made famous for winemaking. Although he did not grow up in a family of vignerons, his surroundings heavily influenced both himself and his brother. Ernst knew that he wanted to pursue a line of work that both involved creativity and nature, both of which logically lead him back to his roots.
Not content with just staying home, however, Ernst traveled extensively through Europe and eventually made his way to California, working in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills. There, he was able to balance out his knowledge of cool-climate winemaking that he learned in South Africa with that of the much-warmer Sierra Foothills AVA. He learned how to work with much higher levels of alcohol and pHs, and how to stabilize wines that are far out of balance, all of which have since come in handy with the varying microclimates around Santa Barbara County.
Ultimately it was a desire to explore a wider range of temperatures that drew him to Santa Barbara County. He became the winemaker for Notary Public Wines, drawing from the warmer Happy Canyon AVA to craft some delicious Cabernet Sauvignons and other Bordeaux varietals. The microclimate range, though, is impossible to ignore, opening up unlimited possibilities for winemakers. After establishing his own eponymous label, Storm, Ernst set out to craft wines that tell the story of his background as well as their own.
A prime example is his Sauvignon Blanc: Ernst ages the wine in stainless steel, which is a decidedly New World approach, with lees (or spent yeast cells) included, which is decidedly Old World. The result is what he calls an “American Riviera wine”: one that is bright, refreshing, and infinitely quaffable. In fact, it’s the best selling white wine at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café month after month!
Owner of the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe, Sam Marmorstein, got a chance to sit down with Ernst and learn more about his winemaking methods and path to finding himself as a winemaker in Santa Barbara Wine Country.
Never one to rest on his proverbial laurels, Ernst is constantly exchanging ideas with his brother in South Africa. Since both are winemakers, they continue to inspire and advise each other. Ernst claims that most smaller wineries – and indeed, wine regions – have to figure out what works as they go along. This is a vastly different approach than that of bigger areas like Napa and Bordeaux where big money is spent on formulating wines that meet the specs for both public appeal and critical acclaim. Although that kind of money is helpful, making it up as you go allows the freedom to experiment, and that’s just what Ernst continues to do.
We grow many fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers on the Café Farm, from a variety of lettuces and herbs to carrots, squash, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, beans, and of course – pumpkins. And, you’ll see arrangements of the sunflowers, zinnias, delphinium, bachelor buttons, snapdragons and euphoria decorating the tables at the Café. Many of the flowers are edible, including borage and sweet peas. There’s such an extraordinary abundance that the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café owner’s Sam and Shawnda Marmorstein have been pondering creative ways to share it with customers. Everything grown on our farm is CCOF Organic. The bounty of the farm is brought daily to the Café where Chef Chris is inspired to develop specials with the produce while other items are used as staples in our menu, such as salad greens and the pickles that come with sandwiches and burgers on the lunch menu.
Yes, we make our own pickles! We think that you can’t have a sandwich with house-made buns, house-made burgers, brisket and hand cut fries, and not attend to the fine detail of a delicious homemade pickle, probably the most perfect accompaniment to a sandwich. What’s not to like? With flavors and textures often described as tangy, crispy, crunchy, sharp, spicy, briny, piquant… this could be a wine label!
Did you know that pickles go way, way, and we mean way back?! Many historic figures, including Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, liked pickles. Pickles date back forty-five hundred years to Mesopotamia where it is believed cucumbers were first preserved. Cleopatra, a devoted pickle fan, believed they enhanced her beauty.
Bill Metzgar, a private chef new to the area via New York and LA and his wife Jamie (Jamie is Asst. Wine Director in the Wine Merchant) were talking with owners Sam and Shawnda about the possibility of creating private cooking sessions at their Bernat Winery Retreats. Bill, passionate about the Farm to Table movement, and a former writer for Edible Buffalo, was wowed by the gorgeous organic produce growing in the restaurant garden. Bill said, “We discussed the bounty and what they were doing with it and we struck upon the idea to can and preserve as much as possible, when the time came. The unique varieties of cucumbers and tomatoes beg to be used and enjoyed year round and canning is one way to make that a reality.”
Pickles come in many recipe versions, and adapting the wonderful refrigerator pickle Chef Chris makes for the Café was a unique challenge that they collaborated on, coming up with the Café Farm Pickles that are being sold in the Wine Merchant.
There are two varieties, “Chef’s Deluxe Recipe” and “Spicy Garlic Dills.” We think they came out great – and now, you can enjoy this Café staple and the fresh from the farm flavor year round at home. Purchase Pickles herebefore our very limited supplies run out.
Pickles inspired Thomas Jefferson to write, “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.” We think Jefferson would have loved our Café Farm Pickles, and so will you!
To step onto the Sunstone property is to step back into the Old World.
The gorgeous stone chateau is centered in a beautiful landscape, complete with tranquil space to sip your wine. It’s unlike any other winery in Santa Barbara County and is the result of an Old World sensibility passed down through the Rice family. In our interview, owner and winemaker, Bion Rice, shares the past, present, and future of Sunstone Winery.
According to Bion Rice, who now oversees the winery, his family relocated to Santa Ynez from Santa Barbara seeking better educational opportunities for his two sisters. His mother immediately saw the possibilities for what is now Sunstone. The landscape alone would inspire anyone, but Linda’s focus on “food, family, and friends” allowed her to pursue creating the best possible atmosphere for all. Linda and husband Fred planted Bordeaux varietals assuming they would sell the grapes off to winemakers but quickly became enamoured with making their own. And much like what would happen in a small Provençal village, their local friends were happy to help, pitching in to mentor their efforts and support them every step of the way.
Without any formal training in winemaking to start, Fred and Linda soaked up as much as they could – again, a very Old World approach! They began bottling their wine and by their second vintage, the family found themselves with a few thousand extra cases. Bion did what any loyal farmer’s son would do: he loaded the cases into his truck and began hawking his wares all over Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. His favorites stops were invariably at restaurants, where he’d end up chatting with chefs and tasting through fantastic dishes that opened up the possibilities of pairings for his wines even more. Sunstone’s production and demand increased exponentially and the Rice family soon sold their wines across the country.
Ironically, Bion sees the 2008 recession as a blessing in disguise because it forced the family to scale back and focus on what really mattered to them. This re-assessment renewed their passion for Linda’s initial pursuit of “food, family, and friends,” and the quality of their wine improved drastically. However, the Rices have never veered away from organic farming and are proud to operate the longest running organic winery in all of Santa Barbara. While this may have seemed ahead of its time, commitment to organic farming really just ties back to the Old World version of farming and was part of Linda’s overarching vision.
Today, Bion and his wife oversee operations, including winemaking. Bion plans to keep it in the family and is fostering his sons; in fact, his teenage son Miles helps in the blending process and has final say in which blend ends up in the “Milestone” bottle!
Before summer ends, give yourself a minivacation by visiting Sunstone winery. Step back in time and enjoy the chateau made from reclaimed materials and native stone. Grab a glass of their best-selling rosé and savour the warmth of family and friends that the Rice family has helped build.
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.