The Friendly Faces at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant

March 15, 2016

The Los Olivos Wine Merchant offers visitors over 400 labels to choose from – many of them sourced from local, family-owned boutique wineries dedicated to producing excellent, small production wines. With such an extensive selection, it could be a bit challenging to pick just the right bottle, but savvy owners Sam and Shawnda Marmostein have knowledgeable staff on hand to help make sure you chose a wine that will please your palate.

2016-03-03 10.33.35Andre2016-03-03 10.29.01w Scherer, Wine Director, has been with the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café since early 2015. Starting out as a busser in the hospitality industry at the Pebble Beach Resort in Monterey, CA, Andrew worked hard to make his way up from a busser to becoming a server and sommelier. His professional progression included passing the first two levels of the Court of Masters Sommeliers, an independent examining body established in 1977 that offers certificates and diplomas for Sommeliers, and a move to Beverly Hills, where he became part of the team opening Wally’s Vinoteca – with 1,000 labels in their retail space. Although he learned a lot about the wine industry’s retail side, Andrew missed the Central Coast. So, when the opportunity came to work at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant, he jumped at the chance. Andrew has loved working with Sam and Shawnda. He feels they provide a working environment that is comfortable and caring. And, he has appreciated their mentorship. One of the “perks” of his job is the opportunity to get out into the community and develop relationships. Los Olivos is a close-knit township with 48 tasting rooms, which have a long-standing tradition of mutual respect and support, something Andrew says is unique and that you won’t find everywhere. The Santa Barbara County is home to 6 AVA’s (the latest addition, the Los Olivos AVA, was officially added February 22, 2016). Andrew enjoys the opportunity of meeting and supporting winemakers from operations of all sizes. He is proud that the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe’s labels include many from small family wineries and is excited to introduce their product to the public. Since moving to the Santa Ynez Valley, Andrew has begun learning how to horseback ride.

IMG_61932016-03-03 10.45.18Sarah Farley, Wine Merchant, spent some time studying wine in Europe through a vineyard apprenticeship in Tuscany and wine classes in Bordeaux, before moving to Temecula, CA, where she managed a wine tasting room. Gradually she developed an interest in learning more about the Central Coast’s Pinot and Chardonnay varietals. While searching for more information, she found a job posting for the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Café, and immediately called to set up an interview. Recognizing a great opportunity, Sarah accepted the position and has been happily working with visitors to find just the right wine for the past 6 months. Sarah feels her job is to be a liaison between the producers and the buyers. As one of the largest local wine providers in the area, there is so much to offer – many of them unique mom and pop labels that she is excited to represent. She is fascinated by the people who walk through the door, many from Los Angeles, and feels that she learns so much about wine from their conversations and exchange of ideas. Sarah is delighted to work in a place where she feels empowered to learn and do better. She feels that Sam and Shawnda lift people up with positive reinforcements rather than micro management. Because of that, everyone does well – because everyone wants it to do well, this makes for a happy, warm environment that is felt by everyone who walks through the door. With the encouragement of Sam, Shawnda, Andrew and the rest of the staff, Sarah is currently studying for her level 1 Sommelier exam in April. When she isn’t studying, Sarah likes to play a mean game of pool.

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2016-03-03 10.50.342016-03-03 10.45.37Cassy Misiewicz is the latest Wine Merchant to join the staff. After graduating in 2014, she moved back to the Central Coast. At the time she didn’t know much about wine, but a close friend of hers offered her a job in a tasting room. Although she was nervous, the experience opened her eyes, and she found herself wanting to learn more about wine. Eventually, she decided to make the move to the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe when a position opened up. She enjoys working with the people who come in and feels that part of her job is to interpret – trying to figure out what the buyer likes and match it to a wine they will enjoy. Cassy also enjoys the mutually beneficial relationship with the other winetasting businesses in Los Olivos. She likes to share new wines, and gets a lot of enjoyment from seeing the changes. Cassy feels that Sam and Shawnda take the heart of food and wine and bring it all together. When she first arrived, she felt there was a true communal effort to help her learn, with a respectful exchange of information and knowledge. She enjoys knowing she can be herself, which makes coming to work and meeting with buyers fun. Eventually Cassy would like to take WSET courses to learn more about the technical aspects of the wine business. Perhaps she will also expand her knowledge of the little French and Russian languages she speaks too.

With all of the choices before them, the wine all three were most excited about at this time was ‘A Tribute to Grace’ 2015 Rose of Grenache, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, Santa Barbara County, California Wine. Winemaker Angela Osborn, born in New Zealand, does not have a tasting room, so Andrew works with her directly to get her wines into the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café. “Exceptional” was the word used to describe this offering. Sarah also remarked that she was getting very excited about the Pinot from the Santa Maria Valley – learning about the specific traits they had in common. And Cassy has been enjoying a lot of Syrah, especially ‘Zotovich’ 2013 Syrah, Blair Fox.

No matter where your tastes lead you, one thing is clear. When you visit the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café, you will be met by wine merchants who are knowledgeable, friendly, and who will take the time to talk with you about your preferences – making sure that you leave with a bottle (or two) you will truly enjoy.

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“Cupid’s Choice” at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe

February 2, 2016

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café have selected the perfect wine to accent all of the romantic moments you have planned for your day. The Cupid’s Choice features three local wines from distinct wineries that pride themselves on the love and care that goes into each vintage. Each winery is unique, yet shares a common thread – that of close family and friends, coming together to pour their heart and soul into creating wine that reflects their own joy in life and pride in the land and grapes they love. Let “Cupid’s Choice” lead you on a day of mutual discovery! Start with a lovely burst of brunch-time bubbles courtesy of a sparkling “Brut Rose.” Then, after a day of adventures, you can look forward to a “Slice of Heaven” served with a great meal. As the evening deepens, bring your Valentine closer for a “Sweet Ending” with a premier dessert wine. “Cupid’s Choice” has romance written all over it! The collection sells for only $93 (regularly $108) and if you come in to purchase in-store, it includes a beautiful Italian Wine box, a suitably charming gift for your favorite Valentine.

Riverbench 2013 Sparkling Brut Rose

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery was established in 1973. Located on the southeastern side of the Santa Maria Valley, the alluvial soils proved a match made in heaven for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes planted on the property. The winery is committed to sustainable winegrowing practices, and their wines brilliantly reflect their inspiration – Champagne in France, the country of romance and celebration. Their tasting room, located on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, is in a restored 1920s craftsmen style house. The garden includes a bocce ball court and a horseshoe pit, and is a lovely property to visit for a wine country picnic. Riverbench presents a small portfolio of wines from their outstanding vineyard, which results in wine of “uncommon character and dimension.”

Riverbench’s 2013 Sparkling Brut Rose is lightly perfumed with aromas of lilac and a hint of rosewater. This palest blush pink wine boasts noticeably fine bubbles, and in the mouth, flavors of meringue, marzipan, and raspberries are made all the more intriguing by a sensual hint of sauvage.

Babcock 2012 Pinot Noir, “Slice of Heaven”

Babcock Winery & Vineyards was established in 1978. Mona and Walter Babcock purchased the 110-acre property, off hwy 246, in the western side of the Santa Ynez Valley. Originally planting 20 acres to Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, in 1983 they created their first experimental vintage. Encouraged by the results, the couple decided to move forward with plans for a small winery. In the meantime, their son decided to investigate the “wine thing” with his parents, which prompted a change in his education plans. He spent a couple of years of enology course work, but after crushing some Gewurztraminer in 1984, he forgot about school and ended up being awarded gold medals at the L.A. and Orange County Fairs for his 1984 Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc. From there, a love affair with wine has been blossoming over the last 40 years. Says Brian “…I do like the idea of pulling corks on wines that are like a dream come true.”

Babcock’s 2012 Pinto Noir, “Slice of Heaven” is dry and bright in acidity, and would be excellent with beef, pork, and dishes of wild game. The tannins are fairly thick for a Pinot Noir. The winemaker notes, “If you want to get a handle on what the excitement is all about in the Sta. Rita Hills, just taste this wine that was grown in the absolute epicenter of the place.”

Foxen 2013 Sweet Ending Dessert Wine

The Foxen Vineyard and Winery lies deep in the Santa Barbara wine country. By following the quaint, twisting, rural Foxen Canyon Road, visitors will discover the historic Rancho Tinaquaic, on what remains of the original Mexican land grant ranch that covered most of the current Foxen Canyon. Once there, stop first to see “The Shack.” Renamed foxen 7200, the small, rustic building is where it all began when friends Dick Dore and Bill Wathen founded the Winery in 1985. Then, travel a little bit farther up the road to the new solar-powered winery and the FOXEN tasting room. Although far from the sea, the name of the winery is in memory of Dick’s great-great grandfather, Benjamin Foxen, who was an English sea captain in the early 1800s before coming to Santa Barbara and purchasing the land. His love of the sea is reflected in the distinctive anchor which became his cattle brand, and then later the trademark of the Foxen Vineyard & Winery.

Foxen’s 2013 “Sweet Ending” Dessert Wine brings to mind a walk through a blossom-filled meadow in the prime of spring. It’s taste, like an unforgettable kiss.

Let “Cupid’s Choice” 3-pack collection from the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café provide the romantic notes of a very special Valentine’s Day!

Perpetual Dawn: Solminer Rising

December 9, 2014

Solminer vineyard
Anna, Linus, and David

Prior to my life in the wine business, I worked for a small record label based in Los Angeles called Plug Research.  Operating an independent record label, and putting together a roster of artists that reflect a forward-thinking curator, is in many ways like creating a winery: the vineyards you work with are your artists, and your role in the cellar functions much like that of a producer, guiding your artists to their highest expression without losing the essence of what makes them special.  David DeLaski, a veteran of the Los Angeles music scene, understands this concept better than anyone, as reflected in the beautiful wines he is making alongside his wife Anna under their new label, Solminer.  I met the two of them at their vineyard and home in Los Olivos this past week to discuss life after the music business, organic farming, and winemaking with an eye toward the natural.

“Music is something you can get deeper and deeper into, with a great community, and there’s a bit of an obsession there,” says David DeLaski.  “There are a lot of parallels with wine in that sense.”  As both winemakers and musicians can attest, there is an all-consuming quality to these passions; once you’ve got the bug, you can think of nothing else.  “I came to wine through my dad,” recalls David.  “He was a businessman who enjoyed wine and so I got exposed to it at a very young age.  I don’t have a cellar of old dusty bottles, though.  I never became a big wine collector; wine was never a huge part of life until all this, until we started making wine.  Some people are big collectors of music, but I was never an obsessive record collector; I loved to create it.”

Solminer did not begin with the grand ambitions of becoming the next cult winery or building a 10,000 case brand.  Rather, it grew naturally out of the love of the craft of winemaking and the joy of farming.  “Honestly, we weren’t quite sure how we’d fit into all this,” says David.  “At first it was like ‘well, we’ll be weekenders and make a barrel of Gruner Veltliner.’  But you get sucked into this community in a really wonderful way.  So we took a chance on it all, and we’re really glad we did.”  The two also fortuitously connected with Steve Clifton of Palmina and Brewer-Clifton fame to guide the winemaking and help them focus their goals in the cellar.  “We got hooked up with Steve because we loved his wines, and I think he was open to what we’re doing because it was something different, Gruner Veltliner,” recalls David.  “If we were just another producer making Pinot Noir I don’t know if he would have been interested.”

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While their first vintage of Gruner came from John Sebastiano Vineyard, going forward it will come entirely from their estate DeLanda Vineyard in Los Olivos.  Their small home vineyard is a beautiful property, with a palpable energy that one can sense upon entering the driveway, originally planted entirely to Syrah when the DeLaskis took it over.  Starting with a clean slate, they made the decisions to alter the varietal focus and to farm it organically, in large part because of concerns for their young son Linus.  “The bottom line is, it was never a choice, because Linus is down there playing, in the vineyard, in the dirt,” emphatically states Anna.  “So we decided from the beginning, if we have to deal with something, it’s going to be done organically.”  The couple has also begun incorporating biodynamic practices in the vineyard, a philosophy which, again, grew out of the development they saw in their children first.  “Our background in biodynamics comes from the side of Waldorf education, which has opened us up to a lot of ideas and philosophies that Steiner had,” says David.  “My older boys go to a Waldorf school, and if our vines grow anything like they have, then maybe there’s something to Steiner’s philosophy.”

Though their vineyard still has quite a bit of Syrah planted, they’ve grafted increasing amounts to Blaufrankisch and Gruner Veltliner.  Anna, a native of Austria’s famed Wachau region, guided the couple towards this decision to plant two of Austria’s most noble grapes, rarely seen outside of their homeland.    They’re also making the unique choice to create a Blaufrankisch-Syrah blend, the first of its kind to my knowledge.  “Adding a little Blaufrankisch to the Syrah is amazing,” smiles David.  “Just 5 or 10%, it’s really cool.”  Their winemaking, following along the lines of their farming approach, leans toward the natural, utilizing native yeasts, mostly neutral vessels, and minimal sulfur.  “We never really made a conscious decision to be ‘natural winemakers’,” states David.  “It’s kind of ingrained with the rest of our philosophy.  The more I understood about the winemaking process, the more I started to taste the difference in those kinds of wine, and the more I taste them, I find myself drawn to them.  I appreciate mistakes or natural occurrences from year to year.”  The DeLaskis interpretation still means that there must be a core of deliciousness first and foremost; these wines are natural, but they are also clean, precise, and bright.

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Tasting through the current Solminer lineup was a revelation.  Their Gruner, utterly distinctive, seemed to marry the lentil and pepper notes the variety is known for with a textural weight reminiscent of Roussanne, as well as autumnal notes of baked apple and cinnamon.  Their estate Syrah was also singular, sort of Crozes-Hermitage meets the Langhe in its marriage of iron, pepper, earth, and dried leaf.  The star of the lineup, however, was their sparkling Syrah, “Nebullite”.  It reminded me of one of my favorite wines on the planet, Camillo Donati’s Lambrusco.  There was a living quality to the wine, imbued with the same notes of earth their still Syrah possessed along with extra dimensions of macerated raspberry and a thrilling sous bois, Balsamic character.  “As a musician, I was never classically trained.  I always liked to improvise, and to me, natural wine has that improvisatory nature, it’s like jazz.”  To continue the jazz comparison, that sparkling Syrah was like the first time I heard Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come: You either get it or you don’t, but if it speaks to you, it is an experience like no other.

When I first met Anna and David months ago here at the Café, I noticed their exuberance and air of positivity, qualities that were in abundance on my recent visit.  One immediately senses that these are two people in love, living their dream, and that joy radiates through their wines.  “The key was meeting Anna and coming here, and falling in love with her and with this place,” smiles David.  “And then going to Austria together, and seeing how ingrained wine is in the culture and the community there.  When we returned, we realized we had that same community here, and that we could create that same lifestyle in Santa Ynez.”


Check out Solminer’s wines at our first ever Natural Wine Fair!
This Wednesday December 10th at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe, 6-8 PM

Or buy them online:
Solminer 2013 Riesling, Santa Barbara County
Solminer Sparkling Syrah, ‘Nebullite’

The French Connection

November 25, 2013

“This is a wonderful Pinot Noir, it’s very Burgundian”… “I think you’ll really enjoy this Syrah, it’s a dead ringer for something from the Northern Rhone”… “Their Chardonnay is beautiful, it drinks just like a great Chablis”.  We’ve all heard these comments (and I’m certainly guilty of uttering them) in regards to Californian wines.  It’s almost as if the greatest compliment we can pay a balanced wine from the New World is that it tastes like something from the Old World.  After almost 30 years of high-alcohol, ultra-ripe wines, it’s understandable that those of us championing this return to wines of balance and place would want to connect the dots to Europe’s more classically structured, subdued wines.  But if we expect to stand head to head with, rather than on the shoulders of, these old world giants, we have to start proudly owning our unique sense of place.

Santa Barbara County, despite its youth, has already carved out numerous small micro-regions with their own distinct site character.  Santa Maria Valley, Santa Maria Bench, Los Alamos Valley, Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Ballard Canyon, and the Los Olivos District all have distinctive soils, macroclimates, and topography found only in this special part of the world, and the producers advocating for these areas, now more than ever, are capturing their idiosyncratic essence.

Take Justin Willett.  The winemaker behind Tyler, Lieu Dit, and Vallin (does he ever sleep?!?) is crafting wines at refreshingly low alcohols, with a vivid savor of place.  While his inspiration comes from Burgundy (Tyler), the Loire (Lieu Dit), and the Northern Rhone (Vallin), the wines could clearly have come from nowhere else but California.  The beet root and black pepper of his Bien Nacido Pinot Noir from Santa Maria; the guava, papaya, and musk notes of the Lieu Dit Sauvignon Blanc from Happy Canyon; the lush blueberry and cracked pepper of Vallin’s Santa Ynez Syrah; these are wines that stand on their own as benchmark examples of what our area is capable of.

Or sample the Grenache of Angela Osborne.  It comes from Santa Barbara Highlands, a vineyard so remote and wild that it feels like stepping onto the moon; 3200 ft. elevation, soils so sandy that they look like a dune, scrub dotting the landscape, snow in the winter.  This is a place with real character, from a winemaker who has tapped so deeply into her own wavelength that she’s essentially a genre of one.  Tasting this wine, one senses the feral high desert in its origins, the California sunshine, the passion of a woman walking the vinous tightrope with no harness; the essence of what this new movement is all about.

And let us not forget our pioneers, the wild ones who started on this path of balance and never strayed from it even when fashion swung away from them.  Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat; Lane Tanner; Adam Tolmach at Ojai; Stephan Bedford; Fred Brander; they have helped shepherd and inspire this new generation, and are still making beautiful wines, further defining what makes our region so special.

It is a thrilling time to be a wine lover in Santa Barbara County.  We have one of the most unique growing regions on the planet, with incredible soils, a huge range of climates, and topography to make any European envious.  And now, in a big way, we have a wine culture that is starting to take proud ownership of this utterly singular sense of place.  Perhaps one day, years from now, we will hear jealous murmurs in Burgundy: “Have you tried this?  It tastes just like a Pinot Noir from the Sta. Rita Hills…”

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