Matt Williams the Café’s New General Manager

June 14, 2023

The Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café strives to provide an environment of hospitality to all our guests, which is why we are pleased to announce that Matt Williams is our new General Manager. Matt is no stranger to the café and you may have known him as a Wine Sales Associate and Wine Club Manager. He has been working here in various roles since 2007 with some gap periods that he spent pursuing other passions.

As a natural leader, he is stepping into this role to help drive our business operations forward. With this deep understanding of the ins and outs of the café, a love for wine, and a passion for leadership, he will seamlessly step into the position of General Manager.

Matt’s Goals as General Manager

Matt Williams at the entrance to the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & CafeMatt is a goal-centered individual who is constantly in pursuit of challenging himself and those around him, which is part of his motivation to take on the role of General Manager. To put it in his own words,  “I am looking forward to growing with a group of people and elevating our service and practices.” One of his goals is to learn new skills and explore ways to continue to bring the best quality service to our customers.

We have no doubt he will effectively handle any hurdles in this role because he steadfastly remained with us through the most difficult days of Covid-19 and has seen the ebb and flow of the business through the years. We have always been able to rely on Matt to assist where needed, taking on tasks that aren’t on his list of specified duties. When the restaurant is bustling and food needs brought to guests or dishes need to be bussed from tables, he is always there to help the team.

Matt was even our cellar rat (an affectionate term for those who love the art of making wine and don’t quickly burn out from the hard work involved during harvest) for our Bernat wines. After a long day at the Wine Merchant & Café, he would tend to the daily punch downs required before the wine is ready to go to barrel.

From His First Wine Tasting to Sommelier

” I tend to geek out on things, anything I am involved in, I tend to just take a deep dive.” – Matt

Matt’s persistence is how he came to the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café in 2007 and a reason why we know he will excel in his new role. Once his interest was sparked in a career at the café, he immediately applied and remained persistent for months until he joined our team. No one’s first day ever goes as smoothly as they would wish, but his first day ended at urgent care to get stitches on the tip of his thumb that he managed to nearly cut off. Although he believed that was where his career with us would end, we are happy that he and his thumb continue to be part of the café’s story.

Growing up in Orcutt, California, Matt developed a keen sense of the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez communities and naturally developed an affinity for wine and good food. Right before coming to the café in 2007, he went on his first wine-tasting trip to Paso Robles where he stumbled through the pronunciation of the varietals, specifically Sangiovese. Matt has now completed the first level (of 4) of the Court of Master Sommeliers. His knowledge of wine will propel our team to the next level to bring even more expertise to the service and products we provide.

We asked him how his passion for the world of wine grew and he shared, ” I tend to geek out on things, anything I am involved in, I tend to just take a deep dive.” He is most fascinated by how making wine has hardly changed for thousands of years; still taking the humble grape through a relatively similar process as it was from the start, to become the captivating beverage that is shared around dinner tables and amongst loved ones throughout the world.

Who is Matt outside of the Café?

He shared, “I missed the people — the regulars I have genuine relationships with and the camaraderie with team members.”

Matt’s journey often brought him back to the café although he is accomplished in more areas than just wine and restaurants. He dreamt of being the first in his family to attend college, so he ventured to UC Santa Cruz where he obtained his B.A. in Geology. His second stint away from the Wine Merchant & Café was to pursue his Ph.D. in Seismology at USC. We were happy to give him the space to pursue his dreams but even happier when he pivoted back to the restaurant business. He shared, “I missed the people — the regulars I have genuine relationships with and the camaraderie with team members.” And they all couldn’t be happier when he returned… again!

Apart from taking on the responsibilities of general manager, his greatest adventure is being a husband and father of three — with twins under two years old!

All of his life experiences and challenges have made Matt into a well-educated leader who can handle the issues du jour that happen in this industry and have the confidence to lead a front-of-the-house team to be the best that they can be. In return, we hope to provide Matt and his family the stability to grow with our business for many years to come.

– Owners, Sam and Shawnda Marmorstein

Butternut Squash at the Cafė

November 3, 2022

As the weather starts to cool and you begin to visualize your upcoming holiday plans with friends and family, you may switch up your meals to those involving comforting fruits and vegetables, like butternut squash.

Butternut squash in the field of the Cafe farm
Butternut Squash waiting to be harvested at our Café Farm after growing throughout the warm months.

Even in California, where temperatures are reluctant to let go of the summer warmth and the trees don’t change to quite as many colors as in other parts of the country, we know what the first bowl of rich butternut squash soup or satisfying the craving for our seasonal butternut squash gnocchi (pictured above) can do for the soul.

From Our Farm to Your Fork

At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafė, we love incorporating butternut squash into our fall and winter recipes. It is such a comforting food with abundant versatility. You can find it throughout our menu, from pizzas to salads to a seasonal dessert!

We are big fans of butternut squash. Our Cafė Farm grows around 4 tons every summer! If you didn’t already know, most of the Café’s produce is organically grown on our farm in Los Olivos, CA, just minutes from downtown.

The Sunny Side of Butternut Squash

Two bins filled to the rim with freshly harvested butternut squash from the Cafe Farm
The Café Farm produces nearly 4 tons of butternut squash every year that makes its way to on our menu nourishing our guests.

The idea of roasted butternut squash, or our butternut squash gnocchi, brings to mind cozy feelings reminiscent of the autumn and winter months. This is only the case with the warm summer months to thank, however. Despite being classified as winter squash, butternut squash plants are annuals grown on a vine in the spring and summer. This is because the plant requires between 75 and 100 days to grow and should be harvested before any frosts arrive. Because of this harvesting period, it is considered a winter squash.

Our farmers plant butternut squash in May and harvest in October, so the squash our guests enjoy eating in the winter months has been growing all summer.

Summer Squash vs. Winter Squash

There are a few distinctions that set summer squash and winter squash apart. Winter squash tend to have thicker skin than summer squash, which makes them last longer. Butternut squash, when stored properly, can last for several months! Summer squash are more tender (think zucchini or yellow squash) and don’t last as long.


Butternut squash at the Los Olivos farm
Butternut squash is an excellent addition to your plate through the fall and winter months. 

Other types of squash of the winter variety include acorn squash, kabocha, Hubbard, and spaghetti squash, with butternut as a popular favorite.

How to Pick the Perfect Butternut Squash

When picking your butternut squash, select one that is moderately heavy for its size and still has its stem intact. The outer skin should be relatively free of soft spots or deep cracks. It is also generally best to choose one with a solid beige color and a matte (not shiny) exterior.

How to Roast Butternut Squash

One of the best ways to cook butternut squash is to roast it. Once roasted, add the versatile squash to your favorite fall and winter recipes (such as soup or pasta) or serve as a side.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, you should wash your hands and the butternut squash before cooking. One suggested method for washing the squash is with water and a clean brush to scrub the outside. Once washed, you can dry the fruit with a clean cloth or paper towel.

Butternut squash from the farm
Have you tried our roasted butternut and burrata salad? The squash comes fresh from our own farm!

You do not need to peel the butternut squash before roasting, but you will want to cut the squash in half carefully and remove the seeds. Then, place the squash on a baking sheet cut-side up. To keep the flesh from drying out, lightly oil or butter the cut side of the fruit. Depending on how you will serve the squash, add herbs, salt, spices, sweeteners, and more before putting it in the oven.

Roast the butternut squash for at least 30 minutes until the flesh is tender when pierced with a fork. Let the squash cool once completely baked, then peel the flesh from the skin.

Other methods for cooking butternut squash include baking and boiling. The difference between baking and roasting is the temperature. Roasting the squash requires a higher temperature of 400 degrees or higher, and baking is at a lower temperature of 375 degrees or lower. Roasting is preferred for butternut squash to lock in the flavors by browning the surface. Roasting also carmelizes the natural sugars for a rich butternut squash flavor.


What’s Not to Love About this Fruit?Butternut Squash Creme Brûlée with Fall Pumpkin display

Although butternut squash is commonly considered a vegetable, the fact that it has seeds classifies it as a fruit. Definitions aside, butternut squash is filling, delicious, and versatile, and we cannot find a reason not to love it!

Our menu is rotated based on the seasonal produce we grow on our cafė farm, so we are excited to bring you these new dishes to enjoy in view of our cozy fireplace. If you’d prefer to take your food home, we highly encourage a pair of warm fuzzy socks to accompany the meal.

Whether dining in or ordering to-go, next time you come by the cafė, check out our updated menu with our delicious and creative seasonal selections that Chef Brooke and the kitchen staff have crafted.

Get to Know Jonathan Lynn, Our New Wine Director!

October 4, 2022

You can count on several things at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café; delicious, fresh, and creative cuisine, an incredible selection of wine, and approachable and knowledgeable staff.

We feel lucky and proud to introduce Jonathan Lynn as our new wine director! With a passion for wine and pairing a bottle with a favorite dish, we are excited about what he will bring to the restaurant as director of the wine and beer program.

Who is Jonathan Lynn?

Once landing a job at Bouchon in Las Vegas, he knew it was just a stepping stone to what he was meant to do. Jonathan watched the sommeliers  with admiration and intrigue and decided that he would one day be “that guy:” dressed to impress, suave, smooth, and incredibly knowledgeable about all things wine. He turned those feelings into motivation and followed the road to his true calling – and we couldn’t be happier that he did. He is now a Certified Sommelier, CMS and the proud new Wine Director at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café.

Jonathan is passionate about removing the fear often associated with wine from the process, he’s aware that it can mistakenly come off as snooty and intimidating. He believes that “wine should be fun—It’s not something you have to know a lot about to understand. You should only have to know what you like.”

In addition to managing the sales team and sharing his expertise with the staff, he will be helping guests try new wines they may have never heard of, especially those from the local small producers in the region.

“I look forward to bringing some fun and delicious wines to the menu that guests might not have heard of! I love seeing someone when their mind has been changed about what they thought they loved in a wine!”

If you aren’t a wine club member, you’re missing out, not only do you get discounts every time you dine with us but you’ll also get to experience the careful selection Jon intends to put together each quarter (join here)! In addition to selecting wines based on the seasons, he also wants to ensure that guests are trying something new and expanding their horizons.

Jonathan says he is proud to work at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café for many reasons, one of which is the cuisine he gets to work with. “It is a relief to have a menu that I’m proud to recommend. Seeing the fresh vegetables that come in from our farm is incredible!” If you need a pairing suggestion, don’t hesitate to ask him! As a foodie, he knows the importance of choosing a wine based on the dish (or vice versa!).

Let’s Talk Style

When Jonathan was applying for the position, owners Sam and Shawnda Marmorstein thought he stood out, not just because of his friendly, approachable personality and solid knowledge of wine, but because of his tie. Not his actual tie, the way he ties it.  Rather than using the same tying method as everyone else, he uses the Eldredge Knot. It is an eye-catching tie with four diagonal bands and one small horizontal band. Want to see what it looks like? You can Google it or just head to the wine merchant and meet Jonathan! If he can master the precision it takes to  tie the Eldredge Knot, Sam and Shawnda figured Jon is likely to have the meticulous eye needed to maintain the inventory of 1000’s of bottles.

Becoming a Sommelier

Growing up, Jonathan watched his parents develop their careers in the restaurant industry and was inspired to follow in their footsteps. His roots brought him into the restaurant industry, but it was his love of wine and beer that inspired him to the life of a sommelier.

Jonathan describes his “Aha” moment of wanting to dive deeper into the world of wine as he was enjoying a jalapeño popper pizza and a 2002 Weingut Knoll Riesling Kabinett from Austria. “The sweetness of the wine paired with the spice from the jalapeño and the savory from the bacon blew my mind! I had no idea what a glass of wine could do to a dish and vice versa.”

Jonathan also has had experience in the production side of wine and beer. He previously helped make wine at Foxen Winery and says he doesn’t think he would be where he is today if it hadn’t been for that harvest. During the process, he learned to “appreciate everything that goes into making wine.” He brings that experience into his current role as wine director to ensure the best selection to enhance our cuisine.

With his experience in the realm of beer, he will also add some new and exciting options to the menu for those who are looking for something other than wine.

What is a wine director?

As a wine director, Jonathan is in charge of managing and directing our wine program. His duties include but can go beyond, selecting the wine for the cafe and store, placing orders for wine when the inventory requires it, and leading the team.

As a certified sommelier, Jonathan is also highly qualified to help diners choose a wine for their meal or describe the intricacies of a particular bottle to shoppers. “Sommelier” means “butter” in French and has been used since the 19th century to describe a “wine steward” or “wine waiter.” Jonathan’s responsibility as wine director is to create and maintain our wine list and help ensure visitors select an appropriate bottle or glass for their palate and occasion. 

Wine Director Jon Lynn Holding a glass of red wine in front of wine wall

What Fills His Glass

On his own time, Jonathan will often reach for a wine from the Loire Valley in France, such as a Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, or Cabernet Franc, or will try something new.

He is versatile in what he drinks, just as long as it pairs well with his favorite foods. Rather than pairing with the type of meal, however, he will often pair a wine with the sauce in the dish. His favorite pairing is Chenin Blanc with Oysters.

Welcome to the Team, Jonathan!

Please join us in welcoming Jonathan to the team, and don’t forget to say “Hi” to him when you see him around. He’ll likely be carefully selecting the wine and beer list for the store or providing knowledgeable insight to the wine sales team. Regardless of what he is doing, though, you can be sure that he will be showcasing his specialty tie.

Don’t Judge a Wine By Its Seal: The Legendary Cork vs. Screw Cap Debate

September 6, 2022

Can a bottle of wine be judged by its closure? In many cases (no pun intended), you can tell a lot about the nature or purpose of the wine by whether it is sealed with a cork or a screw cap. That is because many winemakers often carefully select the sealing method for each type of wine they produce, and the cost isn’t the only consideration.

Is wine better with a cap or screw top?

There is so much versatility in wine, and these nuances can impact the experience found inside each bottle. Wine novice or aficionado, you likely gravitate to certain characteristics over others; such as white vs. red or sweet vs. dry. How it is bottled is another important attribute and is often factored into the selection process.

You may also think it is a trivial matter, but there are distinct benefits and downsides to both methods. Understanding the differences between corks and screw caps can make you the hero of your next dinner party or help you craft the perfect response when your in-laws question why you brought a bottle of wine without a traditional cork.

Screw caps are notorious for cheap wine bottles, but this is a misnomer. You shouldn’t be surprised if you find an expensive bottle of wine with a screw cap, especially one from Australia or New Zealand. So set aside your assumptions (like screw tops are only used on “cheap” wine), and let’s dive into the facts.

Production of the Materials

How the materials are produced and their impact on the environment are important considerations for many wine lovers.

How Corking Got Started

Corks have been the primary method of bottling since the 1400s because of their excellent properties for sealing and aging the wine. Cork comes from the bark of the cork oak (Quercus suber) found in Spain and Portugal. It was discovered that the cork allows for minimal leakage but sustained aeration; excellent for the gradual aging of wine.

Bernat wine bottle being corked during processing

This method is not only environmentally friendly but is also sustainable for the climate. The process does not harm the tree since the bark is carefully cut away. The cork is harvested when the tree turns 25-30 years old, and then every 9 years after that, but the tree is kept alive. In addition, the manufacturing of cork stoppers creates minimal carbon pollution.

The Evolution to Screw Caps

Screw cap seals have been the preferred method of wine bottling throughout Australia and New Zealand since the 1950s. These countries have since paved the way for the acceptance of screw caps by wine aficionados and wine makers throughout America. Many Old World wine countries, such as Italy, Spain, and France, have not as tenderly adopted this new method, however. Screw caps are a more affordable option for bottling and they can be recycled; not bad for an alternative to cork!

Screw caps are becoming the go-to among many winemakers. Larry Schaffer, owner and winemaker of Tercero Wines in Santa Barbara County says that he is not anti-cork but has “been using screw caps for all of my wines since 2006. I am happy with the results, as are my customers.”

It’s a Tale as Old as Wine

Lovers of cork favor this method because of the tradition and romanticism involved. Our very own wine director, Jonathan, transports us to the vineyard-laden hills of the Central Coast when he says, “I love the romanticism of the cork, the cutting of the foil, the twisting of the wine key, the pulling of the cork.” There is nothing like the popping sound of the cork when it ejects from the bottle to lift the spirits of a gathering.

A downside to using screw caps is that they are not as pretty to open and you lose a bit of the romantic nature of the wine experience without the traditional cork removal process. For the less traditional, this might just be a perk though. Jonathan plays the devil’s advocate to his original statement by saying,

“I love the ease of the screw top and the fact that it makes wine a little less snobby.”

Proper Aeration & Aging of Wine

There are practical reasons why wine makers choose corks as well. The material is pliable, which means it can effectively hold wine inside the bottle with minimal leakage. It is an excellent sealing method for long-term aging, making it a suitable choice for wines that are best consumed once matured. The right amount of aeration is beneficial for wine to develop the complexities you would want in age-worthy wines. The ideal cork would permit around one milligram of oxygen to enter the bottle in a span of a year to naturally remove the sulfites added during bottling.

In some cases, a cork can allow for too much aeration. If a bottle of wine is exposed to too much air, the wine can develop a nutty and old taste. Eventually, it can even start to taste vinegary.

Optimum aeration depends on the type of wine as well as the preference of the wine drinker. For instance, if you are swinging by the Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafė on your way home from work to grab a crisp white or rosė intended to be drunk as young as possible, you might opt for a screw top. Wines with screw tops are generally made to be drunk relatively soon since they are not intended to age. If you want a complex red for your already impressive wine cellar collection, go for a bottle with a traditional cork.

TCA and “Corked” Wine

Screw caps were designed to resolve many of the deficiencies of the cork. The primary issue they aim to address is the “corking” or tainting of the wine. This is caused by microorganisms in the cork reacting to other substances, such as chlorine, and creating a chemical called Trichloroanisole (TCA). When wine comes into contact with too much TCA, it becomes “corked”.

Screw caps are composed of a metal casing with a plastic insert. With the reduced capacity for aeration, the wine won’t age as quickly nor take on qualities of the cork; helping it avoid harmful oxidation. This also makes the wine very consistent between batches so that each bottle tastes virtually identical, a definite perk for many winemakers.

Does screw top wine last longer after opening?

In general, screw top wine will last longer after being opened than corked wine. The length of time that your open bottle of wine will last depends on a number of factors, however. How the wine is stored will impact how long the contents of the bottle stays fresh more than whether it is closed with a screw top or cork. Opened bottles should be stored in a cool and dark area away from direct sunlight and heat. To keep the wine a bit longer, it can be stored in the refrigerator.

Just Put a Cork in It! (or Don’t)

Before browsing the wine shelves, you should consider the characteristics of the wine desired, when it is expected to be consumed, and the expectations of the consumers. Whether you choose a bottle with a cork or a screw cap, we hope you lift your glass in the air and cheers to the wonderful complexities and variations of wine. If you are looking for your next bottle, we welcome you to visit our wine store. We have something for everyone and plenty of opportunities to try something new or just outside of your comfort zone.


Meet our new Executive Chef Brooke Stockwell

November 9, 2021

After over a decade at the helm of our kitchen, Chef Chris Joslyn, has moved with his family to Nevada where he hopes to continue using his talents and expand on his passions. We are grateful for his dedication and the many dishes he created that nourished and delighted so many of us through the years. The timing couldn’t have been better for Chef Brooke Stockwell to move into this position.

We are excited to introduce you to Chef Brooke, our new Executive Chef at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café!

Brooke grew up on the California Central Coast in a family where food was part of the conversation; the love that was baked into it nourished her appreciation for how food connects and fulfills us in a special way.  Her roots were at the essence of what drove her passion to not just be a really good at-home cook, but to pursue her love of cooking as a career.

Throughout the last 18 years as a professional chef, she has honed the style of her cuisine into what she describes as “simplistically elevating local ingredients.” Brooke shares, “the dishes I create highlight the bounties of the season and convey the labor of love generated from the farmers to the plate.” What better way could she elevate local ingredients than leading a kitchen at a restaurant with its own farm?
the tree in the tomato

Chef Brooke grew up locally with a large garden in her yard, raised hogs in the FFA, and is no stranger to hunting or fishing.  After graduating with honors from high school, she attended UCLA as a Communications Studies major intending to go into advertising or marketing.  However, while she was at UCLA Brooke heard the calling of her upbringing and took a U-turn back to Santa Barbara and navigated her path into the restaurant business through the formal studying of culinary arts.  While in culinary school, Chef Brooke worked as a private chef and was able to build confidence and establish a style of cooking that reflected her appreciation for the land and the flavors that seasonal freshness can express. This expression of the seasons is at the heart of what makes Chef Brooke’s cuisine an ideal fit for our establishment. (We hope you got to taste some of the lovely ways Chef Brooke made use of the abundance of organic Café Farm tomatoes recently! If not, no worries, she’s been busy canning them for marinara and more.)

After an intense and educational experience working for celebrity chef Rick Moonen in Las Vegas, Chef Brooke was elated to take what she learned and return to the Central Coast where she has gained more experience as Executive Chef at the Inn at Morro Bay, the 1880 Union Hotel & Saloon, K’Syrah Catering & Events, and Roblar Winery.  Now, as a highly regarded seasoned chef, we proudly welcome Chef Brooke as Executive Chef at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café. Chef Brooke is the ideal person to continue our 26-year reputation for creating fresh, local, sustainable cuisine.

Chef Brooke in action

And now…
Chef Brooke shares her enthusiasm for this new position, “As the Executive Chef of Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café, I am excited to share my passion for cooking by celebrating the Central Coast and our Café Farm with the dishes I create.”

It is not only important for a chef to be able to create an impressive menu but it is quintessential they lead the kitchen staff with integrity, and a sense of humor is always helpful. Spend a few minutes with Chef Brooke, and you will notice the twinkle in her eyes and her contagious delightful demeanor that we are grateful to have leading our team in the kitchen.

Chef Brooke enjoys meeting guests and getting personal feedback, we invite you to give Brooke a warm welcome next time you dine with us.

Rock Solid Happy Canyon AVA

March 12, 2020

Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Emerges

The 2004 Academy Award-winning movie, Sideways, tours its way through the Santa Ynez Valley but doesn’t mention Happy Canyon. Perhaps that’s a blessing, considering the damage done to Merlot from the meltdown Miles had in our alley in one of the pivotal scenes. The movie’s torrid love affair with “thin-skinned and temperamental” Pinot didn’t leave much room for Miles to praise Happy Canyon’s hearty reds with notes of polished leather saddles and Santa Maria steak seasoning. Even if Miles had planned a day at the newly emerging wineries, the way he’d drive the hills and twists of Happy Canyon Road would’ve sent his red Saab convertible careening into an oak tree much earlier in the film!

Thankfully, discerning drinkers have ensured that Happy Canyon Merlot is still part of the Wine Merchant’s top-selling and most age-worthy wines, but this was far from assured when the movie debuted in 2004. The “Sideways effect” was a blindside blow for the growers, since Happy Canyon’s vineyards were only in their fourth vintage. Formal recognition of the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA wouldn’t follow until 2009. Longtime fans may know the region got its name from hiding a secret distillery during Prohibition. However, an even more amusing aspect of the story is that the “of Santa Barbara” suffix had to be added because Prohibition moonshiners left ravines named Happy Canyon spangled all over the American West. The patriotic heart swells with pride.

The AVA spans 23,941 acres, but fewer than 1,000 are under vine.

Even today, Happy Canyon’s story is very much still being written. The AVA spans 23,941 acres, but fewer than 1,000 are under vine. Sauvignon Blanc has long threatened to steal the show, but Happy Canyon remains a red-dominated appellation led by powerhouse Cabernet Sauvignon alongside a vibrant showing from the Bordeaux supporting cast of Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec.

Aerial view of Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara
Photo Courtesy of Crown Point Winery

Nature dictates that thin-skinned and temperamental Pinot has no place there. Granted, Happy Canyon does enjoy sheltering mountains and generous sunshine which can boost the temperature up to thirty degrees warmer than the Sta. Rita Hills, but that’s where the easy road stops. Grapevines contend with massive nightly temperature swings, along with constant crosswinds whipping down the canyon and shearing between the carefully oriented vineyard rows. Vine growth is further harried by lean soils packed with cobblestones of serpentine and chert, whose added magnesium and calcium conspire to further reduce grape yields and pressure vines to put down deep roots.

Cabernet Sauvignon, in particular, is exalted by this crucible. The ripening grapes forge a thick skin and tannin-rich seeds with a snap pea’s crunch. Some winemakers walk through the vineyard chewing Cabernet’s tough hide like jerky for minutes at a time, hoping to coax out clues about the complexities of their finished wine. This expertise, supported by elite local vineyard management and occasionally by world-famous French vineyard sustainability consultants, means that the third decade of Happy Canyon vintages looks very promising indeed.

Try a never-jammy Happy Canyon red with grass-fed or aged steaks, dry rubs, hard-seared char crusts, and meats from the smoker. These pairings bring our staff and guests no end of joy, especially now that Chef Chris has his new wood-fired smoker up and running!

At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant, we provide an in-depth selection of California Central Coast wines. We will always provide the most sought after wines of Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara and the other stellar AVA’s in our wine region. Make yourself happy and pour Happy Canyon wines at your table. Here are some suggestions that are sure to bring a smile!

If you enjoyed reading this blog

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Lane Tanner, Pioneering Femininity

March 2, 2020

Lane Tanner, One of the First Female Winemakers of Santa Barbara Wine Country

Lane Tanner of Lumen remembers the old days. She remembers the early days of Central Coast winemaking when the process was a lot more laborious physically and femininity wasn’t a desirable trait in a wine—or a winemaker.

Frequently, Central Coast Syrahs are made big, bold, and in a style that Tanner calls “manly.” So she decided to make wines that were the antithesis of that: softer, gentle, elegant, or what she calls, “feminine” wines.

But don’t be fooled, Tanner is a heavy hitter, a pioneer in the wine industry.

She was one of the first female winemakers with her own label in Santa Barbara County. For 16 years, she was also the only winemaker who produced only Pinot Noir. Tanner said there’s a sensuality to Pinot Noir. For her Lumen label, she likes to produce Pinots with low tannin and velvety mouthfeel, and a long, lingering finish. She believes the Santa Maria Valley produces the ideal fruit for Pinots that reveal bright, strawberry, and cherry notes with herb over notes.

If there’s a sensuality to Pinot Noir, there’s just as much sensuality in the way that Tanner handles her production. For instance, for her Grenache, she does everything by taste. She does test Brix, but otherwise, taste rules. She likes to harvest when the grapes are just ripe, slightly past green. Then, it’s very little oak, and she doesn’t adulterate her Grenache with Syrah. It’s pure, vibrant, and youthful.

Though Tanner got her start almost by accident, it turns out she had a natural talent for winemaking. As proof of that, she’s worked with some of the most infamous names in winemaking. In the early ’80s, she worked at Firestone prior to being asked by Ken Brown to work at Zaca Mesa. From there, she began working with Frank Ostini who wanted something exclusive to his restaurant, The Hitching Post. She worked with him until 1989 when Ostini realized he wanted to make his own wine. They split barrels with Tanner starting her Lane Tanner label.

Still, Tanner hopes to see one more change in the near future…

Since those early days, Tanner has seen a lot change. Winemaking may still involve a lot of manual labor, but things have gotten easier, and females are now embraced by the winemaking community. Still, Tanner hopes to see one more change in the near future—she waits for the day when female winemakers are seen simply as “winemakers.”

Hear her full thoughts on women in winemaking and how the industry has evolved on the Central Coast in this month’s featured winemaker interview.


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D’Alfonso-Curran: A Perfectly Pleasing Pairing

February 4, 2020

Some things just make the perfect pairing. Like, a summer day and a fine breeze. Or a crisp, peachy, highly acidic Grenache Blanc and spicy Thai food. Similarly, winemakers Kris Curran and Bruno D’Alfonso of D’Alfonso-Curran wines are that complementary pairing.

The Recipe for D’Alfonso-Curran Success

It’s in their winemaking philosophy. Curran believes a winemaker must be flexible enough to treat each wine individually, taking into consideration, things like its ripening time or the size of the lot.

D’Alfonso sees a need to be rational. He believes a winemaker must anticipate the potential fails in order to be prepared to deal with such an eventuality.

Individually those winemaking styles give their respective labels identity. Together, they represent a union of strengths, forming the D’Alfonso-Curran line of wines designed to pair with food. And the Santa Ynez Valley is the perfect place for a culinary adventure as they determine the foods that pair best with the wines they are working on.

Our Interview with Kris and Bruno

D’Alfonso and Curran joined us recently to discuss their winemaking, their backgrounds, and their individual and D’Alfonso-Curran labels.  Learn more about what makes their winemaking styles unique in this month’s video interview.

The History of these Two Established Winemakers

D’Alfonso, who’s earned a reputation for producing outstanding Pinot Noirs, celebrated his 40th year as a winemaker last year. His career started at Chalone in the Edna Valley in 1980. A few years later he joined Richard Sanford at Sanford Winery. D’Alfonso became a partner at Sanford where he spent 25 years, before starting his own Badge and Di Bruno labels.

Curran, whose name is often cited as one of Wine Spectator’s Top Winemakers, started her winemaking career as the assistant winemaker at Cambria Winery in Santa Maria right after college. From there she became a founding member of Koehler Winery. She went on to become the first winemaker at Sea Smoke and helped build that wine’s cult status. After producing seven vintages at Sea Smoke, she accepted a winemaking position at Foley Wines where she made wines under the Foley, Lincourt, and Two Sisters brands. She built her Curran label in 1996 and was one of the first vintners in California to popularize Grenache Blanc, which she started making in 2003.

Together, the two renowned winemakers started the D’Alfonso-Curran brand in 2006 producing ultra-premium vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from Sta. Rita Hills and Chardonnays from Santa Barbara County.


About us:

At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! We welcome you to browse our over 30 interviews and blogs featuring local winemakers HERE.   

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The Visionary & the Winemaker Behind Liquid Farm

January 4, 2020

Some ventures are fueled by inspiration, and others begin simply with the pursuit of passion. For Liquid Farm, it was a little of both.

Jeff Nelson and James Sparks of Liquid Farm began their venture with the desire to create Chardonnay in the Burgundian-style they enjoy so much. Prior to establishing Liquid Farm, the duo strived to eat and drink local, but they found something lacking with the local wines they were coming across in the early 2000s. Like many entrepreneurial-spirited individuals, they decided to take matters into their own hands and create wines that showcased some of the stellar cooler-climate vineyards in the Central Coast area while incorporating the Old World style that they both personally loved.

Liquid Farm Wines on the counter at the Los Olivos CafeLiquid Farm began in 2009 and by 2010 they were available by the glass in Santa Ynez Valley restaurants like Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe. The wine quickly found a following because of its earthy minerality and delicately nuanced style. In Old World tradition, the wines feature lower alcohol, high acidity, and more earth-driven characteristics. Fruit from the cool-climate and ancient soils of the Sta. Rita Hills complements this European winemaking style.

Working together Nelson and Sparks bring balance to Liquid Farm in many ways. As owner and CEO Nelson works on getting the wine to its audience, Sparks makes the wine. That balance also spills over into their winemaking philosophy.

James Sparks of Liquid Farm in warehouseSparks said he likes to make wines that reflect his personality, delicate and layered with much to explore. It’s a balance between science and artistry, with a little less emphasis on the science and more attention to craft and treating each barrel of wine individually.



We got to meet Jeff & James and now you can too!

Though they started Liquid Farm intent on making a stellar Old World Chardonnay, they shared a glass of their Pinot Noir with us at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant during their recent Featured Winemaker interview. In the video interview, they share how the evolution to include red wine in their production transpired, as well as how the label has found its niche in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Get to know James Spark’s winemaking style this month at Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant. Taste LIQUID FARM wines by the flight or purchase one of three featured bottles at a 20% discount throughout the month of January!

Stock up and Save Big! January Only!


At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! We welcome you to check out more of our interviews and blogs here.

Would you like to get to know more local winemakers and stay informed about our upcoming wine deals like our Final-Day-of-the-Month Blowout Wine? Sign up for our NEWSLETTER here.

Rick Hill of Labyrinth: Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe Featured Winemaker

September 30, 2019

A Labyrinth Led Rick Hill to Santa Barbara Wine Country

Growing up in New Zealand Rick Hill couldn’t possibly imagine the circumstances that would eventually lead to him becoming winemaker for his Labyrinth wines—he only knew that he wanted to be in the wine industry. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, there wasn’t a clear path into a wine career. Instead, Hill ended up in the milk industry, and then the juice industry, all the while with an eye toward going into wine. His work took him all over the world– from Australia to the Middle East– but it wasn’t until he completed his wine science degree in 1997 that he would get to California.Rick Hill, winemaker at Labyrinth, in the vineyard

He was placed in Napa during his internship, which is a problem for a Pinot Noir fan. The winemaker he was working with offered to find him a placement more suitable to working with his preferred varietal. That’s how he came to Central Coast Wine Services, a small operation that, in a twist of fate, would introduce him to his winemaking career, as well as his future wife.

As an intern, Hill expected he’d move from California to Argentina, Italy, and other renown wine regions.

“The funny thing was I fell in love with Santa Barbara County, I fell in love with the people I was working with, I felt instantly trusted in being involved with their grapes,” he said.

Rick Hill of Labyrinth next to surfboard with Labyrinth logo Lane Tanner was one of just a handful of Central Coast Wine Services clients. Later, she and Hill would marry, but not before she gave him his winemaking start. When Tanner injured her knee right before harvest, she enlisted Hill’s assistance offering him 2 tons of any fruit to which she had access.

I said, “‘That’s wonderful, what I’ll do is, I’ll take 2 tons of Bien Nacido.’ And that’s how my career started,” Hill said.

These days Hill produces Pinot Noir for his Labyrinth label that is meant to be fresh and bright, bold and enthusiastic. But he has also branched out into bigger reds like Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, and Tempranillo, and dabbled in a few whites as well.

Meet Rick! Check out our interview!

In this month’s featured winemaker video interview Hill details his path to becoming a winemaker, how small production makes his wine business agile, and he shares his thoughts on the growing Santa Barbara County cannabis industry.

Get to know Hill’s winemaking style this month at Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant. Taste Labyrinth wines by the flight or purchase one of three featured bottles for a 20% discount throughout the month of October.

At the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe we focus on providing a true wine country experience. Much of our produce for the Café is organically grown at our Café farm in Los Olivos. And our award-winning wine selection of over 500 mostly local wines compliments our fresh wine country cuisine. As a hub for the local California Central Coast wine scene, we love getting to know our local winemakers and sharing their stories with you! We welcome you to check out more of our interviews and blogs here.