From textbooks to tasting: Aaron Walker of Pali Wine Co.

September 5, 2019

If all had gone according to his plan, Aaron Walker would be steeped in academia shaping the minds of the next generation. Instead, those warm, magical SoCal breezes changed his fate. Now, he’s influencing palates and educating wine aficionados about the virtues of California-style wines as winemaker for Pali Wine Co.

An easy-going Southern California native living the surfer lifestyle, Walker was planning on getting his teaching credential while studying at San Diego State University. Like many college students, Walker waited tables to pay the bills. It turns out the job suited him. He made several attempts at working in other industries, but he always went back to waiting tables.

A life-changing harvest

As fate would have it, his girlfriend (who is now his wife) steered him away from pursuing the culinary arts and opening a restaurant. She instead suggested that maybe her father’s Central Coast contacts might have some opportunities for him in the wine industry.

Aaron Walker at work at Pali

Walker spent part of 2016 working the harvest with Jenne Bonaccorsi of Bonaccorsi Wine Co., and instantly forgot about teaching, forgot about restaurants, and forged a career in wine. The hands-on physical work followed by the reward of seeing that work come to fruition gave him a deep sense of satisfaction.

Embracing the California winemaking style

By 2017 he was hired by Pali Wine Co., which turned out to be a great fit. Short for Pacific Palisades, which sits between Malibu and Santa Monica, Pali was established in 2015 bearing reference to the hometown of owners Tim Perr and Scott Knight. At the time, Pali’s winemaker was producing wines that didn’t accurately reflect the California wine style. Originally, the wines were big, rich, high in alcohol, and didn’t age well. Walker throttled that back a little bit, showcasing low-alcohol California wines that are big, yet approachable and can still age well. Pali especially favors Pinot Noir from Sta. Rita Hills, an area that has become renowned for its ideal growing conditions for the varietal because of its moderate warmth tempered by coastal influences.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Aaron to hear his story and would love to share it with you. We invite you to pour a glass of wine and join us as we uncover his tale in our interview at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe.

Walker shared with us an example of that California style with the new release of the 2018 PCH. Pali produced 600 cases of this dry, crisp, and refreshing wine, which highlights flavors of watermelon, lime zest, and sweet summertime stone fruits.

Aaron Walker of Pali Wine Co.The California influence is evident in the winery’s operating philosophy as well. Pali has five tasting rooms throughout the Central Coast and Southern California, where staff has created a brewery approach to the tasting room experience. This has helped Pali foster loyal “communities of wine club members,” and allows them to occasionally roll out experimental blends like the Zinfelder—a blend of Zinfandel and Dornfelder.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Doug Margerum: The First and Last name in Santa Barbara Wine

October 5, 2018

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.

Obama Toasting
PC: AP

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 Margerum at Los Olivos Wine Merchant

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!

 

Longoria Wines: The Old Guard of Lompoc

June 6, 2018

History of one of the fathers of Santa Barbara Winemaking: Rick Longoria

 

Few have the opportunity and privilege to run a winery for as long as some fine wines age. In a season filled with newcomers, fresh faces, and advanced winemaking technologies, we’re pleased to interview a man who has been a part of the Santa Barbara wine industry for over 4 decades. Rick Longoria is truly one of the masters of Central Coast winemaking; we sat down to learn his story through wine, which started at the University of California.

Rick’s time at UC Berkeley opened him to what he calls the “hippie mentality” of getting back to nature. Fueled by this zeitgeist, he frequently found himself in nearby Napa Valley at wine tastings (which were free to college students in the 70’s!), which connected him with the world of fine wine. It was in these visits where Rick decided to pursue a career in the wine industry, learn how to make wine, and see what options lay in his future.

Rick’s first wine gig came at famed Sonoma winery Buena Vista, the oldest winery in California (est. 1857) in 1974. During his time at Buena Vista, he worked with consulting winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, considered by many to be the father of modern California winemaking.

It was Andre who encouraged Rick Longoria to drive south to Santa Barbara, where he kicked off his long career in Central Coast winemaking in the wine cellar at Firestone in 1976.

Longoria’s intent in winemaking is to identify the best sources of grapes; he believes in basic winemaking without manipulations to the wines themselves in order to showcase the best the grapes have to offer.

Spanish Wines in Lompoc

The 2016 Albariño is a product of Clover Creek Vineyard, a special place for Rick where the current owners asked him to lay down some vines for stellar winemaking. Clover Creek benefits from the breezes coming from the nearby Santa Ynez River to keep his Albariño and Tempranillo grapes cool.

Fe Ciega Vineyard in Lompoc

These days, if you don’t see Rick actively in the cellars or tending to his vines at Fe Ciega or Clover Creek, he’s throwing himself into revitalizing the tourism industry in Lompoc. His group aims to renovate old town Lompoc, attract more people to the old theater, and put the area squarely onto the wine tourism maps of Central and Southern California.

 

Want to learn more about your local Santa Barbara County Winemakers? Read about our other Featured Winemakers here!

Santa Barbara Wine Country Summed Up

October 6, 2017

Say the words “California wine” and more often than not, bruiser Napa Cabernets or buttery Sonoma Chardonnays comeSanta Barbara Wine Country 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.

larner vineyard
Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon

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.

sunset vineyard
Bernat Vineyard of Los Olivos District

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.

Eric Mohseni of Zaca Mesa Winery

June 2, 2017

Winemaking is about storytelling, and the story behind Zaca Mesa is definitely worth telling. -Eric Mohseni, Zaca Mesa Winemaker

Winemaker for Zaca Mesa in the vineyard

Zaca Mesa, one of the most storied wineries around due to it’s history. Established in 1973 when there were only two wineries in Santa Barbara County. Zaca Mesa is the first winery in the area to plant Syrah grapes, which helped kick start the Rhone varietal love affair throughout California.

Zaca Mesa’s Black Bear Block of Syrah is the oldest in the Central Coast. The vines themselves came from Gary Eberle, who acquired them from a UC Davis professor, who had taken them from Hermitage in France! Black Bear Block is all original rootstock– a rare find these days.

(Fun fact: “Black Bear Block” earned its name when vineyard manager Ruben Camacho found black bears there munching away on the grapes!) Today, Zaca Mesa’s estate exclusively grows Rhone grapes, everything from Viognier to Grenache and Syrah.

The story doesn’t end with the grapes, though. Located in a big ol’ barn up in the Santa Rita Hills, Zaca Mesa has been lucky enough to experience such legendary winemakers as Ken Brown and Bob Lindquist. Zaca Mesa has consistently kept quality wines above all else, and it’s that commitment to quality that attracted current Head Winemaker Eric Mohseni.

But it was the moment that he set foot on the Zaca Mesa property that he knew “this is where I want to be.”

Eric worked part time at The Wine Country in Signal Hill during his undergraduate days at Cal State Long Beach, where he majored in food science and chemistry. As his role quickly grew, he became the buyer for Southern Hemisphere wines, which launched an obsession with Sauvignon Blanc. That, in turn, lead him to move to New Zealand to work a harvest and fully immerse himself in winemaking. But it was the moment that he set foot on the Zaca Mesa property that he knew “this is where I want to be.”

Still a chemistry major at heart, Eric loves experimenting with barrels and aging. Recent additions to the winery include massive concrete tanks and elegant clay amphorae, both of which are used to produce Syrah and a Grenache-Mourvedre blend. Those wines are big, deep, and tannic, as the concrete and clay are obviously less porous than oak barrels and allow very little air in. This kind of curiosity and experimentation allows Zaca Mesa to produce varied styles of wine from the same block of grapes, from smooth and round to big and bold.

winemaking team of Zaca Mesa
Cellar Master, Agustin Robles (left), Winemaker, Eric Mohseni (center), Winemaker Krisitn Bryden (right)

Eric credits Vineyard Manager Ruben Camacho, Cellar Master Agustin Robles, and the entire Zaca Mesa staff with the winery’s success because of their ongoing commitment and dedication. Ruben has been with Zaca Mesa for over 40 years, and Agustin isn’t far behind. Eric believes that the camaraderie found there is crucial to the finished wines.

Eric was our Featured Winemaker for the month of June in 2017. View our upcoming featured winemakers on our special event page here.

 

 


Shop our selection of Zaca Mesa wines in our Wine Merchant here.

The Passion Behind Solminer Wines With David Delaski

April 7, 2017

 

David Delaski has always been a unique and creative person, but passion is the essence of his personality that is infused into his winemaking for Solminer Wines. Passion leads to everything. It’s not just passion for great wine but for the whole of his life, and all his endeavors.

“Creative pursuits always called me. Wine is definitely one of those pursuits where you can be really creative.”

In 2009 David met his wife Anna, who had just moved to Los Angeles from Austria. The pair spent some time exploring wine regions of the world, including Anna’s home country of Austria. It was at that point in their lives they looked at each other and decided they wanted to pursue something in the wine industry. With the passion found while exploring wine regions, they “threw caution to the wind” and created Solminer.

Sol for sun and miner, to impart the idea of mining the sun, harvesting the bounty of things from the soil.

The couple found a farmhouse in Los Olivos which had 3 acres of Syrah planted. After much work, they had done it! Anna and David’s dream was now a reality. They are doing something so unique for Los Olivos, and California– they have taken from Anna’s heritage by planting two of Austria’s most famous grapes, Grüner Veltliner and Blaufränkisch.  The vineyard now called DeLanda (a combination of their names, Delaski, Anna, and David) is 100% organically farmed, to protect their family and neighbors from harsh chemicals. In addition to grapes, the property has animals, including sheep, chickens, and donkeys! It’s a passion looking at the farm as a whole system. They are in the process of undergoing their certification for being a biodynamic winery.

 “When you are standing out in the vineyard it gives you a moment of self-reflection.”

David goes to the vineyard to describe his winemaking process, “Start with well farmed organic grapes and do minimal interventions.” Their goal is to get the purest expression of the site as possible. Spending most of the time on farming and less time doing things to the wine during the winemaking process. The wines are created purely from the DeLanda vineyard, and really speak what the terroir and property are about, exploring.

Discover Solminer wines at our online Wine Merchant here!

Ready to learn more about local wines? Our most recent interview with a local winemaker can be found here!

Ryan Carr Of Carr Winery and his Adventure

March 2, 2017

“In order to get into the wine business, you have to be adventurous.”

Ryan Carr of Carr Vineyard and Winery is indeed adventurous! His first job was making snowboards, then went to the University of Arizona for graphic design and worked for a landscape company. It was in college that he took a class on plant science, a seed was planted, and since 1999 he has been farming vineyards and making wine– what an adventure! When Ryan made his way to the Santa Ynez Valley he thought he would start a graphic design business. Little did he know he know the adventurous path that laid ahead…

Starting on the farming side of the industry in 1998, Ryan began working for viticulturist, Craig McMillan. Getting outside to escape the computer was a no brainer for Ryan, he fell in love with being in the field, and before he knew it he was helping lay out and plant vineyards.

Developing relationships from his vineyard work Ryan was able to get his hands on some extra Cabernet Sauvignon fruit in 1999. With that and the help of some food grade trash cans, he made his first batch of ‘home’ wine, producing about 10 cases. That wine was given to friends and family, who actually LOVED it!

In 2000 Ryan was approached by Andy Kahn who had just started his own winemaking facility. Starting up his new business and tight on money, Andy suggested Ryan work for him (for free) in exchange for winemaking help and the use of the facility. Not willing to pass up the opportunity Ryan jumped in. He made his first 325 cases with 1.5 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.5 tons of Cabernet Franc, and .5 tons of Pinot Noir. That was the beginning of the Carr label. Each year they continued to make more wine, and after several years Ryan really had a good thing going.

 “As a farmer I am trying to represent the exact location more than anything. So it’s a hands off approach to wine making. Very minimal additions, and manipulation.”

One of the main factors that sets Carr apart from other wineries in our area is that they lease vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County; including Sta. Rita Hills, Los Olivos District, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon, and Happy Canyon. Growing in all of these locations allows Ryan to get to know and see the differences in each growing region and make many different varietals.

California in general is a young wine region, so Santa Barbara is very new in the grand scheme of things. Being a young region we often look at older wine producing regions, such as France and Italy,  for inspiration and advice. With that said, this is not Italy, or France, its California. We are finding our own techniches and styles over the years. You can see it happening in Santa Barbara, with all these sub appellations coming up. The basic understanding as to what our environment can do is increasing.

“Santa Barbara is such a special place, and without the influence of Burgundy we wouldn’t know that Sta. Rita Hills is perfect for the Burgundian varietals. Without the influence of the Rhone we wouldn’t know that Ballard Canyon is the place we should be growing the Rhone varietals, and same for Happy Canyon and the Bordeaux’s. It’s incredible what we can do within such a small area of California.”

 

 

Want to meet more local winemakers? Catch our current Featured Winemaker on our blog, or come meet them on the last friday of every month!

Wes Hagen

September 10, 2016

You are at a dinner party, and suddenly you hear it, the sound of a popping cork. After that first cork is pulled the sound of the house changes, the conversations begin to flow freely, the laughter comes more quickly. You aren’t discussing the taste, it is time to relax and let the wine take us some place emotionally, and flavor wise, without having to feel the need to define it.

“Great wine should lead to a conversation about everything except itself. Wine is not egotistical, it is not narcissistic, it doesn’t care if you talk about it.”  -Wes Hagen

Asked to describe himself in one word Wes said, “Performative”. There are a lot of winemakers with the same knowledge he has but the ability to be able to engage anyone with a glass of wine is what sets him apart. We certainly won’t argue with that!

Wes started his winemaking adventures in 1996 here in Santa Barbara County. Ranked among the top 100 most influential winemakers in the United States by Decanter magazine, Wes is an incredible resource for wine knowledge. He researched, wrote, and had approved three AVA’s in Santa Barbara County; Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, and Ballard Canyon. He has written for various publications and taught at many prestigious institutions.

After 21 years as winemaker at Clos Pepe estates, he became the brand ambassador and winemaker for J.Wilkes winery. Founded by Jeff Wilkes in 2001 focusing on Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay. The untimely passing of Jeff left the label at a standstill until it was purchased by the Miller family in his honor. Wes is continuing to represent Jeff’s legacy and his ideas about how to make great wine. Letting the vineyards speak, not getting too stylistic with the wines. Trying to keep the way they represent the place and the time they were grown, intact.

“…to put a bottle of wine on the table every night, and to use wine to keep the people you love at the table for an extra hour”-Wes Hagen

If you would like to meet Wes and try his incredible wines, he will be mingling with guests during our dinner service at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe on September 30th. Can’t make it in? All of J. Wilkes wines are 20% off the whole month of September in the retail store and online! Take advantage of this discount that will only last until the end of September, and try the sampler 4-Pack to get a taste of a wonderful selection of J. Wilkes wines. For reservations call 805-688-7265 or schedule online via open table

Pragmatic and Positive – Winemaker Larry Schaffer – Tercero Wines

August 4, 2016

Larry Schaffer started off in the educational and trade publishing industry, but after a number of years felt he had finished everything he set out to do in that field, and started wondering about what was next. He had always been interested in winemaking, wondering how the process worked. How do you develop different wines from one grape varietal or another?

Learning more about winemaking was the challenge he was looking for, and he left his career to get a degree in Viticulture and Enology. After studying and working for years, Larry began his new career as the Enologist for Fess Parker Winery. He chose to settle in Santa Barbara County because of the openness of the winemaking community, their willingness to help each other, and because the Santa Ynez Valley is a great place to raise children.

After a year with Fess Parker, Larry started buying grapes to make his own wines, focusing on Rhone varietal wines under the label Tercero Wines. Tercero means “third” in Spanish, and the number three has many ties within Larry’s past and present. He was the third child in his family, he lived in the third dormitory complex at UC Davis, and he has three children of his own!

When asked, Larry describes his style of winemaking as “pragmatic”. He believes that if he’s done a blend correctly, the sum will be greater than the its parts. So, when he is putting his blends together, he’s never sure exactly what he’ll have. In his head, he’ll be thinking “This is going to add this and this is going to add this…” but in the end, sometimes it works out fine and sometimes it doesn’t.  He believes that if he has done his job right, when one of his bottles is opened, he wants it to speak of the vintage, to speak of the vineyards that he worked with, the varieties he used, and he wants it to speak of his knowledge, education, or lack of knowledge – whatever it was that went into making that wine at that time. He says, “That’s an evolving process to me. My wines are never going to taste the same, or smell the same, and that’s ok! Because it’s going to hopefully be reflective of that time period when I made the wine. If I was going to be dogmatic, rather than pragmatic, I don’t think I would achieve that.”

Discover the Energy behind Jaffurs Wine Cellars: Matt Brady – Jaffurs Wine Cellars

July 12, 2016

Recently Shawnda Marmostein from the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café, sat down with Matt Brady of Jaffurs Wine Cellars to learn a bit more about his wine making journey. In 2005 Matt started in winetasting and then, when harvest came around, he jumped in to help out with the picking of the grapes. Working through that harvest, Matt was bitten by the winemaking bug and was subsequently offered a full-time position. He has been there ever since, enjoying the diverse opportunities afforded by a small winery. Over the years, he has moved through 7 different job titles including cellar master to assistant winemaker and, a little over a year ago – to his current position as co-winemaker with owner Craig Jaffurs. While most of his training has been on-the-job, Matt has also taken weekend wine chemistry classes at UC Davis. In 2009, he took a sabbatical to travel to Australia and created a vintage at “Two Hands Wines” in the Barossa Valley. Matt is very appreciative of the benefits of working in a small winery where the few employees have the opportunity to become familiar with all aspects of the business and wear a number of different hats.

Craig Jaffurs, owner of the winery, began a career as a cost analyst for an aerospace company in Santa Barbara. On his off hours, he started exploring winemaking and creating his own home wines, learning from one of his best friends, Bruce McGuire, who works at the Santa Barbara Winery.  After working a couple of harvests with Bruce, Craig fell in love with winemaking. Based on the success of his first few home vintages, he launched his own commercial brand and, in 1994, began making the Thompson Vineyard Syrah. His started with a couple 100 cases – which received rave reviews from the Wine Spectator. This initial success got the ball rolling, and Craig started doubling production – making his wine at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria through the year 2000. In 2001 Craig and his wife, Lee, bought the property where Jaffurs Wine Cellars is currently located. One block from the beach in Santa Barbara, the facility is off Milpas on Montecito St. After purchasing the property, the couple knocked down the little house on the site and began building their dream winery from the ground up. Visitors to the facility, which is open every day for tasting from 11am – 5pm, are in for a rare treat. The tasting room is located in the center of the production floor, surrounded by the tanks, barrels, and all the action. In fact, it is not uncommon for a casual winetasting to turn into an adventure for the lucky ones who come to taste and end up being invited to sort the grapes or do a little foot stomping – especially around harvest.

Matt related that Jaffurs philosophy is to have a minimalist approach. Beginning with great vineyards (strongly believing that the site trumps everything else), harvesting the best grapes they can get by hand, and working with vineyard managers so that everything is done to their specifications. They pick the grapes at night, trucking them to the winery in Santa Barbara by 7:00-8:00 in the morning. In the winery, the philosophy is “…to not do too much, so they don’t screw anything up.” Using a light touch, they hand sort the grapes, and employ gravity to move their wine, de-stemming most of their fruit without crushing it – while allowing for a small percentage to get whole cluster fermented before getting lightly foot stomped. Matt says, “We want our wines to be powerful and expressive, but we also want them to be elegant and balanced and together.” Currently Jaffurs has 25 acres of grape under contract, producing 5,000 cases, and 14 different wines. The produce small lots, with the majority of their wines being sold directly to their wine clubs. Matt feels, this gives them the opportunity to be “…a little more headstrong and experimental on what we want to do with our wines. Because we have a captive audience, so to speak, that are going to buy them – we can experiment with things like using more whole clusters or extending barreling.” Something larger wineries aren’t able to do, because they have to make the same thing every year. One of the things Matt is most excited about in 2016 is breaking some of their picks into multiple picks. For instance, if they target a harvest for a particular Wednesday, they will go in the Friday before to pick some of the grapes, pick the majority on that Wednesday, but then save some to be picked a few days later. This gives them some slightly varying levels of ripeness to work with – creating a way to increase complexity and add more layers to the wine. “Not the kind of thing a huge winery can do,” continues Matt. “but when you are small, agile, and dynamic- you get a winery team and winemaking staff that is excited to keep pushing the bar up and you get some really cool stuff!”

Matt loves his job. “Every year is different, every year we do some great experiments, every year your understanding of winemaking evolves. Things you thought you knew…you realize you don’t know. It’s one of those ever humbling processes. You get one chance at making wine each year and that’s pretty exciting.”

Learn more about Matt Brady and Jaffurs Wine Cellars from our interview at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe.

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