Spear makes full use of the unique coastal geography of the Sta. Rita Hills. In one of the states only east to west valleys, foggy, cool winds prolong the ripening season and define the cold-climate terroir of the valley. Over 60 vineyards dot the AVA, totaling nearly 3500 acres of planted grapes.
Spear vineyard sits on the southern face of the main valley, facing highway 246. As a hallmark Sta. Rita vineyard, the primary grapes they grow are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The vineyard is uniquely one of the highest elevation vineyards in the AVA, topping out at 900 feet above sea level. With a vineyard-forward approach to winemaking and a CCOF organic certification, Spear prides themselves on sustainable, eco-friendly wine farming. Spear wines are made in a gravity flow facility, gently flowing downhill. No oak flavoring, no new French oak. The vineyard was planted in 2013 with a winery and tasting room (appointment only, please!) Wines are meant to be a taste of the whole vineyard, essentially blends of different areas of the vineyards.
Kat Gaffney joined Spear after a world tour, that began in her native Colorado at a hotel wine bar. After a brief stint as a sommelier in training, Kat wanted to take a more active role in the winemaking industry and sought out apprenticeships and harvests to work, going from our Central Coast to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and out to New Zealand for practical winemaking experience in the flourishing Kiwi wine trade.
Humility in Winemaking
After heading back stateside, Kat worked at Spear under winemaker Greg Brewer, before taking over operations as head winemaker in 2017. Kat’s winemaking style is about removing all intention in the winemaking. “I don’t want people to taste the wine and say…’ Kat your signature is all over this wine’… I want the vineyard to be front and center”.
This month, we are featuring three Spear Wines from the high-elevation estate vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills. The Estate Chardonnay is Spear’s bread and butter (forgive the pun), sourced from blocks at varying elevations around the vineyard, north facing in sand and clay loam. Spear’s Estate Pinot Noir is one of Kat Gaffney’s first vine-to-bottle creations as winemaker, with blocks from the tip-top of the Spear estate to down near the 246, this all-estate/all-blocks Pinot was 15% whole cluster fermented. Rounding out our Featured Wines, the Spear Syrah is a Jeb Dunnuck 91-point rated estate creation featuring Alban clones and a white pepper and pomegranate nose.
Sonja owns Casa Dumetz, a wine Haus in Los Alamos, California, about 50 minutes north of Santa Barbara. Under the umbrella of the Casa Dumetz label, she also produces the single-label brand, The Feminist Party and Clementine Carter, focusing on Rhône & Grenache wines (both are being poured and sold as our featured wines this month).
Making world peace one bottle at a time…
“Making world peace one bottle at a time,” is the mantra that Sonja highlights on her website. A mantra she’s turned into a reality at her Los Alamos tasting room. Every Friday night, Sonja invites the public to join her as she opens the tasting room as a public forum, open to the free discussion of ideas, politics, wine, the environment, and other topics providing a neutral ground for cooperation and contemplation.
Sonja describes in one word the aspect of herself that gets infused into her wines,”Purity.”
Sonja is the brains, backing, and boss of Casa Dumetz. Sonja says that the expressions, effort, and emotions shown in her wine start with “Purity.” By blending the effects of the natural earth, the pure expressions of the vineyards, and her hands-off approach Sonja allows the wine and the vineyard to take a front seat on the nose and palate over any of her actions in the winery. “There’s not just a formula…” explains Sonja, on working with Grenache and other new varietals. “…you really have to understand. What is this varietal? What does it want to say? And, how do you want to usher it and chaperone it…?”
Casa Dumetz started like many other Central Coast small-batch manufacturers as a single varietal label. Pinot Noir was the focus – the only label — but through the years Sonja slowly grew Casa Dumetz and was able to branch out from the safety of Pinot Noir and began exploring new varietals and terroir to work with.
While today Los Alamos is starting to turn a big corner as a small but exquisite gastro-hub. However, when Sonja first opened her tasting room in the little farming town, frequently bypassed on the 101, Sonja was warned against it. “The idea was to really commit to winemaking and not be afraid of it,” says Sonja, who fortunately ignored the naysayers and opened the Los Alamos tasting room in 2011. Now others have followed suit and Los Alamos is on the map as another Santa Barbara Wine Country destination stop.
Doug Margerum has a very specific, direct goal for his Margerum label wines: making “Food friendly, at-the-table wines”. This approach is very evident in the design of Margerum’s Buellton tasting room & winery (open on the weekends behind Figueroa Mountain Brewing). The small tasting room opens into a large kitchen, where a fresh meal is often prepared for the winery staff’s lunch. A long communal table represents the bulk of the tasting room, demonstrating the clear intent to serve Margerum wines with a delicious paired plate of food.
An early introduction to Wine
Doug’s real wine roots start at the Wine Cask, a small Santa Barbara wine shop his family acquired 37 years ago, evolving into a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant. As one of Santa Barbara’s highly-decorated and venerable restaurants, Doug found the focus for his wines to-be: “I unabashedly make table wines!” Under his successful Margerum Wine Co. label, a steady production of food-friendly wines makes their way throughout Santa Barbara County and beyond. Margerum Sauvignon Blanc was even featured at President Obama’s final State Dinner in 2016.
Doug’s first foray into wine was on a European vacation in his youth, in dark French wine caves where so many have opened their eyes into wine culture. Chateauneuf du Pape helped Doug become the Wine Expert among his friends and family, an amateur sommelier to suggest wines. As Doug’s wine and food education grew, he became a true sommelier, a local winemaker under many labels (and in France!), and a successful restauranteur. Doug was asked to join the Smithsonian National Museum’s American History Kitchen Cabinet, a board of luminaries in the food & beverage industries. Doug also befriended Julia Child during her long time as a Santa Barbara resident.
Doug’s word for what he puts into his wine is “Personality” – Doug tries to bring wine to the table per his standards – wines he wants to drink and he hopes others love. His history in the restaurant business and as a consulting winemaker can attest to the success of these wines.
What brings each and every Margerum Wine together is that signature dash of Doug’s personality and approach to wine: High acidity, low alcohol wines that add punch and flavor to each and every meal. He freely compares his industry to “glorified drug dealers… because we get you on something.. and once you go that next step up in quality, you can’t go back down!”
The former Honea vineyard in Los Olivos, now a Margerum Rhône varietal vineyard, produces the heart of the “M5” Red blend – a crafty blend of Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Mourvedre, and Cinsault. This Flagship wine of the brand is modeled directly after Châteauneuf du Pape style Rhônes.
The M5 White, a rich, fruity blend of Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, and Vermentino, comes full circle from Doug’s travels through France, and his inspiration to make a white Rhône wine. As a second “M5”, it’s the spiritual companion to the flagship M5 Red. This organically farmed wine is also a product of the Los Olivos district.
A lasting influence on Santa Barbara County Wine
Doug continues to consult for La Encantada and Happy Canyon Vineyards, along with others. His influence and personality-driven wines are guaranteed to remain synonymous with Santa Barbara Country wine for decades to come. While the Margerum winery is open to the public on weekends in Buellton, you can visit their El Paseo tasting room every day in Santa Barbara, with a new tasting room coming soon in the Hotel Californian!
Doug’s incredible story as a successful Santa Barbara winemaker is part of Santa Barbara Wine Country history. Read more of our winemaker interviews in our blog here!
Rancho Sisquoc- Steeped in history and still keeping things fresh.
Over the last four decades, Rancho Sisquoc has become a household name in local winemaking and wine tourism. Located at the end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in Santa Maria, the property of Rancho Sisquoc is a destination every wine lover must experience to fully appreciate.
As a major stop on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, the winery is a 300-acre slice of a roughly 38,000-acre working ranch, mine, and farm. As one of the oldest wineries in Santa Barbara County, Rancho Sisquoc’s name is an important piece of California history. The San Ramon Chapel (the label art of Rancho Sisquoc’s wines) has been a staple on the Ranch for over 140 years and became the county’s first State Historic Landmark in 1977.
Vines were first planted on the Ranch in the late 1960s, with the first vintages produced in 1972 by a Ranch Manager, rather than the traditional Head Winemaker of today. The unique Sylvaner wines come from the former Ranch Manager, who fell in love with the grape while serving under General Patton in Europe. We’re pleased to offer the 2016 Sylvaner vintage of these same vines as one of our featured wines this month!
Sarah Holt Mullins, our Featured Winemaker, was born and raised on Rancho Sisquoc. Her parents moved to the Ranch in 1976 as farmers, working their way up at the Ranch. Sarah’s father is responsible for many of the vine plantings on the vineyard. Growing up, Sarah worked many odd jobs on the Ranch, working her way into the winery on her own journey. Over time on the Ranch, she began to appreciate the effort put into every wine, from grape to bottle. The experimentation with wine, responsibility over the grapes, and experience of tasting wine that you created was an experience that sold Sarah on the wine business completely.
In her own words, “it’s all-consuming; your whole life has to be in [the wine business].” Sarah credits everyone from her Oenologist, assistants, grape-growers, salespeople, and her customers (some of which have been wine club members for 20+ years!) in the process of creating famous Rancho Sisquoc wine. Everyone’s love and effort in the process is vital to creating the wines, and each is a vital part of her process. If she could sum up her winemaking style, she’d use “Love”. Sarah loves the wine, loves the process, the business and most of all, Rancho Sisquoc. Sarah’s family and others who work the Ranch live on the property, putting their time, effort and love into the soil they call home.
Rancho Sisquoc works with over 14 different varietals, which they believe is for everyone from the wine novices to the budding sommeliers. Part and parcel with this theory is how they market their wines, as wines that everyone can afford, bringing fine wine to everyone who is curious about the taste, process, and subtleties between great wines.
Sarah’s favorite grape is Merlot; another featured wine from Rancho Sisquoc in October. The tasting room Mantra at Rancho Sisquoc; everyone is allowed 6 free tastings, but if they didn’t try the Merlot, that becomes the 7thfree tasting. The wine is a classic albeit currently underappreciated staple to the winery’s oeuvre.
Sarah plans to keep “taking chances in the vineyard”, a trait she attributes to her father’s influence on her winemaking. As grape growers who have been in the industry for 40+ years, taking chances keeps their work fresh to consumers and their business. For example, in the “Tre Vini” Red Blend release, Sarah’s team might change the blend based on the year’s harvest, to perfectly balance each release. You can find this wine with the other aforementioned two as another Featured Wine at the Wine Merchant & Café!
Sarah’s long relationship with winemaking reflects the story of many local winemakers. Check out more of our monthly interviews with featured local winemakers here!
Many winemakers “fall” into winemaking as a side project that grows into a full-fledged company or a passing of the torch in a family-run business. However, Chuck Carlson got into the wine industry from the get-go with an early inclination to make wine. Growing up on a farm in the balmy San Joaquin Valley, Chuck admits he wanted to live closer to the coast. Like so many other talented Santa Barbara winemakers, Chuck started out at “Zaca University,” a colloquial reference to Zaca Mesa Winery.
In his early years, Chuck and others were still learning how to grow the best grapes in the valley. Through “admittedly” everyone stumbled growing Cabernet or other grapes we know now are best suited to Napa and Sonoma. Chuck can certainly claim to have seen it all in our corner of the winemaking world.
Carlson Wines doesn’t have their own tasting room; keeping his operation low profile with a limited, but exclusive distribution. Between this month as our featured winemaker in our Monthly Featured Winemaker Series and his normal bottlings, Chuck typically only produces 2,500 cases a year.
Traditional Approach to Wine
We ask our featured winemakers to sum up their winemaking style in one word. Chuck didn’t hesitate; describing his style as “Traditional.” We can vouch for this! In his decades in Santa Barbara County and Arroyo Grande, he’s kept a consistent, traditional style of winemaking dating back to early California labels.
After 37 years of winemaking, if Chuck Carlson has a preference, it’s Pinot. When his label started in 2004, his focus was creating outstanding Pinot Noirs from the Central Coast. Over the years, Carlson wines have expanded to five different vineyards across multiple local AVAs.
In Chuck’s own words he describes his Pinot: “The 2014 vintage provided Pinot Noirs that tend to reflect the sun year. These wines are impacted by the climate throughout the growing season. There tends to be slightly darker and riper berry flavors that show a beautiful restrained balance. The chemistry of the fruit yields wines that can age gracefully and have a beautiful balance.”
Chuck Carlson’s wine adventure is one of many local vintners in Santa Barbara County. Read our blog for our interviews with several local winemakers as part of our Featured Winemaker series.
This July, we’re pleased to welcome back Matt Brady, already a veteran guest of our Featured Local Winemaker series. Since our previous interview over a year ago, Matt has found a new calling and a new home at SAMsARA. SAMsARA Wine’s namesake comes from Sanskrit: The Buddhist interpretation of the word is the process of coming into being as a unique, mortal being. In Hindu culture, SAMsARA is the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth of all life. This circle of passion, oneness and harmony are core values in SAMsARA’s winemaking process. The label produces only small batches of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache from “carefully selected micro-sites” in the Sta. Rita hills region.
Fundamental to Matt’s winemaking is whole cluster fermentation – you’ll find this wine style in every SAMsARA wine. Whole cluster leads to greater aromas in their wines and a full mouthfeel profile without making the wines too strong.Stem inclusion is commonly a way to raise the PH of a wine, bringing natural acidity to the flavor profile. The cool climate vineyards, which SAMsARA exclusively selects for its retinue of grapes, are emblematic of very aromatic wines.
Matt’s favorite word to describe his wines: “Depth.” These wines are complex, multi-faceted, and appeal to those looking for an extra layer in their wines. Since 2005, Matt has worked almost every job in the California wine industry, most notably working his way from cellar master to co-winemaker at Jaffurs. When current SAMsARA owners Dave & Joan Szkutak acquired the winery, they had one name in mind to lead the operation: Matt Brady.
Currently, Matt spends as much time as he can in the vineyards, exploring new vineyard sites to add to the SAMsARA portfolio that match their style. The team is opening a new winery in Goleta and are expanding the Los Olivos tasting room, so there’s plenty to keep fans of the label occupied!
What’s next? While SAMsARA typically focuses on Pinot, Grenache and Syrah, the first vintage of Chardonnay should be available soon, so keep your eyes peeled for new offerings!
Each month, we sit down with a winemaker we feel represents the best qualities of Santa Barbara County winemaking: Transformative, curious, and brilliant individuals that make the Central Coast stand out in the ever-changing wine business. For more of our interviews with winemakers, check back in our blog for our recent features.
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.
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!
There was a time during the late 1980’s, where winemakers came together with a unified goal– to put Santa Barbara County on the wine map of the United States. Little did they know, but their first steps paved the way for the explosion of our popular Santa Barbara wine region. Winemakers like Jim Clendenen from Au Bon Climat or Brian Babcock of Babcock wines created a culture which enabled Brewer-Clifton and others to find success in their footsteps. These pioneers succeeded in getting Santa Barbara County on the map as a premier California wine destination, rivaling Napa in some regards.
Embracing this spirit of collaboration, Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton put Sta. Rita Hills on the map. Together they started their label in the 1990’s before the Lompoc-based Viticultural area even existed. Greg attributes the success of Sta. Rita Hills to the diversity of Santa Barbara County and his team’s ability to focus on the best grapes of the area, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While other local AVAs may focus on Syrah or Sauvignon Blanc, Brewer-Clifton has always highlighted their flagships, which we’re currently featuring this month!
Santa Barbara Roots
At 21 Greg was a French-language professor at UCSB when he found his calling in the wine industry. He moved on from his previous passion for teaching to join Santa Barbara Winery in the tasting room for a meager $5.50/hour. He was hooked!
Greg Brewer met Steve Clifton in 1995 while working at Sunstone winery. Their friendship grew as they fed their desire to be part of Santa Barbara’s burgeoning wine region and soon discovered that their personalities blended well for business as well. Greg and Steve represent the best of the “next chapter” of the Santa Barbara wine story, after the premiere of the old guard. Their first 240 cases of wine came about in 1996, back when even some “established” wineries were still nothing more than young, green vines on a hill. The rest, as they say, is history. Greg considers his work in founding the appellation (which became an official AVA in 2001) his greatest accomplishment.
Back in 2017, Brewer-Clifton was purchased by the Jackson family (of the Kendall-Jackson winery). Greg is still the master winemaker of Brewer-Clifton winery, and considers the Jacksons the “largest champion of Santa Barbara County for decades”. He’s left to make his wines as he sees fit with his own spin on making premier Pinot and Chardonnay wines. If Greg isn’t making wine, he’s focusing on the education of newer, younger winemakers, and promoting the area here and abroad.
Humility & Vulnerability
Greg’s favorite part of winemaking: “the humility that comes with never being able to replicate anything” in his wines. Every vintage has a slight difference that provides a humble aspect to his life’s work. The spirit of Brewer-Clifton comes from transparency and vulnerability, with all wines “raised in a state of neutrality,” using old barrels. Greg’s team handles the wines from vine to barrel, ensuring the Brewer-Clifton touch on each stage of their grape’s lives. As a winemaker, Greg Brewer wants to eliminate his personal bias or prejudice on the wine, “to enable other componentry” to be louder than him in the wine.
Want to learn more about your local Santa Barbara County Winemakers? Read about our other Featured Winemakers here!
Jeff Fischer started small and dreamt big to make Habit Wines
What drives wine-lovers to Santa Barbara Wine Country? For most Californians, they visit because of the proximity and the refreshing rural escape from LA or the Bay Area– and of course for the quality of our wines. For Habit Wines owner Jeff Fischer, it’s all about the attitude our region exudes– a welcoming attitude with a willingness to share knowledge and support its fellow winemakers.
You might know Jeff from his eponymous character on the Fox show American Dad!.Balancing his two callings of acting and winemaking, Jeff started small, making several cases of wine out of a garage in Los Angeles, with a few hundred pounds of grapes he bungee-corded onto his truck and brought down from Santa Barbara.
Three defining moments helped Jeff get started: The first winery to agree to sell him grapes. The winemaking classes that guided him through the creation of his garagiste cases of wine he made in LA. And, Doug Margerum who opened his winery doors giving Jeff the opportunity to become a full-fledged winemaker. (Watch our interview to hear Jeff’s journey to winemaking in his own words.)
For a wine to grow as a passion into a business it takes a certain kind of creative energy which Jeff imbues in every one of his wines.
Mavericks in the industry like Jeff help define Santa Barbara wine country – and the winemakers who make it all happen. Like others before him, it’s this culture of expression and encouragement that helped him get started, or as he puts it, “it’s a great, great vibe!”
So, why the big hand on the Habit Wines label?
“It’s really all about art and addiction,” says Jeff – the art of acting and his addiction to winemaking. For him, the hand belongs to William S. Burroughs, Jeff’s favorite poet from his hometown of St. Louis, who “may be reaching for his own fix” on the label. The Habit label certainly does pop out on a shelf of wines – it’s easy to spot from a distance on our own wine wall – and the design even landed his wines in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Like most ‘misunderstood’ modern art, it wasn’t always as accepted. During one of his first vintages, Jeff brought his wines to the famed French Laundry restaurant in Napa. The staff loved the wine but refused to buy any for the restaurant giving the reason that the label was too modern, too out of the ordinary for the bourgeois Napa eatery.
Habit Wines are made from grapes from several vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County. Jeff prefers Happy Canyon grapes to grow his Bordeaux blends, keeping it hyper-local to the area. Most of his other varietals are grown in the Los Olivos District.
Winemaker Dieter Cronje of Presqu’ile Winery Shares His Energy
Dieter Cronje isn’t shy about what he needs as a winemaker – more storage! In helping build Presqu’ile Winery from the ground up, he’s acutely aware of the needs of his vineyard. As he puts it, “the problem is, an empty barrel of air takes up the same space as a full barrel!”
This month’s local Featured Winemaker showcases how a love of winemaking affects us globally, as South African Dieter Cronje takes us on his personal journey bringing him to Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria.
Out on the cold, windswept, and sandy hills of the far western side of the Santa Maria AVA, Dieter’s team works to perfect a select few wines that have made Presqu’ile stand out in North County: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Rosé, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Dieter believes strongly in the philosophies behind making wine; the energy he puts into his wine shows in each varietal Presqu’ile showcases. Coming from a formal education as a winemaker, Dieter understands the science behind what makes wine taste so good; Presqu’ile’s large on-site laboratory and full-time wine chemist attest to their devotion to textbook-perfect wine.
The 73-acre Presqu’ile vineyard sits close to the western border of the Santa Maria viticulture area, where the cold Pacific air constantly blows over the ocean-facing hills. Dieter and the Murphy family, owners of Presqu’ile, built the winery and tasting room from the ground-up, to their exacting specifications. The result is a world-class, gravity fed winemaking operation focusing on exhibiting fascinating Pinots, Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs.
From South Africa to the Central Coast:
Dieter got his start with wine early, “when I realized I could make my own booze!” he proclaims. After his father encouraged him to get in the industry over a shared love of wine, Dieter studied at Elsenberg Agricultural College and the University of Bordeaux, before traveling the world to hone his skills in crafting excellent Pinot Noir. Finally, Dieter met his future business partner Matthew Murphy at Ambuello Winery, where after several years, Dieter chose to come on as Presqu’iles winemaker.
Presqu’ile got its start in Mississippi, as a beachfront property owned by the Murphy family. They owned a small vineyard which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Looking to start fresh on the West Coast, the Murphy’s searched up and down California from the Russia River, Napa, and Santa Barbara County to find the perfect place to grow cold Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. After settling on the Santa Maria AVA, the Murphys began growing grapes and had their first Presqu’ile Winery vintage in 2009.
Pursuit of Perfection
Whats next for this successful winemaker: the ceaseless pursuit of that perfect wine. “…I think if any winemaker tells you he has made the wine he’s completely satisfied with, he’s probably lying and should stop making wine because then there’s no more pursuit of perfection or pursuit of improvement.”
Dieter’s journey is one very similar to many of the other local Santa Barbara Wine Country winemakers that we have interviewed. It started with a dream, that with hard work and determination has made our incredible niche in the world of wine something to be proud of.
In the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country, we are the premier wine merchant for California Central Coast wines, from Santa Barbara County to Monterey County, with select vintages from other areas of California’s Wine Country and noteworthy wines from around the world.