Autumn Brews: A New Season Means New Beers in Santa Barbara

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on September 29, 2011)

Brewer Brian Thompson wants to bring seasonality back to making beer.

“It’s something that’s kind of lost these days in industrial beer production,” he says, as he stands among several fermentation tanks inside his Telegraph Brewing Company in Santa Barbara’s eastside.  “Whether it’s a Beaujolais Nouveau wine, or tomatoes or peaches – or beer – there are flavors and tastes associated with special times of the year, and it can be very comforting and rewarding.”

So Thompson is excited about what autumn will add to his portfolio: two new brews, including a rye extra pale ale set for release this weekend and crafted with special colleagues in mind.  “Winemakers want a light refreshing beer to drink during harvest,” he says.  And this one’s light, refreshing with a clean hoppy bite.  “It’s under five percent alcohol, so you can have a few at the end of a long shift of picking grapes and still walk out of the winery,” he adds with a chuckle.

This beer’s official designation is XPA – for extra pale ale.

Thompson is also making an oatmeal stout this season; it’s a light but rich and hearty beer made with real oats for a velvety, smooth mouth feel.  It’ll be publically released during the Santa Barbara Beer Festival at Elings Park on October 15th.  Both beers will then be available on tap at the brewery only, and in take-home growlers.

Thompson’s brews celebrate the fall season, but it’s also good marketing.  “It does give people more reason to keep coming back to us as opposed to have the same four or five beers year round,” he adds.

At least two local brew masters are taking the harvest concept of beer making to heart this autumn.  Both Paul Wright at Carpinteria’s Island Brewing Company and Pete Johnson at The Brewhouse in Santa Barbara are releasing beers made from fresh hops, as opposed to the regular dried hops.  “You can only make a harvest beer at this time of year, as soon as the hops are harvested,” Wright says. ”Otherwise they’ll begin to dry or spoil.”  Wright made about 450 barrels of his harvest beer this year, using what some call “wet” hops overnighted to him from Yakima, Washington.  He is specific about the property that grew them – BT Loftus Ranches – because “it make the beer more special, like a wine made with grapes from a specific vineyard.”  And he admits that the flavor of a harvest beer may take some getting used to.  “A little bit of pine scent, and some citrus flavor,” he says.  “Very interesting.”

Wright is releasing his harvest beer – along with a second autumn-specific brew made using avocados from Carpinteria and honey from Fillmore – during this year’s California Avocado Festival, taking place the second weekend in October in downtown Carpinteria.

While Wright is now importing the fresh hops for his annual harvest brew (until last year, he was sourcing them from a private grower in Goleta whose output, alas, started coming in too small), the Brewhouse’s Johnson is able to make his from estate hops.  Using plants that have been growing in the downtown brewery’s backyard for the last decade or so, his production is smaller – about a quarter what Wright makes – but the flavor profile is similar.  “The wet hops give it an earthier, grassier flavor,” he says of his red-hued, draught-only concoction.  And while it enjoys a dedicated following, Johnson still admits that getting consumers to understand its season-specific timing continues to be a challenge.  “Some people don’t get it,” he says in his characteristically husky tone.  “They’ll ask me in the spring, ‘Hey, when are you releasing the harvest ale?’  And I’m like, ‘What part of this process have I not explained to you?”

Johnson will be harvesting his home hops in about a week and releasing his harvest beer in early November.  But the Brewhouse is already serving up Johnson’s other fall beer from on tap: his annual Oktoberfest brew, a smooth but malty homage to the annual suds carnival in Munich, Germany, which typically draws some six million thirsty partygoers (and which is going on now through October 6th).

At Firestone-Walker Brewing Company, brew master Matt Brynildson also uses Oktoberfest for yearly inspiration.  This year’s very traditional version, available in both bottle and on tap at the company’s popular namesake restaurant in Buellton, came out in late August.  It was crafted using the famous Augustiner yeast from Germany, imported malts and hops sourced from Bavarian fields just north of Munich.

A second autumn beer is set for release in the next few days.  Inspired by the Walker member of the brewery’s founding team, The Velvet Merlin is a traditional English oatmeal stout.  Rich, dark and creamy – dark chocolate and coffee notes have a starring role – this beer was partially aged in bourbon barrels and was inspired by a recipe Brynildson first devised as a burgeoning brewer in college.  (Deep in local brewing circles, the beer is actually known but its original name, which rhymes with “Merlin,” but which denotes something that’s arguably way too bawdy for mass marketing.)

The most momentous release of the fall season for Brynildson, though, may well be the XV, or Fifteen, which will celebrates the company’s fifteenth year in business when it’s released the first week in November.  This special brew has been a fall-only production ever since the brewery turned 10; it’s part of Firestone-Walker’s “Proprietors Reserve” series and one of close to 20 beers that Brynildson makes every year at the company’s Paso Robles facility.

“Beer is steeped deep in our local wine community, so what’s special with this beer is that we invite local winemakers to make it,” says Brynildson, who asked 16 Central Coast wine producers to come up with their own beer blend using higher-alcohol brews that had been barrel-aged for at least a year.  “We numbered each blend, got behind closed doors and had a blind elimination competition.”  The winning meritage, which was concocted by the winemaking team at Paso Robles’ acclaimed Saxum Winery (these are the folks whose 2007 James Berry red blend got the “Best Wine of 2010” nod from Wine Spectator earlier this year), clocks in at 12.5% alcohol and will be sold in 22-ounce bottles “that are really meant for sharing,” Brynildson suggests.

Ultimately, flavor is what mostly inspires many local brewers to make beer in the fall.  Flavors synonymous with a season defined by cooler, darker days and that are rarely found at their peak outside the post-summer months.  For brewer Eric Rose at Hollister Brewing Company in Goleta, which offers more than a dozen draught beers throughout the year, that includes local lemon; his annual Belgian-inspired, low-alcohol brew of lemongrass, ginger, lemon rind and lemon juice will be premiered at the annual California Lemon Festival in Goleta the third weekend in October.

And it includes local pumpkin.   Rose used more than 80 pounds of the gourd, grown at Goleta’s Lane Farms, to make his (almost) annual pumpkin beer, which is set for release next week.  “Nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves give most of the predominant flavors,” says Rose.  “The pumpkin creates more of that viscosity in the mouth feel.”  And although he’ll offer it on tap until it’s gone, “it usually sells best in October and November.”


Seeds of Success: Local Business Turns Grapeseeds into Beauty Products

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on September 26, 2011)

Winemakers have a take it-or-leave it relationship with grape seeds.  In some wines – think big reds – they can impart notable tannins, that muscle that often makes wine chewy, food-friendly and age-worthy.  But in other wines, seeds are best left by the wayside; and even when they’re used, they’re usually discarded quickly.  But where winemakers often see scrap, one couple saw beauty.  And those same tiny grape pits – which they would go on to use in a niche line of products – would become their seeds for success.

Kristin and Peter Cotte
The story of the Grapeseed Company actually begins in the year 2000, when Kristin Fraser Cotte and her fiancé Peter decided to explore the world by boat.  They outfitted a 30-foot sailboat and left their native Boston for the far warmer waters of the Caribbean.  “We knew that the area is home to more than 500 islands, but that less than a couple dozen would have any stores,” Cotte recalls.  “So I bought a book on how to use oils and food grade ingredients to make bath and body products for our own use onboard.”  She sourced mostly coconut oil from their various ports of call.  And throughout their journey, they sustained themselves, living off plenty of rice and beans, growing sprouts on their vessel and diving regularly for fish.  Aside from a short stint back to Boston during hurricane season, the couple spent two years living sensibly on the high seas.

With their seafaring ways behind them, the couple moved to Santa Barbara in 2002.  They sought out a place to live where they could pursue their graduate school careers in teaching and surf readily.  Theymarried here shortly after their move.

But Cotte’s daily routine on that sailboat – making bath and body products from natural ingredients – soon turned to nagging inspiration.  “For two years, I kept mulling over in my head if I could turn this into a business,” she remembers.  And all it took was her husband’s fortuitous bike ride through the Santa Ynez Valley to turn musing into reality.

“He noticed that winemakers were throwing away the grape seeds,” Cotte says.  “They were either throwing them into their mulch or paying trucks to haul them away.”  And what a waste, she thought.  After all, “seeds are the richest part of the grapes, when it comes to vitamins and antioxidants like resveratrol.”

And so a business idea took root and began to bloom.

In 2004, the Grapeseed Company was born.  It started as an online and wholesale business, featuring products handmade by Cotte and her husband.  She was an elementary school teacher back then; armed with a master’s in special education, she was working with kids with learning disabilities at schools like Mountain View, Kellogg and El Camino.  “So I was concocting lotions and potions at home.”  After three years of splitting her time between teaching part-time and focusing on her start-up, Cotte turned to her business full time.  It wasn’t until a year ago this month that the company’s retail store opened its doors in downtown Santa Barbara, a destination shop for everything from body lotions to scented candles and baby products to dog washes on the corner of Carrillo and De La Vina.

“Peter is the CFO,” she explains as she sits amidst her hand crafted merchandise.  He’s a teacher at Carpinteria High School, so “he’s a big help during the summer, but he’s a lot more tied up come September.”

So most of the Grapeseed Company’s wares are made by Cotte and her two employees.  Their work stations are tucked away in the back of the store and see a buzz of handiwork most days of any week.

“Wholesale is still the main part of the business,” Cotte says, “and most of our sales are still through our web site.”  Her line is distributed in close to 35 states, as well as in Canada and in the United Kingdom.  And multiple revenue streams have been critical to success, especially in the last few years, when retail combined with wholesale and private label accounts have helped pad profits.  “Private labels, actually, are what have helped us get through the recession,” Cotte adds, “and we’ve seen growth every year since 2008.”

The Grapeseed Company customizes product lines for myriad businesses.  They follow a cash-minimum, not a product-minimum, model, so they are able to fulfill orders for even small, start-up businesses.  For the spa at Vino + Therapy Studio in Atascadero, they produce and custom-label a champagne grape seed and sugar scrub, as well as a facial toner.  For the Allison Inn & Spa in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, they formulate numerous spa treatment products from grape seeds sourced from surrounding vineyards.  Other regular clients include boutique businesses in Napa and Calistoga.  Locally, wineries like Summerland and Oreana carry Grapeseed Company products, too.

What’s more, their focus on local production (“It would be cheaper to manufacture things elsewhere,” Cotte admits, “but it would go against what we’re about.”) and the use of as many local ingredients as possible – like grape seeds, honey, lavender and citrus rinds – has even forced them to pass on bulkier commercial accounts.

The downtown Santa Barbara store features a speckled line of goods (and the air smells delectably at all times).  The best sellers include body lotions and face cleansers, whose natural colors come from the seeds blended in during production.  And there’s a repeat clientele for the wine soaps – red ones made with syrah seeds, white ones made with chardonnay seeds – with the actual seeds swirled in.  Seeds from pinot noir, zinfandel ad cabernet sauvignon are also readily used in Cotte’s products, sourced mainly from wine regions in California, including Santa Barbara County, and Oregon.

Perhaps the store’s biggest draw is the scent bar, a creative station where customers can design and make their own products.  It houses more than 70 fragrances and scents; test strips allow for creative experimentation.  And the list of make-your-own wares includes perfumes, bath and massage oils, hand and body washes, bath salts, body butters and reed scent diffusers for the home.  Products, including custom labeling (you can name a lotion after your wife, if you’d like), are tailor made onsite and on the spot.  Only the custom candles require a week-long turnaround.  “Of course, we also have our line of six candles you can choose from,” Cotte adds.  “When the wax melts, you can use it as massage oil.”

And to drive the green angle of their business home, she adds, “and if you bring the packaging back, you get $4 off your next purchase.”

To that end, consumers also have access to the store’s refill station, featuring many of the store’s popular products in oversized containers.  “You can bring your bottles and fill them back up,” Cotte says, “and you can save up to 20%.”

Affordability, actually, has been a predominant facet of the company.  Those modish wine soaps cost around $7.  “We’re technically a luxury item, but we’re also both teachers, so we wanted to make what we do affordable,” Cotte says.

The Grapeseed Company hosts group parties onsite – think bachelorette bashes – featuring create-your-own lip balms, candles and massage oils.  It’s also expanded to include a diverse home products line, as well as a men’s line and a baby line, all made with predominantly organic ingredients.  And as a playful five-year-old black lab barks to greet an incoming customer, Cotte adds, “Oh, this is Surf, a rescue from the shelter.”  More than a furry greeter, he’s also a mascot, appearing on the labels of the store’s organic dog washes and fur fresheners.

Vinotherapy for everyone.

Tis the Season: Local Chef Bradley Ogden Launches Holiday Meals Cookbook

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on September 22, 2011)

“I really love Thanksgiving,” says Chef Bradley Ogden, as he sits in the dining room of his Root 246 restaurant in Solvang and leafs through the pages of his upcoming culinary tome, Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden.  “It’s always been a favorite time for me to cook, certainly in the restaurant, but also on a very personal level.”

Ogden’s first cookbook in two decades is set for release on September 27th and is a deliberately designed, thoroughly explained and beautifully photographed guide for the average cook through three of the most daunting meals of any year: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. 

“I’m a traditionalist,” he continues.  “To me, the holidays equal family and friends, and food transcends.  It’s timeless value.  You touch people with what you do in the kitchen and what you give them to eat.”

If that’s true, Ogden has been touching people for decades.  The honors graduate from the Culinary Institute of America worked at the famed American Restaurant in Kansas City – “It’s where I began to focus on the American heritage of food,” he says – before gaining acclaim in the mid-1980s as head chef at San Francisco’s renowned Campton Place Hotel.  In 1989, he opened his first restaurant, the Lark Creek Inn, which soon became one of the Bay Area’s most celebrated eateries.  He would go on to become one of the country’s most prolific restaurateurs, running hot spots like One Market Restaurant in San Francisco, Parcel 104 in Santa Clara and Arterra in San Diego.  Today, Ogden is chef and co-owner of the Lark Creek Restaurant Group’s eight eateries and his celeb-friendly namesake property at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which won the James Beard Foundation’s “Restaurant of the Year” honor in 2004.  He opened Root 246 at Hotel Corque in Solvang in 2009.

Throughout his career, Ogden says he’s managed to translate to each of his dishes his singular mantra: organic and local food must prevail.  “The farm to table concept is nothing new for me,” he says.  He traces his culinary roots, actually, to his upbringing on his family’s farm in Michigan, where he recalls his grandmothers’ and own mother’s cooking very fondly; his new book is dedicated “to Mom with love.” 

“We picked our own corn, caught our own fish, and harvested tons of root vegetables when it got cold,” he says.

In the foreword to his new book, he writes, ““There is no exception to my love of all things fresh from the farm.”  He continues, “There is nothing more flavorful than the simplicity of a farm-fresh egg or a trout taken from an icy creek and placed directly into a sizzling frying pan.”

Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden is a collection of 150 recipes that each hinge on the use of fresh, local, available ingredients.  Ogden is unwavering in his encouragement of it, pointing to what he describes as “the ethics” of cooking.  “You’ve got to know exactly what goes into everything you’re eating,” he insists.  In a section of his new book in which he explains his insistence on the freshest of ingredients, he writes, “Organic and local food not only tastes better, but it also benefits farmers, animals, the environment and your health.”

In fact, he describes his new hardback as a lifestyle cookbook.  “It’s a lot about my life, what I eat and how I do it,” he says, “with some creative edges, of course.”

Ogden has crafted three main chapters, each one focusing on the three big holidays.  And his personal inventiveness is evident in the most traditional of dishes.  His Thanksgiving lineup includes his signature recipe for sage butter-roasted turkey (fresh sage, Dijon mustard and lemon zest make an appearance) and several bird-inspired alternatives, like wood-grilled turkey chop with wild mushroom gravy, red curry turkey scaloppini and leftover turkey hash.  For cooks looking for something meatier, Ogden features savory options like braised short ribs with onions and sugar pumpkin and wood-grilled butterflied leg of lamb.  All the conventional accoutrements are included, too, all with that distinguishable Ogden flare, including a corn and sage stuffing, a sweet potato gratin and roasted harvest squash soup.  To fill the sweet spot on the Thanksgiving menu, Ogden offers his take on classic pumpkin pie – “my favorite all-time food,” he writes – jellied cranberry sauce and apple crumb pie.

What makes one of the most important meals of the year that much more approachable for the at-home chef are the author’s very practical suggestions and off-the-cuff food for thought, which are interspersed among recipes and photos.  On a page dedicated wholly to choosing and cooking the turkey, Ogden recommends only “fresh natural, organic, free-range turkeys from small regional producers, as they will have the best texture and flavor.”  Among his techniques for maximizing flavor and texture, Ogden calls for a V-shaped pan because “it holds the turkey in position during roasting” and because it keeps the bird elevated, “allowing air to circulate and promoting even cooking and browning.”  He also suggests flipping the bird over halfway through to protect the breast meat and avoiding basting in the last hour of cooking to ensure crispy skin.

To help the reader carve the turkey – an intimidating task for any dinner host – he recommends letting the bird rest for 30 minutes first, and then, “with the turkey breast side up, begin with the legs”

Ogden's suggestions continue to the actual prep before dinner guests arrive.  “Decorate your table with simple flower arrangements and sliced seasonal fruits set on clear bowls filled with water,” he writes.  He also urges the use of name cards so guests know where to sit and small white Christmas lights “for a sparkling backdrop.”  For the hostess seeking practical rules of etiquette: ”Place a nice folded linen napkin to the left of the forks for formal occasions or on top of the plate for less formal gatherings.”

The book’s Christmas chapter features its own share of classic comfort foods, including a braised lamb shoulder with butter beans, a coffee-spiced rib roast and grilled Cornish game hens with spicy cherry rub.  He expresses special fondness for his candied yams – “One of my faves,” he says – which features a spicy profile of cinnamon, allspice, kosher salt and black pepper.  His popular takes on eggnog, winter citrus punch with spice pomegranate ice and chocolate brioche pudding aim to please any sweet tooth.

This section also features a personal note on wines, which his son Bryan, also an accomplished chef, helped prepare.  The wide range of diverse flavors on any holiday table can make wine selection tricky, so Ogden makes general suggestions.  His red of choice is pinot noir.  “Since it is a light wine with savory, earthy notes, it complements many foods,” he writes.  Fruit crispness that cleanses the palate makes pinot grigio his preferred white wine, and he declares that sparkling wine “elevates any meal to a special affair.”  The younger Ogden’s specific wine suggestions for several dishes are found throughout the book.

A page dedicated to the use of fresh herbs includes sensible tips: “To revive limp herbs, trim ½-inch of stems and place the whole herb in ice water for an hour."  And the author offers a list of recipes that, inspired by his own childhood memories, he says would make ideal gifts to bring to any holiday dinner, like spice plum BBQ sauce, banana blueberry bread and espresso double-chocolate soufflé brownies.  “I can always enjoy gifts I can eat,” Ogden says.

For the New Year’s feast, Ogden shares another personal favorite, blue corn cakes with caviar and crème fraiche, along with his recipes for Yankee Pot Roast, sole fillets with citrus brown cutter and a leek and sweet potato risotto.  He also includes some of his favorite countdown cocktails, like blood orange mimosas and mango-pineapple margaritas.  But his most popular may be his “Eye-Opening Blood Mary,” which he mentions in a special section on hangover remedies.  “When your head is spinning and you’ve definitely overindulged, you need to take serious measures before going to sleep to stop the hangover before it starts,” he writes.  The popular morning sipper, he says, forces your body to process new alcohol, thereby giving it a break from the toxic effects of the booze you’ve already consumed; a temporary but effective fix, he calls it.  He also calls for drinking plenty of sports drinks to replace electrolytes and taking a shower that alternates between hot and cold water.

Each of the main chapters concludes with a common sense timeline aimed at helping the at-home cook plan and organize their dinner party.  The Thanksgiving section, for example, suggests ordering your fresh turkey three weeks out, making the jellied cranberry sauce one week ahead and prepping the corn and sage stuffing the day before the big feast.  Each chapter also includes four sample menus to match individual lifestyles and personal holiday realities, like an “Intimate Christmas Dinner for 2” menu and a four-course “Football Dinner Party” menu for New Year’s Day.

Among the book’s most attractive attributes are the lush, vivid snapshots by Solvang-based photographer Jeremy Ball.  “And they weren’t staged,” says Ogden.  “They’d come out of the oven, into my hands, and it was like, ‘Okay, take the picture!”  The photos were taken over five days this past January at the Santa Ynez home of Maria Murdock, daughter of the late Rosemary Clooney.  And for Ogden, they were intrinsic to the book’s allure, since “recipes are the template and the rest is show-and-tell.”  To that end, Ogden already has plans in place to develop visual media, like a DVD and YouTube videos, to accompany his new book.

Holiday Dinners with Bradley Ogden is being published by Running Press and is already available for pre-order through Amazon.

Seaside Sipping: Conway Family Wines Opens Waterfront Tasting Room

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on September 15, 2011)

“Wine is an aesthetic experience,” Gareth Conway tells me as we both lean over the railing of his family’s brand new wine tasting room on Stearns Wharf.  And I have to agree, instantly.  I mean, the views from the second floor facility are breathtaking: 360-degree sights of the Santa Barbara Riviera, the palm-lined lawns of Cabrillo Blvd., the Channel Islands, the Santa Barbara Harbor and glistening water as far as the eye can see.

“What I love about this view us that it’s constant but ever changing,” he continues.  And he adds, as he gestures towards kayakers skimming past incoming sailors with a hand holding a shimmering glass of sauvignon blanc, “the boats give it personality.”

The ocean has long been fascinating for Conway and, he says, his entire family.  They’ve always loved the beach, many of them are certified SCUBA divers and some of his siblings are pretty accomplished paddle boarders.  It’s why they named their winery Deep Sea.  The fact we’re now standing here, a few dozen feet above the water, with snorkeling sea lions and soaring pelicans well within our sights, is mere serendipity. 

“We always thought that a spot on the water would make sense for a tasting room and then, one day, we hear that a space on the Wharf had come up,” he tells me.  Other wine tasting rooms have been housed here in the past.  But as far as I’m concerned, they were never as serious or accomplished an operation as this one. 

As we chat, an employee comes up the steps from the touristy shopping maze below and cheerily greets her boss, “Hello, captain.”  Apropos, since the deck has been totally revamped to resemble the bow of a modern catamaran, with stained wood panels and floors whose color mirrors the sand on the beach just a few hundred feet away.

We soon move inside, where the décor is decidedly simple and uncluttered.  A few retail items, large sepia photographs of the Conway family and their estate vineyards, a communal tasting table and chairs designed by Conway and his brother, Tom, and plenty of open window space showcasing more of that awesome view.  The tasting bar is seeing steady foot traffic; a handful of tourists, even a well-known local winemaker who’s come to introduce himself and to check out the friendly competition.  A couple has purchased a bottle and is making their way outside to sit and sip in the breeze.

The allure of the tasting bar lies, in large part, with the wine flights that feature reds and whites from the Conway family’s two labels.  Deep Sea sources fruits from cool-climate vineyards along the California coast, from Santa Barbara to Monterey.  Rancho Arroyo Grande pulls fruit from three vineyards located on the family’s own 3400-acre property located about a dozen miles from the ocean in the Arroyo Grande Valley and bordering the Los Padres National Forest.  This plot of land, planted to a total of 10 grape varieties, is historic, having been recorded as a Spanish land grant in 1842.  The Conways bought it the year they started their wine business – 2007 – and discovered a wealth of mineral-rich and fossil-laden soils.  “It was all once underwater, and when the mountains lifted, they brought up all this sea life,” Conway says.  “I’ve pulled up football-size abalone shells with the weight and feel of marble.”  Slabs of earth from the property swathed in seashell imprints are on display throughout the tasting room.

Patrons can choose from four different flights, including an all-white lineup featuring three wines for $5, an all-red bill with three pours for $8 and the Reserve Flight of six of their best wines for $20.  Conway and I are making our way through the six wines on the Introductory Flight, which costs $10.  The 2008 Deep Sea chardonnay displays wonderful minerality, with bright pear up front and a clean finish.  The 2008 Deep Sea viognier displays great depth, with tropical fruit notes and rich spice.  I’m especially (and very pleasantly) surprised by the 2008 Deep Sea sauvignon blanc; unlike more typical version of this wine, there’s less grassiness here and more herbaceous elements, plus what comes across as – no joke – a streak of jalapeno, all tempered by a healthy dose of acidity.  A balanced but complex wine that seems especially meal-friendly and which is certainly worth investigating.

The 2008 Deep Sea Central Coast pinot noir offers a supple mouth feel and rich notes of dark berries.  The 2008 Rancho Arroyo Grande zinfandel is a delicious treat; classic, sumptuous zin jamminess topped off with an elegant, rich finish.  And the Rhone-inspired Deep Sea Red – a bold, round, intense wine which tasting room manager Brandi Rosander proudly lauds as their flagship red as she pours into my glass – is a blend of five grapes: syrah, petite sirah, lagrein, merlot and mourvedre.  The wine has won seven gold medals in the last year.

As we sip, Conway tells me blends are key to their brand.  “There are amazing single-vineyard wines out there, but they’re not always for everyday drinking,” he says.  “Blending allows us to raise the experience in the glass and it makes wines more accessible, both in drinkability and price.”  He also credits much of their young wine company’s success to their winemaker, Jonathan Medard.  The Frenchman from Epernay, both of whose parents are winemakers themselves, worked at landmark labels like Champagne Louis Roederer and Chateau Mouton Rothschild before landing a stint at Newton Vineyard in Napa and, eventually, Conway Family Wines.  “It was extremely important to find someone who shared our vision to make restrained wines with a European style,” he tells me.

The Conways make their wine at the co-op Central Coast Wine Services in the Santa Maria Valley, where they lease and exclusively manage 20,000 square feet which they’ve outfitted with their own equipment.  That gear includes a few dozen state-of-the-art tanks imported from Italy and Slovenia (and individually named after planets and famous explorers).  They’re outfitted with blades that periodically scoop out seeds to control tannins, probes that display real-time readings of the sugar and alcohol content of the wine fermenting inside and digital units that allow the winemaker to electronically program things like punch downs, among other fancy accoutrements.

Much of the appeal of this wine venture, of course, is the family angle.  This is, at its core, a family operation.  At the helm are Ann and Chris Conway; he co-founded Mentor Corporation in 1969 and served as the lucrative Goleta-based surgical products company’s CEO for 25 years before retiring in 2004.  The Conways live in the Northeast now but (understandably) spend much of the winter season in their former Santa Barbara home.  They have five children, three of whom – Tom, Gillian and Gareth – now spearhead the family wine business.

Last Friday, the day of my visit to Deep Sea, marked the tasting room’s ninth week in business.  But its official grand opening is tonight, slated from 4-7pm and featuring a ribbon cutting with Santa Barbara City Mayor Helene Schneider.  If you miss it, keep in mind current tasting room hours are noon to 8pm, seven days a week.

And sure, you can find more information by logging on to  But you can only get a gander at that view – something tourists discover daily but which locals often forget to take time to seek out and enjoy – by visiting in person.  They’ll even validate your Stearns Wharf parking ticket for 90 minutes.