Sippers for Grillers: Wines to Kick Off Summer

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on May 24, 2012)

The weather’s cooperated enough lately that many of us have had already had a few chances to hone our grilling skills.  I’ve been firing up our own barbecues – our charcoal-charged Weber as well as our propane-powered Kenmore – a few times a week.  And charred edges never tasted so good.

As the official launch of the summer season, though, the upcoming Memorial Day weekend will be when we really put our grilling knack to the test.  Cooking food over fire is as much a culinary exercise as it is a social one, so the stakes are high.  And what we drink will be noticed, too.

A great cold beer will always be a winner.  And as you’ve read in this publication in the last several days, several local brewers – most noticeably Firestone in Paso, Telegraph in Santa Barbara and Island Brewery in Carpinteria – are coming off major international wines.  They have a growing local following – many, many winemakers, themselves – for a reason.

But if wine is on the mind, these suggestions are real winners, too.  Locally made, and at a wide range of price points.  They lend themselves to casual sipping on any summer day, and have the added bonus of pairing perfectly with a bevy of grilled favorites. 

Fontes & Phillips Panky Rosé 2011
To be fair, any local rosé will be worth popping open this Memorial Day weekend.  After all, summer is when a lot of us get to rediscover these visually pleasing and flavor-driven wines.  Presqu'ile and Tercero – both with tasting rooms in Los Olivos -- make great rosés.  But this Panky, made by Alan Phillips, continues to impress vintage after vintage, especially if you like your rosé pretty, lively and brilliant.  The 2011 Panky, just released, is equal parts cinsault, grenache and syrah, all grown in Santa Ynez.  Bright fruit in the mouth and a sparkling clean finish.  This is what you sip while you’re grilling; fuel for the steady focus any good BBQ’er must possess.  And then use it to pair any fish you pull off the rack, and any of that fresh summer fare on your table.  $15.

Dierberg Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley, 2009 
The Santa Maria Valley has always been a haven for some of the finest chardonnays in the state.  And this Dierberg release – its latest -- is an example of just how complex and beautiful a Central Coast chard can be.  The 12-year-old Dierberg vineyard, in the western-most corner of the valley, enjoys cool maritime climate and sandy, loamy soils.  The chardonnay that results is fresh and clean one moment – plenty of crisp acidity and minerality as it hits the palate – and then opens up to a lush, round, fruit-driven wine on the back end.  Winemaker Andy Alba aged this wine for 10 months in Hungarian oak barrels and has put out a wonderfully balanced wine.  Chicken breast and turkey burgers coming off the grill? $32.

Fess Parker Winery Frontier Red, Lot No. 122, Barbecue Edition
Few labels conjure up feelings of an Americana-inspired summer as Fess Parker.  This pioneer – including TV, real estate and hospitality – left behind a wine legacy that manifests itself in some of the best reds in the county, year after year.  This wine, produced by a team led by winemaker Blair Fox, is the perfect no-frills, uncomplicated, easy-going wine drinking experience.  Ideal for summer grubbing, right?  It’s Rhone inspired, blending syrah, grenache, petite sirah, mourvedre, cinsault and carignane; Parker once told me syrah and Rhone wines were his ideal drink, so I don’t doubt he would have loved this one.  For a value wine, it’s amazingly smooth and tasty, offering bright bounce on the palate and loads of dark berry and ripe stone fruit flavors; lots of blackberry, cherry and plum, and a subtle smokiness.  Drink this as you grill, and pair with anything you cook, especially burgers, hot dogs and steak.  And pass the bottle around; any guest who’s a fan of classic American TV will get a kick out of the image of Parker as the beloved frontiersman Davy Crockett featured on the label.  $12.

Palmina Barbera 2009
When a lively group of wine lovers gathered at our house a couple of weeks ago, we tasted several Santa Barbara-made Italian wines blindly; that is, we tasted through them with labels covered and revealed the wines only at the end.  The overall favorite that night was this wine, made by Steve Clifton from barbera grapes sourced from Los Alamos, Santa Ynez and the Santa Rita Hills.  There’s a wonderfully lightness about this wine that makes it very approachable, and a perfect pair for anything tomato-based; keep this in mind when you bring out your grandmother’s lasagna recipe.  But this wine also delivers rich, developed, layered notes of cherry, dark berries and earth, making it an ideal candidate for grilled fare.  If you like herbs on your barbecue – sprigs of rosemary on your Porterhouse or liberal Italian seasonings in your turkey burger – this wine will be a crowd pleaser.  $24.

Consilience Petite Sirah
Summer or not, this has become one of those dependable pours for us over the years.  I most recently ordered a bottle while enjoying Mother’s Day dinner on the new harborside patio at Chuck’s Waterfront Grill, where our server, Ben, touted its popularity with patrons there, too.  A steady favorite with Consilience wine club members, this wine oozes power.  It’s full steam ahead here, with a muscular mouth feel and burly flavors of dark, super ripe berries and delicious overtones of toasted caramel.  But this is an elegant wine, too, with plenty of silkiness, balanced concentration and a sleek finish.  Winemaker Brett Escalera sourced the fruit from the Fess Parker estate off Foxen Canyon Road and, as with all previous renditions of this wine, has delivered a powerhouse beverage.  If you like your sirloin medium rare, your burgers juicy and your tri-tip tender, then this one’s for you.  $24

Gabe Saglie considers his grilling skills a work in progress, but he wouldn’t be surprised if anyone who’s had his grilled New York Strip begged to differ.  He’s also senior editor for  You can email him at

Alive in Print: Dog's Passing Inspires Children's Book

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on May 18, 2012)

As Jodie Boulet-Daughters and her husband, Tom, made the drive from Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita, they felt like new parents.  The year was 1997 and, with a car filled with chew toys, they were on their way to adopt a new puppy.  Back home, a kennel was set up and prepped, awaiting the new arrival.

They almost never completed that drive, though.  Half way there, they got a call from the breeder -- a freak accident had just taken the life of the yellow lab they’d chosen.  Shocked, and deeply disappointed, the Daughters turned around.  But then the breeder called back – they could have the one remaining puppy instead, he said.  A seven-week-old black lab named Mambo. 

So begins a story that, years later and even after Mambo’s heartbreaking passing, continues in print, in a new children’s book penned by Boulet-Daughters titled “Mambo’s Tail.”

Mambo would grow up to be way more than just a house pet.  The Daughters, who don’t have children of their own, kept the name the breeder’s girls had given him because “it was cute and unique,” recalls Boulet-Daughters.  “We would jokingly call him the Mambo King.”  And, to say the least, she recalls his personality fondly.  “He was a very loving dog, very sweet, and always wanted to be with people.  Not necessarily to be physically in your lap all the time, but to be near you, at the table when you ate dinner, always sitting right next to you, always a companion,” says Boulet-Daughters.  “A true family member.”

The Daughters joined winemaker Brett Escalera to found Consilience Winery in 1999.  The label, which quickly gained acclaimed for its rich, complex renditions of wines like syrah, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon, got its own tasting room along Grand Avenue in Los Olivos in 2004.  And right away, Mambo assumed a new role: tasting room ambassador.

“I started bringing him to work with me, and he started meeting people, greeting them, hanging out with them,” recalls Boulet-Daughters.  Tasting room visitors responded positively and enthusiastically and “Brett and I agreed right away he needed to be part of the picture.” 

Indeed, Escalera recalls that Mambo was “so sweet, and one of the mellowest dogs I have ever seen.  He was very easy-going, which is why he was so popular in the tasting room.”

Mambo’s presence soon encouraged canine-loving wine buffs to visit with furry friends of their own.  “We thought, if the animal was well-behaved, by all means bring them in,” says Boulet-Daughters.  “When people bring their dogs, they seem to be in a happier place, and it’s easier to have conversation and develop a connection.”

Mambo even got his own email account at the winery, “and humans would write on behalf of their dogs with messages like, ‘It was nice seeing you again,’ or, ‘It was fun playing with you,’” remembers Boulet-Daughters with a laugh.

The affable labrador even inspired his own line of products at Consilience, including coasters and hats with the clever slogan, “Sit.  Stay.  Taste.”  Most notably, he helped give rise to two eponymous wines.  Escalera has been making a “Cuvee Mambo” white blend – viognier, grenache blanc and roussane – and a “Cuvee Mambo” red blend – syrah, grenache and a splash of zinfandel – for the last decade or so.  The wines are popular among wine club members and tasting room shoppers, and they have inherent merit.  “When I’m putting blends together, I start with [Cuvee Mambo} and use the best things I have at my disposal,” says Escalera.  “We’ve always strived to make it a high-end wine.”

The wines also help proliferate the legacy of the dog that inspired them, of course.  And now, so does Boulet-Daughters’ new book.

“Mambo’s Tail” started as a series of journal entries inspired by Boulet-Daughters’ casual observations of her favorite dog.  “I was journaling a lot on my days off, but then would throw them away, or set them aside,” the author recalls.  “And then Tom asked me what I was doing, and why I kept tossing it aside, and he’s the one who said I should do something with it instead, like tell a story.  I certainly didn’t know I’d be writing a children’s book.”

But, starting about two years ago, and while Mambo was still alive, that’s exactly what Boulet-Daughters did.

The book tells a sweet, light-hearted tale about a puppy who, one day, and suddenly, discovers the wonders of his own tail.  Mambo, the protagonist, tells us, “I was playing in the yard with my brothers and sisters when all of a sudden I felt a ‘swoosh’ behind me!”  The journey of innocent, heartwarming discovery that follows is easily appealing to young children.  But even adults can appreciate Mambo’s playful observations, and the personification of this precocious pup allows any dog owner to find at least a bit more appreciation in their companion’s characteristic wag.  We learn that a dog’s tail is its voice.

“My tail sometimes gets in the way and even knocks things over…. I learned my tail sometimes gets me in trouble,” Mambo recounts.  When it tickles little boys and girls who come to greet him, Mambo’s tail “makes them laugh and laugh and ask for more… My tail brings joy and laughter.”  And at night, “I love to curl up with my favorite toy, close my eyes, and wrap my tail around me… My tail brings me warmth and comfort,” recounts Mambo. 

Part of the book is the author’s own creative whimsy, but much was inspired by true events.  “He did get his tail slammed in a car door,” Boulet-Daughters recalls, “and he did eat through an entire bag of food once!”  Both are among myriad experiences retold in the book.

The book’s production was a family affair.  It was illustrated by the author’s mother, Jo Boulet, who lives in Sun City West, Arizona; her drawings are richly colorful, remarkably textured and fun.  The author’s brother, Jayson Boulet, a Texas resident, took charge of the book’s graphic design.  And the book was printed by Brio Books, a publishing house in Boulet-Daughters’ home state of Minnesota. 

The real-life Mambo passed away last year.  “He lost function of his hind area and became paralyzed, and he couldn’t move or walk,” recalls his owner, noticeably emotional still.  “We were able to have the vet come over, and he euthanized him at home, in his own bed, with his favorite toy and his music.”  When Tom Daughters sent out an email to wine club members announcing Mambo’s passing, hundreds of personalized condolences came back.

Finishing and publishing “Mambo’s Tail” was a cathartic exercise for the author, a way to work through profound emotion.  And it immortalizes a dog she came to love deeply.  In many ways, Mambo’s memory also lives on in Ryder, the Daughters’ new black Labrador puppy, whom they recently found through a breeder in San Dimas.  Ryder is eight months old.  And yes, he’s become the new official greeter for thirsty visitors to the Consilience tasting room.

"Mambo's Tail retails for $15.99 through the web site, It's also for sale at the tasting room, at 2323 Grand Avenue in Los Olivos. For more information, call 805-691-1020.

Cool and Collected: It's Not Where You Store Your Wine, But How

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on May 10, 2012)

Kids’ birthday parties are par for the course for us these days.  And we got invited to a fun one this past weekend, with a luau theme.  We went for the kids, sure, though I’ll jump on any chance to show off any of my flower-patterned apparel.

As kids ran for cover from water balloons that had quickly become weapons of choice on a toasty afternoon, I followed our host to their guest house in the back.   Chardonnay had been sipped and we were now on the hunt for red.  But he was very apologetic as we approached.  “It’s a mess in there,” he warned me, “and it’s nothing fancy.”  Messy, it wasn’t.  But simple it was.  A few cases on the ground, in the corner, placed side by side.  We pulled a few bottles out to see what we had to choose from – recent club membership offering from Gainey and Foxen, mainly – and finally settled on a 2009 Gainey merlot.  The wine, by the way, was delicious; a pleasant earthiness for such a young cab, and plenty of rich fruit..

Of course, as simple as our friend’s wine storage was, the fact is it was practical.  And it was well positioned.  The basics of wine storage – which we’ll cover in a moment – were met.  The wine we shared was good.  Nothing fancy required.  But the fact our friend felt like he needed to downplay his storage sounded familiar.  And that’s because I do it, too, all the time. 

Fact is, space has always limited how much wine storage we’ve had at home.  We rented apartments in Santa Barbara for years and the small home we purchased in Carpinteria, what with kids and pets and years of memories that must be stored forever, is bursting at the seams as it is.  No extra elbow room for  fancy wine storage.  So our “cellar” generally consists of a small closet by the front door, where we might keep a case or two, and a pair of racks near the dining room.  Yes, they get replenished often; we do go through wine regularly, both because of my work and (mainly) because sharing wine is routine for us.  But our personal space for storing wine is generally limited to that: two racks with a combined capacity of about 65 bottles.

Do I wish I had more space, glitzier space, to store our bottles?  Of course.  I love beautiful cellars: the way they’re designed, the way space is stretched, the way décor alone inspires thirst.  Our community is home to some gorgeous private cellars, and they add wonderful flair – not to mention property value.  They are also practical, of course, because they allow their owners to get serious about expanding their collections.

But I’ve come to realize that it’s not where you store your wine that matters, but how.  Be proud of your own, personal “cellar” – even if it’s a 3-bottle wrought-iron rack sitting on a countertop.  Just be sure to follow the basic tenets of storage to ensure your wine is as good as it can be when you pop its cork.

 For one, keep your space cool.  I remember being advised years ago to shoot for 55 as an ideal wine storage temp.  But you could swing five, even 10 degrees in either direction and still manage to keep wine just fine, especially the stuff you’re planning on drinking soon.  Too much colder, though, and you risk drying out corks; and having your spot too much hotter will just spoil your wine.  One tip I’ve learned over time: any room that sees spikes in ambient temperature, like your kitchen or your laundry room, are not ideal spots to put away wine.

And keep humidity in mind, since dampness can cause mold and excessive dryness can dry out your corks; I don’t own a hygrometer, but the rule of thumb for wine storage is about 50-75% humidity, which is standard for the gorgeous little part of the world we call home.

You also want to keep sunlight in check.  Direct sunlight will heat your wine, of course, but prolonged exposure to UV rays alone is enough to corrupt wine in a bottle.  That’s why a dark closet works well, as do any racks tucked away in shaded, stable corners of any room.

And if you’re thinking about holding on to a bottle for a little while – several months, say – place your bottles on their side.  Constant moisture against the inside of the cork will help ensure it doesn’t dry out.  Fans of screwcaps, this does not apply to you, of course.

A lot of us will get to the point, one day, when even the decorative racks won’t suffice.  Or when the floor space in the dark closet by the front door becomes inundated with pantry items.  We’ll need to look at bigger options, and better ones.  Nice wine is an investment, after all, and one that bears protecting.  At that point, converting a nook in the house might make sense.  Or you’ll need to look at professional storage options; there are several in our community – from wine shops to stand-alone storage stores – that don’t charge that much for varying degrees of space that are always temperature-, humidity- and UV-controlled, and which are often under 24-hour surveillance.

Or you can call up one of your fine friends with a few empty slots in their modest rack at home; we’ll happily oblige.

Gabe Saglie once won a high-stakes match of hide-and-seek by resorting to an especially cool cranny in a friend’s cellar.  He’s also senior editor for  You can email him at

A New Harvest: Winemaker John Falcone Moves to Gainey

By Gabe Saglie
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on May 3, 2012)

John and Helen Falcone
John Falcone, a high-profile Santa Barbara County winemaker who’s been garnering accolades for more than a decade as head winemaker for Rusack Vineyards, is now calling Gainey home.

“This move for me is good timing in that Santa Barbara County is more recognized nationally now,” says Falcone, 55, whose first day at Gainey was May 1st.  “And I’m moving to a bigger brand and a bigger picture position, since I’ll be overseeing everything.”

Falcone’s new title – General Manager and Director of Winemaking for Gainey Vineyard – will have him overseeing all aspects of wine production, which currently clocks in at a yearly 25,000 cases.  It will encompass two brands: Gainey, with an estate vineyard along Highway 246 in Santa Ynez and a portfolio that includes award-winning sauvignon blanc and merlot, and Evan’s Ranch, which sources chardonnay and pinot noir from its estate in the Santa Rita Hills winegrowing region near Lompoc.  “The Gaineys also recently leased land at Esperanza Vineyard off Highway 246, across from Melville and Babcock, which has spectacular hillside pinot noir,” says Falcone.

John Lebard will continue as Gainey’s winemaker and Napa stalwart John Enkelskirger will remain as consultant on the brand’s Bordeaux program.

Falcone describes his move from Rusack to Gainey as a “natural next step” in his professional development.  “The Rusacks always treated us like gold,” he says.  “It just felt like it was time to move on.”  He adds, “Before Rusack, the longest I stayed at any one winery was seven years.”

Falcone’s 11-year tenure at Rusack Vineyards in Ballard Canyon, which followed stints over more than 20 years as winemaker in Monterey County and the Napa Valley, was marked by significant milestones.  “We did really well with chardonnay,” recalls Falcone, “and we did get a lot of attention for our syrah.”  Rusack’s 2008 syrah, in fact, made the latest Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines list, a coveted yearly publication, at #27.  Falcone also made the wines that, late last year, launched Rusack’s uber-exclusive Santa Catalina Island Vineyards line; the label features limited amounts of chardonnay, pinot noir and zinfandel made from grapes grown on Alison and Geoff Rusack’s historic family estate on the popular isle.  At Rusack, Falcone oversaw a yearly production of about 7000 cases.

A focus on syrah, chardonnay and pinot noir will continue for Falcone at Gainey.  He’s also excited, though, about ramping up his work with Bordeaux red grapes, like merlot and cabernet franc, and about working with all-estate fruit.  “That gives you so much more control over things,” he says.

Falcone’s move also involves his wife, Helen, who held assistant winemaker and enologist duties at Rusack.  She’ll now be spearheading the Falcones’ own label, Falcone Family Vineyards, which has been producing remarkable syrah and cabernet sauvignon from their proprietary Paso Robles vineyard since 2002; the portfolio just expanded to include a Santa Barbara County chardonnay.  The Falcones also have a daughter, Mia, age 13.