(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on October 11, 2013)
Qupé, one of the most celebrated wineries in Santa Barbara County, has a new owner. Charles Banks, an entrepreneur whose portfolio includes high-end wineries throughout the world, has acquired a majority stake in the well-known label, it was announced Thursday. Its famous founder, Bob Lindquist, will stay on as a partner and as the project’s winemaker.
“It's no secret that the wine business has faced some challenges since the recession… and we've managed to hold our own,” Mr. Lindquist told me. “This partnership allows me to focus on the vineyards and winemaking and not have to worry as much about the financial and sales side, so definitely a long-term strategic move.”
“Bob does what Bob thinks is best and doesn’t follow trends,” Mr. Banks added. “I want to be a loud voice telling him to follow his passion, not marketing reports.”
Qupé’s legendary status among Santa Barbara County wineries has always hinged on Mr. Lindquist, himself, and his prominent presence in the wine region’s young history. His stint in the late 1970s as a tour guide at Zaca Mesa Winery connected him with other wine futurists, like Jim Clendenen, Ken Brown and Adam Tolmach. He’d go on to found Qupé in 1982 and, to this day, make his wine alongside Mr. Clendenen’s famous Au Bon Climat label in a facility on the grounds of Bien Nacido Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. This partnership, which also includes mentoring up-and-coming winemaking personalities like Gavin Chanin, Joshua Klapper and Paul Lato, will continue.
|Bob Lindquist and Charles Banks (photo by Jeremy Ball)|
Specific numbers in the deal were not disclosed, but Qupé now joins a noteworthy list of international wine projects under Mr. Banks’ Terroir Selections portfolio, including Wind Gap, Cultivate, the Mayacamas and Leviathan labels in Napa, the Fable and Marvelous Range projects in South Africa and the Maison d’Orlee venture in France. “Qupé fits because the wines are a specific style and have stood the test of time,” says Mr. Banks.
Locally, Mr. Banks also owns the coveted Sandhi label in the Sta. Rita Hills region, a partnership with famed sommelier-turned-winemaker Rajat Parr, and the recently re-launched Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, a four-way enterprise with his wife, Ali, and the husband-and-wife team of Chef Robbie Wilson and Emily Perry Wilson.
Qupé produces several wines, including grenache, viognier and chardonnay, but its claim to fame has always been syrah. “You can count on one hand the world's best red wine grapes and syrah is one of them,” claims Mr. Lindquist. “Our focus is on cool climate syrah with balance, elegance and structure for aging. Santa Barbara County is an ideal place to grow syrah: long cool growing season and great weather in the fall for ripening slowly. I would include the southern part of [San Luis Obispo] County as equally ideal.”
Mr. Lindquist makes several vineyard-specific syrahs each vintage from properties throughout Santa Barbara County; he also crafts syrah from the biodynamically-certified Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, based in SLO County’s Edna Valley, which he owns with his wife, Louisa Sawyer Lindquist.
“Sawyer Lindquist will continue to be one of our most important vineyard sources,” adds the winemaker, “along with Bien Nacido, which is still going to be our largest grape source.”
Mr. Banks shares his new business partner’s affinity for syrah. “I have wanted to work on a meaningful syrah project for several years now,” he says.
Industry insiders often note that, despite its myriad attributes, from flavors to complexity, syrah can be a challenging sell in the marketplace; on the Central Coast, its demand may sometimes be overshadowed by red wine rival, pinot noir. But Mr. Lindquist believes that “consumers love syrah – they just have to be educated on the right ones.”
And Mr. Banks adds, “I think the future is very bright for syrah. The cooler-climate Santa Barbara syrahs are a perfect fit for wine lovers looking for balance and power.”
Just last week, the federal government gave the green light for Ballard Canyon, a relatively warmer growing region in the Santa Ynez Valley that’s become famous for syrah, to become the county’s next American Viticultural Area. That designation goes into effect October 30th. And while Mr. Banks agrees that the recognition bodes well for syrah’s continued upswing in popularity, he adds, “I hope we aren’t creating more confusion for the consumer with ever-increasing AVAs.”
Under the new partnership with Mr. Banks, Qupé’s production will remain the same, between 35,000 and 40,000 cases a year. Mrs. Sawyer Lindquist will continue to assist with Qupé sales. And the Verdad label, a separate project that Mrs. Sawyer Lindquist and her husband manage together, will not be affected.
Qupé (pronounced kyoo-pay) is the Chumash word for “poppy,” the bright orange blossom that is California’s state flower, and was chosen by Mr. Lindquist to honor the area’s indigenous dwellers.