Community Memorial for Winemaker Chris Whitcraft Set for Sunday

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
Photos courtesy of the Whitcraft family
(story published in the Santa Barbara News-Pres on 6/28/14)

Chris Whitcraft at Mayfare Wines & Spirits
The Santa Barbara community is invited to a celebration of life for winemaker Chris Whitcraft this Sunday, June 29th, from noon to 6pm at Skofield Park, 1819 Las Canoas Rd. in Santa Barbara.. 

Mr. Whitcraft died from cardiac arrest and complications related to diabetes on May 24th.  He was 64.

Born in 1950 on an Air Force base in upstate New York, Mr. Whitcraft’s military family moved frequently before settling in Orange County in the 1960s.  After a brief stint in San Jose, he moved to Santa Barbara in 1974 and married his college sweetheart, local real estate agent Kathleen Barnato.  They were together for 25 years and had two children, Drake, 32, who now runs Whitcraft Winery, and Alyssa, 28, who earned a PhD in geography this year.

     Chris Whitcraft with friend Antonio Gardella   
The community knew Mr. Whitcraft best as one of the area’s most prominent winemakers.  The man who turned Mayfare Wine & Spirits in Montecito into a wine buff’s mecca in the mid 1970s helped establish the Santa Barbara Wine Festival in 1978 and released his first vintage under the Whitcraft Winery label in 1985.  His natural, hands-off approach to making pinot noir and chardonnay, especially – he sorted grapes by hand and stomped them by foot – made him a phenom among peers and consumers.

37th District Assemblyman Das Williams authored a California State Resolution earlier this month to memorialize Chris Whitcraft as “a pioneer in the Santa Barbara County winemaking industry.”

Chris Whitcraft on guitar as winemaker Fred Brander sips
His friends and family also knew Mr. Whitcraft as an extremely intelligent man with a passion for guitars and music and a wit that was as raw as it was hilarious. 

“He lived life like he made his wines – unfiltered,” says longtime friend Jim Fiolek. 

Friend Antonio Gardella says, “Chris lived up to his name: he really was a crafter of wit.” 

And Ms. Barnato remembers, “He really did have a heart of gold.”

Whitcraft and Kathleen Barnato
Mr. Whitcraft’s passing, of course, has been hardest on his children.  “I still can’t be at the winery by myself without breaking down,” admits Drake.  But remembering his dad as a “fun, loving, carefree, talented person who did whatever the hell he wanted” makes him smile.

Alyssa, who got engaged to be married the same day Mr. Whitcraft passed away, plans on making a quilt for her future children with her dad’s old t-shirts.  “He always played dress-up with me and let me put curlers in his hair when I was little,” she recalls.  “And when I got older, I realized everything he said to me came from a place of love.”

The family has established the “Chris Whitcraft Memorial Fund” to support local students interested in winemaking.  Donations can be sent to the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara, P.O. Box 3620, Santa Barbara, CA 93130. Donations can also be made online at with the memo "Chris Whitcraft Memorial Fund".

Chris Whitcraft with Alyssa and Drake
Attendees to Sunday’s potluck event are encouraged to bring a special bottle of wine and personal stories about Mr. Whitcraft to share.

Find out more about Whitcraft Winery at and visit its downtown Santa Barbara winery and tasting room at 36-A S.Calle Cesar Chavez, just a few steps from the beach.  Call 805-730-1680 and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.


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