Vines on High: Big Bear Mountain Wine Project Has Santa Barbara Ties

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
Published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/28/14

The drive up the mountain range that towers over San Bernardino offers a breath of fresh air in more ways than one.  It’s an escape to greener ground, a flight away from urban sprawl, a climb toward far fresher territory.  And now, it’s also a threshold to serious winemaking.

Sycamore Ranch Vineyards grow at an elevation of about 4600 feet
The new Sycamore Ranch Vineyards and Winery project isn’t the only winemaking operation I’ve heard about in these mountains, located about an hour’s drive northeast (and well inland) of L.A.  A couple of grapevine projects are underway here.  But I’ve tasted the wines that vintner Richard Krumwiede is making, and this one may well be the best.

Krumwiede is no stranger to things that look good.  He’s run Architerra Design Group for the last 25 years, a successful architecture landscape firm with clients that run the gamut from city parks and water agencies to well-to-do homeowners throughout Southern California.  He lives in Crestline – the elevation here is about 4600 feet – but happily makes the regular drive to his office in Rancho Cucamonga, about 45 minutes away.  For him and his wife, Elizabeth, the fresh air and natural setting are worth it.

The Krumwiedes bought their 3-1/2-acre property in 1999; the aesthetic improvements they made soon after earned it a feature in a 2007 issue of Sunset Magazine.  Sycamore trees stand tall here.  And there are dozens of apple trees, some of which date back to the early 1900s, planted by Mormon migrants to the mountain.  But when the nasty bark beetle ate through the pine trees here several years ago, Krumwiede sought something else to plant, and this driven wine aficionado turned to grapevines.

Sycamore Ranch syrah on the vine
“I started thinking more like a landscape architect – what would look good here, and do well?” he told me during a recent visit.  I’d shown up with my father-in-law, Claude Ising over the 4th of July weekend; we were staying in Lake Arrowhead, about 1000 feet up the mountain, where he and wife Joan have designed and built a shoreside home that's become a regular holiday respite for my family.

“I figured wine grapes were a calculated gamble,” he added, as he led us on a tour of the 1-1/2 acres of ag space he’s designed in his backyard.  There’s a playground for adults here – a swings-and-slides zone he calls Snake Island, built with rocks right off the property.  And there are syrah and zinfandel vines, all clipped, trimmed and shaped in a wonderfully manicured display.

I ask him how he determined which grapes to plant, and how he learned how to care for them.  After all, summer humidity and winter mildew are regular visitors to this elevated setting.  “Winemakers can be especially generous with the information they share,” he says.  He mentions Mike Carhartt and Tom Beckmen, both accomplished grape growers from Santa Barbara County.  Krumwiede has done his homework.

Krumwiede ages his wines in oak barrels from Hungary
And he takes on most of the hands-on labor, too.  “It’s a lot of work,” this viticultarist admits.  “But it’s also a calming effect from my day job.”
Claude and I get thirsty.  We transition to Krumwiede’s home office, which he’s anxious to convert into a by-appointment tasting room one day soon.
But the barrel room, right next door, is already up and running.  About a dozen 60-gallon, medium-toast barrels from Hungary line the wall.  “French oak barrels are pricey,” he tells us, “about $1100 apiece.  American is cheaper, about $500 a barrel.  I paid $600 each for Hungarian oak barrels, and I think the tight grain imparts some really nice vanillin on the wines.”

Blending in action
Armed with a graduated pipette, Krumwiede starts doling out barrel samples.  “The 2012 vintage has been the best one up here to date,” he says as he shares sips of his estate zinfandel.  A smooth mouthfeel and a dark pepper finish prevail; the granitic soil and the forest floor here have imparted a restrained wildness onto these flavorful wines.

But I quickly realize this budding winemaker is partial to blends – a creative outlet to be sure.  He’s barrel aging several varietals from vineyards he’s visited in Paso Robles – merlot, cabernet, petit sirah and primitivo – as well as syrah, grenache and mourvedre that he’s contracted from Saarloos & Sons Vineyard in Los Olivos.

Inside a chem lab cylinder, he adds petite sirah to the zin, and the pours into our glasses: flavors of boysenberry and blueberry emerge.

To cabernet, he adds measured splashes of mourvedre, syrah and petite sirah: complexity and red currant flavors come to life.

His two-to-one blend of merlot and cabernet sauvignon delivers black cherry and rich tannins.

Krumwiede nabs a bottle of Primitivo from the cellar rack
The 2013 syrah is are well-structured and distinctive, with notes of oak and even butterscotch.  But the revelation among all these wines may be the 2012 Primitivo.  Garnished with 20% petite sirah, this is a jammy wine with plenty of bramble. Big on flavor, big on texture, just big all around.  It’s not shy – 16.8% alcohol.  But the integration and layers of flavor are remarkable.

As we prepared to leave, I ask about opening up this special winemaking endeavor to the public.  With a target goal of 500 cases a year, and with the help of a consultant, the permitting process is underway, he says.  “We should be licensed and bonded to sell our wines in about six months.”

Until then, it’s a small group of about 20 of Krumwiede’s friends and investors that’s getting dibs on the Sycamore Ranch wines.  A wine club in the making, certainly.  Because this little wine project, set off a lush and curvy mountain road, just may be one of the next big Southern California wine stories.

Follow this winery's growth at


Mum’s the Word: Speakeasy Wine Dinner Comes to Los Alamos

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 7/17/14)

Editor's Note: The story below recounts a Closed Door Dinner that took place in July.  The next Vintage 2014 Winemaker Dinner takes place Wednesday, Aug. 27th, 2014 at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos -- a multi-sensory experience that'll include wines, winemakers and media presentations, including short films of the 2014 Santa Barbara Co. harvest to date.  The $55 price tag is awesome!  Buy your tickets here:

Exclusive closed-door dinners have become a foodie fad, of sorts, in Argentina.  These special dining experiences are intimate by design – a couple dozen guests at most – and advertising is non-existent.  You get a seat by knowing someone who knows someone who knows the host chef.
The doors at Full of Life Flatbread open for our Puerta Cerrada Dinner
Argentinian gourmand Diego Felix is a real star in this trend.  Every week, he hosts an underground culinary feast at his Buenos Aires house, though not before leaking the secret word that unlocks the door.  He cooks alongside his wife, features only available-that-week ingredients and pairs his food with local wines.
Chef Felix plays speakeasy chef at home nine months out of the year.  The other three months, he brings his covert cuisine -- he calls the concept Colectivo Felix – to the United States, to cities like New York, San Francisco and L.A.  And this July, he brought it to Los Alamos.
I was lucky to be on the short list of invitees; we found out the dinner’s location – Full of Life Flatbread – the day before, in a rather nondescript email.
Chef Staub, left. passes the reigns to Chef Felix
Chef Felix arrived the day before, too, after a drive down the coast from San Francisco, with fresh halibut and cod from Monterey Bay in his cooler.  “I like to cook with fish a lot,” he admitted.
He spent that afternoon gathering produce at the farmers’ market in Santa Barbara, then designed the menu – including pairings with local wines – with fewer than 24 hours to go.
Chef Clark Staub, Flatbread’s founder and a veritable food icon in North County, was on hand to guide his lisp-sporting counterpart through the kitchen.  But he made it clear, as the evening got underway, that the ensuing meal “was all Chef Felix.”
Pre-dinner conversation was flavored by tray-passed Bob’s Well Bread, which Chef Felix sliced thinly and toasted generously before dressing with garlic, tomato and grapefruit zest.  A bright, crispy opener that sprung to life with Riverbench’s 2010 Blanc de Noirs sparkling wine, made from estate pinot noir grown just up Highway 101, in Santa Maria.
The welcome from host Wil Fernandez
Diners delight
The raw halibut crudo that followed – with baby potatoes, pickled radishes, fresh peas and the most delightful fennel flowers – was vibrant, punctuated by an apricot-and-habanero sauce.  The brilliant 2013 Buttonwood Zingy was a beautiful match; I sat next to winemaker Karen Steinwachs and reminded her at least twice that, year after year, the Santa Ynez Valley-grown Zingy proves one of our area’s best interpretations of sauvignon blanc.
Peaches harvested by Chef Staub, paired with fresh burrata cheese and a handmade tortilla-like faina porteno, made for a flavorful course.  The tropical notes in the 2011 Carucci White Hawk Vineyard viognier – a label from a young Southern Californian who was recently lured to part-time winemaking because “wine is a living thing,” he told us – created flavor harmony.
And the final course was a revelation – rock cod baked like a tamale, shrouded in a chocolate molé and baked inside hay leaves, then served with a spicy salsa and a black walnut chimichurri.  Fish, yes.  But prepared in such a unique way, that the 2010 Clos Pepe pinot noir from Sta. Rita Hills and and the 2009 Larner syrah from Ballard Canyon poured alongside it became a deliciously satisfying juxtaposition.
The night was uniquely intimate and the special touches – from each guest’s menu written out by hand to the eatery’s famous wood burning oven roaring behind our communal table – were fantastic.  The inter-course discussion by each winemaker -- Steinwachs, Michael Larner, Eric Carucci and Clos Pepe's Wes Hagen -- was insightful.  The range of their wines – the way they fused with special flavors brought to us from the southern tip of the world – was fascinating.  And the guest chef’s palpable enthusiasm, and his humility, were a real treat.
Our Puerta Cerrada experience, and Diego Felix’s visit, was sponsored by Central Coast Wine & Food.  Founder Wil Fernandez met Chef Felix two years ago, after his own serendipitous invitation, through a friend of a friend, to the chef’s Buenos Aires gastronomic speakeasy.  “I knew I wanted to something like that right here in Santa Barbara County ever since,” he told me.  Mission accomplished, and savored.
Much of the night was caught on film, part of Fernandez’s much buzzed-about Vintage 2014 project, which helps promote Santa Barbara wine growers through multimedia and multi-sensory storytelling.  Pop-up tastings and dinners throughout the country, video, time-lapse photography and podcasts are all part of this unique enterprise, housed at   Full disclosure – I have happily volunteered to host all of the project's intimate Dirt Don’t Lie podcasts to date, with guests like Steinwachs, Larner and Hagen, as well as fellow wine growers Ryan Carr, Foxen’s Bill Wathen and Dick Doré and Byron’s Jonathan Nagy.
Someone asked me as we left – “You think they’ll do this again next year?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted.  “But you probably know someone who knows someone who does.”
The wood-burning oven at Full of Life Flatbread


Judgment of Santa Barbara County: Tasting Wines with Steven Spurrier

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 7/3/14)

Steven Spurrier is a legend in the world of wine, having fathered the groundbreaking Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976.  That’s the blind tasting contest that had California wines outranking the French, revolutionizing the industry.  The British wine merchant would go on to become a favorite media subject, including the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, in which he was portrayed by actor Alan Rickman (though not to Mr. Spurrier’s liking, the story goes).

So when Mr. Spurrier invites you to join a panel of a half dozen wine writers to taste Santa Barbara County wines, you simply accept.

Steve Spurrier leads our tasting of 48 Santa Barbara Co. wines
Mr. Spurrier has written several books on wine and now is a consultant editor for Decanter magazine.  He came in from London to be Honorary Chair at the 2014 Cellar Classic, the annual auction of rare wines held June 28th as a fundraiser by St. Mark’s of the Valley church in Los Olivos, in Santa Barbara wine country.  Our group gathered the day before at the Clos Pepe Vineyards estate in the Sta. Rita Hills, tasked with tasting 48 local whites and reds.  The meetup was sponsored by Santa Barbara Vintners, which represents more than 100 local producers, to update Mr. Spurrier on the area’s latest releases.

“I am familiar with many of the producers here – Jim Clendenen and Richard Sanford,” he says before we begin; his tone is graceful, reserved, but authoritative.  “But I’m amazed about how many [Santa Barbara] labels I’ve not heard about before.” 
He goes on to describe the London wine market, one of the most coveted in the world, as prime for California.  “The pound is so strong right now,” he says, “and we’ve got so many new restaurants opening up that are featuring 30 or more wines by the glass.  They’re looking for something really different, not Bordeaux wines.  We’ve done Chile, done Argentina, and Australia has been hit badly.  So this is where California is really coming back.”
And then we sip.
Our scoring sheets
Our wines are arranged in flights of about six at a time, and Mr. Spurrier is using a 20-point scale to rank them.  We’re tasting blindly, meaning we know the varietal, the vintage and the region, but the labels remain a mystery until the end.
After each flight, we rank our top two favorites and share notes; there’s general consensus, and periodic disagreement.  But with four dozen wines to taste, and lunch made in a wood fire pizza oven by Industrial Eats’ Jeff Olsson looming, the pace was focused.
Mr. Spurrier reads out the blind tasting results
Suffice it to say, Santa Barbara tasted really good on this lovely summer morning.  After two flights of chardonnays, Richard Longoria’s 2012 “Cuvee Diana” came out on top, followed by Sanford’s 2011 chard.  Both come from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA and showed “a sense of place,” according to Mr. Spurrier, “which is key."
In a flight of six “Other Whites,” Alma Rosa’s 2012 “La Encantada Vineyard” Pinot Blanc by Richard Sanford fared best.
Sta. Rita Hills fared very well after our three pinot noir flights, too, with the delicate richness of Bryan Babcock’s 2012 “Appellation’s Edge” putting it on top, followed by Foxen’s 2012 “John Sebastiano Vineyard” pinot.
“The pinot noir here is a real strong card,” said Mr. Spurrier.  “They’re great young, but anyone who keeps them five or 10 years will have a real pleasure in their hands.”
We tasted through a flight of “Other Reds” next, which crowned Andrew Murray’s “Esperance” blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre.
Industrial Eats' Jeff Olsson prepares our post-tasting feast
We concluded with two flights of syrah, with Joey Tensley’s 2012 “Turner Vineyard” edging out the competition, followed by Andrew Murray’s 2012 “Watch Hill Vineyard.”
Mr. Spurrier’s word of advice for local syrah producers: “They can be tightened up a bit.  There’s freshness, but we shouldn’t be trying to make syrahs that are too bulky.”
But his final observations were positive and encouraging; he labeled this “one of the most homogeneous tastings” he’s ever done.
“You have a definite image here, something I didn’t realize before,” he said as we parted.  “These are wines people want to drink.”
Winemaker Rick Longoria, with a top-scoring chardonnay, pours for Mr. Spurrier
Tasters at our table included Matt Kettman from Wine Enthusiast Magazine and the Santa Barbara Independent; Patrick Comiskey from Wine & Spirits; Michael Horn from CRN Radio; and Terry and Kathy Sullivan from WineTrailTraveler.   
Mr. Spurrier is currently the subject of a film by Robert Kamen titled, aptly enough, “Judgment of Paris”; it’s currently in pre-production.


Did Someone Say "Sideways 2"? Five Questions for Alexander Payne

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
Photos by Bob Dickey,
(story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/14/14)

High-profile events celebrating the 10th anniversary of Sideways are already underway throughout Santa Barbara County.  Earlier this month, for example, it brought out director Alexander Payne and actor Paul Giamatti for a weekend among the vines in Los Alamos, located about an hour north of downtown Santa Barbara.  And there’s more to come, especially when Fox Searchlight, the studio that produced the film, re-releases it in a commemorative Blu-Ray DVD this fall.

Alexander Payne at the Sideways Reunion Dinner, August 2, 2014
The Sideways hoopla in Santa Barbara County makes sense.  After all, the film, which won an Academy Award for Payne’s screenplay adaptation, clearly raised mainstream awareness of its wine country and of pinot noir, the area's red wine darling.  Even a decade after the credits first rolled on the silver screen, the movie has been good for local business, indeed.

I met Payne at one of those Los Alamos events – a lavish dinner at winemaker Jim Clendenen’s rambling ranch in Los Alamos.  Co-hosted by winemaker and Hitching Post II restaurateur Frank Ostini, it helped raise $100,000 for Direct Relief, the Goleta-based medical services non-profit that benefits thousands of needy patients each year, both at home and around the world.  A few days later, I reconnected with the Los Angeles-based director to get his take on the film’s reverberating influence -- and to ask him, once and for all, if a Sideways 2 is really in the works.
Me: Are you impressed that Sideways continues to create buzz?
Bob Dickey's original Sideways Map shows Jack's and Miles' many stops
AP: I am surprised.  Surprised at the explosion it occasioned when it was released 10 years ago, and surprised that it has not dwindled more.  But the fact is that people still want to take the Miles and Jack tour; they are attracted to Santa Barbara County.  It’s great news for the film but also for the aspirations of Santa Barbara, because it means that the American wine country in general is not just defined by Napa and Sonoma.  And here’s something funny – I recently asked Paul [Giamatti] if a week or two go by, still, without someone cracking a merlot joke.  And he said, ‘A week or two?  Try every day!’”

Me: You must notice changes now when you head to Santa Barbara wine country.

Foxen Winery's Dick and Jenny Dore 
AP: Superficially, absolutely.  When I’m driving through Solvang, Santa Ynez or Los Olivos now, I feel like an old-timer.  Who are all of these upstarts?  People ask me for advice – Where should I taste?  And I have no idea because there are so many new wines.  I like Foxen, Curran, Sea Smoke, and I try Frank’s [Ostini] wines, of course – the old standards.

Me: Do you agree that Sideways helped shape the public’s perception of Santa Barbara wines?

AP: Oh, yes.  But it also made people more aware of wine in general – of drinking wine and how to begin to think about it.  For me, personally -- I already liked wine, but the film educated me about farmers and winemakers.  Not just tasting, but becoming hip to the whole picture.  For the public, the film made wine more accessible at the same time that home-brewed beers and craft beers were increasing in popularity, too.  It helped the wine industry stay apace.  And Santa Barbara wasn’t the only one to benefit; I got an inquiry from the Napa Film Festival to have a 10-year Sideways commemoration up there.  So it has been good for wine in general.

Me: Would Sideways have worked as well if it hadn’t been set in Santa Barbara County?

AP: Well, Rex Pickett’s book was about two guys who go to Santa Barbara because of its proximity to L.A.; you can get there in under two hours.  But there is something more endearing about the fact it was a little-known wine region and Miles could feel as though he owned it.  It made it intimate.  Even with explosion of wine in Santa Barbara, one still feels an intimate relationship with those winemakers and wineries in a way that would not be possible in a place like Napa, where everyone’s got these vast aspirations.  In that sense, Santa Barbara is more akin to Sonoma, where people who make wine are more accessible.

Me: So when will you be working on Sideways 2?

AP: Never.  Rex wrote a second book, Vertical, which I really enjoyed.  But if there’s ever a movie made about it, it won’t be with me involved.  I’ve moved on.

Me: You know, Rex is working on a third book about Miles, based in Chile, where he recently spent several months doing research.

AP: Oh, really?  Well, then change my answer from “Never” to, “But never say never.”

Gray Hartley (of Hartley-Ostini Wines), actor Paul Giamatti, The Hitching Post II's Frank Ostini and Alexander Payne
Payne, a three-time Oscar nominee for Best Director, had become known for the films Citizen Ruth, Election and About Schmidt before Sideways was released in 2004.  Since then, his star power has grown with The Descendants and, most recently, Nebraska.  He’s currently working on securing financing for his latest script.

For upcoming events commemorating Sideways’ 10th anniversary, check out social media: #Sideways10.


Daniel Boone Turns 50: Fess Parker Tribute to Feature Show’s Stars

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/5/14)

For an entire generation, Fess Parker was a television icon.  All it took was three hours – three one-hour Disney shows that aired in the mid-1950s – for his portrayal of Davy Crockett to make him a star.  His subsequent depiction of frontiersman Daniel Boone ensured he stayed that way.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the “Daniel Boone” TV series, which aired as a 60-minute action and adventure show on NBC from 1964 to 1970.  It depicted the life of a real-life pioneer who, at the turn of the 19th century, would become an intricate part of a young America’s expansion toward the west.  Aside from donning the title role, Fess Parker was also a producer and even an occasional director.

To celebrate the hit show’s semicentennial, the late Mr. Parker’s family – son Eli, daughter Ashley and son-in-law Tim Snider – are hosting a gathering of the show’s biggest stars.  The event, open to the public, will take place Saturday, August 16th at 5:30pm on the grounds of the eponymous winery Mr. Parker founded in 1985.  A Q-and-A session with the actors will be followed by an outdoor sunset screening of clips from Daniel Boone.

Stars from the show scheduled to attend are Rosie Grier, Darby Hinton and Veronica Cartwright, as well as producer Barney Rosenzweig.

“I probably haven’t seen the episodes since they first aired, so I’m excited to see them,” Mr. Rozenzweig, 76, told me.  But he’s also a bit nervous.  “We didn’t make these shows for the big screen.  The TV in my office was the biggest in the studio – 19 inches.  So mistakes were minimized.”

Mr. Rosenzweig worked on the show’s pilot as well as its last three seasons.  He’d go on to a prolific Hollywood career, including the Emmy-award winning creation of the 1980s TV drama, Cagney & Lacey.  He’d also marry one of the show’s stars, Sharon Gless.

He remembers Fess Parker as “one of the most decent and warmest individuals you can imagine.  What he was able to project on screen was real – it was not an act.”

And he has “the fondest of memories” of the show.  “I was given the opportunity to introduce ideas and thoughts to people who hadn’t been exposed to them.  We were in Vietnam.  And I was doing shows for a conservative audience in the South – Fess had a huge audience in the South – about things like civil disobedience and the plight of blacks before slavery was abolished.

"Fess and I were politically different, you could say.  But he allowed me to do shows like that.  And it was a very exciting thing to do.”
A Daniel Boone coloring book
For actor Rosie Grier, the show’s lingering popularity well after it went off the air caught him by surprise.  “You never think in those terms at the time,” he said during a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles.
But his recurring role as Gabe Cooper during the show’s last two years on the air “was great for me because it drew something out of me.  To be able to speak and say things from the inside.  It made me free to become the speaker I am today.”

Mr. Grier, 82, would also host his own TV show, become a professional football player (for the New York Giants and then the Los Angeles Rams), get signed as a recording artist and, in 1984, become a Christian minister.

To him, Fess Parker “was a great guy.  He was easy to work with, didn’t push and always took time to work on a scene with you.”
A Daniel Boone leather wallet
Memories of a very tall leading man are what linger for Veronica Cartwright, who was 15 when she was cast as Jemima, Daniel Boone’s daughter.  She appeared in the pilot and in the show’s first two years.

“Everything in the house was over-scaled, built for a larger frame,” she recalls with a laugh.  “I would sit on the couch and my feet would be dangling.  It was hilarious.”
She remembers that Mr. Parker “would fly in on a helicopter from Santa Barbara to work.  He’d sleep in his dressing room.  And he used to have a Porsche.  He was so big and wonderful in that thing.  And to watch a man who was way over six feet step out of that little car – so funny!”
Fess Parker was 6-feet, 6-inches tall.
Ms. Cartwright’s resume would grow to include a slew of hit films, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Alien and Witches of Eastwick.  But one thing she’d not forget about her days on the Daniel Boone set was Mr. Parker’s family.

A Daniel Boone inflatable canoe
“Eli was six at the time,” she says, “He would show up for dinner every night in a suit.  And, actually, on the 4th of July, he proposed to me, during a fireworks show!  He gave me a little black plastic dog, and I swear I still have that thing somewhere.”

Ashley Parker Snider, who was born the year the show launched, was old enough when the show ended to understand that her father was a star.  “We spent our summers going from rodeo to rodeo.  And during intermission, Fess would come out on a horse, sing songs for the crowd and then ride off.  And then he’d spend three hours signing autographs for kids lined up outside.”

Most are from Mr. Parker’s Davy Crockett days, including the guitar he used to audition for the role in front of Walt Disney.  Some of the Daniel Boone-era relics include collectors’ items like coloring books, board games and even an inflatable canoe.

I spoke with Mrs. Parker Snider at the Parker family’s business headquarters in Santa Barbara, where dozens of memorabilia pieces are on display.

Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone memorabilia at Parker headquarters
“I also remember Rosie Greer on the set, throwing me over his shoulder,” she says.  “Although I don’t think he’ll be doing that when we see him [this] week!”

The star-studded 50th anniversary evening is part of a three-day affair dubbed SummerFess.  It features a wine-themed Santa Barbara Harbor cruise, limited to 80 people, aboard the well-known Channel Cat catamaran on Friday evening, August 15th.  On Saturday afternoon, Eli Parker, Tim Snider and winemaker Blair Fox will lead a retrospective tasting of 93-plus-point wines.  And on Sunday, August 17th, Rev. Grier will deliver a “morning message” in the famous rotunda of the Fess Parker Resort on Santa Barbara’s waterfront, ahead of a gourmet brunch.

For more information, and for tickets, contact Elaina at 888-877-3335 or at, or visit


Stars and Vines: Sideways Reunion Brings Out Hollywood and Wine A-Listers

By Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
Photos by Bob Dickey,
(story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/4/14)

“We’ve got some stories to tell tonight!”

That’s how restaurateur and winemaker Frank Ostini greeted guests, to cheers, at a celebrity dinner Saturday night that commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Oscar-winning film, Sideways.

Direct Relief's Thomas Tighe, actor Paul Giamatti and vintner Frank Ostini
The event featured the movie’s lead, actor Paul Giamatti, and its director, Alexander Payne.  Actress Virginia Madsen, who plays a Hitching Post II server who becomes the love interest of Mr. Giamatti’s character, joined the event briefly via Skype, live from Budapest, where she’s currently making a movie.  The affair was hosted by well-known Au Bon Climat winemaker Jim Clendenen at his home, a rambling vineyard in Los Alamos known as Rancho La Cuna.

The experience was one of the big-ticket lots at the Santa Barbara Wine Auction, which was held at Bacara Resort in February.  Ten tables of ten went for $10,000 apiece, raising $100,000, and helping organizers set a record $1 million take that night. 

Each table raised $10,000 for Direct Relief
The Auction is put on biennially by the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation on behalf of Direct Relief, the Goleta non-profit famous for leveraging its relationships with pharmaceutical and shipping companies to deliver medicines to needy patients both locally and around the world.  Just last week, Direct Relief delivered an emergency medical supplies shipment to Sierra Leone, in Western Africa, to help battle the Ebola outbreak.
Since its launch in 2000, the Santa Barbara Wine Auction has raised more than $3 million for Direct Relief.  “Thanks to donations made by people like you, Direct Relief has already helped more than 10 million people this year,” Thomas Tighe, the group’s President, told Saturday night’s crowd.

Director Alexander Payne and "Nebraska" actress Angela McEwan
It wasn’t just Hollywood stars who came out to mingle and shine.  Celebrities of Santa Barbara’s culinary scene were there, too, including Chefs James Sly and Michael Hutchings, who prepared hors d’ouevres like grilled abalone on the shell and deep-fried oysters for a lawn party that preceded dinner.  And some of the region’s top winemakers, like Seth Kunin, Cold Heaven’s Morgan Clendenen and Big Tar Wines’ Aaron Watty, played sommeliers and poured throughout the night.

Other food and wine leaders in attendance included Gray Hartley, Mr. Ostini’s well-known winemaking partner, Dick and Jenny Doré, of Foxen Winery, 20th Century Fox Television executive and vintner Gary Newman, of Jorian Hill Winery, and Chef Ron True, of Santa Barbara’s Arlington Tavern. 

Foxen Winery's Dick and Jenny Doré
Under a sprawling white tent, and with the movie Sideways projected onto the canvas above, diners feasted on five courses, featuring salad of locally-sourced produce, grilled shrimp, roasted quail and grilled filet mignon.  Each course was paired with what Mr. Ostini called “Sideways-era wines” – bottles like the Hartley-Ostini 2001 Pinot Noir, which appear in the film and are no longer readily available to the public.

Sideways, which won an Academy Award in 2004 for Mr. Payne’s screenplay adaptation of Rex Pickett’s book by the same name, was shot in Santa Barbara wine country, mainly.  And pinot noir, a wine known to grow particularly well in this area, features prominently.  In fact, the movie is still credited with ramping up consumer demand for Santa Barbara pinot and for helping several businesses featured onscreen thrive. 

Chef James Sly (second from left) briefs his culinary crew
“Our [Hartley-Ostini] wine production quadrupled, and business at the Hitching Post doubled,” Mr. Hartley said Saturday.  “But our mantra has stayed the same: high quality, affordable prices.”

Among the stories Mr. Ostini would tell: one about a standing fan that he used to help cool off the crew during filming (and which ended up making a brief cameo).  “I’m happy to say we now have air-conditioning,” he joked.  “Thanks a lot, Alexander!”

Saturday’s fete ended a two-night visit to Santa Barbara wine country by Mr. Giamatti and Mr. Payne, who also met guests at Rancho La Cuna on Friday night for a pig roast.

Hosts Jim Clendenen and Frank Ostini
Olive trees cradle the road into Rancho La Cuna
Look for upcoming local events commemorating Sideways' 10th anniversary on social media: #Sideways10.