Breaking Ground: Couple Plans New Santa Barbara Wine Experience

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/11/14)

Jason Djang is no stranger to connecting with people.  During Barack Obama’s original campaign for President in 2008, and for the first 18 months of his first White House stint, Djang was his videographer and helped mold his outreach to the public via video and online messages.  Politics aside, that linear ability to reach people while circumventing media was revolutionary in its own way, and effective.
“It was all about transparency,” he says, “and about making a direct connection with an audience.”
Today, Djang helps run the YouTube production facility in Los Angeles, which provides creative resources for individuals who put on some of the Internet channel’s top rated video shows.  And he’s a vintner.
The Brave & Maiden estate is located in Santa Ynez
I met Djang and his wife, Holly, a partner at an L.A.-based public health research firm, among the vines in Santa Ynez.  They’re part of a small group of investors who bought the Harmon Family Vineyard along Refugio Rd. four years ago.  And now, with a green light from the county and a clear vision, they’re embarking on a viticultural and experiential endeavor that will soon give Santa Barbara wine country its newest high-profile hospitality center.
“Our idea is to bring the outside in,” Holly says, as she describes the 17,000-square-foot, tri-structure complex they have been approved to build adjacent to their vineyard.  Shaped like a horseshoe, they envision a fermentation building, a barrel room and a tasting room accented by oversize barn doors and an open courtyard enveloped by olive trees.  They’ve hired Howard Backen, the principal architect at Oakville-based Backen-Gillam-Kroeger, whose portfolio includes some of the state’s most luxurious wineries and hospitality centers.
Groundbreaking should take place by mid-2015, with a grand opening sometime in 2016.  And they intend the visitor experience to be personal and intimate.   “A direct type of experience,” Djang says.  “Hands-on and unhurried, so that it’s memorable.  We want to make a human connection, not just have our guests read a tech sheet.  That’s how people remember your name.”
The Brave & Maiden estate grows syrah, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and sauvignon blanc
This ambitious endeavor stems from what the Djangs find frustrating, and even baffling.  In so many ways, the L.A.-based consumer is the holy grail for Santa Barbara wine country.  Savvy consumers with money to spend, who live about a two-hour drive away.  “But L.A. is not as connected to this area as it could be, or should be,” Jason says.
Holly adds, “They may know where this area is, but they still don’t realize the value and the quality that exist here.  They still think Napa.”
So the Djangs’ goal is to bridge that gulf.  “And how do you do it?”  They are speaking almost in unison at this point.  “One, you make quality wine,” says Jason.  “And two, you create a destination.”
The onsite wine experience will accomplish the second mission, in a few years.  The first task, though, is already underway.
Union is a blend of syrah, merlot and cabernet franc
The Djangs have released their first wine under the stylish Brave & Maiden label.  The name was inspired by an indigenous local story – an urban legend, of sorts, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.  Apparently written a century ago by a Presbyterian minister, it tells of two misunderstood, star-crossed paramours – a brave and a maiden from rival clans – ending their love-fueled retreat with a plunge at Nojoqui Falls.
“A beautiful story that captures the notion of disparate traditions,” they tell me.  It’s a theme they’re embracing.
The label on the bottle, in fact, is accented by an embossed silver waterfall.  Simple and classic.  And the wine itself, a 2011 blend dubbed Union, is a Rhone-and-Bordeaux amalgamation, bringing together syrah, merlot and cabernet franc.  Aromas of dark stone fruit and oak prevail, matched by a lithe mouth feel and flavors of dark berries and vanilla.  It retails for $30 – a great value – but is most easily found by the glass at spots like Lucky’s Steakhouse, Santa Barbara Public Market and the Los Olivos CafĂ©.
The grapes for this wine,  sustainably grown by well-known Ruben Solorzano of Coastal Vineyard Care, come exclusively from the estate – 46 acres that also include cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot and sauvignon blanc.  The wine, along with others from the 2011 and 2012 vintages that are still being aged, was made by Nick Morello.  Winemaker Joshua Klapper, of La Fenetre Wines fame, took over through the 2014s.  A permanent winemaker will be announced soon.
As we walk through the vineyard, Jason and Holly point to a towering oak nestled in the grapes.  “We were married underneath that tree two years ago,” she tells me.  And I realize that this place holds promise in more ways than one.
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1 comment:

  1. The appetizers were plentiful at Las Vegas Weddings and the drinks flowed - no one went hungry or wanting from here, and the hourly charge for liquor (as opposed to by consumption) meant that our thirsty friends were satisfied without breaking our bank.