story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 10/23/14
photos by Bob Dickey, firstname.lastname@example.org, snapped during the Wine Collection's Grand Opening on 10/20/14
Santa Barbara’s newest wine tasting destination has actually been here all along.
|One of El Paseo's charming winding paths|
The Wine Collection of El Paseo brings together six dynamic wine projects – some well-established, some brand new—that aim to leverage the romantic, upscale appeal of Santa Barbara’s historic Presidio neighborhood.
“This area is so cool,” winemaker Doug Margerum told me this week, after I bumped into him along one of El Paseo’s meandering cobblestone pathways. “But I don’t know if everyone walking this area realizes just how much we’ve got going on here, just off State.”
This stylish destination is, in fact, classic Santa Barbara. Flanked by the busy 800 block of State Street, as well as De La Guerra and Anacapa Streets, it’s anchored by a stone fountain at the heart of an airy courtyard. It’s defined by Spanish-style white stucco buildings, curving walls and snaking walkways. And it’s accented by windows sheathed by wrought iron grills, handrails cloaked in coiling vines and red roof tiles made by hand.
There are several high-end boutique shops here, and a handful of popular restaurants. But this new collection of tasting rooms may be what finally makes this cultural epicenter a bona fide destination for people seeking a premium consumer experience.
|Doug Margerum, Wine Cask Chef David Rosner, Mitchell Sjerven|
Margerum is actually a big part of this endeavor. The Wine Cask Restaurant, which he co-owns with restaurateur Mitchell Sjerven, is already well-known. (Although, the recent addition of Executive Chef David Rosner has definitely revived the gourmet food focus here.) And the Margerum Wine Company tasting room, located next door to the Wine Cask’s sister Intermezzo Café, has been drawing a clientele for several years with its lineup of sauvignon blanc, syrah, grenache and the popular M5 blend of Rhone grapes.
But this past summer, just down one of El Paseo’s Moorish-inspired paths, Margerum also opened MWC 32. This is where his reserve and library wines are poured, including the Barden label of small-lot syrah, pinot noir and chardonnay wines from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Visitors also get to experience the Cent’Anni wines here, a much buzzed-about project almost 15 years in the making that includes estate wines made from grapes like sangiovese and pinot grigio.
|Happy Canyon Vineyards' Sean Pitts, left|
Right next door is the newly-opened tasting room for Happy Canyon Vineyards, owned by the Barrack family, which produces Bordeaux wines off the Piocho Ranch in Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon AVA, which is also home to two regulation polo fields. Margerum makes these wines alongside executive winemaker Sean Pitts, including cabernet franc, sauvignon blanc and proprietary red blends. Equestrian gear is up for sale here, too.
Down another rustic passageway – a path marked by a “Street in Spain” sign and topped with a row of flags – is the tasting room for Jamie Slone Wines, which opened four weeks ago right next to Casa De La Guerra. I found Jamie and Kim Slone there this week, welcoming guests (as well as a Korean reporter working on a feature on El Paseo for the Asian press). “I’ve been here everyday since we opened, and we’re open seven days a week!” Mrs. Slone told me. That’s another appeal of this collection: the owners run the show.
|The flag-topped "Street in Spain" (Gabe Saglie photo)|
“I’ve really focused on the interiors, and bringing that historic Spanish feel indoors,” Mr. Slone, a former radio station executive, told me. He was pointing out the many wonderful hand-crafted touches that give his tasting room an elegant, yet relaxed, vibe. Doug Margerum makes these wines, too, which run the gamut from Italian to Burgundian to Bordeaux varietals made in ultra-premium, limited production fashion.
|Fans flank vintner Jamie Slone|
The two tasting rooms that round out this Wine Collection are labels that are already considered among the area’s very best. Au Bon Climat, the handiwork of celebrated winemaker Jim Clendenen, features large windows that look out on Anacapa Street. The wine bar here pours the pinot noirs and chardonnays that have made ABC a brand of distinction for more than 30 years, as well as lesser-known varieties – aligote, tocai friulano, petite verdot – made under the Clendenen Family Vineyards label.
Grassini Family Vineyards’ tasting room, located across from the Wine Cask courtyard, is rustic and stylish. This family-run winery is boutique at its core, using estate grapes grown in the Happy Canyon AVA to produce some of the best sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon I’ve tasted out of Santa Barbara County.
|The Grassini Vineyards tasting room|
The Wine Collection of El Paseo is officially part of downtown Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail, which groups together dozens of tasting bars and working wineries, most of them in the electric Funk Zone. But the feel of this sub-group of six is decidedly distinct. It’s inspired by the history that is unique to these few blocks in the heart of town and yet driven by an energy that is refreshingly new.
The tasting rooms are all open Noon to 6pm daily and have a growing collective social media presence on Facebook (search WineCollectionofElPaseo) and Twitter (@ElPaseoWine).