On All Cylinders: Former Race Car Pro Fuels Up On Passion for Santa Barbara Wine

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/20/14
photos by Bob Dickey, wineguydotcom@yahoo.com


“We’re not winemakers.  We’re you.  We’re consumers.”
For Jamie Slone, that distinction – that he and his wife are entering the wine arena as avid wine drinkers, first and foremost – may well be the biggest driving force behind Jamie Slone Wines.
“We’re coming at this totally from the consumer’s standpoint,” he says, as his wife, Kym, adds, “And we’re putting out wines that we, ourselves, would want to drink.”
The husband-and-wife team of 25 years moved to Santa Barbara recently, and they opened the doors to the Jamie Slone tasting room inside downtown Santa Barbara’s El Paseo just two months ago.  They got here by way of Tucson, via Sonoma, with plenty of turns in between, quite literally.
Until a few years ago, Jamie Slone was a professional race car driver.  It was, on the one hand, “the worst drug I ever had,” he says, admitting of the flashy vocation, “You get pretty full of yourself.”  But it was also a five-year career wrought with thrills, lots of buzz and plenty of trophy wins.  Home based at the Sonoma Raceway, it was a successful stint and the ideal adrenaline rush, actually, for a man who admits that, no matter what he does, “it’s all about the experience for me.”
Before revving engines, Slone was running radio stations out of his hometown of Tucson, where he grew a multi-million dollar family business from two stations to five, before selling them off at a handsome profit in the early 2000s.
Jamie Slone pours at a late summer Wine Collection of El Paseo event
But three years ago, when the Slones’ twin daughters left for college, the couple sought a new high-stakes chapter, and a new adventure to enjoy together.  They had shared a burgeoning love for wine since the late 90s, following an immersive trip to vineyards in France and Italy and myriad business trips to Northern California.  “What became my passion was sharing wine with others,” Slone tells me as we sit inside his elegant tasting room, where attention to Santa Barbara-inspired detail – from original stenciling to handmade furniture, and even a wood-burning fireplace – has created an elegant and intimate space.  “I loved seeing the reaction people had to good wine."
The Jamie Slone Wines tasting room features handmade furniture and a fireplace
They explored the burgeoning wine scene at home, in Arizona.  Then they focused on Napa.  But it was well-known consultant Cary Gott (his son, Joel Gott, drives a very popular wine label based in Saint Helena), who suggested Santa Barbara.  “Napa’s crowded, he told us,” remembers Slone.  “Don’t you want to go to where you’d be able to access such a wide array of great vineyards?”
What followed was a hands-on crusade to find really good fruit. They spanned Santa Barbara County, from the cooler Sta. Rita Hills AVA in the west to the comparatively hotter Happy Canyon AVA in the east.  They hired right: celebrated vintner and restaurateur Doug Margerum makes their wines.  And, along the way, they forged important relationships with grape growers and vineyard managers. 
“They appreciated that we were doing everything ourselves, and that we were small,” Mrs. Slone tells me.  “So small, so new, that we had no attitude.  We had no reason to have any ego!”
Her husband adds, “Building those relationships – it was a challenging and humbling process.”
What’s resulted is a portfolio of wines that aims to encapsulate Santa Barbara County.  The inaugural lineup – just 440 cases – includes a 2012 pinot noir ($49) made with Sta. Rita Hills grapes and a 2013 chardonnay ($47, dubbed Aloysius, after Mrs. Slone’s late father) from Santa Maria Valley grapes.  The 2013 sauvignon blanc ($28) was aged 50-50 in neutral French oak and stainless steel barrels.  And the 2011 BoRific ($48, that’s Jamie’s nickname for Kym) features Happy Canyon fruit and is merlot-based, with cabernet franc added to enhance aromatics.
The 2014 vintage is allowing the Slones to bump up production to about 1300 cases; a cabernet sauvignon and a Super Tuscan wine are also slated for release early next year.
Their tasting room, located across the street from De La Guerra Plaza, is also pushing them to promote El Paseo, the historic and distinctive enclave off the busy 800 block of State Street, as a premium wine destination.  The Mission-style and Spanish-colonial architecture, the Moorish overtones and the cobblestone pathways scream “classic Santa Barbara vibe,” says Slone.  Dubbed Wine Collection of El Paseo, six tasting rooms –Jamie Slone, as well as Margerum, MWC 32 (Margerum’s reserve room), Happy Canyon Vineyards, Au Bon Climat and Grassini – call this zone home now.  And, though officially linked to the Urban Wine Trail, with most members part of the electric Funk Zone, this is a polished destination all its own.
Jamie Slone Wines runs a three-tiered wine club, and the tasting room is open seven days a week, starting at noon.  Check out the Jamie Slone Wines website.
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