Raise a Glass: How Santa Barbara Vintners Toast

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/31/15

As we gather with family and friends this New Year’s Eve, it’ll be tough to bring a glass to our lips without, first, raising it up high.  ‘Tis the season of the toast, after all – the artful acknowledgement of special people, special memories and special wishes.  For many of us, a daunting task.  But for many of Santa Barbara’s vintners, it’s a perfect reason to take pause and reflect, or at least a perfect excuse to refill.  Often moving, sometimes funny, occasionally irreverent – but always heartfelt.  Here are some of their favorite toasts.

Peter Cargasacchi, Cargasacchi Vineyards and Point Concepcion
Here's to gentle rains and sunshine bringing us green grass and fat cows. May we, our friends and our families all be sassy, still standing and happy in a year.”

Angela Soleno, Turiya Wines
Life, being a series of moments strung together, forms each of our own individual realities.  The world is what we create.  Set your sights on being graceful, and compassionate.  Let's love one another.  Right now, we must remember that little changes can make huge differences in our lives and others’.  We can only change THIS moment.  Drink it in.  Celebrate with me.”

Bryan Babcock sharing the wealth
Ashley Parker Snider, Fess Parker Winery and Epiphany Wines
“My dad, Fess (Parker), used to jokingly say, ‘Grace, go on home while we eat supper.’  When the food arrived he would also often say, ‘Pardon me while my conversation drops off.’  My go-to is typically, ‘To friends, family and good health!’"

Bryan Babcock, Babcock Winery
“The only time I would say something other than, ‘Cheers!’ is if it is a specific situation.  For example, if I was with a bunch of Libertarians, I would say, ‘Here’s to Liberty!’  Other than that, ‘Cheers!’ is a fast and effective way to be get the beverage to the lips.”

Bruce McGuire, Santa Barbara Winery
“Here’s to family, friends, good food on the table and delicious wine in the glass. Another  year doing what we love,  who could ask for anything more?”

Sarah Fox, Fox Wine Co.
“We toast to health and happiness, the love and prosperity of family and friends, and for the year ahead to be the best one yet!  We are so thankful for everyone and everything in our lives and those that have yet to enter.  Live each day to the fullest, be kind and give and treat others as you want to be treated. Cheers to the New Year!”

Larry Schaffer (Bob Dickey photo)
Karen Steinwachs, Buttwonwood Farm Winery and Seagrape Wine Co.
“I always now do start a toast with, ‘To Dave!’ because food and wine were his second biggest loves. (I was #1!).  And as on our wine label, we combine two island toasts:  “We be lymin!” (St. Croix) and “Why Aye Man!” (England – this is a “dialect” known as Geordie, from where Dave originally hailed in the northeast).”  (Karen’s husband, Dave Robinson, passed away suddenly in 2014.)

Larry Schaffer, Tercero Wines
“To me, New Year's Eve is a time of remembrance and reflection. It's a time to look back at the previous year and give thanks for family, friends and, hopefully, good health. It's a time to remember those who passed away that year, and reflect upon the highs and lows of that year. It's also a time of hope - for a new year brings new beginnings and new challenges, which are always welcomed.”

Richard Sanford, Alma Rosa Winery
“I always like the Spanish toast:  ‘Salud, Amor y Pesetas…. y tiempo para disfrutarlos.’  Translated, ‘Health, Love, Money… and time to enjoy them.’”

Rob DaFoe, Tanner DaFoe Wines
“I typically cheers to my grandfather and the other men and women that fought in World War II.  Also, cheers to angry poets and cheers to friends and their continued health.  Then, with raised glass, ‘Up yours and down mine!’”


How Winemaker Dave Potter Made His First Bubbly

Year 2015 saw the release of Dave Potter's very first sparkling wine -- the Potek 2012 Blanc de Blancs.  Only 40 cases were made.

Recently, when a small group of Santa Barbara restaurateurs and foodies tasted nine local sparkling wines blindly, we really enjoyed this Potter creation: wonderful yeast on the nose; aromas of almonds, lemon zest and apple cider; a lively, bright mouth feel with nice minerality.  (For the full story on our blind tasting, which included bubbles by Fess Parker, Flying Goat Cellars and Riverbench, click here.)

Here, Potter offers a peek into how his '12 Blanc de Blancs was made.

Blanc de Blancs is our sparkling wine made from 100% Chardonnay grapes from the sandy-soil Moorman Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills.  The cool climate fruit retains excellent acid balance at harvest, which is done by hand in early August.

In the winery, we use a special press cycle to squeeze the juice very slowly and gently to extract minimal phenolics.  After pressing, the juice is cold settled overnight and then racked to barrels for primary fermentation and aging.  The wine is aged in oak for eight months and a partial malolactic fermentation is allowed.  We also stir lees during the first few months of elevage to build texture and weight.

We employ the traditional Champagne Method for our sparkling wines and this wine was en tirage, or aged on lees in bottle for about three years before disgorging in November of 2015.

The resulting wine is elegant and fresh, with finesse and understated complexity.  Our 2012 Blanc de Blancs seems transparent, with almost savory herbal and mineral flavors rather than the richer fruit tones that are found sparkling wines with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. 

The wine is harmoniously well-balanced and full-bodied. Initial flavors of green apple and citrus fruit prevail, however these give way to yeasty brioche and creamy aromas of butter and meringue.  There is an overall impression of delicious complexity. The finish is vibrant and long.

Potter is tasting and selling his 2012 Blanc de Blancs at his two downtown Santa Barbara tasting rooms: Potek Winery, 406 E. Haley Street, and Municipal Winemakers, 22 Anacapa Street.  You can also order it online


Bubbles on the Blind: Tasting Reveals Wide Range of Local Sparkling Wines

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/24/15

Not too long ago, a tasting like this would have been impossible.  When Flying Goat Cellars’ Norm Yost launched his sparkling wine program in 2005, he was pretty much on his own.  Other labels had dabbled in bubbles in the past, like Brewer-Clifton and Whitcraft.  But sparklers made yearly from Santa Barbara County grapes was brand new territory.

Today, the number of local producers with a regular sparkling wine program approaches,. 40.  And this year alone marks the first-ever releases of bubblies by several labels, like Alma Rosa and Potek.  So the time seemed right to pick a random sampling and taste some of Santa Barbara’s effervescence at its best.

We picked a quintessential Santa Barbara setting: the rooftop at the posh Canary Hotel, where 360-degree views on a sunny afternoon can make anyone wish for bubbles in their glass.  Along with this writer, our panel of tasters was a cross-section of some of the area’s most refined palates: wine director at the Canary’s Finch & Fork Restaurant, Tatiana Konovalov; Downey’s Restaurant wine buyer, Liz Downey; Toma Restaurant owner, Tom Dolan; Renegade Wines owner Stephen Wayne; and Champagne expert and co-publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press, Arthur von Wiesenberger.

Our blind tasting panel, from left: this writer, Toma Restaurant owner Tom Dolan, Renegade Wines owner Stephen Wayne, Downey's co-owner and wine buyer Liz Downey, Champagne expert and Santa Barbara News-Press co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger and wine director at Canary Hotel’s Finch & Fork Restaurant Tatiana Konovalov
Our tasting was set on the deluxe rooftop of Santa Barbara's Canary Hotel, which is usually reserved for hotel guests only and which features 360-degree views of the city's foothills, shoreline and downtown corridor
We tasted nine Santa Barbara sparkling wines blindly, concealing the bottles inside brown paper bags
We focused on brut – or dry, non-rosé – sparkling wines.  We also tasted these wines blindly, hiding bottles inside brown paper bags and numbering them randomly, thereby eliminating any influences that come from knowing the names on the labels and allowing us to focus purely on the merits of the wines in our glasses.  It should be noted that tasting wine blindly creates a different experience than drinking them openly; any of the nine sparklers we tasted would have been perfect sippers for an afternoon spent around, say, that sexy pool on the Canary rooftop.  But the heightened focus on colors, aromas and flavors allowed us to uncover interesting nuances and a wonderful diversity.  Here are our results; aside from our top three, they’re listed in random order.

Fess Parker Winery “Fesstivity” Blanc de Blancs, Sta. Rita Hills, 2013 ($37)
This bubbly by winemaker Blair Fox, and made from 100% chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills, was our clear winner.  Across the board, we found this wine to approach those classic elements that make Champagnes famous – active bubbles, mild yeastiness, lively mouth feel, refreshing finish.  One of us noted its “lovely straw colors” and the flavor descriptors included “pears” and “honeyed.”  The end showed hints of lime and spice.  Lively and slightly sweet going in, dry on the end.   

Lucas & Lewellen Brut Sparkling Wine, Santa Barbara County, 2012 ($30)
The winemakers at Rack & Riddle in Healdsburg used fruit from Lucas & Lewellen’s Los Alamos vineyards – a 50-50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir – to make this wine.  The pinot accounted for the faintest but very pretty cerise tinge to this wine, which took second place. We liked its “warm yellow” hue.  On the tongue, this wine was “unctuous” and “rich”.  Surprisingly “supple” for a brut wine, and “mildly sweet,” but ideal for someone seeking bubbles with extra body.

Alma Rosa Blanc de Blancs, Sta. Rita Hills, 2013 ($60)
Tying for third place in our tasting was pioneering winemaker Richard Sanford’s first sparkling release under his popular Alma Rosa label.  Made from 50% chardonnay and 50% pinot blanc, the wine comes from two storied vineyards that Sanford planted himself, El Jabali and La Encantada.  Its top merits were its “vigorous bubbles” and “lots of acidity.”  There was a green quality to this wine – tasty green apple, but leaning toward herbal.  We wished for a more intense nose and a more lingering finish, but an especially fresh and bright entry.

Riverbench “Cork Jumper” Blanc de Blancs, 2012 ($40)
Our other third place finisher comes from winemaker Clarrisa Nagy, who uses estate fruit from the Santa Maria Valley.  We were also hoping for a longer finish here, but we were intrigued by the wonderful structure and the complexity of flavors: “mandarin orange,” “lychee,” “nutty.”  There was some “funkiness,” here – for many, a desirable quality in classic sparklers – as well as “floral notes” on the nose.

Flying Goat Cellars “Goat Bubbles” Brut Cuvee, Santa Barbara County, 2013 ($42)
Winemaker Norm Yost is celebrating his 10th year as a sparkling wine maker with this wine, which brings his yearly production of bubbles to five distinct bottlings.  This 80-20 blend of Rio Vista Vineyard pinot noir and Sierra Madre Vineyard chardonnay had a “lively effervescence” and “vigorous” bubbles.  The yeasty flavors reminded some of us of “baked apples,” and we touted the “honey notes” on the finish.  What stood out most, though, was its cloudiness.  When we called Mr. Yost a few days later to explain, he noted that his all-by-hand techniques “sometimes lead to a little sediment in the bottle, just like you might find in a bottle of pinot noir.”  

Potek Winery Blanc de Blancs, Sta. Rita Hills, 2012 ($65)
With this label, winemaker Dave Potter is sourcing from top vineyards.  This all-chardonnay bubbly, his very first sparkling wine, showcased wonderful yeast on the nose, as well as “almonds” and “lemon zest.”  One of us picked up “apple cider.”  It was “lively” and “bright” up front, with some minerality, though the finish escaped us too soon.  Our consensus was that this wine’s solid structure will allow it to fare better with some age.

Fiddlehead Cellars 728 Bubbles Blanc de Noirs, 2012 ($60)
Winemaker Kathy Joseph’s fourth sparkling wine release comes from famous Fiddlestix Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills.  This all-pinot noir wine showcased a “nice light golden color” and flavors of “green apple,” “pineapple” and “banana,” with a “lemony finish.”  We liked its “crisp quality” but picked up an unexpected “bitter” core and we were left hoping for bubbles and flavors that didn’t taper off so quickly.  “Good with strong cheese, I think,” one restaurateur noted.

Cottonwood Canyon Blanc de Blanc, Santa Maria Valley, 2000 ($49)
This was the oldest bubbly we tasted – Cottonwood’s only bubbly, produced from estate fruit 15 years ago.  The color in our glass was a “deep yellow” and our noses picked up “butterscotch” and “a hint of must.”  This is a perfect sparkler for those seeking lots of richness and lots of body.  Flavors ranged from “honeycomb and lemon drop” to “toasted almond” and “butter.”  A couple of us were critical of a somewhat “flabby” mouth feel.

Tessa Marie Sparkling Vermentino, 2014 ($38)
This was the youngest sparkling wine we tasted, and a wine that was a real standout in more ways than one.  No cork, for one, closured instead by a bright pink crown cap.  And the only bubbly made from the non-traditional vermentino grape.  Its unique qualities, like mustiness on the nose and pale color, threw us off, admittedly.  “Could this be viognier?” one of us mused, confused.   But this wine by winemaker Tessa (Parker) Cody is a fun take on bubbles, with hints of white stone fruit and a dry finish.  Bright bubbles upfront, but they dissipated too quickly. 

In the end, it bears reinforcing: these nine sparklers all have something unique and tasty to offer and clearly represent one of the Santa Barbara wine trends to watch in 2016.


Green-Lighted: Inn at Mattei’s Tavern Sets Sights on Opening Day

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/21/15

Six years after it was first proposed, the newest luxury resort in Santa Barbara wine country is finally moving full steam ahead.

Late last week, the investment firm Terroir Capital announced its partnership with real estate investment and development firm Mesa Lane Partners – both, Santa Barbara-based companies – to develop the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern.  The seven-acre property in Los Olivos will feature 64 luxe cottages, as well as a full-service spa, an outdoor pool and bar, a retail boutique, a gym and 3,000 square feet of meeting space.  The hotel will also include the popular Mattei’s Tavern Restaurant, which will close down January 31 and reopen once resort construction is completed around spring of 2018.

Construction at the site, which abuts the intersection of Railway and Nojoqui Avenues just off Highway 154, will begin in late 2016 and last 18 months.

That this project is now fully entitled and permitted is no small feat, especially in a town whose appeal hinges on historical charm and where development is regularly welcomed with skepticism.  “There are too many examples of people who’ve come in, said the right things and then turned around and built things that didn’t belong,” says Charles Banks, the CEO of Terroir Capital, who bought the Mattei’s Tavern property in 2009.  “I understand that this community is very sensitive – the more they care, the more sensitive they’ll be.”

Indeed, the project has been subject to much debate and delay over the last several years.  On history alone, concerns were likely reasonable.  Mattei’s is an Old West relic that opened up as an inn and stagecoach stop in 1886 and served as the terminus of the Pacific Coast Railway.  But even when Mr. Banks partnered with Chef Robbie Wilson and wife Emily Perry Wilson to rebrand the restaurant, requisite tasks during the restoration process took more than two years.  And in a move that, though sound, was seen by some as an attempt to filibuster renovation, the county declared the building a Historical Landmark in 2010.

Mr. Banks points out that, even amid the scrutiny, the original plans for the hotel “didn’t see one single change, even from the most vocal opponents.”  In a town notoriously lacking in septic substructure, among the most significant investments will be “an expensive, state-of-the-art internal wastewater system that will have no impact on the local system,” he adds.

Charles Banks
Mr. Banks believes his commercial portfolio and business history has held the clue all along to the respect with which he’s spearheading this project.  The name of his company – “Terroir” – is the French word often used by viticulturalists to describe “sense of place.”  The company holds more than a dozen high-end wine labels around the world – including Sandhi and Qupe, locally – and Mr. Banks considers Santa Barbara County “one of the most exciting wine regions in the United States.”  In the past, he was co-owner of the cult Screaming Eagle label from Napa and owned Santa Barbara County’s celebrated Jonata label.

Going back two decades, Mr. Banks has also helped launch a bevy of spectacular resort properties around the world, including the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, Meadowood in Napa Valley, Blackberry Farm in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and Rosewood in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

But: “Just like all those properties are pure expressions of where they are, the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern will be a pure expression of Los Olivos and the Santa Ynez Valley – that’s our goal,” insists Mr. Banks.  “We’ll fail if we fall short of that.

“One of the fears early on was that we were trying to create another Napa,” Mr. Banks continues.  “But that’s the beauty of the Santa Ynez Valley – it’s more diverse than Napa, it has more to offer.  So I don’t worry one bit about that.  We’re not going to do anything other than continue to diversify local offerings in an effort to bring in more people who appreciate this community and who have dollars to spend.  And that’ll help all the businesses here – wine, food, art, cowboys – do better.”

Local tourism and businesses leaders are offering support.  With only 1500 hotel rooms currently available in the six communities that make up the Santa Ynez Valley, and with 2015 occupancy rates ranging from 80 to 95%, “Mattei’s is a great thing,” says Shelby Sim, executive director of Visit The Santa Ynez Valley.  “It’s legendary, and to see it live up to its full potential is very exciting.”

“It’s going to bring in a clientele that now can’t spend the night, or has to split up their vacation with a stay in Santa Barbara,” says winemaker Larry Schaffer, whose Tercero Wines tasting room is walking distance from Mattei’s.  “It’ll turn Los Olivos into more of a seven-day town – right now a lot of us have to close in the middle of the week.  So I see it as a positive all around.”

“In recent years Los Olivos has become one of the most popular tourist destinations within Santa Barbara wine country," says Tim Snider, who's President of the Los Olivos Business Organization (LOBO) and whose family runs the only other hotel game in town, the deluxe Fess Parker Wine Country Inn.  "The Mattei’s hotel project should fit well with the small-town yet upscale vibe of our town while providing much needed additional accommodations for patrons of our galleries, boutiques, restaurants and wine tasting rooms.”

Chef Robbie Wilson
The building that houses the Mattei’s Tavern restaurant will see minor renovations, mainly to décor.  Mr. Banks says Chef Robbie Wilson will return to the helm in 2018 and that he and his wife, Emily, will be part of the planning process.  For now, the chef and his wife are helping their staff of about 20 to find new jobs, ahead of the January 31 closure.  That includes open positions at Bird Dog, a contemporary eatery that the couple opened last month in downtown Palo Alto and a project that involves Mr. Banks and partners in the Silicon Valley.

Mr. Banks says it’s too early to discuss rates at the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, “but the idea is to have a nice range of rooms and rates.”  It’ll also likely serve as a tasting venue for the Sandhi and Qupe labels. 


Time in a Bottle: Why Zaca Mesa’s Black Bear Block Syrah Matters to Me

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/17/15

A proud oak abutting Zaca Mesa vines
I remember that balmy night, 13 years ago, quite well.  The sun dipped slowly in the distance, making this quiet stretch of Malibu beach glow.  Dolphins – a large, energetic pod – swam unusually close to shore, as if at play.  And, much to my heart’s content, she said, “Yes.”

There was something else about the night I proposed to my wife that stands out.  To mark this surprise occasion, I’d popped the cork on a special wine – a ’99 vintage Black Bear Block Syrah from Zaca Mesa.  Sharing a bottle that we’d discovered together, and that we both loved, made perfect romantic sense.

I guess you could say we’ve felt a connection to Zaca Mesa ever since; we’ve been to their tasting room off Foxen Canyon Road often, and we buy their wine regularly.  And, on the heels of the news that the 700-acre estate is now up for sale, I popped in for a repeat visit earlier this month.

Zaca's historic Black Bear Block
Driving through this beautiful property with winemakers Eric Mohseni and Kristin Bryden, and with brand ambassador Dane Campbell, was an important reminder of where Zaca’s been, and where it’s going.  Founded in the mid-1970s, this was one of Santa Barbara County’s very first estate wineries.  With more than 150 acres planted to grapes that stretch toward an elevation of 1500 feet, it exudes diversity.  And with a list of former winemakers that includes greats like Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Adam Tolmach, Daniel Gehrs and Chuck Carlson, the “Zaca U” nickname fits.

These days, Mohseni is spearheading thoughtful but sweeping replanting projects that will bring in a bevy of new clones; periodic grafting is on tap for 2016 and a major turnover is likely in 2017.  The barn-style winery and visitor center have just finished a substantial refurbishment.  And fermenters made of cement and clay are being used to experiment with new expressions of familiar grapes.

The gnarly vines of Black Beat Block

The most memorable stop on my tour, of course, was that fabled Black Bear Block.  Planted by winemaker Ken Brown in 1978, these 3-1/2 acres are a historical snapshot of Santa Barbara viticulture – the area’s very first syrah vines.  Legend has it a black bear was spotted here years ago -- on a morning when grapes were near-perfect ripeness -- chomping away on handfuls of sweet fruit. “I still see large bear prints along these rows every so often,” Mohseni tells me.  The Black Bear Block moniker, a nod to nature’s imprint here, is a fitting tribute to be sure.

The vines still produce, though yields have diminished with age to a couple hundred cases a year.  They are warped and gnarly, and there are even signs of rot in spots.  But there’s something gorgeous about them nonetheless, and something poignant.  They are as old, after all, as Santa Barbara’s wine industry itself, and they still produce delicious wine.

The rows that line Zaca's Black Bear Block
We taste through several wines after our tour, but I’m most excited to sip the latest Black Bear Block release.  The 2011 vintage produced a rich, serious wine, full of floral aromas.  It’s teeming with dark berry, mocha and pepper flavors.  The tannins are silky.  The mouth feel is clean and refined.  Suddenly, I realize why it was so easy, more than a decade ago, for us to fall in love with this old-vine syrah.  (Since my visit, the 2012 vintage Black Bear Block syrah was released, and it's available at the winery and on its website for $68.)

As I’m leaving, the Zaca team takes me by surprise with a generous gesture.  From their cellar, they gift me a bottle of that momentous 1999 Black Bear Block syrah, and an emotional chord is struck.  Great wines often have a way of doing that.

My wife and I are excited to share this wine over the upcoming holiday season.  That defining Malibu beach will likely be replaced by the sands of our current home town, Carpinteria.  And that frolicking pod – that’ll be our three kids.  But, somewhere between the sips and the refills, I’m hoping for at least a brief throwback to that moment when one word – “Yes” – changed everything.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Check out the Zaca Mesa website.

Check out my story that broke the news that Zaca Mesa was up for sale.


Lunch is Served: Margerum Meal is Simple but Effective Perk

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/3/15

As I enter the Margerum Wine Company building in Buellton, I’m welcomed by the tantalizing aroma of sizzling bacon.

This is one of the perks of working here during harvest – the fact that Doug Margerum, himself, stops what he’s doing, rolls up his sleeves, and creates a culinary spread for everyone.  “It’s a serious lunch,” he tells me as I see him move quickly between the spice rack and the stove top.  The day’s delivery of fresh local produce – along with Margerum’s  share of a pig that was locally raised and slaughtered – arrived just hours ago, so the fridge is packed.

I look up and see that the white board that hangs on the wall, with a menu hand-written in green marker, tells of the deliciousness to come: heirloom tomatoes with Burrata, grilled sausages with peppers, chile with rice, salad greens with blue cheese dressing.  Spaghetti carbonara is also on the menu.  “It’s a family recipe that I haven’t made in a while,” the winemaker-chef tells me, “but I thought it would be a good one to bring out today.”

My lunch plate
An active kitchen is not a reality at most any other local winery, but it seems to make perfect sense here.  “It’s the French model,” Margerum tells me, adding that the midday meal in wineries throughout regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy is always a time for the staff to gather and mingle.  “But it’s also the ABC model,” he adds, referring to his formative winemaking years at Au Bon Climat; indeed, the daily lunches by ABC winemaker Jim Clendenen are veritable folklore within the Santa Barbara wine community.

For Margerum, the ability to feed his crew a substantial meal matters on multiple fronts.  It rewards quality work, for one.  While his full-time staff numbers about six throughout the year, it can more than double during late summer and fall, when the laborious demands of the oft-grueling harvest season requires more hands on deck.  They’re mostly young men and women who come to hone their own skills as budding winemakers, or curious fans of the process who’ve agreed to dabble in the process for the day.

The homemade meals also allow for a meeting of the minds – a focused moment for the winemaking crew and the office staff to discuss production schedules, orders and a variety of insider odds and ends.

And then there’s morale, of course.  The simple act of sitting down to eat together adds relevant layers of comraderie to these employee relationships that, undoubtedly, enhance everything from overall productivity to overall quality of work.

I’m here on a Thursday in early September to tour this facility, which Margerum Wine Company took over four years ago, and to sample Margerum’s latest label, Barden.  He’s making cool-climate wines from Sta. Rita Hills under this new flag, including a white blend dubbed Fonte, pinot noir and syrah.  It’s the Barden chardonnay that’s been creating the biggest buzz, though, since it marks the winemaker’s return to the Burgundian white after more than 15 years.

As I sip, I notice the crew of about 12 gathering quickly in the kitchen and, in buffet style, piling a sampling of each of the five dishes onto their plates.  At the communal table across from the kitchen, Margerum is at the head, making sure the open bottles get passed around.  Winemaker Michael Miroballi and assistant winemaker Lucas Meisinger sit side by side, flanked by the office staff, including general manager Brooks Van Wingerden.  And as the meal ensues, so does the convivial conversation, switching from question about production schedules to memories from harvests past.

The food itself is delicious, and filling.  A few of us get up for seconds.  But cabernet franc grapes have recently arrived, and sorting them is pressing.  The crusher-destemmer is right outside the door; it cannot be ignored.  So, after a hearty 45-minute meal, and satisfied as much by the grub as with the comradery, the crew delivers their plates to the sink and sweep out as quickly as they swept in.

My tour continues, and I follow Margerum into the barrel room.  But I can still taste the carbonara.  And now I’m wishing I’d had thirds.

By the way, Margerum Wine Company ended the 2015 harvest in mid-October – the earliest harvest in its 15 year history.