Santa Barbara's All-American Wine Party: Red, White & Blues Concert Celebrates 20 Years

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Karen Steinwachs, winemaker, Buttonwood and Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/18/15

Enjoying Red, White & Blues by the Buttonwood vines (Steinwachs)
The Red, White & Blues Concert – the annual fete that blends two of our area’s top wine labels with some of blues music’s top talent – is easily one of Karen Steinwach’s favorite events of the year.
“It’s really casual,” the winemaker at Buttonwood Farm tells me, as we reminisce about the July 4th-inspired concert we’ve both attended in years past.  This year’s event, slated for Saturday, June 27th, from 2 to 6pm at Buttonwood, marks its 20th anniversary.  “People bring these elaborate picnics, families comes together and spread out a big blanket, and we all drink wine and eat and listen to music by the vines.”
The venue has certainly been part of this party’s appeal over the years: a rolling green lawn flanked by Buttonwood Farms’ blooming grapes, swaying trees and a shimmering pond.  Set on a plateau above the tasting room off Alamo Pintado Road in Solvang, it’s a beautiful portion of this expansive and fertile property that visitors rarely get to see.
The music stage is cradled by the vines and the pond (Steinwachs)
The wine is a draw, too, of course.  This event has long been a partnership between Buttonwood and Rick Longoria, the celebrated Lompoc-based winemaker who is also a big blues fan.  His Blues Cuvee red wine blend sells fast each vintage, in part, because of the label; since 1993, it’s been the canvas for an artist series of commissioned paintings celebrating blues artists, making it a yearly collector’s item for many wine lovers.  “Rick is also the one who picks the band” for the Red, White & Blues Concert, Steinwachs says.  This year, local favorite The Stiff Pickle Orchestra will open for the celebrated Arthur Adams and His Blues Band, which is back by popular demand.
Karen Steinwachs (Dickey)
As the blues play, guests can buy Buttonwood and Longoria wine.  Steinwachs is still finalizing her three selections for the afternoon but is leaning toward two of her latest releases: a malbec and a grenache, estate wines that each take an acre of growing space on Buttonwood Farm.  “The Malbec is a classic carnivore wine,” Steinwachs tells me.  “But it’s a lot fruitier than our other Bordeaux wines, with a great blackberry character and tannins that are not so assertive.”
Rick Longoria (Dickey)
The grenache is “a really nice summery wine, perfect for this time of year,” Steinwachs adds.  “It’s more delicate and pairs with smoky foods really nicely.”
Buttonwood’s recent release of these two reds is no coincidence.  The winery always puts wines on the shelf based on the calendar.  “And this is definitely barbecue season,” says Steinwachs, who’s been making Buttonwood’s wines for the last eight years, following stints at Fiddlehead and Foley.
Her third latest release is the ever-popular Zingy, a zippy, tangy, acid-fueled rendition of sauvignon blanc that screams summer; it’s a favorite in our household year after year.
This month’s 20th anniversary concert will be a welcomed respite for Steinwachs, who’s been tackling growing season curve balls wrought by California's drought.  Critter influx is on the rise – from coyotes who like to nibble on drip lines to ground squirrels who like to nibble on stems to deer who like to nibble on leaves.  But her vineyard team has successfully managed to battle the water shortage with aggressive pruning and by taking the cover crop all the way to the dirt.
“We have these beautiful shiny green leaves now,” Steinwachs says.  And while “grape clusters aren’t looking as big” as in the past three years, the optimistic winemaker says, “that’s ok with me!”
The Red, White & Blues Concert is a family-friendly event that will draw about 250 wine and music lovers.  Tickets are $54 for adults and $22 for children, with free entry for kids six and younger.  For your tickets, click here.

The Magnificent Seven: Local Stars Reminisce About Santa Barbara’s Oldest Wine Festival

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Saglie and Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/4/15

On a day that was quintessentially Santa Barbara – it was 70-something and sunshine sparkled through the swaying leaves of the towering oak trees lining Mission Creek – the Magnificent Seven reminisced.
Bob Lindquist, Ken Brown, Richard Sanford, Jim Clendenen, Doug Margerum, Drake Whitcraft, Fred Brander (Saglie)
Meridith Moore had casually thrown the title out there, and it fit.  The events manager at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History had invited these seven winemakers to visit and to share memories of what is Santa Barbara’s oldest wine fete.  The 28th Santa Barbara Wine Festival will take place Saturday, June 27th, from 2-5pm, and all these men, all of whom poured at the inaugural event, will be there.  (To be accurate, Drake Whitcraft didn’t actually pour at the original fete since, at age 14 months, he was there in diapers, as his parents poured; but ever since he came of age, he's been manning the Whitcraft table each year.)
“My kids have all slept on that rock while I poured,” says Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen with a laugh, pointing to an oversize stone that has marked his spot at the event for years.  “They’re 15 and 20 now.”
“I remember playing in that creek, until I was old enough to pour,” adds Whitcraft Winery's Drake Whitcraft, pointing to the meandering cleft in the earth nearby.  His father, the late Chris Whitcraft, was among the founding fathers of the festival, and his son continues his tradition today.
“That first year, I remember pouring wines from bottles that didn’t have labels on them yet,” recalls Alma Rosa Winery’s Richard Sanford, a legend in the Santa Barbara wine industry who planted the first pinot noir vines in the Sta. Rita Hills near Lompoc in 1971.  “And of course, a lot of these trees were much smaller then!”
The very natural setting at this museum, in fact, has always been a draw for Mr. Sanford, and a big reason why he pours here in person.  The schedules of winemakers of this repute – Ken Brown, Doug Margerum, Fred Brander and Qupe’s Bob Lindquist have also gathered here – can be demanding, and winery reps often pour at wine events in the winemaker’s place.  But “I love being in nature,” he says, “and I love connecting with the season here.”
“Yeah, this is the prettiest tasting I do,” Mr. Clendenen adds.  “It’s the pride of Santa Barbara.”
And then, almost as if on cue, a band of young children frolics past; they climb on the rocks nearby and burst into a quick game of tag before they run down the dirt path.  The winemakers take a break from sipping the wines they’ve brought to share with each other, and watch.  The kids’ visit is a daily occurrence here, as more than 40,000 students a year come spend the day with docents, scientists and curators who engage them in natural history.  The money raised by the Santa Barbara Wine Festival – about $75,000 last year – is what pays for this type of outreach, which touches students from throughout the state.
“And that’s why we love this museum and this wine festival,” Mr. Sanford remarks, as the group turns back to their glasses.
Jim Clendenen at the 2014 Festival (Dickey)
“Plus, it’s the best attended festival in the Santa Barbara community,” adds Mr. Margerum.  “And that’s important, because these people end up being your best advocates.”
“And then there are all those frilly summer dresses!” Mr. Clendenen interjects, to laughter and nods from the rest.

Indeed, the annual feast that always takes place in early summer gets consistently high marks for its relaxed and jovial feel.  The weather is idyllic, the setting is bucolic and the crowd of about 1000 is good-humored and all-smiles.  The wineries that pour are there by invitation only – 50-or-so of the area’s best-loved labels, spanning Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties.  “They are innovative, embrace sustainability, put quality above quantity and, in my opinion, can match up against wines from around the world,” says Ms. Moore.  

Richard Sanford at the 2014 Festival (Dickey)

Aside from the Magnificent Seven, wineries like Babcock, Larner, Cambria, Foxen and Tercero will pour once again this year.  A couple of new projects, like Jamie Sloane Wines, will join them.  And top area restaurants and chefs, like Finch & Fork, Bob’s Well Bread, Barbareño, Via Maestra 42, and Renaud’s Patisserie will dole out gourmet bites.
There’s no auction at this festival.  Instead, the museum holds its Every Cork Wins! raffle.  Corks cost $30, with each one a winner, and with prizes ranging from $30 to $250 or more.
Drake Whitcraft at the 2014 Festival (Dickey)
The Santa Barbara Wine Festival was actually preceded by a small gathering of winemakers on the museum’s grounds in 1978.  That event was the brainchild of local poet Lisl Auf der Heide, who recruited the help of her husband, the late wine connoisseur Ralph Auf der Heide, as well as late winemaker Chris Whitcraft and wine industry long timer Jim Fiolek.  It benefitted Friendship House in Montecito.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History took over production of that small festival in 1983, launching the official Santa Barbara Wine Festival.  Early on, proceeds were earmarked for the oceanic charity, Save Our Seas.  But when profitability waned, the festival moved to the Music Academy of the West in Montecito where, for years, it was a spectacular culinary feast.  It wasn’t until 10 years ago, in a deal with the city that would allow the Academy to renovate in exchange for giving up hosting special events, that the Museum brought the Wine Festival back home.  Ms. Moore has helmed it ever since.
As they discuss the Festival’s past, the Magnificent Seven begin to recall their own histories in the local wine industry.
“I don’t think we had high expectations back then, because there was nothing to emulate,” says Fred Brander, who planted Santa Barbara County’s first commercial sauvignon blanc vineyard in 1975; he would quickly become a veritable benchmark for Bordeaux wine production in this area.
“I started to make wine to support a habit,” jokes Bob Lindquist, who started his career in the early 1980s alongside Mr. Clendenen; he’d actually go on to produce some of the most celebrated syrah in California.
Mr. Lindquist’s first boss, Ken Brown, planted Santa Barbara County’s first syrah grapes in 1977, at Zaca Mesa Winery.  But he engages his colleagues in a chat about Sta. Rita Hills pinot noir now.  “That was always my first love,” he says of the grape that, today, has become his eponymous label’s main focus.
As the glasses begin to empty, Mr. Sanford brings the conversation back to the Festival, and he connects past with future.  “Here we are again, 28 years later, and half the people who’ll be at the Festival weren’t even old enough to drink when we started,” he says.  “So we can’t forget – this is also about awareness and education, which will always be important.”
Less than 200 tickets for this year’s Santa Barbara Wine Festival remain.  For information, contact the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History at

Small Production, Big Taste: Dinner to Highlight Boutique LUTUM Label

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo

Winemaker Gavin Chanin
When entrepreneur and vintner Bill Price met winemaker Gavin Chanin a few years ago, he was impressed.  The man with a formidable perspective – Price has ownership in several high-profile Northern California vineyards and labels like Kistler and Three Sticks – saw promise in the UCLA grad who’d trained in Santa Barbara with the likes of Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist.  Of course, so had Forbes, which had already put the founder of Chanin Wine Company to its “30 Under 30” list, and Food & Wine Magazine, which had already named him a Winemaker of the Year.  I included Chanin in my own “Top 10 Santa Barbara Winemakers Under 35” feature two years ago.
Price and Chanin would set off on an experiment – a label to focus on single-vineyard, small-production pinot noir and chardonnay made from stellar California vineyards.
The result was LUTUM – the word means “soil” in Latin.  I got to taste some of these wines for the first time a few weeks ago at Wine + Beer, the wine lover’s watering hole inside the Santa Barbara Public Market.  This has quickly become one of my favorite wine shops in town for its variety of both local and international labels, its fair pricing and the focused consumer events that it hosts regularly.
At this one, the two vineyards in the spotlight are Santa Barbara County landmarks: Sanford & Benedict and La Rinconada.  Both lay in the coveted Sta. Rita Hills growing area, near Lompoc, and both were planted by pioneer Richard Sanford (Sanford & Benedict in 1971, La Rinconada in 1995).  But each vineyard, as exhibited through the LUTUM wines, is unique.
The 2012 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay exhibits a classic golden hue and refreshing flavors of apple and tropical fruits.  The mouth feel is luscious – a hint of the 18 months this wine spent in 25% new French oak – and the finish is clean.
The 2012 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir has a lively tart quality on the palate that sings of cranberries and cherries.  There’s wonderful structure to this wine and the brilliant acidity gives it solid aging potential.
The 2012 La Rinconada Pinot Noir, by contrast, is darker and more dense.  Red fruit flavors and rounded tannins give this wine an elegant, balanced richness.
For LUTUM, Chanin also sources locally from La Encantada Vineyard, another Sta. Rita Hills planting by Sanford, and Bien Nacido, the storied vineyard planted in the Santa Maria Valley by the Miller family in 1973.  Sonoma sources include the celebrated Durrell and Gap’s Crown Vineyards, both owned by Price.
Consumers get their next chance to taste through the LUTUM wines this Saturday, June 6th, at 6pm, when Chanin joins Executive Chef Derek Simcik of Outpost Restaurant at the Goodland Hotel for a five-course dinner.  This intimate meal – only 32 seats are available – will take place inside The Kitchen at the Santa Barbara Public Market, 38 W. Victoria Street, downtown, and is priced at $95.  Menu items include a squab entrée served with wild forage mushrooms, potatoes and blackberries and paired with the 2012 Durell Vineyard pinot.
Reservations are required: 805-770-7702.
Check out