Daniel Gehrs Rocks: Local Winemaker Celebrates 25 Years with New Label

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Saglie and Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 7/16/15

Daniel and Robin Gehrs (Dickey)
When Daniel Gehrs graduated from UCSB in 1973, local wine jobs were scarce.  “The industry wasn’t even in its infancy, it was in its gestation period,” he tells me with a laugh.  We’re sitting in the shady courtyard behind his Los Olivos tasting room, sipping through his latest releases.

So Gehrs and his new bride, Robin, would spend the next two decades in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  He honed his winemaking skills at Paul Masson and helped found Congress Spring Winery.  In 1980, a pinot noir he made got honors from Wine Spectator Magazine.

Gehrs’ eponymous label – Daniel Gehrs Wines – was born in 1990, and it was soon after that Santa Barbara would come calling again.  “The wine region area here was well-established by the early 1990s,” recalls Gehrs, who took a job as Zaca Mesa’s winemaker in 1993.  And he kicked off his local career with a bang: a ’93 syrah he made nabbed the #6 spot in Wine Spectator’s coveted Top 100 Wines of the Year list, a remarkable first-ever nod for Santa Barbara County.

The sign that welcomes visitors in Los Olivos (Dickey)
“It blew everybody away and helped launch syrah and Rhone varieties here seriously,” says Gehrs, who admits he’s got just two of those celebrated bottles left.

In the years since, Gehrs has solidified his standing as one of the most awarded winemakers in Santa Barbara County and, in my opinion, one of the most talented.  Mild-mannered and soft-spoken, he has a natural knack for making wines that are consistently nuanced, complex and delicious.  “I’ve worked a lot on tannin management, to control extraction,” he tells me.  “I’m aiming for smooth, and I like to have no jagged edges.”

His skill made him a consulting winemaker for labels like Sunstone and Lucas & Lewellen for many years, as well as the founding winemaker for Bridlewood Winery.  He’s focused exclusively on his own label now, though.

A big part of his winery’s focus is on keeping pricing low.  Most Daniel Gehrs wines range between $15 and $25.  “At the onset of the recession, we made the conscious decision to steer the brand from high-end to middle-premium,” the winemaker says, “and that saved our bacon.”

“It’s actually part of our outlook on life,” adds his wife, who just retired after 21 years of teaching second grade at Santa Barbara’s Adams School.  She’s brought her own glass to join us in the courtyard.  “Wine should be a part of the diet, and the world would be a better place if everyone could afford to drink good wine.  Trophy wines are not part of our world view.”

And yet the Gehrs wines are consistent trophy winners at major competitions, further enhancing their value.  And drinking through them is a delight.  The 2012 Chenin Blanc ($19) has a butterscotch bouquet, layered flavors and a refreshing finish.  “It’s among the most age-worthy whites,” Gehrs says.  The unoaked 2012 Chardonnay ($24) is Chablis-inspired, a blend of citrus fruit and apple flavors with bright acidity.  “That’s the holy grails with this wine: that it goes well with food,” Gehrs declares.  The 2012 Syrah ($24) has rich cherry flavors but a wonderfully clean mouth feel.  And the 2102 Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) – the Gehrs’ best-selling wine – is smooth and brimming with dark berry flavors.

Other Gehrs wines worth discovering include his gew├╝rztraminer, merlot and Fireside Port.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of his winery, Gehrs has launched a brand new label, “Rockers: Rarities by Daniel Gehrs.”  The project opens the door to unique blends – “a creative outlet, a chance to break the mold,” Gehrs says.  And for the consumer, “a leap of faith.”
The 2012 Rockers Delirio ($30) is a rich Super Tuscan, a 60-40 blend of sangiovese from Santa Ynez and cabernet from Monterey.  Serious but approachable, this super food-friendly wine has a fruit nose, a cherry pie essence on the palate and a clean finish.  The colorful label features a whimsical drawing by Neil Crosbie, the former owner of Santa Barbara’s Blue Agave Restaurant.

The 2012 Rockers GSM ($30), with a label modeled after a vinyl record, harkens back to Gehrs’ Rhone roots at Zaca Mesa and is intricate, structured and delicious.  This 66-19-15 blend of grenache, syrah and mourvedre exhibits a glamourous nose, juicy black cherry and rhubarb flavors and an almost wild earthiness.  “Its approachability is deceptive,” admits Gehrs, “because it will age really well.”

Both wines are available only through the popular Daniel Gehrs tasting room in Los Olivos, which opened in 2000 inside a century-old cottage.  It’s located at 2939 Grand Avenue and open seven days a week.   


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