Heavenly Spirit: Winemaker Reacts to His Wine Being Served on Pope’s Flight

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/27/15

When the Twitter-sphere blew up with news that a Santa Maria Valley chardonnay was among the wines selected for the Pope Thursday, Ken Volk admits, “It was a nice surprise for my company.”

Ken Volk (photo by Bob Dickey)
Mr. Volk’s Santa Maria Cuvée, a white wine that the winemaker describes as “the flagship chardonnay from Kenneth Volk Wines,” was among 10 wines, and only two American wines, selected for Pope Francis’ short flight from Joint Base Andrews to New York City.  The wine is a standard offering on American Airlines’ international business class routes.  But it was specially handpicked by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which chartered the Boeing 777-200 aircraft, for the Pontiff’s short domestic flight.

Mr. Volk has long been known as one of California’s top chardonnay producers.  He produced it under the popular Wild Horse label in Paso Robles, which he founded in 1981 and sold in 2003.  In 2004, he bought the original Byron vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley from the Robert Mondavi Corp. and renamed it Kenneth Volk Vineyards. He’s been making world class chardonnays from his estate vineyard, and from renowned neighbor vineyards, ever since.

The wine list from the Pope's flight
Of course, it’s unlikely that, during his 35-minute flight, Pope Francis would have sipped through all 10 wines: a Champagne, three whites, three reds and three dessert wines.  But the historic reality here – the fact that the Pope’s first ever visit to the U.S. has become such a highly televised event and such a top story across all media – makes this serendipitous selection a very happy coincidence.  It’s positive PR by default, at least.

The winemaker described the Santa Maria Cuvéto me in detail, like this:

“It is a 100% chardonnay from the Santa Maria Valley – typically 85% to 100% barrel-fermented and aged on its fermentation lees.  For the past eight vintages, the Santa Maria Cuvée chard has been a blend of my former Estate Vineyard, Sierra Madre vineyard and Bien Nacido vineyard.  I use the term former, for I pulled my estate vineyard out this past winter – it was 31 years old, Wente selection, planted on its own roots, with about every strain of leaf roll virus known on 12-foot row spacing.  It is my intention to replant in 2017 on rootstock at tighter spacing.

“I would describe this as classic Santa Maria Valley chardonnay; however, I only go about 15-30% malo, for I like crisper wines and dislike butterballs.

“The fruit is hand-picked, whole cluster-pressed, the juice cold-settled 72 hours before racking off settling lees, and barreled in our refrigerated white room – at 58 degrees.  I use a variety of yeast strains – non-Saccromyces and Saccromyces isolates from Burgundy, Australia, Italy and Iberia.  I also ferment and age in an OXO barrel rack system that allows for complete lees-stirring without removing the bung, reducing oxidation and cross contamination.  I like the greater amount of texture it imparts to the mouth feel. 

The wine is rich without being flabby. The dominant fruit flavors are Bosque pear and Granny Smith Apple."

The Kenneth Volk Santa Maria Cuvée Chardonnay retails for $28.

For more information, check out Kenneth Volk Wines' website.

Romance Renewed: Local Winemaker Returns to Chardonnay After Long Hiatus

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/24/15

Doug Margerum’s relationship with chardonnay is a love affair.  It has a happy ending, it turns out.  But like any passionate love story, there’s heartbreak, too.
The winemaker and the grape were certainly hot and heavy there for a while.  In fact, Margerum’s formative wine drinking years were dominated by chardonnay.  In the 1980s and 90s, when his family owned Santa Barbara’s Wine Cask restaurant and wine shop, he sold a lot of it.  And, in successful partnerships with winemakers Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist, he crafted chardonnay in earnest; the VITA NOVA project made private label chard for restaurants like Roy’s, Emeril’s and the Patina Group.
Margerum Wine Co. headquarters in Buellton
But then came the proverbial itch, in the early 2000s,when Margerum underwent a culinary metamorphosis, of sorts.  He left VITA NOVA.  He sold the Wine Cask (though he’s part of a team that has since bought it back).  And he launched his own label, Margerum Wine Company, which introduced him to the seductive wiles of other whites.  In a breakup letter that he wrote to chardonnay in 2001, Margerum admits to a recent fling with another: “I got this little sauvignon blanc and brought it home with me.  I don’t say this to hurt you, but just to illustrate the depth of my desperation.  It was a young wine with one of those perfect structures that only youth and maybe a perfect microclimate can give.  I mean, just perfect.  It had length like you wouldn’t believe and a taste that just wouldn’t quit.  Every man’s dream, right?”
French oak barrels stacked high at MWC
In heart wrenching fashion, he goes on to admit that breaking up is hard to do: “Chardonnay, I’m just going crazy without you, and everything I drink just reminds me of you.”
But, alas, it was over.
That tryst with sauvignon blanc, by the way, was no passing fancy.  His eponymous brand has grown to become synonymous with some of the best sauv blanc in Santa Barbara.  His annual Syabrite release ($21) is a crisp blend of several vineyards; in 2011, it made it on Wine Spectator’s coveted Top 100 list.  The high-end “D” Sauvignon Blanc ($36) employs 24-hour skin contact and a combination of barrels and steel tanks to generate a luscious and brilliant wine.
Margerum Wine Company, which has grown from 240 cases in 2001 to up to 14,000 cases today (though lower yields in 2015 will likely yield 8000 cases), has also gained a solid reputation for its grenache blanc, the UBER syrah, the M5 blend of Rhone grapes and several warm-weather reds.  Margerum also crafts wine for myriad private labels, including Happy Canyon and Jamie Slone.
First loves, though, are hard to shake.  They have a way of lingering on the heart.  And sometimes, they have a way of coming back.
If there’s a matchmaker in this love story – a vehicle that’s allowed Margerum to rekindle his affair with chardonnay – it’s Barden, his brand new label.  I ventured to Buellton earlier this month for an introduction, and found that the physical location of Margerum’s winery, in a pair of industrial buildings that offer sweeping views of Sta. Rita Hills, has much to do with launching this new chapter in his winemaking career, and with breathing new life into his relationship with chardonnay.
“Coming here helped me realize that a colder climate makes better wines,” he tells me as we look out the windows of his second-floor office; the cool climes of these west-reaching vineyards are generating world-class chardonnay and pinot noir these days.  “It allows for better retention of acids.  Warm, sunny days and cold nights yield ripe grapes with lots of flavors and great acidity.”
Margerum makes lunch for his employees every day
This Buellton facility became the nerve center of Margerum’s operations four years ago; he’d made wines in Los Olivos for many years before that.  The large winery is kept at 55 degrees year-round; on my visit, it was filled with barrels and fermentation bins.  The adjacent cold room, which houses certain whites and rosés, is kept at a constant 45 degrees.  The nearby warehouse is stacked to the ceiling with ready-to-ship cases.  And the onsite kitchen is fully stocked with herbs and spices and just-delivered produce; Margerum cooks a hearty lunch from scratch every day for his entire crew, and on this day, the aromas of spaghetti carbonara and grilled sausages with peppers wafting from the stovetop are inescapable.

Before I join the crew for lunch – they’ve just finished sorting grapes – I taste through the four just-released wines from Barden, which is named for Margerum’s middle name; the word also means “boar’s den,” which explains the small tusked wild pig etched on each label.
Margerum, right, and winemaker Michael Miroballi
This project hinges on quality of fruit and on contracts that Margerum’s secured at prized grape growing spots like Sanford & Benedict and La Encantada.  The Margerum team – including winemaker Michael Miroballi and assistant winemaker Lucas Meisinger – also employs thoughtful techniques aimed at generating elegant wines: partial whole cluster fermentation, the use of free run juice, slow extraction and a barrel program that includes new, high-end wood.

If the 2014 Barden Chardonnay ($48) is meant to close the books on a 15-year separation, it does not disappoint.  It’s big and flavorful, buoyed by brilliant acidity.  Balanced, textured and nuanced, it exhibits tropical and white stone fruit flavors, toasty aromas and a long polished finish.
Barden also features the Fonte ($36), the French word for “source" -- a zippy and flinty blend of chardonnay, pinot blanc and pinot gris.  The Pinot Noir ($82) is earthy rich and spice-driven, with black cherry flavors and firm tannins.  The Syrah ($60) is rich, smooth and savory.
But throughout lunch, I keep revisiting the chard, as does Margerum.  And as flavors of butter and peaches continue to emerge, I think back to a line from another letter – one that Margerum wrote to his wine club members earlier this summer to announce the arrival of Barden, and of a renewed romance.  “I am in love again,” he writes, “and from sorrow and pain, a Phoenix has risen from the ashes.”
Cheers to that!


History Served by the Glass: Winemaker Opens Tasting Room in Santa Barbara's Casa de la Guerra

story and photos by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/17/15

Standing Sun's John Wright
Santa Barbara’s newest wine tasting room is, in fact, a link to its past.

“I love this space,” winemaker John Wright told me during a conversation last week.  “It’s original, and it’s rustic in an organic and natural way.”

Mr. Wright, 46, has transformed a small room inside Case de la Guerra into a wine venue.  He calls it, “The Bodega,” which is Spanish for “winery.”  For years, this quaint 400-square-foot space, with undulating adobe walls and waning patches of paint, was used as a storage room.  But Mr. Wright’s goal is to return it to its 19th century roots, when Jose de la Guerra, the fifth comandante of the Presidio, used it as a wine cellar.

Casa de la Guerra was built between 1818 and 1828.  It became the social epicenter of Santa Barbara at the time, and de la Guerra’s descendants actually used it as a residence all the way into the 1940s.  Today, it’s part of the picturesque El Paseo complex, just off State Street, and is under the auspices of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, which runs it as a museum.
Pictures hang from pre-existing holes in the old adobe walls
The corners are cozy inside the Bodega
The Trust tasked Mr. Wright with the modern day use of the former wine cellar as much for his knack as a winemaker as for his expertise as a preservation architect.  The group’s goal was to find a creative and deferential way to increase visitor foot traffic to the historic Casa.  “I spent many years restoring farmhouses and barns on the East Coast, throughout New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” says Mr. Wright, who earned myriad degrees in historic preservation from the University of Maryland, and who now lives in Santa Ynez.  “I have an understanding of a structure like this, and [a respect] and excitement about how to use this space.”

Mr. Wright's approach is hands-off.  "This is not a renovation," he insists.  "I'm working with what's already here and just adding pieces that are free-standing."

A couple of bar stools, a few barrels-turned-tables and a leather couch adorn the room.  Comfy white cushions line bench-like seating built into the walls.  And the paintings throughout the room hang from holes that already existed on the walls.  They’re original works by Ojai artist Gino Hollander – pop art-inspired pieces whose brown, gray and white tones, curiously, match perfectly the muted, fractured hues that have been gracing these walls for decades.  Mr. Hollander passed away at the age of 92 last week.

Mr. Wright is pouring his Standing Sun wines here.  He founded the label in 2007 with his wife, Emmy-winning soap opera actress Laura Wright, after the couple’s move to California.  Mr. Wright shifted careers from architect to winemaker under the tutelage of well-known local vintner Joey Tensley and, with a focus on Rhone wines like syrah, grenache and viognier, has grown the brand to more than 2000 cases a year.  Standing Sun operates a tasting room in Buellton that doubles as both a concert venue for various high-profile groups and an art gallery.

For his Casa de la Guerra location specifically, Mr. Wright plans to introduce a second label sometime in 2016.  He’s also working on intimate seating in the open-air courtyard that overlooks both The Bodega and De la Guerra Plaza across the street.  For now, Mr. Wright is offering a tasting of six wines for $15, and he’s selling wines by the glass.  

“We’ll have wines by the carafe soon, as well as food components, like cheese and charcuterie plates,” he says.  “I’m trying to create a cool, laid back place for locals to walk in, kick back and just enjoy some wine.”

And to get a little taste of Santa Barbara history, too.

Standing Sun’s The Bodega, 15 E. De la Guerra St., Santa Barbara. Thursday-Sunday, Noon-5pm.  805-904-8072. www.standingsunwines.com.


Ghetto Blast: Lompoc Wine Alliance to Host Inaugural Feast

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/10/15

The history of Lompoc winemaking takes a big step forward this month.  The Lompoc Wine Alliance – a cluster of 25 wineries and tasting rooms tucked into some of the western-most reaches of Santa Barbara wine country – have just gained non-profit status.  And now, as a cohesive and organized group, the march is on to rev up promotion and heighten its visibility.

Fiddlehead winemaker Kathy Joseph mans a forklift in the Ghetto
“The banding together of these 25 wineries is significant,” says Kate Griffith, who’s on the board of the new Lompoc Wine Alliance.  She also does marketing for Flying Goat Cellars, the popular pinot noir and sparkling wine label that she runs with her husband, winemaker Norm Yost.  “We are one of the largest concentration of high-end small producers in the county, and possibly in the state.”

And that’s not a stretch, especially when you read through the roster of winemakers who call Lompoc home.
The hub of Lompoc winemaking is the Sobhani Industrial Park, a no-frills complex along E. Chestnut Avenue, between N. 7th and N. 12th Streets, that’s affectionately come to be known as the Wine Ghetto.   The focus here is clearly on functionality and efficiency, not style or décor.  There’s certainly charm here – in the tasting rooms, practical use of space is often balanced by delightful touches.  But the attention, in the end, is squarely on the wine.
Rick Longoria
Local wine pioneer Rick Longoria, in an ingenious move, opened up the first winery in the Ghetto in 1998 (he recently moved his tasting room to a pretty spot about a mile away).  But it was with the arrival of wine phenom and Palmina founder Steve Clifton in 2005 that the propagation of small production facilities that doubled as tasting rooms began in earnest.  Fiddlehead and Flying Goat arrived soon after.
Today, with the Ghetto is its nucleus, Lompoc has seen a handful of other wineries and tasting rooms pop open around town.  The 25 members of the Lompoc Wine Alliance include all those innovator names -- Longoria, Clifton, Yost, Fiddlehead’s Kathy Joseph, Ampelos’ Peter Work – as well as some of the area’s most exciting new labels, like Bratcher, Kessler-Haak, De Su Propia Cosecha, Justin Willett’s Tyler and Gavin Chanin’s LUTUM.

Steve Clifton, center
Lompoc’s affair with winemaking goes way back, of course.  The padres at La Purisima Mission cultivated their own grapevines at the turn of the 19th century.  When Lompoc was founded in the 1870s, it was actually designated a temperance community; that experiment fizzled within a decade, though, made moot  by the widespread home winemaking endeavors of the immigrants who’d moved here.  Pedigree wine growing arrived in the early 1970s – a blend of intuition and serendipity – when Richard Sanford and Pierre Lafond planted vineyards that thrive to this day.  The Sta. Rita Hills AVA, with Lompoc as its home base, gained federal recognition (and serious attention from an entire industry) in 2001.

The newly formed Lompoc Wine Alliance, then, is the latest chapter.  And, to celebrate, it’s throwing a party.  Harvest in the Wine Ghetto is taking place September 26 and 27 and will feature barrel tastings, open houses, seminars and a signature dinner.  Events can be purchased separately: the Saturday grape stomp and live graffiti demonstration, which includes a tasting flight at any participating winery, is $15; exclusive barrel tastings at three wineries of your choice is $40 (Yost tells me he’ll likely be sampling his 2014 pinots from Bien Nacido and Rio Vista Vineyards); the Saturday night wine dinner with Bell Street Farms, in the tradition of the La Paulee harvest dinners thrown by vintners in Burgundy and slated to be held in the Wine Ghetto parking lot, is $125.  The Weekend Pass, which includes all events at a savings, is $160.
For tickets and more information, check out www.lompocwine.net.


California Made, French Inspired: New Bacara Chef Bring Parisian Flair to the Kitchen

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/3/15

Bacara Executive Chef Vincent Lesage
When Chef Vincent Lesage takes the spotlight at this year’s Taste of the Town – in a pair of events that includes a deluxe VIP dinner and a gourmet tasting – it’ll double as his public debut.
“I am honored by this,” says the French native, who took the helm as the new Executive Chef at Bacara Resort & Spa just four months ago.  “And I’m very excited to be part of this major culinary event for the first time.”
As Lead Chef for the 34th annual Taste of the Town, a landmark culinary fete that draws more than 1000 foodies and benefits the Arthritis Foundation of Greater L.A. and the Central Coast, Chef Lesage will be wearing multiple hats next week.  On Friday, September 11th, he’ll wow palates at the Connoisseurs’ Circle event, a gala dinner affair for sponsors and their guests at Bacara.  The menu, which the chef calls “very French oriented,” features a starter of roasted beets, pickled Cavaillon melons and a goat cheese cream and a main course of pan-seared filet of beef, encrusted in foie gras and grape crust, and doled out with sautéed wild mushrooms and asparagus.
Winemaker Fred Brand and his son Nik
at the 2014 Taste of the Town
“We’re using many local ingredients,” says Chef Lesage, who’ll receive a special award that night.
“While this will be our 6th annual Connoisseurs’ Circle, it is the event’s inaugural year at Bacara Resort & Spa,” says Arthritis Foundation Executive Director Asher Garfinkel, who adds that only a few seats to this VIP affair remain.  “We agreed that honoring Chef Lesage and featuring his talent makes perfect sense, given our simultaneous new arrival at Bacara.”

The evening’s honored winemaker will be Fred Brander, of Los Olivos’ Brander Vineyard, who’ll match a wine with each course.

On Sunday, September 13th, Chef Lesage will be hosting a tasting station and mingling with guests at the signature Taste of the Town event, an open-air extravaganza on the Riviera foothills that features dozens of chefs, caterers and winemakers.  The event, which sells out each year, takes place from Noon to 3pm.  Tickets are $125.

Though a new transplant to Santa Barbara, Chef Lesage is not new to fine food.  He was born and raised in Paris, and although he didn’t grow up in a gastronomic household – his father worked at a supermarket and his mother was a teacher – he does remember cooking often with his grandmother.  “I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do."
As a teenager, Mr. Lesage headed south and spent two intensive years at Institut Paul Bocuse, a prominent culinary school in Lyon, “the world’s capital of gastronomy,” he says.  He’d go on to cut his teeth at several renowned restaurants, like Restaurant Bras, in southern France, and Restaurant Astrance, in Paris.  Both are prestigious three-star Michelin eateries.  Chef Lesage worked at The Ritz Paris, too.
The September 13th Taste of the Town event will take place at Santa Barbara's Riviera Park
“So my background is very traditional,” he asserts.  “Where I’m from, you sit down with your family every time when you have a meal.  You don’t always find that in America.”  But since his move to the U.S. seven years ago, Mr. Lesage admits that this country’s epicurean interests appear to be shifting.  “People are more and more into restaurants as an experience – wanting to make sure the way they are treated is just as important as the wine and the food,” he says.  “And people are more into organic and into local now, and that is great to see.”
Chef Lesage was hired by Starwood Hotels as Executive Sous Chef for the AAA 5-Diamond St. Regis Monarch Beach in 2008, where he managed a kitchen staff of more than 60.  He went on to serve as Executive Chef of the deluxe Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach, where he launched two waterfront restaurants, Waterline and A&O Kitchen Bar.  Balboa Bay Resort is managed by Pacific Hospitality Group, which also operates Bacara.
Chef Lesage arrives at Bacara at a pivotal time in the culinary history of the seaside Forbes 4-Star resort.  Miro, its flagship restaurant, is closing and undergoing a $3.5 million renovation to make way for a new restaurant in the spring of 2016.  The concept remains a secret, but “the focus will be on raw materials, on earth and water,” reveals the chef.  Over the next year, the property’s five other eateries will be revamped, too, which suits Mr. Lesage just fine.  “I like variety,” he says.  “The more that’s changing, the better.”
It’s an attitude that extends into the kitchen.
“I love our proximity to ingredients – we’re within three miles to almost everything – and we have lots of great seafood,” says Chef Lesage.  “But more importantly, we have to be ready to do everything.  At Bacara, we could be cooking French today, and tomorrow it could be Chinese.  There’s huge diversity.  And we have to be driven and we have to be extremely good in everything we do.
That push for perfection seems natural in Mr. Lesage, though he’s quick to recognize the critical role social media plays today in keeping the bar high.
The Bistro at Bacara Resort
“We’re put under the gun every day,” he says.  “Before, people would come to visit your restaurant three or four times.  Now the experience can be just one meal, and boom – they’re taking a picture, putting a hash-tag on it, putting it on social media and there you are!  It’s putting more and more pressure on chefs to deliver their best every day.”
This is where Chef Lesage’s youth – he’s only 30 – could be a real asset for Bacara, where his forward-looking ingenuity is already taking shape.  He’s partnered with Fairview Gardens to exchange all his kitchen scraps for homegrown fruits and vegetables.  “They realized their soils were in need of a revamp,” says the chef, “so instead of buying compost, we provide them with the ingredients to create their own.”
Richard Yates and Tina Takaya of Santa Barbara's popular
Opal Restaurant are the Honorary Chairs of the 2015 Taste of the Town
The Chef is also sourcing produce from one of Bacara’s nine fountains, which have been converted into gardens to conserve water; the one designed by Something Good Organics grows heirloom eggplant, basil, romaine lettuce and more.
Chef Vincent Lesage lives in Goleta with his wife, Ashley, and their two-year-old daughter, Olivia.  Thus far, their favorite family activities involve the great outdoors.  “We love doing nature-oriented things, like taking the dog, going to the beach and getting into the water to play,” he says.  “The climate here is pretty amazing.”
For more information on Bacara, go to www.BacaraResort.com.  For information and tickets to the 34th annual Taste of the Town, visit www.TasteoftheTownSantaBarbara.org.  For tickets to the Friday night VIP dinner at Bacara, contact the Arthritis Foundation office directly at 805.563.4685.

Raising the Bar: Dave Potter Goes High-End with New Wine Project

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/27/15

Winemaker Dave Potter’s new venture is personal in more ways than one.
It’s close to home, for starters, which is a big boon for this 36-year-old dad.  “I live just three blocks away from here,” he told me when I visited his Potek Winery this week.  The facility – complete with tanks, barrels and tasting bar – is the first resident of The Mill, the new marketplace project on the corner of Haley and Laguna Streets in Santa Barbara’s eastside, on the former Tile Co. site, which will also see a brewery, restaurant and home goods store soon.  Potter’s been making the wine for his other labels – Municipal Winemakers and Goodland – in Buellton for years, until now.
Potek is also a tip of the hat to Potter’s heritage.  “My great-grandfather was from Romania,” he tells me as he sets up three glasses before me and begins to pour.  “And when he got to Ellis Island in 1917, they changed his name from Berl Potek to Benjamin Potter.”  A story that saw itself repeated many times over, of course.  For Potter, it’s one that inspired not only his pseudo-eponymous label, but the look and feel of his new workspace, too.  For Potek’s branding and design, “we researched traditional Romanian textiles and embroidery,” Potter says as I notice that the detailed clues around me abound, from the funky topography on the labels to the angled wooden tiles above the bar.
Potek is also personal in the way that it’s become a totally new creative outlet for Potter.  The former Fess Parker winemaker has already forged a strong following with his own Municipal Winemakers, a label with a Funk Zone tasting room and a reputation for vibrant, easy, value-driven wines.  Potek, on the other hand, is all about “the best wine that I can do,” he says.  “If Muni is our gastropub, Potek is our fine dining."
Potter is now doing all his winemaking at Potek
Indeed, these wines represent the best three to four barrels that Potter makes each vintage – quality all the way.  They're all vineyard-designate wines, too, with a production quotient that’s boutique-y – 700 cases a year right now – and price points that trend higher – between $30 and $65 a bottle.
French oak barrels abut the bar at Potek
"We age these wines a lot longer, though,” he tells me, as I sip on the 2013 Riesling from Kick On Ranch Vineyard ($30).  Unlike the crisp Riesling he makes under the Municipal label, which is released young, this one was fermented on the skins, like a red wine, and aged six months in bottle and 12 months in barrel before going public.  It’s delicious – creamy and rich while maintaining the grape’s classic freshness.
“The higher price points also mean we’re able to seek out fruit sources that are more lucrative,” Potter continues, as I move to the glass with the 2013 Pinot Noir ($60).  This one’s sourced from original plantings on Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills – vines that date back to 1971.  “The epicenter of pinot noir in Santa Barbara County,” the winemaker adds.  Known as perhaps the most expensive pinot noir growing in the county right now, it’s a fruit source that’s always been out of reach for he lower-priced Municipal label.  Under Potek’s auspices, the grapes yield an enchanting wine – cherry-inspired with a silky, smooth texture and a layered, complex mouth feel.  Only 94 cases were made.
The current Potek lineup includes three wines, each poured into its own elegant glass
The 2012 Syrah ($45) comes from Tierra Alta Vineyard in Ballard Canyon and that same elegant, velvety palate impression prevails.  Rich and robust, yet pretty and smooth, with a fresh finish.
The tasting of three wines costs $15.  The current portfolio also includes a 2013 Rancho La Vina Pinot Noir ($50) from Sta. Rita Hills and a 2012 Tierra Alta Grenache ($40).  “We will add those to the flight soon,” Potter says.  The Potek crew also bottled a 2014 Bien Nacido Chardonnay on Monday, which will be released next spring.
As we wrap up, I congratulate Potter on what is an impressive new project -- impressive on the wines’ merit alone, for sure, but also on the way he’s achieved a refined wine drinking experience here, and on the way his personal story plays a big role.  “Yeah, I wanted this to be a lot about tradition and history and culture,” he says.  “Just like wine."
In the near future, Potek will be sharing a lovely outdoor courtyard with Third Window, a brewery project that involves Fess Parker’s grandson, Christopher, and Wildwood Kitchen, a barbecue concept by Chef Justin West, of Julienne fame.  The winery will sell wines by the glass for outdoor sipping and will feature private corners indoors for personalized tastings. Currently, the tasting bar is open everyday from Noon to 7pm.
Potek Winery, 406 E. Haley St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.  (805) 598-1896.