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 d├ęcor.  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.

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