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.

 
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