Green-Lighted: Inn at Mattei’s Tavern Sets Sights on Opening Day

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/21/15

Six years after it was first proposed, the newest luxury resort in Santa Barbara wine country is finally moving full steam ahead.

Late last week, the investment firm Terroir Capital announced its partnership with real estate investment and development firm Mesa Lane Partners – both, Santa Barbara-based companies – to develop the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern.  The seven-acre property in Los Olivos will feature 64 luxe cottages, as well as a full-service spa, an outdoor pool and bar, a retail boutique, a gym and 3,000 square feet of meeting space.  The hotel will also include the popular Mattei’s Tavern Restaurant, which will close down January 31 and reopen once resort construction is completed around spring of 2018.

Construction at the site, which abuts the intersection of Railway and Nojoqui Avenues just off Highway 154, will begin in late 2016 and last 18 months.

That this project is now fully entitled and permitted is no small feat, especially in a town whose appeal hinges on historical charm and where development is regularly welcomed with skepticism.  “There are too many examples of people who’ve come in, said the right things and then turned around and built things that didn’t belong,” says Charles Banks, the CEO of Terroir Capital, who bought the Mattei’s Tavern property in 2009.  “I understand that this community is very sensitive – the more they care, the more sensitive they’ll be.”

Indeed, the project has been subject to much debate and delay over the last several years.  On history alone, concerns were likely reasonable.  Mattei’s is an Old West relic that opened up as an inn and stagecoach stop in 1886 and served as the terminus of the Pacific Coast Railway.  But even when Mr. Banks partnered with Chef Robbie Wilson and wife Emily Perry Wilson to rebrand the restaurant, requisite tasks during the restoration process took more than two years.  And in a move that, though sound, was seen by some as an attempt to filibuster renovation, the county declared the building a Historical Landmark in 2010.

Mr. Banks points out that, even amid the scrutiny, the original plans for the hotel “didn’t see one single change, even from the most vocal opponents.”  In a town notoriously lacking in septic substructure, among the most significant investments will be “an expensive, state-of-the-art internal wastewater system that will have no impact on the local system,” he adds.

Charles Banks
Mr. Banks believes his commercial portfolio and business history has held the clue all along to the respect with which he’s spearheading this project.  The name of his company – “Terroir” – is the French word often used by viticulturalists to describe “sense of place.”  The company holds more than a dozen high-end wine labels around the world – including Sandhi and Qupe, locally – and Mr. Banks considers Santa Barbara County “one of the most exciting wine regions in the United States.”  In the past, he was co-owner of the cult Screaming Eagle label from Napa and owned Santa Barbara County’s celebrated Jonata label.

Going back two decades, Mr. Banks has also helped launch a bevy of spectacular resort properties around the world, including the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, Meadowood in Napa Valley, Blackberry Farm in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and Rosewood in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

But: “Just like all those properties are pure expressions of where they are, the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern will be a pure expression of Los Olivos and the Santa Ynez Valley – that’s our goal,” insists Mr. Banks.  “We’ll fail if we fall short of that.

“One of the fears early on was that we were trying to create another Napa,” Mr. Banks continues.  “But that’s the beauty of the Santa Ynez Valley – it’s more diverse than Napa, it has more to offer.  So I don’t worry one bit about that.  We’re not going to do anything other than continue to diversify local offerings in an effort to bring in more people who appreciate this community and who have dollars to spend.  And that’ll help all the businesses here – wine, food, art, cowboys – do better.”

Local tourism and businesses leaders are offering support.  With only 1500 hotel rooms currently available in the six communities that make up the Santa Ynez Valley, and with 2015 occupancy rates ranging from 80 to 95%, “Mattei’s is a great thing,” says Shelby Sim, executive director of Visit The Santa Ynez Valley.  “It’s legendary, and to see it live up to its full potential is very exciting.”

“It’s going to bring in a clientele that now can’t spend the night, or has to split up their vacation with a stay in Santa Barbara,” says winemaker Larry Schaffer, whose Tercero Wines tasting room is walking distance from Mattei’s.  “It’ll turn Los Olivos into more of a seven-day town – right now a lot of us have to close in the middle of the week.  So I see it as a positive all around.”

“In recent years Los Olivos has become one of the most popular tourist destinations within Santa Barbara wine country," says Tim Snider, who's President of the Los Olivos Business Organization (LOBO) and whose family runs the only other hotel game in town, the deluxe Fess Parker Wine Country Inn.  "The Mattei’s hotel project should fit well with the small-town yet upscale vibe of our town while providing much needed additional accommodations for patrons of our galleries, boutiques, restaurants and wine tasting rooms.”

Chef Robbie Wilson
The building that houses the Mattei’s Tavern restaurant will see minor renovations, mainly to décor.  Mr. Banks says Chef Robbie Wilson will return to the helm in 2018 and that he and his wife, Emily, will be part of the planning process.  For now, the chef and his wife are helping their staff of about 20 to find new jobs, ahead of the January 31 closure.  That includes open positions at Bird Dog, a contemporary eatery that the couple opened last month in downtown Palo Alto and a project that involves Mr. Banks and partners in the Silicon Valley.

Mr. Banks says it’s too early to discuss rates at the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, “but the idea is to have a nice range of rooms and rates.”  It’ll also likely serve as a tasting venue for the Sandhi and Qupe labels. 


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