Lunch is Served: Margerum Meal is Simple but Effective Perk

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/3/15

As I enter the Margerum Wine Company building in Buellton, I’m welcomed by the tantalizing aroma of sizzling bacon.

This is one of the perks of working here during harvest – the fact that Doug Margerum, himself, stops what he’s doing, rolls up his sleeves, and creates a culinary spread for everyone.  “It’s a serious lunch,” he tells me as I see him move quickly between the spice rack and the stove top.  The day’s delivery of fresh local produce – along with Margerum’s  share of a pig that was locally raised and slaughtered – arrived just hours ago, so the fridge is packed.

I look up and see that the white board that hangs on the wall, with a menu hand-written in green marker, tells of the deliciousness to come: heirloom tomatoes with Burrata, grilled sausages with peppers, chile with rice, salad greens with blue cheese dressing.  Spaghetti carbonara is also on the menu.  “It’s a family recipe that I haven’t made in a while,” the winemaker-chef tells me, “but I thought it would be a good one to bring out today.”

My lunch plate
An active kitchen is not a reality at most any other local winery, but it seems to make perfect sense here.  “It’s the French model,” Margerum tells me, adding that the midday meal in wineries throughout regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy is always a time for the staff to gather and mingle.  “But it’s also the ABC model,” he adds, referring to his formative winemaking years at Au Bon Climat; indeed, the daily lunches by ABC winemaker Jim Clendenen are veritable folklore within the Santa Barbara wine community.

For Margerum, the ability to feed his crew a substantial meal matters on multiple fronts.  It rewards quality work, for one.  While his full-time staff numbers about six throughout the year, it can more than double during late summer and fall, when the laborious demands of the oft-grueling harvest season requires more hands on deck.  They’re mostly young men and women who come to hone their own skills as budding winemakers, or curious fans of the process who’ve agreed to dabble in the process for the day.

The homemade meals also allow for a meeting of the minds – a focused moment for the winemaking crew and the office staff to discuss production schedules, orders and a variety of insider odds and ends.

And then there’s morale, of course.  The simple act of sitting down to eat together adds relevant layers of comraderie to these employee relationships that, undoubtedly, enhance everything from overall productivity to overall quality of work.

I’m here on a Thursday in early September to tour this facility, which Margerum Wine Company took over four years ago, and to sample Margerum’s latest label, Barden.  He’s making cool-climate wines from Sta. Rita Hills under this new flag, including a white blend dubbed Fonte, pinot noir and syrah.  It’s the Barden chardonnay that’s been creating the biggest buzz, though, since it marks the winemaker’s return to the Burgundian white after more than 15 years.

As I sip, I notice the crew of about 12 gathering quickly in the kitchen and, in buffet style, piling a sampling of each of the five dishes onto their plates.  At the communal table across from the kitchen, Margerum is at the head, making sure the open bottles get passed around.  Winemaker Michael Miroballi and assistant winemaker Lucas Meisinger sit side by side, flanked by the office staff, including general manager Brooks Van Wingerden.  And as the meal ensues, so does the convivial conversation, switching from question about production schedules to memories from harvests past.

The food itself is delicious, and filling.  A few of us get up for seconds.  But cabernet franc grapes have recently arrived, and sorting them is pressing.  The crusher-destemmer is right outside the door; it cannot be ignored.  So, after a hearty 45-minute meal, and satisfied as much by the grub as with the comradery, the crew delivers their plates to the sink and sweep out as quickly as they swept in.

My tour continues, and I follow Margerum into the barrel room.  But I can still taste the carbonara.  And now I’m wishing I’d had thirds.

By the way, Margerum Wine Company ended the 2015 harvest in mid-October – the earliest harvest in its 15 year history.


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