Wine to Check Out: New Bar at Santa Barbara's Fess Parker Hotel is a City First

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Austin Sosa and Andreina Diaz
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/28/16

The new wine bar at The Fess Parker is just off the main lobby (Sosa)
A wine tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara is pretty common these days, but this wine bar is something totally new.

The Fess Parker family of wines, which includes both the Fess Parker and Epiphany labels, has just opened what is the only dedicated wine tasting room inside a local hotel.  The space is elegant and sleek: a lustrous metallic bar anchors an intimate space decked out with leather banquette seating and a wooden communal tasting table, with plenty of natural light.  And located just off the main lobby of the beachfront Fess Parker – A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort, it’s a natural extension of a family enterprise that also includes a wine country hotel and three tasting rooms in the Santa Ynez Valley.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to bring the Fess Parker Winery experience ‘over the hill’ to our hotel guests who aren’t able to journey to wine country during their stay,” says company CEO, and Fess’ son, Eli Parker.  The 24-acre Fess Parker is a 50-50 ownership between the Parker family and the Hilton brand, which also manages the property.

The space occupied by the new tasting room, which is enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass, formerly housed desks for concierge staff and Hertz, which are now located a bit further down the hall.   “For the longest time, people would walk by this area and not even think about tasting wine,” says the hotel’s general manager, Matthew La Vine.   “Now, they see this spot that’s so beautiful, and it’s easy to stop in and sip.”

The tasting room’s centerpiece is the state-of-the-art wine dispensing system, called Enomatic.  Italian-made and found in no other wine venue in Santa Barbara County, it allows for each of the 16 bottles it holds to be temperature-controlled and, using inert gas, completely preserved.  “It’s like you’re having a totally fresh glass of wine every time,” Mr. La Vine adds.  Guests are given pre-loaded plastic cards that are then inserted into the machine, like debit cards into an ATM.  Using portion-control technology, wine is dispensed in 1.5-, three- and six-ounce servings, and the cards are charged accordingly.  Dollar amounts vary based on the wine selected.

The sleek design of the Fess Parker's new wine bar was inspired by the slick Epiphany tasting room in Los Olivos (Sosa)

The 16-bottle Enomatic wine dispensing system is the only one of its kind at a Santa Barbara Co. tasting venue (Diaz)

The wine menu features Fess Parker and Epiphany wines, all by winemaker Blair Fox, which will be rotated over time.  Both labels – TV icon Fess Parker founded his eponymous wine brand in 1987 and son Eli launched Epiphany in 2000 – have long focused on limited-production and vineyard-specific wines.   The 16-bottle lineup this week includes the 2014 Fess Parker Dry Riesling ($2.75 to $12, depending on amount dispensed), the 2014 Fess Parker Chardonnay ($4.75-$19), the 2013 Fess Parker Pinot Noir, Pommard Clone ($6.75 to $25) and the 2013 Epiphany Grenache ($3.75-$15).  With Santa Barbara’s recent heat spurts, the Fess Parker Pinot Noir Rosé has already proven popular.  “Rosé wines are getting new appreciation,” admits Maria Docouto, an year-long employee of Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos who is now educating guests at the new seaside tasting room.  “They’re made with more complexity nowadays.”

The tasting room can arrange for shipping of wines by the bottle or by the case.  Guests can also enjoy bottles they buy at the hotel’s steakhouse, Rodney’s, with no corkage fee.  Fess Parker and Epiphany wine club members enjoy a 10% discount on tastings and purchases.

The new wine bar at The Fess Parker is open seven days a week and is also available for private parties.

The Fess Parker – A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort, 633 East Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara.  805-564-4333. For info on The Fess Parker, click here.  For info on the Fess Parker wines and properties, click here.


Sibling Spirit: Brothers Partner in Buellton Distillery

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/16/16

“Hello,” says Jeff Lockwood, as he passes a small snifter under his nose and then pulls his hand away.  He brings it back slowly, and says, “How are you?”  He repeats, in teasing fashion, and says, “Nice to meet you.”  And then he sips.

Lockwood calls the rather flirtatious method for tasting spirits, “Approach and Retreat,” and he likens it to meeting a pretty woman at a bar.  It’s a technique he learned from a Scottish distiller years ago – a way to acclimate the nose and pick up aromas.  And he’s passing this bit of wisdom on to me, as I sit with brothers Jeff and Jay Lockwood inside an airy storage space in a Buellton industrial park that they’ve transformed into an elegant tasting room.

The Lockwoods admit that the majority of tasters who come into their distillery are wine drinkers – admirers of grapes-turned-beverage who come here in search of new ways to enhance their taste buds.  But in many ways, including the way you sniff smells out of a glass, the way spirits are enjoyed is different, often requiring extra time and extra attention.  “And when you taste, you keep it a while on the tip of your tongue,” Jeff adds, as we sip on barrel samples of cognac.

The Brothers: Jay and Jeff Lockwood with their still
The Lockwood siblings opened Brothers Spirits three months ago, making it the third distillery in Santa Barbara County.  Their career backgrounds are in the construction and real estate industries: Jay, who’s three years older, built custom homes for nearly four decades, while Jeff saw success in property development.  But the younger Lockwood turned his attention to viticulture about a decade ago, when he and his wife, Joanne, founded Bella Cavalli Farms and Vineyard in nearby Solvang.  The 50-acre ranch specializes in equine training and rehabilitation, complete with show barn and half-mile track.  But the onsite vineyard fuels a boutique wine business, too, with an exclusive label sustained by a club-only approach with close to 800 members.

The approach to Brothers Spirit mirrors that of the Bella Cavalli wines: hand-crafted, small yields, high quality.

The idea of partnering in a spirits business was born in 2012, when Jeff began looking at the financials and the potential of the burgeoning craft distillery industry.  These days, “spirits sales are where beer sales were 15 years ago, and where wine sales were 20 years ago,” he tells me.

It took two years to get the proper permitting, and an entire year of daily experimentation by Jay, who exited retirement to become the project’s master distiller, to get Brothers off the ground.  “Equipment matters,” Jay says, as we stand to admire the slender but towering copper flute still that they purchased from Mile Hi Distillery in Colorado  And then there are Jacy’s recipes.

The Brothers spirits are sophisticated, consistently smooth and delicious all on their own.  The Vodka, made from albarino grown on Bella Cavalli, is distilled five times and filtered through coconut shell charcoal.  “A thousand gallons of albarino juice yields just 100 gallons of vodka,” Jay tells me.  It comes out of the still at 190 proof and then cut down with distilled water to the industry-standard 80 proof, or 40% alcohol.  An exotic nose of tropical aromas leads to a velvety, somewhat vicious mouth feel and long, clean finish.

The Brothers Distillery tasting room

The tasting room features original local art for sale
The Blanco Tegave, a tequila made with organic blue agave grown in the Mexican state of Jalisco, has a caramel nose and lovely citrus flavors, with a lengthy finish.   The White Hawk Malt Whiskey is beautifully perfumed and its mouth feel – I’m sipping on it as I write this – is wonderfully creamy.  Technically, it’s a Scotch, but Jay’s recipe uses mesquite-smoked barley, in lieu of peat, creating subtle oaky notes and a beverage that’s complex and approachable all at once.

The Limoncello is made with Bella Cavalli grenache and the zest of organic Santa Paula lemons.  Its nose is bright and alive, its flavors bursting and refreshing.

All the Brothers spirts come in stylish, sturdy glass vessels and retail for $42.  They also come with tasting notes, because they are as satisfying on their own as they are with the right match: “Smoked meats” and “creamy or salty cheeses” for the Vodka, for example, “light seafood, like tilapia” for the Tegave and “pear tart, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream” for the Limoncello.  As I sip the Whiskey some more, the Brothers suggestions make even more sense: “BBQ… nuts and cheese… or your favorite after-dinner cigar.”

The current Brothers lineup
Much of the charm in discovering these spirits stems from the relaxed setting Brothers creates.  “We are going for a real experience, a real professional and educational tasting,” Jay says, “because this is a whole new experience for a lot of people.”  Dark leather recliners, elegant rugs and barrels-turned tables create a private club feel and a space that promotes unhurried, relaxed sipping.  Guests can taste through the four spirits ($8) or order from a short list of five custom cocktails ($10), including Manhattans, Martinis and Margaritas.  Brothers is open seven days a week and until 8pm on Friday and Saturday.

Experimentation defines the Brothers vision moving forward, a clear advantage of producing super small batches of super premium product.  The label is launching a barrel program this summer.  Jay is finalizing recipes for grappa and an 80-proof “adult” lemonade.  And there’s a tempranillo-based cognac in the works, aging in oak casks right now . 

Brothers Distillery, 201 Industrial Way #D, Buellton, 805-691-9259.


Art Outreach: The Goodland Hotel's Latest Project Taps Nationally Renowned Artists

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Rony Alwin
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/17/16

The Goodland, a Kimpton hotel in Goleta, will debut its newest art collection next week.  It’ll feature six large scale pieces that represent myriad media and that were curated from celebrated artists from throughout the country.  It’s also a snapshot of a creative push by the local hotel to feature artwork inspired by Santa Barbara.

This guestroom at The Goodland became the pop-up studio for
New York City artist Michael Anderson (my pic)
“The important part of this story is not that we’re simply putting these fascinating pieces up on the walls,” says the Goodland’s Director of Programming, Lea Sindija.  “These artists became immersed in our community – they lived at our hotel, toured the area, ate at our restaurants, met locals.  What they created represents how Santa Barbara moved them.”

In fact, the artists became resident guests of The Goodland last month, checking in for more than a week.  Their rooms were turned into pop-up artists’ studios, where standard furniture like sofas and nightstands were replaced with work tables and easels, and where wall space was cleared to encourage the creative process.  Between May 12 and May 19, hotel guests and locals were given a chance to visit with artists and to inspect their works-in-progress throughout the day.  All artwork was completed by May 20 and, after framing is completed over the next few days, they’ll be installed throughout the hotel late next week.

Room 108 became a pop-up artist's studio
The nationally-renowned artists commissioned for this project were chosen because “they each have a reputation for works inspired by the surf, skate and street cultures,” Ms. Sindija says, genres that mirror well the Goodland’s own SoCal-chic, Bohemian vibe.  New York City native Michael Anderson, for example, is known for collecting street signs and posters from all over the world, shredding them, and reassembling them to produce large dynamic collages.  “I think this may be the only piece of art that features both Godzilla and Chewbacca together,” he said of his composition during a poolside DJ party held at the Goodland to celebrate the artists on May 19.  Entitled “Chewbacca’s Vacation,” it’s already hanging at the hotel’s popular Good Bar, says Ms. Sindija, “since it’s the one piece that didn’t need to be framed.”

Mr. Anderson’s temporary neighbors at The Goodland included Joseph Ari Aloi, aka JK5, whose well-known tattoo and graffiti art has been tapped by such companies as Nike; Pixote, a Brazilian native and long-time resident of New York City, who’s gained fame with his skateboarding and graffiti scenes; San Francisco-based Aaron de la Cruz, who specializes in stylized and technical abstract art; and Erin D. Garcia, from Los Angeles, who’s best known for oversize colorful installations of floating and overlapping shapes.

Michael Anderson's and his "Chewbacca's Vacation"
JK5 putting on the finishing touches
Aaron de la Cruz at work
The Goodland also procured a sixth piece of artwork from Jessika Cardinahl, a German-born artist known for her large-scale animal depictions who now lives in Santa Barbara; the large scale tapestry is made from hemp and silk.

The new acquisitions are the latest addition to The Goodland’s artsy ambiance, which already includes vibrant outdoor murals, a rotating art gallery near the front desk and a new record shop in the lobby.

The Goodland, 5650 Calle Real, Goleta.  805-964-6241.


From Barren to Beautiful: Kimsey Quality is Product of Special Vineyard

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/2/16

The Kimsey label is putting out some of the most intriguing and delicious wines out of Santa Barbara right now, and that’s not by coincidence.

“What drew me to this industry was the challenge of producing truly quality wine,” vintner Bill Kimsey tells me.  “It’s extraordinarily challenging, since there are so many good wines out there.  But we set out to do everything right to produce a quality product.”

Bill and Nancy Kimsey (and me) at the April release
event for the 2013 Kimsey Wines in Santa Barbara
Kimsey and his wife, Nancy, had long entertained the vintner idea.  When the L.A. couple was living in London in the early 2000s – he was global CEO for Ernst & Young as part of a 32-year career with the accounting firm – they almost bought a vineyard estate in Italy.  When retirement brought them back to Southern California in 2003, they considered buying vineyard property in Australia.  “But all these projects felt too far away, and that would have taken the fun out of it,” he says.

The Kimseys turned to property development when they moved to Santa Barbara a little over a decade ago, and they’re responsible for some of the prettiest buildings that line Summerland’s Lillie Avenue today.  But it was a barren lot in Ballard Canyon – “45 acres that were basically weeds,” Kimsey recalls – that struck a special chord.  They won it at auction, and the gamble that followed has really paid off.

Kimsey Estate was step one in that pledge to quality.  The sweeping vineyard, located in a private gated community and flanked by a barn and a lake, is planted to 22 acres of Rhone wine grapes – syrah, mainly, along with grenache, roussanne and viognier.  All the grapes from the property’s first vintage, 2011, were sold to outside producers.  The Kimsey label released its own proprietary wines in 2012, and the 2013s – a White blend, a Grenache and a Syrah, all priced $60 – hit the marketplace just a few weeks ago.

Matt Dees pouring me some more of the '13 Kimsey Syrah
The second critical element in this project has been the Kimsey team, including young winemaking whiz Matt Dees.  Dees, with previous stints in Napa and New Zealand, came on board in 2012, drawn by the Kimseys’ vision, he says, and by their vineyard’s promise.  “I wanted to find a property with potential that was through the roof,” he says, “and this little property is so unique.”

He continues: “Kimsey juts out where Ballard Canyon is just beginning and it acts, in an abstract way, almost as the far eastern side of Sta. Rita Hills.  You get the warmth you need, but it’s also a cool place at certain times, when the ocean winds come in.  It’s where both worlds meet – so distinctive.”

Dees’ partner is vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano, well known in Santa Barbara viticulture circles, who has “an eloquent touch in the vineyard,” according to Dees.  The friends’ symbiotic approach, which has evolved over myriad local projects in the last 12 years, may best be seen in Block 7, where seven different clones of syrah grow side by side and, during harvest, are picked simultaneously. 

“This block offers something beyond consistent purity,” says Dees, 37.  “It’s a mélange of flavors, acidity, texture, tannin – a mix of all the components that make syrah special.  When we pick, one clone may be very ripe and black and dense, whereas another clone may be more herbal, more pure meat, more spice-driven.  When you pick all those together, you get incredible complexity.”

What’s more, “Ruben and I don’t pick on numbers, but on a feel,” continues Dees.  “It’s a lot of blind luck and intuition, based on understanding the vineyard and on having faith in the wine we make.”

Kimsey Vineyard is in the Ballard Canyon AVA and planted to 22-1/2 acres of Rhone grapes
Kimsey Vineyard is on a 45-acre estate that also features a barn and a lake
At the April release of the 2013 Kimsey wines, Dees was joined by fellow Santa Barbara Co. winemakers
Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz, left, and Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton
Faith comes a bit easier, of course, when wines taste this good.  When I joined Dees and the Kimseys at the recent launch event for the 2013 wines, I was impressed by their complexity and concentration.  The Kimsey White, a roussanne-viognier blend, is creamy and vibrant at once, with lovely citrus and white stone fruit flavors.  The Kimsey Grenache is layered and juicy, with tastes of dried fruits and a plush mouth feel. 

The Kimsey syrah is dense and delicious.  Dees’ descriptors, as he pours: “Dark, brooding, velvet, which then moves to meatiness and black pepper, making this wines both charming and fascinating.”  One of the best Santa Barbara syrahs I’ve had.

Kimsey produces only about 400 cases a year, most of which -- about 250 cases -- is syrah.  The vineyard has an annual output potential of close to 3000 cases, so the majority of the fruit is still being bought up by other boutique projects throughout Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.  “As we continue to build our brand on quality, our idea is to gradually reduce grape sales and increase tonnage for our own estate wines,” says Mr. Kimsey.

And innovation in the vineyard continues: Dees and Solorzano are grafting some of the viognier over to grenache blanc, a grape that the duo believes has a bright future in Ballard Canyon.  “This area carries acid really well,” Dees says, “and that’ll make for grenache blanc wines that stay freakingly fresh.”

For more on Kimsey, click here.