by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/3/16
Doug Margerum is marking his winery’s past 15 years by looking to the future.
“I’m hoping that our M5 White will become as accepted and germane to the Santa Barbara County wine scene as the red,” he told me this week. Indeed, the Margerum Wine Company “M5” – a red blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, counoise and cinsault – has become the label’s flagship wine and, easily, one of Santa Barbara’s best-selling blends.
The white version is brand new: a blend of grenache blanc, rousanne, viognier, marsanne and vermentino that premiered with the 2015 vintage. It marks Margerum’s takeover of the prized Honea Vineyard near Solvang, where he’s replaced Italian grape varieties with classic white wine grapes from the Rhone region of France. The 2016 M5 White ($27) will hit store shelves next summer.
Rhone wines have been a calling card for Margerum Wine Company (MWC) ever since its launch in 2001: along with the M5, Margerum produces the popular UBER – a yearly co-fermentation of his top syrah vineyard sources – as well as several vineyard-specific and reserve syrahs. He’s always had his eye on sauvignon blanc, too. “We set out to make a Loire-style sauv blanc with low alcohol and bright fruit and acid – a sauvignon blanc for restaurants and savvy consumers,” he says. “And that’s still one of the main things we do.”
Other pet projects – from the recent launch of his Barden label to focus on pinot noir and chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills to numerous private label ventures to a boutique lineup of spirits – are added feathers to the Margerum cap.
From his staying the course, and from his steadfast focus on limited-production and handcrafted wines, have come Margerum’s 15 years’ worth of accolades. Awards, high scores and honors galore. Like having his Syabrite Sauvginon Blanc poured during a White House State Dinner this summer for Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong. “Serendipity,” says the winemaker. “The sommelier for the White House bought a bottle, took it home, loved it, then brought it to Michelle Obama, who apparently loved sauvignon blanc.” A case of Syabrite also followed the Obamas on their recent vacation to Martha’s Vineyard. And the wine was poured during last week’s Julia Child Award gala in Washington DC, where celeb chef Jose Andres was overheard numerous times raving about it.
The attention Margerum appreciates the most, though – more even than critics that dole out points – is that of industry people on the front lines, like wine stewards and retailers. “It’s been great to see those who sell wine, and serve it and drink it actually embrace what we make for what they are: quality table wines meant for food,” he says.
|Wine Cask owners Margerum and Mitchell Sjerven|
Understating the critical amalgam between wine and food is one thing Margerum did bring to his winemaking project 15 years ago. The UCSB grad had run his family’s Wine Cask restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara since 1981. Soon after, he’d launched the Wine Cask Futures Program to help bring international attention to Santa Barbara wines. And by 1994, he’d made the Wine Cask one of a handful of restaurants around the world to win Wine Spectator’s coveted Grand Award. Today, he runs the Wine Cask with celebrated restaurateur Mitchell Sjerven and it remains one of the highest-rated eateries on the Central Coast.
Reminiscing on his first 15 years, Margerum recalls fondly the generosity his colleagues have shown him. He considers winemakers Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist his mentors, for example. And both winemaker Fred Bander and the Firestone family shared winery space with Margerum during his label’s first decade. For the last five years, Margerum has called a 12,000-square-foot temperature-controlled facility in Buellton home.
Fifteen years in, Margerum enjoys a special vantage point. Santa Barbara’s young wine scene is in the midst of a very gradual turnover, as pioneers who launched the industry in the 1970s and 80s are now working side by side with the 20- and 30-somethings who’ll carry it forward. Partnership and comradery, says Margerum, is pervasive. “Everyone here seems to actually like each other – they communicate with each other and taste with each other and share ideas with each other,” he says. “It’s unique compared to other areas. And it continues a Santa Barbara tradition: quality wine made by smaller producers who in turn train and put out into the world other small producers.”
And in these first 15 years, being witness to that, Margerum adds, “is what I’m most happy about.”
Margerum Wine Company is celebrating its 15th anniversary with the public this Sunday, November 6th, from 2 to 5pm, at the Wine Cask. Tickets ($30, $20 for wine club members) are nearly sold out. Get yours through the MWC website.