Anniversary Bottle: Santa Barbara's Chuck’s Steakhouse Celebrates 50 with Local Syrah

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 2/16/17


You could say that the syrah Brad Schuette is pouring these days was 50 years in the making.

“I’m telling our staff and guests that it pairs perfectly with our Teriyaki Ribeye,” says the general manager and head bartender at Chuck’s of Hawaii Steakhouse in Santa Barbara.  The 11-ounce piece of prime beef, marinated in tangy-sweet house made teriyaki sauce and charbroiled to order, is one of Chuck’s hottest dinner items.  “The wine has all the varietal character it needs to stand up to the steak.”

The wine is a 2014 syrah by renowned vintner Fred Brander and Brander Vineyards winemaker Fabian Bravo.  The fruit for this all-syrah bottling came from the legendary Zaca Mesa vineyard in Foxen Canyon, and the wine spent 14 months in American oak barrels.  It is a delicious syrah – a nice balance of fruit and earth that makes it especially well-suited to pretty much any protein on the Chuck’s menu, whether it’s the eight-ounce filet mignon, the 12-oz. prime top sirloin or the 18-oz. center cut T-Bone.  Ripe berries and black cherries upfront and mid-palate give way to smoky vanilla flavors and elegant tannins.

The wine’s merits aside, what makes it special for Schuette and his team is what it celebrates.  This is the official bottle marking Chuck’s 50th anniversary, a remarkable milestone in a foodie-friendly town where few eateries survive the test of time.  A lot of that has to do with the Chuck’s philosophy, which rings as true today as when Larry Stone opened its doors on Upper State Street back in 1967: quality steaks in a casual setting.  The people who’ve clocked in here over the decades have much to do with Chuck’s success, too. 

Schuette has worked at Chuck’s for a whopping 37 years.  A legend of Santa Barbara’s culinary scene, you could say.  And someone who keeps his clientele foremost in mind when putting together Chuck’s wine list.

“I’ve got people who come in here and want a glass of red whatever, and then there are others who want something specific and high end,” says Schuette.  “I want to be able to take care of both.”

At Chuck's 50th Anniversary party w/Larry Stone & Steve Hyslop

Schuette recalls that Chuck’s started to get serious about wine in the mid-1980’s, an effort driven by Stone’s business partner, Steve Hyslop.  Investment in equipment, like temperature-controlled units and nitrogen preserver-dispensers, allowed the wine-by-the-glass to flourish.  Santa Barbara’s wine industry has blossomed simultaneously in the 20-or-so years since, giving Schuette plenty more to choose from.  “I always prefer to do local stuff,” he says, “although I have a little bit of everything.

Many of Scheutte’s choices are personal, driven by his friendships with winemakers and wine reps who come to Chuck’s for dinner often.  The Jalama Canyon Ranch pinot, for example, is the pet project of vintner Wayne Siemens, a regular.  The only California tempranillo on the list is by Rick Longoria, who supped here just last week.  And the Cloud’s Rest Femme Fatale pinot out of Sonoma is a venture by Schuette’s brother, Scott.  Local labels like Fess Parker, Summerland, Au Bon Climat, Qupe and Margerum are complemented by Northern California whites and reds by labels like Stags Leap, Caymus, Rombauer, Duckhorn and Opus One.

Brander, a local pioneer who just celebrated his own 40th anniversary making wine in Los Olivos, makes several appearances on the Chuck’s wine list.  The sauvignon blanc and the reserve cabernet are top sellers.  But it’s Brander's latest syrah that’ll likely get the most play this milestone year.  “We’ll be coming up with a variety of specials to promote the wine throughout the year,” Scuhette tells me.

Currently, the 50th Anniversary Chuck’s Syrah sells by the glass for $9.50 and by the bottle – along with two limited edition golden anniversary logo glasses – for $50.

Chuck’s of Hawaii Steakhouse, 3888 State Street, Santa Barbara.  805-687-4417. www.chucksofhawaii.com.

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