SAMsARA Sold: Boutique Label Brings on Popular Santa Barbara Winemaker

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/31/17

In 2002, the very first wine column I ever wrote – a regular guy’s foray into the world of wine in Santa Barbara – was about a brand new pet project called SAMsARA. Ever since, this small, hands-on label founded by Chad and Mary Melville has stayed the course, producing complex wines with a focus on fruit source and quality, and it has gained steady critical acclaim. Last week, SAMsARA entered a new chapter, as it was sold for an undisclosed sum to long-time club members, Joan and Dave Szkutak.
 
SAMsARA is a Sanskrit word that, on its website, the founders define as, “The eternal circle of life… one of passion, oneness and harmony.”
 
SAMsARA winemaker Matt Brady (credit: Andrew Schoneberger)
The brand “was born before our children were even born, so I couldn’t imagine SAMsARA living on under someone else’s ownership,” said Chad Melville in the press release that announced the sale. “But when Joan and Dave expressed an interest in getting into the wine business, the idea of a sale began to take shape. They’re big fans of Santa Barbara County wines and have been dedicated SAMsARA customers for years”
 
New ownership, though, also brings something familiar to SAMsARA: winemaker Matt Brady. The 34-year-old has garnered his own following ever since he landed his first wine industry gig at Jaffurs Wine Cellars in 2005, when he was still at UCSB. He was promoted to co-winemaker in 2012 and to head winemaker in 2015. Brady left Jaffurs this past March.
 
“There was this organic, really good feeling about the whole thing,” says Brady about the few months that followed, when he explored opportunities with Chad Melville and heard that the Szkutaks, whom he knew well as long-time customers at Jaffurs, were eyeing a buy. “Everyone involved felt early on that we were moving in the right direction.”
 
I asked Brady this week about the viability of boutique Santa Barbara labels like SAMsARA, several of which have also changed hands in recent years: Brewer-Clifton was bought up by Kendall-Jackson in May; and Jaffurs, itself, was sold by founder Craig Jaffurs to winemaker Dan Green last year.
 
“Does it all boil down to affording all the necessary resources?” I ask.
 
“Yes, but the most important resource in Chad’s case was time, especially with his increased role at Melville,” says Brady. In fact, Chad Melville became full-time winemaker at celebrated Melville Winery, which was founded by his dad Ron in 1989, when longtime winemaker Greg Brewer left two years ago. “It can be hard to give everything the time it needs, and we all saw this sale as an opportunity to give more focus to the SAMsARA brand.”
 
SAMsARA produces pinot noir from multiple lauded estates, like Cargassachi and Rancho la Vina, as well as vineyard-specific grenache and syrah wines from properties like Larner and Melville. Prices range from $24 to $60 per bottle. As for the SAMsARA style, Brady says it’ll remain intact: “Savory, meaty, spicy stuff from cool-climate sites that exhibit real elegance. Lots of whole clusters, minimal handling in the cellar and a long time in barrel. Powerful wines with lots of body, texture and aromatics.”
 
One thing is new:  “We’re starting a chardonnay program this year,” says Brady, who harvested chard from John Sebastiano Vineyard and Zotovich Vineyards, both in Sta. Rita Hills, just this week. “I’m really excited because my goal is to make chardonnay in the style I want to drink: all neutral oak, acid-driven but big on texture and body.”
 
SAMsARA has a tasting room in Los Olivos, at 2446 Alamo Pintado Avenue, which is open Thursday through Monday. Find out more at samsarawine.com.
 
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