Santa Barbara Vintners Give Back: Biennial Auction Spotlights Direct Relief

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 2/1/18

Direct Relief often flies under the radar. Its nonprofit, nongovernmental and nonsectarian outreach efforts – delivering critical medical supplies to areas around the world stricken by emergencies or poverty – aren’t always front page news. But their impact is indisputable: last year, Forbes ranked Direct Relief among the top 10 charities in the U.S.
The Goleta-based group’s local efforts recently become evident, too, as it jumped into action without hesitation during the Thomas Fire and the deadly floods and mudflows that followed. It mobilized staff on the ground to aid first responders. And it distributed 90,000 breathing masks and spearheaded medical response for hundreds of displaced residents in conjunction with the Santa Barbara County Public Health and Emergency Services Departments.
Bidding at the 2016 Santa Barbara Wine Auction (credit: Isaac Art)
The good work of Direct Relief is something that the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation has lauded for a long time. It’s why the charitable umbrella of Santa Barbara Vintners, which represents more than 100 local wineries and vineyards, puts on one of the area’s most lavish wine events in Direct Relief’s honor.
Since 2000, the Santa Barbara Wine Auction has raised more than $4.5 million. With Direct Relief’s legendary knack for leveraging its relationships within the medical and transportation industries – every dollar donated translates to $30 in medicines and services distributed worldwide – that’s philanthropy to the tune of $135-plus million! “Do the math!” vintner Frank Ostini told me once; he’s helped produce the auction since its inception. “It just makes us feel good.”
The next Santa Barbara Wine Auction takes place Saturday, February 17th at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort. The elegant evening will be emceed by celeb TV host Chris Harrison (of The Bachelor franchise fame) and feature live entertainment by the Bryan Titus Trio. Pioneer Santa Barbara winemaker Fred Brander will be given the Vintner of the Year award.
Santa Barbara vintner Andrew Firestone, me & The Bachelor host Chris Harrison at the 2014 Santa Barbara Wine Auction
Each dinner table will be hosted by two local winemakers who will pour hand-selected wines throughout the gourmet four-course meal. Bacara’s new executive chef, Umit Kaygusuz, will host Guest Chef John Cox, who’s quickly created culinary buzz as executive chef at the Parker family’s new Bear and Star restaurant in Los Olivos. The auction menu will reflect Mr. Cox’s knack for refined ranch cuisine driven by a micro-regional focus.
Mingling at the 2016 Santa Barbara Wine Auction (credit: Isaac Art)
The 2018 Santa Barbara Wine Auction will feature both silent and live auctions, with an emphasis on exclusive lifestyle and culinary lots. Among them: “Blend Your Own Barrel,” a custom blend-and bottle experience for four hosted by Brander And Beckmen vineyards and including two nights at ForFriends Inn in Santa Ynez and dinner at Buellton’s Hitching Post II Restaurant; a one-week stay for six in a three-bedroom villa at the Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo Resort in Costa Rica; a Private Luxury Suite for 12 at crooner Sam Smith’s August 28th concert at L.A.’s Staples Center, complete with food and beverage; two nights for two couples at Ritz-Carlton Bacara’s Penthouse Suite, along with two couples’ massages and dinner at Angel Oak restaurant; and “Wild Wild West,” a luxury cowboy campout for 12 at Alisal Guest Ranch in Solvang, with horseback rides and BBQ dinner and wine pairing.
The Santa Barbara Vintners’ Diamond Anniversary Collection lot, a secret wine lover’s once-in-a-lifetime offering comprised of donations from the entire Santa Barbara Vintners membership, will be revealed live at the event.
For information on table sponsorships, contact event manager Jen Jones via email at and check out
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A Different Kind of Buzz: Santa Barbara Wine Tasting Room Becomes Pop-Up Location for Displaced Montecito Barber Shop

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published by the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/22/18

When the mud that devoured Montecito oozed onto Coast Village Road, business at Richie the Barber, like at dozens of its neighbors, vanished.
Jamie Slone and Richie the Barber
“We didn’t know what we were going to do, we didn’t have a game plan,” says the man who goes simply by Richie, who launched what’s become one of Santa Barbara’s most popular barber shops in 2010. With no time frame, still, as to when storefronts along the popular thoroughfare will be able to reopen, “we thought we’d just have to wait it out,” he says.
Meantime, up the road in Santa Barbara, Jamie Slone’s business was hurting badly, too, and for a while. “During the fires, smoke suffocated the local area, nobody wanted to go out, nobody wanted to come up [from L.A.],” says Mr. Slone, who launched Jamie Slone Wines in 2014 and who runs one of the handful of upscale tasting rooms in the El Presidio neighborhood.
“We got a little breather over New Year’s, a teaser,” he continues. “But then this awful mudslide disaster hit, and it’s been ‘game over’ ever since.”
There’s little that connected these local businesses just a few weeks ago. Richie the Barber and Jamie, the vintner, didn’t know each other. But then natural disaster struck them both. And it would  take the ingenious inkling of a mutual friend – “Brandon Arlington from CDB Group – love him!” says Mr. Slone – to bring them together and create opportunity for both.
For the past week, Richie’s has been running a pop-up barber shop inside Mr. Slone’s tasting room. With chairs borrowed from a nearby business, the six barbers who work regularly at Richie’s have been back at work, welcoming clients and trimming hair. “Many of our regulars are displaced, and a lot of people aren’t aware yet that we’re here,” says Richie the Barber, so business is not what it used to be. The team – Richie, Alexis, Erin, Stephanie, Jessica and Martine, all Santa Barbara residents – have been doing about 25 to 30 haircuts a day, almost half the 45 to 50 they usually do. Under the circumstances, though, it’s a boon nonetheless.
“The way everything’s worked out, it’s perfect,” says the barber.
Mr. Slone calls it a simple case of “people helping people,” something that seems extra special in Santa Barbara, “where the degrees of separation between people are so small,” he says.
Jamie Slone Wines has given up its Private Reserve Room for the Richie’s team -- an elegant, glass-enclosed space behind the bar where Mr. Slone offers by-appointment tastings and a variety of wine education classes and experiences. But the temporary barber shop has generated unexpected benefits for the winery, too, as many who’ve come in for a trim stick around for a sip.
“People have been very gracious,” says Mr. Slone. “They come early and taste, or they’ll buy wines to take home. They discover what we do!” Jamie Slone Wines produces about 1000 cases of locally sourced wines like sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, as well as several blends; they’re made by celebrated winemaker, Steve Clifton.

Jamie Slone, center, and members of the Richie the Barber team

“Overall, though, this is about doing something that feels good for our community,” says Mr. Slone, who’s had other Montecito businesses approach him about creating similar opportunities. “There’s a need for more of this kind of thing right now.”
And on a personal level, Mr. Slone’s found someone new to do his hair. “Turns out, I’ve been missing out on the Richie’s experience!” he says, with a laugh. “I’m definitely a fan moving forward.”
Richie’s Barber Shop inside Jamie Slone Wines is currently open seven days a week from 10am to 6pm.
Richie’s Barber Shop at Jamie Slone Wines, 23 De La Guerra Street, Santa Barbara. For haircut appointments: 805-845-9701 or 805-304-6697. For the tasting room: 805-560-6555.
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New Wines Raise Funds for Montecito Mudslide Relief

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 1/18/18

Bottlest Winery, Bar & Bistro in Buellton has created two limited edition wines aimed directly at fundraising for fire and mudslide victims. The “Rise” wines – a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon – sell for $20, with $15 from each sale earmarked for Direct Relief. The well-known Goleta-based aid group with remarkable international reach has had staff on the ground since early December, mobilizing support, providing free vaccines and working alongside the Red Cross and Santa Barbara County’s Public Health and Emergency Services Departments.
“We consider all of Santa Barbara County our local community,” says Bart Jones, general manager at Botllest. “We just felt an obligation to do anything we could to help out. And what better way to do that than by doing what we specialize in?”
The Bottlest team describes the 2014 chardonnay as medium-bodied, fruity and off-dry, with moderate oak; the 2014 cab is full-bodied, earthy and spicy, with “dark chocolate notes.” Both wines feature a rising Phoenix on their labels to signify Santa Barbara’s inevitable rise from these tragedies. They can be purchased in person (35 Industrial Way in Buellton) or online. The wines went on sale on Sunday, January 14.
In October, Bottlest produced a limited run of “California Strong” wines to benefit recovery efforts after the wildfires in Napa and Sonoma. As part of Terravant Wine Company, the largest winemaking facility in Santa Barbara County, Bottlest allows consumers to custom craft their own wine and design their own label; the onsite restaurant provides some of the very best dining in the Santa Ynez Valley.