New Year, More Wine: 2019 Resolutions for Budding Oenophiles

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/20/18

The most yelled-out-loud countdown to midnight of the year is a chance to reset, to refresh and to redo. For wine lovers, a new year is a chance to revisit their relationship with their favorite beverage and to discover even the littlest ways to enhance it. Here are five resolutions to consider, submitted humbly by a fellow budding oenophile.

Fine Dining w/a View: Ferraro's at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
Travel for Wine: Need a reason to travel to Hawaii? The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, one of only four AAA 5-Diamond resorts in all of Hawaii, is hosting its first Wine & Food Classic, March 1-3, 2019. Put on in conjunction with sommelier Christian Navarro of Beverly Hill’s Wally’s Wine & Spirits, the lavish, immersive seaside event will feature master classes, dinners, grand tastings and mingling sessions with world class wine experts and chefs. Set on one of the most remarkable properties in the world, this fancy feast will hone your palate while creating lifetime travel memories. A perfect example of how satisfying your wanderlust can be a wonderful way to introduce your palate to new, exciting, exemplary wines. Sonoma for a long weekend, anyone? Or Porto for a long week? In 2019, let your taste buds do your travel planning.

Drink Less: This one’s just for those of you who are letting loose this holiday season, the ones who will be counting steps, joining a gym and juicing come January 1st. Cutting back on your wine consumption will – yes, hurt – but effectively be the easiest way to trim daily caloric intake. By drinking one five-ounce glass of syrah a night instead of two, you’ll trim 125 calories. Invest a bit more on a better red, instead, in 2019. Baby steps? Switch to white – 120 calories a glass.

Drink More: When I say more, I mean more variety. My wife went through a massive pinot noir kick this year. When I was ready for a break, I began secretly opening blends or grenaches or cabernet francs to see if she’d tell the difference. Even when she did, she really liked what would have otherwise remained an unopened wine. Our communal wining opened up pretty nicely since. In 2019, buy wines you’ve never considered buying before!

Two of my favorite wine finds of 2018

Sip With Eyes Closed: In 2019, start tasting wine blind. That means taste the stuff in your glass, but without knowing what’s in it. You’ll know pretty quickly if that wine speaks to you – if it’s a wine you’ll want to buy again – or if this merely is a passing slurp. I used to host monthly wine tastings with friends – we’d pick a theme, wrap wines in aluminum foil, pour them at random and discuss which ones we liked and which ones we didn’t. I met the woman who’d become my wife through one of these, so the possibilities really are endless.

Cheat on Your Partner: Drinking partner, that is, who could be your spouse or roommate or friend. After a while, there’s a coiffing comfort zone, and you’re sharing nightly sips of the same rotating regulars. What if, in 2019, we mix things up a bit? Share a glass with your neighbor, that other parent from school, your parent. By changing up the people we sip with, we expand our imbibing portfolio, we’re introduced to wines and styles and labels we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered and, if nothing else, we make new friends.

Happy New Year!

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A Palette for Wine: Santa Barbara Artist Paints with What She Sips

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/9/18

The complete wine experience is always visual. Wine buffs know that examining a wine’s hue, just like sniffing its scents, can enhance its enjoyment. It’s a fleeting glance, though, since the important part –the quaffing – is what matters most.

But it’s different for Christina LoCascio, a UCSB arts major who lives on her family’s vineyard along Ballard Canyon. For her, the potential of wine lies squarely in its colors, and in all the lovely things they inspire her to paint.

Ms. LoCascio has been painting with wine – wine straight out of the bottle – since 2002, just after she graduated. She got a job at Artiste, Sunstone Winery’s art-inspired sister venture, where she worked for eight years, organizing painting parties; she’d go on to paint nine of their wine labels. And wine is certainly all around her today; Ms. LoCascio’s husband, Michael Larner, is a wine grower and winemaker behind the family’s Larner Vineyard.
 “Michael is the one who’s taught me about wine and color,” says the artist. “Wine is the darkest color it will ever be right after fermentation, when no oxygen’s hit it yet. Oxygen and light affect color over time,” which means the images she paints with wine will inevitably evolve, even if subtly, over time.
The spectrum of mostly Santa Barbara-grown wine grape varietals is the rainbow of colors at Ms. LoCascio’s disposal. “I have six wines in my tray right now,” she says during an interview with the News-Press last week. She’s in her home studio, where the tiny pools of wine have been sitting for a few days, allowing water to evaporate and color to distillate.

Two of her colors are wines by her husband – a Larner syrah and a Larner grenache. There’s a pinot noir from Wild Horse, a cabernet franc from Lucas & Lewellen and a petit sirah from Andrew Murray’s E11even label. “The zinfandel was a gift,” she adds, “we just didn’t finish it.” 
Depth of color is defined by the grapes themselves: grenache, pinot and mourvedre are usually lighter, while petit sirah and cabernet sauvignon “can be really dark,” Ms. LoCascio says. Then again, “there’s always variation from bottle to bottle.”

White wines help lighten things up – as the artist puts it, “they can lift the color if something is too dark.”

Ms. LoCascio will often use watercolor pencils to help define lines, and she’s been turning to pastel colors lately to “add more impact.” But wine remains her primary medium, and she’ll often start by “spilling it right on the paper,” she says. The initial splash “creates darker colors than using a brush to apply. It dries, it’s nice and dark, and I can build a painting around it.”

Bright white and heavyweight watercolor paper stock is Ms. LoCascio’s surface of choice because “it showcases color best” and because it absorbs wine better than canvas or cloth.  Her paintings, which are framed in UV-resistant glass, range in size from 11-by-14 inches to 22-by-30. And her subject matter is a cavalcade of the world around her, from vineyard scenes outside her window and what she calls “surrealist grapevines” to depictions of architecture and street scenes spotted during her family’s European travels. She paints celestial images “inspired by the harvest moons” and human figures in a variety of poses. Her pieces suggest a soft, subtle feel, they can border on the abstract, and they all feature variations on the ruby, crimson hues that only wine grapes can conjure.

Check out a large selection of Ms. LoCascio’s work on her Instagram account, @wineartistry.

More than 20 of her recent pieces are also on display at the Artiste tasting room in Los Olivos during a show that launched this past weekend and will remain in place through January 30th. Originals are on sale, ranging from $400 to $1200, and prints are available for $100 to $300 apiece. When the show wraps up, the remaining pieces will go up at the Los Olivos General Store, which Ms. LoCascio and her husband own.

The woman who paints with wine, it turns out, does not sip on wine while she’s working. “It’s mainly coffee when I’m trying to get work done,” she says. “But I’ll be honest – I do reward myself with a glass or two of wine toward the end!”

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Holiday Cooking Help: Chef at Santa Barbara's The Lark to Offer First Culinary Class

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Macduff Everton
story published in the Santa Barbara News Press on 12/9/18

Chef Jason Paluska thinks a few expert tips can make holiday meal making a lot less intimidating.

The culinary whiz behind the huge success of Santa Barbara’s popular restaurant, The Lark, is leading his very first cooking class. The intimate, 90-minute gathering of budding cooks will take place Wednesday, December 19th at The Lark’s sister spot next door, the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. Tickets are $100.

The Lark's signature Brussels Sprouts w/Medjool Dates are on the cooking class menu on Dec. 19
“I’m going to try hard to make sure they don’t feel any distance between us,” says Chef Paluska of his pupils-to-be. Recalling his own start in the restaurant business, when pro chefs intimidated him, Mr. Paluska admits that “there’s a weird hierarchy between people who dine and people in the kitchen. When someone finally just shows you how it’s done, you’re more confident and comfortable.”

So the goal of his class is to make holiday cooking “more simple and more approachable.”

Much of the class’ appeal, though, is the chef’s own celebrity, thanks to the following The Lark has reaped in its five short years as a culinary cornerstone in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. Mr. Paluska transitioned from a thriving career in the San Francisco food scene -- Town Hall, Salt House and RN74 are on the Texas native’s résumé – to help design and launch The Lark in August of 2013. The story of the restaurant’s success ever since, as well as the story behind its deliberate homage to Santa Barbara in the food it sources and purveyors it partners with, is chronicled in a 400-page cookbook published by the Lark late last year. In fact, Around The Table: Recipes and Stories from The Lark in Santa Barbara,” inspires all of the culinary components on the menu during Chef Paluska’s upcoming class.

“The book represents the Santa Barbara region and who I am and what I do every day in the kitchen really well,” says the chef.

Students will learn Lark classics like Crispy Brussels Sprouts, prepared with Medjool dates, garum, serrano chile, sesame and lime and Butternut Squash ad Candied Apples, made with fromage blanc, beets, black walnuts and pomegranate.  The lesson on Grilled Spanish Octopus will aim to “demystify the myth that it’s going to suck,” says Chef Paluska, “because everyone’s had crappy octopus.”  Mr. Paluska preps his with a vadouvan curry glaze, roasted pistachios, creamy cauliflower, missions figs and cilantro, then cooks it for 10 hours over a super low heat of 180 degrees.

The class, which will feature several hands-on demos, including a lesson on octopus butchery, includes food, wine-paired tastings and a copy of the cookbook signed by the chef.

Tickets can be purchased through or by calling The Lark to reserve at 805.284.0370.

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'Tis the Season in Santa Barbara: Three Christmas Wine Happenings Not to Miss

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 12/6/18

I’m like you – considering how fleeting they are, I want to maximize my experience of the holidays! The Santa Barbara wine industry is here to help, hosting a bevy of events sure to get you in the Christmas mood. Here are three holiday get-togethers for you and the ones you love. 

·         5th Annual Pop Clink Fizz, Saturday, Dec. 8th, 7-10pm
o   The effervescence of the holiday season may well begin here, where bubbles will rule the night. Wine + Beer, the impressive imbibers’ shop at the Santa Barbara Public Market, will feature nine high-end Champagnes, from favorites you know and love to rare, tough-to-find bottles.  This is the perfect way to taste through hand-selected bubblies before you pick the perfect ones for your holiday partying. The popular food outlets at the Market will offer gourmet pairings at this intimate event – space is limited. $95 includes tax and tip, and parking is free. For tickets, call 805-770-7701. Wine + Beer, 38 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara.
·         7th Annual Grassini Gives Back Wien Charity Event, Sunday, Dec. 9th, 12-6pm
o   Grassini Family Vineyards both donates and matches 100% of all revenues generated at this downtown Santa Barbara event, with funds earmarked this year for the Storyteller Children’s Center. Admission is free, but the $20 you splurge on the special wine tasting flight becomes $40 for Storyteller, the nonprofit that helps homeless and at-risk children achieve kindergarten readiness. All proceeds from the silent auction, raffle ticket sales and donations go straight to Storyteller, too. The all-afternoon affair takes place at Grassini’s El Paseo location. This event has raised $142,000 since it premiered in 2012. Grassini Family Vineyards, 24 El Paseo, Santa Barbara.
·         Solvang Julefest Wine & Beer Walk “Skål Stroll,” Dec. 15th-16th, 11am-4pm
o   Strolling Solvang, with its festive décor and pervasive charm, is a holiday no-brainer, especially when you get to sip along the way. Follow the map to 18 tasting rooms and breweries – Lucas & Lewellen, Sanger Family of Wines and Lucky Dogg Winery, among them. Seven of these locales are also participating in the second annual Gløgg Contest, pouring their own version of the popular Scandinavian mulled wine that’s often flavored with spices like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Shop for holiday gifts along the way and, on Saturday, stick around for the two free performances of the Live Nativity Pageant at 5pm and 7pm. Tickets usually sell out, so buy them in advance at $45.
Merry Christmas!

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Brunch at The Ranch: Famous Montecito Property to Open for Holidays

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/27/18

“It’s been a long year,” admits Maxine Rutledge, resort manager at the San Ysidro Ranch. The doors at the famous resort hideaway have been shuttered ever since January 9th, when a deadly post-storm debris flow devoured large portions of Montecito. Damage at the 500-acre Ranch was relegated to creekside cottages, mainly, steering clear of the most of the property’s 41 rooms and suites and the two-story building that houses its Stonehouse and Plow & Angel restaurants.

But the community has been anxiously awaiting its reopening ever since.

The Christmas season will offer the public’s first opportunity to return to the San Ysidro Ranch, as the resort brings back its popular Champagne Brunch for a very limited run. The themed gourmet events were announced via social media this week, on the Ranch’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, and are scheduled for four days only: December 22, 23, 29 and 30, from 10:30am to 2pm. Reservations are a must, as “there is still some construction going on and we need to control the number of people who are coming and going,” says Ms. Rutledge, who was named resort manager just a few weeks before the mudflow. “But this way, we can open up so that the locals get a chance to see it first."

The holiday Champagne Brunches will offer a combination of both traditional and new dishes; the menu should be finalized this week by Chef Matt Johnson, who’s helmed the Ranch kitchen for 10 years. The three-course brunch costs $125 per person and comes with free-flowing bubbly. For reservations, call 805-565-1720.

The Stonehouse, considered one of the best restaurants in the country, and the Plow & Angel lounge should be back up and running by the second week in January, a full year after the Montecito mudslides. Upgrades to both eateries are subtle: refreshed wood finishes and new awnings and umbrellas, mainly. Cottages are expected to begin welcoming guests come March.

“Employees have slowly started moving back into our offices,” adds Ms. Rutledge, “and it feels so good."

Find out more at

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Liquid Leftovers: 10 Tips For Preserving Your Thanksgiving Wine

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/22/18

If you do Thanksgiving right, it’s not just edible leftovers you’ll be enjoying the days after. The cavalcade of flavors om your table means you’ll popping a lot of corks, too – a wide range of wines to match a wide range of foods. And while Tupperware and aluminum foil works well when it comes to saving turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce for Friday’s overstuffed sandwiches, keeping your wines alive requires a bit more planning. Here are 10 easy ways to help preserve a few splashes for the foraging that’s just hours away...

1)Go Young: “Many older wines will lose their freshness, delicacy, and nuances overnight,” Riverbench GM Laura Booras once told me, “so it’s best to finish them the night you open them.” So if you’re choosing between which wine to finish tonight and which one to save for tomorrow, save the younger one for Friday’s lunch.

2)Go Big: Finish off lower-alcohol wines first; alcohol’s preservative qualities mean higher-alcohol wines have a better chance of surviving through tomorrow. Same goes for higher-tannins wines, like cabernets, malbecs and nebbiolos. Late harvest, fortified and port wines are good overnight bets, too.

3)Decant, Then Drink: Booras also told me that decanted wines have a shorter shelf life. “The surface area has been more exposed, so it’s going to oxidize and age much more quickly,” she said. So finish the wines you decant first and put the cork (or screw the cap) back on the ones you didn’t.

4)Don’t Go To Extremes: Temperature will have an even greater effect on wines that have been opened, so avoid sunlight through the window or the trunk of your car in the middle of the day. Avoiding temperature changes will do your wine good.

5)Take a Stand: Keep tomorrow’s wines standing up, rather than on their side. Remember that lesson from high school chemistry? A bottle on its side will result in maximum wine exposure to oxygen, wine’s great nemesis.

6)Screw it: If you’re not good at re-corking a bottle of wine, buy screwcapped wines. instead. A well-sealed screwcap is a very effective way of preserving wine for 24 hours.

7)No Off Sides: Saving your wine by sticking the cork back in? “Put in the same end that was touching the wine first,” says sommelier Jon McDaniel. And he knows what he’s talking about: McDaniel, who managed the Wine Merchant at the Los Olivos Café before he took the Chicago dining scene by storm, made Wine Enthusiast’s “40 Under 40 Tastemaker” list last year. “I have seen corks that didn't taint the wine with TCA (a bacteria that will 'cork' the wine) initially.  But when you put in the other end of the cork first, you can come back the next day and have a corked or spoiled wine.  So even though the cork will expand a bit, try and put the wet end of the cork back in first.”

8)Blend It: A bottle that’s full is least likely to spoil, since you’re minimizing the wine’s contact with oxygen. So don’t be coy about filling a bottle or two with your wine leftovers and create your own special Thanksgiving blend for the next day. You’re not a winemaker. You’re not trying to win an award. You’re just being prudent.

9)Chill Out: My friend Stephanie Varner, who manages the tasting room at Rusack Vineyards once gave me the most creative advice for giving your Thanksgiving leftover wine a new lease on life: “Make ice cubes!” The possibilities tomorrow and beyond are endless.

10)Be Done With It: This is the only advice we heed at our house. Don’t want to deal with preserving leftovers? Don’t have any to begin with! Drink up. Drink responsibly. But drink up!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Hilliard Bruce Goes on the Market: State-of-the-Art Winery Listed for $15 Million

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Brady Spear, Spearhead Media
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/16/18

Hilliard Bruce, a state of the art winery in the heart in Santa Barbara County’s celebrated Sta. Rita Hills region, has just been put on the market. The property, which spans 101 acres and features one of the most state-of-the-art wineries on the Central Coast, is listed at $14.95 million.

“It’s an extraordinary place,” says production manager Sonja Magdevski, the locally renowned winemaker who joined Hilliard Bruce in 2017 to oversee the 21 planted acres of pinot noir and chardonnay and annual production of about 15,000 cases of wine.

“The potential for growth for whoever buys it is huge,” she continues. “Do you want to plant more grapes? There’s space for it. Do you want to build another home? There’s space for it. There’s plenty of room to personalize it.”

The property is very much turnkey, though, especially for a buyer seeking a ranch and vineyard lifestyle. The estate, nestled just off State Route 246 near Lompoc and neighboring other celebrated vineyards like Babcock and Melville, features a stunning 15,000-square-foot gravity flow winery designed by BJC, the same architecture firm behind the aesthetic for the Apple stores and Bill Gates’ residence on Lake Washington. There’s a luxe equestrian complex with eight stalls, indoor/outdoor entertainment kitchen, bocce ball court and elegant owner’s living quarters. The manicured landscaping throughout includes a 10-acre pasture, a reservoir with floating islands and various oak, redwood, Italian pine and palm trees.

The sale also includes all existing wine inventory, including the 2018 harvest wines, which Ms. Magdevski put in barrel this past Monday.

Hilliard Bruce was founded in 2002 by the husband-and-wife team of, and Texas natives, John Hilliard and Christine Bruce. Sustainability was a focus from day one, which led to two innovative milestones for the Sta. Rita Hills area: SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certification of the vineyard and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of the winery. Since the Hilliard Bruce wine label launched in 2014, the winery keeps about a third of its annual 60- to 70-ton harvest, creating wines that consistently garner 90+ scores; the remainder of the yearly grape inventory is earmarked for a lengthy list of longtime client wineries in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Hilliard Bruce is listed by Kerry Mormann & Associates and shared with Joe Ramos of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices.

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Fill Your Calendar: Why Fall is the Best Time to Attend a Wine Event

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 9/13/18

When California Wine Month rolls around each September, it’s a reminder that the best time of the year for wining has arrived. With the summer crowds gone, fall ushers in more elbow room in the tasting rooms and in the vineyards, and travel affordability goes up. Throw in California’s enviable autumn weather and the peak of the grape harvest season, and fall wine events become a must.

You’ll notice an uptick in wine event promotions during California Wine Month, now in its 14th year. A coordinated effort by wine regions throughout the Golden State – from Temecula to Lodi and Paso Robles to Sonoma – it aims to celebrate the nearly 11,000 growers and winemakers who produce 80% of the wine in the U.S. California is also the fourth largest producer of wine in the world.

Santa Barbara, of course, is special. Our easy access, our buzzy food scene, our gorgeous scenery – they all converge to make a wine country visit here almost magical. And events, both large and small, that allow you to connect with local viticultural treasures, abound. Consider these fall happenings:

Hey, it's Bob Oswaks!
Thursday, September 20: Usher in the season with the “Autumn Equinox Wine Dinner” at Les Marchands in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. Chef Weston Richards will dole out a four-course meal of smoked local mussels, duck confit and grilled quail. Enjoy a local fig tart with homemade ricotta and honey for dessert. Featured wines, which are paired with each course, hail from Sardinia, Abruzzo, the Southern Rhone Valley and the Loire Valley. Dinner only ($50), or with wine pairings ($90), are served from 5:30pm, so you can make a reservation at the time that works best for you. This is part of Les Marchands’ ongoing Seasonal Dinner Series.

Saturday, October 6: Los Alamos baker phenom Bob Oswaks hosts Central Coast winemakers the first Saturday of every month. The tastings, and the bevy of breads and hors d’ouevres prepped by the Bob’s Well Bread kitchen, are complementary and available from 1-3pm. These gatherings are super intimate, with plenty of one-on-one with the wine team, which makes them a great way to discover something new. Pence Ranch is the featured winery for October, one of the premier producers in the Sta. Rita Hills of pinot noir and chardonnay. And don’t leave without doing what I always do when I visit Bob: grab a few baguettes for the road.

Wednesday, October 10: Many Santa Barbara winemakers have told me many times – making wine requires a lot of beer. The Tap & Pour Beer Fest at the Canary Hotel downtown will give your taste buds a break from merlot and reason to celebrate Oktoberfest. A bevy of locally crafted brews will be poured, and you’ll nosh on lots of German-inspired fare by Executive Chef Peter Cham – yup, housemade sausages and soft pretzels! The highlight at any of these Canary events, including upcoming next Sip & Swirl parties on November 23 and December 11, is the 360-degree view of beautiful Santa Barbara from the rooftop. Tap & Pour Beer Fest.

My wife & I enjoyed an awesome stay & dinner at The Ballard Inn
Saturday, October 13: Events-a-plenty during the Celebration of Harvest, the annual weekend fete thrown by Santa Barbara County vintners throughout the Santa Ynez Valley. After a recent stay and meal at the Ballard Inn – a magical time and superlative food – Chef Budi Kazali’s Saturday night dinner is the one event not to miss. He welcomes the Bien Nacido Vineyards team for an intimate meal at his Gathering Table Restaurant, and the pairings will surely wow. Seating is very limited, so I’d lock this one down now. The night begins at 6pm and costs $125 per person.

Saturday, October 20: I submit this: Los Olivos is the most charming town on the Central Coast. The annual Los Olivos Day in the Country is the quintessential community event, complete with family fun run (even dogs are allowed), parade, tractor show and a bevy of arts-&-crafts and food purveyors. Saunter in and out of the village’s dozens of tasting rooms, without missing Bien Nacido, Carhartt and Epiphany. This event is free and held rain or shine. Meet me at the flagpole!

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