Santa Barbara's Biggest Wine Party of the Spring: Vintners Festival Returns

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/12/18

Santa Barbara’s biggest wine party of spring is just days away. Santa Barbara Vintners, the group that represents more than 100 local wineries and vineyards, is hosting its 36th annual wine fete on Saturday, April 21st at sprawling River Park in Lompoc. Free-flowing world-class wine aside, here are five reasons to be among the 2000 thirsty revelers who’ll be there.
 
The Bubbles
The Bubble Lounge is new this year – a dedicated spot to all things fizzy! In a few short years, Santa Barbara has seen sparkling wine production soar, with some of the area’s top labels, like Riverbench, Lucas & Lewellen and Alma Rosa, cranking out bubbly yearly. The Bubble Lounge will be an effervescent oasis – a great way to cleanse the palate throughout the afternoon.
 
 
The Food
Wine lovers are food lovers, so the culinary spin to this festival is always a crowd pleaser. In fact, at some of the area’s most popular gastronomic hangouts, be ready to wait in line. More than 30 local restaurants, chefs and purveyors will be doling out edible treats, and look for some of the region’s top farmers to be serving up their in-season organic fare.
 
Frank Ostini, chef/winemaker
The Stages
This year’s festival will feature not one, but two stages. One will add to the event’s epicurean appeal, hosting several cooking demonstrations. The other stage will host The Bryan Titus Trio, a band known for its modern take on bluegrass. Toe-tapping to their high-spirited tunes is a great way to take breaks and pace yourself throughout the day.
 
The First Few This year’s event is a tip-of-the-hat to the 17 young winemakers who started it all. “No one has that ‘look at me’ mentality, it was about ‘look at us,’” remembers Qupe vintner Bob Lindquist in a recent interview with Santa Barbara Vintners. The first Vintners Festival took place in 1983 at Mission Santa Ines in Solvang, with the goal of raising enough money to print a wine trail map; with 500 tickets up for grabs, it was a sellout. And today, it’s one of the longest-running wine festivals in the country. Look for many of those original 17 winemakers –Lindquist, along with Jim Clendenen, Ken Brown and Richard Sanford, among others – at the April 21st event.


Norm Yost, winemaker
The First Responders
More than 8500 firefighters from 10 states descended on our area in December when the largest wildfire in California history roared through Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. The debris flow in Montecito a few weeks later showcased first responder heroism all over again. In gratitude, the Festival includes a First Responder Invitational, which allows members of the community to buy a ticket for a firefighter or police officer to attend the festival. The goal: at least 100 first responders in attendance.
 
Please enjoy this festival to the max, but please enjoy it responsibly. Bus transportation from Santa Barbara, Solvang or Buellton begins at $30 and non- drinking tickets for designated drivers and kids (ages six to 20) are $25. General admission to Saturday’s Grand Tasting is $70 and the five-day Vintners’ Visa Weekend Pass, which gets you complimentary tastings at 12 wineries of your choice all weekend long, costs $50; do the combo for $100. Check out sbcountywines.com.
 
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In a Flash, and Flashy: Montecito’s New Frankland’s Crab & Co. Raises Bar on Food Served Fast

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Yasmin Alishav and Jakob Layman
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 4/12/18

To hear Chef Philip Frankland Lee describe his Buttered Maine Lobster Sandwich is simply mouthwatering.
 
“We use a five-pound live Maine lobster that’s flow in, we keep it live on ice, we steam it live, then pull the meat out, chop up the whole lobster and then chill it,” he says.
 
Chef Lee’s wife, Margarita Kallas-Lee, makes the butter on the stovetop, and she folds in the cracked lobster shells to infuse flavor. She also makes the brioche bread, which is griddled on the outside to keep the inside soft and dressed with homemade cocktail sauce. Lobster meat goes on, along with the warm butter, lemon juice, shaved iceberg lettuce and plenty of Mr. Frankland’s proprietary seasoning salt.
 
“We close it up, put a pair of toothpicks in it and then cut it in half,” the chef concludes. “It’s inspired by the way I like to eat lobster. We just make the whole thing into a sandwich and make it killer.”
 
No wonder, then, that this sandwich has become the number one seller at Frankland’s Crab & Co., the brand new and much-anticipated street-front eatery at the Montecito Inn. Opening day was April 6th, and the restaurant’s been buzzing ever since. "Jam-packed, busier than we expected, and we expected to be busy,” admits the chef. “The community has been incredibly supportive.”
 
 
On expectation alone, Frankland’s was bound to launch big. It’s the first of four dining concepts in the works for the Montecito Inn by the celeb chef couple behind LA’s Scratch Restaurants, and it was just one week away from opening day when the Montecito debris flows hit on January 9th. The hotel’s re-opening last month was, even if just emotionally, a welcomed step forward for the Santa Barbara community. Frankland’s own grand opening, even if three months behind schedule, strikes an emotive chord, too.
 
Chef Peter Frankland Lee (Alishav)
“We’re not just back on track,” says Chef Lee, optimistically. “As a community, we’re further than we were, and we’re keeping it growing.”
 
But the chef and his team are aiming to strike expectations head on, and they intend to deliver. There’s only counter service at Frankland’s Crab Co., and while the food comes out fast by design, quality prevails. “People come in here to eat, not dine. Like when you’re coming back from the beach, in sandals, and just want to pop in to grab a bite,” says Chef Lee, 31. “There are plenty of other spots up and down Coast Village Road that do the fine dining thing, they’re more proper, and they do it great. We’re a high-brow approach to low-brow cuisine.”
 
Dovetailing from the out-of-the-box concepts that have shaped the chef pair's Scratch eateries over the years, high-quality ingredients are sourced both locally and globally, and pretty much everything on the Frankland’s menu –from breads to sauces to pickles – is made from by hand and onsite. “We’re more like a French brigade of chefs – a team that’s trained more in a fine dining style – that happens to be doing this more approachable type of food,” says Chef Lee. “So, if you’re having a sandwich here, you’re getting the best product money can buy. And we’re making everything else ourselves, and we’re tasting everything for quality.”
 
The Frankland’s menu is concise, with a tip-of-the-hat to as much that’s local as possible; the “Specials” board this week has featured local spot prawns, local sea urchin and local rock crab.
 
Oysters and clams ($3 each) are available raw or fried, and they stay live until they’re fried to order. Steamed items are presented at market prices, including snow crab claws, king crab legs and live Maine lobster. Sides include corn on the cob, salads and potato chips, though the Frankland’s Style Fries ($8) are the star: Yukon gold potatoes sliced thin, tripled-blanched in the fryer until crispy, seasoned with Frankland’s seasoning salt, topped with a heaping ladle of homemade clam chowder, bacon, cheddar and scallions.
 
Sandwiches highlight a seafood variety, like the Beer Battered Branzino ($15), the Soft Shell Crab ($16) and the Lobster Grilled Cheese ($14). There’s also a Prime Angus Cheeseburger ($12). And the Breaded Chicken Breast ($13) is another early winner: Mary’s Free Range Chicken breast, butterflied, panko-crusted and fried, served on fresh brioche with spicy mayo remoulade, a multi-colored pickled slaw of cauliflower, fennel and carrots and seasoning salt. “It’s what all my chefs eat while on break,” jokes Chef Lee.
 
Margarita Kallas-Lee (Alishav)
There’s only one dessert on the menu – Margarita's Homemade Iced Cream Sandwich ($6) – and a handful of beverages, including housemade root beer, local draft beer by the pint or pitcher ($6/$17), a bevy of Bottles from the Minibar ($8) and Wine in a Can ($12).
 
In the near future, the Frankland’s team aims to provide picnic baskets to go (inside logoed Igloo coolers) and even seaside delivery. Says Chef Lee, “We’re working on a drop-off point at Butterfly Beach, where maybe people are laying out, they can order by phone, we ride down in a beach cruiser and deliver food to them on the sand!”
 
Three other dining concepts are in the works, including The Monarch around July, a fine dining option inside the former Montecito Café spot across the hotel driveway from Frankland’s. Margarita’s Snacks should open in the fall, a France-meets-California seaside patisserie doling out ice cream, cakes, pies, doughnuts and scones. And The Silver Bow, a super-deluxe, reservation-only, chef-led dining concept in a private alcove on the inn’s ground floor -- an experience Chef Lee predicts will be “the French Laundry of Montecito – could be welcoming guests for New Year’s Eve.
 
Frankland’s Crab & Co. is open seven days a week, 11am to 10pm.
 
Frankland’s Crab & Co. at The Montecito Inn, 1295 Coast Village Rd., Montecito. 805-845-9310. franklandscrabandcompany.com.


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Time for Dessert: Italian Ex-Pat Launches Gelato Venture in Santa Barbara's Santa Ynez Valley

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Dan Quinajon
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/29/18

When Alessio Carnevale speaks about making gelato, he compares it to other classic food preparations that require time. “It’s like braising osso buco,” he insists. “You can’t rush it.”

And when the Italian native really wants to drive the point home that great gelato is the product of patience, his comparisons get even more vivid. “It’s like sex, actually,” he says, with a hearty laugh. “It’s more enjoyable if you take your time!”

It’s with a clear passion for classic Italian food that Mr. Carnevale, 35, just launched a new boutique dessert business in the Santa Ynez Valley, Valley Craft Gelato. His focus is on the sweet treat that’s practically part of everyday life in Italy. For Mr. Carnevale, that included working in his uncle’s parlor in the southern Italian region of Calabria. “This is where I first learned how to make gelato – in my mind, one of the best,” he recalls. “My uncle’s shop kept a regular stock of perennial favorite flavors.”

On the surface, gelato differs from ice cream in the execution: more whole milk, less cream (therefore, a product with a bit less fat); a slower churn, with air whipped in (for a denser, creamier product); and presentation at a slightly higher temperature (for a dessert experience that melts smooth in your mouth).

For Mr. Carnevale, though, there’s no real competition between gelato and ice cream. “What makes the difference is, who’s making the product? I’ve tasted great ice cream just like I’ve tasted bad gelato. If the person making it has the right passion, you’re going to get the right product.”

What really distinguishes a quality gelato, he continues, is the quality of ingredients, which generate flavors that are remarkably genuine and intense. “You buy the best bananas, and you get oranges that are perfectly ripe,” he says. “And then you let flavors ferment for several hours – six or eight hours. So many people try to make gelato so fast.”

Indeed, making a batch of gelato is a two-day process for Mr. Carnevale. Some of his ingredients are imported – “Pistachios from Italy are the best for me,” he says – the vast majority are sourced from throughout the Santa Ynez Valley, like blood oranges and figs. “I’m also using Belgian chocolate which is the best, but I’m looking to start working with some of the great chocolatiers in Solvang.”



Mr. Carnevale established roots in the Valley when he moved here in 2010. He met his wife, a Southern California native, while she was studying in Rome and the pair, and their twin children, now live in Buellton. After a stint at former Santa Ynez Italian food hotspot Trattoria Grappolo, Mr. Carnevale was part of the original service team at SY Kitchen, where he still works alongside his friend, Executive Chef Luca Crestanelli. SY Kitchen was one of the first customers of Mr. Carnevale’s side business, combining his vanilla bean gelato with hot espresso for their affogato dessert.

The Valley Craft Gelato line is handmade inside a private commercial kitchen in downtown Santa Ynez. Flavors range from the classics -- Salted Caramel, Tiramisu, Dark Chocolate, Espresso – to seasonal, locally-inspired creations, like Pistachio and Lemon Zest, Roasted Coconut and White Chocolate, Honey and Lavender, and Fig Sorbetto. Currently, the gelatos are primarily made-to-order for catering, special events and wholesale orders, as well as for a growing list of local restaurants, including the newly-opened Mattei’s Tavern. Mr. Carnevale also takes direct-to-consumer orders and crafts flavors by request. He can be reached through the Valley Craft Gelato Facebook page, through Instagram and, eventually, his in-progress website.

Mr. Carnevale’s ultimate dream is to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and open his own storefront, leveraging a growing appreciation for gelato among U.S. consumers. “You guys are ready!” he says.

But, just like when he’s making great gelato, he’s not rushing it.

“It’ll take some time, because I’m a one-man army right now. I’m doing everything in the business myself. But that’s a good way to show vendors that I am committed to this.”
 
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Crossover Wine: Santa Barbara's Buttonwood Releases Wine Infused with Hops

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 2/15/18

When Karen Steinwachs released Hop On, she threw the TTB for a loop. That’s because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the government agency that regulates the beverage industry, didn’t have a way to designate it. Hop On, it turns out, may be the first commercial white wine infused with hops to get federal approval.

“It felt like I was going for a record for the most label rejections ever – at least five,” says Steinwachs, who’s celebrating her 11th year as winemaker for Solvang-based Buttonwood. “Finally, I had to ask – what exactly do you want me to call it?!”

My brother, Christian, was really taken by Hop On
On the label, Hop On is described as a “hopped white wine with natural flavors.” Government regulations, or lack thereof, prevent Steinwachs from including a vintage year, or the region where the wine was grown or the grapes that went into making it. So creative, if not nebulous, labeling prevails.

In the bottle, Hop On is mostly estate-grown sauvignon blanc, with a dash of semillon. While still in the tank, the wine is infused for about three weeks with hops held inside large mesh bags. It’s then barrel fermented, and then filtered, before it’s put in bottle.

In beer making, hops are used as a bittering agent during the brewing process. Here, the hops, which are sourced from Pacific Valley Hops in Lompoc, are used exclusively as a way to impart aromatics. “I just wanted the nose of a good IPA,” says Steinwachs.

Indeed, Hop On delivers a unique, refreshing, hoppy nose, while classic sauv blanc flavors prevail. Bright acidity is tempered slightly by subtle hints of resin. The finish is clean and crisp, thought with a distinct hoppy character, too.

With Hop On, Steinwachs cleverly taps into a long-known connection between beer and wine. Most any Santa Barbara winemaker will tell you that sipping on beer is their preferred way of unwinding after a long day of making wine. Steinwachs herself is a self-avowed “beer person and a wine lover.” And her connection to the Pabst beer empire – she’s a direct descendant of the original Best Brewing Company family, via her great-great-grandfather – adds a special angle to this story.

But this crossover winemaking technique also opens up the Buttonwood brand to a new audience, while getting old fans to take a fresh new peek. “Many people have been buying it as gifts for friends who like IPAs,” Steinwachs remarks. And the hazy TTB rules inspire production, affording Steinwachs the chance to create and sell Hop On in small batches, like so many quality craft beers, rather than once a year, as dictated by vintage.

And let there be no doubt that the Buttonwood folks are taking this special way of making sauvignon blanc seriously: they’ve just planted their own ¼-acre plot of hops.

Hop On sells for $22 at buttonwoodwinery.com.

 
Buttonwood Winery & Vineyard, 1500 Alamo Pintado Rd., Solvang. 805-688-3032.

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Riding High: Rhone Tasting Showcases Some of Santa Barbara’s Best Wines

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/29/18

The Rhone Rangers rode into Santa Barbara this week, and they came to impress.
 
The nonprofit group is on a mission to promote the diverse swath of grapes that are native to France’s Rhone region. Indeed, more than 20 grape varieties fall under its promotional umbrella, including reds like syrah and grenache and whites like viognier and roussanne. In the marketplace, these varieties are often in the shadows of industry darlings like pinot noir and cabernet. For those who’ve discovered these wines, however, and for the men and women who make them, they deliver the kind of complexity, food-friendliness and value that are downright remarkable.
 
The Rhone Rangers’ Santa Barbara chapter includes some of our favorite local labels, like Fess Parker, Margerum and Qupe. These producers have figured out that Santa Barbara County offers various special spots where Rhone grapes flourish. And the wines they produce consistently stand out as some of the region’s finest.
 
The latest tasting by this Santa Barbara team took place this past Tuesday – a trade and consumer event at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective in the Funk Zone that was intimate in its vibe and impressive in its scope. These three wines were real standouts for me.
 
Me and winemaker Larry Schaffer
tercero 2016 Cinsault
Winemaker Larry Schaffer, easily the lead cheerleader of the Santa Barbara Rhone Rangers cavalry, launched his tercero label in 2006, though he’ll tell you it’s really become a personal tour de force in the last five years. Since then, the man who likes to serve whites at near room temperature (“Otherwise, the aromatics go dead,” he says), and who foot-stomps all his reds, has been blending personal knack with inquisitive experimentation to create a consistently fascinating portfolio of wines. The ’16 Cinsault delivers: subtle jamminess, hints of tea leaf, brightness, freshness. And its low alcohol – around 11% -- may make this the ultimate summer red. “My MTV unplugged wine,” is how Schaffer describes it. “Or, the kid in the corner with the ukulele, unplugged.” Very much present, but in a refreshingly unassuming way. The tercero Verbiage Blanc (a blend of roussanne, viognier and grenache blanc) was awesome. And the just-bottled 2017 Mourvedre Rosé, with aromatics that pop, reminded me that these soft-hued wines can, indeed, be textured and complex.
 
Lisa Morgan showed off the Kita wines
Kita 2014 Spe’y
“This is just a really good food wine,” Kita winery rep Lisa Morgan told me as she poured this wonderful blend of grenache, syrah and carignane. And she was right: this inky, medium-bodied wine delivers ripe berries and earthiness on the nose and mix of spice and floral notes on the palate, and the finish is surprisingly fresh. Winemaker Tara Gomez, a member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, sources most all her fruit from the tribe’s Camp 4 Vineyard, where soil and weather combine for optimum growing conditions for Rhone grapes. Spe’y is the Samala word for “flower.” Kita production remains at just about 1500 cases a year, and its brand new Lompoc tasting room should start welcoming tasters later this year.
 
Zaca Mesa 2012 Mesa Reserve Syrah
This trailblazing winery is riding high this year, as Zaca Mesa celebrates 45 years. In a young wine region like Santa Barbara, that’s a milestone. The 2012 Mesa Reserve may have been the best syrah of the day: beautifully structured, dense yet lithe, and bursting with flavors of dark berries, chocolate and sweet earth. What I wrote in my notes: “Wow!” Winemaker Kristin Bryden, who’s been with Zaca for seven years, described it as a snapshot of the vineyard’s younger syrah blocks and “a blend of our very best barrels.” In the mood for a super syrah? This is it. The Estralla Syrah, which includes fruit from Zaca’s 1978 Black Bear Block (the first syrah vines ever planted in Santa Barbara County) was also a standout. Zaca’s whites – viognier and roussanne – and its Z Gris rosé are sure to be summertime sellouts.
 
Visit the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Rhone Rangers on Facebook. And, for more information on the Rhone Rangers and its member wineries throughout the country, check out rhonerangers.org.
 
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Santa Barbara’s Zaca Mesa Winery Celebrates 45 Years

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/15/18

Forty-five years is a major milestone for any California winery, especially for one in a young viticultural area like Santa Barbara. Wine growing in this part of California dates back only to the late 1960s; local wines produced to compete on an international level didn’t really hit the marketplace until the mid- to late-1970s. So yes, Zaca Mesa’s 45th anniversary is a big deal.
 
Zaca Mesa's Black Bear Block of original syrah vines
Zaca Mesa became one of Santa Barbara County’s very first estate vineyards when a group of oil and land moguls, including John Cushman, established it in 1973. Real estate savviness, it turns out, paid off, since Zaca’s beautiful physical location – 25 miles from the Pacific, along the San Rafael Mountains, at an elevation of 1500 feet, blessed with complex soils and a temperate climate – is what’s driven its ability to generate distinctive wines.  Mr. Cushman and his twin brother, Lou Cashman, gained sole ownership of Zaca Mesa in 1988, and the winery’s been family-owned ever since. (Zaca Mesa was put up for sale in 2015, and it remains on the market.)
 
The wine we sipped when she said, Yes!
Zaca Mesa’s prominence as a Rhone producer stretches back to 1978 when, under the direction of then-winemaker Ken Brown, it became the first vineyard in Santa Barbara to plant syrah. Ever since, the red grape has become its primary calling card: its 1993 Syrah, made by Daniel Gehrs, took the #6 spot in Wine Spectator Magazine’s Top 100, the first time a Central Coast wine ever appeared on that coveted list; the 2006 syrah, made by Clay Brock, also hit the list, taking the #29 spot. Zaca syrahs have consistently gained 90+ industry scores ever since.
 
President Ronald Reagan poured Zaca Mesa wine at his 80th birthday party.  President Bill Clinton poured Zaca wine for French President Jacques Chirac during a White House visit in 1996. And, for what it’s worth, I proposed to my wife with Zaca Mesa’s 1999 Black Bear Block syrah; almost 15 years later, we’re still going strong, so that’s got to count for something!
 
Today, of the Zaca estate’s 750 acres, more than 90 are planted to syrah grapes, with smaller plantings dedicated to grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, viognier, roussanne and grenache blanc.
 
The caché of the fruit that Zaca produces has, over the decades, also extended to the people who’ve turned it into wine. The who’s-who list of winemakers who have Zaca Mesa on their resume -- Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Adam Tolmach, Chuck Carlson, Benjamin Silver – has led many insiders to refer to the trailblazing winery as Zaca University. Today, the world-class program is spearheaded by Director of Winemaking Eric Mohseni and winemaker Kristin Bryden.

“Zaca Mesa has been a notable presence in the Santa Ynez Valley, known for its dedication to Rhône grapes and for quality viticulture, and few places have the honor of having a presence for 45 years,” says John Cushman, who’s planning a party.
 
Me w/Kristin Bryden & Eric Mohseni
Zaca Mesa’s 45th Anniversary Celebration will take place on Saturday, March 24th, and the public is invited. The event, scheduled from noon to 3pm, will feature myriad tasting stations throughout the barrel room and across the winery, as well as several library and pre-release wines. The general public pays $15; wine club members party for free. Food will be available for purchase from BBQ in the Stix and live entertainment will be provided by Sean Wiggins. Reservations are not required by RSVPs to kelsey@zacamesa.com are appreciated.
 
On this landmark anniversary, we’re thrilled to celebrate this special place,” adds Mr. Cushman, “paying tribute to all the visitors and wine club members who have remained loyal to us over the years, and thankful to all who have worked so hard to nurture our vines and craft our wines.”
 
Zaca Mesa is part of the Foxen Wine Trail, located at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 4pm, and there’s a variety of tasting and touring options available. Find out more at zacamesa.com.
 
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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 jjones@directrelief.org and check out sbwineauction.org.
 
 
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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.
 
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