On the Road: Santa Barbara Vintners Descend on L.A.

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Allison Levine
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 5/19/16

Santa Barbara wines are hitting the road. 

Actually, it’s one of the most comprehensive reach-out campaigns I’ve seen from our local wine industry in a long time.  Santa Barbara Vintners, which represents the vast majority of the region’s wineries (about 110), is spending the entire month of May in L.A.  The goal is to connect with consumers, media and trade in hopes of making the message stick: California wine country is just up the road.

“It can be surprising how little L.A. people know about Santa Barbara wine country,” says wine marketing whiz Allison Levine.  “But it’s also important to understand – people often don’t know as much about the region as they think they do.”  Santa Barbara is so nearby and familiar, in other words, that the diversity in all it has to offer can be easy to underestimate.

Levine lives in West L.A. but has been covering Santa Barbara County wines for a long time.  She’s a communications expert, an event planner and the creative mind behind the popular wine and food newsletter, Please the Palate.  Santa Barbara Vintners partnered with Levine to produce “Road Trip Los Angeles.”

“We’ve put together no less than 22 events,” Levine told me this week, just hours before putting on a wine dinner at Commissary at the LINE Hotel in L.A.’s Koreatown.  The intimate meal, limited to about 20 consumers, would highlight unusual grape varieties grown in Santa Barbara County and feature wines by Palmina, Municipal Winemakers, Toccata, Tessa Marie and Lieu Dit.

Municipal Winemakers' Dave Potter speaks at the intimate dinner at L.A.'s LINE Hotel on May 15th
“The goal with the wine dinners is to connect people,” Levine says, “because so much about wine is making connections, meeting the winemakers and having small group experiences.  It’s enjoyable, tangible, and once you know their story and who they are, it’s easier to fall in love with their wines.”

A dinner earlier this month at trendy Redbird in Downtown L.A. had a “Mentor & Mentees” theme and starred the likes of Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen and Qupe’s Bob Lindquist alongside men they’ve trained, including the much buzzed-about Gavin Chanin of LUTUM Wines.  And a dinner last week at Messhall Kitchen in L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood, with a “Big Reds” theme, spotlighted the wines and principal players of Zaca Mesa, Westerly and Grassini.  Upcoming dinners will be staged at high-profile restaurants all over L.A., including The Rose CafĂ© in Venice (May 21), Upstairs 2 at the Wine House in West L.A. (May 25), Maison Giraud in Pacific Palisades (May 26) and Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak L.A. in Glendale (June 2).

There are several wine shop tastings on the calendar, too.  And, like the wine dinners, they target wine buffs all over L.A.; upcoming retailer tastings are scheduled at Vendome in Toluca Lake (May 24), K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood (May 25) and Monopole in Pasadena (May 28).  More than 50 Santa Barbara County labels are participating.

Road Trip Los Angeles also has trade and media as its target.  For them, “it’s all about breaking it down,” Levine says.  “If you’re a pinot noir drinker, you go to Santa Maria or Sta. Rita Hills, but if you like syrah, you explore Ballard Canyon.  If you know what it is you like, then you can make a B-line toward the wineries that specialize in that.”

Invite-only events designed for industry insiders have been taking place all this week, in fact, with each day dedicated to a specific variety.  Monday spotlighted chardonnay, Tuesday pinot, Wednesday syrah and Rhone varieties and, today, cabernet and Bordeaux grapes.  The events, held at hip Republique on La Brea Ave., have featured 90-minute seminars followed by three hours of walk-around tastings and one-on-one with winemakers.

Santa Barbara Vintners Executive Director Morgen McLaughlin, left, speaks during the pinot noir trade event at L.A.'s Republique as winemakers like Palmina's Steve Clifton, Fess Parker's  Blair Fox and Alma Rosa's Richard Sanford look on
The Rhone wines trade event at Republique featured powerhouses like Steve Beckmen (left), Kaena's Mikael Sigouin, Tercero's Larry Schaffer and Qupe's Bob Lindquist
I’ve always believed that the Santa Barbara wine region’s greatest asset – its diversity and a unique ability to grow a wide array of grapes really well – is also its biggest challenge.  Napa does cabernet, Sonoma does pinot, but Santa Barbara does it all.  It’s a bigger, tougher message to deliver in just one sitting.  So therein lays the genius of Road Trip Los Angeles.  Industrious?  Yes.  A slew of creative events over many weeks.  But that’s how you start the process.  That’s how you begin to tell a story about a place teeming with personality and oozing promise.  Those willing to slow down and listen, and to sip, are bound to want more, hence becoming the visitors and customers.  And that, over time, will allow this very important agricultural and creative endeavor to continue to flourish in our own backyard.

For more information on Road Trip Los Angeles, go to the Santa Barbara Vintners website and use the social media hashtag #sbcwinela.


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