Tag Archives: Doug Margerum

Keyed Up

As cliche as it might sound, the Key to Wine Country event really did unlock some new tasting room doors…I think that sounds better than, I got keyed at Key to Wine Country, not sure if that even makes sense. Regardless the “keys” thing is put on by the Santa Barbara Vintners Association. You pay $100 for your ticket and there is a bevy (and a few bevvies for that matter) of different tasting rooms to visit, throughout Santa Barbara County. Admittedly, this is one of the more creative winery experiences I’ve come across. Definitely, more interesting than those big room and table affairs.

You’ll need a map of the county as all sorts of winery folk get involved. Some have food or chocolate with wine parings, others do vineyard walks, the best by far are the intimate winemaker chats (you have to RSVP as spaces are limited) where they taste you through their decision making steps, from grape to bottle….I fancied the El Paseo experience. A tour of all six tasting rooms in the maze-like corridors of El Paseo, in downtown SB.

El Paseo Santa Barbara

El Paseo is located just above De La Guerra and between State and Anacapa. Doug Margerum’s tasting room has been here the longest, about four years or so, next to his Wine Cask restaurant. Doug talked one of SB’s most famous winemaker’s, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat fame, to open next door. You can find ABC wines to purchase, dating back decades. There’s also Grassini out of Happy Canyon AVA. And two other spots Happy Canyon Vineyard and Jamie Slone, whom I imagine also opened tasting rooms under Doug’s suggestion….and why not, he makes both of their wine (totally different styles too!).

This whole winery wonderland is really the brainchild of Doug Margerum, and I must applaud him as it has really propelled, actually started, the whole State Street wine scene. It truly is a handful of the best Santa Barbara has to offer. As for the wines I tried here are my three favorites:

Top accolades go to Au Bon Climat. Their tasting list is true to the winery’s Burgundy roots, but there’s all sorts of stuff to try. The bog standard Santa Barbara County Chardonnay for instance, which is used by MWs in London to teach classic Chardonnay. There’s everything from Aligote to Riesling to purchase, but my fav wine of the day in fact was a Chardonnay from ABC.

2009 Au Bon Climat “Compelling” Nuits-Blanches au Bouge, Santa Maria County – A tight lemony and raw apricot little number, when you talk about tension in wine make sure you try this. Has years to go, but if you’re into crisp and fresh it’s ready now – $35 (There’s also a ’98 Nibiollo that was insanely good and a steal at $35)

2009 Au Bon Climat "Compelling" Nuits-Blanches au Bouge, Santa Maria County

2009 Au Bon Climat “Compelling” Nuits-Blanches au Bouge, Santa Maria County


Margerum actually has two tasting rooms. His regular one with an entrance on Anacapa, then MWC 32 a few steps into El Paseo, where they pour older vintages and reserve wines. It was at his Anacapa room that I found my fav though.

2011 Margerum Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County Margerum is all about Rhone varietals and this Syrah does not disaapoint in the slightest. I reckon it has quite a few more years (about 10), but you can have it now, no problem. It is a very, very approachable wine. With a hint of peppercorn spice and fresh juicy blueberries – $40

Margerum’s straight Grenache was also very good.

2011 Margerum Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County

2011 Margerum Syrah, Colson Canyon Vineyard, Santa Barbara County


Four years back, Grassini’s Bordeaux inspired wines were the first I tried out of the Happy Canyon AVA, I really liked them. There was a turn of events and Justin Willit of Tyler fame (and also partner to Mandy Grassini) made the previous vintage and his wines were being poured. I’ve been looking forward to trying Willit’s Bordeaux style, his own label is very much about Pinot and Chardonnay and above all that restraint…it was interesting to see him venture to the dark side of the noble grapes. The Sauv Blanc was particularly fresh, the grapes were picked at the very dawn of harvest, beginning of August and probably very low in potential alcohol. The two Bordeaux blends were also quite fresh it was however a single varietal wine that I really enjoyed.

2011 Grassini Petit Verdot, Happy Canyon AVA – not a grape you see very often, if at all, by itself. Petit Verdot is usually used to add back bone or rather mid-bone to the mid-palate of Cab and Merlot. Grassini PV is what I like to call a crunchy wine. It tastes as if your biting in to handful of juicy ripe blackberries, super concentrated fruit. There’s some musky like leather and grippy tannin. Like it’s palate the price too is a hefty $95, steep but a very good wine.

A great thing to note at Grassini’s tasting room, they pour all their high-end wines with a coravin, my first time seeing it in use….totally impressed!

2011 Grassini Petit Verdot, Happy Canyon AVA

2011 Grassini Petit Verdot, Happy Canyon AVA


Look out for the Keys to SBC next year. Thanks to Morgen and Taylor over at the Santa Barbara County Vintners Association for sending the tickets. Find out about future SBCVA events on their website — www.sbcountywines.com

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Food & Home Santa Barbara – Summer Wine Issue

Food & Home Santa Barbara

I’m very fortunate to have three articles in the current issue of Food & Home Santa Barbara.

Click on the pictures below to go to the stories.


  Food & Home Santa Barbara Wine Issue

A quick break-down of what is happening in Santa Barbara’s wine country. With some listings on some of the best places to visit.

Including Dragonette Cellars, Tercero Wines, Daniel Gehrs, Curtis Winery and De Su Propia Cosecha.
Plus my alma maters – Fess Parker Winery and Rusack Vineyards

Food & Home Santa Barbara Wine Issue

I interviewed five of the top winemakers in Santa Barbara: Bob Lindquist, Jim Clendenen, Doug Margerum, Justin Willet, and Sashi Moorman (pictured above)

Food & Home Santa Barbara

An in depth look at the Urban Wine Trail down in the Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.
This is a go to guide to some of the best wine made in Santa Barbara proper.

Places like Whitcraft, Carr, Municipal Winemakers, Jaffurs and Anacapa Vintners (who have since changed their name to AVA)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Back Alley Tasting

It is almost fitting that the inaugural seminar for the Urban Wine Trail will feature the Syrah grape. Much like the off-beat style of the Funk Zone wineries, the Rhône varietal can be considered an underdog contender in a mostly Pinot-centric town. Six winemakers are coming together. this Saturday February 16th, in the heart of the Funk Zone at the Goodman Reed Warehouse on lower Santa Barbara Street, heralding the virtues of a grape that is very much establishing its own root hold on Santa Barbara County soils. “We decided to focus this seminar on Syrah since most of the Urban Wine Trail wineries produce Syrah and we want to highlight a varietal that is overpassed many times, says Doug Margerum, owner and winemaker of Margerum Wine Company. He is one of six winemakers featured at the symposium, which will also include: Christian Garvin of Oreana Winery, Craig Jaffurs of Jaffurs Cellars, Martin Brown of Kalyra Winery, Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers and Bruce McGuire of Santa Barbara Winery. They all plan on tasting you through their own personal path with the grape. “Tasters will come away knowing that Santa Barbara County Syrah can rub shoulder to shoulder with Rhônes from the rest of the world”, says Craig Jaffurs, 56, Owner/winemaker at Jaffurs Cellars, and one of the first wineries to set up shop in downtown Santa Barbara, back in 2001.

The Alley Cats

“Syrah is one of the varieties Santa Barbara County does best,” says Ryan Carr, 36, Chairman of the Urban Wine Trail and owner/winemaker of Carr Winery. “It can grow in the different, cool, moderate and hot climates of Santa Barbara and this tasting will show the different perspectives of the grape from each producer.”

The seminar will be moderated by Santa Barbara News-Press columnist, Gabe Saglie. While guests will have a chance to sip through and learn about the most popular Rhône varietal at the symposium, later on in the day there will be an opportunity to try the different wines from 17 of the Urban Wine Trail wineries at the Grand Tasting. “It’s the first time we are all together in one spot”, says Christina Gumpert, 39, General Manager of Oreana Winery. True to those words it is interesting to note that this is in fact the first time the Urban Wine Trail members have organized a collaborative tasting and seminar, a sign of maturity for a group that has proved rather popular with both the tourist and local foot traffic near Cabrillo Blvd. A sign perhaps, that the group is not only growing but has created quite the trendy destination amongst the myriad of downtown attractions.urban wine trail logo

Also at the Grand Tasting, the urbanites are collaborating with local charity, the Arts Fund, in an effort to raise money for local artists through an auction and art sales. Displayed throughout the venue there will be 17 pieces of art produced by local artists and inspired by each of the Urban Wine Trail wineries. A live auction to raise money for the charity will be held on the evening, and will include travel packages to Sonoma, San Francisco, Malibu and Los Angeles.Alley12

Participating Urban Wine Trail wineries include: Au Bon Climat, Carr Winery, Cottonwood Canyon, Deep Sea, Grassini Family Vineyards, Jaffurs, Kalyra, Kunin Wines, Margerum Wine Company, Municipal Winemakers, Oreana Winery, Pali Wine Company, Sanguis, Santa Barbara Winery, Silver, Whitcraft Winery, and Summerland Winery.

Local restaurants Arlington Tavern, Paradise Café, Wine Cask, C’est Cheese, and Bella Vista at the Four Seasons will be providing hors d’oeuvres.

Saturday, February 16th 2013

Syrah Seminar – 10am – Noon

Grand Tasting from 5:30pm – 9pm

Both being held at Goodman Reed Warehouse, 120 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Ticket Prices:

$100 — Syrah Seminar + Grand Tasting Package

$75 — Grand Tasting Only

$50 — Seminar Only

Tickets are available on the events page of the Urban Wine Trail website:


Or directly at the ticket site:


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fortifying Santa Barbara

In Britain, drinking Port wine around Christmas is about as quintessentially English as drinking cups of tea, hiring a chimney sweep, or being rain-soaked. Technically speaking, Port should have all the boxes checked for a blockbuster, 100-pointer, trendy wine: huge and full-bodied, rich multilayered depth, sweetness (that is Amarone sweet, not sickly sweet) and most of all high in alcohol.

santa barbara

Suffice to say, Port has an image problem.  Maybe because it’s the festive tipple of choice for old Aunt Rose and Uncle Harry or maybe it’s not as fashionable as Pinot Noir, who is to know?  What we can say however, here in Santa Barbara, port and other fortified wine has a lot going for it, mostly the diversity in choice.

There are a handful of wineries making some sort of fortified wine style.  It might be the traditional Port using grapes found in Portugal, or a New World take on one of the oldest of Old World wines.  It’s not all Port in Santa Barbara though, as there are also some fine examples of other types of fortified wines.

Port 101

Port is one of the oldest traded wine commodities and its roots are deep in British culture, mostly because they discovered it.  In the late 1680’s, King William III of England embargoed and later heavily taxed any trading with France.  In search of quenching their wine thirst English merchants traveled south and eventually found their way to Oporto, the second largest city of Portugal, and the mouth of the Douro River.

The Douro is a beautifully winding river with steep cliffs on either side, terraced with vines.  It is also considered the oldest demarcating region in the world, having its appellations mapped out in the late 1700’s.  Due to the heat the grapes tend to get very ripe resulting in fermentation that is quick, fast, and culminates in a wine deep in color and high in alcohol.  This type of wine proved to be a major hit back in London and donned the name ‘blackstrap.’  Evidently, it was also perfect for fortifying.

Rick Longoria walking his vineyard

Rick Longoria walking his vineyard

It was while shipping this wine from Portugal for its rough sea journey to the Britain that merchants would top the barrels up with a measure of brandy, to help with stabilization.  However, the wine that Port derives from today, was actually being made by an abbot in a monastery of the town of Lamego, located in the high altitude mountains above the Douro river.  It was discovered by sons of a Liverpudlian wine merchant, they found the abbot adding brandy to partial fermented wine rather than the finished wine and thus started the British love affair with Port.

Fortified not Late Harvested

Fortified wine is any wine that has had a high alcohol spirit, usually brandy, added to it.  Although port wine grapes are usually picked later, it is not to be confused with late harvested wine.  These are grapes picked late to make dessert wine, high in sugar content but low in alcohol.

Daniel Gehrs Fireside Port
Daniel Gehrs Fireside Port

The winemaking process for fortified wine is very much like that of regular still wine, only with a few added steps.  Of course starting off with the grapes, you set them off on their primary (alcoholic) fermentation. However, instead of letting the wine stop fermenting naturally, you prematurely stop it by adding the brandy.  The brandy will kill all the yeast thus disallowing the fermentation to continue and leaving you with a rich, full-bodied, sweet wine, high in alcohol (because of the brandy).Consilience Zinfandel Port

Here in Santa Barbara or half way across the world in Portugal, the process is the same, the difference being that California, unlike the Old World wine producing countries, has no governing body monitoring the process.  This in turn allows for a variety of styles from the producers, all making fortified wine, all making it similar to the process above, yet all with a twist of uniqueness making it Californian in its own right.

Gypsy Canyon Winery and Vineyard 

Gypsy Canyon Angelica

Gypsy Canyon Angelica – photo cred: http://californiawinereport.blogspot.com/

While scoping out her new property to plant Pinot Noir in Lompoc, Deborah Hall owner and winemaker of Gypsy Canyon, in Santa Rita Hills, happened upon a vine, then another and another.  Soon thereafter she discovered that she was standing in a three acre Mission grape vineyard, mostly like planted in the late 1880’s by Franciscan monks.  It had been hidden for all these years, under sage brush.

Since very few wineries use the grape any more Hall headed to the Santa Barbara Archives Library figuring the padres had the most experience with the varietal.  What she found was that the local padres did in fact use the grapes to make wine and actually used it to make a fortified wine called Angelica.  Hall uses the same winemaking recipe she found in the archives.  In the archives she also found a note by Father Dúran to Governor Figueroa stating that although the white wine made at the San Gabriel Mission was used at the altar, the wine called Angelica should be used for—whatever.  The vines used are on still on their own roots and not grafted, and it is only producing Mission vineyard in California over 100 years old.  “I’ve named the v

ineyard, Dona Marcelina’s Vineyard, in honor of the first woman wine grower in California.”

Lucas and Llewelyn Vineyards

L&L has been a making a port style wine for about ten years.  What is unique here is that each year the port variety changes.  Sometimes it’ll be Merlot other years maybe Syrah.  It changes because they like to use the grapes that will gain the most ripeness each year.  Megan McGrath Gates, head winemaker, (who I incidentally went to high school with at Midland, in Los Olivos) very much enjoys this non-dedicated method.

Megan McGrath

When not making wine Megan doubles as a hand model.

“We are very humble in our approach to making port.  I’ve been to the Douro and wouldn’t try to sell our wine as traditional, rather we are almost throwing caution in the wind, we are trying to be creative and have had really good results.”

Daniel Gehrs Winery

Dan Gehrs has been making port wine in the California since the late 70’s and continued to do so when he moved to Santa Barbara in the early 90’s.  For his port wine Gehrs sources fruit, a mix of traditional Portuguese grape varieties, from Amador and Madera County.  He finds that he really like the grapes coming out of northern California, also soils, particularly in Amador, are similar to those found in the Douro.  “Port is the most fashionable of fortified wines, it has a great history with the Portuguese and the English.  I have always admired Portuguese ports, I enjoy the wine and making it, but it’s a challenge as a winemaker to work along those lines and produce something that is reasonably outstanding.  Striving for perfection the Fireside Port is the wineries mainstay, while Gehrs also makes a ten year old tawny as well as various other single variety ports.


Brett Escalera has made a Zinfandel port since the inception Consilience, in 1999.  Originally, he thought o make a Zin table wine but it came in so ripe he ended up making it in to port.  “I love port and love dessert wines. The genesis of my port was out of a necessity.  Here I was with these grapes that I knew make a decent table wine out of, so what do you do when life hands you lemons—you make lemonade.” “The flavor profile really exudes Zin. That’s what distinguishes it from traditional port.  It’s a California port in the fact that it tastes so much of and has loads of Zin character.”

Longoria Wines

Rick Longoria is making a port style wine from Syrah, just enough for the tasting room pretty much every other year since 2004.  Much like Escalera at Consilience the original vintage was a matter of consequence.  When some Syrah grapes arrived he felt they were way too ripe for his style of Syrah.  “I know for a lot of guys it would have been ideal to make some killer Robert Parker scoring wine, but for me, it wasn’t the winery’s style,  I said gosh, let’s look into a dessert wine.”  It has worked out well for Longoria, and Vino Dulce ended one of the bestselling wines.  He feels like Syrah is good grape to use as it keeps its spicy character and wants to offer a different take on the traditional style.


Margerum Wine Company

Margerum Amaro

Magerum Amaro….aka ‘the bomb’

Doug Margerum is making more of an herbal digestif than a port-style wine.  It’s called Amaro and its closest known relative on the shop shelf would probably be Fernet-Branca.  Much like port the wine is fortified with brandy, however with a few added ingredients, “roots and bark, lemon and orange peel and just about anything else I can find” explains Margerum.  He found when traveling through Italy, all the little wineries would have a house Amaro, each time similar in taste yet unique to the winery.  Upon returning he decided Margerum too would have an Amaro to share with its visitors.

It is made in the solera system where barrels all bleed into each other, vintage after vintage or in Margerum’s case – batch after batch.  It is an aging style used to make Sherry wine and creates wine that consistently tastes the same year after year despite using different vintages in the process.  Although Amaro goes well by itself, especially after dinner, Margerum like mixing it into his ‘Perfect Manhattan.’

Fess Parker Winery

Fess Parker Winery has had made a non-vintage port off and on since 2000.  The original idea came when Eli Parker (Fess’ son) planted a vineyard of traditional port wine grapes, at his house.  Now with Blair Fox at the helm the tradition continues.  “Fortified wines are cool because they have that aged, nutty, oxidized character that you don’t typically look for in young still wine.  The uniqueness here is Fess Parker are using traditional port style gr

Fess Parker Winery

The man

apes, the likes of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cao–grown in Santa Barbara County.

Although we may not have the rain and sleet of British weather, our nights do get cold.  What a perfect time to crack open a bottle of port to warm yourself up with a few sips.  Santa Barbara is spoiled for choice when it comes to fortified wines and any of the above would be perfect after a meal, with cheese or dessert, or better yet, in your favorite seat next to a log burning fire.  Enjoy.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: