The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural history introduced the autumn symposium “In the Beginning: The Early Years in the Santa Barbara Wine Country” in Fleischmann Auditorium at the Santa Barbara Natural History Museum, where a huge crowd of wine connoisseurs and area wine enthusiasts gathered to learn the personal history and secrets of the early winemakers in Santa Barbara County.
On the panel of renowned winemakers were Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat), Fred Brander (Brander Vineyards), Ken Brown (Ken Brown Wines), Lane Tanner (Lumen Wines), and Rick Longoria (Longoria Wines); all pioneers in the industry. Antonio Gardella, a local fine wine specialist, moderated the hour long Q&A, followed by socializing and tastings from 10 local wineries and six local food vendors, that included wines poured by Au Bon Climat, Brander, Ken Brown, Lindquist, Lumen, Zaca Mesa, Foxen, Mosby, Whitcraft, and others.
Nicely paired tastes were provided by Village Modern Foods, Pete Clements Catering, Jessica Foster Confections, Pico Restaurant, The C’est Cheese, and The Shop Cafe. Attendees had the rare opportunity to meet with the renowned winemakers to ask questions, and share information on their favorite wines in a once in a lifetime intimate setting. Among the wine experts present was Archie Mc Laren, currently hosting Santa Barbara “Wine Country” on KEYT3 TV, Sunday nights at 5:00 p.m.
Winemakers sharing their wine wisdom included Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat – In 1989 and 1990 Au Bon Climat was on Robert Parker’s short list of Best Wineries in the World, and in 1991 was selected by Oz Clark as one of fifty world-wide creators of Modern Classic Wines. Dan Berger of the Los Angeles Times named Clendenen the “Los Angeles Times Winemaker of the Year” in 1992; Food & Wine magazine named him “Winemaker of the Year” in 2001. Germany’s leading wine magazine, Wein Gourmet, in 2004 named Clendenen “Winemaker of the World;” and in 2007, Jim was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.” From the panel, Clendenen, who was born in Akron Ohio, shared that following graduation from UCSB he spent a month in Champagne and Burgundy that confirmed his decision to become a winemaker. According to Clendenen “the early travel ambassadors of wine in Santa Barbara County was a cast of characters,” and his motto about wine was “The best wine is what I’m selling right now.”
Fred Brander of Brander Vineyards and Winery – Fred Brander’s pursuit to produce the best Sauvignon Blanc in California is documented in various publications and by the numerous awards that his Sauvignon Blanc has received. He has recently put the same effort, dedication and fanatical fervor into creating exceptional small lots of estate Cabernet Sauvignon that push the quality envelope for red Bordeaux varietal wines produced in Santa Barbara County. He has earned his place in the wine world, as he is often called the “King of Sauvignon Blanc” in California. Fred’s sauvignon blanc got a tasters rush from event attendees. Brander began exploring fermentation in high school, and he said his brew became0. very popular with his college roomies. His parents bought him some land in Santa Barbara following his graduation to start his first winery. “I still get excited after forty years of wine making,” said Brander.
Rick Longoria of Longoria Wines – Rick states, “From the very beginning of my career I felt that the Santa Barbara wine region had the potential to produce world class wines and it’s been very gratifying to see that belief realized over the more than 30 years I’ve been here. It’s also been very rewarding to have had the good fortune over the years to have some of my wines contribute to the acclaim of our wine region.” Over the years Rick has experimented with many different vineyard sources and grape varietals and has added more wines to his portfolio. Rick’s pursuit of excellence requires the production of his wines to remain small even after more than 30 years in business. Longoria wines are handcrafted in very small quantities ranging from 50 to 700 cases. Total annual production currently averages 3,000 cases. I enjoyed meeting Rick and his wife Diana, who married in 1977 and have worked together ever since.
Ken Brown of Ken Brown Wines – Ken Brown (née Byron Kent Brown) is recognized as one of Santa Barbara County’s pioneering winemakers and innovators. He was among the first vintners to realize the tremendous promise for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in this cool–‐climate appellation in the mid 1970’s. He was also the first winemaker to introduce the Syrah grape, as well as Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc, to Santa Barbara County. Ken brown discussed the quality of wines in Santa Barbara County and said “It depended on how far east you were willing to go to grow good grapes.”
Lane Tanner of Lumen Wines – Lane Tanner was one of the first female winemakers in Central California, and the first to dedicate her entire winery to Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. Her knowledge of the Santa Maria Valley dates back to her first vintage in 1981, as oenologist for Firestone, a job that the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff recommended her for. She later made wine for Zaca Mesa and the Hitching Post, and finally under her own label in 1989. Her wines are notable for being low in alcohol and sulfites, a practice that she continues to this day. “I had no studies for wine making. I was a chemestry nerd who answered a call for help with bottles at a Northern California winery, and landed my first job, which lead to an amazing tasting position.” “Pinot is magical, every wine is a different high,” said Tanner.
Unfortunately, Bob Lindquist of Qupe was ill and unable to attend. Bob was instrumental not only in developing the Rhone varietal movement on the Central Coast, but also in America. He has been producing world class Rhone varietal wines since the early 1980s and continues his quest with the same zeal he started with. Consequently, Qupe has been deemed one of the Wineries of the Year for Wine & Spirits Magazine every year since 1999. In March 2015 Bob received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Rhone Rangers.3
It was a fun, delicious and informative afternoon filled with interesting history on the art of wine making in Santa Barbara County, hosted by the charming Museum staff and volunteers. Some lucky guests who participated in a drawing for wine donated by participating wineries left with a bottle to enjoy at home. Special thanks to Meredith Moore, who coordinates the renowned wine events at the museum each year. For annual wine event information visit: http://www.sbnature.org.
About the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Founded in 1916, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History reconnects more than 100,000 people each year (including their 6,000 members) to nature indoors and outdoors. Uniquely nestled in nature, the Museum is located along Mission Creek in the Mission Canyon area. The Museum has ten indoor exhibit halls focusing on regional natural history including astronomy, birds, insects, geology, mammals, marine life, paleontology, plant life, and the Chumash Indians. Also, the Museum is home to the only full-dome planetarium on the Central Coast, a research library, and the John & Peggy Maximus Art Gallery.
The Museum’s outdoor exhibit experiences include a nature trail, the Chumash Sukinanik’oy Garden, The Museum Backyard & Nature Club House, the Butterfly Pavilion, and a real 74-foot Blue Whale skeleton. The Museum’s outdoor nature experience continues down to the Pacific Ocean at its Sea Center located on the historic Stearns Wharf. The Sea Center offers nearly 100,000 visitors a window to ocean life in the Santa Barbara Channel through its interactive exhibits and close-up, hands-on encounters with sea creatures. Beyond exhibitions, the Museum offers science education programs for adults and children, preserves a collection of more than three million specimens and artifacts, and maintains ongoing scientific research. The Museum’s mission is to inspire a thirst for discovery and a passion for the natural world. Location: 2559 Puesta del Sol, Santa Barbara, CA 93105 Hours: 10:00 AM-5:00 PM
By Bonnie Carroll
Bonnie Carroll has been a food/travel/lifestyle writer since 1983. She is the founder & publisher of Bonnie Carroll’s Life Bites News (www.lifebitesnews.com), does travel and food reporting on local Radio/TV, and contributes to a variety of national and international travel/lifestyle publications. She is a member of IFWTWA and NATJA. Contact her at email@example.com.