Doug Margerum isn’t afraid to be a bit different. It’s not about being a maverick or getting noticed. Doug simply knows what he likes, knows what he wants to do, and doesn’t really worry about too much else. Before starting the Margerum Wine Company, Doug ran the Wine Cask, a combination restaurant and wine shop. When he first started, Doug did almost everything, from buying the wine, to cooking the food, to serving the dishes. After some time, though, the operation had grown to the point where Doug had a sommelier choosing the wine and a chef that handled the food, while most of his time was spent in the office completing more managerial type tasks. It wasn’t the type of work Doug really wanted to do. His love was working with wine and food. Thus, over a period of a few years, Doug transitioned from running the Wine Cask to operating his own winery.

Doug Margerum


Of course, once in the business of actually producing wine, Doug didn’t exactly follow convention. Being located in Santa Barbara County, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would have been expected, and perhaps, even natural choices to make. That’s not what Doug wanted to do, though. “I’m not really a cool climate kind of guy. I don’t like being out in the fog and the cold, so it’s not what I set out to do,” Doug explains. Before starting Margerum, he was a big fan of Rhone reds as well as clean, crisp white wines. Thus, using the connections he’d acquired through Wine Cask, Doug found growers to supply him with quality varietals, like Syrah, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc. Then, rather than setting out to make wine for a particular customer base, Doug simply made wines in the style that he liked. Once he’d achieved that, Doug found other people who liked the wines just as much as he did. The formula has worked quite well ever since. (Click the links to read reviews of Doug’s Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Uber Syrah, M5 Blend, and Single vineyard Syrah.)

Margerum Wines


Part of the reason for Margerum’s success has been Doug’s belief about how wine should be made to partner with food. As a result, Doug’s goal has always been to make wine that will make food taste better. He strives to ensure high acidity in his wines, so they are very food friendly. His practice goes against a trend of producers that make wines with higher alcohol and higher residual sugar. Those wines might be more appealing to be sipped on their own, but their flavors won’t hold up as well when paired with food. Doug strives to make his wines in a style that enhances the flavors of food. “I’ve seen people purse their lips when they try my wines. What I try explain to them is that when they have cream or fat in their mouth, the wine will taste a lot better. It’s not really a stand alone product.” In other words, the context in which a wine is tasted will have a large affect on how much it’s enjoyed.

Context also weighs heavily on Doug’s views about how to judge wine, which is a step away from the current trend. Largely, the industry standard is blind tasting and a single 100 point scale. Doug sees those standards as a bit limiting. “I could make the best Grenache rosé that most people have ever had, but it’s not going to get higher than a 91-92. To judge it on the same scale as [ high-end red blends] just doesn’t make sense.” For Doug, knowing what’s in the bottle, where it is from, and weather it’s been made to be enjoyed with food or on it’s own are all pieces of information that should be factored in when judging a wine. And then, giving a wine’s score context by ranking it against similar wines from the same or similar regions would be a way to instill more specificity in scores. “I tend to like 87-89 point wines. That’s just kind of where my palate fits in. In tastings with a whole bunch of wines, the darker, sweeter, higher alcohol wines will [stand out] more. But that’s not the style of wine that I make.” Doug could change his winemaking style to garner better scores, but as he puts it, “if you’re making wine just for high scores, then you’ve lost your soul.”

So if you’re a wino that loves to eat, a foodie that enjoys finding a great wine pairing, or just someone that needs a change-up from sweeter, higher alcohol wines, then Margerum’s bottles are well worth checking out. If you find yourself a bit lost in the world of wine, and aren’t quite sure what style you like or what numerical scores really mean, talk to Doug. He’ll be happy to explain the context of a wine: what foods it will pair well with, weather to enjoy a bottle now or let it age, and how a wine scored at 88 points could end up being quite wonderful with the right dish. It’s a bit different approach than much of the wine industry takes, but in this case, different is certainly good.

By Jason Barlow