In Santa Barbara winemaking circles, Doug Margerum is indeed a celebrity. He’s been credited with singlehandedly launching the local wine scene, and his restaurant, Wine Cask, is the place for collectors to find coveted single-vineyard Santa Barbara wines. A legend in his own right, Doug sat down to with us to share his passion for red wine and the American Riviera.
Tell us your story. What spurred your passion for food and wine?
I began my wine and food exploration at a young age, tasting wine in France and eating in France and Italy with my parents at 13 years of age. I worked in restaurants as a cook and server throughout my high school and college years. After graduating from University of California – Santa Barbara with a degree in business economics, my family purchased Wine Cask (an existing wine store, wine making & beer making supply store) in 1981. What began as a retail wine store expanded to include an adjacent bistro. The restaurant expanded again to the Gold Room in Santa Barbara’s legendary El Paseo building in 1981, and the adjacent Intermezzo cafe opened in 1996. The two restaurants and the wine store have become a destination of choice in Santa Barbara among food and wine cognoscenti locally and throughout the world.
Tell us about your handcrafted and personalized wine production.
Margerum Wine Company is committed to creating handcrafted wines using only the highest quality grapes so that we can make wines that are indicative of the place where they are grown. We strive to make wines naturally, to make wines that have individual characteristics, and to make wines with personality. The scale of production is kept at a level where we can touch and know the wine as it is raised to the bottle – the antithesis of mass production. The standards of quality are measured by our criteria, not by external sources. We make wines we personally enjoy – some to drink young, all for the table, and others for long aging in cool cellars for our children to enjoy.
Can you give our readers any wine tasting tips?
1. Taste as many different wines as possible: taste the unknown to experience new flavors, discover new styles, new varietals from new lands and continue to learn more about wine.
2. Wine makes food taste better: It is healthy, improves your digestion, and makes conversation easier and sometimes more profound.
3. Be patient and age wines: Wines properly stored–at a constant 55 degrees, free of vibration, and free of light–improve with age.
4. Serve wine in proper stemware and at the proper temperature: Reds at 60 to 65 degrees and whites at 40 to 45 degrees.
5. True wine critics are the practiced: They are those who taste wine with food, meet winemakers, travel, study, learn and know wine. They are the sommeliers and wine merchants of the world. Trust these people. They know and love wine and are our best source of knowledge.
What is your favorite vintage or vineyard and what makes it unique?
I love red Rhône varietals. The red wines made from Rhône varietals produce wines that are diverse and have an array of styles. They share the common characteristics of fresh red and black cherries, strawberry, kirsch, black pepper, black raspberry, spice, earth and herbs. The textures can be lush, rich and mouthwatering when young and then become silky and complex with age. While these wines are delicious young, they have the ability to age and develop for 5 to 15 years. My favorite wine is the Margerum M5. This is a Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend using five grape varieties from the highest quality vineyards in Santa Barbara County. The “M” is for Margerum and “5” for the five grapes we use: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Counoise, and Cinsault. M5 is all about Grenache and, as it is every year, the trick is to balance the crimson, aromatic, lean, bright, tight Grenache, Counoise, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault based components with the bombastic, dark, black, plum, tannic, bold, intense, full-bodied Syrah we make. M5 is wine created from a thought–a blend that is an amalgamation of memories, both distant and recent, of wines we’ve tasted and loved the past thirty-three years.
What makes Santa Barbara a great wine-producing region?
The unique, transverse nature of the valleys of Santa Barbara Wine Country provides a patchwork quilt of microclimates and terrains, resulting in one of the most diverse grape growing regions in the country. The valleys in the Pacific coastline actually run east-west rather than north-south, and both the coastal Santa Ynez Mountain range and the more interior San Rafael range are transverse too. Because of this geologic oddity, the ocean breezes sweep eastward, channeled by the hills and mountains that ring the region. Heading east into the foothills, the temperatures are warm during the day and very cool during the night, whereas the vineyards that lie westward toward the ocean enjoy a mild and moderate climate. Coupled with soils that run the gamut from ancient beach and diatomaceous earth to chirt and limestone, there is a near-perfect place for a wide variety of wine grape varietals.
There are currently five federally-sanctioned American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) within Santa Barbara County: Ballard Canyon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Ynez Valley. As grape growers continue to advance their understanding of the best places to plant particular wine grape varietals, the Los Alamos region, the Los Olivos District, and the Santa Maria Bench are also showing distinct characteristics that may one day lead to AVA status. The Los Alamos Valley area between Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley also hosts several vineyards, although the area is not officially recognized.
What are the five must-dos while traveling in Santa Barbara?
1. Wine Tasting: Urban Wine Trail, Wine Collection of El Paseo, and the Presidio Neighborhood.
2. Sterns Wharf: I love walking out on Sterns Wharf to get a fish taco, watch the boats, and get a unique perspective on Santa Barbara.
3. The Zoo: I love our zoo!
4. Eating: My favorite places are Wine Cask (of course) and Intermezzo for casual dining and great wines by the glass. Bouchon is incredible for fine dining. Arigato for sushi. Lucky’s for great steak and awesome atmosphere. El Encanto for cocktails with a view. And finally, Pane e Vino for Italian.
5. Museums: Our Natural History Museum is definitely worth a visit.
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