Thursday, June 22, 2017
Though it flies below the radar of bigger name brands and better-known estates, the Terravant Wine Company at the end of Industrial Way in Buellton is actually Santa Barbara County’s largest winery. In fact, with more than half a million cases of wine processed each year — that includes custom-crush tenants such as Hitching Post, Summerland, and Alma Rosa; private labels for restaurants and retailers; and Terravant’s own house brands such as Compilation — the facility qualifies as one of the 65 largest in America, which now boasts more than 9,000 wineries.
A year after its 2008 opening, Terravant also launched the Avant Tapas & Wine Bar, which showcased wines made on-site alongside a bar menu of small bites in a loft-like space overlooking the shiny tanks of the winery. But that initial Avant buzz slowly wore off due to the rise of many other savvy yet casual wine eateries around the Santa Ynez Valley as well as a steady stream of new tasting rooms popping up everywhere.
So about a year ago, the Terravant team realized they needed to reenvision the restaurant, keeping the parts that worked (namely the bar and automatic, pay-per-sip wine-dispersal devices) while shifting the sit-down section to fine dining, which they felt was lacking in the area. Simultaneously, they were in the early stages of developing a means of giving individual wine lovers the ability to craft their own bottles with the same sort of specs that the facility offered to larger clients.
The combined result is Bottlest Winery, Bar & Bistro, which brings an upscale, white-tablecloth option to the neighborhood and just may become one of the preferred places to taste wine, due to the interactive aspect that allows tour-goers to leave with a bottle of wine by their own design. The restaurant side opened quietly a couple of months back while the make-your-own-bottle component — which is open to people around the country via the website Bottlest.com — is in beta testing now and should be fully operational by mid-July.
Overseeing this transition is Dave Moser, Terravant’s new vice president of Direct to Consumer. The Pittsburgh native spent about 15 years in digital marketing for major agencies before his wine-collecting hobby — fueled by three California wine-country trips a year — made him consider a career change. He saw that Terravant was hiring last June, and he started in November. “This role marries my passion and knowledge of wine with my digital marketing background,” said Moser, who’d also founded a consulting company called Brix Click, LLC, which helps wineries improve customer experience.
To spearhead the restaurant redo, Terravant tapped Owen Hanavan, an Illinois native who moved out to the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore to cook when he was just 22. He staged at Coi in San Francisco and then worked at La Cumbre Country Club before becoming head chef of the team that opened Barbareño in downtown Santa Barbara in 2014. Last fall, Hanavan was ready for the next move, and he saw a Craigslist ad for the Terravant job.
“The opportunity was a little more than just being a chef — they wanted to reimagine themselves,” said Hanavan, who became executive chef in November and turned 30 at the end of May. “It’s super exciting for me. It was not just being able to create the menu but to build the team and create good value and revenue from it.”
With the help of GM/sommelier Vlad Stojanov, previously with Bacara, Hanavan distanced the sit-down restaurant from the bar but boosted the latter with a full liquor license, new pub menu, and music Thursday through Saturday nights. In the restaurant, he focuses on sourcing top-shelf ingredients from both near (via Harvest Santa Barbara and the S.B. Fish Market) and far. “Sometimes the best quality for me is cheese from France, fish from the Mediterranean, and certain products from Europe and other places across the world,” said Hanavan. “We showcase those as well as using the local farmers.”
His early success was evident during a recent media dinner, when Hanavan regaled the crowd with dish after delicious dish. Among my favorite apps were the lamb meatballs with potato chips, braised beef short ribs with preserved Meyer lemon, and the yellowtail with rice crackers. The 15-spice pork shoulder blew away the entrées, despite a tough challenge from the amazing moonfish with squid-ink bechamel and cubed potatoes. Somewhere between the sumac lamb and N.Y. strip steak entrées, the otherwise boisterous table fell completely silent, the best sign of an engaging meal.
Then for dessert, the bay leaf ice cream wowed everyone into more conversation. “It’s really balanced, with a nice, subtle sweetness,” said Hanavan, who’s already itching to switch up the menu. “It’s a nice way to end the evening.”
Make-Your-Own Wine App
There are a number of wine-blending experiences out there, but Bottlest.com, according to Moser, is the first opportunity for consumers to select the flavor and texture profiles they want in a wine, design a label, and then buy the wine and/or have it for sale via an online marketplace. The innovation works via a very easy-to-use website, where sliding bars range through such parameters as earth and spice versus fruit, oakiness, sweetness, and body. (Don’t worry: There are fail-safes that ensure your wackiest combos don’t let you order disgusting wine.)
“We are primarily a custom crush facility where we make wine for other people with a high level of customization,” said Moser of Terravant’s main business. “We wanted to bring that same level of customization that we provide on a large scale down to the individual consumer level. And with the existing restaurant and winery in place, it was a natural fit to co-brand with Bottlest and make it a physical manifestation of this online business.”
During the ongoing beta testing, bottles of wine are a mere $4.95, but that price will move to $19.50 per bottle once it is fully launched. Right now, only cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are offered (though each with a range of expressions thanks to the available parameters), but Moser said new varieties and blending options will come out soon. Wines can be delivered across the country or picked up in Buellton, and those who come on a tour will start the visit by using the app and will pick up their finished and personally labeled wine at the end — that means it goes from your desire to reality in about 90 minutes.
“We have developed a proprietary process in-house to do this, and we’re actually in active discussions with attorneys seeking a patent on the process,” said Moser. “It’s very fast. There are no other tours that I’m aware of where you come away with a personalized bottle of wine. That’s pretty unique.”
Bottlest Winery, Bar & Bistro (35 Industrial Wy., Buellton) is open Sunday-Thursday (11am-9pm) and Friday-Saturday (11am-11pm). See bottlest.com or call (805) 686-4742.