Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Goleta’s strip malls and suburban tract homes are welcoming a new type of neighbor: wineries. Kunin Wines, which was one of the early Funk Zone tasting rooms but always made wine in Santa Maria, opened near the Santa Barbara Airport right before the harvest of 2017. Then just before the 2018 harvest, Samsara, which was based for more than a decade in Lompoc, moved down to warehouse zone on Calle Real at Los Carneros. In December, Samsara also started serving flights and glasses of wine in Goleta’s first-ever tasting room.
The wineries join an already high concentration of alcoholic beverage producers, most notably a handful of breweries — including Captain Fatty’s, in the same complex as Samsara — but also the Santa Barbara Cider Company in Old Town and the recently opened Goleta Red Distilling Company. History is on their side too: The Goleta Valley is home to the historic San Jose Winery, whose crumbling adobe structure, first built by friars from the Santa Barbara Mission in the early 19th century, sits on private property in the foothills above Patterson Avenue. Though shuttered since Prohibition, it is Santa Barbara County’s oldest winery. (Read more about that at independent.com/sbwinehistory.)
“Goleta really wants this kind of thing,” said Magan Eng, who, along with her late husband, Seth Kunin, was also one of the first to open a tasting room in the Funk Zone, where she still operates the Kunin and The Valley Project rooms. After 20 years of making wine at Central Coast Wine Services, which is on Aviation Way in Santa Maria, they opened a winery on Aero Camino in Goleta in August 2017, refurbishing an old auto body shop into a spacious facility. Seth suddenly passed away two months later — he bolted in the new winery’s sink the night before he died — so Eng is running the show now and is excited about the potential for Goleta’s wine scene. “There’s so much that can happen in Goleta,” said Eng, who hopes to start hosting pop-up tastings later this year, “and it could happen really fast.”
Samsara’s move was precipitated by a change in ownership. Chad Melville shifted focus to his family’s winery and sold the brand, which he started in 2002, to longtime fans Joan and Dave Szkutak, a retired couple from Ohio who now split time between Florida and Maine.
The shift also provided a great landing for Melville’s friend, winemaker Matt Brady, who’d worked at Jaffurs since 2005 and was the head winemaker when he left that winery on Santa Barbara’s Eastside in early 2017. Brady made Samsara’s 2017 wines at a shared facility in Santa Maria, but he started searching for a permanent location, ideally closer to his Santa Barbara residence.
“We knew we needed to find a future home for the winery,” said Brady. “I’ve been focused on Goleta since I left Jaffurs, thinking it needed a wine scene. I totally think that was the smartest move for us, given what was open.”
Once he found the space, a former warehouse for AT&T equipment, they signed the lease in June, had permits by July, and were ready to go just a couple of days before the first chardonnay grapes from Zotovich Vineyard came in the door on September 8. “The City of Goleta was extremely helpful,” said Brady. “We had a tight timeline, and the city was really sensitive to that. It’s the way it should work. We worked together to fix any issues.”
That ease allowed Brady to focus on doing what Samsara always did well under Melville: making lower-alcohol, acid-driven, herb-inflected, single-vineyard pinot noir, syrah, and grenache, now with a touch of racy chardonnay as well. “They’ve always been made in the style I believe in: whole cluster, minimal sulfur, native yeasts,” said Brady. “The proof is in the pudding, in the wines’ texture, and being savory and spicy rather than sweet and fruity.”
He’s also doing a richer style of syrah from Joey Tensley’s Colson Canyon Vineyard, located in the rugged mountains above the Santa Maria Valley. “Joey doesn’t sell a lot of fruit,” said Brady. “It’s a bit warmer, bigger, and expressive. Less whole cluster, more fruit-driven. It’s meant to be an outlier.”
Born in Florida but raised in San Diego, Brady got into wine at UCSB. “People were bringing shitty beer to parties, and I’d bring a bottle of wine under my sweatshirt,” recalled Brady, who read about Jaffurs in an article in the Santa Barbara Independent around his 2005 graduation. He walked into the winery, was hired to work in the tasting room, and then found himself in production roles almost immediately. “It was a hugely positive experience,” he said of his dozen years there.
He’s happy that the Szkutaks supported his Goleta dreams. “To Joan and Dave’s immense credit, they have believed in this idea, so we’re really the first winery and tasting room in Goleta,” said Brady. “It’s pretty chill and peaceful back here. It couldn’t have worked out any better.”
Samsara’s tasting rooms are located at 6485 Calle Real, Suite E, Goleta, and 2446 Alamo Pintado Avenue, Los Olivos. Call (805) 845-8001 or see samsarawine.com.