Return of the Santa Barbara Wine Futures

Alisal Ranch Reviving Tasting Tradition by Hosting Weekend of Rare, Unreleased Wines

The reincarnated wine futures tasting will feature 80 special, unreleased cuvées, including wines by co-organizer Justin Willett and Spear’s Kat Gaffney.

Courtesy Photo

The reincarnated wine futures tasting will feature 80 special, unreleased cuvées, including wines by co-organizer Justin Willett and Spear’s Kat Gaffney.

In 1984, Au Bon Climat winemaker Jim Clendenen came to Doug Margerum, who then owned the Wine Cask bottle shop/restaurant, with a quandary: As a young vintner, he was having trouble paying for his grape contracts in advance because wines weren’t ready to sell yet. Margerum proposed an annual “futures” tasting, in which people could taste wines from barrel, buy pre-release wines at a discounted rate, and keep winemakers in good graces with their vineyard sources.

The tasting was a hit, and over the next 20 years, the Wine Cask event served as a launchpad for now famous Santa Barbara brands such as Sea Smoke, Brewer-Clifton, Paul Lato, Tensley, and many more. “The futures really put Santa Barbara on the map,” said Margerum, who also published an extensive catalog that became the “bible of what’s hot” in Santa Barbara wine country. “It really helped people understand the wines and the regions and all the things they needed to know. We explained it all in great detail.”

After more than a decade of hiatus, this landmark tasting is returning, as Margerum explained, “to promote the area and get the mojo back.” This time, the Santa Barbara County Vintners Futures Tasting goes down over a full weekend of food, fun, and education from March 29-31 at the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in the Santa Ynez Valley. The experience can be booked as an all-inclusive weekend package or enjoyed a la carte for single events like Saturday’s grand tasting. Proceeds will fund the Santa Barbara Vintners’ marketing efforts and also go to Vino de Sueños, the People Helping People program that assists vineyard workers and their families when in need.

Helping Margerum organize the affair this time is Pence GM/Santa Barbara Vintners (SBV) president Stephen Janes, Tyler winemaker/SBV boardmember Justin Willett, and Alisal’s food and beverage director Kyle Erickson. The latter two — both Santa Barbara natives who first met while playing hockey together in high school — sparked up this idea over a round of golf at the ranch.

After that outing, Erickson toured the team through the 10,000-acre, 73-guest-room ranch, which is home to a historic 1830s adobe (the location for Friday night’s welcome dinner) and numerous nooks to host events of many sizes. “They were all just floored that we had these spaces and options,” said Erickson, who was also surprised to see how much the ranch offered when he started working there a year ago. “They really didn’t know everything that the Alisal encompasses, so it went from there.”

With the site secured, the team reached out to winemakers across the county, requested samples of unique wines, and then selected 84 final wines from 40 wineries. “We went through tons of samples and selected what we think are some cool and unique cuvees,” said Willett. “The goal is to have things that aren’t normal, things that basically aren’t going to be commercially available, or if they are, really rare and hard to get.” Attendees to the grand tasting on Saturday will be able to try and purchase these wines with a three-bottle minimum at a 20 percent discount.

Those wines will be bolstered by the culinary offerings of Alisal’s Chef Anthony Endy and chefs who’ve been invited from across the region for Saturday night’s “Ring of Fire” collaborative dinner. There’s also late-night library wine tasting after Friday’s welcome bash; a seminar on Saturday morning featuring wines from Bien Nacido and Sanford & Benedict vineyards; and horseback riding, fly fishing, cowboy poetry, and more during downtime.

“There’s some pretty impressive winemaking going on in Santa Barbara County — people are gonna love it,” said Margerum. “You’ll be able to buy wines that are irreplicable and have them in your cellar. They’re the best of the best and super rare.”

See sbcountywines.com for a la carte tickets. For Alisal’s all-inclusive weekend package, see independent.com/futures19 or call (800) 425-4725.