In 1989, the Wine Cask began hosting the annual Santa Barbara County wine futures event, in which the region’s hottest to-be-released wines were unveiled to the bottle-buying masses. When the restaurant and retail shop were evicted in February, everyone wondered what would become of the two-decade-old event.
Thanks to Elements Restaurant and Bar (which started its own futures event last year) and The Winehound (which jumped to fill the Wine Cask void with its first futures tasting this year), Santa Barbara winemakers and lovers now have two chances to check out the latest labels. There is some overlap in wineries represented, both will host old veterans and new kids in the barrel, and there will be rarities and discounts galore, but that’s where the similarities stop.
Here’s what you need to know about both:
The Date: Saturday, April 25, 6:30-9 p.m.
The Man with a Plan: Elements co-owner Andy Winchester, who opened the restaurant in 2004, proudly admitted, “We are very biased toward local wines.” The banker and venture capitalist started his futures event last year when the Wine Cask had “gotten to a point where there were a lot of wonderful wineries excluded due the industry build-up in the valley.” Producers came to Winchester interested in doing something different. “One of the things some winemakers were looking for was a more upscale event in a nice, evening reception style,” he explained. So that’s what he’s created.
The Scene: Attendees enter through the County Courthouse’s archway and then are set loose on the entire first floor, where wineries line the walls and a full dinner buffet is served. “It’s a beautiful location inside the Courthouse,” said Winchester. “For a reception, you can’t beat it. There will be 35 wineries-buyers must purchase at least six bottles per selection-and perhaps more than 500 people. It’s “classy” attire too, so men are urged to wear sport coats and ladies to wear cocktail dresses.
The Inside Track: Pinot and syrah will assume starring roles, and three producers seem especially hot: Demetria Estate, a biodynamic winery off Foxen Canyon Road; ampelos cellars, owned by Peter and Rebecca Work in the Santa Rita Hills; and Prodigal Wines, from 1960s enology student-turned-career cancer researcher-turned-vintner Stephen Russell and his Quinta Santa Rosa Vineyard.
Also be on the lookout for Jonata, the expensively elite winery with ties to Napa’s Screaming Eagle. They’ll launch a moderately priced restaurant-only label called The Pairing at the tasting, with three blends to buy-one led by cabernet sauvignon, one by pinot noir, and a white helmed by sauvignon blanc, all under $50.
For the eco-minded, make sure to check out Foxen Winery’s dry-farmed red wine from the Tinaquaic Vineyard, the region’s most drought-tolerant property and responsible for very intense flavors due to smaller, power-packed fruit.
Getting In: $75. See elementsrestaurantandbar.com or call 884-9218.
The Date: Saturday, May 9, 4:30-7:30 p.m.
The Man with a Plan: Shop owner and former Lazy Acres wine guy Bob Wesley, who bought his first wine book at age 14. “Once the Wine Cask abandoned the program, I got on the phone,” said Wesley, who helped with Elements’ event last year. “We got a very positive reaction.” Since mid-February, he’s been working like a true hound, sniffing out the best wines, and fetching the info for the catalog, which features Wesley’s whimsically wise wine descriptions that employ musical and cinematic references, but reserve a “more reverential” tone for the most holy bottles. He equates the rushed experience to “writing a novella in a month-and-a-half.”
The Scene: Taking place at the S.B. Museum of Natural History, the tasting features 34 different labels, about 90 wines, and is limited to 250 people, who are allowed to purchase merely three bottles per selection rather than the traditional six. Catering will be by Metropulos Fine Foods, and the dress is casual. “Jeans and a T-shirt are fine,” said Wesley. “That’s what I’ll probably be wearing.”
The Inside Track: Predicting “deep deals” on such popular wines as the Hitching Post’s Highliner Pinot Noir and prices as low as $14, Wesley is also proud to bring Brewer-Clifton and Melville wineries back to the futures game, and by relation, Chad Melville’s label Samsara. Other standouts should be Alta Maria Vineyards and Native9, the partnership between winemaker Paul Wilkins and viticulture mastermind-and generation niner in the Santa Maria Valley-James Ontiveros. Extra-special to Wesley’s heart is his employee Deanna King’s new wines she made with her husband, Chris: De Su Propia Cosecha (a $30-ish GSM blend) and Rey (a grenache and a mourvedre, both less than $20).