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Paul Wellman

Funk Zone Wines

Drinking Vino in the Coolest Neighborhood


Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Originator: Pierre Lafond of Santa Barbara Winery

Pierre Lafond
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Paul Wellman

Pierre Lafond

“We were the only winery here for at least 30 years,” said Pierre Lafond, the vintner/visionary who founded Santa Barbara Winery in 1962, calling the Funk Zone home before anyone even thought of the name. “In those days, it was always considered the slum zone of Santa Barbara, if you can imagine that.” Lafond credits Sonny Castagnola and his family for being the pioneers of the neighborhood — “They really had the foresight,” he said — but gives Bruce McGuire, their winemaker since 1981, all the praise for their success. “He’s producing some fantastic wines,” said Lafond. These days, the tasting room/production facility is constantly abuzz with both winemaking and selling, showing that Lafond’s choice to locate in this former slum zone was intuitively wise. “I’m not sure if instinct is the word,” he said with a smile. Lafond still comes to the winery twice a day, proving to be an astute and sharp businessperson even past the typical retirement age. “I’m invested,” he explained. 202 Anacapa Street, 963-3633, sbwinery.com.

First Cool Kids on the Block: Christian Garvin of Oreana Winery

Christian Garvin of Oreana Winery
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Paul Wellman

Christian Garvin of Oreana Winery

The idea that wine tasting could be a playful party was pretty foreign to Santa Barbara when Christian Garvin opened Oreana Winery on a year-to-year lease in 2004, a dream he’s had since working at Fess Parker Winery in the 1990s and then cofounding Kahn Winery in Los Olivos. “We were in our twenties, living in downtown Santa Barbara, and I always thought, ‘What if we had a winery downtown?’” he recalled. Within days of opening in a former tire shop at the corner of Anacapa and Yanonali streets, Oreana — then called Cellar 205 — was attracting young folks who liked a good time but were curious about wine. Six years later, Garvin’s success allowed him to purchase the building, and today he allows other winemakers to use his space for their own dreams. None of it would have been possible without a neighborhood like the Funk Zone.

“Here you still find a place where you meet the owner of the building, shake his hand, and you say, ‘Look, I make skateboards, and I don’t know if I’ll be around in a year, but I need about 1,000 square feet for my employees to work,’” said Garvin. When asked for what he is trying to accomplish when he opened the doors way back in 2004, Garvin leaned back in his chair, took a swig of a Rolling Rock, and then explained, “Look, this is me, but that’s also the same thing that Amy and Craig will tell you at Metropulos, or the sex-shop guy, or Dana at Reds. That’s what defines the Funk Zone. The individuality of each business is like a lemonade stand for each person. So I didn’t think that hard about it at all.” 205 Anacapa Street, 962-5857, oreanawinery.com.

Keepin’ It Classy: Seth Kunin of Kunin Winery

Seth Kunin
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Paul Wellman (file)

Seth Kunin

In a wine-tasting ’hood that sometimes seems more aimed at cool culture than calculated craft, Kunin Wines represents more of a traditional experience: fine, critically acclaimed wines served in a crisp and clean tasting room. “There’s something for everybody down here, and we fill a certain niche,” said winemaker Seth Kunin, an aesthetic that he describes as “more classic, elegant, and understated.” A longtime player in Santa Barbara’s wine scene — he managed the Wine Cask way back when, and his first vintage was 1998 — Kunin is also credited as being a mentor to the next generation of winemakers. “We have a little of the more-the-merrier mentality, and I’m happy to be the ambassador for that and help people out,” said Kunin, who was the fourth tasting room in the Funk Zone when he opened just after New Year’s Day in 2009. “Life’s too short to be all cutthroat and competitive and weird.” 28 Anacapa Street, Suite A, 963-9633, kuninwines.com.

Steampunk Funk: Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers

Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers
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Paul Wellman

Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers

No one embraces the funk more happily than Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers, whose recent move from behind Kunin Wines next door into the former home of Anacapa Dive Center is putting his steampunky vibe front and center, with a front porch that overlooks an empty lot filled with graffiti and weeds. “I’m trying to remove the wrapper, that stuffy pretentious stuff, and replace it with something approachable,” said Potter, an assistant winemaker at Fess Parker Winery by day who launched his label during a Funk Zone warehouse party in April 2009, opened his first tasting room in February 2010, and expanded into the next door last month. He makes about 10 different wines per year (all with screen-printed labels), offers refillable bottles from his two kegs of wine on tap, and runs the appropriately named Club Awesome as his wine club, altogether cultivating a sort of locally grown, hipsterish-in-a-good-way vibe. “I love the microbrew model,” he explained when asked about inspiration. “We’re a place to hang out, as well as to taste wine and buy wine.” 22 Anacapa Street, 931-MUNI, municipalwinemakers.com.

By Paul Wellman

The Pub operators Peter Summers (left) and Alvaro Rojas with Graham Pressley, owner of La Tour.

Gay, Straight, Foreign, Whatever: The Pub and La Tour

The recent opening of The Pub and La Tour Wine Merchants on Helena Street brought two concepts — a gay-focused but straight-friendly bar and a tasting room for Old World wines — that are brand-new for both the Funk Zone and Santa Barbara at large. Given the increasingly big crowds every weekend, the management team of Peter Summers, Alvaro Rojas, and Graham Pressley has clearly filled a void. “We were hired to resurrect the old Pub,” said Rojas, referring to the gay bar that once thrived in the very same space for decades before closing in the early 1990s. While planning, Rojas — whose ownership/management résumé includes Chilango’s, Alcazar, Milk & Honey, and Meat n’ Potatoes, as well as The Loft, a new event space just around the corner — met Pressley, who was looking for a bigger space for the wine-tasting-and-selling business that he founded in a tiny spot on Anacapa and Ortega streets earlier this year. The result is a U-shaped bar with one side selling mixed drinks and the other offering Old World wine, and a tasty menu also being available everywhere, all until 2 a.m.

The timing for both concepts was prime. “There’s a disenfranchised gay community in town that doesn’t have anywhere to go,” said Pressley, but he’s also proud to note that we’re entering a more accepting era in which gays and straights no longer need to be separated, explaining, “The idea that you have to compartmentalize gay culture is a thing of the past.” As to the Old World wines, Pressley brings an option for those who’d like something else to taste other than the Central Coast’s finest. “It’s an added texture to the wine community that we don’t have here,” he explained.

And Rojas is happy to see it all coming together in the Funk Zone. “Within five years, this is going to be a destination location,” he said. 224 Helena Street, 403-6923, latourwinemerchants.com.

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