EDITOR’S NOTE: The name of Caveau has been changed to Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant. See lesmarchandswine.com
Nearly a decade ago, Eric Railsback was a Westmont College student waiting tables at the Wine Cask, when the Anacapa Street institution existed as both a gourmet restaurant and globe-scouring bottle shop. “Every night, we’d split a bottle of wine and talk about it,” said Railsback, which meant the native of Newberg, Oregon, was developing expertise of vines and vintages before his 21st birthday.
Today, with a few Burgundy harvests under his belt and a brief reign atop San Francisco’s wine world as sommelier of RN74, Railsback is 28 years old and back in Santa Barbara, on the verge of opening his own wine bar and bottle shop — also on Anacapa Street but in the heart of the Funk Zone — with friend and sommelier Brian McClintic, the Pasadena-raised star of the recent documentary Somm. “We see a big hole in the market where the Wine Cask used to dominate,” said Railsback, who hopes their Caveau Wine Bar & Merchant will occupy that space, bringing tasting and talking about wines from near and far back together again.
Located within the walls of the old Bay Café as part of the long-awaited Anacapa Project, Caveau will officially open this June adjacent to The Lark, the property’s cornerstone restaurant development for which Railsback and McClintic are also beverage directors. Featuring nearly 30 seats inside — including eight at the bar — and another dozen or so on the patio, Caveau will offer wines to taste, drink, and take home, as well as simple foods like potted meats, cheeses, charcuterie, and tartines to eat until about 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and midnight or later on weekends. The focus will be on stocking interesting, hard-to-find wines from Santa Barbara and Europe — with occasional Napa and Oregon finds tossed in, too — and constantly mixing up the tastings. “If you come in one day a week,” said Railsback, “it’s always going to be something different.”
The two first met in San Francisco, where McClintic moved from Aspen at the urging of their mutual friend Rajat Parr, founder of RN74 where Railsback worked. With nowhere to stay, McClintic said that “Raj kind of pawned me off on Eric” as a short-term roommate in Railsback’s “sardine-can studio in Nob Hill.” That quickly became nine weeks, during which time the two hit it off and started hatching business ideas together. In the meantime, McClintic worked toward his Master Sommelier certification, a grueling process that is captured in Somm, which has screened to packed film fest houses all year and is expected to have a theatrical release soon.
Like much of what’s happened with the Anacapa Project, the connection between the Caveau team and the development’s mastermind, marketing veteran-turned-restaurateur Sherry Villanueva, came about serendipitously. She contacted Railsback through one of his wine-buying clients over a possible consultant position, and then he realized that a retail component of her design was “almost exactly our business plan.” From there, putting the plan in motion proved “ridiculously easy,” said Railsback.
Of course, actually opening the doors has taken longer than expected, but, to give a taste of what Caveau will be about, the duo will host a Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting on May 18, with 55 producers sharing their not-yet-available bottlings. [That event has been moved to August 10.] The event will be held on the grounds of the still-under-construction Anacapa Project, so attendees will get a glimpse of that future, as well. And expect the event to grow, as the Caveau team is already looking to next year, when they plan to have even more people and two dates for the futures tasting — exactly as the Wine Cask used to do it years ago.
Caveau Wine Bar & Merchant, which opens at 131 Anacapa Street this June, is hosting a Santa Barbara County Wine Futures tasting there on May 18, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. [That event has been rescheduled to August 10.] See caveausb.com.