When Seth Kunin opened a tasting room for his eponymous label down on Anacapa Street back in 2009, he was one of a handful of vintners pouring their wine in Santa Barbara proper, compared to the 100 or so then doing the same up north in wine country. Today, just four years later, the number of tasting rooms in town is fast approaching 20, and the buzz has never been louder, with constant media attention, a steady stream of patrons, and a nonprofit marketing association known as the Urban Wine Trail that incorporated last year. This month, Kunin doubles down on the future of both the urban wine scene and the waterfront Funk Zone neighborhood when he becomes the first winemaker to open a second tasting room there.
Called Anacapa Vintners and located on East Yanonali Street — across from urban originator Santa Barbara Winery, next door to Pali Wine Co., and right around the corner from his still-thriving original tasting room — the new spot will be “exploring the wines of Santa Barbara, one microclimate at a time,” said Kunin, who’s expanded from his longtime Rhône varietal focus to make small, roughly 150-case batches of chardonnay, pinot noir, chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, malbec, merlot, and whatever else he can get his hands on.
“There is just so much happening since I started Kunin 15 years ago,” said the white-haired, bespectacled winemaker, a New York City native who came west for UCLA in the 1980s and then landed in Santa Barbara in 1990 to manage the Wine Cask before moving on to wine jobs at Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez and Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria. “You have to grow, mentally, financially, and in every other way, so what made the most sense for us was opening another place.”
On any given day at Anacapa Vintners, which opens this week, there might be 10 different wines to taste, broken down into appropriate flights and served in a stylish setting designed by architect Karl Kras, whose office is upstairs, and built by Nathan Modisette of BoMo Design. But the paramount point will be teaching visitors about what the county has to offer, and that lesson is embodied brilliantly in the floor-to-high-ceiling chalkboard-esque mural by Los Angeles–based artist Elkpen, whose map of the region is both accurate and entertaining.
The mural serves as a reminder that, while you can do tastings in town, the wine still comes from the vineyards up north, a relationship that Kunin’s new brand consciously celebrates. “I don’t like to be in competition with the valley — I think there is a place for both,” said Kunin, explaining that the urban scene makes wine tasting accessible to people who don’t have time to drive up to wine country. “It offers a different experience. We don’t have the vineyards, but we have the beach and shopping and a lot of other stuff.” And now, with Anacapa Vintners, there’ll be a steady stream of ever-changing options from all wine-growing corners of Santa Barbara County.
See anacapavintners.com or visit 114 East Yanonali Street.