The newest wine face in the exponentially buzzing Funk Zone draws its interior design cues from the midcentury bomb shelter palette, but the biggest explosion seems to have already happened inside the walls, where the traditional tasting-room experience has been blown to smithereens.
“This is the funky, groovy, post-Cold War bunker that is Area 5.1,” said Martin Brown, surrounded by graffiti-esque spray paintings of aliens, folders full of tasting notes bar stamped “Top Secret,” and a military chalkboard featuring a grid of Air Force fighter squadrons. And to match the curious décor of the new Area 5.1 Winery on East Yanonali Street, Brown is offering wine blends that are equally wacky, such as the White Light 2011, featuring sauvignon blanc mixed with chenin blanc mixed with sémillon to deliver both citrusy crispness and tropical character. “I feel that unique styles of wine are catching a lot of attention,” he explained. “So we are working on really unique blends that we treat like secrets, where no one knows exactly what’s in them.”
Originally hailing from Adelaide, Australia, Brown and his brother Mike — an early adopter of Santa Barbara wine country, having worked at Santa Ynez Winery in the early 1980s before stops at Mosby and Buttonwood — have spent the past decade building Kalyra Winery into a “relaxed and approachable” place to learn to love wine, both at the valley winery on Refugio Road and the tasting room down the street in the Funk Zone. With Area 5.1, Martin — who’s officially running this project on his own, but with wines made by his brother and lots of help from manager Chad Nassif — takes that notion of anti-formal into a whole new, well, dimension, even throwing up flatscreen TVs that have become popular with the Saturday college football crowd. It’s certainly not for purists, but for the growing crowds — dare we say it: millennials! — who enjoy interesting wines in unpretentious ways, Area 5.1 might as well be called Ground Zero.
The inspiration itself came from when the Brown brothers got their greencards a few years back and heard the official say that they were now “resident aliens.” Jokes about Area 51 ensued, until Martin realized it would be a good name for a winery. Fast-forward to the redevelopment of the Bay Cafe property into the Anacapa Project, and Area 5.1 — slightly revamped for fears of possible trademark infringement —finally found a home, originally slated to be in the building where The Lark is but eventually settling into the long building along Yanonali.
Though less then two months old, Brown is already pleased with his crowds, thanks in large part to the healthy cross-promotion going on with all of the tasting rooms, restaurants, and other businesses in the Funk Zone. “There is a nice relationship amongst everyone down here,” he said of the neighborhood. “This is now a destination on its own.”
Wacky Wines We Like
Equinox (2012): This fruity blend of rich white Rhône varietals viognier, roussanne, marsanne, and grenache blanc gets extra pick-up and zest from the addition of the Spanish grape albariño. “Spain’s not that far from the Rhône,” said Martin Brown. $24
Majestic 12 (2012): An ode to the clandestine crew of scientists, generals, and bureaucrats who were tasked to ponder human life after alien contact, this blend of sangiovese, barbera, and nebbiolo “are not the Italian varietals that typically go hand-in-hand,” said Brown. “There’s a little Piedmont, a little Tuscany, and a little Po River.” $28
Collusion (2012): Heavily leaning on syrah from three blocks of one Happy Canyon vineyard with a nice chunk of mourvèdre and a tiny bit grenache, “this is a GSM with not much G,” said Brown, who also has a habit of calling the mourvèdre “mataró” as they do in his native Australia. $32
Area 5.1 Winery is located at on East Yanonali Street but technically at 137 Anacapa Street, Unit B. Call (805) 770-7251 or see A51wine.com.