Sometimes it feels like a stretch even calling Santa Barbara’s wine trail “urban,” but placing Summerland Winery under that title just feels silly. Save for the steady roar of the 101, sleepy beach towns don’t get much cuter than these steep hillsides full of postcard-ready cottages, so it’s probably more apt to categorize this tasting room as the lone stop on the “Quaint-Seaside-Hamlet Wine Trail.” But small-town modesty never stopped the Summerland crew from making high-minded wines, particularly their line of well-heralded and widely sold pinot noirs.
The winery was founded in 2002 by Nebil “Bilo” Zarif, who was born in Turkey, fell in love with wine while studying in France, and then made enough money in the oil business to pursue his passion. His first move was buying Barnwood Vineyards in the Cuyama Valley. He then bought Laetitia Winery with a partner, but their plan to expand the Arroyo Grande operation never worked, and so Zarif left the project to start Summerland Winery. He quickly hired Etienne Terlinden — a Navy SEAL who was then working at Central Coast Wine Services — as his winemaker, and their first wines got noticed by influential critic Robert Parker, who scored them high and remarked, “Who are these people?”
In 2004, the tasting room was opened in the cozy cottage at 2330 Lillie Avenue, quickly becoming popular, although manager Emily Solomon is still working hard to get even more people in the door to try the wines, which range from $20 all the way to $70. She is excited about the new sparkling wine they sell and the recently expanded hours (now until 7 p.m. on Mon.-Thu. and 9pm on Fri.-Sat.). “We’re trying to create even more buzz around the winery,” she said.
Though Terlinden is currently on a one-year tour of duty with the Navy SEALs somewhere on the Pacific Rim, his support staff is hard at work on the next vintage at their space inside Buellton’s Terravant facility. As usual, it will feature grapes from some of the most special vineyards on the Central Coast, from Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills in the Santa Maria Valley to Wolff Vineyard in the Edna Valley and the winery’s own Theresa-Noelle Vineyard, named after Terlinden’s daughter and located at the western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills.
Though the team appreciates being the first winery to visit on the way into town from Southern California or the last one to hit when L.A. people leave, they’re happiest to report that about 70 percent of their visitors are locals. “It’s great to see the loyalty of our customers,” said Darren Penquite during a visit last week. “They know the staff. The staff knows their names. It’s like Cheers. You see friendships being built between customers.”
Summerland Winery’s tasting room is located at 2330 Lillie Avenue in Summerland. Call 565-9463 or see summerlandwine.com.