If a wine bar should be judged on how many winemakers hold court there, then Wine + Beer in the Santa Barbara Public Market is doing swell, given that Matt Brady and Dave Yates of Jaffurs, Drake Whitcraft, Blake Sillix, and Chad Melville are known to frequent the glass-walled cube. On top of that, the establishment is now hosting winemaker dinners that pair Santa Barbara’s more elusive vintners with our most celebrated chefs: Gavin Chanin’s Lutum brand with Goodland Hotel’s Derek Simcik in June, for instance, or, on August 22, Paul Lato with S.Y. Kitchen’s Luca Crestanelli.
That’s thanks in part to the work of manager/sommelier Sam Doernte, a Pittsburgh native who came to Santa Barbara last year after working in resorts and wine distribution in Palm Springs for seven years. He’d grown a little tired of the country club crowd ordering costly Napa cabs and fat Russian River chardonnays, and he happily eased into a more knowledgeable clientele here. “Chenin blanc isn’t a foreign concept to them,” said Doernte of his customers.
After working shifts at the bar, Doernte became Wine + Beer’s buyer last November, and he started expanding the boutique label offerings — “We try to support the smaller guys,” he explained — while also growing the import catalog to show off those Old World wines that California vintners use as benchmarks. “Graham Tatomer makes a great riesling,” said Doernte of the Santa Barbara winemaker, “so we have what he emulates from Germany on the shelf.”
The place is wine-savvy in other ways, too. If you buy a bottle off the shelf that costs more than $25, you can drink it without a corkage fee; less than $25, it’s only a $5 corkage. The by-the-glass selection is varied, and a $20 flight of three can open your eyes widely. Spend a little more, and they’ll use the Coravin to pull wine from old, rare, or pricy bottles, like the Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet. “That should be $50 a glass, but it’s $29,” said Doernte. The beer and cider selection, overseen by Eric Krauthoff, is also revelatory and ever-changing, with flights of four only $11.
As is seen in other wine bars around town, wine-educated Santa Barbarans are using Wine + Beer as a resource for expanding their own palates. “I’m finding that local people drink the import wine and the tourists drink the Santa Barbara wine — we get a little spoiled because it’s so accessible,” explained Doernte. And that’s due to places like Wine + Beer, where a classic bottle might be popped for by-the-glass service on a manager’s whim. Said Doernte while looking at one of his jam-packed shelves, “That Barolo has just been staring at me.”
Wine + Beer hosts winemaker Paul Lato and S.Y. Kitchen Chef Luca Crestanelli for an intimate 32-seat dinner on Saturday, August 22, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $95. Call (805) 770-7702. Future dinners feature Stolpman, Piedrasassi, and more.