Today, it’s easy to take for granted that Santa Barbara County is internationally respected as a great wine-growing region. But back in the early 1990s, there was much more hope than acceptance of such a reality, even though savvy winemakers were already singing the praises of the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys.
Diving into that era of promise is this half-hour video produced by Dennis Aubrey and Antonio Gardella during 1991 and 1992. Called “Vintage Journeys,” it was to be the pilot episode of a 13-part globe-trotting series that would explore the great wine regions of the world. Alas, it was never picked up, so this video sat on the literal shelves in VHS form for decades.
That was until Gardella — a widely beloved face on Santa Barbara’s wine scene ever since he worked a harvest for Adam Tolmach and Jim Clendenen back in the early 1980s — dropped his copy, couldn’t play it anymore, and so had it covered to digital. “I had a dream of becoming the Julia Child of wine,” explained Gardella, who fell for grapes at age 23, “of having a wine television show in a time long before Sideways.” He enlisted his friend Aubrey, who he’d met as a UCSB student in 1968, for his film abilities and connections, and off they went.
Among other highlights, the video features legendary Los Alamos grape grower (and Dago Red creator) Joe Carrari, Buttonwood’s Betty Williams paddling a canoe, Firestone’s Patrick Will and Alison Green, Foxen’s Billy Wathen and Dick Dore, Fess Parker’s Mark Shannon, Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen, and Rick Longoria, then at Gainey. Farmers such as Tom Shepherd and the folks at Tutti Frutti are shown in the bustling Santa Barbara Farmers Market, and even the charismatic, Carpinteria-born, Basque gentleman Luis Goena makes an appearance on horseback while Gardella and Aubrey hunt chanterelles. Bringing it all together for the fisherman’s stew and lamb dinner at the end of the film is Chef Staffan Terje, then of Piatti, now owner of Perbacco Ristorante in San Francisco. Original smooth jazz, of course, plays throughout.
Today, Aubrey and his wife, PJ, photograph churches in France and Europe, which they feature on their blog, Via Lucis: Photography of Religious Architecture. See https://vialucispress.wordpress.com. Gardella, meanwhile, remains a fixture in the wine business, which he did not enter professionally until 1988. He spent the first 15 years of his adult life working with handicapped children, but eventually went into wine sales, and has worked for the past 22 years for the Henry Wine Group.
“It is fun to see familiar Santa Barbara County wine folks during the region’s infancy,” said Gardella. “The excitement of our wine region continues to flourish.”