It would be difficult to find a pair with more compelling résumés to deliver the finest wines from France, Italy, Austria, and Germany to thirsty Santa Barbarans than Mike Trupiano and Kyle Erickson.
After four years upping the Bacara’s cellar game from 2008 to 2012, Trupiano moved to San Ysidro Ranch, where he gained much renown in sommelier circles by winning its Stonehouse restaurant the coveted Grand Award from Wine Spectator in 2014. Santa Barbara native Erickson, meanwhile, started VanceErickson Wine Brokers with friend Ted Vance in 2008, and built a national reputation selling both exclusive imports from Burgundy and some of the Central Coast’s more cultish labels such as Tyler Winery.
Together, in February of this year, they launched Industry Wine Merchants (IWM), believing that there is a strong desire in Santa Barbara circles for Old World wines and not enough folks selling them. According to Erickson, IWM will fill the niche once occupied by the Wine Cask, which dropped its bottle shop more than five years ago. “If that existed today, you’d have legions of fans flocking to that store,” said Erickson. “I don’t think they went anywhere. They’re just buying things online.”
Currently, their Goleta-based company is an online-only importer/retailer, but the goal is to one day open a storefront shop in the Santa Ynez Valley. That’s the hole Trupiano realized existed while he was lounging by a Los Olivos hotel pool one day with his wife, Jen Trupiano. They wanted a bottle of real Champagne, the capital “c” kind from France, but, after an extensive search, only found a way-too-massive three-liter Billecart. “That’s when it dawned on us,” said Trupiano: Despite hundreds if not thousands of wine lovers who’d frequent such a store, the Santa Ynez Valley doesn’t have a place to reliably find a wide mix of Old World wines.
Throw in a passing comment about opening a wine shop during a golf outing with Erickson, and the two were suddenly forming an LLC in October 2014, further empowered with the notion that the thriving winemaking industry of the region be a major supporter of the business. “The wine industry has more of a budget to spend on wine than anyone,” said Erickson, especially when it comes to tasting what Trupiano describes as “pedigreed, benchmark wines” from Europe.
But finding a brick-and-mortar establishment in Buellton or thereabouts turned out to be much more difficult than imagined. “There wasn’t a perfect solution,” said Trupiano. So the two decided to kick off IWM online first from a warehouse/office at the corner of Los Carneros and Calle Real, where they are also storing wine for people. They’re currently delivering wine orders in the Santa Barbara area for free, as well as consulting and doing valuations on private cellars. The Santa Ynez Valley store will come later.
“I’ve never opened a business before, so this is all new territory for me,” said Trupiano, but both he and his wife are happy he’s off the late-night restaurant grind. “The older you get,” he said, “the harder it gets.”
IWM is designed to function like a “bespoke ordering system,” in which Trupiano and Erickson will begin to learn their customers’ tastes and budget. But it must go both ways to work. “We want them to get to know our palates just like we’ve gotten to know our importers’ palates,” said Trupiano.
Currently, they offer more than 300 selections, though both would like to grow that number past 1,000 in the years to come. They have both extreme luxury offerings, such as the $2,500 Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru 2009, as well as great values, such as $15 Chablis from Christophe et Fils and $16 Malat Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
Most of all, they’re choosing wines they believe in. “Both of us are prone to taking stands,” said Trupiano. “I’ve based my career on that. If I like it, I’m gonna sell it.”