Wine lovers worldwide know the ancient Latin saying “In vino veritas” or “In wine, there is truth.” Few in Santa Barbara wine country understand this more than Matt Kowalczyk, the co-owner of Buscador, the newly opened tasting room on Industrial Way in Buellton.
Meaning “seeker” in Spanish, Buscador is the culmination of Kowalczyk’s many years seeking the meaning of life. Kowalczyk opened the tasting room in the beginning of April with wife Stephanie Lopez as a way to showcase wines that he says are truthful in taste and price. “My brand is about truth and integrity in wine,” he said. “It’s not about charging $50 a bottle if it’s not worth $50 a bottle.” Kowalczyk focuses on all French varietals, with grapes culled throughout vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills and even out to Happy Canyon, presenting them without pretense. “There are plenty of places where you can go to a million-dollar estate winery that’s quiet with Vivaldi playing in the background,” he said. “This is Buellton. We’re creating our own new Funk Zone up here.”
Born and raised in “South” Detroit, Kowalczyk is a world traveler on a nonstop journey. Back in the early ’90s, he took several globe-hopping trips, going throughout Europe, Australia, and Asia. A studious soul, he graduated with a master’s from UCLA’s toxicology program, having examined, somewhat funnily enough, alcohol poisoning.
Kowalczyk’s real search began, however, after the tragic loss of his first wife at age 32, who died unexpectedly in front of his eyes at the age of 30. “That changed my whole life. It put me on this meaning-of-life search,” he said. “I wanted to create something out of my life, and I didn’t know that wine would be it.” He tried all manner of things, including being deployed in explosive ordnance disposal and serving as a basecamp project manager in Iraq.
It was during a summer in France that he vowed to vint one day, and in 2005, Kowalczyk followed the recommendation of friends and moved to the Santa Ynez area at the height of the Sideways craze. He began working for Kalyra as an assistant winemaker in 2006 and started his own label in 2008. He met a then-traveling Lopez in Denver at a college football game party in a bar on a Saturday morning, and after some long-distance engagement, the two traveled to New Zealand together to help in a harvest with Marlborough, where they discovered the grassy magic of N.Z. sauvignon blanc.
At Buscador, Kowalczyk likes to serve up French varietals. “I’ll do anything Bordeaux, Burgundy; I pick and choose the best grapes I can find,” said Kowalczyk, who has crushed, filtered, and bottled for a score of different wineries. As of writing, the $12 tasting menu features highlights like a floral and vibrant chenin blanc, a delightful grenache rosé, and a great malbec with notes of deep blueberry.
The new tasting room stands out with its beautiful and psychedelic mural by Los Angeles multidisciplinary street artist Bobby Z. Rodriguez. It’s a surreal centerpiece and conversation piece, where beautiful waves crash in outer space as bulls stampede (Taurus-born Kowalczyk also ran with the bulls in San Fermín, Spain).
So the next time you find yourself searching for tasting destinations in the Santa Ynez Valley, Buscador is definitely worth seeking out. “Isn’t that what wine tasting is all about? People searching for new experiences, new flavors?” Kowalczyk pondered. “Wine tasting is life tasting.”
4·1·1 The Buscador tasting room is open Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., at 140 Industrial Way, Unit D, in Buellton. Call 242-5206 or visit buscadorwine.com.