Santa Barbara just became a great place to taste Paso Robles wine. That’s thanks to August Ridge, the new storefront near La Arcada on the first block of East Figueroa Street, where co-owners John Backer and Jill Zamborelli Backer are sharing their Paso-based take on largely northern Italian grape varieties. Opened in early July, the winery’s offerings tend toward a spicy, less fruit-forward style and give wine lovers a geographic and cultural departure from the usual Santa Barbara County flavors.
“The general response is surprise,” said John Backer, who is also the winemaker and spends most days at his winery’s original tasting room in Creston. “S.B. is known for making wonderful pinot noirs and chardonnays, and I think [August Ridge] is being received well as a complement to what S.B. does well, [as] an additive to people’s wine experiences.”
There’s a big, brambly, robust nebbiolo and a cherry-tart barbera, grapes well suited to Paso’s hotter climate. John touts August Ridge’s mineral-rich soil as the reason for their blend-amenable nebbiolo, which composes two-thirds of the luxuriously heady Ingenious, their flagship wine, along with their bright, lively Tuscan-style blend, Jovial. Jill, meanwhile, who spends the majority of her time improvising Italian meals to pair with the wine in Creston, prefers the crisp, melon-sweet pinot grigio.
With John descending from a family of Thompson Seedless grape growers and Jill, a family of Italian immigrants, these grapes didn’t fall too far from the vines, and at their tasting room, the feeling is familial, friendly, and conversant. A 2,500-case operation with a full-time staff of four, they keep their philosophy rooted in the small-scale ways of the old country.
“In Italy, wine is part of the context of our life, and it’s that way with us here — it fits into your world, goes with your family, goes with your friends,” explained John, who prefers long and engaging meals rather than just watching another rerun of Deadpool. “On the 17th of March, everyone wants to be Irish, and for the other 364 days, everyone wants to be Italian,” he continued. “We make the wines to help you do that.”
August Ridge Vineyards’ tasting room is located at 5 East Figueroa Street. Call 770-8442 or visit augustridge.com.