For old-time schoolin’, you can’t beat the three R’s: reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic. But in Santa Barbara, it’s just as true that for vinous education, you can’t beat the three W’s: Winehound, writing, and Wesley. That’s because Bob Wesley, owner of The Winehound on Chapala Street, is currently drafting his second annual “wine novella,” which is the catalog for the 2010 Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting, to be held May 15.
“At the last tally, we have 126 wines in the program from 54 labels,” said Wesley. “I’m not sure if it’s a record, but it’s pretty close to what the Wine Cask did in its heyday.” For years, wine futures and the Wine Cask were synonymous, and Wesley believes he’s taking the event back to its roots. “Our program is all-at-once, full-bore in the style the Wine Cask originated back in 1989. And Doug [Margerum, once and current Wine Cask owner, and now winemaker himself] is part of it, and we’re glad to have him.”
Wine lovers are quite glad to have Wesley, whose fine palate is well paired with his love for writing. Given last year’s event came together quickly after the demise of the un-rosy Rosenson-era Wine Cask, Wesley admitted, “I almost drove myself crazy. It can be repetitive talking about 30 syrahs, but each has its own unique personality. So when writing, I reference movies, music—trying to keep it intriguing and lively; otherwise, you lose your reader. Of course, you have to keep it informative, too; you have to talk about clones, etc. But it’s important to try to interject humor wherever you can.”
There’s no better example of Wesley’s keen writing style than his blurb for one of his favorite wines from this year’s offerings, the Jonata 2007 Petit Verdot: “I first tasted this in January 2009 up at the vineyard, and feel like that moment, the wine and I are all frozen in time, like a carbonited Han Solo from Empire Strikes Back. I can still remember standing there, glaciated as a lawn gnome in a Buffalo winter, intermittently mumbling profanities to myself, trying not to be impolite, but reduced to a combination of stunned silence and guttural street verbiage, all because this impenetrably dark, blackish purple barrel sample overwhelmed me with its formidability and full-throttle hedonism. This small-lot red (only six barrels) is a thrill ride, a neck-snapper that, once you taste it, will infiltrate your DNA and create a ‘Holy @#$%!’ response.”
This year’s event gives patrons a chance to taste and buy future releases from top producers like all-time stalwarts Au Bon Climat, Alma Rosa, and Qupé, and newcomers like Dragonette, Native9, and Rey. And this year, it’s expanding into Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort. “Eli Parker has been very helpful bringing us to that location, and it’s got wonderful amenities and size and flexibility in room arrangement,” explained Wesley. “We plan down the road to expand beyond the futures tasting to a wine weekend. We want to add more events, like seminars and wine dinners. But this year is big enough an expansion on its own.”
That expansion led to Wesley doing a lot of tasting and discussing with winemakers. “Our goal is to offer wines that provide the most pleasure, the most complexity, the ones that would fit in best with the overall profile of the event,” Wesley explained. As such, this year’s slate features a lot of 2007 Rhône varietals and 2008 and ’09 pinot noirs. “The price balance is more critical than ever,” said Wesley, explaining that there’ll be a half-dozen wines under $20. “We emphasize to wineries that the discounts make their wines more attractive, so they should try to do what they can that isn’t too painful to their bottom lines to prompt sales.”
The program also has a secret marketing tool: “We have some wines made just for us,” said Wesley. “There’s a Babcock pinot noir, a Stolpman syrah co-fermented with viognier, a Kenneth-Crawford grenache-syrah that’s all Larner Vineyard fruit.” While people sip these and other wines, they will enjoy food from the DoubleTree and a list of purveyors being developed at press time that will definitely include chocolates from Jessica Foster and olive oil from Global Gardens. “It’s all about promoting Santa Barbara County wines,” said Wesley. “We’re trying to market this event as much as possible through them and for them.”
The Winehound’s Santa Barbara County Wine Futures Tasting is on Saturday, May 15, noon–3:30 p.m., at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort, 633 East Cabrillo Street. Tickets are $65 and must be purchased in advance by calling 845-5247. See the catalog at thewinehound.com. A sister event will be at the Wine House in Los Angeles, on Saturday, April 24. Call (310) 479-3731.