Opened by Jody and CT Williams in 2007, Wandering Dog in Solvang is Santa Barbara wine country’s oldest wine bar and the county’s only green-certified one, as well. They initially wanted to focus on small wineries that didn’t have tasting rooms, but over the past eight years, many of the producers the bar once featured became big enough to open their own. That meant Wandering Dog, which is named after a beloved family labrador, was competing with friends, so the couple decided to evolve their strategy.
As a result, Wandering Dog now boasts a private label composed of small-batch and one-off wines made by some of the region’s brightest winemaking stars, many of whom were first poured publicly there. The first Wandering Dog wine was a 2005 pinot noir by Flying Goat winemaker Norm Yost, which the Williams named Leila, after CT’s childhood Newfoundland labrador. Today, the Wandering Dog label encompasses 14 wines, each made by a handpicked vintner and each about 40 cases, or roughly two barrels, of wine.
“Our Wandering Dog label is a way for us to support and promote local winemakers,” said Jody Williams. “We’ve kept many of the same winemakers from year to year and produce small quantities of these one-off wines that are only available in our wine bar.”
Across their lineup, the Williams place as much emphasis on the winemaker as they do the vintage, vineyard, and grape variety, and they hope to eventually produce wines from every AVA in Santa Barbara County. “We really wanted our label to appeal to the general public,” said Jody. “Our customers are very loyal and really trust us, so we are dedicated to bringing them the best wine in our opinions.” The couple also hosts industry nights every Tuesday and offers blind tasting flights on Thursdays.
With so many offerings on their by-the-glass menu, the couple hopes that there’s something for everyone, whether from their own private label or some far-flung corner of the world. After tasting the newest release of Wandering Dog’s private label, here are my favorites:
Wandering Dog 2014 Grüner Veltliner by Graham Tatomer: The scent of baking spices and apples on the nose gives way to a bright wine with zippy notes of Meyer lemon, a dusting of cinnamon, and green apple with minerality on the finish. $28
Wandering Dog 2013 “No Leashes” Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills by Doug Margerum: An easy everyday pinot meant for drinking now, with fresh sweet notes of raspberry and blueberry, a hint of vanilla, and a streak of pencil lead with a spicy green finish. $32
Wandering Dog 2013 “Leila” Pinot Noir Rio Vista Vineyard by Norm Yost: Representing the eighth year of collaborating with Yost, this is an earthy, chocolaty pinot with notes of rich blackberry, velvety tannins, and a fresh herbal finish. $60
Wandering Dog 2012 “No Leashes” Zinfandel Dusi Vineyard by Janell Dusi: Licorice, licorice, licorice on the nose! The Dusi vineyard was the first in Paso Robles planted to zinfandel, and the wine is fresh with notes of raspberry and watermelon, a layer of spice, dusty tannins, and enough acidity to keep the wine on its feet. $34
Wandering Dog Wine Bar is located at 1539-C Mission Drive in Solvang. Call (805) 686-9126 or see wanderingdogwinebar.com.