Meridith Moore’s favorite role as events manager for the Museum of Natural History is organizing the Santa Barbara Wine Festival, which she’s overseen for 13 years. That’s given her deep ties to the region’s wine industry, so Moore created a special speaking and tasting series as part of the museum’s centennial celebration. The first was an engaging chat between women winemakers in March, and the next is on Sunday, when six of Santa Barbara County’s pioneer vintners take the stage to relive old memories and share winemaking war stories. Attendees also get to try their wines and eat food from a variety of purveyors.
Moderating the panel is Antonio Gardella, a humble hero of Santa Barbara wine. A salesperson for The Henry Wine Group by day, Gardella is also a widely respected home vintner, culinary historian, mushroom hunter, occasional actor, and incredibly gracious gourmand who has decades-long connections to the panelists.
“I want to stand up and cheer these people,” said Gardella. “They’ve made Santa Barbara such a world-class destination. They’re tireless in seeking out the best grapes, making the best wine, and doing that here in Santa Barbara. They all climbed the ladder of success and reached wine stardom, not just on the local level but internationally.”
I asked this renaissance man about each panelist, and this is what he had to say.
Fred Brander, The Brander Vineyard: “He always finds new ways to celebrate and bring the whole wine community together,” said Gardella, noting Brander’s annual Wine Spectator Top 100 party, his many bouillabaisse festivals, his toast to the Los Olivos District (which Brander helped create earlier this year), and his recent 40-year anniversary celebration. “That generosity is inspiring. He’s still like a kid playing in the garden.”
Ken Brown, Ken Brown Wines: “‘Wine is bottled poetry’ was his motto,” said Gardella of Brown, whose middle name is Byron, like the poet, and who mentored so many of the other panelists after starting at Zaca Mesa in 1977. “He’s the most fatherly of the group.”
Jim Clendenen, Au Bon Climat: “The Mind Behind — everyone knows him,” said Gardella. “He went around the world and set fire to what Santa Barbara wine could be. He blazed the trails that made Santa Barbara a mecca for people to come and visit. His ankles used to swell up because he’d been on so many airplanes.”
Bob Lindquist, Qupé: “He’s one of the original Rhône Rangers,” said Gardella, who was overjoyed to see Lindquist’s dream come true earlier this year, when Qupé produced a chardonnay and syrah for the L.A. Dodgers. “He’s as humble and as gentle a giant as can be. There’s something so special about being successful but so kind and quiet.”
Rick Longoria, Longoria Wines: “Rick has blind faith,” said Gardella, reminding that the vineyard Longoria planted in the Sta. Rita Hills is called Fe Ciega, “blind faith” in Spanish. “He saw the beauty and majesty [of the] Sta. Rita Hills.” And like Brown, Brander, and Lane Tanner (whose former label was eponymous), Longoria stuck his own name on his label when he started it back in 1982. “They didn’t create some fancifully named winery,” said Gardella, who respects that reliance on one’s own legacy.
Lane Tanner, Lumen Wines: “She’s Bette Midler in the bottle,” said Gardella, noting her witty remarks on each back label and her penchant for pink hair, pink cars, pink pens, and the pink color of fermenting pinot noir. “And there’s that almost famous bathtub scene of her in a vat of grapes with the fog of carbon dioxide. She was one of the first two female winemakers in Santa Barbara.”
“In the Beginning: The Early Years in the Santa Barbara Wine Country” is Sunday, October 23, 1-5 p.m., at the Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol). Tickets are $75-$100. See sbnature.org/tickets.