“You’ll never know when the phone will ring or they’ll be a knock at the door and your life will change,” says the irrepressibly charming Meridith Moore, who works as events manager for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. She’s talking about seizing opportunities when they come, which is how she became the mastermind behind the region’s premier gastronomic event: the ever epic and almost always immediately sold-out Santa Barbara Wine + Food Festival.
The 2019 edition takes place amidst the museum’s oak trees and creekside setting on June 29, when 900 attendees will sip wine from 60 wineries and savor food from 42 vendors. This year, they’re expanding to the revamped Museum Backyard and Sprague Butterfly Pavilion, and moving the VIP Lounge across the creek to double the size. All proceeds benefit the institution’s nature and science education programs.
“The location is so stunningly beautiful,” explains Meridith of the event’s formula for success. “And the winemakers and the chefs are all there, which is rare and very special.”
The Santa Barbara Wine Festival, as it was first known, started in the early 1980s, benefitting both the museum and Heal the Ocean. In the 1990s, it moved to the Music Academy of the West, until that organization underwent renovations and decided to no longer host many outside events. That’s when Meridith told her then-boss to bring it back to the Museum of Natural History.
“Very high people in the wine industry had told him I wouldn’t succeed,” Meridith recalls, to which she replied, “Bring it on.”
In 2007, she enlisted the help of respected vintners such as Richard Sanford and Fred Brander to further expand the festival’s cachet. “We opened that year with 30 wine vendors and five food vendors,” remembers Meridith, who steadily grew the food component over the years and, two years ago, launched with the rebranded name that includes “Food” in the title.
Though she’s a veteran now, the festival still takes Meridith an entire year to put together. “And I start working on the next one the day after this one ends,” she says.
After growing up in Hawaii and finishing high school in Los Angeles in 1967, Meridith moved north to the Russian River Valley for two years. In 1969, when she was 19, Meredith came to Santa Barbara to open a smoothie bar in Isla Vista. That led to a career in the restaurant industry, opening delis and other eateries while writing a food column.
“I hated owning restaurants,” she confesses. “It’s so stressful. I preferred catering.” So she started Meridith’s Catering and, 16 years ago, also began working for the Museum of Natural History. In addition to the wine festival, she organizes the gala for the children’s programs, member parties, and cocktail receptions with the curators, as well as endless private parties and weddings. “It’s non-stop year round,” she says.
She raised two children, telling them, “I don’t care what you do with your life — just get a college degree.” One got a doctorate, the other a Master’s.
Meridith, who lives downtown, will be turning 70 this year and looks forward to a special birthday present that’s a perfect fit for this bon vivant: Her son is taking her to the French Laundry in the Napa Valley, considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world.
“I’ve become a minimalist — learning to age graciously, learning to live alone,” she explains. “I work at a very social place, so my social needs are being met.”
Meridith Moore answers the Proust Questionnaire.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
In the far away, distant, and misty past: Dionysus. In this realm, La Grande Dame and Eleanor Roosevelt.
What is the quality you most like in people?
The ability to not judge a book by its cover.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
What do you like most about your job?
Working with scientists, teachers, curators, naturalists, instructors, and support staff who forego a job in the for-profit world to make the Earth a better place for all the creatures who live here.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Sunday night at Pico in Los Alamos.
What is your greatest fear?
Causing pain and suffering.
Who do you most admire?
The back of the house, because they make it happen, and Elaine Gibson.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
What do you most value in friends?
What is your most marked characteristic?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Which talent would you most like to have?
To be able to sing well and in harmony.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would like to be able to express myself better.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising my two amazing children whose lives are making an impact for a better world.
Where would you most like to live?
At the Magnolia in Santa Barbara
What is your most treasured possession?
My books and my kitchen knives.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My son, Edwin Morales.
What is your motto?
Onward and upward.
On what occasion do you lie?
To keep from hurting people.