The year 2019 marked my 20th anniversary at The Santa Barbara Independent, where I started working as a proofreader in September 1999, not counting the months I spent before then as an intern. I’ve spent much of these part 12 months reporting and writing a forthcoming book called Vines & Vision: The Winemakers of Santa Barbara County with photographer Macduff Everton. (Learn more and pre-order copies via vinesandvisionsb.com.)
That work constricted my output of larger features for the paper in 2019, but among the more than 90 stories I contributed are many pieces worthy of a second look.
I started the year by reporting on efforts to turn Gaviota Coast–grown agave plants into booze with The Great Agave Experiment. I’ve recently tasted the second commercial batch, and it’s quite unique and promising. My last big feature of the year turned into just as ambitious of a project: Santa Barbara County’s Kernel King, about the quest of Conrad Gonzales to grow corn in Santa Barbara County and turn it into tortillas.
The Last Perfect Place in California was an Earth Day-timed piece on the Dangermond Preserve called. And I was also happy to Meet the Channel Islands National Park’s New Leader. Staying with the outdoor theme, this time with kids involved, I helped celebrate a critical nonprofit via Wilderness Youth Project Grows Up.
Much of my weekly work revolved around food and drink, including this exhaustive cover story roundup of all the breweries in Santa Barbara County: Santa Barbara Loves Beer. In our summer books issue, I wrote about onetime Santa Barbara journalist Jeff Gordinier’s new book Hungry in Riding Shotgun with René Redzepi. And 2019 marked the 10th anniversary of our Foodie Awards.
Shorter food pieces that I enjoyed reporting included Did the World’s Best Restaurant Just Open in Montecito?, my explanation of super expensive food at the already closed Silver Bough; an introduction to Chomping Southeast Asian Street Food at Tyger Tyger; a sipping and supping extravaganza called Island Grub and Patio Drinks at Cubaneo & Shaker Mill; and, on a more depressing note, the fact that a global foodie guide presented No Michelin Stars for Santa Barbara.
On the wine front, I welcomed a new winemaking scene with Samsara, Kunin Plant Wine Roots in Goleta and touted the reopening of a classic space in Rebuilding San Ysidro Ranch’s Epic Wine Cellar. In addition to the wine industry’s fight against cannabis, they are also considering a self-imposed tax of sorts to pay for regional marketing efforts. I covered that extensively in Would New Fee Empower Wine Country Marketing Efforts?
Traveling with my wife and family is becoming a theme in my getaway pieces, including Love and Rockets at the Hotel Skyview and Weekend Getaway to Los Osos-Baywood Park. The kids also now come with me to concerts, including Lionel Richie @ the Santa Barbara Bowl. They also rejoiced when I was given a fast, fancy car to check out for a week, as reported in My Maserati Does 190.
Last but not least, we also launched a cannabis column this year. It’s giving us a biweekly space to cover not the endless political and planning controversies (we’re leaving that to Nick Welsh and the news department), but the fascinating and fast-evolving consumer side of this legal product. Check out our first round of columns at The Cannabis Corner.