Steve Arrowood | Credit: Doug Wilder

Steve Arrowood: 1959-2020

It’s August 2013, and I’ve just arrived at the La Purisima Mission for Wine & Fire, the Sta. Rita Hills Wine Alliance’s signature event. Tables are nestled under oak trees, rays of sunshine flicker across bottles of chardonnay and pinot noir, and tablecloths flap in the gentle Lompoc breeze. 

I’m encouraged to go see Steve and Caryn Arrowood at Montemar Wines. It’s their first time at the event, and I love meeting new winemakers. I’m impressed by the wines, but even more by Steve. He’s immediately kind and engaging, and he tells me that he’s been a home winemaker since 1991 ​— ​a true garagiste. We said our pleasantries and I moved along.

Shortly after, I was flying on a plane to the United Kingdom with my daughter and wife, whose job moved us there for nearly five years. I knew I had made a new good friend by meeting Steve, but what I didn’t know yet was just how good.

Born in Greendale, Wisconsin, in 1959, Steve grew up in Palos Verdes Estates, California. He started college in San Luis Obispo, but he finished his degree at Cal State Dominguez Hills while working at Hughes Aircraft. That’s where he met Caryn, though she’d also grown up in Palos Verdes, and they worked together at Hughes/Raytheon for more than 30 years.

They married on April 20, 1985, and settled in their hometown near family. They even named their winery after a street by their home, Via Montemar. Steve felt that the name, which roughly translates to “hill by the ocean,” tied in very well with the sea breezes that cool down the Sta. Rita Hills.

The Arrowoods began learning about wine in their twenties, tasting every Friday night with a dedicated group. One member grew grapes in their backyard, and Steve asked if he could make wine from them. It wasn’t very good, but Steve was undeterred and continually sought new sources and better equipment. He was eventually making 14 barrels a year, with friends who helped with every step of production, from harvest to bottling. It was a hobby on steroids.

One day, after tasting a bottle of their Thompson Vineyard syrah, winemaker Andrew Murray called the group garagistes, a term from France for small-batch producers that was not widely known at that time. The group became known as the Cooperative de Garagistes.

Steve’s first bout of cancer came in 2012, when he had a kidney removed, immediately retired from aerospace, and professionally pursued wine. The Arrowoods settled in Lompoc, opening their tasting room in 2013 and completing their winery in 2015.

During my sporadic visits back to Santa Barbara from the U.K., I would attend Wine & Fire and say hello. Then, in 2018, my personal dream came true: I was hired by the Santa Barbara Vintners, the nonprofit that protects and promotes Santa Barbara County wine country. Like Steve and Caryn, I was truly excited to move to Lompoc, something we bonded over.

When I moved out alone in May 2018 ​— ​my wife and daughter stayed in the U.K. to finish the school year ​— ​I found a home practically next door to Steve and Caryn. On weekends, I’d get quite lonely while sitting on a camping chair in an unfurnished house. Then I’d drive over to the Lompoc tasting rooms to see who was around.

Every time, Steve’s sports car was there, and he always welcomed me with a beaming smile and a glass of wine. We’d sit for hours, talking and laughing about wine, music, food, the Grateful Dead (his favorite band), Dead & Co. (the band’s latest incarnation), and all things Lompoc. He was the ultimate raconteur, and I’ll never forget how his voice would get high and raspy when emphasizing a point. He was a staunch supporter of the wine industry and could even get fiery talking about it, but even that was out of love. With Steve, you never ran out of things to talk about. He really saved me during those first few months.

What Steve didn’t share is that he was fighting cancer, which had metastasized to his bones in 2015, and then to his brain in late 2019. He never let on, not one peep.

When Steve passed away in his sleep on April 14, I was stunned, shocked, confused. It couldn’t be? Steve seemed invincible ​— ​a magnetic ball of energy, charismatic, loyal, and supportive. A void in our universe was instantly created.

Steve and Montemar Winery are survived by Caryn; their daughter, Alyse; and their son, Kyle, who will follow in his dad’s footsteps and take over the winemaking. We will all be here for them, just as Steve was here for us. I’ll miss Steve immensely, and I have three words for him that I know he’d admire: Fare Thee Well. 

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