Brenna Quigley was in the midst of a “little quarter-life panic moment” while finishing her master’s thesis in geology at UCSB in 2015. The Minnesota-raised grad student was unsure of how to follow in the footsteps of her father and older brothers, who were already big names in the realm of rocks and natural resources. So she started working in the tasting room at Kunin Wines just for some extra cash, unknowingly stumbling into a world that craved her earth expertise.
“I met people who thought geology was cool,” said Quigley. “All of the sudden, there was this industry that was really hungry for knowledge. I couldn’t believe how passionate they were and how badly they wanted to understand details about all of these things.”
Hanging out with wine industry innovators, folks such as winemaker/sommelier Rajat Parr and importer Ted Vance, Quigley began traveling regularly to Europe and soon was consulting for vineyard owners in both France and California. But she wanted a broader audience, and she considered publishing a booklet in the vein of those Roadside Geology books that seemingly every American geologist collects. “I always wanted there to be some resource for the wine community, because driving through wine regions is how we spend so much of our time,” she said.
When a friend suggested doing a podcast instead, Quigley dove into learning something brand new yet again. “I really fell in love with the format, the amount of details and color and texture and the depth you can do with audio,” explained Quigley, whose Roadside Terroir podcast launched last year and just released its fourth episode, the final installment for the inaugural series all about Santa Barbara County wine. “People are more willing to listen. They can put it on while they’re doing something else. It doesn’t take up all of your time.”
Though Quigley lived here until last August, when she moved up to Napa to be closer to consulting gigs, Santa Barbara wasn’t the original plan for the first series. She had lined up serious funding from Austria and was set to fly out there in March 2020. That, of course, did not happen due to the pandemic, so she settled into focusing on Santa Barbara instead.
Starring a number of winemakers (as well as myself), the series explores all of the county’s wine-growing appellations. (Even the just-approved Alisos Canyon appellation gets a quick mention.) It’s narrative in style, traveling along remote canyons and steep mountainsides while interspersing candid conservations about the region’s quirks and qualities with Quigley’s musings on geology. Though I’m certainly biased due to my own involvement and deep interest in the topic, Roadside Terroir should be a treat for anyone remotely interested in wine, geology, Santa Barbara, history, or just well-made podcasts.
Quigley is already plotting the second series, which will be in Europe, though she’s not ready to say where yet. That will bring her closer to the origins of terroir, the French concept that broadly means “sense of place” and is what winemakers use to describe how a specific vineyard or region is reflected in the finished wines.
“The idea of terroir is everything, and I think geology is the basis of that,” said Quigley. “Well, there’s granite there,” she explained by way of example, “so that means that it weathers and erodes in a certain way, which affects the minerals that are there, which affect how soil develops and also influences microclimate and mesoclimate. It literally shapes the landscape.”
Podcast producer isn’t quite what Quigley imagined she’d be doing as part of her career, but she’s happy to have found a way to disseminate what she’s learned about rocks and grapes in an enjoyable way. “It’s turned into a total dream job,” she said. “I love telling stories about geology, and I love learning from other people, especially winemakers, and visiting sites. There are so many wine regions all over the world that can use the love.”