A brunch spread at The Lark | Credit: Ali Beck

2022 was a curious year for my journalism career. 

My frequency was more or less on par with past years: I wrote close to 130 articles of varying types for the Santa Barbara Independent over the past 12 months, which was also my 2021 tally, not to mention the 200-plus wine reviews and a couple stories per month I write for Wine Enthusiast magazine. 

But I did not produce as many of those long-form, deeply reported features that I am most proud of when rounding up highlight reels such as this one. I like to think there are plenty of good reasons for that — two years of COVID burnout finally setting in, for one, and I wore some heavier management caps during various months of 2022. But do not fear: I’m already setting up 2023 as a return to (long) form, with a few detailed features already up my sleeve. 

In the meantime, let’s take a scan back at my 2022, which my family entered amid rainstorms and COVID surges on an end-of-year trip to Hollywood. Then I dove into what’s become a weekly toil: penning my every-Friday-morning email newsletter Full Belly Files, which bounces from such topics as the value of tongs to a week in my life. Though laborious — and nearly forgotten right up until deadline on many weeks — Full Belly Files is eliciting more appreciation and reaction from readers than almost anything I’ve done in my 23-year journalism career, so it’s a rewarding effort. (Sign up here if you haven’t. It’s free!)

I often cover wine in the newsletter, including this exhaustive tasting of more than 40 old Bordeaux and other wines from the cellar of Geoff Rusack. That gave ample space to consider the value of old vintages, and a taste of a 1983 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche, which we followed up the next week with an even better 1985 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Saint-Vivant

The Ellwood project at Goleta Beach | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Santa Barbara County’s wine industry remains a major focus for my professional and personal interest, and I tend to touch on it at least once a week in my reporting. As I say so often, my interest in wine tends to focus on the people and places involved, more so than the resulting booze itself, and my favorite stories reflect that. 

I enjoyed learning about Municipal Winemakers’ founder Dave Potter growing up with deaf parents in this piece related to the film CODA and was proud to present this biographical dive into Alma Rosa’s Samra Morris, who is the first Bosnian winemaker in the United States and grew up in the battlegrounds of Sarajevo. 

There were some significant losses in the Santa Barbara wine world in 2022. The region’s pioneer of pioneers, Pierre Lafond, who founded Santa Barbara Winery in the 1960s, died in April. Thankfully, pioneers Richard and Diana Longoria are doing just fine, but they did sell their winery to focus on being grandparents. And then the country’s first winery to be owned and run by Indigenous people closed in the early part of the year, when Tara Gomez and the Santa Ynez Chumash tribe put an end to the once-promising Kita Wine brand. I got a little deeper into what that meant in this newsletter. 

Santa Ynez Billiards & Café | Credit: Carl Perry

I’m still watching Santa Barbara’s restaurant scene like a hawk and trying to deliver stories that provide ample biographical information about a project, describe the visionaries’ culinary intentions, and provide greater context. I’m always excited to share a space that not so many people people know about, like this story about “Finding Falafel in a Pool Hall.” But I spend as much time telling the full stories of flashier restaurants, such as this piece about Alberto Morello’s Sicilian love letter at Bedda Mia and the new vision for the iconic Intermezzo at Wine Cask, where the menu really does offer casual and gourmet side by side. My most recent, and probably my most exhaustively reported, restaurant feature of 2022 was this exploration of what created Augie’s of Santa Barbara.

My tastiest morning of 2022 was exploring The Lark’s new brunch menu, which was in development for years, and I was happy to write about the change of ownership at The Brewhouse, which was the first restaurant I ever wrote about in my career, back around the year 2000. And like everyone else, I’m really hoping that the crew behind The Ellwood project at Goleta Beach can pull that together soon. My last story about them broke the news about the lawsuit that hangs over the project, which seems like a slow-moving construction situation at best right now.    

Though food and drink coverage commands much of my attention these days, I still managed to dive into other topics in 2022. For our Self-Care issue last January, I practiced tai chi with Master Yun, and the next week I wrote about the new medical native herb book by Lanny Kaufer. I also got to reconnect with my old buddy Jack Johnson to talk about his life as a preview for his two Santa Barbara Bowl concerts this past fall.  

When I’m not eating and drinking, you can usually find me in the great outdoors. After years of working with adventure and nature writer Chuck Graham, I was finally able to tell a version of his life story to promote his new Channel Islands hiking book. Another longtime contact of mine from over the past two decades is UCSB’s Pete Alagona, who I interviewed about his new book on urban wildlife. 

What’s better than combining the pristine outdoors with good eats, drinks, music, and friends? That’s what we do every year in the Los Padres backcountry, and I wrote about this past May’s mission, which took on extra meaning since one of our backpacking buddies is now battling cancer. 

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