Cooper Allebrand, left, and Niko Comati are the co-founders and co-winemakers for Alamati Wine, their new label. | Credit: Courtesy

Cooper Allebrand and Niko Comati are still in the same ball pit they stomped around in as kids — except that the multicolored plastic orbs are now ripe grapes in a fermenting tank, and the risks of bacteria are a little more costly than cooties.

This is Alamati, a collaboration nearly three decades in the making whose principals are just as old. The year 2022 marks the label’s second vintage under moonlighters Allebrand, whose day job is for Storm Wines, and Comati, who works at Dierberg–Star Lane.

The two met as 4-year-olds at a Westmont College soccer camp. Call it an unrequited bromance. “I tried to follow him around. He wouldn’t give me the time of day,” Allebrand laughed. “I ignored him,” admitted Comati. He grew up near the Mission; Allebrand grew up in the hills of Toro Canyon. Never mind the distance, or that first encounter — quickly, they were thick as thieves.

And as thieves do, they plotted. “We always talked about having some kind of project together before either of us was in the wine industry,” said Allebrand. After graduating from Santa Barbara High in 2011, he shipped up to a small university in the Northeast to study Spanish, while Comati majored in horticulture and crop science at Cal Poly.

Alamati dolcetto | Credit: Courtesy

Comati entered the wine biz first, as a ranch hand at Oso Libre Winery in Paso Robles. “It was the summer of sheep and alpacas and cattle,” he explained. “[Then] they threw me in the cellar, had me steaming barrels, helping with blending, and then suddenly I thought, ‘Whoa, this is cool. I like this world.’”

He vividly recalled their partnership’s germination. “I was standing in the vineyard with the owner, playing fetch with his dog.” Something moved him. “I called Coop on the way home: ‘Dude, we need to think about making some wine in our future.’”

Three years passed. Comati earned a few wine harvests under his belt and Allebrand returned to Santa Barbara. Home sweet home was riddled with COVID-19. But wine country was rife with opportunity. He landed a gig with Ernst Storm, who, juggling winemaking duties for three labels in the middle of a pandemic, needed another set of hands.

Grateful, Allebrand dove in. “It was just me and Ernst that whole harvest. I was with him the entire time, watching everything he did.”

He credits Storm for his thrust into winemaking. But he never forgot his friend’s words. “It started with Niko,” said Allebrand. “I began drinking wine analytically with him. He would teach me about all the characteristics I should be looking for in wine.”

Come 2021, the time was right to join forces. A family connection led them to Louis Lucas of Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards, who secured the young winemakers some serious old-vine riesling. The relationship has been a fruitful one, supplementing that riesling with cabernet franc, syrah, dolcetto, and nebbiolo. “We like to think of it as our pinot noir,” said Allebrand of the latter, to which Comati quipped, “That’s our favorite child.”

Alamati riesling | Credit: Courtesy

What’s it like making wine on the side while working for bigger projects? “It’s messy,” Allebrand said without skipping a beat. “Luckily, our bosses have been there for us. It’s a lot. But what else can we do?”

There’s no myth to unpack here. No waxing poetic with tasting notes or “it starts in the vineyard” tropes. For these two, wine boils down to what, and who, joins it at the table. They mull over meal pairings while swirling samples of their wines.

“Community is the single most important thing in our humanity,” Comati mused. “What two things bring people together more than a delicious meal and a beautiful bottle of wine?” Allebrand agreed: “A big draw to start the project was the fact we could be a part of the food industry just as much as the wine industry. They’re best friends.”

These best friends have yet to secure distribution or a wine club. But what they do have is a compelling debut of wines and a community behind them.

“That’s been the best part about this, actually,” reflected Allebrand. “All the support from people who didn’t have to support what we’re doing. But they do.” 

See and follow @alamatiwine.


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