Board Chair Brad Willis, Stacey Byers, President/CEO Luke Swetland, and Margerum Wine Company Owner/Director of Winemaking Doug Margerum | Credit: Gail Arnold

On June 24, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History held its annual S.B. Food & Wine Festival, an event beloved by winemakers, chefs, and patrons. The sold-out crowd of 1,100 enjoyed wine from about 80 wineries and food from about 20 purveyors, all of whom donated their offerings. The event raised $250,000 for the museum’s nature and science education programs.

Santa Barbara pioneer winemakers and other esteemed winemakers and owners come back each year to personally pour their wines and chat with guests. Chefs from premier restaurants and catering companies serve their culinary creations and engage with patrons. All this happens on the idyllic, spacious, oak-shaded museum grounds.

Wine country pioneer Fred Brander, who has participated from the start in 1983, related how this is one of his favorite events. The event started when the S.B. wine industry was in its infancy, Brander remarked, and drew other pioneers as well, including Richard Sanford, Jim Clendenen, and Rick Longoria. Other festivals have come and gone, he noted, but this one remains, surviving the ups and downs of the times. The festival has been at the Museum of Natural History since 2006.

Fellow pioneer Doug Margerum was happy to be back once again pouring his wines. In earlier years, Margerum, along with partners Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist, poured their Vita Nova wines, and since 2001, he has poured his own Margerum Wine Company wines. For other events, Margerum related, he sends staff, but with the beautiful environment and colleagues participating, he almost always does this one himself.

For culinary offerings, a popular newcomer on the scene was Get Shucked Oyster Bar Catering, offering Long Island Blue Point oysters on the half shell and oyster shooters with their secret ingredient of “a little bit of love.” Other highlights included L.A.-based Rondeno Culinary Designs’ crawfish jambalaya egg rolls with kimchi sauce, La Paloma Café’s Pterodactyl Egg with local smoked fish, a seeded shell, and anchovy aioli, and Finch & Fork’s California olive oil cake with fresh peaches, bourbon caramel glaze, and Chantilly cream.

In an interview, President and CEO Luke Swetland related how proceeds benefit the youth education programs, where the Museum of Natural History seeks to really have an impact. It does this by providing that “aha” moment or the “that’s so cool” moment. “When you touch someone’s heart,” Swetland posits, “their head inevitably follows — maybe not tomorrow; maybe it is 10 years from now,” but it happens. He has heard over and over again from adults that their visits to the museum as a youth were foundational experiences. The museum opens up an awareness of the natural world and causes an appreciation for this world to develop.

While still shy of its pre-COVID numbers, the museum has been increasing its school visits and expects to serve about 25,000 kids from the tri-county region and L.A. next academic year. This includes visits to the Sea Center, which is part of the museum, and had visits suspended because of some repair work but will resume school visits in the fall. Groups from Title One schools, which make up about 45 percent of all visits, pay only $50 per visit. The museum also offers summer camps and this year will provide full scholarships for 20 kids. 

The museum, renovated in 2018, has more than 3.5 million specimens of natural history, covering mammals, birds, marine life, geology, astronomy, paleontology, anthropology, and more. For more info, go to

For coverage of other events, go to

Michele Higgins, Brander Vineyard owner Fred Brander, Lisa Amador, and Michael Amador | Gail Arnold
Get Shucked Oyster Bar Catering owners Mason Christian and Sean Maloney | Gail Arnold
Finch & Fork Director of Food & Beverage Christine Tran with Executive Chef Nathan Lingle | Gail Arnold
Carmen Benz, Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards owner Mike Lewellen, and David Arney | Gail Arnold
Guests enjoy the event. | Gail Arnold


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