Wines in the garage. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on July 14, 2023. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at

Over nearly a quarter-century of enjoying Santa Barbara County wines and the past decade of reviewing the entire Central Coast for Wine Enthusiast, I’ve accumulated a rather ridiculous amount of bottles that are tucked into every spare corner of my home.

In addition to the three refrigerated cellars I have — which are almost entirely taken up by the rotating cast of 300 or so wines that need to be reviewed monthly — I have bottles filling cardboard boxes, racks, and tables amidst bikes, fishing poles, and golf clubs in the garage; in a 20-year-old Costco rack by the dining table; and in plastic bins under my bed. There are racks and/or boxes in almost every closet, including the entry hall closet, the guest room closet, and the closets of both children, and I even converted our old water heater closet into its own mini-cellar of sorts when we went tankless.

Wines under the bed. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

Despite its breadth, this is no showcase cellar — it’s more of a controlled mess. There aren’t any crazy-expensive bottles beyond the $150 mark, nor multi-case stashes of a special cuvée, nor much international wine at all. Given the nature of my job, the collection is primarily individual bottles from across the Central Coast.

While my curation strategy sits somewhere between carefully considered and rather random, I have made a point over the years to keep verticals made by standout producers, or sourced from single vineyards, or otherwise wrapped in a noteworthy pedigree. There’s also plenty of stuff that I just found interesting and thought others would too.

Wines in the guest room closet and converted water heater closet. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

I’ve gotten to a point, however, where I can’t really keep many more unless I start offloading others. So I’m going to share them with you, or at least those of you who’d like to join me for a series of dinners at the Apples to Zucchini Cooking School this fall. Chefs Cris Garcia and Jeff King, who I met while taking the sushi class for this article, will be in charge of the multi-course menu, once we hammer out the wines.

Wines everywhere | Credit: Matt Kettmann
Jeff King (left) will co-chef the wine dinners with Cris Garcia. He’s pictured here with Jill Barton (center) and Apples to Zucchini Cooking Class founder Nancy Martz. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

I am still developing the flights, but expect about 10 wines per evening, so that each of the eight participants can get a significant taste of every selection. I’m contemplating a regional tour of sorts, starting at one end of the Central Coast — either Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz/Monterey — and then exploring another region during each dinner, with stops certainly in Paso Robles, the SLO Coast, and perhaps some more obscure locales.

No matter which wines I choose, I’ll speak about the geography and history of each appellation, usually with personal anecdotes featuring the winemakers I showcase, with the ability to go as deep as the crowd would like. And I promise to try my hardest to introduce a producer or vineyard that should be new even for super-duper experts.

The selfish reason for this is that I get to finally try a lot of these wines that I’ve sat on for years. I never expected to guzzle entire bottles from my cellar all alone, which is why I don’t just crack them more regularly. (Well, that and the fact that I tend to have 20 to 40 fresh bottles open on the counter at any given day.) But I am reluctant to give these bottles away without at least having a sip or two to satisfy my curiosity. Hopefully, such sips will also justify why these wines took up valuable space in my not-very-big house for so many years.

The four dinners — which will be held at the former St. Anthony’s Seminary at 2300 Garden Street, where the A2Z Cooking School is headquartered — are all 6-10 p.m. on Wednesday nights: September 13, October 25, November 15, and December 13. The cost is $200 per person for the multi-course menu, or $700 if you buy all four dinners. Get your tickets and find more details here.

Goodbye to a Legend

Michael Benedict | Credit: Macduff Everton

Last Friday, I learned that Michael Benedict — co-founder of the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, which changed everything about wine in Santa Barbara County — had died. I knew he’d been sick, and even started a couple of emails to him that I never sent. Then I heard he was doing better until the news came through last week.

I’m much closer to the vineyard’s other co-founder, Richard Sanford, but also got to know Michael over the years, both through writing about wine but also in my reporting on the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and the Channel Islands. I spent a few hours with him at Lavender Oak Vineyard in 2020 as I was writing my book, going over his life while walking through the vineyard there that was his latest, and last, project.

He was an incredibly intelligent and intellectually curious man, and he let you know it, unafraid to debate much of anything and quick to call if I got something not-quite-right in an article. His passing is another reminder that we’re entering an era where the heroes of the past will be moving on, as Michael Benedict joins Jim Clendenen as the latest of Santa Barbara County’s wine legends to pass away.

Here’s my piece for the Independent on Michael’s death, and here is another piece that I did for Wine Enthusiast putting his legacy in context for the international audience.

From Our Table

Hampton Water founders Jon, left, and Jesse Bongiovi | Credit: Courtesy

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