Buttonwood is a popular spot for wine tasting and shopping for locally grown foods. | Credit: Heather Daenitz

Might more visitors to Santa Barbara County wine country finally be able to stay on an actual vineyard, like happens in so many other regions of the world?

That’s what TMC Hospitality is betting on with the recent purchase of Buttonwood Farm & Winery, the historic 106-acre property located in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley on Alamo Pintado Road. 

Buttonwood Farm & Winery is home to a historic 42-acre vineyard. | Credit: Heather Daenitz

The deal — which the parent company of Drift Hotels made in partnership with farming company Simpatica, Newport Beach-based investment manager Anthony Curci, and Santa Barbara–based developers Jason Jaeger and Sep Wolf — sets in motion plans to build 60 farm-stay cottages on the estate while enhancing visitor-serving opportunities such as expanded food service, horseback riding, and stargazing. 

“The whole purpose of this is to add hotel units that blend in well with the existing property,” said Jaeger on Friday. “The idea is small, farm-stay cottages that are distributed throughout the property, using solar and making the smallest amount of impact as possible, to allow guests to have experiences with farm-to-table food, with the winery, and learn about the whole process.”

That proposal — and, presumably, many others that are quietly in the works — are awaiting the County of Santa Barbara’s adoption of the Agricultural Enterprise Ordinance, which will add farm stays, campgrounds, educational experiences, and small-scale events as accepted uses on unincorporated ag properties of appropriate size. Aiming to “support and encourage the continuation of farming and ranching on agricultural lands countywide,” the county planning department is finalizing an environmental report on the ordinance, which has been in the works for nearly three years. Public hearings are expected to resume this fall. 

“It’s really an exciting direction,” said Jaeger, who plans to submit Buttonwood’s application for 60 rooms in the next few months, but realizes the approval process may take two to three years. “It will help a lot of wineries and ranches to activate their properties.” He believes Buttonwood could be a popular option for visitors already coming to the Drift Hotel on State Street, which opened in the former Scientology building earlier this year.  

The new owners plan to continue the Buttonwood brand, and farming is now being handled by Simpatica. The fourth-generation agricultural management and investment company owns avocado groves in Ventura, Riverside, and Santa Barbara counties — including the inland orchards of Dos Pueblos Ranch on the Gaviota Coast — as well as in Brazil. There has been no word yet on the winemaking team. 

This is the second time the property sold in less than two years, as the Gleason family — who also own Refugio Ranch and Roblar wineries and vineyards — purchased the property from its original owners in December 2021. They announced ambitious plans for upgrading the property, bringing on substantial food service, and pursuing hospitality options under the new ordinance. Though they made significant movement on some of those fronts, they ultimately decided to return their focus to Refugio and Roblar.  

A proposal to build 60 farm stay cottages at Buttonwood Farm & Winery will soon be submitted. | Credit: Heather Daenitz

“We purchased the Buttonwood property because of its unique beauty and historical sense of place,” said Kevin Gleason, who said that they “made infrastructural improvements, upgraded the vineyards, and modernized the winemaking process” under their brief tenure. “As a family, we decided that the necessary time and effort required to create our vision for Buttonwood was too distracting, taking valuable time and resources away from our core properties, Refugio Ranch and Roblar.”

They decided to test the market instead and quickly determined that the TMC/Simpatica group was a “suitable buyer” that “would provide this property the attention it deserves.” Said Gleason, “Our interest has always been to create unparalleled food and wine experiences in the Santa Ynez Valley. The sale of Buttonwood now gives us the bandwidth to more single-mindedly focus our energy on Roblar and Refugio in our pursuit of this goal.”

The combination of hospitality, farming, real estate, and local government expertise of Buttonwood’s new owners certainly provide a strong footing for achieving their expanded dreams. “You really have professionals in all their various fields coupled together,” said Jaeger. “Buttonwood is a very sophisticated project. We feel like we have the right team to implement and execute what we want to do.”


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