Michael Robinson took over Taste of the Sta. Rita Hills in Los Olivos in 2022. | Credit: Courtesy

Michael and Marlene Robinson didn’t need much convincing when the Moretti family decided to sell their Taste of Sta. Rita Hills tasting room in Los Olivos a couple years ago.

“We were club members,” said Michael. “We had already drank the Kool-Aid.”

Plus, after years in advertising — more than a decade of which was spent in Beijing and Singapore — he had already shifted careers to wine in 2019, working for the wine retailer Zachys. They were wondering how to get further involved with the region’s wine scene, and then they bought a home in the Santa Ynez Valley.

“When we were approached by the Morettis to buy their business, a truly unique room that repped the fine and rare wines of the Sta. Rita Hills, the timing couldn’t be better to make the leap,” said Michael, who recognizes the shoes he’s filling. “It’s impossible to replace the Morettis. We were club members of their room for 10 years because of them and the wines they curated, so we’ve done our best to convert fans of theirs to our room, who can only be described as equally enthusiastic representatives for some of the finest wines in the county.”

Taste of Sta. Rita Hills was originally opened in 2010 in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, serving as a tasting room for many brands that didn’t have their own locations. As the Morettis’ reputation for smart curation grew — and the location shifted to the busier streets of Los Olivos in 2019 — the brands grew more prestigious, including hard-to-get labels such as Sea Smoke and Paul Lato.

The Robinsons are keeping that formula intact, adding wineries like Côtière, Mail Road, and Racines to the list, while moving through wines quickly to keep customers coming back. “The fresh flights that change every six to eight weeks, featuring critical darlings and underground heroes alike, is where we’re placing our bets at the moment,” said Robinson.

They’re also keeping the Moretti Wine Co. brand alive, featuring seasonal releases produced by Paul Lato and Steve Clifton. Current releases include Lato’s “Con Fusione” blend of malvasia bianca and sauvignon blanc from Larner Vineyard and then a bold pinot noir he made from seven vineyards across Santa Barbara County. The previous release by Clifton included a super-fresh, stony pinot grigio from Los Olivos and a brighter, peppery syrah from Ballard Canyon.

Taste of the Sta. Rita Hills continues to produce the Moretti brand of wine, made by Steve Clifton and Paul Lato. | Credit: Courtesy

Those wines, and a few others, show that the tasting room’s appellation-based name is not handcuffing the Robinsons from showing off wines of other regions. “I will stock other stuff because I want to serve what’s good, but the focus will always be the Sta. Rita Hills,” said Michael.

Given the variety of brands, Taste of Sta. Rita Hills serves as a stage for associated winemakers to present their wines in person. Ryan Hannaford from Racines was just there, and Paul Lato is coming in September, Adam Lee in October, and Matt Dees in December, among other special events. When I visited a couple of months back, Kevin Law of Côtière walked in, as did wine broker/writer Vanessa Vin — so you never know who might show up.

The wine club, which is what hooked the current owners, remains a central draw to Taste of Sta. Rita Hills. “Of course, we offer the standard discounts on wines for club members, but much of the club’s value really centers around access,” said Robinson. “Many of our wines are allocated or hard to find, so just getting them is a chore.”

Taste of Sta. Rita Hills, 2923 Grand Ave., Los Olivos; (805) 688-1900; tasteofstaritahills.com

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