President and CEO Luke Swetland, Stacey Byers, and Margerum Wine Company owner and Director of Winemaking Doug Margerum

On June 29, more than 1,300 people enjoyed the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s annual Santa Barbara Wine + Food Festival, where 91 winery, other beverage, and food purveyors offered tastings. As always, winemakers, chefs, and proprietors were on hand to personally serve their fine creations and chat with guests in the idyllic setting of the museum’s oak woodland. The $166,000 net proceeds will support the museum’s education programs and exhibits.

Four hundred VIP ticket holders gained early admission for a more intimate experience, but even with the general admission gates open, the spaciousness of the venue allowed for a festive yet calm and not-too-crowded ambience with plenty of opportunity to sample and converse.

Navid McIlhargey helped his friend Jessica Foster, proprietor of Jessica Foster Confections, serve guests, as in years past, because he wanted to “watch people’s faces when they eat her chocolate.” Other purveyors also had friends and family along for this annual event that the Museum of Natural History’s Executive Director Luke Swetland affectionately refers to as a “tub of love.” It is Santa Barbara at its finest.

As the sun came out and the temperature rose a bit, Finch and Fork’s watermelon gazpacho became quite popular. Other standouts included Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar’s green papaya salad with heirloom carrots, red cabbage, Thai chilis, and more and Solvang-based Coast & Range’s falafel meat with truffle tahini sauce. 

Cuyama Buckhorn enchanted guests with their brisket salpicón tostada, complete with veggies, avocado puree, and oregano vinaigrette, as did Events by Rincon with their grilled shrimp skewers. L.A.-based personal chef Ryan Rondeno was back, this year with fried catfish, grits, and applewood-smoked bacon. The county’s established wineries and many newer entrants poured a range of varietals, offering guests a multitude of delectable food and wine pairings throughout the scenic venue.

In an interview, Swetland related how this event started with the pioneers of the Santa Barbara wine industry, who personally came to pour their wines, and now participation extends to many new wineries, which makes the festival, he opined, even better. All the wineries and food purveyors donate their offerings. 

Swetland reflected on the importance of the museum’s mission today — getting people to appreciate the world around them so that they will want to take care of it. “We all know things are not going so well for this old planet and we need to take care of it, and if we take care of the planet, it will take care of us.”

In the past school year, the museum and Sea Center (which is part of the museum) hosted roughly 7,400 students from the Tri-County and L.A. on school visits. The number served is down from 13,200 in 2018-19 because of staffing and construction issues. Director of Education Rosina Garcia, a new hire herself, thinks that with the increased staffing now in place, programming can be ramped up. 

Last year, more than half of the students came from Title One schools, which pay only $50 per visit. During the summer, the museum runs camps, and this year, 15 lucky kids received full scholarships. 

The museum is currently updating its Space Science exhibit, which will reopen next spring. The Gladwin Planetarium is presently closed for roof repairs and the hope is to reopen by mid-September. In the meantime, the Palmer Observatory has extended hours — now open every day.

Major sponsor The Berry Man Owner and President Guy De Mangeon and Patricia De Mangeon | Gail Arnold
Cuyama Buckhorn team: General Manager Scott Augat, Owner Ferial Sadeghian, Executive Chef Hugo Vera, and Bar and Events Staff Ellie MacBride | Gail Arnold
Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar General Manager Kelston DeJesus and Co-Owner Jerry Lee | Gail Arnold
Convivo Owner/Chef Peter McNee and Rusack Vineyards Winemaker & General Manager Steven Gerbac | Gail Arnold
Navid McIlhargey, Jessica Foster Confections Owner Jessica Foster, and Danel Lombard | Gail Arnold
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