When you live in an intimate winegrowing area where everyone knows everyone else, own a high-profile wine shop and a prominent restaurant with an award-winning wine list, you might think that entering the winemaking business would be risky. It is.
That’s essentially the scenario that Doug Margerum stepped into a few years ago when he started Margerum Wine Co., which specializes in Santa Barbara County wines. But, he's proving he's got lots going for him as a winemaker: He knows wine, knows the area’s best winemakers and understands the lay of the land, keeping a focus on rich red wines from Santa Ynez Valley, an area well-suited for grapes such as Syrah.
As a result, Margerum's wines have been, by and large, well made, reflecting his knowledge of what it takes to make a complex and compelling wine. His wines typically earn high marks, and three of them scored in the very good to outstanding range during my Santa Barbara futures tasting.
Margerum already had a big stake in Santa Barbara wine when he decided to start making it. He founded the Wine Cask, which is both a restaurant and a retail outlet in the heart of Santa Barbara. Both feature great wine lists with a comprehensive global selection, from Bordeaux to Barolo, and are major wine hangouts.
As a retailer, Margerum has learned the importance of pricing. Most of Margerum’s wines fall into the $25 to $30 range (and less if you buy futures), and as such, are solid values given the quality. Perhaps he would like to sell his wines at higher prices—many winemakers do, for obvious reasons, be they egotistical or financial or anything in between. But I suspect Margerum understands that keeping his wines priced where they are allows him to do what he wants—create distinctive wines of place in his little winery.
So far he’s been able to walk that political tightrope. He’s able to promote and sell his wines as part of—not apart from—the Santa Barbara wine scene, and apparently that works for both him and the region.