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Raising the Stakes in Santa Barbara

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Mar 6, 2007 12:19pm ET

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.

Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  March 6, 2007 8:34pm ET
It's funny, but one of the early M5's was THE wine that really convinced me that spending more than $20 on a bottle of wine could be worthwhile. I was in another shop about a year later and saw his labels there as well. Then I looked for it online, found myself smack dab in the middle of the futures period and I've been broke ever since! Thanks Doug! Seriously, you've got to love the juice and the packaging. Everyone I know is fascinated by the fact that each of the bottles is numbered. I hope he has the stamina to go for many more years... :-)
James Novack
Agoura Hills, CA —  March 6, 2007 8:35pm ET
James, Thanks for the report, I have bought from wine cask in the past and they do a good job. Santa Barbara was always a great place for good wines at value prices, but like everything else once they get discovered the prices start to go up. Congrats to Doug for making good wines at prices that make sense.
Don R Wagner
Illinois —  March 7, 2007 1:07am ET
From the hinterland in Chicago (It's still cold here), thanks to both Doug and you (JL) for letting us "Bears" in on some West Coast secrets...Doug - for making great, great wine (the 04 Alondro is STELLAR - & I can't wait for the 05) at a price that is beyond "making cents" (love the numbered bots)...and Jim for letting us outsiders know about SB Futures!!!...My guess (& I would bet it!) is that both of these guys are really trying to share with us a remedy for all of our ills!!!! --- THANK YOU!
Michael Khoo
Tokyo, Japan —  March 7, 2007 11:30am ET
Greetings from Japan! Tokyo is now one of the hottest dining cities in the world right now and i am so stoked to be able to enjoy Doug's wines at some of the finest restaurants/hotels in town: Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Four Seasons, Roppongi Hills Club, Nobu Tokyo...the list goes on and on but only the best. He deserves all of the praise that he is getting, not only for his awesome wines but also for pioneering Santa Barbara. Thanks Doug!
Wes Hagen
Lompoc, CA —  March 7, 2007 8:45pm ET
Doug is also a major player in the attempts to establish Happy Canyon AVA to distinguish the easternmost parts of the Santa Ynez Valley as a distinct terroir for Bordeaux and Rhone varietals in SBC.
Dave Fortna
Sacramento, CA, USA —  March 7, 2007 11:20pm ET
Gosh, I must have been all of seven or eight years old. The smell and tactile memories of standing in that huge dimly lit building. The air thick with the aromas of fermenting must¿and enough CO2 to make feel short of breath at times.Looking up the sides of those huge redwood tanks held together by long round steel bands and big bolts with square nuts as they towered over me. I walked amongst them gazing into the darkness above, swimming in the heady heavy air¿a lasting early impression to say the least.Ernest¿s glowing smile as he bent down to shake my hand, in that dirt and gravel parking lot, that twinkle of brightness in his eyes as he proclaimed, ¿so you¿re Little Al,¿ then seeing my father glow with pride as that dry yellow-brown dust in the warm fall air burned at the back of my nostrils.A warm and friendly man, Ernest Gallo, with lots of big tanks full of wondrous smells and long rows of uncountable vines disappearing into that day¿s sunset.The warmest of memories of what I felt to be a man of the earth, a proud valley farmer and wine maker...

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