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Santa Barbara's Wine Cask Being Sold

After 25 years of touting Central Coast wine, owner Doug Margerum opts to step away from heralded market and restaurants

Matt Kettmann
Posted: April 10, 2007

Long before the Sideways phenomenon of 2004 helped make Pinot Noir a household variety, there was Santa Barbara's Wine Cask store and restaurant. Founded in 1981 and holder of a Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1994, the Wine Cask has long been credited with bringing Central Coast wines to the people's glasses. But after more than 25 years of selecting and selling the best regional wines in Southern California and beyond, owner Doug Margerum confirmed last week that his market and restaurants are being sold for an undisclosed price.

Rumors about the Wine Cask's sale have been buzzing for months. Those rumors, according to Margerum--who started the business with his parents and siblings when he was 21 years old--were entirely false. But they generated quite a few real offers, including one pitch from an unnamed celebrity chef. "I had a lot of options to sell to a lot of different people," said Margerum. But only one felt comfortable.

The buyer is Bernard Rosenson, a healthcare magnate—turned-restaurateur who's owned and operated the Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence—winning Sky Room restaurant in Long Beach, Calif., for the past nine years. Rosenson, 61, retired last year after 30 years of owning and operating healthcare facilities. The Sky Room, his first restaurant venture, is considered one of Long Beach's best restaurants. It also happens to sit atop the Breakers, a historic 15-story former hotel that houses one of Rosenson's retirement communities.

Along with the restaurant and wine shop, the deal includes Wine Cask's two wine bars and a sister spot in Los Olivos, Calif., the heart of Santa Barbara County's wine country. The deal is expected to be closed by June 1.

"It's good for the company," Margerum said. "It's new energy, new investments, and [Rosenson]'s passionate about wine. He wants to put a lot of money into the wine list and infrastructure. That's what the Wine Cask needs. The buyer is very committed to the staff and operations as it's running. He only wants to make it better."

Rosenson confirmed that he's not planning any drastic changes. "We just want the restaurant to be nice and clean with great food and great service," he said. "We're sticklers for those things. We want to maintain the Wine Cask and maybe even take it a notch or two higher. We're committed to a good time."

Also on Rosenson's expanding restaurant plate are the remodeling of the Big Yellow House, a longtime landmark in nearby Summerland, Calif., which he hopes to open in September as the Yellow Rose. And he'll be opening Bernard's--"for lack of a better name," he quipped--in Calabasas in northern Los Angeles County next year. Rosenson called this steady move into high-end restaurants his "end-of-life change."

Rosenson also has wine-business aspirations. He owns a new vineyard and winery in Solvang, Calif., under the name Rosenson-Van Tonder Wine Creations and, this June, is releasing his first wines under the label Coquelicot, which is French for "poppy." Coquelicot's first releases are 2006 vintages of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay and Riesling. And next year, he plans on releasing several reds that are currently aging in barrel.

While Rosenson is ramping up, Margerum, however, was ready for a break. Once free of the strains of running a restaurant, Margerum said he's going to pursue other ideas that have interested him, such as cheesemaking, to go with the small-production Margerum wines he already makes. He said he may also look into importing European wines, and that he'll continue to run the Wine Cask's popular wine futures program. "I deserve a rest and I'm going to take one," he said.

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