Santa Barbara Wineries In and Around the Funk Zone

by | Sep 23, 2019 | Eve's Wine 101

We don’t know why we never visited Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, but when we read that Doug Margerum of Margerum Wine Company was opening a tasting room there, joining quite a few other wineries and wine bars, we decided to take a couple of days, to check it out.
Winery Tasting Rooms
Margerum Wine Company and Barden: Not what I expected when I walked into the new tasting room for Margerum wines. First of all: Doug Margerum, owner and winemaker, was there – a special treat – as my eyes also took in two floors, lots of seating, a “from the kitchen” menu (rarity in tasting rooms, and probably the only one in the Funk Zone), open in the evenings, and on weekends. A tasting flight showing off all of his Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator high scorers including 2017 D Sauvignon Blanc, 2017 M5 White Rhone, 2017 Grenache, 2016 M5 Red Rhone Reserve, 2017 Black Oak vineyards Syrah and an Amaro liqueur that was also infused in an ice cream! At his second label, Barden’s up the road, award winners included their 2018 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, 2018 Viognier, 2017 Fonte (white blend), 2017 Chardonnay, 2018 Grenache and 2016 Pinot Noir.
Santa Barbara Wine Collective: Family-owned wineries for Santa Barbara County AVAs all under one roof and next door to several eateries sounded good to me. We enjoyed learning about and tasting Fess Parker Sparkling Brut Rose, Storm Sauvignon Blanc and Slight Hill Syrah, Notary Public Chenin Blanc and Cabernet, Hilt Estate Pinot, Grimm’s Bluff Cliffhanger Cab, Jonata Todos Rhone and Bordeaux blend. Several by Tatomer were really good – Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Rose of Pinot and Duvarita Pinot.
Kunin Wines and The Valley Project: Never heard of either until we wandered into Kunin and tasted through some amazing wines with club member turned loyal employee Duncan Wright. 2016 Natural Chenin Blanc, 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, 2016 Pape Star white Rhone blend (pronounced Pop Star and a nod to Chateauneuf du Pape), 2016 Viognier, 2016 Pape Star red Rhone blend, 2016 Mourvedre, 2016 Syrah and 2016 Zinfandel.
Owners of both Kunin and Valley Project are winemaker Seth (now deceased) and Magan Kunin. The pair opened Valley Project because they wanted to highlight the different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) that are associated with certain varietals. While some vinophiles may know great Syrah comes from the Ballard Canyon AVA, they may not realize the difference in terroir of all of the different AVAs and the best varieties they each produce. One glance at their giant chalkboard mural that encompasses an entire wall in the Valley Project tasting room change all that. While there, I tasted wines from different AVAs such as Happy Canyon, Los Olivos, Santa Rita Hills and Ballard Canyon.
More shout-outs go to Santa Barbara Winery. It is the oldest winery, open since 1962, is local, family-owned and has a great wine shop for wines and wine accessories. There are also many wines to taste including Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Dry Riesling, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Petite Sirah, Jamie Slone Wines for their 2014 Riserva Barbera and 2014 Reserve Cabernet “Duo” (named after the couple’s twin daughters), Carr is a beautiful tasting room inside and out, fun wines on tap offering refillable growlers, and a killer Pinot and Reserve Cabernet Franc, Jaffurs for white and red Rhônes, especially any of the Syrahs they’re known for.
Not listed above but also in the Funk Zone: Riverbench, Melville, J. Wilkes (Winemaker Wes Hagen), Pali Wine Company, Municipal winemakers, Lafond Winery, Oreana, Paradise Springs, Fox Wine Company, DV8 Cellars, Area 5.1 and Deep Sea (on the pier).
In the Presidio Neighborhood, just a short walk further up State Street past the 101 freeway you’ll find Grassini Family Vineyards, Happy Canyon, Silver, Cebada, Au Bon Climat and Sanford. A little further out but doable by foot, you’ll also find Potek, Sangus and Whitcraft in Midtown.
The handy “Santa Barbara Wine Tasting in the Heart of Downtown” brochure and map lets you see which varieties these wineries have and aids you with planning your day. Pick up the map at any of the wineries listed above. 

Although I was planning on only covering the wines, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout-out these two restaurants for incredible dining experiences:

Loquita: Executive Chef Peter Lee took us back to Barcelona with his surprisingly flavored “El Bulli Olive,” (liquid manzanilla olive), crunchy yet delicate “Croqueta de Pollo” (rocky free range chicken fritter, jamon ibérico), killer chorizo in the “Tortilla Española” (Spanish tortilla, potato, caramelized onion, roasted tomato aioli, piquillo pepper, chorizo), best-prawns-ever “Gambas Al Ajillo” (black tiger prawns, brava, garlic, brandy, grilled ciabatta), and two amazing cocktails aka cocteles: the “Maravilloso” with gin mare, sangria foam, tonic, rosemary and “Loquita Martini” with schlichte gin, el Bulli olive, citrus, rosemary, garlic, arbequina olive oil – the best dirty martini we’ve ever had. We didn’t have room for bigger dishes like paella or any desserts, but next time we go we will have to try more selections.

Bettina: At what we were told was the best pizza restuarant in Santa Barbara, (actually on the way out of town via Montecito), we learned/tasted a few things: since they make their own bread and pizza dough, we started with the wood-fired bread with house-cultured butter – with the tiniest amount of rock salt; from there we sampled the calamari – made with yummy fried onions, and then settled in on the most popular pizza – pepperoni – but this pizza was also made with crushed tomato, basil, chili oil and Ojai wildflower honey. Items we didn’t sample but found out were top picks included Caesar salad, focaccia bread sandwiches served for lunch, meatballs al forno with harissa tomato sauce, desserts like olive oil cake with orange zest, thyme and whipped cream, salted brownie butter chocolate chip cookies, and chocolate hazelnut cake with buttercream frosting. And of course, all of this deliciousness is accompanied by Aperitivi (aperitif) drinks and no less than two pages of wines by the glass and bottle, Amari (Amaro), Vermut (Vermouth), Birra (beer) and Cedro (cider).


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