MARGERUM: Boars and Beaches Won’t Stop Santa Barbara’s Wine Scene
While on a family vacation at 14 years old, Doug Margerum was stuffed in the back of a Volkswagen in the Rhône Valley of France. His parents gave him his first taste of wine while visiting the local wineries and he experienced an unusual teenage epiphany—what wine had to offer for his future. With the help of his father, Doug kept a stash of wines under his bed that he would pull out on special occasions to share with family and friends.
While attending the University of California at Santa Barbara, Margerum worked in restaurants while pursuing his economics degree. After graduating, he eventually purchased the Wine Cask, which at the time, was a small wine shop in downtown Santa Barbara. It took a while to catch on, but Margerum adopted the early idea of consumers purchasing wines by-the-glass (most places only sold by the bottle) and eventually, the entire business grew into a multi-faceted restaurant and garnered an iconic reputation. He sold the business in 2007 to fully dedicate himself to making his own wines.
While managing his burgeoning business, Doug started the Margerum Wine Company in 2001. It was set up behind Brander Vineyards in a 240 square foot room, which at the time, was the smallest bonded winery in the United States. “We started at 400 cases in 2001 and now we’re at 24,000 cases so we’ve had big changes in our production,” said Margerum, “It used to be just me for many years and now we have a team of professionals helping to run the winery, make the wine, and sell the wine.”
The primary focus from inception has been to develop food-friendly wines with restraint—way before it became popular. “In the beginning, the style of wines that we made were not necessarily sought after. We didn’t even put the alcohol on the labels because they were too low and now, low-alcohol wines are fashionable as we all want to live healthier lifestyles,” said Margerum. The M5 Red and White Blends have been a key aspect to their portfolio. They do not see a lot of new oak and are aged in larger barrels. The winery’s temperature is cold in order to keep the wines fresh, light, and balanced. Coming from a restaurant background, Margerum wants to make wines to be served at the table with family and friends.
Margerum acquired 18 acres of hilly land that was divided between limestone hillsides and gravelly alluvial flatlands along Alamo Pintado Creek within the Los Olivos District AVA. Initially made up of vines of Italian varieties, Margerum pulled them out and planted Rhône grapes. At the bottom of the valley, he planted five different white Rhône varieties. On the hillside, which was a key focus area for Margerum, he replanted Syrah on its original rootstock (as opposed to grafting), which many winemakers believe provides a longer life in the vineyard and produces wines with more flavor and expression. “This has been a complete game-changer. Our own-rooted Syrah is very special—about 99 percent of the vineyards in the world are grafted and we feel this has made a qualitative difference in our wines,” said Margerum. “The new vineyard has given us wines with such quality and we are blessed and happy to have made the investment.”
Barden is a separate boutique label developed by Margerum that makes limited quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “Barden is our dream to make the ultimate expression of grapes grown in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. I have access to the top vineyards. Barden’s English meaning is ‘lives near the boar’s den’,” said Margerum, which the Santa Barbara region has plenty of.
Margerum is one of many winemakers who are weathering the Covid-19 pandemic. The restaurant environment continues to change drastically and it is hard to fully conceptualize what the demand for wine will be over the long term. “We were primarily selling wines to restaurants. Luckily for us, we started an online sales initiative in January 2020, and that has proven to be a great way to get our name out there and introduce our wines to a whole new group of people who may not have known us,” said Margerum.
They have also added a tasting room in the heart of Santa Barbara that has helped business. “Having the tasting room has allowed a whole group of new customers to taste the wines that we make. We’re right across the street from one of Santa Barbara’s leading hotels, The Hotel Californian, and every day, people come to the hotel from various parts of the country and the world and they walk across the street to taste and discover Margerum and Barden wines,” said Margerum.
Margerum has been at the forefront of a bustling wine industry in Santa Barbara as the region has evolved from a low-key beach town to a wine destination. “The Santa Barbara wine scene has always been very congenial. All the winemakers are friends and we are helping each other in promoting Santa Barbara County and the quality of its wines,” said Margerum.
2018 M5 Red Blend
This wine is dark crimson in color with flavors of dark fruit and cranberry with a tones of chocolate and strawberry on the finish. This is a blend of 40 percent Syrah, 9 percent Mourvedre, 2 percent Counoise and 2 percent Cinsault. At 14.7 percent abv, this wine would pair well with a pizza topped with sausage or pepperoni.
2018 M5 White Blend
This wine has floral aromatics with flavors of pineapple, pear and lemon. It also has a crisp acidity and an abv of 13.7 percent. This wine is a blend of 50 percent Grenache Blanc, 22 percent Roussanne, 15 percent Marsanne, 13 percent Viognier and 1 percent Picpoul Blanc. Take this wine to your favorite seafood restaurant and order up a dish of halibut or even red snapper.
2019 Riviera Rosé
This wine has a nice tropical pink color with flavors of citrus and watermelon. The wine is a blend of several lots of Grenache. At 11.9 percent abv, this wine will have you skipping work this summer and heading to the beach.