Santa Barbara wasn’t always a gastronomic center and hub for wine connoisseurs. But even before Sideways put us on the map, Doug Margerum had launched the serious wine scene nearly singlehandedly. Some say he’s had more influence than anyone on the Central Coast. He opened the Santa Barbara restaurant, Wine Cask, with his family some 25 years ago, shortly after graduating UCSB. Both restaurant and retail wine store, it’s widely considered Santa Barbara’s most significant cellar. He founded The SB County Wine Futures Program to acquire wines prior to their release, at a discount to Wine Cask customers. Long years of tasting and pairing wine with food refined Doug’s palate, and in 2001 he began buying grapes from Santa Ynez area farmers and making his own wine. He eventually sold the restaurant and devoted himself to winemaking exclusively. Margerum Wine Company is a private winery located in Los Olivos; Doug’s limited production is the antithesis of mass production, just 5,000 cases per year. Foodies and wine buffs are avid fans of this legendary winemaker and his artisanal approach to handmade wine.
Doug wears the vintage of his own years particularly well, a youthful bon vivant who lives life to the fullest: wine enthusiast, gourmand, passionate chef, romantic, vintner, party-giver, world-traveler, father, wine consultant, surfer, dog lover, and promoter of the Santa Barbara good life. He’s well qualified for all of it. He’d love to own his own vineyard in Santa Ynez, in addition to his Washington State vineyard and his place in SB, to continue doing more of what he’s already doing so well. He’s not a farmer, he’ll tell you, but an appreciator of the microclimate of one particular vineyard, or the soil of another ridge. His joy is blending, and in the convivial moment.
He’s eager to see the U.S. convert to the metric system already and to eliminate the penny; thinks couples ought to register for wine when they marry, is sad for people who live without wine. He personally lives a life full of rich travel, deep wine connections, wondrous meals. Doug rarely measures ingredients when cooking for the workforce of 4, but follows a strict regimen when blending the small lots of premium wines for which he’s so famous. He says there are three separate climates in Santa Ynez, and he makes three primary wines: a sauvignon blanc called Sybarite, a syrah named Über, and his Rhone blend, M5. They’ve consistently garnered very high scores in the Wine Spectator.
The Valley is an intimate cloister of friendly colleagues interested in each other’s wines, yet Margerum’s fame has extended beyond; he’s a blending consultant to a French winery, to Cimarone winery, to Kellner Wines and is the wine maker for Happy Canyon Vineyards. Open houses at his winery have the feel of a party: the BBQ (fed with old oak barrels soaked in years of wine) is fired up, the music rocks on, and fine cheeses show the wines to advantage. Margerum is likely to be wearing shorts, his dogs and teenage boys running around. The carefree ambience belies the expertise: underneath the surfer-artisan demeanor is a solid maestro at work. Members of his Wine Club respect his knowledge and expertise, ready to enjoy whatever carries the Margerum label.