Cocktail Corner: SB County Women Winemakers Dinner

Santa Barbara County Women Winemakers Dinner is March 8.

Santa Barbara County Women Winemakers Dinner is March 8.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic!  By Leslie Dinaberg

International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8, and I can’t think of a better way to toast the occasion than by attending the second annual Santa Barbara County Women Winemakers Dinner.

Last year’s festivities were, quite simply, amazing, delicious and fun, with a great spirit of collaboration and mutual admiration among the winemakers and chefs taking part.  Because the inaugural event—which was planned, executed and sold out within the space of a few weeks—was so popular, the event’s organizers have expanded this year’s dinner to accommodate more guests and to provide different levels of options for participation and support. 

I can’t wait! 

The charitable event, which runs in its entirety from 5:30-9 p.m. at K’Syrah Catering & Events (478 4th Place, Solvang, will, for the second year, benefit the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County. Tickets to the March 8 event are currently on sale, at

Last year's Women Winemakers Dinner, photos by Leslie Dinaberg.

Last year’s Women Winemakers Dinner, photos by Leslie Dinaberg.

More than 20 female winemakers will be joined at the March 8 event by some of the Santa Ynez Valley’s leading culinary ladies, the latter of which are collaborating to create a four-course, sit-down dinner to pair with some of their winemaker colleagues’ wines. In addition to the seated dinner portion of the evening, this year’s event features a tent on a closed-to-traffic street in front of K’Syrah’s downtown Solvang venue. Housed inside the tent is a pre-dinner tasting reception (available as a separate ticket), where more than 20 women winemakers will be on-hand to pour tastes of their wines and talk with event guests from 5:30-7 p.m. The tent festivities also include passed appetizers and a cheese table from local female cheesemonger Janelle McAtamney of Solvang’s Cailloux Cheese Shop.

Participating winemakers and wineries confirmed include: Karen Steinwachs, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard; Sonja Magdevski, Casa Dumetz Wines; Brooke Carhartt, Carhartt Vineyard & Winery; Alison Thomson, Lepiane Wines; Lane Tanner, Lumen Wines; Adrienne St. John, Rideau Vineyard; Gretchen Voelcker, Moon Unit Wines; Jessica Gasca, Story of Soil; Tara Gomez, Kitá Wines; Angela Osborne, A Tribute To Grace; and Kimberly Smith, LaMontagne Winery, with more to be announced  soon.

Chef Brooke Stockwell, Executive Chef at K’Syrah Catering & Events, will be joined in the kitchen by baker Amy Dixon, of The Baker’s Table in Santa Ynez; Theo Stephan, owner of Los Olivos’ Global Gardens; and additional Santa Ynez Valley chefs and food crafters, to be announced as the event nears. 

VIP-level tickets for this year’s event will include both the tasting tent and the seated dinner, where guests will be treated to wine pairings by, and conversation with, an exclusive selection of some of Santa Barbara County’s female winemakers, who will also be announced in the coming weeks. A dessert reception will follow the seated dinner, where guests may continue to mingle with the winemakers.

International Women’s Day has been celebrated worldwide since 1909, with a focus on working women’s achievements and issues. In a working environment that sees about 10% of the global wine industry as female winemakers, Santa Barbara County boasts a much higher percentage of women winemakers than most places in the world, with nearly double the average. The March 8 event will bring together a good portion of the County’s female winemakers in a show of support for each other, and other working women, world-wide; those who toil and labor while honing and elevating their craft in their workplace, while also balancing work-lives with family and community service.

It’s going to be a wonderful evening. Hope to see some of you there! Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on February 9, 2018.

Cocktail Corner: Garagiste Wine Festival

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

A Spirited Toast to All Things Alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg  

April Fools’ Day is coming soon, and what better way to celebrate the lighter side of life than one of my favorite wine festivals: the 2017 Garagiste Wine Festival: Southern Exposure.

The unique thing about this event is that it showcases micro-production wines made made by garagiste winemakers, commercial artisan winemakers who handcraft under 1,500 cases a year and pay close, hands-on attention to every wine they make.
Starting in 2011, the nonprofit Garagiste Festivals have introduced hundreds of outstanding artisan winemakers to thousands of passionate wine consumers, members of the trade and media, raising the profiles of many of the winemakers nationally for the first time, and raising thousands of dollars for the education of future winemakers.  The festival benefits the Cal Poly Wine and Viticulture Department.
Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

“Garagistes” (garage-east) is a term originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their “garages” (anything considered not a chateau), who refused to follow the “rules,” and is now a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the best wine in the world.
Here’s the schedule for this fun event:

Friday, March 31: “Rare & Reserve” Kick-Off Party: 6:30-9 p.m. with tastings of limited Club Only, Verticals, Library and Pre-Release bottles

Saturday, April 1: Seminars 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
“What’s Wrong With This Picture? Educate Your Palate About the Most Common Wine Flaws” moderated by winemaker and festival co-founder Stewart McLennan, is led by Marcy Mallette, Winemaker/Technical Representative for Laffort USA


“An Exploration of Grenache: Not Just for Blending Anymore” featuring Zac Wasserman (Frequency Wines), Sonja Magdevski (Casa Dumetz) and Cris Carter (Weatherborne), along with their wines.

Saturday, April 1Grand Tasting 2-5 p.m.

Sunday, April 2: Passport Day, where, for the first time ever, local Santa Ynez Valley wineries will be offering special opportunities for Garagiste Festival attendees. Vineyard tours, winery tours, barrel samples, free and discounted tastings, discounted pricing and club-member-for-a-day benefits are just some of the treats being offered by participating wineries.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Courtesy Garagiste Festival.

Get ready for a comfortable and relaxed tasting experience with personal winemaker interaction, high quality wines, first-time and soon-to-break-out discoveries (*seven winemakers will be pouring for the first time), diverse grape varieties and a renegade and fun-loving spirit on display.

Winemakers scheduled to pour include: Artisan Uprising, Ascension Cellars, Bevela Wines, Bradley Family Wines, Brian Benson Cellars, Camlow Cellars, Carivintas, Carter Paul Wines*, Casa Dumetz Wines, Central Coast Group Project, Cholame Vineyards, Cloak & Dagger Wines, Clos des Amis, Coda Wines, Comartin Cellars*, Cordon Wines, Dascomb Cellars, El Lugar Wines, Frequency Wine Co., Golden Triangle, Iter Wines, Jalopy Wine Company*, Jamie Slone Wines*, JP3 Wines, Kaleidos Winery, Larner Vineyards, Levo Wines, Mallea Wines, Mattina Fiore, McKinney Family Vineyards*, MCV Wines, Metrick Wines*, Mollie Wines, Montemar Winery, Ryan Cochrane Wines, Seagrape Wine Co, Serrano Wines, Skyenna Wines*, Tercero Wines, Turiya Wines, Weatherborne and West of Temperance. 

Tickets are very limited and Garagiste Festivals always sell out. To purchase tickets and for more information, visit

Hope to see you there! Cheers! Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Originally published in Santa Barbara Seasons on March 24, 2017.

Cocktail Corner: Fork & Cork Classic to Benefit Foodbank

Foodbank of Santa Barbara County's 3rd Annual Fork & Cork Classic takes place on April 10 at Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club. Photos by Eric Roland.

Foodbank of Santa Barbara County’s 3rd Annual Fork & Cork Classic takes place on April 10 at Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club. Photos by Eric Roland.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

I love it when good causes and good food and wine come together. Such is the case with the 3rd annual Fork & Cork Classic to benefit Santa Barbara County Foodbank by pairing gourmet tastings with local wine to fund nutritious meals for Santa Barbara County residents.

Taking place on Sunday, April 10, from 3-6 p.m. at Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club (3375 Foothill Rd., Carpinteria), 100% of the event’s proceeds will benefit the Foodbank’s 300 local nonprofit partners who supply nutritious meals to Santa Barbara County residents.

Fork & Cork 2014, photo by Eric Roland Photography

Fork & Cork 2014, photo by Eric Roland Photography

Just last year, the Foodbank served 146,198 people, of whom 51,533 were children.

“Santa Barbara Fork & Cork Classic is an important event for the Foodbank,” says Erik Talkin, CEO, Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.  “By taking part in this event, attendees are helping to provide healthy produce and staples for in-need Santa Barbara County residents.”

This year the Fork & Cork Classic 2016 will honor Dario Furlati, chef-owner at Ca’ Dario Ristorante and Ca’ Dario Pizzeria; Steve Beckman, winemaker at Beckman Vineyards, and Jack Motter and Jeff Kramer, farmers-owners at Ellwood Canyon Farms, for the contributions they have made towards advancing their respective crafts as well as their efforts to support the local community, including the Foodbank.

2016 Fork & Cork Classic Honorees

Participating wineries and other beverage donors from previous  years include Alma Rosa Winery & VineyardsAmpelos CellarsAscendant SpiritsBeckmen VineyardsBlair Fox VineyardsCaribbean Coffee CompanyCasa Dumetz WinesCutler´s Artisan SpiritsConsilience, Marianello & Tre AnelliCORE Family WineryDeep Sea by Conway Family WinesDV8 CellarsFalcone Family VineyardsFess Parker Winery & VineyardFoley Wine EstatesIsland Brewing CompanyJaffurs Wine CellarsKaena Wine Company and Kenneth Volk Vineyards.

Also pouring in the past were Lucas & Lewellen VineyardsNagy Wines Pegasus Estate Winery Scott CellarsSilver Wines LLCSummerland WineryPressed Juicery Turiya WinesThe Real McCoy RumTito’s Handmade VodkaWater StoreWilliam James CellarsWhitcraft Winery and Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards.

For an updated list of food and beverage participants visit General Admission tickets are $95 and VIP tickets—which include early entrance to the event at 2:30 p.m. and a VIP lounge—are $125. To purchase tickets click here.

2016 Fork & Cork Classic

I hope to see some of you at this fun—and very worthy—event. Cheers! Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

This story originally appeared in Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine on March 18, 2016.

Cocktail Corner: Lucky Dogg Winery Opens

Brent Melville and his new Lucky Dogg wines, courtesy photo.

Brent Melville and his new Lucky Dogg wines, courtesy photo.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

What’s in a name? For Brent Melville‘s new Lucky Dogg Winery it’s a little bit of kismet and a whole lot of luck.

Searching for the perfect moniker for his winery venture, Melville struck inspiration gold on the golf course.

“My friend, referring to my ‘lucky’ streak, called me a ‘lucky dog.’ And it all clicked. We want to share the good karma of our grapes with others, through the resulting wines that we produce,” says Melville, Lucky Dogg Winery president/owner/winemaker. “I had a good shot and my friend was like ‘hey, you’re a lucky dog. “And I started thinking about it, and I was like, gosh darn it, I am. And I started thinking about karma and positive energy. Everybody has a little lucky dog in them, you know. If I grow really good fruit and make great wine out of it, I will then pass on the good vibrations to the consumer. … Basically our philosophy is it’s all about the goodness from the beginning of growing the plant to the end of the consumer drinking the wine.”

Melville knows a lot about growing good fruit.

His roots run deep in the wine industry, where he has managed farming operations for his family’s vineyards for the past 25 years. Starting in 1989, when his family purchased a vineyard in Calistoga, CA, that would become the original “Melville Vineyards,” he worked grape harvests in that vineyard through 1995, then moved on to the family’s new vineyard purchase of 40 acres in Lompoc in 1996. In 1997, the family bought an adjacent, 55-acre parcel of land, now the existing “Melville Vineyards and Winery” in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

Melville now runs the 100-acre Verna’s Vineyard in Los Alamos, giving him particular control over the cultivating methods behind his own label’s wines, as well as strategic farming practices for the four other Central Coast labels who pull grapes from Verna’s Vineyard: Tensley WinesCasa Dumetz WinesConsilience Wines and Frequency Wines.

The tasting room is a casual, family-friendly—and dog-friendly—place to hang out. “We especially encourage families that have children to come in to the tasting room …  we have a kid’s corner. They can do crayons or play games while the mom and dad can have a glass of wine. And we allow dogs in the tasting room as well,” says Melville.

“Usually most tasting rooms are very prim and proper and they’ve got the classical music on. But we wanted to be very family-oriented because we’re not going to be doing a lot of case production at the facility or at the tasting room. We’re going to keep it very small and very intimate. We’re an estate winery, which means we don’t buy fruit from anybody else. It all comes from the ranch named after my Grandma, Grandma Verna,” he continues.

Lucky Dogg’s first five releases include:

2013 Viognier 

“This is a stainless steel Viognier. There was no oak involved and we picked the grapes at the perfect time to do it and it’s a wonderful, wonderful wine, something totally different. Not a lot of people do a stainless Viognier,” says Melville.

Tasting Notes: Aromas of pear, apricot, honeysuckle, maple, crushed rocks and pineapple rind with hints of vanilla, and maple. The mouth feel is lush and soft with crisp tropical and stone fruit flavors, and a long finish. This is a very well balanced wine with good tension that has a very silky mouth feel with a refreshing pop of acidity and vanilla tannin. Pair this wine with any Thai dish, specifically a peanut sa-tay. This would also go well with a spicy shrimp dish, scallops or a brie en croute. 

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard, Ryann’s Block (named for Melville’s oldest daughter Ryann, age 12)

Fermentation: Whole cluster pressed, no ML, inoculated in barrel

Aging: 6 months in 100% stainless steel

Production: 118 Cases bottled

2013 Rosè of Pinot Noir

“The Pinot Rosè  is probably the best summer wine and probably one of our best sellers in the tasting room right now,” says Melville. “It is also a very unique wine because a lot of people don’t do Pinot Rosè. It sat on skins for less than 24 hours and then was pressed into a stainless steel tank and then cold fermented for four months and we bottled it in January.” 

Tasting Notes: Aromas of plum, strawberry, ripe raspberries and just a hint of anise. Invokes a sensation of sweet acidity on the pallet, with flavors of vibrant strawberry, tannic spice and a mineral finish. This is a perfect summer time wine and pairs great with anything on the BBQ. This is your warm day, front porch relaxing, anytime wine.

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard, Pressley’s Block (named for Melville’s younger daughter Pressley, age 10)

Fermentation: 2 days on the skins, no ML, inoculated in barrel

Aging: 6 months in neutral French oak

Production: 123 Cases bottled

2013 Pinot Noir

Tasting Notes: This is a very complex Pinot Noir with scents of wet gravel, sweet tobacco, pomegranate and earth. This is an old world style Pinot Noir that has a classic Burgundian start with smokey tobacco flavors, fresh, ripe fruits in the middle and a long tannic finish with mouth watering acidity. This wine is drinking beautifully now but will also continue to progress with time. Pair this with a roasted pork loin or beef tenderloin but will also work well with a grilled salmon or portobello mushrooms.

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard

Fermentation: Destemmed, cold soaked 14 days, punched down 3 times/day

Aging: 9 months in neutral French oak

Production: 196 Cases bottled

2013 Syrah “Brady’s Blend” 

Melville describes this wine, named for his son Braeden, age 8, as, “a very cool climate Syrah, not your big fat jammy or berry Syrah, it’s more of a peppery olive finish to it.”

Tasting Notes: Heavy and inky, this wine embodies everything that is traditionally Syrah. On the nose you will find smoke, dark chocolate, ground white pepper, sweet tobacco, fig, ripe plums, and hints of leather. The wine has great texture, very little acid and a long spicy finish that lingers on the tip of your tongue. Pair this wine with a grilled flank steak, flat iron or hanger steak.

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard

Fermentation: 15% Whole cluster pressed, cold soaked 10 days, punched down 3 times/day

Aging: 8 months in neutral French oak

Production: 185 Cases bottled

2013 Reserve Syrah

“Our reserve Syrah is actually a clonal selection and the clone is called 383. It’s just a very unique clone for the Syrah family, and so we bottled it separately from all the rest because we thought it was our best flagship wine,” says Melville.

Tasting Notes:  The most decadent of our wines, the Reserve Syrah has a warm climate texture with cool climate flavors. You will find aromas of cocoa beans, cherries, dark bitter chocolate and a hint of cigar smoke. The mouth feel has a fresh, lush texture with strong minerality, assertive oakiness and a touch of black olive. Pair this wine with a big juicy rib-eye or just drink it on it’s own.

Vineyard: Verna’s Vineyard, clone 383 

Fermentation: 15% Whole cluster pressed, cold soaked 10 days, punched down 3 times/day 

Aging: 8 months in neutral French oak

Production: 100 Cases bottled

Also available at the tasting room is a late harvest Viognier, “which is made specifically for all those sweet tooth people out there. Being in the business somebody always comes into the tasting room and they’re like, ‘hey do you have anything sweet for us?’ And I’m like ‘yeah; we have the perfect wine for you,'” laughs Melville.

This is just the beginning.

“I’m coming out with a bunch of different new wines next year and I’m actually going to come out with a Viognier beer,” he says. “I think it would be really cool to be the only tasting room in Santa Barbara County that does beer and wine. There’s a difference between having beers from other people and making your own. I’m making my own. … And all of this is very, very small production. I don’t want to get into the business of selling my stuff to liquor stores or supermarkets or restaurants or anything like that. I want to keep it very simple.”

Lucky Dogg Winery currently produces about 750 cases, and aims to maintain a boutique winery status, with an eventual total of about 1,500 cases. Melville will leverage Verna’s Vineyard’s reputation for producing Burgundian and Northern Rhone-style Santa Barbara County wines, in his future plans to release a stainless steel Chardonnay, among others.

Lucky Dogg Winery’s tasting room is located at 1607 Mission Dr., Suite 102 (at the corner of Mission Drive and Atterdag Road), Solvang. The tasting room is open from noon-6 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; and from noon-7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday. The label will be launching a Wine Club (called “The Doghouse”) in the coming months. For more information, call 805/691-9774 or visit


Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on July 25, 2014.

Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Cocktail Corner: Notable News

Blue Tavern's Pisco Sour features Porton Pisco, angostura bitters and cinnamon tincture. (courtesy photo)

Blue Tavern’s Pisco Sour features Porton Pisco, angostura bitters and cinnamon tincture. (courtesy photo)

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! by Leslie Dinaberg |

Winemaker Doug Margerum‘s first release from his new brand, BARDEN came out earlier this month. Margerum says, “The BARDEN collaboration is the pairing of my dream to make the ultimate expression of Santa Barbara County grapes and winemaker Jason Barrette’s acute craftsmanship and skill. BARDEN showcases a fusion between Jason’s southern hemisphere and worldwide winemaking experience, our access to the top vineyards and the philosophy and knowledge we both share in what makes a wine world-class. The BARDEN trade name is my middle name and its English meaning is ‘Lives near the boar’s den’ … thusly we have adorned the label with an image of the wild boar that is pervasive in the vineyards of Santa Barbara County.” The wine, which retails for $87,  received 92-93 points from Tanzer and can be ordered by emailing |

Acclaimed mixologist Deysi Alvarez at the hot new restaurant Blue Tavern (119 State St., 805/845-0989) utilizes a unique blend of cultures as inspiration for her cocktail menu, which features classic drinks made with housemade tinctures and small-batch spirits. The Margarita features Espolon tequila, house orange reduction, fresh lime Juice, agave nectar, and Gusano salt; the Mojito de Martinique showcases Clement Rhum VSOP and clement cane syrup; and the Old Fashioned takes a trip to South America with the replacement of bourbon with mezcal. Blue Tavern’s wine list  focuses on local vintners, many of whom have tasting rooms in the Funk Zone, just blocks from the restaurant.|

Nikki and Jeff Nelson, owners of Liquid Farm, the small production wine project focused on Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay and Happy Canyon AVA Rosé, are plowing through this year’s early harvest in a boutique winery space within the newly-established, local coop facility, the Buellton Wine Center (65 Los Padres Way, Buellton) with the help of friend and winemaker, James Sparks. Located just half of a mile north of Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Taproom Restaurant, Liquid Farm joins seven other Santa Barbara County wine producers in the Coop, including Bonaccorsi Wine CompanyLarner WineryCasa Dumetz Wines and Municipal Winemakers. Michael Larner, the visionary behind the new Coop, has transformed two adjacent industrial buildings into private, individually walled-off wine production spaces outfitted with communal harvest equipment and resources, as well as cooperative common areas. |

As part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival celebration, from January 30 – February 9, Film Feast 2014 will take you and your taste buds on a culinary journey of cuisine and libations, made famous in Santa Barbara. Local talents and ingredients have come together to produce award-worthy tasting flights. Nominees include “The Graduate Wine Flight” at Au Bon Climat Wine Tasting Room and The Jim Clendenen Wine Library (813 Anacapa St.) which includes eight wines comprised of four sets – one older and one younger vintage of the same wine.


Click here for more cocktail corner columns.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on December 27, 2013

Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”