A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg
Pioneering Santa Barbara winemaker Pierre Lafond opened a second tasting room in the buzzy Funk Zone neighborhood this week. Lafond Winery, at 111 Yananoli St., now shares the block—as well as a wine production and bottling facility—with Santa Barbara Winery, his first label, founded in 1962.
“The Lafond Winery label was started in 1996,” says Pierre’s daughter Michelle Lafond, who is the marketing director for both brands. “The Lafond label is what we consider the premium label, first pick,” she says.
“Not that Santa Barbara Winery isn’t,” says Pierre, with a laugh. “We have two different styles of wine, basically,” he explains. “One is mostly from Sta. Rita Hills, which is Lafond, and the other one is from different parts of Santa Barbara County.”
“Santa Barbara Winery produces more varietals,” explains Mirella Ramirez, who manages the new tasting room as well as the Lafond Winery & Vineyards tasting room at 6855 Santa Rosa Rd. in Buellton. “Lafond is smaller production, and we produce Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay, and some dry Riesling and Riesling,” says Mirella, who has been running the Buellton tasting room for 12 years and working with Pierre for 25 years.
“She was 8 years old,” laughs Pierre. “She was real cute, so we hired her.”
Mirella’s sister, Liz Morello, serves as assistant manager of the Funk Zone spot. She also has a long history with the Lafonds.” I worked there for a couple years when I was 15 or 16 and now I’m back,” says Liz.
“We definitely have lots and lots of long-term employees. People don’t leave often,” says Michelle.
Pierre moved his business into the neighborhood in 1964, and says he’s had plans in the works to give the Lafond label its own tasting room for quite some time. He subleased the space to a number of companies over the years, including the most recent tenant, Compuwest, who moved out last June. “That’s why they moved out. We had decided quite a while ago to open the second tasting room, and it was just a question of timing. And with the development of the Funk Zone it seemed like a logical thing to do,” says Pierre.
Having been in the Funk Zone for so many decades, I asked him if he ever envisioned that it would look like the busy, hip neighborhood it is today. “The place was a dump,” he laughs. “The Castagnolas were our landlords, they bought a lot of different buildings here and they’re the ones that actually developed the area. They were a fishing family, as you probably know.”
The new tasting room is definitely a huge step up from the old days. Beautiful custom made wood cabinets (designed and built by Gary Atkins of Mesa Cabinets) line the walls to house the wine, alongside local art and shelves laden with unique gift items specially selected by Shelley Koury, whose keen sense of style is also on view at Upstairs at Pierre Lafond (516 San Ysidro Rd. in Montecito).
In addition to wine tasting there’s also a window into the wine production facility. “People will be able to be here and see some of the bottling, production and forklifts going and picking up wine and moving it around. It’s fun,” says Mirella.
She explains that It’s a real working winery. All of the wines for both labels are bottle there, and the white wines are all made on site, with the reds aged in Buellton before being transferred to Santa Barbara when they’re ready for bottling.
The Lafond team is optimistic about the future of the Funk Zone. “You kind of think that it could go either way with all of the different wineries here you could deplete the customers or disperse them and it doesn’t seem to,” says Michelle. “It just keeps growing and growing and growing. It feels like the new downtown almost.”
“I hope down here there’s more art galleries and other things besides tasting rooms, they seem to be in an abundance right now but it’s important to have other things here too,” says Pierre.
The Lafond Winery tasting room is open from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday -Thursday, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
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Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on May 2, 2014.
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.”