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Donna Polizzi

Here & There

Donna Polizzi: Barbieri Serves Up World-Class Wine — and Customer Service

Paolo Barbieri and Erin Kempe create a gracious and tasteful experience in the heart of Los Olivos

The tasting room at Barbieri Wine Company in Los Olivos. Click to view larger
The tasting room at Barbieri Wine Company in Los Olivos. (Donna Polizzi photo)

Los Olivos is a quaint jewel of the Santa Ynez Valley. Amid oak trees, ranches and wineries, it’s hard to believe the community of 1,100 is home to more than 40 wine-tasting rooms, all of which are located inside a quarter-square-mile.

A top-notch establishment is Barbieri Wine Company, which includes Kempe Pinot Noir. It exists because of a dream of two wine lovers, born on different continents and from very different backgrounds. The shared devotion for good wine and excellent winemaking forged a friendship that quickly turned to much, much more.

Paolo Barbieri, a master sommelier, started Barbieri Wine Company in 2005. Born in Parma, Italy, he became fascinated by wine at a young age. He moved to England, where he first got started in the restaurant business.

From there, he moved to San Francisco, where he helped develop several wine programs for fine restaurants. In 1998, he moved with his family to Las Vegas, where he helped open some famous Vegas Strip casinos, including The Cosmopolitan, the Wynn and the Bellagio.

Barbieri’s wife and partner, Erin Kempe, also brings an ambition born out of a passionate pursuit of culinary excellence. Born in Texas, she moved to Las Vegas to work with world-recognized culinary masters Rick Moonen and Shawn McClain. Those associations allowed her to develop her craft, working in award-winning venues such as Sage restaurant at Aria Resort and Mandalay Bay.

In 2007, Kempe met Barbieri and quickly became passionate about his drive to develop his world-class wines. She created her own label under her maiden name, creating pinot noir and other varietals, as well as some phenomenal whites. They really are exceptional wines.

Kempe is one of three sisters and hopes her label will carry on the family name with pride. Her ancestors are farmers, and an old farming till graces her wine labels.

The Barbieri Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah is a fan favorite. Click to view larger
The Barbieri Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah is a fan favorite. (Donna Polizzi photo)

What makes wine tasting such a pleasant and memorable experience at Barbieri Wine Company, 2369 Alamo Pintado Ave., is the couple’s contagious enthusiasm for not only their wines, but their customers. There is an atmosphere in the room resembling a large family getting together to laugh, sip and savor excellent wine.

When you get the munchies, a nice selection of fine cheeses and exotic meats are available to pair with the wine. The tasting room holds some amazing stories that the Barbieris will easily share.

The couple works with one other family member, Penny, their black Labrador retriever who will make you feel very welcome — if she’s not sleeping on the job.

It really is quite the experience to just hang out, eat, drink and enjoy the hospitality of two of Los Olivos’ winemaking rock stars.

My top pics are the 2010 Barbieri Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah, the 2010 Kempe Pinot Noir and the 2012 Barbieri Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah. Each and every one is superb.

Wine on the Central Coast is big business, which is to the advantage of millions of tourists who come here to experience some of the best winemaking in the world.

Every once in a while, you come across a winemaking team artfully and effectively combining the seriousness, dedication and excellence of operating a business with the all-too-rare emphasis on hospitality and graciousness. Barbieri Wine Company has it all in spades. They have truly raised the bar.

— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go. She can be contacted at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Erin Kempe is from a long line of farmers, and old farm implements adorn the tasting room and are reproduced on her wine labels. Click to view larger
Erin Kempe is from a long line of farmers, and old farm implements adorn the tasting room and are reproduced on her wine labels. (Donna Polizzi photo)
The Kempe label includes pinot noir and other varietals, as well as some phenomenal whites. Click to view larger
The Kempe label includes pinot noir and other varietals, as well as some phenomenal whites. (Donna Polizzi photo)
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