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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 6:50 am | Fair 50º


Laurie Jervis: Brick Barn Wine Estate Pays Homage to Ranching Roots

A repurposed stable is at the heart of the charm of the property along West Highway 246 in Buellton

Brick Barn Wine Estate Click to view larger
Brick Barn Wine Estate is surrounded by vineyards along West Highway 246 in Buellton. (Jeremy Ball / Bottle Branding photo)

A horse barn well past its glory days now is one of Santa Barbara County’s newest wineries. Brick by historic brick, the stable’s foundation was repurposed into Brick Barn Wine Estate in Buellton.

The estate includes 35 acres of vineyards, said Tom O’Higgins, Brick Barn’s general manager. O’Higgins is a wine industry veteran who most recently held a similar position at Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards and brings decades of retail experience and management to the job.

The estate, at 795 W. Highway 246 on the western edge of Buellton, is part of an historic 1,100-acre ranch. The property’s northeastern boundary is Bobcat Springs Road, off Jonata Springs Road, and between the vineyard and Bobcat Springs, 300 acres are planted to organic crops, O’Higgins said.

The ranch’s heritage is the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata, a 26,634-acre Mexican land grant that stretched from west of Mission Santa Ines in Solvang and north of the Santa Ynez River along Zaca Creek — what is now Buellton and Solvang, according to the winery’s website.

The old brick barn, built with hand-laid red bricks, endures today, and most of the historic tile, brick and wood framing has been repurposed into the tasting room that fronts the original 36-stall stable, O’Higgins noted.

In the tasting room, over the bar, hangs a collection of huge chandeliers that are suspended from what was the stable’s hay loft, he explained. The tasting room opened to the public in April.

In 1969, Brick Barn’s owners, Norman and Kathy Williams, bought a 40-acre parcel, and subsequently the adjacent 1,100 acres. Norman Williams, a U.S. Army veteran and Nebraska native, was an entrepreneur in Southern California before deciding to relocate north and build the equine facility, which featured the stalls, runs fenced with brick walls and ample pasture lands.

Arabian horses resided in the barn from the early 1970s until the late 1990s, O’Higgins noted. Eventually, as the equine industry in the Santa Ynez Valley faded, the Williamses turned their attention to grapevines.

The first vines were planted in 2012, O’Higgins said, and more were added the following year. Today, the Brick Barn estate is home to nine varietals: albarino, cabernet franc, chardonnay, grenache, grenache blanc, pinot noir, syrah, vermentino and viognier. An additional 15 to 25 acres will be planted in 2019, O’Higgins said.

The lower vineyards, the ones that surround the driveway, tasting room and winery, are planted to white grape varietals, and the upper acreage, located in the hills east toward Highway 101, contains the red grape varietals, he said.

Brick Barn Wine Estate
Winemaker Rob DaFoe, a Santa Barbara native, samples a red wine aging in a barrel at Brick Barn. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

Both O’Higgins and winemaker Rob DaFoe, who joined Brick Barn in March 2017, emphasize that the winery’s goal is quality over quantity.

When O’Higgins started at Brick Barn more than two years ago, he and the Williamses sold grapes to several other winemakers. Now, “we just have one or two contracts,” DaFoe said. “There’s zero pressure growing for others’ needs.”

In the estate vineyards, DaFoe seeks a heightened focus on shoot and cluster thinning, practices that also emphasize quality over quantity. He, O’Higgins and the Williamses plan to keep annual case production around 7,500, he said.

Brick Barn has boosted distribution, both in Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks, as well as in other states, including Colorado, Texas, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, which will move some of the stored inventory, O’Higgins noted.

While I sampled both current releases and barrel samples, DaFoe, a Santa Barbara native and graduate of Dos Pueblos High School, outlined his winemaking philosophy: “My goal is to make better and better wine, and my job is to chart the course of this place and show it in the best light.”

All of the barrel samples I tasted on an early June day were scheduled to be bottled within the next month, he said. All were succulent representations of the estate and mirrored the expertise of the winemakers who crafted them.

Brick Barn Wine Estate
On display in the tasting room are soil samples that show the range found at the estate. At left is sandy loam with some limestone, and at right is sand. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

For the estate’s first and second vintages (2015 and 2016), winemakers Michael Larner and husband and wife team Bruno D’Alfonso and Kris Curran, respectively, were consulting winemakers, O’Higgins said.

The first three whites I tasted were 2016s: albarino, vermentino and grenache blanc. The first two, DaFoe said, “are alive” with flavor. “The grenache blanc is less showy, but it has great acidity on the palate,” he noted.

The albarino earned a Double Gold in the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and the vermentino was a sweepstakes winner, O’Higgins noted.

The spacious winery is full of stainless steel tanks and, nestled in a far corner, the Brick Barn bottling line.

DaFoe poured me a tank sample of his 2017 Grenache Rosé, still unfiltered but delicious and spritzy. It was co-fermented with 10 percent grenache blanc, he noted.

The 2017 chardonnay utilizes two clones, 809 and 4, and is aging in both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The wine DaFoe calls “a knockout” likely will finish as two blends of the clones, one for the stainless and one for the oak. Both will be hits.

The tank sample of the 2016 Estate Pinot Noir, a blend of clones 777, 667, Pommard and 828, has good bones and spice. “This wine shows the vineyard, and what I hope the estate blend will do,” DaFoe said.

Finally, the 2016 Estate Syrah, a blend of clones 1 and 470, represents a blend of 14 barrels and utilized 30 percent neutral oak, he noted. It finishes lighter and clean with good fruit.

Brick Barn Wine Estate is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Private tours, special tastings and picnics are available by appointment. Click here for more information, or call 805.686.1208 or email [email protected].

— Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at www.centralcoastwinepress.com, tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached via [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

Brick Barn Wine Estate Click to view larger
Chandeliers hang from what once was a hay loft for a stable, with Brick Barn’s wine tasting bar in the foreground and glass doors that access the winery to the rear. (Jeremy Ball / Bottle Branding photo)

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