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Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 7:09 pm | Fair 55º


Laurie Jervis: The Story of Los Cinco Locos and Home Winemaking

'The Five Crazy Guys have created a tradition and lots of good wine

Five-gallon carboys hold 2014 cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and zinfandel made by Los Cinco Locos.
Five-gallon carboys hold 2014 cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and zinfandel made by Los Cinco Locos. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

This story begins in the late 1990s, when Montecito residents Richard “Dick” Shaikewitz and Lou Weider happened to meet and discovered each had a passion for wine.

Weider, it turns out, had an investment in Rancho Tierra Rejada, a vineyard in Paso Robles.

In the tried-and-true manner by which friends on a mission connect with others on a like path, the two soon joined forces with John Van Atta, a biophysicist with a strong background in chemistry; Dr. George Primbs, an opthamologist and eye surgeon; and Howard Scar, who was renovating a small stable on his Montecito property.

All were fond of good wine and willing to try their hands at making their own.

“We were each in for a fifth” of the costs and the total production, Shaikewitz recalled.

As it turns out, converting an old stable into a small winery is quite easy, and the original Los Cinco Locos found a place to call home: Montecito, where several of the founders lived.

In 1999, the five secured enough grapes from Rancho Tierra Rejada to make their first vintage of red wine.

The late Chris Whitcraft , founder of Whitcraft Wines, sold the group three used barrels, Shaikewitz said, and other local winemakers helped Los Cinco Locos get on its feet.

Los Cinco Locos’ 2013 merlot, syrah, pinot noir and a red blend. Click to view larger
Los Cinco Locos’ 2013 merlot, syrah, pinot noir and a red blend. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

“Bruce McGuire of Santa Barbara Winery, Craig Jaffurs and David Yates of Jaffurs Wines and John and Helene Falcone (Falcone Wines) are among the many people who have been very nice to us, letting us buy into their orders of (bottle) glass, and corks,” he noted.

Like the region’s winemakers, most of whose production numbers dwarf Los Cinco Locos, the team keeps meticulous, hand-written notes on every vintage, from pick date to barreling and beyond.

Team members share punch-down duties and keep barrels and carboys topped off to prevent oxidation. They keep notes about each vintage in a lab book, comparing details about the entire winemaking process, from harvest to barreling.

Because “Los Cinco Locos” is not a commercial winery, the wines cannot be sold. Instead, the members each keep several cases for their personal use, share bottles with friends, and donate the rest to various nonprofits for use in silent and live auctions, Shaikewitz said.

Among the organizations that have benefited from Los Cinco Locos’ generosity with wine are the Sansum Diabetes Center, the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, Catholic Charities, Stow House, the Music Academy of the West and See International, he noted.

In addition to raising funds, the wines have garnered their winemakers many awards in competitions at both the local and state level, including the Hidden Gems event that took place in Santa Ynez for many years and benefitted Solvang-based People Helping People.

In the years since their initial vintage, the members have added other vineyards’ grapes to their lineup, among them Kick On Ranch and Lucas & Lellewen Vineyards, both in Los Alamos.

Richard “Dick” Shaikewitz, with lab book, and Howard Scar are two of the original five members of Los Cinco Locos. Click to view larger
Richard “Dick” Shaikewitz, with lab book, and Howard Scar are two of the original five members of Los Cinco Locos. (Laurie Jervis / Noozhawk photo)

The men purchased by the pound, not the ton, with the goal to produce only a handful of barrels of varietals ranging from pinot noir to cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, sangiovese, petit verdot and cabernet franc.

With the exception of pinot noir, each of those red grape varietals play well with others, and blending grape lots has been a goal of “Los Cinco” since day one.

What began with five participants has since morphed into a larger team, with plenty of seasonal help from members’ spouses, children and friends.

The newer members include John Holmes, Jace Yoder, Bill Burke, John Weninger, Larry Weidl and Al Ballabio, and for a while, Charles “Chip” Eckert, Shaikewitz said.

Los Cinco Locos are gearing up for their 16th vintage with the harvest, now under way throughout the Central Coast, and this month bottled prior vintages to free up barrels for the coming grape vintage.

“We always have lots of help from friends when we bottle,” Shaikewitz told me when I met the crew in mid-July. “Bottling turns into two or three days of eating and drinking. It’s very social.”

Many years back, Los Cinco relocated operations to a garage adjacent to Primbs’ Eastside Santa Barbara home. It’s cool enough to function as a working winery, and is complete with a countertop lab, wine in stacked barrels and carboys, and cases and cases of bottled wines.

The group is up to an annual case production of approximately 300 cases.

At Primbs’ home, there’s also plenty of space for various “locos” to convene over red wine and snacks and poke fun at each other — a skill most have had years to perfect.

“You have to have a thick skin to be part of this group,” one member said with a laugh.

Shaikewitz pulled me a barrel sample of Los Cinco’s 2014 syrah. While it’s still quite young and needs much more barrel aging, it definitely holds potential for a moderately fruit-forward bold red.

Already in bottle and cheerfully shared with friends, family and reporters are the 2012 and 2013 Los Cinco Loco merlot, syrah, pinot noir and red blend (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot), as well as a zinfandel.

The red blend earned the group blue ribbons at Hidden Gems for a couple of years running, Shaikewitz said. It’s a lovely and balanced wine, I discovered.

Los Cinco Locos epitomizes the spirit of winemaking: Hard work, education, fun, food and friends.

— 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.

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