Winemakers who dream, vol. 1: Doug Margerum

If you like stories of dreamers who realize their dreams and more…well, read on. tBoW interviewed four terrific winemakers in early Summer 2011: Doug Margerum, Maggie Harrison, Jessica Mozeico and the Semler clan. Each is a bona fide innovator who pursued a dream until it became a reality. The ready-for-prime-time versions are in Elegant Living Magazine online. We present these winemakers here for those of you who have abandoned or never got to know the print medium.

Doug Margerum arguably put the Santa Barbara wine scene on the international wine map. Consider the trail he blazed over the past 30 years. In 1981 – freshly graduated from UCSB – he convinced his family to put up the funding for Santa Barbara’s first premium wine store and nouvelle cuisine restaurant. He called it the Wine Cask. In 1984 he put out an unprecedented wine futures offering of Au Bon Climat wines [ed. Doug says it was really winemaker Jim Clendenen’s idea to raise vineyard capital], creating a minor sensation.

Doug quickly expanded his list of wines offered en primeur to include other notable Santa Barbara wineries including Qupe, Sanford, and Vita Nova in 1985. Within a year the demand to be included from other winemakers forced him to cap the list at 100 Santa Barbara and Central Coast wineries. The first official Santa Barbara Wine Futures Tasting was held in the landmark El Paseo dining hall in 1987. For the next two decades he mailed 20,000 catalogs annually across the country selling out each year.

In 2007, after a 25 year run, he sold the futures program and the restaurant. Once again his timing was uncanny as the economic recession quickly followed. In 2009 a group of investors invited him to lend his name and knowledge (and perhaps his remarkable serendipity) to the resurrection of the Wine Cask as a part owner.

Oh yeah. He also makes wine. Doug held onto the Margerum Wine Company which he started in 2001. Today Margerum Wine Company is his primary focus. He prefers Old World style wines.

“We produce dry, crisp, fruity, low alcohol white wines; all made in stainless steel without oak. The reds are Rhone varietals grown in Santa Barbara.”

Which brings us to his most recent precognition; starting a new winery in Washington. He has planted Pinot Gris on property once occupied by the native Klickitat tribe, 12 miles above the Columbia River where cold zone varietals can do well. He calls the winery Klickitat Wine Company. I ask if he plans to grow Rousanne, a popular Rhone varietal that has had success in the region. No, he is going to try Gruner Veltliner; a grape known for producing racy, zingy Austrian white wines.

Although Doug likes Old World wines he makes an important distinction. Old World versus New World is about more than where the wine originates. It is about how the wines are made. “At Margerum Wines we employ old world techniques in our winemaking. We punch down the old way. We like wines with personality, character; that have a sense of place.” Margerum Wine Company makes distinctive wines; each filled with character.

We find his white wines especially attractive. Prices are quite reasonable and quality is top notch. When you put the glass to your lips, dream a little.

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