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Bryan Babcock, Babcock Winery

Wine found Bryan instead of the other way around. And once he got his feet wet and his teeth purple, wine became an intrinsic part of Bryan's being. He owned it. Bryan makes wines on his family’s property in Santa Barbara with a singular vision that is inspired, unwavering and summed up in two very different words, provided by Bryan himself: "amplified" and "balanced."

Bryan Babcock was on his way to business school for his MBA to follow his passion for the "philosophy of capitalism" after graduating with a liberal arts degree from Occidental. However, as life goes, there was an unavoidable bump in the middle of that road, and he changed direction. All of his business school applications to Stanford, Harvard and Wharton were turned down because Bryan lacked real world working experience. So, he took UC Davis up on their offer for a graduate degree in Food Sciences – the program that feeds into a graduate degree in Enology which generally leads to winemaking, “I thought hmmm... this is interesting. I love alcoholic beverages. My parents own a ranch (in Santa Barbara). I am going to Davis.”

Now, this cutting edge winemaker who was named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the "Ten Best Winemakers of the Year" and voted "Most Courageous Winemaker of the Year", can hardly imagine a different life, “...who knows what I would be doing now if I went to business school... but I didn’t get in.”

However, it was not exactly love at first crush for Bryan. It took him about five years to really find his own style, “...there wasn’t any one moment so much as a gradual process of falling in love with it. I guess I realized I was pretty good at it, and whatever I did, it could be what I wanted it to be. That is one thing Europe did for me." Bryan explains that he has made numerous trips to the Old World, eager to learn and appreciate. "The winemakers and wineries in Europe are highly revered and food and wine is very important to the culture. I didn’t have that feeling about working in Santa Barbara county because then it was the Wild Wild West. It wasn’t like it is now. Now people pay attention to it.” And Bryan has played a leading role in that new-found recognition.

Babcock has grown with Santa Barbara in its rise to fame in the wine growing regions of the world. Now it is an area that is becoming more and more established as a world class region for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah. Especially Syrah. “From here to Paso Robles it is like a Syrah mecca!” Babcock winery is located on the far western edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in northern Santa Barbara County approximately 50 miles north of the city of Santa Barbara.

The Babcocks are part of the pioneering generation of families who helped this wine growing region achieve its current reputation, although Bryan points out they were definitely not there first. “The true pioneers for this area are Richard Sanford and Pierre Lafond at Santa Barbara winery – those are the guys that went for it. We are part of the second wave, arriving on the scene with Gainey, Foxen and Zaca Mesa.”

Bryan may be part of the "second wave", but he is a leader in style. He tries to make his Syrah according to his super-charged, yet balanced philosophy. He makes his Syrahs very dark and saturated and believes that the grape naturally lends itself to this style. Bryan likes wine that lets you know it is there – he wants lots of bang for his wine buck. He claims “...as a winemaker and a consumer, I like wine with flavor. I like the idea of the wine being amplified so there is a full impact on all of the senses – something you can chew on, in a sense, and as long as their is balance and harmony with this, then it works." He goes on to say, "as a craftsman you need to have a strong devotion for objectivity, starting with the vineyard, farming, and winemaking and you need to integrate everything to get that final vision.”

Part of integration for Bryan is inspiration from other winemaking areas that he respects, namely Tuscany and Burgundy. He admires how well the Italian people continually assimilate inspiration into their winemaking and recalled a time in Tuscany, “I walked into an old castle. They were sending down wine form a couple floors above and they heard there was an American winemaker who arrived and they stopped what they were doing and came down to meet me – 'you are a winemaker, let’s talk shop'.” He laughed, “I love Italy.”

I thanked Bryan for being gracious enough to take time from his busy harvest schedule and got a quick tip on 2003 in the Santa Ynez – looks like it will be a very good year if you like your wines ripe. There have been no clouds in the sky, sugars are through the roof, and winemakers in that valley are very happy... busy... but happy.

With a glass of his Syrah in hand, I am happy as well, and once you taste it, you will be happy that Harvard business school’s loss is our gain... Enjoy.

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