Chef and winemakers join Gleason group in Santa Ynez Valley
Three new staff members have joined the Gleason Family Vineyards Santa Ynez Valley portfolio of brands, which include Roblar Winery and Vineyards in Santa Ynez, Refugio Ranch Vineyards in Los Olivos and Royal Oaks Wines in Solvang.
Chef Peter Cham is the new executive chef and head of culinary operations, and Max Marshak is head winemaker, assisted by Kat Neenan.
“When I first visited Roblar, I received a grand tour of the property, including the winery, Roblar Farm, the Tuxedo Barn and the farm house,” said Chef Cham. “Seeing how beautiful all the different venues were made the choice to hop on board with Gleason Family Vineyards easy for me. I knew that curating the culinary operation would be new, exciting and fulfilling as the properties continue to grow and evolve. Plus, how could a chef not be inspired with amazing, fresh produce being grown on-site?”
Chef Cham is crafting a seasonal Bites Menus utilizing fresh produce and herbs grown just steps away from the estate’s tasting room and vineyards on the property’s organic Roblar Farm.
Included are smoked salmon deviled eggs with pickled shallots, crispy capers, chives and Espelette peppers; wood-fired wild mushroom pizza with confit garlic and kale pesto; or charred Roblar Farm broccoli with bagna càuda, grilled lemon, parmesan and Aleppo pepper.
The Bites Menus are available Friday through Sunday. Also new are the winery’s recently launched “Birds ‘n’ Bubbles,” which features Chef Cham’s famous fried chicken every Thursday and weekly Sunday brunch, served from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Santa Barbara native was raised in a Cambodian household that embraced food as a way to unite the family. His early interest in cooking sprouted by his grandmother’s side in the kitchen.
In 2006, Chef Cham headed to San Francisco to study and explore the culinary arts, landing work at Radius Restaurant & Café, a food business in tune with his own kitchen ethos. Three years into his time with Radius, Chef Cham became the executive chef.
He also spent time as stagiaire at other legendary and Michelin-starred San Francisco establishments such as Coi Restaurant, Quince and Fifth Floor.
Chef Cham relocated to Cambridge, Mass., in 2013, to work at West Bridge under Chef Matthew Gaudet, named a Best New Chef by Food & Wine that same year.
After weathering a few New England winters, he returned to Santa Barbara as head chef at The Hungry Cat. And in 2016, Chef Cham moved to Finch & Fork restaurant at Santa Barbara’s Kimpton Canary Hotel, where he became its executive chef.
In addition to his culinary work, Chef Cham is an avid outdoorsman and cycling enthusiast. As a long-running participant in Chefs Cycle for No Kid Hungry, he has raised more than $50,000 for the organization aimed at ending child hunger.
As the new winemaking team, Mr. Marshak and Ms. Neenan are processing 16 different varietals sourced from the portfolio’s estate vineyards, plus a small amount of fruit purchased from Sta. Rita Hills vineyards. The Roblar and Refugio estate vineyards produce about 170 tons of fruit annually, and the operation’s overall case count totals approximately 12,000 cases.
Mr. Marshak’s interest in the science of fermentation began with small-scale home-brewing and winemaking experiments, which were side passions to his early careers in construction, commercial fishing and writing for fly fishing and hunting magazines.
His segue to the wine and hospitality realm began while he was tending bar in New York City, where he interacted with winemakers and wine brands. He learned directly from some of California’s best winemakers in 2012 when he became an intern at Santa Ynez Valley’s Fess Parker Winery.
The following year, Mr. Marshak joined Jonata wineries as an intern, which turned into the full time position of enologist for all three of the winery’s well-known brands: Jonata, The Hilt and The Paring.
“I was so lucky to have the opportunity to form my winemaking career under the mentorship of winemaker Matt Dees, alongside Jonata’s assistant winemaker, Drew Pickering, and to work with vineyards and brands of uncompromising quality,” Mr. Marshak told the News-Press.
In 2014, he started his own wine label, Marshak Wine Company, sourcing highly-curated Santa Barbara County fruit for very small volumes of “lovingly crafted” wines. He joined Gleason Family Vineyards in 2020 as head winemaker for all of the portfolio’s brands.
“I am most excited about the forward-thinking culture of our company. We have many different irons in the fire, from vegetable farming to winemaking and hospitality, the overarching theme is collaboration,” said Mr. Marshak. “I never feel like we are making wine in a vacuum, and I know that I have the freedom to push the winemaking forward and continue to uncover the full potential of our properties. GFV is a very energizing and rewarding team to be working with.”
Assisting him in the Gleason Family Vineyards winery facility is one of Santa Barbara County’s woman winemakers, Ms. Neenan. Her winemaking career similarly started in the hospitality world while she was working in a destination resort’s five-star dining room where she learned about fine dining and Old World wines.
She began studying to become a sommelier and experienced her first wine harvest in 2011 in San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley AVA. Now 10 years into her winemaking career, the majority of Ms. Neenan’s training has occurred on California’s Central Coast. She has also worked harvests in Oregon and in the Marlborough region of New Zealand and has worked with many skilled winemakers who have helped her hone her craft.
“As a winemaker, the ability to work with two estate vineyards — in partnership with Max Marshak and his dynamic winemaking philosophy, backed and supported by the Gleason Family, who are constantly striving to improve every aspect of the company — is an irresistible opportunity,” Ms. Neenan said. “We’re easing into our second harvest with this team, and the desire to surpass what we’ve accomplished last year, to do it better, is even more pronounced. With the excellent quality of the fruit we’ve seen so far, I’m confident we can achieve that goal.”
“The exuberance and grace that Max and Kat exhibit as our winemaking team is tremendous. We’re able to work in lock step to continue building the vision of Roblar and Refugio wines, and it’s truly a joy,” said Matthew Bieszard, the Gleason Family Vineyards general manager.