(They say it’s bad to bottle things up)
At the front of Santa Barbara Winery, the mood is peaceful and carefree as members and guests lounge on the patio, sipping on smooth pinot noir as they enjoy the sunshine and feel the relaxing buzz coarse through their veins.
In the back, the bottling crew is hard at work, making the moment of that first glorious sip of wine after a long day possible.
Serving locals and tourists alike since 1962, Santa Barbara Winery was the first commercial winery founded in the county post-prohibition by Pierre Lafond. Its award-winning chardonnays, pinot noirs and syrahs have been recognized nationally and have become extremely visible to wine aficionados all around.
Hence, the production crew behind the scenes is a well-oiled machine.
Pumping out 60 bottles a minute, equating to five cases per minute and 1,600 cases per day, the crew has to work carefully with the machines and each other to ensure each bottle is perfectly filled without any cracks. One small flaw with a bottle leads to its disposal.
Bruce McGuire is at the helm of the operation, and has been for nearly 40 years, something of a rarity in the wine industry. He spent most of his years growing up on the East Coast, but within five months of coming to California, he was running Santa Barbara Winery.
“Wine is one of the few products that, five years from now, you can assess what happened that year,” Mr. McGuire told the News-Press. “Unlike avocados where you pick them and you have to use them; otherwise, they’re gone… Other fruits and vegetables are finite. I’ve had wine that’s over a hundred years old.”
He said his agricultural background got him into the industry, saying wine is “something that really captures what you did for years to come.”
Back where the wine is bottled, the clinking and clanking of bottles together is rhythmic, and the aroma is as strong as putting a glass right up to the nose.
The wine comes up from a tank downstairs, where it goes through sterile filtration. Then the bottles are splurged with nitrogen to remove the oxygen, filled, leveled and corked.
One member of the Santa Barbara Winery crew puts a capsule on one bottle every second, a special skill set Mr. McGuire said not many have.
The capsule gets spun down, and the bottles are labeled and placed in cases.
The whole process happens crisp and quick, like clockwork.
According to Mr. McGuire, there are three key components to this rapid bottling: good machines, a good crew and sufficient supplies.
The winery’s sauvignon blanc and syrah comes from grapes grown in the Santa Ynez Valley, along with chardonnay and pinot noir from Santa Barbara County and the Sta. Rita Hills.
Mr. McGuire oversees and dictates everything from the grape selection to plant in the vineyard to the farming, cultivation, pruning and picking, all according to his style and winemaking philosophy.
He told the News-Press he’s all but tired of wine, and still drinks it with dinner quite often.
When asked what his favorite kind is, he simply shrugged and said with a smile, “The one in my glass.”