Upon completion of the 2014 Wine Bloggers’ Conference, I wisely had decided to drive back to Santa Barbara to stay overnight before my departing flight the following morning. A friend was to have joined me for the conference, but ended up having to cancel. However, he’s a huge fan of the film SOMM and we had discussed a possible visit to Les Marchands. Therefore, in his honor, I decided to go anyway. This is for you, my friend.
Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, located in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, is the brain child of SOMM co-star, Master Sommelier Brian McClintic, and Eric Railsback. Their goal: to prove that a world-class food and wine experience can exist in a relaxing atmosphere, free of intimidation.
I sat alone at the bar and was immediately welcomed and given a menu. I decided to order a glass of Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc. Lieu Dit is a winery founded by Les Marchands co-owner Eric Railsback and winemaker Justin Willett, which focuses on Loire grape varieties grown and produced in Santa Barbara County. I paired the wine with the ham and prosciutto sandwich, prepared à la française on a baguette with butter. If you’ve ever spent time in France, you know there’s nothing like butter on a ham sandwich. The grapes for the Chenin Blanc come from the Foxen Canyon district of Santa Ynez Valley. They are fermented in stainless steel, then transferred to neutral oak. The resulting wine has bright acid with floral, citrus, and herbaceous aromatics and flavors, yet has a softness to it thanks to the time spent in neutral oak. Here’s to that delectable fat, salt, and racy acidity pairing.
After my bar visit, I ventured over to the merchant section where I decided to purchase a bottle of 2012 Vallin Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley. The interconnection of the wines and Les Marchands continued, as Vallin was created by Les Marchands co-owners Eric Railsback and MS Brian McClintic, along with MS Dustin Wilson and winemaker Justin Willett, to produce Rhône grape wines in Santa Barbara County. See, there was a method to my madness. According to the website, The word “Vallin” pays homage to the original settlers of France’s Northern Rhone Valley — a people who first planted the Syrah grape and whose producers continue to keep our glasses full.
As I was about to leave, I caught a Morgon in my eye that I had tasted previously and really, really wanted to buy. Instead, the guys at Les Marchands talked me into a lovely Domaine Julien Sunier Fleurie instead by allowing me a taste it at the bar.
While Les Marchands serves and sells wines from around the world, I admit, that as a Francophile as well as a new California resident, the juxtaposition of these two pervasive themes during every aspect of my visit completely won me over. As to your goal above, Brian and Eric? Congratulations, guys. You have succeeded based on my first impressions and I look forward to a return visit. To my friend, next time it’s your turn.