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Gold Medal Wine Club
5330 Debbie Road, Suite 200
Santa Barbara, California 93111
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Summerland Winery - Santa Barbara

Top Ten Pinot Noirs of the Year, 93 Points - Wine & Spirits magazine

It’s an acknowledged maxim that this month’s featured Platinum Series Selection, Summerland Winery, came into existence almost by accident.

“I really wasn’t intending to get into the wine business when I bought this property back in 1993,” owner Nebil ‘Bilo’ Zarif explained, “I was actually buying a 250-acre dude ranch and discovered that a small ten acre section had already been planted in vines. The vines fascinated me to the extent that I wanted to learn more about them. Ultimately, I finally was able to get into the wine business, first with Barnwood Vineyards and now with Summerland Winery.”

For the record, Summerland Winery is named for the small, picturesque Santa Barbara County town (population 1545), whose main claim to fame is the fact that historic US Highway 101 winds its way through it along Southern California’s wonderfully majestic coastline. Summerland is also one of the small towns that have been caught up in the Central Coast wine explosion that has skyrocketed over the past two decades.

Summerland Winery’s initial release of around 1500 cases came in 2003 and was the product of some significant factors that Bilo Zarif put into place. First, he employed Belgian Etienne Terlinden as Summerland’s winemaker and then added the services of noted French wine educator and author Michele Pignarre Le Danois as a consultant to Summerland’s wine staff.

The pair worked in complete harmony and the awards and accolades soon flowed for the emerging winery.

According to Zarif, “Summerland is the type of operation where practically everything is done by hand, from hand sorting the grapes to hand punching the tanks. This process allows us to completely control our quality, but is also extremely labor intensive.”

Zarif admits to finally breaking even on his investment in Summerland Winery this past year, a feat he considers equal to any in his business career. “The competition in the wine business is so intense that it is very difficult to turn a profit, especially when you approach the business like we do at Summerland,” he continued. “There are always shortcuts I could take, but I prefer to do things in the right manner, and that means absorbing the expense of doing it correctly.”

Production has grown during the past five years and Summerland Winery expects to produce around 10,000 cases during 2007. That level, according to Zarif, is where Summerland will remain for the foreseeable future.

“Summerland will always be a boutique winery,” he informed. “At that stage, we are able to control our destiny. Right now we are producing a number of estate-grown wines that have a fascinating background. We have selected six different vineyards from three distinct appellations from around this area and are producing Pinot Noirs from each of the vineyards. We believe that we can eventually bring out the best characteristics of each appellation in these wines. We will be able to identify and produce the very best flavors of each terroir involved. The style of the wines will vary from area to area and the end results will be fascinating to the real wine consumer.”

Such lofty goals seem to be the hallmark for both Summerland Winery and its energetic owner who has been in the winery business for almost fifteen years. When his association as President and co-owner of Barnwood Vineyards ended, Zarif immediately turned his energies to Summerland.

At his new entity, Zarif was able to focus on one of his pet passions, ultimate grape maturity.

“I firmly believe that allowing the grapes to reach their fullest point of maturity is the key to a successful wine,” he added. “When you deal with Pinot Noir for instance, complete maturity is probably the most important factor in the development of the wine. It’s also important with other varietals, but with Pinot Noir, even the slightest departure affects the quality of the wine.”

Zarif considers an incident that happened three years ago as his greatest accomplishment in the wine business. At that time, he presented a newly finished bottle of Summerland Winery to his French wine mentor and friend, Pierre Elby, who was then 80 years old. When Elby tasted the wine and turned to smile at Zarif, Zarif knew he had finally produced a truly great bottle of wine.

Elby died of old age not too long after returning to France, but the memory of his smile remains with Zarif to this day.

  1. Summerland
    2005 Pinot Noir
    Santa Barbara County


    id: 51