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Dragonette Cellars

Santa Barbara County region


This alchemistic-themed winery is making world-class wines for its fervent band of followers

As with many small wineries, it might be considered something of a cliché to say the owners of upstart Dragonette Cellars all love wine. A thorough examination into the rather successful Santa Barbara County winery has proved beyond a doubt that those same owners really love wine. In fact, their love of the almighty grape governs their every action.

To set the facts, Dragonette Cellars is the product of brothers John and Steve Dragonette, and their best friend, Brandon Sparks-Gillis. It seems that John and Brandon found themselves working for famous Los Angeles wine retailer Wally’s and formed a bond that would eventually lead to the establishment of Dragonette Cellars. John’s younger brother Steve came aboard and the entity was soon in the business of making wine.

“We all come from different business backgrounds,” confessed Brandon Sparks-Gillis. “John was a lawyer taking a wine hiatus from his career, and Steve was working as a computer engineer. I was a geology major in college, but I had already turned to the wine business and had worked in various capacities for some significant wineries both in California and abroad.”

The plan hatched by the three friends was quite simple: Establish a winery that would use prime Santa Barbara County grapes and hand-produce the finest wines possible. The trio figured they had something of a leg up since they had a wealth of experience between them. John had studied wine on his own for the past ten years and had apprenticed at renowned Fiddlehead Cellars. He had also worked for three years for one of the area’s top vineyard management companies, and had developed great relationships with a number of the leading growers in the area. Sparks-Gillis’ experience included the cultish Sine Qua Non Winery of Manfred Krankl and the highly-rated Torbreck Vintners of the Barossa Valley in Australia.

The name ‘Dragonette’ was selected for the winery because it carried a certain panache of mystery and uniqueness. The family name was originally Italian (Dragonetti), but was changed when the family emigrated from Italy in the 1930’s.

“We all thought that Dragonette was perfect for our new venture,” continued Brandon Sparks-Gillis. “When Steve’s wife Jen came up with the logo that looked and felt medieval, we knew we had something special. Graphic artist Jon Krauss took it from there and our labeling worked out much better than expected.”

The Dragonette Cellars logo is a story in itself. The logo is actually an old alchemist symbol for the ‘elixir of life’ or ‘drinkable gold.’ During medieval times, it was believed that gold contained certain medicinal properties and the alchemists sought a process by which gold could be dissolved into a liquid that could then be ingested to obtain healing properties. For Dragonette Cellars, the symbol was a perfect fit.

“We have been told that many of our customers identify with the story behind Dragonette Cellars, and that is exactly what we had hoped for,” added Sparks-Gillis.

Dragonette Cellars’ first release was a minuscule 300 cases in 2006. Aided by exceptional scores and medals, the tiny winery has expanded and will produce about 5,000 cases this year, with no immediate plans to increase production.

“Since we do all the work ourselves, from vineyard to bottle, we feel that the 5,000 case level is all we can handle,” Sparks-Gillis continued. “With us, it is all about hand growing and hand producing our wines. We even have long-term relationships with some of our growers that allow us to go into their vineyards and perform the maintenance work ourselves. That way, we are assured of getting exactly what we want from the vines, and I can’t begin to tell you how important that is to making great wines.”

Dragonette Cellars’ trio of owners says they are truly humbled by the public’s response to their wines. They produce all wines at their smallish winery in Lompoc, California and have a tasting room in nearby Los Olivos across from the Corner Coffee House.

The arrangement between the three close friends has worked to perfection and even more accolades can be expected in the future. “We all grow, crush, taste and decide on each wine,” Sparks-Gillis concluded. “Along the way, we have met some really wonderful people who really enjoy our wines. I ask myself, what more can you ask for? Somehow, I never seem to get an answer.”

We hope our Platinum Wine Club members enjoy this special wine from Dragonette Cellars!

Featured Wines

Map of the area

Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

Picture of Dear <i>Platinum Wine Club</i> Members,

Syrah is the grape that originally drew our attention to Santa Barbara County nearly 20 years ago, and today it remains a staple in our cellar. It is with great pleasure that we share our 2016 Seven Syrah with you.

We were drawn to Santa Barbara County because it is a land of extremes and rugged beauty. Located, literally, at the edge of the continent, the rare East-West orientation of our mountains and valleys funnels in cool ocean air, resulting in some of the coolest locations to grow grapes in the USA. Syrah is one of the few grapes that has the flexibility to thrive in both the cooler western Sta. Rita Hills AVA and the warmer Ballard Canyon AVA.

We have always been fans of blending to achieve the best, and most delicious, expression of a given vintage. We find that blending can create both complexity and completeness that often surpasses single vineyard examples. Seven is the ultimate example of this philosophy. Carefully crafted from Seven different components, including four vineyard sites and three grapes (Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier), it represents the beauty and diversity of Santa Barbara County in the glass.

Enjoy the wine, and have a great summer. If you make it to beautiful Santa Barbara wine country, please come by and taste with us! Our Tasting Room is located in “downtown” Los Olivos, and is open daily from 11-5. We also offer private tastings at our winery, by appointment. We hope to see you soon.

All the best from the Dragonette Cellars family,

Brandon Sparks-Gillis, John Dragonette & Steve Dragonette

About the Winemakers

Picture of About the Winemakers

All three co-owners share in the winemaking duties and all are self-taught in the winemaker’s art. “Each of us apprenticed at a different winery,” explained Brandon Sparks-Gillis. “We learned from some really top winemakers and figured out that what we wanted to do with our wines couldn’t be learned in the classroom.”

Dragonette Cellars’ three co-owners get together after harvest and make all the important decisions for each of their wines. When blending tome comes around, the three again meet to make the final decisions on the wines. “We each have different opinions but in the end, it all seems to come together,” finalized Sparks-Gillis. Judging by the winery’s success rate, it seems that most winemaking decisions are assuredly appropriate.

Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

Picture of Dear <i>Platinum Wine Club</i> Members,

Greetings from the Santa Ynez Valley! We are proud to present you with our 2012 MJM, Santa Barbara County. MJM is our signature, Syrah-based blend, combining our favorite few barrels of Syrah (some co-fermented with small amounts of Viognier) with small amounts of Grenache. The name MJM is an homage to Mitchi, Jen, and Michelle, our wives and co-conspirators in the fabulous journey that began in 2005 when we launched this winery.

This wine is crafted from four superlative vineyards, all of which we farm on per acre contracts, to allow us to farm for low yields and maximum quality. John Sebastiano (Santa Ynez Valley at the edge of the Sta. Rita Hills) provides 50% of the fruit for this wine and is our coolest Syrah site, which results in remarkable aromatics of spice and dark fruits, in a wild, medium bodied frame with plenty of earth. Stolpman Vineyard (Ballard Canyon) represents 30% of the blend. It is expertly farmed organically and with little irrigation, producing low yields of spectacularly dark, intense red fruits and meaty notes. Thompson (Los Alamos Valley) is 10% of the blend. Our blocks are at the top of the vineyard’s steep, south-facing, shale slopes, where cool ocean influences give intense blue fruits with solid structure. Harrison Clarke (Ballard Canyon) contributes 10% of the blend. This vineyard yields tiny bunches of grapes whose wines combine blackberry fruit and minerals.

We harvest each vineyard block separately and ensure only the best fruit makes it to the winery. We ferment and age each lot separately in various oak barrels, and once the wines have developed their personalities, we taste and select the most intense and age worthy-lots for the MJM.

Enjoy the wine and have a great Fall season. If you make it to beautiful Santa Barbara wine country, please come by and taste with us!

All the best from the Dragonette Cellars family,

Brandon Sparks-Gillis, John Dragonette & Steve Dragonette

Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

Picture of Dear <i>Platinum Wine Club</i> Members,

Greetings from Los Olivos! We are currently wrapping up the 2014 Harvest season, which holds great promise. In fact, it is the third harvest in a row which has featured idyllic growing conditions. The big story this year is the drought conditions which caused early bud break in the spring and have resulted in the earliest harvest in our history. Our hands are purple from pressing grapes today, and though tired, we are extremely happy.

We are proud to present you with our 2012 Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills. The Sta. Rita Hills AVA (American Viticulture Area) is located very near the Pacific Ocean which provides a cooling influence with near constant wind and fog. The appellation is one of the coolest climate locations in all of California and this allows the thinned skinned Pinot Noir to enjoy a long, slow ripening season which results in grapes (and wines) of tremendous flavor intensity and balanced acidity.

This wine is crafted from five remarkable vineyards that span the Sta. Rita Hills, each featuring unique soils and climates that are ideal for this fickle grape. Some of these vineyards are among the pioneers of the appellation (Fiddlestix and La Encantada among them), while others (John Sebastiano, Radian, and Bentrock) are newer plantings that are pushing the boundaries on steep, windswept hillsides. We farm each vineyard site to best capture these different site characteristics and harvest, ferment, and age them separately in our cellars. Once the wines have developed their personalities in barrel, we taste them and carefully blend to create a wine that represents the beauty of the hills. We feel that the different vineyards add wonderful complexity to the final wine.

Enjoy the wine, and have a great Fall season. If you make it to beautiful Santa Barbara wine country, please come by and taste with us! Our Tasting Room is located in “downtown” Los Olivos, and is open daily from 11-5. We also offer winery tours and tastings by appointment. We hope to see you soon!

All the best from the Dragonette Cellars family,

Brandon Sparks-Gillis, John Dragonette & Steve Dragonette