Santa Barbara County region
Presidio Winery produces mostly Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay.
“The key is having control over the vineyard,” owner/winemaker, Doug Braun starts to explain. “You use the varietals best suited for the area and keep a tight handle on how the fruit is grown,” he adds. That guiding philosophy is what brought Doug to Santa Barbara County to make ultra-premium Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Merlot. “This area is perfect for these varietals,” he says convincingly.
Indeed, most winemakers will agree that the county’s Santa Maria Valley with its unique geographical location creates an ideal climate for Burgundian varietals. It is the only location in California where the mountains run in an east-west direction. This allows the cool marine influence to enter into the valley, keeping temperatures cooler in the summer and warmer in the fall. A little bit to the south, the warmer more traditional topography of the Santa Ynez Valley is ideal for Bordeaux varietals such as Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Doug was certainly not the first to “discover” Santa Barbara County’s huge grape growing potential. However, as recent as the early 1990’s when Doug arrived, Santa Barbara was still considered a new frontier, unproven and untested. “What I saw back then was outstanding fruit quality in particular areas with specific varietals,” he recalls. “It was still a gamble, but I was willing to go for it.”
You know what they say about the proverbial rising tide—you can’t stop it. Once Doug and the 20 or so other pioneer wineries in the county began to serve up world-class wines to amazed wine enthusiasts, the “others” started flooding in. In 1990 there were just 5,000 acres planted to wine grapes, now it’s close to 20,000 acres.
In 1992 Doug Braun went for it. He first negotiated a flat-fee contract with grape growers that allowed him to manage the blocks of vineyard from where he wanted fruit. “That way I could prune, thin the crop, canopy, do whatever I wanted in order to improve the quality of the fruit, without regard to volume,” he says. He then leased facilities at a nearby winery and began his venture into the winery business.
“The name Presidio came about because we wanted to pay tribute to the historical link between wine and the Spanish culture. The Spanish were the first to introduce the European varieties to this country as they moved up the California coast building presidios along the way. They brought agriculture light years forward and they don’t get enough credit for it,” Doug asserts.
Presidio Winery has worked its way up to a respectable 14,000 case annual production, producing mostly Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay. For years you could only find their wines in San Diego County (“I went to school down there,” Doug says with a smile.) Selling primarily to restaurants, they gradually sold their way up the coast back to Santa Barbara and beyond. Even today their sales are 85% directly to restaurants, the rest goes to select California wine shops who understand the Presidio philosophy and know the quality behind the label.
Doug is now taking the next logical progression as an up and coming winemaker with a successful label behind him. He recently purchased 100 acres to develop his own vineyards and expects to build a full-fledged winery on the property with a year or two. “Our size has always been and always will be a function of the quality of fruit available,” Doug states. “There is only a limited supply of good quality fruit and we hope to increase that with our own vineyard.”
Doug Braun’s entire career seems linked to a series of natural progressions similar to his recent step into vineyard ownership. Born and raised in San Diego, he started working in a restaurant at the age of 15. He began by washing dishes then worked his way up the ranks, gradually becoming a restaurant manager by the age of 20. “I loved the restaurant business. That’s probably why our marketing approach has been primarily to restaurants,” he says.
Logically, his restaurant experience led him into a Food Service Management degree at nearby Grossmont College. He was introduced to the world of fine wine as his work experience broadened into Sommelier and wine buying duties at various restaurants in California and Hawaii. Then another natural progression. “My interest level in wine was too high to remain at a restaurant any longer,” explains Doug. In 1983, he enrolled at Fresno State to study enology. And from there he continued his path to U.C. Davis to study viticulture. While at Fresno and Davis he worked at several wineries to gain the necessary practical experience. By 1992 he was ready to do his own thing in his own way, and started Presidio Winery.
Douglas Braun - Owner - Winemaker
Douglas Braun put himself through school and eventually emerged with degrees from both of California’s top viticultural institutions. He received an Enology degree from Fresno State and a viticultural degree from UC Davis that provided a great deal of direction for his career and life. While in undergraduate school, Braun worked in a number of food service industry jobs that imparted the inspiration that eventually caused him to return to school and ultimately led to the establishment of Presidio Winery in 1992.
During his formative years Braun worked for such giants as the Central Valley Cribari where he served as quality control manager. There he was exposed to the winery’s elaborate laboratories and their dedication to analysis and identical production. He later was introduced to a winemaker named Don Blackburn when he worked at Eliston Winery’s incredible hewn-stone mansion in Sunol. The facility dated back to the mid-1800’s and was the former residence of the Sheriff of San Francisco. Blackburn was a graduate of the France’s Montpelier University and a classically trained Burgundian winemaker. Blackburn’s influence and the zany innovativeness of the mid-1980s had a profound effect on Douglas Braun.
‘People were just getting into non-filtering and lees contact,” Braun explained, ‘and things were kind of crazy. It was sometime around 1987 that I began consulting on a full-time basis and started to realize the tremendous potential that existed in Santa Barbara as far as a growing region and destination spot. My closest associate for the past two years was a Burgundian who really taught me a lot.”
Douglas Braun’s next few years were spent familiarizing himself with the area that he was convinced would become the location for California’s next vineyard gold rush. Braun reveled in Santa Barbara’s lush lowlands and varied soils and determined that his future lay within its confines.
By 1991 he felt he knew enough to venture into the business on his own and he formed the basis of Presidio Winery Inc. Braun and his family own over 50% of the business and have several long time partners that have helped with various aspects of the business.
With barely enough money to get his venture started, Douglas Braun chose a practical and patient road to success. He paid homage to California’s early Spanish history by utilizing the name Presidio for his winery and slowly developed his concept. He bought fruit from growers outside his consulting ring and utilized facilities wherever he found them to minimize costs. He produced superior products and always kept an eye on value, a lesson learned from his early days in the business. He set achievable goals and managed to make the numbers whenever it really counted. Presidio’s sales grew and finally topped the 10,000 case plateau goal in the year 1998.
Last year he completed his first winery building and immediately started to plan for the future. A prime 100-acre site amongst several imposing wineries and adjacent to a major mission that had caught his eye and was acquired. Braun immediately began planting the first thirty acres and will start construction on a new winery when permits are obtained. He is excited, yet patient in the actual execution of his dream. He has waited a long time and survived in a business when many fail or exist marginally.
His dedication to Santa Barbara County is unyielding and should reap huge rewards. He acknowledges subtle differences in certain microclimates and intends to exploit these to his advantage. He also recognizes the fact that his travails at Presidio are something akin to the early California pioneers whom suffered and toiled for many years before their efforts reached fruition.
Through all this, Douglas Braun has also been able to maintain his sense of humor and a spirit and love for the wine industry that is charmingly apparent. He will soon realize his lifelong dream of completing a winery surrounded by varietals that he has chosen for their correctness, quality and pertinence to his ongoing plan. Presidio Winery will continue its growth and quality aspirations and its consumer base will most definitely continue to appreciate its efforts.