A Buellton wine startup has teamed up with fast-growing grocery chain Fresh & Easy to put a taste of Santa Barbara County in 169 stores across the U.S.
Terravant Wine Co. and Fresh & Easy are launching three brands of custom-made wine, sourced largely from the Santa Ynez Valley.
“Santa Barbara County has an amazing wine culture and being that we’re expanding throughout the state, there was an opportunity to craft something our customers were really looking for,” company spokesman Brendan Wonnacott told the Business Times.
Fresh & Easy is owned by British grocery giant Tesco. It landed on the West Coast just a few years ago, but since then has plopped its stores down all over California. In the Tri-Counties, it has nine stores with two more under way — one in Santa Barbara and another in San Luis Obispo.
Especially with the chain’s expansion in the state, customers have expressed interest in California wines, Wonnacott said.
Fresh & Easy started looking for a winery to help them with that task. When wine buyer Richard Wherry and Terravant winemaker Alan Phillips crossed paths at an industry event, they went from there.
Terravant is a custom crush facility, meaning other wineries bring their own grapes in and work with the Buellton company to create their own vintages. The facility opened in 2008. “We saw a need for a more upscale, more tech efficient facility,” Phillips said.
Since launching, Terravant has worked with some of the most notable winemakers in the area, but the Fresh & Easy collaboration gave Phillips a chance to practice his own artistic freedom and create three tiers of Santa Barbara County wines exclusively for the grocery chain.
The Cloud Valley collection includes a chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, each retailing for less than $9. The wines, described as fruit-forward, are ideal for entry-level wine enthusiasts, Phillips said. “These are easy-drinking, straightforward wines. Clean, pleasant, but not something you have to spend a lot of time thinking about. It goes with their name — sort of fresh and easy.”
The Barrel Ranch collection is the mid-tier, retailing for less than $15. The chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon in that line are made from higher-pedigree grapes and are targeted at the amateur wine enthusiast.
For the Open Field brand, Phillips was given license to experiment and create a line of more sophisticated wines. “We basically gave Alan free rein and said craft your dream wine that would sell for under $20,” Wonnacott said.
The chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris in the collection are sourced from Santa Barbara County. “They’ve got more complexity, more oak-barrel influence. They’re more full-bodied wines. It might appeal to someone who’s been drinking wine for a while,” Phillips said. “That was a lot of fun too. I took my spin on it.”
Santa Barbara County’s wine country landed on the world map after being featured in the 2004 Oscar-winning film “Sideways,” in which protagonist Miles Raymond and his friend chase women and wine through the Santa Ynez Valley. Raymond muses about life as he sips and swirls a glass of pinot noir. The area experienced a wine explosion after the film’s success, and it’s still riding the wave.
Although a much younger and smaller wine region than heavyweight Napa Valley, Santa Barbara County has “more breadth and diversity than any other wine region in the world,” Phillips said.
Health food chain Whole Foods collaborated with Margerum Wines and Hitching Post Wines earlier this year to create Santa Barbara County blends that are sold in Southern California stores. Fresh & Easy rival Trader Joe’s also has a house brand of wines called “Coastal” — which includes wines from nearby Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo — that it launched as a step up from its $1.99 Charles Shaw brand.
Phillips said the young tri-county wine region has been successful because it’s more diversified and experimental. “I think [Fresh & Easy] is going to be quite successful with this brand in their portfolio,” he said. “It’s a great launch of California-based wines, which they haven’t had a strong presence with until now.”