At Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, local winemakers regularly interact with sommeliers and enthusiasts. The locale's friendly atmosphere is the upshot of the owners' considerable knowledge—Brian McClintic tackled the Master Sommelier exam while being filmed for the documentary SOMM and Eric Railsback is the former wine director at LA's Osteria Mozza. Together they created the wine bar of their dreams, offering both a comfortable place to drink and an accessible place to learn about local wines and their favorites from around the world. Cool Hunting spent an afternoon during a rare Santa Barbara heatwave with the duo, learning about their favorite summer wines, how to properly chill them, and what to pair best with the rosés and chablis of summer.
How do you approach seasons in general?
Eric Railsback: Everything is based on the food. Here we are so close to all of the farms and are really connected to what produce is coming in.
Do you serve more chilled wines in the summer months?
ER: Coming from San Francisco where it is cold during the summer, you don’t move that much rosé but here everyone drinks it. And we chill a lot of our reds in the summer. It is great to have Beaujolais for people who are not white wine drinkers. It's great to have some soft juicy Gamay that will not overpower a grilled fish.
Why is rosé wine so popular in Santa Barbara?
Brian McClintic: I don’t know if it is a local thing. Rosé is making a comeback in general. The stigma is: if it's pink, is it going to be sweet? We serve two by the glass right now and have several bottles on the wine list and about eight to 10 for sale in our retail space from all over the world. We like rosés that are dry, crisp, clean and refreshing. Everything you want in summer, but with the acidity and minerality that tends to work with a lot of different foods and some tricky foods too, like summer salads.
ER: Rosés also go well with the awkward greens like asparagus and artichoke that clash with a lot of white wines. It is also goes with steak tartare and other raw meats that you don’t necessarily want to be drinking red or white with.
Do you have tips for chilling wine?
ER: We are old school. We use ice. We like to keep all of our reds at cellar temperature, which is 55 degrees [Fahrenheit]. Champagne and Riesling should be closer to 45 degrees. At home, put it in the fridge and take it out before you are ready to serve. The more complex ones like white Burgundy and Chardonnay are better at almost the same temperature as red, closer to cellar temperature. Not all whites. Riesling and Sauvingnon Blancs can be colder, but the softer, more aromatic like Chablis and white Burgundy can be better at 55.
BM: Also outside of Riesling and Champagne, there are a lot of whites that we firmly believe drink better a little bit warmer.
Do you have a favorite summer pairing?
BM: Chablis and oysters is on the top of my list. Uni is another one with Muscadet. Muscadet and oysters is a classic pairing too.
ER: I love white Burgundy, Raveneau Chablis or Puligny Montrachet with corn dishes, also heirloom tomatoes with Grüner. Tomatoes can be awkward too. The have a lot of acidity and can clash with a lot of things, so I like it with fresh burrata and I would have a Grüner Veltliner or a rosé. Rosé with tomatoes is another good pairing.
How important is it for you to serve Santa Barbara wines and represent the local wine community at Les Marchands?
BM: We both believe that the raw materials here are highly underestimated. This is a great terroir that has made great wine for a long time.
ER: It is definitely a big focal point. We see huge potential here. We are looking for the smaller guys that are working in the vineyards that are doing more hands-on winemaking.
What makes the terroir of the Santa Rita Hills so advantageous?
ER: Driving around, you see that there is all this white soil with diatomaceous rock which you don’t really see anywhere else in the state. There is a lot of marine sediment soil, great for minerality, great for retention of acidity. The air flow through the valley is super-unique. Every mile you drive east, the temperature goes up one degree. We get good slow ripening. We get good sunshine all day. Then at night it cools down and the grapes can rest.
BM: It’s a total anomaly for where we are geographically to have that east-west valley where all of that marine air just gets sucked in all the way to Santa Ynez.
What advice do you give people when shopping in wine stores?
BM: There are no rules or guidelines—everyone is different. If there is one common theme, we like to push people to be adventurous and to want to say, "I am going to go outside my comfort zone and see what else is out there."
Les Marchands is located in the Funk Zone at 131 Anacapa Street, Suite B in Santa Barbara. Several wines are available through their web shop. Later this summer Railsback will also be teaming up with Chef Seamus Mullen for Italy's Chef on Wheels Piedmont Bike Tour.
Portrait courtesy of Macduff Everton, interior images courtesy of Doug Washington, all other photos by Julie Wolfson