Jalama Vineyard now welcomes tasters to its winery/tasting room in Lompoc's industrial park winery ghetto.
-- “It was really kind of odd,” Mark Cargasacchi
recalled about the Sobhani Industrial Park. “The city was looking the other way. There were two tasting rooms. They were out of compliance. Most people didn’t want to try, didn’t want to make the investment” of opening new tasting rooms without full government approval.
Cargasacchi, owner/winemaker of Jalama Vineyard
, installed his winery last February in the space formerly occupied by Sea Smoke in the industrial park. But he waited to open his tasting room until eight weeks ago, following a decision July 6 by the Lompoc City Council to amend the zoning ordinance and allow tasting rooms to operate with conditional-use permits in the city’s industrial and business sections, including Jalama and its neighbors in what’s commonly called the “winery ghetto.”
"The city reacted very positively,” Cargasacchi told Wines & Vines
. “They should have done it eight years ago.” Although wineries like his were making wine in their warehouse spaces, no new tasting rooms had opened there in six years. Now, a new map and networking throughout the hospitality industry surrounding this historic city of 43,000, 40 miles north of Santa Barbara, draw modest throngs of visitors every weekend to a dozen wineries and tasting rooms. “It’s filled up, now,” said Cargasacchi of the industrial park.
Cargasacchi, who grows Pinot Noir on a coastal vineyard, hopes to increase production to 500 cases this year. He launched a wine club eight weeks ago, concurrent with the tasting room opening, and is aiming ultimately at 800 cases of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Mourvèdre.
Kate Griffith, owner of Flying Goat Cellars
with her husband, winemaker Norm Yost
, is a member of Lompoc’s planning commission (she recused herself from winery ghetto issues). “Just in the past few months, there’s been an onslaught of new tasting rooms,” she said. She recalled the ghetto’s evolution, starting with the first pioneer, Richard Longoria Wines
, in 1998 (Longoria has since moved to Los Olivos). Presidio Vineyard and Winery
arrived in 2001, she said, providing custom crush facilities for smaller producers.
"Once these wineries had their own space and equipment, they created independent wineries. By mid-2009, we must have had 30 labels and maybe 17 wineries in town,” Griffith recalled. Some of these had moved out of the ghetto, which offers only leases, to purchase their own spaces in other parts of Lompoc.
Currently, approximately 90% of the 85,000-square-foot business park is rented to wineries/tasting rooms. Tenants include Jalama, Flying Goat (2,300 cases), Ampelos Cellars/Chien Wines
(3,500 cases), Fiddlehead Cellars
(5,000 cases), La Vie Vineyards
(1,000 cases), 5,800-case Loring Cellars
, open just two weeks; New Vineland/Piedrasassi (under 1,000 cases), Nicolaysen Family Vineyard
(1,500 cases), Palmina
(10,000 cases), Samsara Wine Co.
(800 cases), Zotovich and Taste of Santa Rita Hills (group tasting room only).
New Vineland/Piedrasassi opened its tasting room in April. Although it’s been producing wine under the Piedrasassi label since 2003, according to co-owner Melissa Sorongon, it has yet to develop a website, and to date has hand-sold only to local restaurants and retailers. Open only on weekends and by appointment, New Vineland’s tasting room traffic so far varies with the season.
"In the summer, we’ll have a nice steady stream,” Sorongon said. Many visitors are pleasantly surprised to stumble onto the ghetto. “They are happy to come to a place where there are not so many people. And in our tasting room and most of the others, they’ll find the owner or winemaker behind the counter. People welcome this kind of possibility for more authenticity,” she commented.
Although guests at New Vineland are welcome to spread out at the dining room table, Sorongon and Griffith both suggested that Lompoc in general and the ghetto in particular are lacking in fine cuisine. “My dream is to have a cheese shop in the park,” Sorongon said.
"There are not a lot of options,” in Lompoc, Griffith agreed. She suggested that “ mobile cuisine” -- vans that deliver high-quality meals to cuisine-starved foodies in major cities, and now in Napa -- might be a practical option. “There’s talk that two of them might come in,” she said. “They’re not ready yet, but we’re looking forward to that.”
Griffith said that the wineries in Lompoc are developing a cult following. “The reason wineries started opening tasting rooms is that people started knocking on garage doors in the industrial park, asking to taste,” she recalled. “People would call the winery, and we’d tell them, ‘it’s not a chateau, it’s a ghetto.’ People sought out wine tasting.
“People want to find experiences that are not the mass experience, from Orange County to San Francisco. Now that there’s an industry cluster, we’re organizing, getting the word out,” Griffith said.