Wine and Food Hub for West Sonoma

La Follette opens tasting room, Kosta Browne makes wine, more vintners check into The Barlow

by Jane Firstenfeld
the barlow sebastopol
The Barlow s a 93,635-square-foot development in Sebastopol.
Sebastopol, Calif.—An ambitious new showcase and marketplace for local wines, food and artisan products is taking shape in Sebastopol, the unofficial capital of western Sonoma County.

The Barlow, on the site of a former apple-processing/shipping plant and railway depot, is two blocks from Sebastopol’s congested hub, from which wine country explorers spin off onto a web of twisting two-lane roadways leading to dozens of out-of-the way wineries and tasting rooms. An hour’s drive from San Francisco, Sebastopol (population 7,400) serves as gateway to the vinous and other attractions of the Sonoma Coast.

Brainchild of developer Barney Aldridge, who grew up in Sonoma County, the 93,635-square-foot Barlow is contained within the 220,000-square-foot Sebastopol Industrial Park. The development consists of shiny, corrugated metal structures built (or rebuilt) to resemble the original, early 20th century apple cannery, when Gravenstein apples were the area’s principal cash crop.

Aldridge’s original plan to put condos on the disused, 12-acre property failed to come to fruition: City officials preferred to keep the parcel mixed-use, light-industrial. Aldridge adjusted his sights and worked with the city to meet its needs. Despite paying homage to its historical antecedents, The Barlow stands out as something of an anomaly for downtown Sebastopol’s warren of ornate, wooden Victorian architecture.

According to its website, The Barlow “is the first business community in the U.S. to focus on connecting customers not only with products and the people who make them, but also with the production itself.” Butchers, bakers and the proverbial candlestick makers are among current and future tenants.

Wineries fit in
Healdsburg-based, 8,500-case La Follette Wines hosted a wine and popcorn pairing March 16 to launch its first tasting room in a plum corner space at The Barlow. Owner winemaker Greg La Follette and assistant winemaker Simone Siqueira were on hand to explain their minimalist winemaking philosophy, which utilizes natural fermentations and eschews fining and filtering. (Editor’s note: See the story The Secrete Life of Feral Yeast for more on La Follette’s winemaking style.)

“It’s not safe winemaking,” La Follette told his standing-room-only audience. La Follette demonstrated his quirky side by including among the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines a taste of 2010 Pinot Meunier. This classic “third grape” in traditional Champagne is rarely bottled as a stand-alone varietal wine.

The tasting served as an introduction to the public face of the Barlow, where other winery tenants are still building out and moving in.

Kosta Browne Wines, a Sebastopol-based winery with a unique business model, is completing a new production facility at The Barlow. Currently selling 90% of its 14,000-case annual production direct-to-consumers through its website/mailing list in two seasonal releases, Kosta Browne does not have a tasting room, and does not plan to install one here.

“There’s a huge demand for the wine, and not enough of it,” Tony Lombardi, director of brand management, told Wines & Vines. “If we had more to sell, we’d have a tasting room.”

Kosta Browne, he said, “was looking for a location where we could grow. We wanted to build a brand-new winery and fell in love with the vision and concept of The Barlow, where people can meet and buy from West County artisans.”

Even though Kosta Browne will not normally be open to the public, Lombardi suggested that the working winery will make its presence felt within the development. With a footprint of nearly 45,000-square feet, the appetizing aromas of fermentation are likely to perfume the complex.

Despite Sebastopol’s official support for The Barlow, “Permitting wasn’t easy,” Lombardi said. “It was a three-year process, and a lot of meetings and wooing of (planning commission) members. Now they understand our vision and Barney’s.”

Sebastopol, he noted, “Has primarily been a transient town: people come through going elsewhere. We are becoming the first winery within city limits.”

Wind Gap, Marimar and others
Pax Mahle’s 3,470-case Wind Gap Wines, now in Forestville, is also building a production facility, “with a crush pad in the back,” according to April Karr of The Barlow’s marketing team.

Sebastopol’s nearby destinations include many tiny, blink-and-you-miss it hamlets and remote wineries in frequently fog-bound West Sonoma. Marimar Estate Vineyards & Winery, an 80-acre estate with a tasting room and an official Sebastopol address, is preparing to open a 668-square foot satellite tasting room at The Barlow in April.

“We wanted to have a more centrally located tasting room,” said hospitality manager Alice Hunter. “The Barlow has an artisan feel to it, which fits in with our culture.” The more easily accessible tasting room there, she said, “Will put a face to the name.”

The retail spaces are lofty, naturally lit by a length of clerestory windows two stories above the ground floor, with roll-up doors bringing the feel of an open market. The developer plans to promote outdoor entertainment; public amenities include a bocce ball court and fire pit. A branch of Santa Rosa’s employee-owned Community Market store was delayed by a construction fire in June 2012 but now is back on track. Ample off-street parking is available to ease downtown congestion.

Freeman Vineyard & Winery, 4,500 cases, is the latest winery to enlist, joining Healdsburg’s 4,000-case MacPhail Family Wines (whose corporate parent is The Hess Collection Winery); both are adding second tasting rooms. James MacPhail, currently on a whirlwind winemaker tour of Texas, left a voicemail to confirm he’s “very excited” about the new project.

Wineries and neighboring businesses are expected to open sporadically during the coming months. Hunter predicted that The Barlow will be up to full speed by September, and will hold a grand opening during crush.

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