Meet our Winemakers

Our coastal climate and rich soil make for amazing growing conditions, sure, but our grapes would be nothing without the hands that tend to them day after beautiful day. Browse our list of winemakers below to learn more about the people that bring our vineyards to life.

Brucher & Golden Bear Winery

In 2010, Janis and Mike Schmidt purchased Brucher and Golden Bear Winery from longtime family friend, Peter Brucher. Known for finding the best possible harvests and allowing the grapes to determine the production technique, Peter began his career in 1972 as a grower of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. He then founded and managed Vichon Winery in Napa Valley. With a reputation for innovation and dedication to quality, the successful winery was purchased in 1989 by the Mondavi family.

Peter and his partners founded Golden Bear Vineyards in Napa Valley in 1978. A UC Berkeley alum, Peter named the Golden Bear label after the school’s mascot, Oski. He later relocated the winery to the cooler climate of Santa Maria on California’s Central Coast where he created his signature Brucher label. Using his experience as a grape grower, Peter selected the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and using traditional winemaking techniques, produced exceptional, high quality wines. The Schmidt family, along with Jim Yerkes, the original winemaker, are dedicated to continuing the tradition of fine, handcrafted wines.

Brucher & Golden Bear Winery
2115 S. Blosser Road, No. 118 in Santa Maria
(805) 347-8720
Winetasting by appointment only. Call for details.

Byron Vineyard & Winery: Winemaker Jonathan Nagy

Santa Maria gets in your blood. Jonathan Nagy can attest to that. His first 13 years were spent in Santa Maria before moving to San Jose. In 1997, he attended the University of California, Davis where he earned his Bachelor of Science in chemistry.

Following graduation, Jonathan returned home for good taking a part-time position in the tasting room at Cambria Winery. With his expertise in chemistry, he was named full-time lab director in 1998. The following year he was promoted to enologist.

In March 2001, Jonathan joined Byron as assistant winemaker. A few years later, he became our head winemaker. Describing Santa Maria Valley as one of California’s top regions for Pinot Noir, Jonathan devotes a great deal of time to exploring and understanding the interplay between the vineyards and winemaking practices..

Byron Vineyard & Winery
2367 Alamo Pintado Avenue, Los Olivos, CA
(805) 938-7365 or (888) 938-7310
Tasting Room Hours: Open every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cambria Estate Winery: Winemaker Denise Shurtleff

“I’m a morning person. When I get to the winery around 6:30 the light is amazing. I’ll stand by the winery with the mountains behind me and the Sisquoc River below me and gaze out over a sea of bright green vineyards as far as the eye can see. The grandeur of the Cambria Estate is impressive.”

Denise went to California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, received her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics and Food Administration, then joined Cambria in September 1999.

When not making wine Denise lives with her husband and two sons on their five-acre property. As a family, they enjoy camping, kayaking, swimming and sports in general. Denise loves to cook and grow fruits and vegetables on their land.

Cambria Estate Winery
5475 Chardonnay Lane, Santa Maria, CA
(888) 339-9463 or (805) 937-8091
Tasting Room Hours: Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Costa De Oro Winery: Winemaker Gary Burk

Though Gary Burk.was born into a farming family, his first love was music. So after earning his business degree from Cal Poly, SLO, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a musician. During his time in LA, Gary’s father Ron Burk and Bob Espinola planted their 30 acre Gold Coast Vineyard. That is when Gary’s interest in grape growing and wine took off. He began selling Gold Coast grapes to winemakers from his LA base.

In 1993 on a visit home to Santa Maria, Gary was fortunate enough to share a dinner with Au Bon Climat’s Jim Clendenen and Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon. After that evening, Gary was hooked … funny what a great glass of Meursault will do! In 1994 he was invited to work harvest at the Au Bon Climat/Qupe facility and was hired full time in 1995. He worked in production and marketing for ABC/Qupe until August of 2002 when he left to devote all of his time and energy to Costa De Oro. He made one barrel each of Gold Coast Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in 1994 and has increased production of the Costa de Oro label each year to the current level of 4,500 cases annually. He currently produces his wines at the Central Coast Wines Services facility in Santa Maria.

Gary says, “The transition from music to wine making was easy. There are a lot of similarities in the two industries; both rely on a blending of technique, artistry and feel.” His goal is to produce wines with balance, elegance and texture, reflecting Old World Style and Terroir of the vineyard.

Gary has received critical acclaim, receiving 90 point scores or higher from Robert Parker, James Laube/Wine Spectator, and Wine and Spirits Magazine. He has also had wines named in the Top 100 Wines of the Year by Wines and Spirits Magazine (2000), the San Francisco Chronicle (2001), Wine Country Living (2003), and most recently Winner of Best in Show at both the Orange and Santa Barbara County Fairs.

Costa De Oro Winery
1331 South Nicholson Avenue, Santa Maria, CA
(805) 922-1468
Tasting Room Hours: Open daily Monday-Thursday and Saturday-Sunday 11 am to 6 pm Friday (includes Wine Down) 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery: Owner and Winemaker Norman Beko

Norman Beko and his family founded Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard and Winery in 1988 with the purchase of 78 acres of prime Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. His desire to give his wines the perfect environment for aging saw the completion of 6,000 square feet of underground wine caves in 1996. The tasting room creates a lively arena for his passion for food and wine pairing. Weekends will often find him barbecuing shrimp, sausages and various homegrown vegetables for visitors to the winery.

Weather permitting, on Saturdays and Sundays, customers can tour the wine caves, barrel sample a current wine and learn about the winemaking process. The site provides great opportunities for picnics, private parties outside in either patio or inside the caves in our unique and beautiful atmospheres.

Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard & Winery 
3940 Dominion Rd., Santa Maria, CA
(805) 937-9063
Tasting Room Hours: Open Thursday – Monday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

Foxen Vineyard: Co-Owner, Winemaker and Viticultralist Bill Wathen

Born and raised in San Luis Obispo, Bill Wathen is a true Central Coast native. He chose to attend Cal Poly University where he graduated in 1975 with a degree in Fruit Science, specializing in vineyard management. After graduation, Bill’s first job was to work for two Santa Barbara County viticultural pioneers — Dale Hampton and Louie Lucas, at the Tepusquet Mesa Vineyard (now owned by Cambria Estate) and the Nielsen Vineyard (currently owned by Byron Vineyard.)

In 1978, Bill went north to become vineyard manager at Chalone Vineyard, where he was mentored by California wine pioneer and Chalone founder, Dick Graff. It was here that Bill learned traditional French winemaking techniques and appreciation for great Burgundies. Graff’s influence inspires Bill’s winemaking philosophy to this day.

Returning to Santa Barbara County in the early eighties, Bill joined long-time friend, Richard Doré, and began making plans to make wine together. He lives in the Santa Ynez Valley with his wife Becky. Their son Bingo is a sophmore, and daughter Riley is a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara. Bill’s approach to winemaking is straightforward as he explains, “It goes back to my roots as a viticulturist. I make every effort to make the perfect wine in the vineyard. Maximized viticulture equals minimalist winemaking.”

Foxen Vineyard – has two Tasting Rooms
7600 Foxen Canyon Road & 7200 Foxen Canyon Road (the shack) Santa Maria, CA
(805) 937-4251
Tasting Room Hours: Open Daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards: Winemaker Megan McGrath Gates

McGrath Gates was appointed Winemaker for Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards in November, 2007. Having graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2001 with a degree in Soil Sciences, she earned her Certificate in Winemaking at UC Davis. Her first job after graduation was working for the Cachuma Resource Conservation District, where she was involved in promoting soil conservation for agriculture including vineyards. Before arriving at Lucas & Lewellen as Assistant Winemaker under Winemaker Daniel Gehrs, McGrath Gates made wines in Sonoma County for four years, most recently as the winemaker for Cahill Winery in Sebastopol, where she had the opportunity to work with Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa Valley grapes. She managed the winery facility and made wine under the Cahill label as well as for custom crush clients, specializing in small lot Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux varietals, and Syrah.

Prior to that position, McGrath Gates was retained by Flowers Vineyard & Winery on the Sonoma Coast as their Enologist, crafting Burgundy-style Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. As a soil scientist, she was an apprentice to Dr. Alfred Cass with Integrated Wine Growing Consortium, a group of consultants who are leaders in the field of vineyard development and management. McGrath Gates co-authored an article published in the journal of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture titled Compost Benefits and Quality for Viticultural Soils. As a passionate winemaker, McGrath Gates may adhere to centuries-old viticultural traditions, but she is also tech savvy, utilizing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to maximize data relating to the land, displaying it visually using points, lines and polygons.

“We make many decisions during the growing, fermenting and aging stages, but ultimately the grape really expresses itself,” insists McGrath Gates, who is humble about the winemaker’s role in the process. She adds, “My job is to allow the grapes to showcase their natural characteristics.” The young winemaker prefers not to classify her philosophy as either Old World or New World, explaining, “I believe in balanced wines with all components married together so that layers of complexity are allowed to unfold.”

When McGrath Gates is not managing the state-of-the-art Lucas & Lewellen winery in Buellton, she can be found photo journaling in the vineyard with husband Esron Gates, or ocean free diving along the California coast in search of abalone. She serves on the Board of Trustees of her alma mater, the Midland School in Los Olivos. She is a graduate of the California Agricultural Leadership Program’s two year fellowships and remains an active alumna.

Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards
1645 Copenhagen Dr., Solvang, CA
(805) 686-9336
Tasting Room Hours: Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (open later on most Friday and Saturday evenings)

Presqu’ile: Winemakers Matt Murphy and Dieter Cronje

Through their separate experiences with winemaking in the Napa Valley, Santa Maria Valley and South Africa, Dieter Cronje and Mike Murphy have come to the same minimalist philosophy. They believe the best wines are hand crafted with pristine fruit, very little manipulation and the utmost respect for place. They also hold the fervent belief that Santa Maria Valley has all the prerequisites for producing elegant, world-class wines.

Dieter and Mike work hand-in-hand with Presqu’ile Vineyard manager, Jim Stollberg, planning our vineyards and learning the nuances of every block and every vintage. Assistant winemaker Jonathan Murphy plays an integral role in every part of the process.

Except for intensive shoot and cluster thinning, hand-harvesting and hand-sorting, their team stays out of the way to let the exquisite fruit speak through our wines.

Intensely flavored fruit from Presqu’ile Vineyards is complemented by grapes carefully selected from other exceptional regional vineyards such as Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, Rim Rock and Phelan Ranch- Steiner Creek, giving their wines subtle layering, complexity and clarity.

Grapes are hand harvested earlier than most, at moderately low brix, for brilliant wines that are relatively low in alcohol. Grapes are gently handled and transported to our winery, then carefully hand-sorted before being fermented in small lots, enabling us to understand every nuance of every clone, vineyard block, and vintage.

They rely exclusively on native yeast for fermentation – a practice they find yields a more seamless wine. To ensure oak imparts the subtlest of spice in their wines, Presqu’ile wine is aged in 50-75% neutral French oak barrels, as well as stainless steel tanks and one concrete egg. White wines are bottled unfined, red wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

5391 Presquile Drive in Santa Maria
(805) 937-8110
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery: Winemaker Alec Franks

Alec Franks first came to Rancho Sisquoc in 1997 as the Assistant Winemaker. In 1999 he was promoted to Winemaker. He received his Fruit Science Degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Alec enjoys the hands on creativity that is involved working with the many different varietals grown on the Ranch. His winemaking talent has garnered many awards for his hand-crafted wines. Alec, his wife Stacy, their daughter Juliana, and son Jonathan reside on Rancho Sisquoc and enjoy the tranquility and beauty of the Ranch.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery
6600 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria
(805) 934-4332
Tasting Room Hours: Open Monday-Thursday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday – Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on major holidays.

Red Carpet Winery: Winemaker David Addamo

It is our passion to create premium wines and share them with people who have an appreciation for quality. With that goal in mind, we have started a new brand, Red Carpet. With this new limited-production brand we concentrate our efforts, allowing us to focus our full attention on developing the best possible product, using nothing but the best possible resources. Quality not quantity is our new motto. After putting eight, very hands-on vintages under our belts we believe this is what it takes to make a premium wine.

In order to achieve this high standard of quality, we start with properly grown, cropped, evenly ripened, handpicked and hand-sorted grapes. We believe that wine-making starts in the vineyard and growing well-balanced grapes results in a well-balanced wine. We prefer open-top fermenting tanks and punch-downs (verses closed tops and pump overs) and finishing in 100% French oak barrels for oak integration. Though this process is a substantially more labor intensive and expensive, the results are priceless.

We are excited to make wine exclusively for our wine club and tasting room, relieving us of the pressure of selling to distributers. This new focus will allow us to produce wine of quality and in turn, reflect our deep passion and commitment as wine-makers. We are convinced the wine will speak for itself and we look forward to sharing it with you.

Red Carpet Winery
3940 Dominion Rd. in Santa Maria
(805) 295-6889, (805) 863-8111
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Riverbench Winery: Winemaker Clarissa Nagy

Clarissa Nagy, who received a Bachelor of Science in Food Science from California Polytechnic State University, started in the wine industry in 1995. She began her career as a Lab Technician at Edna Valley Vineyards, and moved through the roles of Research Assistant Winemaker at Byron Winery, Assistant Winemaker and Vineyard Supervisor at Longoria Winery, and most recently, she has been making wine for Bonaccorsi Wine Company since 2006. Clarissa is known for her elegant and sophisticated winemaking style, and for her appreciation for fruit that comes from the Santa Maria Valley. She lives in Orcutt with her husband, Jonathan, and their daughter, Gabriella.

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery
6020 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria, CA
(805) 937-8340
Tasting Room Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tres Hermanas Vineyard & Winery: Winemaker Mark Horvath

Mark Horvath began his winemaking career moonlighting with good friend and Master Sommelier Emmanuel Kimiji. The opportunity to taste and learn about wines from around the world, one on one, with one of the country’s most celebrated Sommeliers helped Mark to develop a well rounded palate. Once bit by the wine bug he became obsessed with the idea of making wine himself. Along with his wife Wendy, they quit their jobs and moved to Sonoma to immerse themselves in the wine business.

Mark took a position at Carmenet Winery, high atop Moon Mountain in the Sonoma Valley. Hired on as a cellar worker he quickly moved from there to the lab and was able to experience and gain knowledge of many aspects of the winemaking process. While at Carmenet Mark took most every course offered by UC Davis’ extension program and it was during a four-day course in Viticulture that he met a group of young winemakers from Santa Barbara County. Their passion and excitement for this up and coming wine region was highly infectious.

Mark and Wendy visited the Santa Ynez Valley many times over the next year and when Bryan Babcock advertised a position for an assistant winemaker, Mark jumped at the opportunity. Santa Barbara County had yet to gain much national attention and the Sta. Rita Hills had not yet been established as an appellation and they found themselves quickly becoming a part of this relatively new winegrowing region. Mark stayed on at Babcock for five years and spent the last two as Bryan’s Associate Winemaker, in charge of all winemaking responsibilities. While at Babcock, Mark began a new winemaking project on the side with his great friend and colleague, Kenneth Gummere.

They started with a single barrel of Pinot Noir from the 2000 vintage and with one delicious wine under their belts formed the partnership Kenneth-Crawford Wines. Over the next ten years they produced some of the regions finest and most sought after Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache. Never wanting a dull moment and always looking to broaden his winemaking knowledge, Mark recently took over the winemaking responsibilities at Tres Hermanas Winery. Now with the opportunity to add some Italian varietals to his repertoire of wines, Mark is excited to see how this next chapter of his winemaking story unfolds.

Tres Hermanas Vineyard & Winery
(Between Zaca Mesa and Foxen Wineries)
9660 Foxen Canyon Road, Santa Maria, CA
(805) 937-8451
Tasting Room Hours: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.