The Somm Journal

Dec 2015-Jan 2016

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Page 122 of 124

122 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } DECEMBER/JANUARY 2015/2016 A LITTLE MORE THAN A YEAR AGO, Eric Railsback, a founding partner in the highly successful Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant in Santa Barbara, CA, left to pursue new opportunities, while Brian McClintic, his former partner also moved on (though McClintic continues to consult with the wine bar). Railsback explained that investors in the business, excited by praise from numerous press outlets, decided to sell, which was contrary to any original plans. "This was the first project Brian and I did on our own and I was very interested in building a major wine community," he said adding, "We're very happy with it," but conceded that differences in goals led to the parting of ways. But Railsback, whose impressive resumé includes stints at Michael Mina's RN74 in San Francisco and Osteria Mozza and Gordon Ramsey in Los Angeles, isn't one to idle. His own wine Santa Barbara County–based label, Lieu Dit, which focuses on Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, is expanding and plans are in place to open a tasting room in Los Alamos. Currently, production hovers around 6,000 cases has distribution in six different countries and 23 states in the U.S. During this year's harvest, Railsback spent several months working at Domaine Dujac in Morey-Saint-Denis. There, he found a plot of vines that were offered to him in a handshake deal and from those grapes made six barrels of wine. While working crush is something Railsback loves, he certainly lives for working the floor, and currently his talents are being put to great use at Mattei's Tavern, a historic restaurant in Los Olivos, CA, serving up locally sourced cuisine with Asian flair. While still at Les Marchands, Railsback began pairing wines at pop-ups with Mattei's Chef Robbie Wilson, a Texan who combines his Southern influences with cooking experiences in France and Japanese techniques picked up at Aspen's famous Matsuhisa—think wood-grilled avocado with housemade ponzu sauce and wasabi root, a signature dish. Today, Railsback works weekends at Mattei's and his girlfriend, Kelly Lam, manages events. "A few months back we had a Meursault producer in town and hosted a dinner, and that was great for consumers. It was also great for local growers, who came to ask questions about farming practices in Burgundy," said Railsback. "People that come up here go a little out of their way for a good experience," and should they drop by Mattei's they'll get even more than what they bargained for. closing time by Jonathan Cristaldi BUILDING A WINE LIST Later, when Mattei's was in need of a wine director and Railsback had left Les Marchands, he began going in to help get things in order and decided to stick around. Early changes to the wine list came about when Railsback suggested to Charles Banks, a partner in Terroir Selections, which owns such brands as Sandhi Wines, Mayacamas, Wind Gap, Qupé and others, that he consign some of his personal collection to Mattei's. "His cellar was practically a Grand Award list on its own and was a lot of wines Raj Parr and I picked for him during our days at RN 74 together." So, armed with a cache of Burgundy, Railsback said he "started offering some exciting tastings of wines most of our customers don't get to drink a lot of—bottles that, if found in Santa Barbara are quite expensive—so it's a good surprise for people." The current wine list is often anything but current. Railsback buys just a few bottles at a time and keeps the list of small produc- ers—maybe a grower Champagne, a new discovery from South Africa, Burgundies and California Central Coast producers—in constant rotation. PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIC RAILSBACK AT MATTEI'S TAVERN IN SANTA BARBARA WINE COUNTRY, ERIC RAILSBACK WORKS WITH CONSIGNERS WHILE LEVERAGING HIS IMPRESSIVE NETWORK OF SMALL PRODUCERS FROM CALIFORNIA'S CENTRAL COAST AND BEYOND The Element of Surprise

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