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Carr Winery

January 27, 2010 Fifty-Two Weeks, Santa Barbara County 1 Comment

The exterior of Carr Winery is similar to that of its owner’s: surprising. The building has more in common with an old airplane hanger than a winery. Located in an industrial section of downtown Santa Barbara, the white domed building sits amongst auto shops, industrial warehouses, and even a brewery. However, what you find inside is unexpected and beautiful. The dim lighting of the tasting bar provides an atmosphere reminiscent of a neighborhood tavern, and in many ways it is, as it plays host regularly to live bands and parties. In the back, stacks of barrels rise dramatically towards the high curved ceilings. A large stainless steel winepress sits in the corner.

In a similar way, Ryan Carr caught me off-guard. He towered over me (OK, at 5’8″ that’s not that hard to do, but still) as he came out to greet me. But Ryan, the man who owns his own label and manages several vineyards for others is also a young man. Now, while I am not going to say that, Ryan is also unexpected and beautiful; because that just sounds wrong and like I said, he is way bigger than me, I will say his deep knowledge of vineyard management, wine production, and marketing was very impressive. I get this reaction a lot myself, being the gentlemen scholar I am at such a tender age.

On a late November evening last year, I sat down with Ryan to discuss his winery and vineyard management company. He had responded quickly to my email request and offered to sit down and speak with me. We made arrangements to meet at his urban wine bunker after I got off work one evening. We set-up in his office, a loft area above the wine bar that has been walled off on one side. The bare metal walls give for a rustic unpolished feel, but it is a fitting work space for a man who is “pretty laid back,” to quote him, and preferred a glass (or two) of scotch to my glass of Carr Syrah. Now, there is an important point to be made here, two really. One, you don’t have to always drink wine even if you make it, in-fact sometimes you shouldn’t. For instance, and covering my second point, you should not drink wine, even a glass, if you plan to meet with your new trainer to run stadiums for 45 minuets afterward! I learned a lot about wine that night, in good ways and bad ways!

Ryan got started in the wine industry through his dad, who moved to Santa Barbara in 1994 and quickly discovered and “fell in love” with the Santa Barbara wine country. His father soon peaked Ryan’s interest in wine. “I was in college at the time and he would send me bottles of wine and kind of got me interested in wine as well. I have always had an interest in agriculture, but never really vine specific.” It was not long before an interest in wine and agriculture sparked a desire to pursue both. “[We] went back and forth and talked about buying a piece of property out in Santa Ynez and planting it with grapes…and he basically asked me if would be willing to help him out with that, because he has a job and that’s not something he could do. I came back here and looked at a bunch of properties and found a property we liked and we went ahead and bought it.”

Planting a vineyard as it turns out, was much more expensive than they anticipated. Yet, Ryan didn’t lose interest. After moving to the property and looking after its general care, Ryan had the opportunity to work with a local vineyard manager in the Santa Ynez Valley. It was a chance to learn the ropes of his future trade. “Basically got right in with the crew to start out, was just one of the guys on the pruning crew just to get my feet wet.” After the pruning season, work in the vineyards slowed and Ryan decided to put his college degree in graphic design to work. But, the pursuit was short-lived when Ryan was called back a few months later to be involved on a higher level with the vineyard management team. Over the course of a few years, Ryan had the chance to plant a number of different grapes and vineyards, including planting Royal Oaks Vineyard, now Roblar Winery. Ryan was on his way to becoming a winemaker.

“Shortly after I got started…the gentlemen I got into it with decided to focus on one particular ranch which was Royal Oaks…and [he] basically fired myself and my friend Andy. We wanted to continue what we were doing. So, we went around to all of his existing clients and basically said “if you are willing to continue with us, we would like to continue forward”. That was 99/2000, right about that turning point there. So basically we started this farming company together, he, Andy Kahn, was the guy I was working with and he had his own winery, Kahn Winery. He is where I got my start making wine. I made my first vintage in his place.” Ryan was officially in the vineyard management business. A few years later, he purchased Andy’s shares and Carr Vineyards & Winery was born with Ryan operation as sole owner.

Ryan currently manages eleven (and growing) vineyards located throughout Santa Barbara County. From Paredon, sitting some 1,100 feet above Montecito and Carpenteria with its coastal views, to Kessler-Haak and Turner vineyards in the famed Santa Rita Hills AVA. From planting to pruning and picking, he manages every aspect of the vineyards care and production. Ryan, is a busy guy.

We spoke for an hour and a half in a sweeping conversation covering topics from social networking, to Champagne production, yeast, and his thoughts on wine critics (I am leaving that part out). What unraveled was a very practical yet passionate and fascinating view of an ancient profession. It was the first interview I had done for this project, and will remain one of the most memorable.

Of the vineyards you work with do you have a favorite?

(INSERT LONG GROAN HERE) “That’s a though one.”

Or, are they all like children in a way?

“Yeah I mean they are all like children, it really is like being big daddy out there. The vineyards are my babies, that’s where I spend my time. I plant them, raise them. Some are eight years old, some are six years old, some are ten. I like them all for different reasons. So to say there is a favorite, it’s all favorites for different reasons. So Turner will be one of my base Pinot Noir vineyards, and also my Pinot Gris. Then I’ve got Paredon, my base Grenache Vineyard. That’s the great thing about Santa Barbara, it’s the microclimates.”

Is there one aspect of wine making you most enjoy?

“I love the vineyards. 90% of wine making is done in the vineyards. Wine makers, [and] people will tell you differently, which way or another, but the fact of the matter is the grapes don’t get any better than the day they are picked. All you can do is mess it up after that. Most of the work is done in the vineyard. You can’t make good wine from bad grapes, but you can definitely make bad wine from good grapes. You’ve got so many different micro-climates so many different soils to work with, it really presents a challenge. It’s a lot of fun. It is a great way to spend your day, throughout the course of the year; it’s a constant change. Today, picking up cedars, placing orders for seed for cover crop, hay for erosion control. Two months ago, I was up at the crack of dawn, or before dawn, two or three hours before, getting the tractors setup so we were out there picking with flashlights and big lights. In two months, I will be out there in the freezing cold showing the guys how to prune. There is nothing better than being out there at the crack of dawn, it keeps you motivated, there is no doubt about it.”

How are you feeling about the 2008 Carr Wines that are to be released later this year?

“They’re good stuff. They have a lot to live up to next to the 07’s. 07’ was one of the best vintages we have seen next to 05’. In a lot of ways I think the 07’ is more superior to the 05’. The 08’ has a lot to live up to. I think the 08’ is a really a nice wine. I think personally, and as far as longevity goes, I think the 08’s in the long run will be better wines than the 07’ will ever be. The 07’s were defiantly ripe, hence the critical acclaim. The California palate and all the critics they love this over the top wine.”

It would be appropriate to note that Carr Winery has been at the front wave of social media, and the pay off-has been big for business. To give an idea of the hub of community activity Carr has become; in part to social networking and many social events at the winery, Carr recently hosted a roast of a popular outgoing city politician. On weekends, Carr really is transformed into a local hangout and music venue. To date, I have yet to see a winery use social media so fluently and I am not the first to have written that about Carr.

What role does “social networking” play Carr’s marketing plan?

“I have been amazed by those things, it’s unreal. We actually stopped doing print marketing because of it. We did a simple little experiment over the course of two weeks. We did one week, where we did nothing but print marketing on what was going on here over the weekend, we didn’t use any radio ads or anything, but basic print media… And the following week, we did just internet and no papers, nothing at all. And the internet stuff was far superior. Since then, we have stopped completely with the paper stuff. We do it occasionally if there is something we see to justify putting it in the paper. The internet is an amazing tool as far as that is concerned. Facebook is unreal. We have a girl who kind of runs it for us and she’s great. She runs that and Twitter. It’s been great, I am sure it will continue to develop…and something else will pop up. But as a marketing tool, for the business, it’s been huge. We definitely plan on keeping up with it and keeping up with what’s to come.”

There is much more from that evening I wish I could share, but I can tell you this: Ryan has a bright future. The industry will change, it has too as it always has. And while it is hard to predict what the future holds for California wine, there is no doubt in my mind that Ryan and his team will be right there at the front.

On most weekends you can find live music and other events at Carr.

414 N. Salsipudes St., Santa Barbara, CA. 93101

(805) 965-7985



Wines produced Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and one more on the way I have not seen anyone in Santa Barbara doing. Stay tuned.

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  1. […] has its tasting room and winery based in downtown Santa Barbara, not far from Kalyra, Oreana, Carr Winery, and others. Recently however, the winery has felt the name they spent almost fifty years building […]

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