Buellton is at a crossroads. The town, which encompasses both sides of Highways 101 and 246, is experiencing considerable growth. Roads are being paved, public spaces are being planned, private businesses are expanding and new housing projects are emerging.
“Buellton is trying to find its identity, and there’s not a lot of land left to develop,” said Kathy Vreeland, executive director of the city’s Visitors Bureau & Chamber of Commerce.
A personable young woman with a perfect smile, Vreeland refers to local zoning restrictions and protected lands as an “urban growth boundary.”
For Buellton’s chamber, the city’s growth and proximity to Highway 101 represent a balancing act. The chamber understands the needs of local merchants, while recognizing consumer demand for national brands like Starbucks, The Habit Burger Grill and Panda Express at Crossroads Shopping Center.
Seated at a conference table in the chamber’s office, Vreeland pointed to zoning restrictions as challenges. The chamber’s job, she said, is to help businesses navigate those challenges. Local wine-tasting shops, which have grown from two or three in 2014 to more than a dozen today, are beneficiaries of the chamber’s promotional efforts. Vreeland attributes the burst of wine-tasting shops to Buellton’s flexibility.
“We’re very easy to work with,” she said. “There’s not a lot of red tape in Buellton. It’s very business-friendly and economical. I think a lot of it has to do with rent. There’s a little more freedom here.”
The chamber works diligently to help Buellton garner attention as a “destination city” for visitors and locals to sample wines while strolling through the relaxed historic area. Unfolding a convenient map, Vreeland points to the dotted lines of the city’s Historical Walk. It begins at Ellen’s Pancake House on Avenue of Flags, meanders past Pea Soup Andersen’s and continues up Highway 246 toward Buellton City Hall.
In addition to restaurants, more than a dozen wine-tasting facilities, distilleries and local breweries surround the route. Cholame Vineyard, Buscador Winery & Tasting Room, Helix and Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyard are located on Industrial Way. Ken Brown Wines, near City Hall, and Cold Heaven are nestled near the city’s historical route, as well.
The clustering of shops makes Buellton a growing destination for wine connoisseurs, art lovers and tourists of all ages.
Sun produces wines
Tucked away on Second Street near Avenue of Flags is Standing Sun — a hidden gem with an art gallery next door.
John Wright, owner of Standing Sun, opened his wine-production facility and tasting room in 2007. Wright, 48, started producing 100 cases of syrah. Today, Standing Sun makes its own grenache, mourvedre, viognier, pinot noir, merlot and other “handcrafted” wines sourced from small batches from Santa Ynez vineyards.
“Most of the grapes we deal with here are organically farmed,” said Wright, an architect who specialized in renovating old farmhouses on the East Coast before relocating to California. “They have seeds and their skins are tough. We want the grapes that come in to have character and be stressed. We don’t want them to look pretty.”
Much of Standing Sun’s charm is its eclectic atmosphere, which merges stainless steel distilling tanks with wooden wine barrels, a cement floor and traditional tasting bar.
“I saw similarities between architecture and wine making, taking a new ingredient to a finished product,” said Wright, who attributes the city’s affordable rents to making expansion possible in 2011.
“Coming from an architecture standpoint, I wanted to create a space where people could see the process. This is actually the only tasting room in the Valley where you can see production.”
In addition to producing handcrafted wines, Standing Sun brings top musical acts and professional artists to Buellton. On weekends, Standing Sun features live music from around the country, including Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee.
“The art scene and wine world go well together,” said Wright, who is friends with many of the musicians who perform at Standing Sun. He conceived the idea of opening a wine-tasting and production facility with live music when he worked in sales for other wine makers.
“All the music connections came from me pouring wine on the road, meeting distributors in other states, and then seeing music at night,” said Wright, who counts Adam Duritz of Counting Crows among friends. “Once I started reaching out to this pool of musicians, they reached out to their friends and the next thing you know, we took off.”
Wright credits Buellton’s Chamber of Commerce with helping promote businesses like Standing Sun.
“The chamber helps,” said Wright, a former board member. “They get a lot of [foot] traffic … and they are super supportive. Spreading the word is the biggest thing. We need to get people to realize there is a lot happening in Buellton. The cool thing about Buellton is there are mom-and-pop businesses that are trying something new. And people want to see craft — they want to meet the winemakers.”
Terravant crushes grapes
Up the road, a few blocks from the Buellton chamber, Terravant Wine Co. stands at the end of Industrial Way.
Dave Moser, vice president of Terravant’s Direct to Consumer division, is seated at a tall table in the Bottlest: Winery, Bar & Bistro. Bart Jones, Bottlest general manager, cordially introduces himself before tending to business. Both men are part of the company’s efforts to bring wine lovers to Buellton.
Moser, a softspoken young man in business-casual attire, explains that Buellton not only serves as the company’s corporate headquarters but also houses 3,000 barrels of wine. He credits the chamber with supporting local businesses that are making the Valley a key destination for wine enthusiasts.
“We work with them a lot on everything from festivals to social media,” Moser said. “We just launched our first TV commercial [in Santa Barbara], which is being posted on Facebook and Instagram. Buellton’s chamber helps promote events on their own social accounts, as well.”
The self-described “largest wine producer in Santa Barbara County,” Terravant produces jobs and local revenues while attracting visitors to nearby wine-tasting facilities.
“We do not own any vineyards,” Moser acknowledged. “That’s the only part of the winemaking process we don’t do. We source our grapes, not only locally but from all over the world.”
Bottlest was relaunched in May, he said, noting the new menu selections give customers choices between casual dining in the bar and fine dining in the main restaurant.
Soon, Terravant and Bottlest will offer a new tasting area, downstairs from the restaurant in the main entry. The winery is also in the early stages of offering a shuttle for tourists and locals in the Valley to tour Terravant and dine at Bottlest.
“We feel like we’re more of a destination as opposed to just a winery or just a restaurant,” Moser said, revealing that other merchants on the street are partnering to attract more visitors to Buellton.
“Industrial Way businesses are forming an alliance to co-market the entire street as an entertainment destination,” Moser announced. “The unique thing about this street is you have the largest [Santa Barbara County] winery, one of the largest distilleries [Ascendant Spirits] and one of the largest breweries [Figueroa], all next to each other. We feel like, collectively, that can be a pretty big draw in the future.”