Thursday, January 29, 2015     Volume: 15, Issue: 47

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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Municipal Wines remembers the Alamo: You don't need to be a visitor to enjoy their hip tasting hangout in Los Alamos


Dusk is falling in sleepy Los Alamos, but the Alamo Motel is just beginning to heat up. Motel visitors and locals alike spread out colorful Mexican blankets on the front lawn, soon to be dotted with picnic suppers sourced from nearby Bell Street Farm. Some settle into rocking chairs, while others sprawl out and consider the stars. A crackling outdoor fire pit warms the scene unfolding before the newly renovated mid-century lodge.

Wine—lots of it—lubricates the conversation around these parts. That’s thanks to the iconic inn’s new onsite tasting room, accessible to motel guests as well as passersby.

Step into the world of Municipal Winemakers, already famous for its popular flagship location in downtown Santa Barbara. By comparison, the smaller Los Alamos sister stop is sparse yet cozy. Its staff is warm and welcoming of anyone curious enough to poke their nose in the door.

The Alamo Hotel in Los Alamos is sporting a refurbished exterior, renovated rooms, and an on-site tasting room operated by Municipal Winemakers, which opened about five months ago. Hotel guests and passersby are equally welcome to pop in and taste—or bring a picnic blanket and sprawl out on the lawn.

My first question, like most, was an apprehensive: “Do I have to be a motel visitor to taste here?” The answer was a resounding “No!” as I was quickly poured my first taste and invited to belly up to the bar.

This is a wine experience for people who don’t like wine tasting.

Winemaker Dave Potter is unpretentious, and his affordable, accessible wines are all about authenticity, simplicity, and creating a handmade product that shines with an honest 
day’s work.

Mostly Rhône grapes are sourced from the Central Coast, affording the winemaker an extensive pallette of flavors to work with.

“There are two approaches to wine: Your estate model, where you get to learn your own vineyard, and it becomes all about farming and the intricacies between vintage to vintage,” Potter said. “What’s cool about buying grapes from so many different ranches is in the incredible possibilities. Santa Barbara is such a unique place, and I feel, just from a curiosity perspective, and an ability to play with wine, it’s very satisfying.”

Speaking of satisfying, I highly recommend trying (or buying) Municipal Winemakers’ $25 2013 Bright Red, a fruity, fresh, and ridiculously drinkable mix of grenache, cinsault, syrah, mourvedre, and counoise. Potter’s $28 2012 Dark Red (packed with liquorish and cherry flavors) offers an equally wise choice paired with barbecued beef and sturdy winter veggies.

The tasting room opened about five months ago, over Labor Day weekend. The response has been peachy, but the winemaker hopes balmier spring and summer weather will bring even more buzz to the unique hangout.

Northern Santa Barbara County fans of Municipal Winemakers no longer need to make the trek to downtown Santa Barbara for a swill of the unique, vineyard-centric wines. A new satellite tasting room has popped up in front of the Alamo Hotel in Los Alamos, offering tasting as well as funky social events galore.

“With the sweet little lawn around the tasting room, and the fact that you can just throw down a blanket and bring a picnic, it’s really just a pleasant place to pass an afternoon,” Potter said. “My wife and I love to visit Los Alamos for weekends, so it was just a no-brainer.”

Although Potter adores working with Rhône varietals, he’s currently moving toward pinot noir sourced from the celebrated Santa Rita Hills region and beyond—an indication that the brand is truly growing strong. Note: The winemaker spent a whopping $35,000 for a ton of the inky-hued grapes sourced from Rita’s Crown Vineyard.

“A few years ago, I couldn’t do that,” Potter said with a chuckle. “Now, I am happy to have these opportunities to really push the brand forward.”

The winemaker calls his job “a moving target,” for one reason: He’s continually building new vineyard relationships and cultivating fresh flavors along the way. Like the new tasting room itself, Municipal Winemakers is all about being small, yet mighty.

“I’m really focused on having lots of new wines all the time, so that we always have something different to offer our customers,” Potter said, adding that this constant exploration is simply “fun” for everyone involved.

Note: Potter totally understands the word “fun.” The guy’s wine club is actually called “Club Awesome!” and anyone familiar with the Santa Barbara tasting room knows that there are frequent visits by an infamous local 
“burger bus.”

Dave Potter, winemaker at Municipal Winemakers, is a fan of sourcing top notch fruit from celebrated vineyards across Santa Barbara County and the Central Coast. Potter’s wines may range from elegant Rhone blends to premium pinot noir, but all are presented with the unpretentious, tongue-and-cheek flair that has become synonymous with the bold brand.

Readers should keep their eyes peeled and ears perked for upcoming events unfolding at the new Los Alamos joint, too. A fire pit weenie roast is currently in the works, as well as a slew of spring and summer shindigs you’ll want to attend—much to the envy of all your Facebook friends.

This is Municipal Winemakers style: full of quirky food trucks, pop-up shops, movie nights, and other hip, un-snooty fun. The best part? If you call the motel in advance, you can reserve a stay in its handful of newly renovated rooms (talk about an easy trip from party to pillow).

“I’m excited about this coming year,” Potter said of the new locale. “We have so many cool things happening at the Santa Barbara tasting room, and I can’t wait to bring that same energy to Los Alamos. In the end, it’s all about making sure people are having a good time while they check out the wines.”

Oh Mr. Potter. You had me at 
“weenie roast.”

Check into wine

No reservations are required to pop into Municipal Winemakers’ new tasting room, located at 425 Bell Street in Los Alamos. Taste the whole lineup of five wines for $12 (and don’t forget to bring a picnic blanket). For more information, call 931-6864 or visit

Hayley Thomas is polishing her finest weenie-roasting skewer at