Monday, October 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Dave Dascomb seeks the perfectly grown grape for Dascomb Cellars wine


Walk into Dascomb Cellars’ tasting room in Solvang and you might be lucky enough to get a warm welcome from Sparky.

Sparky, a beagle who belongs to winery owner David Dascomb, sits atop a wine barrel scoping out customers and accepting their generous pets. While Sparky and his dog sister Pippa greet and amuse guests, Carol Money, who once employed Dascomb when he was a teenager, pours tastings for wine enthusiasts at the bar. When he’s at the tasting room, Dascomb can be found making small talk about the finer technical points of bringing out the subtle flavors in certain varietals or answering questions about his friendly dogs.

Dascomb Cellars’ tasting room offers more than just good wine in a relaxing setting. Sparky and Pippa often accompany owner Dave Dascomb when he’s working at the tasting room, vineyard, or Lompoc facility.

In an environment where the big business of winemaking has brought a lot of corporate culture to the Santa Maria Valley and beyond, Dascomb Cellars is distinctly low-key, both in its production and its presence. But underneath the unassuming, easygoing ambiance is a meticulous philosophy of winemaking, one dedicated to understanding the fundamentals of the grape and the ground it grows in.

Dascomb’s roots in local winemaking run as deep as the vines themselves. He has spent most of his life on a vineyard, growing up with wine in almost every aspect of his life. Dascomb said his family planted their original vineyard in 1975 and started getting their first crop between 1978-79. They were selling their grapes to another winery that used them to make a wine blend. Dascomb eventually got curious about what their grapes would taste like as a cabernet sauvignon on their own.

“We were in Happy Canyon, which is supposed to be the Bordeaux area of the valley,” he said. “I didn’t know what the grapes tasted like when they were in wine. That’s what got me motivated to make wine, because we didn’t know if we wanted to keep the cab or replant with something else. So I chose to keep it.”

The winemaking bug stuck, and in 1999, Dascomb launched his first commercial label as East Valley Vineyard, which was later reborn in 2008 as the Dascomb Cellars label. Dascomb is an engineering manager by day and a sort of old school vintner Batman in his downtime. He politely eschews some of the fundamental Winemaking 101 rules in favor of his own personal tricks and preferences based off his decades of experience working the vineyards.

With a degree in mechanical engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Dave Dascomb of Dascomb Cellars is still most comfortable when he’s on the vineyard, checking over his grapes and production.

“You don’t need tannins to enjoy wine,” he said. “In fact, too many tannins take away from the experience. What we really want to taste is the fruit in the wine. That’s why wine tastes good, is because it tastes like fruit, like cherries or raspberries. You need a little bit of tannins because it helps preserves the wine but you don’t want them to be the focus.”

Rather than emulating a lot of big winemakers in Napa that favor bold oak-heavy wines, Dascomb takes inspiration from French winemakers, favoring the subtlety in many of their wines. It’s in that subtlety that Dascomb’s wines stand out; each sip is subdued but deeply complex in flavor, which comes from the careful thought he puts into every step of the process.

“I age all my wine in oak barrels. I choose neutral French oak because it has a nice softness to it,” Dascomb said. “I buy 1- to 2-year-old barrels because I don’t like the harsh oak, so I shop around for used barrels. It’s a better balance.”

If this were any other winemaker, the bottles of wine would feature a logo of an angry cartoon with a purple Mohawk, fist clenched in rage, openly signifying a rebellion against big wine or mainstream vintner culture. But Dascomb isn’t the type to go for such antics. He lets his wines speak for themselves.

One of best wines I sampled at his tasting room was Dascomb’s 2015 cinsaut, one of the Rhone varieties, grown in the Camp 4 Vineyard.

Dave Dascomb of Dascomb Cellars produces about 1,000 crates of wine each year. A fiercely loyal and ardent community of fans swears by his wines.

“It’s a lighter style, with bigger berries, and big fragrance component,” he said. “It’s a great aperitif wine. … Wine doesn’t have to be big and bold. That’s the thing with wine, it wants to attract your interest.”

Dascomb admits he prefers red wines to whites, so the white wines he produces have to have “a lot of character,” as he put it. Both of the Dascomb wines I sampled reflect a precision in distinction. The 2015 Chardonnay from the White Hawk Vineyard had a sweet but subtle scent and a nice touch of acidity in the taste. I’m a big fan of unoaked Chardonnays done in stainless steel, but Dascomb’s oak-aged version had me pulling back to the old school style.

The 2015 sauvignon blanc is also a near-perfect sip of wine. Made from grapes grown in Happy Canyon Vineyard, Dascomb’s sauv blanc has notes of melon and again doesn’t come down heavy on the oak.

For those who prefer reds, the 2014 meritage is a solid choice with a smooth scent of cherry and plum and peppery aftertaste. But it’s the cabernet sauvignon, a wine which first drew Dascomb into the business, that’s the one to take home and lock away in your wine cellar. It has a similar aroma and taste as the meritage, but finishes in a much smoother and subdued way. Dascomb’s cab is the perfect reflection of the meticulous work and thought the winemaker has put into his product for the past several decades.

As for the future of the winery, Dascomb said he plans to someday retire and focus on the winery and vineyard full time with his wife and explore more of the wines he’s come to love over the years.

“We just want do some traveling and taste some wines around the world,” he said. “What could be better than that?”

Eats writer Rebecca Rose just wants to pet the doggies and drink wine. Contact her at

Roasted duck breast at Leonardo’s Ristorante in Solvang.

Leonardo's Ristorante is benefitting from some buzz after being featured in Westways Magazine. It's all highly deserved, especially for pasta dishes such as their roasted duck breast (pictured) and freshly made tagliolini served on a bed of wild mushrooms. Try it for yourself at 632 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang.

• Need a break from the summer heat? Try La Tradicional Michoacana Ice Cream Shop for homemade ice cream and frozen treats like their Maple Maple Ice Cream. Go chill out at 1131 W. Main St., Santa Maria.

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