SANTA BARBARA INDEPENDENT Food & Drink - WINE
Getting a Sense of Laplace Veteran Winemonger Betty Dunbar Opens Wine Bar and Bottle Shop in Funk Zone
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
by MATT KETTMANN (CONTACT)
“When you smell and taste a wine,” Betty Dunbar tells me, a few days before the veteran winemonger opened Laplace Wine Bar & Shop, “it should grab your attention and make you feel like you are in another place.”
For Dunbar, that other place is often France, where she was wooed into a love affair with Burgundy and discovered the well-priced treasures of Languedoc and Roussillon more than 20 years ago, before any of those regions achieved the mainstream acclaim they enjoy today. But that place can also be Santa Barbara wine country, which Dunbar was exploring by the early 1980s, when she worked for the Liquor Barn in Thousand Oaks. Along the way, she sold wine for the Henry Wine Group, worked most every winemaking/growing/marketing/managing job for The Brander Vineyard, ran her own import company called Vinalia for nearly a decade, opened Wine + Beer in the S.B. Public Market, and worked for The Winehound as well.
All of those experiences and many more come together at Laplace, which Dunbar and her business partner, Dennis Peterson, opened in the Funk Zone a few weeks ago. The bar offers 24 wines by the glass, a number of beers on draft and in bottle, and a range of small foodstuffs, such as packed sardines and cheese plates. The bottle shop, meanwhile, carries about 250 wines priced from $10 to $400, with about 60 percent imports and 40 percent West Coast.
“These are all wines that scream sense of place and over-deliver,” said Dunbar, who considers the casual layout — which features light panels inlaid with wine bottles by Seth Brayer, a large corkboard by Dunbar herself, tabletop displays of Peterson’s collectible wine boxes, and lots of couches on the patio — to be a “conversational lounge setting.” She explained, “I want everyone to feel welcome here.”
Laplace’s opening came after nearly two years of remodeling and re-permitting the former Castagnola seafood facility on the corner of Santa Barbara and East Yanonali streets. It had been used as a commercial kitchen in years past yet retained the original 1975 permits for a fish processing plant. “It caught up to us,” said Dunbar. “We really wanted to make sure all of our cards were on the table.” That took time, brand-new plumbing, and a lot of frustrating trips to City Hall.
Dunbar first met Peterson at a millennium dinner almost 18 years ago. A former U.S. Marine, like Dunbar’s father, Peterson had found financial success in the self-storage business and learned to love wine through Bob Wesley, who sold wine at Lazy Acres in the 1990s before starting The Winehound and, most recently, Savoy Wines. Peterson, who is now 75, finally retired a year ago and was happy to support Dunbar’s dream. But other than financial support and emotional encouragement, Peterson explained, “I don’t have an active presence here now nor do I plan to be.”
Dunbar’s dream goes all the way back to a mid-1990s visit to France, which she won for selling tons of Champagne that year. “This feels like home,” she thought, and recalled a particularly meaningful connection to a passionate maker of biodynamic wines. “That’s it,” Dunbar remembered concluding. “I’m gonna get rid of my microwave; I’m gonna slow down; I’m gonna enjoy the moment. That brings us to today.”
There were plenty of highs and lows along the way. Dunbar started Vinalia in 2000 and found a great tour guide and mentor in Paul Wasserman, son of legendary importer Becky Wasserman. “He was my teacher, and he introduced me to Burgundy,” she explained, listing off a retinue of prominent people she met. “I didn’t even realize at that time, but they were the superstars of Burgundy. That started my love affair with Burgundy, and it was also the demise of my business.”
That’s because she invested heavily in Burgundy just before the Great Recession, the wrong time to be sitting on a lot of expensive wine. “I closed my doors pretty clean,” said Dunbar. “I paid my debts, but I lost my house.” This time around, Dunbar found investment help in Peterson before venturing out on her own again.
As to the name, Laplace, Dunbar settled on it after six months of searching. It’s an ode to the French scholar, Pierre-Simon Laplace, who developed a theory on tides, among other advancements in math and science. It’s pronounced “la-ploss,” but Dunbar realizes “some people are gonna say ‘la-place’ and that’s okay.” In the rear of the bar hangs a poster of Laplace, with one of his most famous axioms from 1827: “What we know is not much. What we do not know is immense.”
Dunbar does know that, in addition to special tasting events like the upcoming one on sparkling wines, she’ll be offering flights of sherry, madeira, and other less common beverages, all to encourage “palate exploration.” Said Dunbar, “I want to push that every day here.”
Laplace Wine Bar and Shop (205 Santa Barbara St.; laplacewinebar.com; 880-WINE ) is hosting a tasting of more than 20 sparkling wines on Thursday, February 8, at 6-9 p.m. for $60.
Uncork your New Year with bubbly advice in the Funk Zone
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - You might find just the right bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine that fits your budget this year with all the selections on the market. The shelves are full of world wide choices at LaPlace, a new wine tasting bar and shop in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone.
Owner Betty Dunbar says when customers come in she has done "the homework for them" by making sure everything hits the mark. She has over 35 years experience. "If they are looking for a crowd-pleaser that is pretty easy for us," she said. "If they want to know what grape it is, whether it is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier we are happy to give them all the information they want," said Dunbar.
It's likely going to be helpful to those who are not as familiar with the Champagne and wine options.
She also says there are choices depending on whether you are making a Mimosa drink, pouring for a dinner party or having a midnight toast. "Sparkling and wine both are constant surprises. I am always being presented with new grape varietals." Dunbar reached for a recently stocked bottle and said, "Like this one, made from Ugni Blanc. It is a surprise for me and to think I can sell it for $9.99 - wow!," she said.
LaPlace also offers international and domestic wines Dunbar has researched in her sales and travel experiences in California, Oregon, Washington, and many parts of Europe.The wine shop has been named after the French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace. It has inside casual seating and a heated outside patio, along with a wine and beer bar, and light food items. Special events are being scheduled throughout 2018 to help wine lovers have a gathering place, and a location for celebrations, but also learn about wines they may not be familiar with. "We try to represent both internationally produced and domestic wines," said Dunbar.
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Laplace Wine Shop and Bar prepares to open in the Funk ZoneA taste of the foreign is soon coming to Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone with Laplace Wine Bar and Shop, which is preparing to open within the next month at 205 Santa Barbara St.
“It will be an extensive collection of wine — local, domestic, and, of course, imports from all over the world,” owner Betty Dunbar told Noozhawk. The establishment, named after the 18th- and 19th-century French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace, will be half wine bar and half retail, with a small lounge with love seats, a patio with cushioned bench seating, short tables, and high tops. There are also plans for a fire pit. Laplace’s wines come from, among other near and far-flung places, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Oregon, Washington, Sonoma and Napa. Domestic wines, Dunbar said, span the full range of chardonnay, sauvignon blancs, pinot noir, syrah and Rhone blends.
Dunbar, who has her own collection of wines, has been in the business for 35 years as, among other jobs, a statewide and nationwide wine importer and distributer as well as the person behind the Santa Barbara Public Market’s Wine + Beer. “With all that experience and all that traveling and understanding the lifestyle of Europe,” she said, there was always the desire to start “a wine bar that would reflect that.” The bar and shop, which will be decorated in an “Old World, Mediterranean” style, will also serve champagne by the glass and small snacks like cheese plates and French-import food items.
Indispensable to Laplace’s creation has been Dunbar’s business partner, Dennis Peterson, who does the financial operations and allowed her “complete liberty to do this project.”
The Restaurant Guy - John Dickson's Food News Blog
LAPLACE WINE BAR Monday, June 20, 2016
Reader Paul tells me that a coming-soon sign has appeared at 205 Santa Barbara Street for Laplace Wine Bar & Shop. A message on their Facebook page offers a description of the business: “The vision of Laplace Wine Bar & Shop is to offer both the novice and impassioned wine lover a chance to relax in an old world setting with a glass of wine in hand…perhaps to inhale the teasing aromas of Herbs de Provence or to taste something that beckons a sense of place. Henceforth, the twofold meaning behind the name Laplace…pronounced as La-plӓs but feel free to say it anyway you want!” Call 358-9670.
Keeping Spirits Bubbly
Wine + Beer
Santa Barbara Public Market
Wine + Beer at the Public Market is “the hottest wine bar in Santa Barbara,” so says Bob W. in his five-star Yelp review of the new spot. That opinion is shaping up to be the consensus, as more customers pour into the shop to enjoy the moment, share good food and drinks.
And that’s just what Betty Dunbar and the team behind Wine + Beer have aimed for: a welcoming vibe with exceptional products and service. “I want the store to look like grand opening every day. We pay close attention to details and that meticulousness makes all the difference,” noted Betty.
From her 35 year journey in the wine business, Betty Dunbar knows something about attention to detail. Drawing on a network of industry professionals and deep access to fine brands from all over the world, Betty has a vision for Wine + Beer – eclectic offerings from throughout the globe that reflect a sense of place and soul.
With her background including general manager and sales for Brander Vineyard, manager for Vinalia Imports and four years with the Henry Wine Group (including a year-long fellowship in France), Betty is interested in exploring wines that reflect the handprint of a winery, not necessarily just a maker’s flagship wines.
In addition to being a retail shop, Wine + Beer is a bar where you can bring food purchased from anywhere in the Market into the sleek, glass-enclosed shop. Pull up a chair at one of the communal tables and order from the extensive menu of items on tap or by the bottle. Or just sidle up to the bar to make your order. For just a $5 fee, you can also purchase and open a bottle from the retail shelves to enjoy on the spot.
Betty stresses that, along with the wide-open selection of fine wines and craft beers, the atmosphere is key. An inviting, convivial mood is keeping spirits bubbly every day at Wine + Beer.
World enough and wine Dinners with vintners, tasting trips to bucolic corners of Europe – what's not to like about an importer's life? By Corie Brown, Times Staff Writer February 28, 2007 IT starts as an idle thought while navigating the twisting roads of Provence, or at the first glimpse of the terraced hillsides of Spain's Priorat. For some, simply staring at the constantly expanding selection of Italian wines in a favorite wine store brings it on. There is a pause and a smile as the wine lover dreams about a life spent tootling along the wine world's less traveled roads, sitting down to fabulous meals with world-class winemakers, taking home exceptional discoveries — the wine importer's life, yes, that would be a sweet life. It is a fantasy that proved irresistible to four Californians — Emily Weissman and Stephan Schindler of Winemonger, an importer of Austrian wines; Betty Dunbar, whose Vinalia Imports focuses on bringing under-appreciated French wines to California; and Brian Larky, whose company, Dalla Terra Winery Direct, acts as sole U.S. agent for selected Italian wineries. Each has carved a niche in the rough-and-tumble international wine business. But survival isn't guaranteed. Importers operate on tight budgets and have to work their way through a slew of regulations as they coordinate trucks, boats, trains and planes to move wine around the world — and then there is the challenge of selling unknown wines. Yet Southern California's expanding wine community is enriched by these intrepid souls. Not only do they bring in bottles that wouldn't be available here otherwise, but they also help keep prices in check. As independents, they survive by undercutting the traditional three-tier system that dictates hefty mark-ups at each stage of the process by importers, distributors and retailers. Surviving the travails of her first wine shipment four years ago, Betty Dunbar says, makes everything that has followed seem simple. Twenty years of working in wine stores, running national sales for Santa Ynez vintner Brander Wines along with stints working for distributors and importers had taught Dunbar a lot about wine. For starters: It was clear to her that wines from France's Languedoc and Roussillon were improving and that Chablis from Burgundy was underappreciated. Consequently, there were better-than-expected wines at lower-than-expected prices in these categories. In 2002, Dunbar seized the moment to launch a boutique import company, Vinalia Imports. She believed that if she could keep prices between $10 and $20 a bottle, Los Angeles restaurateurs and wine retailers would snap them up. Dunbar didn't speak French. And on her two previous short visits there, she had not been shopping for wine to import. But with the help of interpreters, she figured she could attend something called the Vinisud festival, cherry-pick the best wines and launch her business. But on the eve of her buying trip, a surgeon's scalpel nicked a nerve in Dunbar's ear. Suddenly, everything she put in her mouth tasted metallic. "How was I going to do this?" Dunbar, 45, remembers asking herself. But, as a single mom, with no business partner, she didn't have anyone telling her she couldn't do it, she says. And so, with a second mortgage on her home and no other source of income, she walked on to the plane to France relying on her sense of smell and knowledge of wines to pull her through. Her fail-safe was to bring samples of the wines she was buying back to Los Angeles to taste with friends. Her first shipment, in April 2003, included wines from 12 producers. Acting as both the importer and the California distributor, Dunbar sold everything she had at her first Los Angeles tasting. She'd managed to avoid any duds, she says, while discovering some particularly aromatic wines. The first wine she picked up on that trip — a $17 Chablis produced by Daniel Dampt — has remained her most popular wine, and now sells at a rate of 100 cases a month. The thrill of discovery TODAY, Vinalia imports 143 wines from 43 producers. Domaine des Grécaux is a favorite discovery. A small producer from Montpeyroux in the Languedoc owned by winemaker Alain Caujolle, the wine is a Grenache-Carignan blend with a touch of Syrah. It's an untraditional wine from a forsaken place where grapes are grown without irrigation high on limestone hills. The difficulty of driving stakes into the ground there has frustrated most others. "The wines carry the aromas of herbes de Provence. They have great character," Dunbar says. And at $12 a bottle, she sells out within days of each shipment's arrival. Dunbar travels to France frequently now, haunting the regional wine festivals where smaller producers gather by the hundreds. Moving from booth to booth tasting wines, she searches for gems that she can price reasonably for the California market. Her focus remains Southern California, but she's adding salespeople in the San Francisco region as well. She has expanded her portfolio to include wines from well-known Burgundy negoçiant Becky Wasserman, and she just returned from a buying trip to the Loire Valley. She also has to play the currency market. With value wines sold on narrow margins, the falling value of the dollar is a particular strain. "You learn to ride the currency waves like a roller coaster," Dunbar says. "And you're grateful for the days when it breaks your way." Sitting at a desk she shares with her office manager in two small back rooms in a Camarillo office park a block off the 101 Freeway, Dunbar wastes nothing on décor. She's saving for her next buying trip to France. Oh, and she's regained her sense of taste.