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A New Santa Barbara Highlight: Dave Potter's Potek Winery

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Potek's label might seem inscrutable at first glance, but this is a wine that deserves contemplation. It turns out the lettering is based on traditional Romanian rug stitch patterning. The winery is named in honor of the winemaker's great grandfather, Berl Potek. The story is that his name seemed inscrutable to immigration agents at Ellis Island in the early 20th century, and thus they changed it to Benjamin Potter.

Now Dave Potter is about to open his second project, but even that count seems a bit off. When he started Municipal Winemakers in 2007, Muni had two tasting rooms, one in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone and one in Los Alamos. He's also one of the four very talented partners behind Goodland Wines. But let's call Potek Project Two to simplify things.

Potek will be the first occupant of a new, much-awaited complex in Santa Barbara, The Mill. "I was the first to sign on," Potter says, "but then I ended up very lucky with my neighbors." They will include Third Window Brewing, a microbrewery started by Kris Parker with help from the Bruery, and Wildwood Kitchen, BBQ from the terrifically talented team at Restaurant Julienne. Once everyone moves in -- Potter will be the first with his August 20 opening -- there will be collaborations. Justin West of Wildwood will feature a menu for the winery and the brewery, too.

To simplify the differences between Muni, in the heart of the Funk Zone before it was officially even the Funk Zone, and Potek, a few calmer blocks away, think of the first as par-tay and the second as soirée. "At Muni we're trying to make wines that are fresh and vibrant and push them out the door," Potter says. "But at Potek we're doing more aging, both in barrel and bottle, all the things it takes to build a more complex wine." It's also an issue of where he's sourcing grapes: "I started single vineyard bottlings at Muni, but we're moving those to Potek."

Following that line of thought, he only half jokes that "at Muni I couldn't afford to make wine with Sanford and Benedict grapes," mostly because he tries to keep prices at Muni cheaper. The whole project is about getting people into good wine, with blends with names like Bright White, Dark Red, and then a sparkling called Fizz. (The Wine Club? It's called Club Awesome.)

Meanwhile, Potek, named after a Potter ancestor, is built to last. "I'm pretty excited about this whole first set of releases," he says. "They are really fresh and really pure and have lots of structure and acidity." He compares wines from the two wineries to make his point, as he sources Riesling grapes from favored site Kick On Ranch in Los Alamos for both the Muni 2014 Bright White and the Potek 2013 Riesling. "At Muni it's intensely aromatic and fresh," he points out, "but the Potek -- this wine has a different approach. It's about building texture and complexity."

Claiming "driving isn't my favorite thing," he's overjoyed that the spot at the Mill means he can make wine in Santa Barbara and not in the Santa Ynez Valley. A snug 3,400 square-foot with another 500 square-foot of patio, Potek gives him room to make wine, store wine, and sell wine in one well-designed space. There's lovely woodwork that echoes Romanian braid work, too. "We're trying to make something nice, something pretty," he says about the project that will end up producing Riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah, Grenache, and sparkling. Based on just the vibrant, lush, meaty Tierra Alta 2012 Syrah, Potter might be greatly underselling Potek with adjectives like "nice" and "pretty."

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