Santa Barbara’s Zaca Mesa Winery Celebrates 45 Years


by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/15/18

Forty-five years is a major milestone for any California winery, especially for one in a young viticultural area like Santa Barbara. Wine growing in this part of California dates back only to the late 1960s; local wines produced to compete on an international level didn’t really hit the marketplace until the mid- to late-1970s. So yes, Zaca Mesa’s 45th anniversary is a big deal.
Zaca Mesa's Black Bear Block of original syrah vines
Zaca Mesa became one of Santa Barbara County’s very first estate vineyards when a group of oil and land moguls, including John Cushman, established it in 1973. Real estate savviness, it turns out, paid off, since Zaca’s beautiful physical location – 25 miles from the Pacific, along the San Rafael Mountains, at an elevation of 1500 feet, blessed with complex soils and a temperate climate – is what’s driven its ability to generate distinctive wines.  Mr. Cushman and his twin brother, Lou Cashman, gained sole ownership of Zaca Mesa in 1988, and the winery’s been family-owned ever since. (Zaca Mesa was put up for sale in 2015, and it remains on the market.)
The wine we sipped when she said, Yes!
Zaca Mesa’s prominence as a Rhone producer stretches back to 1978 when, under the direction of then-winemaker Ken Brown, it became the first vineyard in Santa Barbara to plant syrah. Ever since, the red grape has become its primary calling card: its 1993 Syrah, made by Daniel Gehrs, took the #6 spot in Wine Spectator Magazine’s Top 100, the first time a Central Coast wine ever appeared on that coveted list; the 2006 syrah, made by Clay Brock, also hit the list, taking the #29 spot. Zaca syrahs have consistently gained 90+ industry scores ever since.
President Ronald Reagan poured Zaca Mesa wine at his 80thbirthday party.  President Bill Clinton poured Zaca wine for French President Jacques Chirac during a White House visit in 1996. And, for what it’s worth, I proposed to my wife with Zaca Mesa’s 1999 Black Bear Block syrah; almost 15 years later, we’re still going strong, so that’s got to count for something!
Today, of the Zaca estate’s 750 acres, more than 90 are planted to syrah grapes, with smaller plantings dedicated to grenache, mourvedre, cinsault, viognier, roussanne and grenache blanc.
The caché of the fruit that Zaca produces has, over the decades, also extended to the people who’ve turned it into wine. The who’s-who list of winemakers who have Zaca Mesa on their resume -- Jim Clendenen, Bob Lindquist, Adam Tolmach, Chuck Carlson, Benjamin Silver – has led many insiders to refer to the trailblazing winery as Zaca University. Today, the world-class program is spearheaded by Director of Winemaking Eric Mohseni and winemaker Kristin Bryden.
“Zaca Mesa has been a notable presence in the Santa Ynez Valley, known for its dedication to Rhône grapes and for quality viticulture, and few places have the honor of having a presence for 45 years,” says John Cushman, who’s planning a party.
Me w/Kristin Bryden & Eric Mohseni
Zaca Mesa’s 45th Anniversary Celebration will take place on Saturday, March 24th, and the public is invited. The event, scheduled from noon to 3pm, will feature myriad tasting stations throughout the barrel room and across the winery, as well as several library and pre-release wines. The general public pays $15; wine club members party for free. Food will be available for purchase from BBQ in the Stix and live entertainment will be provided by Sean Wiggins. Reservations are not required by RSVPs to kelsey@zacamesa.comare appreciated.
On this landmark anniversary, we’re thrilled to celebrate this special place,” adds Mr. Cushman, “paying tribute to all the visitors and wine club members who have remained loyal to us over the years, and thankful to all who have worked so hard to nurture our vines and craft our wines.”
Zaca Mesa is part of the Foxen Wine Trail, located at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. The tasting room is open daily from 10am to 4pm, and there’s a variety of tasting and touring options available. Find out more at

Now Booking Private Events

Zaca Mesa is pleased to announce a partnership with local event planning specialists K’Syrah Catering. Imagine your wedding, family gathering, corporate meeting, or any special occasion celebrated in a vineyard under an oak tree next to a winery in a valley with the San Rafael Mountains as a backdrop. To match the setting you will get great fare, fabulous wine, and fantastic service. 

Our winery and vineyards accommodates 50-200 guests, with access to our Grenache Blanc Vineyards, rustic courtyard, and our 750-acre estate for photos. All of the information regarding our private event space, as well as a gallery of photos, can be found on our website and in our information packet.

We hope you consider Zaca Mesa when planning your next event and look forward to working with you in the future!

To arrange a tour of the property, contact Kori DeVries: | 805.688.9339 x 314

For further inquiries, contact Danielle Dauphinee: | 805.245.9564 

Exclusive Caterer: K'Syrah Catering

K'Syrah is the premier farm-to-table catering, serving season-driven dishes to California's Central Coast. Executive Chef and Owner Demitri Loizides specializes in crafting unique, custom menus showcasing only the freshest, most sustainable, locally-sourced ingredients.  K'Syrah provides a mobile, full-service, self-contained, professional kitchen that can be set up in nearly any environment. The impeccable service staff is dedicated to making your special event truly unforgettable.

Interview with Winemaker, Eric Mohseni

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe Interview

Wine is made to tell a story. Our Head Winemaker, Eric Mohseni, spent a fascinating afternoon with Sam, the owner of the famous Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Café to talk about Zaca Mesa’s unique story, which dates back to 1973. From establishing a pioneering winery in Santa Barbara County to planting the first Syrah vineyard in the region, Eric explains the history as well as the journey which led him to produce amazing wines here at Zaca Mesa Winery.

To learn more about Eric’s journey as a winemaker and Zaca Mesa’s storied history, please visit the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Café’s blog at

Zaca mesa's New Mesa Reserve Syrah is Best of Old World & new World Winemaking

Los Olivos, CA - November 29, 2016 - ( 

High on a mesa top in Santa Ynez Valley, various clones of Syrah ripen in the sun. They are planted on multiple varieties of rootstock, huddled close together in a high-density planting scheme. The microclimate here is unique – several degrees cooler than the neighboring town of Los Olivos.

It is here Zaca Mesa Winery has been experimenting with Syrah. With over 40 years of grape growing experience, Zaca Mesa began growing Rhône varieties in 1978 when they were the first to plant Syrah in Santa Barbara County. This early planting provided proof that their unique combination of topography, soils and distance from the ocean make it the perfect site to plant Syrah.

Since then, Zaca Mesa determined that varietals planted in the Rhône Valley of France are best suited to the estate and focused exclusively on varietals like Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache, Roussanne and Viognier.

“In 2004, we planted our first true high-density vineyard,” says Director of Vineyard & Winery Operations Eric Mohseni. “This new vineyard was planted to new Syrah clones and rootstock combinations for Zaca Mesa. The resulting wines had a different tannin and flavor profile. This was the birth of the Mesa Reserve.”

When those grapes were harvested, Eric was so excited about the purity of fruit, broad tannins, and complex aromas of the wine made from that block, he believed it merited a higher-tier "reserve level" Syrah.  So he cherry-picked some of his favorite barrels from the 10 different sub-blocks to create this wine.

The 2012 Mesa Reserve Syrah comes from a year of near-perfect weather conditions in Santa Ynez Valley and represents the best of the winery’s mesa-top vineyard. “These younger blocks offer a great contrast to older Syrah vines on the property,” says Winemaker Kristin Bryden. “These new clones planted and grown with modern viticultural practices give the Mesa Reserve a brightness of fruit and complex richness that is unique when compared to our older blocks.”

“Our wines are made from sustainably-farmed grapes that are estate grown, produced and bottled in an old world style. But the Mesa Reserve is more of a 21st Century wine,” says Brand Ambassador Dane Campbell. “It’s the culmination of our 38 years of experimentation with Syrah, leading to a match of the correct clones and rootstocks to our specific vineyard site.”

The 2012 Mesa Reserve Syrah has continued the tradition of great accolades from Zaca Mesa Winery. Wine Enthusiast Magazine gushed over its red and purple fruits noting the wine’s complex lilac, violets, crushed rock and savory notes, giving the vintage a 91-point score in their October 2016 issue.

It’s available November 15 to purchase via wine club and through select restaurant and retail locations.

About Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa Winery, located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, California, is dedicated to estate grown and bottled Rhône varietal wines. They craft wines with integrity using traditional methods from grapes sustainably grown in their Santa Barbara County vineyard. Since 1973, they have farmed and nurtured their vineyard to produce wines that are true to the unique spirit of their land. Still family-owned, Zaca Mesa brings old-world Syrah heritage to the Santa Ynez Valley. For more information about Zaca Mesa Winery call (805) 688-9339, or visit 

Contact:  Dane Campbell     |     (805) 688-9339    |

New Super Rhône Wine

One of oldest Santa Barbara wineries creates Super Rhône with 2014 Toyon Syrah-Cabernet red wine blend

LOS OLIVOS, CA, OCTOBER 19, 2016 ( - Zaca Mesa Winery was the third winery established in Santa Barbara County, as well as the first in the county to plant Syrah in 1978. Since then, Zaca Mesa has continued to produce distinctive Rhône wines that consistently receive high scores and praise industry wide. Since 1997, Zaca Mesa has focused solely on growing world-class examples of Syrah and other Rhône varieties through meticulous farming and traditional winemaking techniques.

Now, Zaca Mesa introduces a new bistro-style wine that’s reminiscent of classic blends in Provence, France or Tuscany, Italy. Blending traditional Rhône varietals with a structural favorite like Cabernet Sauvignon creates a “Super Rhône” wine that pairs easily with food and is utterly delicious.

“This kind of elegant table wine rarely makes it out of France,” says Winemaker Kristin Bryden. “It’s what locals in the region drink with meals every day.”

Just as the Super Tuscan wines have garnered praise for their complexity and drinkability, this “Super Rhône” is perfect for large meals and is ready to drink. Kristen says “We wanted to make our own silky, fruit-driven blend that could be enjoyed by folks immediately, with all kinds of foods.”

The wine’s red and black fruit flavors, complex structure and silky tannins come from Zaca Mesa Vineyard Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault, less than 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean (California’s Rhône Zone) and Cabernet Sauvignon from Happy Canyon AVA, where warmer weather is ideal for Bordeaux grapes.

The name Toyon is derived from a native shrub found growing in the sandy hills and terraces that make up the estate vineyard, and has been a historic term for blends at the winery. Today the wine is made from a combination of grape varietals grown on and off the estate for optimum balance.

The 2014 Toyon blend’s fruit-driven aromas and flavors deliver a beautiful array of red and black fruits—characteristic of both Rhône and Bordeaux grapes—along with soft, plush tannins. It’s available November 12 to purchase via wine club from the winery. 

About Zaca Mesa

Zaca Mesa Winery, located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, California, is dedicated to estate grown and bottled Rhône varietal wines. They craft wines with integrity using traditional methods from grapes sustainably grown in their Santa Barbara County vineyard. Since 1973, they have farmed and nurtured their vineyard to produce wines that are true to the unique spirit of their land. Still family-owned, Zaca Mesa brings old-world Syrah heritage to the Santa Ynez Valley. For more information about Zaca Mesa Winery call (805) 688-9339, or visit