Nestled between Santa Maria and Santa Barbara sits one of the nicest inland areas on the Central Coast. Los Olivos is really extraordinary, especially for wine enthusiasts. It is a quaint rural town surrounded by horse properties, wineries, and oak trees. With a population of roughly 1,100, it’s hard to believe that it is home to over 40 wine tasting rooms, all of which are located inside a quarter-square mile. It is the Emerald City of wine tasting.
If you want to visit a top notch establishment, Barbieri Wine Company, which includes Kempe Wines, is a standout. It exists because of a dream of two wine lovers, born on different continents and from very different backgrounds.
The shared devotion for good wine and excellent wine-making, forged a friendship that quickly turned to much, much more. Paolo Barbieri, a master sommelier, started Barbieri Wine Company in September 2005.
Paolo was born in Parma Italy, and became fascinated by wine at a young age. He moved to England, where he first got started in the restaurant business. From there, he moved to San Francisco, where he helped develop several wine programs for fine restaurants. He eventually moved with his family to Las Vegas in 1998, where he helped open some famous Vegas Strip casinos, including the Metropolitan, Wynn, and Bellagio hotels.
Paolo’s wife and partner, Erin Kempe, also brings an ambition born out of a passionate pursuit of culinary excellence. Born in Texas, Erin moved to Las Vegas to work with world recognized culinary masters Rick Moonen and Shawn McClain.
Those associations allowed her to develop her craft, working in award-winning venues such as Sage restaurant at Aria Resort and Mandalay Bay. In 2007, Erin met her future husband Paolo and quickly became passionate about helping him develop his world class wines.
Working with Paolo, Erin created her own label under her maiden name, KEMPE. Her focus is on Pinot Noir and other varietals, as well as some phenomenal whites. They really are exceptional. Erin is one of three sisters and hopes the KEMPE label will carry on the family name with pride. Erin’s ancestors are farmers and an old farming till graces the labels of her fantastic wines.
What makes wine tasting at Barbieri Wines in Los Olivos such a pleasant and memorable experience, is their contagious enthusiasm for not only their wines, but their customers. There is an atmosphere in the room resembling a large family getting together to laugh, sip and savor excellent wine.
When you get the munchies, a nice selection of fine cheeses and exotic meats are available to pair with your wine. The tasting room holds some amazing stories that Erin and Paolo will easily share.
Paolo and Erin work with one other family member. Penny, their black Labrador, will make you feel quite welcome… if she’s not sleeping on the job.
It is really quite the experience to just hang out, eat, drink and enjoy the hospitality of two of Los Olivos wine making rock stars.
My top picks are the 2010 Barbieri Colson Canyon Vineyard Syrah, 2010 Kempe Pinot Noir, and the 2012 Barbieri Rodney’s Vineyard Syrah. Each and every one of these wines is superb.
Today, especially on the Central Coast, wine making has become a serious “big” business. And that is to the advantage of millions of tourists who come here to experience some of the best wine making in the world.
Every once in awhile, you come across a wine making team which artfully and effectively combines the seriousness, dedication, and excellence of operating a business, with that other important, but all too rare ingredient that make small businesses truly successful. That ingredient is hospitality and graciousness.
Barbieri and KEMPE Wine Company, led by Paolo and Erin, has it in spades, and this is why no visit to Los Olivos is complete without spending time at Barbieri Wine Company. They have truly raised the bar.