Sample great Santa Ynez wines with a visit to Gleason Family Vineyards. This Central California winemaker operates Refugio Ranch Vineyards, Roblar Winery & Vineyards, and Buttonwood Winery & Vineyard. Read on to find out why you should visit these Santa Ynez Wineries.
Dreaming of his next project brought Kevin Gleason to California’s Santa Ynez Valley. Today Gleason Family Vineyards consists of three Santa Ynez wineries, each representing a different terroir and microclimate in the valley. The three distinct wineries are Refugio Ranch Vineyards, Roblar Winery & Vineyards, and Buttonwood Winery & Vineyard. For the Gleason family, being stewards of the land, whether they grow grapes or farm produce, these activities unite the three properties. Besides the Gleason family legacy, winemaker Max Marshak connects the three wineries with his winemaking prowess.
Each of these Santa Ynez properties has a unique and distinct experience to offer, and each is worth visiting on its own merits. Two of the Santa Ynez wineries offer food pairings to complement the wine by enhancing the wine-tasting experience with farm-to-table cuisine created by Executive Chef Peter Cham.
If you’re interested in finding the perfect food pairing for red blend wines, you might want to check out this article that discusses the sweetness level of red blend wines.
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History of Gleason Family Vineyards
Kevin and Niki Gleason started searching for a property to purchase for their next project. Kevin worked in the outdoor advertising business, which included those billboards you see across the United States. He fell in love with the Santa Ynez Valley. He purchased the property, now known as Refugio Ranch Vineyards, in 2004. This 415-acre parcel lies along the northern face of the Santa Ynez Mountains, and one of its property lines is the Santa Ynez River. Formally a cattle ranch that boasts a history with cowboys, the Gleasons planted 26 acres of vines in 2006 after the dirt doctors worked their magic. In 2008, they produced their first vintage, a blend of syrah and petite sirah that they now call Barbareno, which is now considered Refugio Ranch’s flagship wine.
Now in their second generation, their son Max Gleason is the Creative Director, Callie Gleason Bieszard is the Director of Marketing and HR, and her husband, Matthew Bieszar, is General Manager.
Sustainability is at the core of the Gleason family business model and is practiced at all their Santa Ynez wineries and farms. Through these endeavors, they created a space where friendships develop and communities are built, surrounded by the vineyard, sipping glasses of wine paired with fabulous food. Kevin Gleason sums it up by saying, “It’s not so much about the meaning of life but about the experience of life. And that rich experience resonates with the soul. That’s what gives life meaning.”
Winemaker Max Marshak
Growing up in Washington State’s San Juan Islands, Max began his eclectic career in construction and commercial fishing. His love of all things wine started as a bartender in New York City, where he interacted with winemakers and public relations people representing various wine brands. After moving to California in 2012, Max became an intern at Fess Parker Winery. By 2013, Max’s training continued at Jonata wineries. He quickly moved up the ladder to Enologist and Cellar Master of this winery’s three brands, Jonata, The Hilt, and The Paring. Max soon started his wine label, Marshak Wine Company. He joined the Gleason Family Vineyards in 2020 as head winemaker for all their brands. Max likes to produce wines that exhibit tannin and are rounded and plush.
Santa Ynez Wineries—The Vineyards
With numerous microclimates, the Refugio Ranch Vineyard’s soils consist of clay and sandy loam. The vineyard is planted with malvasia bianca, roussanne, sauvignon blanc, semillon, and viognier in the whites. The reds consist of grenache, petite sirah, sangiovese, and syrah.
The soils at Roblar Winery & Vineyards are conducive to growing sauvignon blanc, viognier, sangiovese, syrah, grenache, mourvédre, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit Verdot.
At Buttonwood Winery & Vineyard, the original vines signified a Bordeaux bent to winemaking. These included semillon, sauvignon blanc, merlot, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon. Later after discovering that Rhone varieties do well in the Santa Ynez Valley, vines were grafted to syrah, grenache noir, grenache blanc, and viognier. Later malbec and Musque clone of sauvignon blanc was planted, rounding out the portfolio of Bordeaux-inspired wines. The latest chenin blanc contributes to the wide range of diversity of wines produced at Buttonwood.
Since 2021, grape harvest practices include composting all vegetative winery waste at the Roblar farm. Part of this new program takes all waste from Chef Cham’s kitchens. The goal is to bring the vineyards and farmlands into one regenerative system.
Refugio Ranch Tasting Room Los Olivos
Gleason purchased the tasting room property in 2010, and they opened it in 2012. The history of the original Refugio Ranch Tasting Room is part of the ambiance of enjoying the wine and goes along with the Gleason’s theme of being stewards of the land. In this case, they are preserving the history and legacy of this iconic Los Olivos building and its wonderful outdoor area.
Los Olivos was the southern terminus for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the late 1800s. The tasting room, built circa 1912, served as the warehouse for the Pinal-Dome Refining Co., which later became Union Oil Co., where railroad cars stopped and filled their tanks.
The rustic feel of the building remains. Refugio Ranch tasting room is one of the largest tasting rooms in Los Olivos and certainly has the largest patio and outdoor area.
Refugio Ranch Wine
One of my favorite whites is the malvasia bianco, with its floral aromas, especially orange blossom. The wine displays flavors of citrus and stone fruit. I recommend sipping this wine outside on a summer day.
Named after Callie Gleason Bieszard’s daughter, Ava Lu, this wine combines grenache, grassiano, and syrah from the Roblar and Refugio vineyards. The wine represents the two estates, and after barrel aging, it spends two months in concrete. I found it to be a bright and fresh wine that emphasizes red fruit.
Finally, my favorite is the grenache, which features the youngest vines on the Refugio Ranch and displays fresh fruity qualities.
You cannot leave Refugio Ranch without sampling the Barbareño, the wine that started the Gleason Family Vineyards’ legacy.
Roblar Winery & Vineyards
In 2017 the Gleason Family purchased Roblar Winery & Vineyards, Royal Oaks Wine, and a former horse ranch called Royal Oaks Ranch. In 2018 they converted the Ranch to an organic produce farm.
A visit to Roblar is about the farm-to-table-to-wine experience or, as the Gleasons describe it, “farm-to-fork and vine-to-glass.” The winery is situated on 40 acres at the crossroads between the towns of Santa Ynez and Los Olivos.
In addition to the spacious tasting room with beamed ceilings, the charm of Roblar is the outdoor patio, surrounded by vineyards. Here you can enjoy wine with or without food. Roblar is the perfect midday Santa Ynez Valley stop on any wine tour because you can combine a tasting with lunch. Lunch at Roblar during the summer when peaches are in season is a must. Chef Peter Cham gets creative, incorporating those wonderful Buttonwood peaches into the cuisine.
As you depart Roblar Winery, stop by the farm stand and pick up some local produce. You cannot beat vegetables fresh off the farm.
My favorite Roblar wines were the fume blanc, with its refreshing flavors of citrus, apple, and pear, and cabernet sauvignon, which exhibits minerality and a touch of herbaceousness against its slightly jammy qualities.
Buttonwood Winery & Vineyards
The Gleasons acquired Buttonwood Winery & Vineyards in 2021. Buttonwood is another name for the Sycamore tree. The beauty of Buttonwood lives in the trees that reside on the property. The property exudes a spirit of life through its trees, from Valley Oaks to Louisiana Cypress, almond, peach, pear, olive, and pomegranate trees.
Having been to many events at Buttonwood, I know it is an exquisite property. The romance is in the harmonious setting, whether one tastes the juicy peaches offered during the summertime, strolls the property, has a picnic by the pond, or has an outdoor tasting near the tasting room. The atmosphere is very zen and calming.
Buttonwood is a 106-acre property with 42 acres of vineyards, two acres of orchards, and 10 acres of rotated seasonal produce. Betty Williams founded the property in 1968. In 1983 Betty partnered with Bret Davenport to plant the first vines, focusing on Bordeaux varieties. Bret and his wife, Barry Zorthian, and partner Seyburn Zorthian continued Betty’s vision for farming, building a winery, and producing wine. All along the way, Buttonwood practiced sustainability.
Like Sanford Winery, where Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict pioneered the Sta. Rita Hills, Buttonwood represented one of the first pioneering Santa Ynez wineries east of the 101 freeway.
Buttonwood The Marketplace A Culinary and Artful Delight
The spirit of Buttonwood includes art. Seyburn Zothian art adorns the labels with poetic abstractions that draws one in to want to taste the wine. In addition, it is the culinary art presentation that Chef Cham imbues in the cuisine. Think California fresh meets comfort food.
The new Marketplace is an enhanced food stand for purchasing fresh produce and enjoying Buttonwood’s Farm Bites.
Buttonwood describes their sauvignon blanc as having a kiss of semillon added. That smidgeon of semillon and the aging in new French oak creates a beautiful representation of this variety. I found a soft bright wine with nice acidity and hints of lemon.
I am a sucker when it comes to cabernet franc. Buttonwood makes two styles of cabernet franc. One is a carbonique cabernet franc. The carbonic maceration process utilizes whole-cluster grapes that go into a carbon dioxide-filled tank to start fermentation. The process produces fresh, fruit-forward, and low-tannin red wines. In this case, I found the wine fresh and bright with flavors I describe as boysenberry meets cranberry.
I was also impressed with the classic cabernet franc, the original flagship wine from back when the vineyards were planted in 1983. The wine delivers a lighter savory quality with wonderful florals and rustic aromas.
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From Betty Williams to Gleason Family Vineyards
Betty Williams’s mission statement resounds with the mission of Gleason Family Vineyards. “In the far distant future, may it be said that the owners and stewards of this land so used and protected it that it has been able to absorb the energies of the other forces, those of the infinitely small, of the winds, the birds and the animals, to once again create a balanced ecological microcosm. In this process, effort shall be made to present a financially viable operation, participating fully in the life of the times, the culture, and the community. Where possible, the farm shall act as a model for small family husbandry as a source of gain, as well as a personal resource of food and beauty.” This statement echoes in all the Gleason Family Vineyards properties, as you will see when visiting each one of these Santa Ynez wineries.