A few years back, I went to one of the famous Au Bon Climat (ABC)/Qupe Open Houses in Santa Maria. If you are into Santa Barbara wine, and have NOT attended one of these, you MUST! I remember I parked my car on the dirt road, and had to walk about a quarter mile to the facility. It was like going to a music festival. Walking with a crowd of folks along a path towards a buzzing hum of people enjoying themselves. Every step, the hum turned into a buzz. And finally, BOOM! There it was…the meeting. Hundreds of folks walking around with stems going to numerous stations and “sampling” wine. Not just current releases…library wines…MAGS! I haven’t even mentioned the food! It was a sensory overload…and I f’ing loved it.
At one of the stations, I finally met Marisa Matela Beverly and Kris Beverly. I had known them cyberly via Facebook, but this was the first time we met in person. We hit it off from the start. They said they’d love to hangout at the winery next time I was in town. I swallowed my excitement and played it cool because, well, I knew how bad ass it is to visit ABC.
Fast forward a few months, and there I was, driving that same dirt road to ABC/Qupe. I remember looking in my rear view mirror as the dust kicked up from my wheels and thinking, “be cool, Phil, be cool”. This time, I was able to pull right up to the front of the facility and joined Kris as we walked in.
Kris and I were pretty close friends at this point. Whenever I came into the valley, I would throw the Bat Signal up and Kris was always the first to respond. We hung out and tasted a bunch together. Reveling in some amazing tasting experiences. This time I followed him to what was about to be one of my biggest life changing experiences.
Kris and I on one of our tasting adventures. Photo courtesy of Wil Fernandez at WilFernandez.com
Marisa had not been elevated to Assistant Winemaker at this point. I think the best way to classify her role was, “Swiss Army Knife”. She was doing all and anything. I remember walking into the facility, this time much quieter and tranquil. It was like being in a historic monument. A Taj Mahal of Santa Barbara wine. Marisa joined us and instantly grabbed a wine thief and took us around to numerous (and that is putting it lightly) barrels. ABC, white, red…Qupe, white, red…every sip and spit, “How did I get this lucky” kept running through my head. We went outside to try some whites in tank that were going to be bottled. The views of the surrounding hills, the vineyards, and the breeze are forever etched in my mind. I held back tears.
Then…Marisa started thiefing her wine. Teroldego…a grape I had heard of, but had no idea it was grown in Santa Barbara. The wines were STUNNING.
Marisa thiefing Teroldego. Photo courtesy of Wil Fernandez at WilFernandez.com
As we were wrapping up the tasting, I thought, “There is no way I’m cool enough to be part of lunch”. ABC is KNOWN for their amazing lunches. Beautiful food…library wines…local and abroad. I was prepared to give Kris and Marisa a hug and say see you soon when they said, “You’re staying for lunch, right?” Again, swallowed my excitement, and tried to play it cool. The day was just amazing.
I’ve been meaning to write about Kris and Marisa for a while now. So I thought I’d have a multi-faceted profile on them, their wines, and their philosophy. So lets start with some background on both of them:
Where were you born?
I was born in Falls Church, Virginia. Being a “military brat”, my time there was brief. We lived in Japan for the following five years, and then domestically hopped around (East, West, & mid-West).
Where did you go to college? Major?
I attended UC Irvine for my B.A. in Environmental Analysis & Design with a minor in Humanities and Law. I then attended The University of Southern California and earned my Master’s degree in Urban Planning.
You went to Law School, correct?
After spending a year working for a municipality, I then attended Chapman University, School of Law. I earned my J.D. and passed the California BAR exam.
Where were you born?
I was born in Hammond, Louisiana which is about 45 minutes outside of New Orleans.
Where did you go to college? Major?
After graduating high school in Illinois I moved out to California 2 weeks later. I went to the junior college Allan Hancock in Santa Maria. There I was a part of the AgBusiness and winemaking program in 2003. I had the plan of transferring to a university (UC Davis or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), but started working in the winery instead. I am more of a hands on learner anyway.
How they got into wine, and now work in wine:
What got you into wine?
My first “harvest” occurred in 1990 in Utah. It was a traditional home wine production with my father. Things were silent for another decade until I opened a bottle of 1998 Buena Vista Cabernet ($5 at Ralph’s). Shortly after I began attending annual barrel tastings in Sonoma. Ridge Winery (Lytton Springs) was a revelation in the world of tastings, production, and wines.
It wasn’t until after I finished Law School that I decided to follow my passion. I began by working harvests for several local wineries. The diversity in winemaking styles and approaches provided a new education. I started a three-year internship which introduced me to several of the local vines and sub-climates.
Was there an epiphany wine?
It would either be the 1998 Buena Vista Cab or the Ridge Lytton Springs (01?).
What jobs did you do before wine?
I worked at Trader Joe’s Costa Mesa back in 2002. It was here that I began to learn about wine marketing (coincidentally working with Paso Wunderkid McPrice Myers while he was beginning his first harvest in the Central Coast). In between degrees I worked for the City of West Hollywood in the Housing Department. Aside from some research stints in Academia and volunteer work for local Environmental agencies, I have principally worked in the field of wine.
What jobs have you had since working in wine?
Several tasting room & wine bar jobs! Internships at a handful of local wineries (most recently at Margerum Wine Co., subsequently at Presqu’ile Vineyard & Winery.
Did you make wine on your own before this project?
I principally made house wine under the home winemaker license. After we won two of the nine gold medals at the Santa Barbara County Fair with our two entries, we decided to start producing a label together. Marisa had already begun production with a barrel of Teroldego, which we bottled three years later.
Was there a mentor, someone you always looked up to in the industry?
I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of mentors; the diversity in production styles has given me a lot to draw on in our own production.
Kirby Anderson, a local consulting winemaker, provided vast knowledge for the local vineyards and modern production styles. Over three harvests I began to understand complexities in ripening (physiological vs. sugar) from these sites and the stylistic approaches that could be used.
Jason Barrette was winemaker for Margerum Wine Co. when I worked their harvest. His tutelage provided insights from the production of Penfolds, including lessons first taught by Max Schubert.
The most influential would have to be Jim Clendenen. Under the roof at Clendenen Lindquist Vintners (CLV) (and directly through Marisa) I have learned more than can be listed here; cellar ability, balance, blending, and much more.
Have you had any palate shifts? I.e., like big wines, but more into refined wines. If so, what is it? Any preferred varietal right now?
Palate shifts happen! Although it seems less of a transition these days. In my mid-twenties I had a taste for ripe Zinfandel in American Oak, though my intentions for drinking them were far from what they are these days. I had a “Parker palate” after that for a few years, focusing on Syrah. The varietal stuck, though I have grown to enjoy less alcohol and more food friendly characteristics. I think this character shows beautifully in our Old Fashioned Superstition, though we will have to wait on a few bottles at least ten more years to be certain…
You are the niece of Jim Clendenen. Was wine always around the family?
I remember as a child my parents drinking Au Bon Climat on holidays and special occasions. But in the early 90’s Jim was not selling his wine all over the states. You could find Au Bon Climat at the top restaurants in Chicago, but there was very little in the retail stores of suburban Illinois. When I turned 11 I started coming out to California during my summer break at school. That was my first exposure to the California wine country. I absolutely fell in love with it.
Did you always know you wanted to work in wine due to the family connection? Or did you have another focus for a career?
When I was 15 I knew that I wanted to be a winemaker. Of course, it was from the exposure I had from Jim and also his wife at the time, Morgan. I was blessed to be able to travel with them, saw the industry through them. The food, the wine, the lifestyle, I knew that was the career path for me. In high school we had to take the career aptitude tests, and I always told my teachers I don’t need to waste my time with those tests, because I was going to be a winemaker!
Do you remember the wine that confirmed you wanted to be a winemaker?
Since I grew up around Jim and his love for wine imposed on me greatly, I wouldn’t say there was a specific wine that confirmed my dream of becoming a winemaker. Though, I have always loved aged Chardonnay. Creating a wine that could age 20 plus years helped me hone in what kind of winemaker I wanted to be. I have also been a fan of all things Italian since I was a child. A lot of people said that my maiden name, Matela, is Italian. And my response was always, “I wish! Then maybe I could actually tan! ;)”
Did you have any jobs before wine?
Since I knew at a young age that I was going to be a winemaker, I focused on jobs that were in the hospitality industry. In Illinois I worked at Rainforest Café as a hostess. My senior year in high school I won the local beauty pageant (my mom said it was just for the tiara!) and with that I became busy with frequent volunteering at senior centers, hospitals, and working with children that have Down ’s syndrome. It was an amazing experience that I am grateful to have been a part of. But it also showed me that I was 100% meant to be a winemaker! I just don’t have the lady like demeanor to really make it far in the beauty pageant arena. I like to get my hands dirty, and maybe I cuss a little too much! When I moved out to California my first job was at Kennedy Club Fitness. There I met a lot of wonderful people, and I got a free gym membership! Who could deny that?! But I soon had the harsh reality of expensive California living, and I asked to move in with my uncle. There I started getting more involved in the wine industry. I worked in the Cold Heaven tasting room while it was in Los Alamos. Then I went to Tastes of the Valleys and worked there for a couple years and also worked at Full of Life Flatbread. Once I started my full time position at CLV winery in 2008, I gave my full attention to learning everything I could and getting all the hands on experience I wanted for my dream job.
Any labels before CLV? Work abroad?
I never worked abroad. It is something I wish I was able to accomplish. But it never played out in the cards I was dealt. But I am surrounded by several people who have and they’ve been very generous on sharing the information they learned.
You’ve had numerous roles before becoming Assistant Winemaker at ABC. Can you list them?
There are many roles that are a part of a successful winery. I was lucky enough to start at the bottom and work my way up. I learned every day and got the hands on experience I needed in order to run a successful winery on my own one in the future. I started out on the bottling line, dumping glass, putting the foils on at lightning speed, scanning the packaging before putting each bottle in the case, stamping and labeling the cases and stacking pallets. I hand labelled bottles of wine for a while and repacked boxes. Then you have your cellar work, pulling samples and topping barrels. I consider myself to be a fairly well organized person, so this helped transition me to the laboratory. There I ran SO2’s daily. Over time, I used my chemistry background and dove into all the analysis that is needed to be done in the lab; alcohol, pH, volatile acidity, malic acid, residual sugar, free and total sulphur, total acidity, brix, heat and cold stability. There is still more to learn, but that keeps me pretty busy in our 100,000 case production facility! Last year I convinced the guys in charge to get a mass spectrophotometer for the lab. This allows me to save a lot of time, and I can run more types of analysis on one machine. It used to take me a few months to check the free SO2 level on all the different lots in the winery. Now, it takes me about 1 month.
Have you been able to make decisions in the vineyard (vineyard management, picking times, etc)? Blends?
Jim Clendenen is the Mind Behind, as marked on all his labels. And Bob Lindquist is still 100% involved in the winemaking of Qupé. It is always a great experience to see them work and how they come to make certain decisions when it comes to blending, bottling times, etc. There are a couple of people I go to the vineyards with to sample during harvest. I typically process these vineyard samples and provide the Brix number and the pH. Since I’ve been doing that for several years, I know at what numbers are best and deliver the news. Sometimes good (we should schedule the pick for next week), sometimes bad (we should have picked two days ago).
How has it been to learn from Jim? Is he a good teacher? Who else has been key in your wine education?
Jim Clendenen is a great wealth of knowledge. All of his experience and world traveling has provided him with so much. Plus, you’ve got to add his amazing memory! I am constantly learning from him every day. There are also a lot of other well versed individuals that I work with. Bob and Louisa Lindquist, our general manager Jim Adelman, our cellar master Enrique Rodriguez, and my co-worker Marc Piro have all taught me many things.
You get to work with some of the county’s best vines. Le Bon Climat , Bien Nacido. Are there any favorite blocks, varietals, sights, etc?
I do have a love affair with our cool climate. And I have seen and tasted firsthand how these wines start out and then mature. Plus, since I work on the Bien Nacido Vineyard, it is pretty hard not to love that site and all it represents. We are pretty lucky to be producing Teroldego from one of a handful of vineyards in California. And I believe it is at the coolest site, making this wine one of a kind. The northern Italian varieties I find to be pretty special. It is a dream to work with such a unique and rare variety.
As life usually goes, a monkey wrench was thrown at Kris. On his way back home from an industry event, he was involved in a major car accident. On the last day of May, 2016, we almost lost Kris. I remember hearing the news and freaking out and wishing I was back in California. Thankfully he had Marisa and the Santa Barbara wine community.
Do you remember the car accident as it was happening?
Just brief flashes. The second before impact and the “stars” from the collision; the passerby knocking on my window to tell me help has been called, being strapped to the gurney on the helicopter…
Weird, morbid questions, I’m sorry…but did you feel like your life was flashing before your eyes?
When I heard a knock on my window and the passerby told me help was on the way and to not and try to get out. I instinctively reached for the door (I was blinded by blood), and the handle wouldn’t give. I was trapped and awaiting the “Jaws of Life”. At this moment I could feel the blood surging from my knees and weakness taking over. I passed out, thinking it was over.
It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized that, amongst joking with the Helicopter EMTs, I told them I was cold. Very cold. I had bled out 68%. It was then that I knew how close I really was.
Throughout the event, recovery, how was Marisa?
I would never wish such trauma on her. Throughout it all Marisa has been my rock; The love she has could never have been more evident in her compassion and care. The hardest part of the accident was knowing how burdensome I had been for several months.
You had a massive response from the SB wine community. Care to share how this made you feel? What were some of the best examples of help?
The community has been amazing! The Wandering Dog held a benefit to help with the considerable medical bills; the industry donated bottles, artwork, time and money towards the event.
How are you doing now? Rehabbing still?
Still have a hitch in my step, but am anticipating a strong recovery. There may be one or two restrictions I’m stuck with, such as the TSA pat-down!
What has been the toughest part about Kris’ accident?
The toughest part about the accident was the moment I drove past his car, saw fire fighters carrying a body bag and thought I lost the love of my life. My mom moved out to California from Pennsylvania the day before the accident. So, thankfully she was there with me. It was the longest drive down to Cottage hospital in Santa Barbara. We were in the ER waiting room for 45 minutes. A pastor came out of the back door, looked right at me, and again, I got that feeling that Kris was gone. I tried to remain strong, but grabbed my mom’s hand and just let the tears fall. Thankfully, he was just coming out to let me know the nurses were busy with Kris and I was able to go back and see him before he was sent off to an emergency surgery. Once I knew he would survive, there was this inner strength that came through me. The shock made me feel like superwoman! Blood didn’t bother me anymore, seeing bones didn’t make me pass out. After his 1st full day in the hospital (out of 8) I knew I could be a great mother. If I could handle this with strength and grace, I could handle anything.
Coming out of this adversity, some beauty has emerged. Marisa and Kris recently announced they are expecting their first child. A baby boy will be gracing the world. Lucias Matela Beverly is due in early July!
How excited are you to become a father?!
Words cannot explain the thrilling excitement that I feel. Of everything I’ve ever done, worked on, or created, this will be the most important thing. Since the accident I’ve gained a whole new perspective on life and purpose, and I couldn’t want anything more in my life than the child we are having.
How excited are you to be a mom?
The car accident put life into perspective for Kris and I. We were not rushing to start a family as we were really focused on making Bevela Wines become successful. But priorities change when you almost lose your life! The funny part is I told Kris in October he could not get me pregnant. If he did, our child would be born during harvest, and they would hate us their whole life because we would always be distracted with grapes instead of celebrating their birthday! It seemed the world had a different plan, and we found out we were pregnant right before Halloween. This sense of completion and joy after a wild and scary 2016 was honestly the best way to end the year.
So now, let’s focus on Bevela.
What was the first vintage? Varietal(s)?
Our first vintage was in 2010 when Marisa produced one barrel worth of Teroldego.
What was your vision with the name, label, grapes, blends?
Our vision for our name comes from a combination of our last names, Beverly and Matela. Since we got married Marisa changed her last name to Beverly. But she wanted to keep her small family name, so she updated her middle name to Matela.
From a winemaking perspective, what was the one thing you learned in your training that you applied to your label?
I would have to say the “old world style” is the main thing we have taken from the winery. Minimal manipulation, and the perfect combination of well farmed grapes, the best barrels and a gentle hand.
Favorite varietal to work with?
Being able to make our wine at CLV winery, we are surrounded by so many different varieties, it is hard to say which we love to work with. From the uniqueness of Teroldego, to the deliciousness of Syrah, we’d have to say those are some of our favorites. This is why we worked hard to have those be the ones we started our company with. We also have a love of Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir grows so well in this area, it is fair to say that we will be working with those varieties as our company grows.
Favorite site to work with?
We are lucky enough to work with great sites already. Being able to focus on a region of California that doesn’t have the fame of Napa, but produces some well aged and balanced wines is quite special.
Is there a varietal you haven’t worked with, but hope to in the near future?
With Marisa loving aged Chardonnay, we would really like to make that in the near future. We have already reached out to a couple vineyards (site specific) and things are in the works! There is already a label art design and name waiting for this specific wine.
Is there an AVA you hope to work with?
We were just up in Lake County, CA exploring some of the wines produced from that region. Hopefully in the future we are able to source fruit from either there, Sonoma or Mendocino.
You have received some great scores recently. Can you let me know the points and from where?
We were very honored to have our first two wines scored and published in Wine Enthusiast. Both the 2010 Matela Teroldego and 2013 Old Fashioned Superstition Syrah scored 91 points.
What are some goals for this vintage and beyond?
As of this week, we released our new vintages and are able to sell our wine in the United States. A goal for the future would be to produce enough wine where we can start selling worldwide.
This label is special since it is truly a husband/wife project. Any frustrations? How do you decide what to make? Do you both decide on blends, winemaking, etc?
It is all about communication and teamwork. Bevela is a blend of two people that have the same passion for wine and a love for each other. We both have strengths in certain areas that allow us to make the best possible product. And we rely on each other for the knowledge and experience that the other has. There is a strong sense of trust as this is our first baby, and we want it to grow and strive. So, we listen to the ideas we have and formulate how it will work best for Bevela. Like every relationship there are moments of frustration, but having the same vision and passion towards wine make those moments fly by. Looking at the larger picture helps bring in the focus. And in the end, we know we are creating something that we made with our hands and hearts. That makes Bevela Wines seem like a perfect dream come true for both of us.
Besides Bevela, what other projects you got going on?
This is where all the secrecy remains, in my typical cautiousness. I can tell you we are part of a Santa Barbara fermentation club, and we have some exciting things going for special visitors.
We are super excited about the upcoming Bevela new releases. Aside from the ’11 Matela ‘Teroldego’ & ’14 ‘Old Fashioned Superstition’ Syrah we will be releasing our first red blend, “Unforeseen Alchemy’. The wood block print was prepared for us by an amazing artist from San Luis Obispo, and we limited the total number of prints to a mere 12!
Later in the year we will be releasing our single barrel of ’14 Presqu’ile Syrah (yet to be bottled). We utilized every technique we have learned on this wine, and we are fortunately extremely proud of how it is showing in barrel. The artwork is being created now so we can’t even share its name, but we can tell you it will be bottled in 1.5L magnums only.
We expanded our Syrah production last year and are looking to expand more this year. I have a couple of sites my heart is set on for working with Chardonnay.
Are you involved in any of the wine community associations, boards, etc? Does that interest you?
Kris and I have discussed about joining the Vintners Association. And we will when our production is a little more on par with the other small producers that they work with. We also work with The Garagiste Festival, which is a great organization that focuses on small producers.
Truly exciting times for Kris and Marisa. I’m so happy for where they are at personally and professionally. They’ve been through a fair amount of adversity and have come out stronger. If you haven’t met and tried their wine, I can’t recommend a visit with them enough! They’ve recently updated their website and have a shop now as well. Cheers, and best of luck.
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