The co-owner of Augustine in Sherman Oaks tastes wine like a pro but doesn’t look the part. Lanky and still boyishly handsome at 50, in a red plaid shirt and skinny tie, he looks more like a veteran rock musician — which, when he’s not running L.A.’s most talked-about new wine bar, he is. A few weeks ago, he was in the studio playing bass with Tom Morello, one of his regular gigs. “He’s the nicest guy in the world,” Gibbs says. “Very genuine and down to earth.”
At Augustine, instead of putting older wines out of reach for most customers with a pricey, limited inventory of premier cru Bordeaux and Napa cult bottles, Gibbs offers a rotating selection of rare and old wines at various price points, including many by the glass. The selections, mostly from his personal collection, still aren’t cheap — but where else in town can you try a 1961 Burgundy for $35 a glass?
Gibbs has been into wine almost as long as he’s been into music. When he was a senior in high school, his girlfriend’s father turned him onto Georges de Latour, Beaulieu Vineyard’s high-end label. “The drinking age was 18 in Vermont, and I was 18, so I could drink. And I felt very sophisticated,” he remembers.
Throughout the 1990s, his power-pop band Gigolo Aunts were a “touring machine,” with an especially strong following in Europe. (Their biggest hit, “Where I Find My Heaven,” figured prominently in the Dumb and Dumber soundtrack.) It was there that Gibbs developed a taste for older wines.
“On our [contract] rider, we would ask for wine and beer and tequila and whatever. And when we went to Europe, it was very easy to ask, ‘What’s the oldest thing you have?’ Sometimes it was a terrible, vinegary mess. Other times it was sublimely beautiful.”
By the time he moved from Boston to L.A. in ’98, Gibbs had begun to amass a collection. Later, he became a regular at Bar Covell, the Los Feliz wine bar owned by his future Augustine partners, Matthew Kaner and Dustin Lancaster. When his wife was pregnant with their first child, Gibbs — ironically, a light drinker (“I despise being drunk”) — would bring half-consumed bottles to the bar to share.
“I’ve got this nice ’64 Margaux, and it’s not gonna last until tomorrow,” he remembers thinking. Soon he built a reputation with fellow regulars as the “old wine” guy. “It was a nice community of people that really liked going there and talking about nerdy old wine, with no pretension whatsoever.”
When Gibbs and his wife moved from Los Feliz to Sherman Oaks, he “pestered” the Covell owners to open a second location in his new neighborhood. “Finally Dustin said, ‘Look, if you do it, if you go through all the bullshit, build it, get the license, all that, we’ll partner with you.’ And I said, ‘I will!’” Gibbs grins. “I don’t think he thought that I would.”
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Gibbs is cagey about the size of his collection; when asked how many bottles he has, he simply replies, “A lot less than when we started this a year ago.” But he’s still collecting and has no plans to let Augustine’s “rare vintage” chalkboards run dry.
Old wine, Gibbs admits, isn’t for everyone — some wines age beautifully, others can develop a barnyard funk that’s an acquired taste. Often, you won’t know what you’re getting until you’ve let the wine sit in your glass for a while, aerating and opening up its full range of flavors. “There’s a lot that are past their peak,” he says, “but they’re still interesting. They still have something to offer.”
He recalls opening a 1949 Châteauneuf-du-Pape that was “more intellectual than enjoyable … smoky and meaty and gamey and bloody.” Next to that, he and his staff opened a ’32 Burgundy that was “simple and great, like a chocolate chip cookie.”
“That’s one of the things that’s so fascinating about wine,” Gibbs says, swirling and sipping his ’91 California cab. “You can appreciate it on so many levels.”