Newhall RefineryEXPAND
Newhall Refinery
Courtesy Shannon Ercek

Santa Clarita Is Battling to Become Southern California's Wine Country

In Newhall — the formerly sleepy, now slightly buzzy hub of the ever-expanding Santa Clarita Valley — a bloom of independent wine retailers has sprung up recently. Wine bars, bistros and tasting rooms are engaged in an aggressive play for new customers, much like the mom-and-pop hardware stores and community theater enclaves that kept the city's once-dusty Main Street afloat for decades.

These are not the first attempts by local business owners to tap into Southern California's nascent wine industry. On the sun-dappled northern outposts of the city, Agua Dulce Winery and Reyes Winery, local stalwarts since 2002 and 2011, respectively, continue to offer tastings and tours designed to mirror tony Napa Valley ventures. More recently, trendy hangouts such as Wine 661, All Corked Up and Roman Holiday (a knowingly tacky “wine lounge”) have offered themselves as novel nightlife options for the oenophiles of Saugus, Valencia and beyond.

All but a choice few foundered. As Scott Page-Pagter, a 30-odd-year resident of “Awesometown,” observes, “It’s been bad here for the last 30 years. People have been really hungry for good wine, but it just wasn’t available.”

Page-Pagter and his brother, Gib Pagter, are the co-founders and winemakers of Pagter Brothers Winery. A 4-year-old venture (“well, actually 11 years, but four years legit,” Page-Pagter laughs) with vineyards in Paso Robles and Santa Ynez, Pagter Brothers recently collaborated with Doug Minnick of Hoi Polloi Winery and the Garagiste Festival to found the Double Trouble Tasting Room — so named because the two wineries split the space.

The opening of their joint Newhall location last May came at an auspicious moment: it both followed and anticipated several groundbreaking ventures in the neighborhood, which Page-Pagter says “is really trying to make things pop” with activities such as food truck nights and film screenings.

Newhall RefineryEXPAND
Newhall Refinery
Courtesy Shannon Ercek

Just up Main, Simon and Shannon Mee’s Newhall Refinery, a local landmark for craft-brew connoisseurs, has no peer in its success, attracting unheard-of hour-plus lines on quiet school nights. Marketing/events manager Shannon Ercek says they will soon up the ante for wine lovers with Wine Around the World, a seven-wine dinner series featuring pairings with both local grapes and some from other states. Nearby, the Pulchella Winery Tasting Room soon will celebrate its unparalleled seventh year in business. And at least two new boozeries are on the way, with more sure to follow when construction is completed on a new art-house cinema a block away.

Yet Sidney Iverson, Pagter Brothers’ assistant winemaker and tasting room manager (and Page-Pagter’s wife), insists that things are copacetic even with the rush of competition brought on by neighboring restaurants and tasting rooms: “We don’t look at it as us competing with them,” Iverson says. “We are trying to create a wine walk, a destination for people. If they don’t make money, we don’t make money.”

Pagter Brothers wine (and one of the brothers)EXPAND
Pagter Brothers wine (and one of the brothers)
Courtesy Scott Page-Pagter

Iverson’s impassioned desire — to foment a wine revolution on the newly shiny Main Street strip — expresses itself in conversations with several local businesspeople, though nowhere more strongly than with the founders of Pulchella, Steve Lemley and Nate Hasper.

Energetic and amiable even during their 20-hour-straight harvest days, Lemley and Hasper began making wine together in Paso Robles in 2005. It took years of experimentation and sampling — both with their business model and with their grapes — before “we realized bringing the operation home” to Santa Clarita afforded them “more control.”

Their tasting room opened on Main in December 2010, when, they joke, “There was no other anything. ... We liked to say that we were spearheading the new-age wine thing happening in L.A. County,” Hasper says.

Lemley and Hasper also began SCV Custom Crush Services, a consulting company specializing in small-lot wines and “brand implementations.” Between their increasingly experimental blends and an unfussy, noncorporate approach to collaboration, the company has become emblematic of Newhall’s budding wine movement: “The community has gotten behind us. The city is doing its best to support it. There’s more excitement, there’s a vibe, there’s a feel.”

Like Page-Pagter and Iverson, Lemley scoffs at the idea of a Jets vs. Sharks turf war: “We’ve got a lot of friends in Newhall that are members of our wine club ... and 90 percent of our wine gets sold and consumed by our members. We call them ‘Family Members,” because that’s what they are.”

While he acknowledges that with trendiness comes overabundance — “When you increase product in this business, quantity comes first over quality” — his enthusiasm never wanes. “If 15 more tasting rooms opened up,” he says, “I might be concerned. But we wouldn’t have gotten where we are if we didn’t throw those fears out the window and roll the dice.”

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