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The Wine Alchemists: Dragonette Cellars

From wine shop employees to vignerons. While that isn't the customary path to owning a winery, it certainly worked for the men behind the Dragonette Cellars.

From left to right: Steve Dragonette, John Dragonette and Brandon Sparks-Gillis (Photo credits: Andrew Schoneberger)

Brothers John and Steve Dragonette and good friend Brandon Sparks-Gills stoke their passion for wine at Wally's Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles before embarking on their winemaking journey in 2005, making their first barrel in a Hermosa Beach garage in Santa Babara County. 

Dragonette Cellar's first barrel in 2003 (Photo credits: Dragonette Cellars)

By 2008, Dragonette Cellars was a full-time gig in a warehouse on the western outskirts of Lompoc, that they shared with Ampelos Cellars. But it wasn't until in 2013 that the team took their most courageous leap: signing a lease on their very own winery, an 8,000 sq ft facility in Buellton. "We're right in the middle of it all," said John Dragonette, whose new location is centrally located from the various vineyards they source for their wines. 

As the team slowly builds strong relationships with properties of distinction – of which are the key to Dragonette's soaring success – they stay as intimately involved with the farming as with winemaking. "This (the new facility) is a bit more expensive for us," confessed Sparks-Gillis, "but it also allows us to have a say in how the vines are tended, allows us to drop fruit whenever we wish and also gives us the right to determine when the grapes are picked."

Sparks-Gillis harvesting the vineyards (Photo credits: Dragonette Cellars)

Though "hand-crafted" is an expression often overused in the wine industry, these purple-knuckled gentlemen of Dragonette Cellars employ it very literally in describing the conscientious handling and hard labour that goes into making their wines. From grape, to barrel, to bottle, theirs are the only hands that come in contact with their wines. "Consequently," explains Sparks-Gillis, "from June to August our hands are dirty from the vineyards and stained deep purple from September to November."

The Dragonette Cellars team and their 2015 harvest (Photo credits: Dragonette Cellars)

The trifecta works meticulously to balance old-world elegance and top-quality Santa Barbara County fruit. The result? Wines that are beautifully constructed and representative of their logo: an alchemist's symbol for the "Elixir of Life", or "Drinkable Gold". From their rosé's scrumptious blend of Grenache, and Mourvedre fruit, to the crisp sauvignon blanc, intricately layered pinot noirs, and array of toothsome syrahs, their lineup of wines is consistently impressive.

"We're constantly chasing quality," offered Sparks-Gillis, "the past decade has seen us embrace the sustaining farming concept and many of our grapes come from organic or bio-dynamic-farmed vineyards. It has most certainly improved the quality of our wines".

Dragonette Cellars 2015 Chardonnay with rocks from the vineyard (Photo credits: Dragonette Cellars)

Dragonette Cellars today has come a long way since their inception starting out in a garage. They now enjoy a huge following, multiple awards, high scores and accolades.

"Dragonette is one of the most fascinating wineries in the Central Coast. The best wines are truly world-class, and I don't use those words lightly." reviews Antonio Galloni, the founder and lead wine critic of Vinous, one of the world's most influential wine publications.

Shop Dragonette Cellars here.

Article credits: Santa Barbara Indepedent Article in 2010 and in 2013, Wine Write, Gold Medal Wine Club and Dragonette Cellars.

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