Dunbar Brewing: Santa Margarita’s neighborhood microbrewery

With a town of only 1,200 people, one would not expect a local brew pub to generate any kind of excitement. Dunbar Brewing has not only done that, but the college, and 20-something crowds from San Luis Obispo, have been making the 15-minute drive to Santa Margarita, Calif., for one-of-a-kind micro brewed beers for years.

Self-taught brewmaster, Chris Chambers, set up Dunbar Brewing in Santa Margarita in 2009. Despite the small town locale, the micro brewery successfully attracts patrons from all over the Central Coast.

Located about 11 miles north of San Luis Obispo’s California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and 30 minutes south of Paso Robles, the tiny craft brewery is small in size, but big on taste.

Self-taught, Chris Chambers began his brewing career in Los Osos, the original Dunbar location founded in 1997, for three years. However, a six-year stint in the military probed him to think about settling down, and a dry town made the perfect landing spot.

Dunbar Brewing, only a mile off Hwy 101, is on Santa Margarita’s main street, El Camino Real, and also conveniently located across the street from the town’s newest attraction: Margarita Adventures: Zipline Canopy Tours.

“We came to Santa Margarita to become involved in a small community,” Chambers said, “and Dunbar is a neighborhood pub: a place for folks to meet and build community together.”

Chambers has done more than that. He bought a house with his wife, Lauren, and three girls, near the Irish-themed brewhouse, which reopened in 2009, and cycles to work every day.

Dunbar Brewing, while small, is set up for conversation. No loud music, plenty of table and bar space and Chris is eager to talk with patrons as if they were from the neighborhood.

“From the beginning, I wanted to become involved with community projects–to pour back money into the community who has given me so much,” Chambers said. “We became involved with the 4th of July Parade and helped build a basketball court in town. I love being involved as one of the ten local businesses in Santa Margarita.”

Chambers creates five different beers, plus seasonal creations, always having at least two varieties on tap each day: English Style Ale, Brown Porter, IPA, Scottish Heavy or Oatmeal Stout. In fact, a couple of years ago, he served the special Guinness T-250 anniversary stout in an Imperial Pint glass to celebrate the great Irish brewery. The news of Dunbar carrying the special stout at $5 per pint glass brought Guinness lovers to the brewery from as far south as San Diego and north from the Bay area.

Chambers creates five different beers, plus seasonal creations, always having at least two varieties on tap each day: English Style Ale, Brown Porter, IPA, Scottish Heavy or Oatmeal Stout.

On this occasion, I taste-tested his two beer on tap: Scottish Heavy and Oatmeal Stout. The Scottish Heavy was fantastic. The malt was earthy, peat-smoked flavor with a dry, crisp finish. And the Oatmeal Stout? Well, let me say, I love my oatmeal in the morning and I was blessed to drink oatmeal in the late afternoon. Chambers said he uses eight grains to provide texture but I definitely enjoyed its chocolate and coffee overtones. Plus his beers are on nitrogen taps. Like he told me on a previous visit, his beers are “smooth and silky,” much like the classic Irish brews.

While Chambers said he does not go out and try a lot of other craft brews on the U.S. market, he did say his last trip to Portland did result in a positive Oregon experience, giving a shout out to Burnside Brewery. Yet he remains strongly convinced and vocal about his microbrewery.

“No disrespect to anyone else out there, but I have the best beer… period.”

While creating craft beer from scratch is his passion, Chambers also made sure I made note that while his pub is small, it is a place people come to visit, talk and hang out without loud music.

Look for the Dunbar Brewing sandwich board on the left as you arrive in Santa Margarita, traveling east along El Camino Real from Hwy 101.

Of course, the music has also made its impact on the brewery. Johnny Cash is the only music playing over the speakers, but it’s a cash-only pub as well.

Dunbar Brewing has a Facebook page and is located in the same building as Ancient Peaks Winery. Dunbar Brewing is located at 22720 El Camino Real, Ste. A, Santa Margarita, CA. Call 805.704.9050 or dunbarbrewing@gmail.com for more information.

Chris Chambers can be found behind the counter at Dunbar Brewing 3-10 p.m. Wednesday through Thursdays; 1-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 1 to 9 p.m on Sundays. All 20-ounce pours are still only $5 and served in Imperial pint glasses. Growlers can be purchased for $45 and $20 for refills.

Dunbar Brewing is set up for locals and those traveling to take the local micro beer home in Growlers for $45 filled or $20 refill.

While a tavern at the other end of town now makes two Santa Margarita, CA beverage establishments, Chambers said a different kind of patron visits his local competition. Each has established a niche and there is plenty of room for both.

Please return for the next installment of TalesoftheCork: Part II of “Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor,” August 9. (Note date change) Read as Mike overcame his great loss and accepted a new challenge at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita, Calif. His wife, Cheri, and Mike still produce Sinor-LeVallee wines and continue to be leaders in the Edna Valley winemaking community.

For a past article, read Part I: Get to know 2012 Coast winemaker of the year: Mike Sinor.

Viticulture and Enology programs promote Fresno State research at Grape Day

My wife’s hospital co-worker asked me last week to chauffeur her son to daily chess and chef camps. Her 12-year old son needed something to pass the time, rather than sit home alone watching TV. At first I said no, but have since enjoyed learning about Fresno’s summer camps; this week, I am limo driver for the youngster’s canoe camp on the San Joaquin River.

The daily deliver and pick up routines last about 45 minutes, but the trip takes me by area vineyards both near the river and California State University, Fresno [FSU]. Ripening grape clusters along country roadways initially attracted my attention, so I took the time to stop and check on the status of the Thompson and Muscat vineyards.

Fresno State students grow many grape varietals and create award-winning bottles of Barbera, Petite Sirah, California Syrah, Chardonnay, Rosè and Pinot Gris.

As temperatures heat up in August, schools and universities are gearing up and the grape harvest is not far off. So it was no surprise to me the Fresno State Viticulture and Enology program is set to host Grape Day, Aug. 14.

According to their web site, “Grape Day is an informal field day and open house held at the Department of Viticulture and Enology at Fresno State for grape growers, pest control advisers, winemakers, and winery personnel. The event is designed to showcase the latest grape and wine research conducted at Fresno State and to provide an educational forum on current issues affecting the grape and wine industry.”

Senior enology major Kerry Fitzgerald is planning to attend Grape Day by helping out one of his viticulture professors, Kaan Kurtural, as he talks about mechanical management (machine harvest, pruning). Fitzgerald is excited to attend his first Grape Day.

“This is going to be a very good experience,” Fitzgerald said. “Not only will I be able to listen to my professors, but FSU enology alumni will be on hand to share why the program helped them graduate into successful careers.

Fitzgerald has kept tabs on FSU alumni and winemaker Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena. The Fresno State graduate is often referred to the winemaker of Bottle Shock fame. Fitzgerald met Barrett at the Fresno State Winery in March 2012 at the Home of Tomorrow’s Winemakers event.

Besides meeting Barrett, Fitzgerald also has worked at The Grape Tray, a Fresno wine cellar and sandwich shop, where he has been encouraged by another FSU graduate selling his bottles via the retail market.

Winemaker and FSU alumni Bo Barrett, right, is senior Kerry Fitzgerald’s winemaker hero because of his involvement with the “Judgement of Paris.” The Chateau Montelena Chardonnay Barrett and his dad entered in a 1976 Paris blind tasting showed the world Napa had come of age.

“Alumni Dave Scheidt sells his wines at The Grape Tray as Mastro Scheidt Family Cellars. It is really cool to have a guy who graduated from Fresno State selling his stuff in the retail market,” Fitzgerald said. “Fresno State enology students are successful upon leaving the program and I am excited to listen to them share their stories at the event as well.”

Fitzgerald went on to say how Fresno State is the only student-operated commercial winery in California. The students complete their book work but then learn how to grow the grapes to using winemaking equipment from harvest to bottling. They not only read about sorting, using the wine press, punching down, checking the sugars and racking the wine, but they can sell it via the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market.

“I love being a Fresno State enology student because this is as close to real world experience as it gets and I’m still in school,” Fitzgerald said. “I can be in class one hour then spend hours in the vineyards or winery learning hands-on. You cannot get that anywhere else. We are student farmers becoming winemakers. We research and test as much or more than anyone else and we produce and sell our product. People should come to Grape Day to check us out and find out for yourself.”

Grape Day is a half-day event held every other year at the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology on Fresno State campus. There will be practical field and indoor presentation with viticulture and enology professors sharing the latest grape and wine research.

Fresno State is one of five campuses in California which have notable winemaking programs: Napa Valley College, California Polytechnic State University, Sonoma State University and University of California, Davis.

In 1997, the California State University, Fresno, became the first university in the United States to have a winery fully licensed to produce, bottle and sell wine.

Registration and exhibits open at 7:30 a.m. with the program running from 8 a.m. to noon in the shaded lawn west of the Viticulture building. A BBQ lunch is sponsored by American Vineyard Magazine and will be on the lawn near the Viticulture and Enology building, 2360 E. Barstow (between Cedar and Maple) on the north side of the street, surrounded by vineyards. To reserve a spot at Grape Day, visit the Viticulture and Enology web site. Tickets are $20 and $15 for current students. Be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen.

Tours of the unique facilities, refreshments, and lunch are included in the registration fee. Parking is available in the yellow or green lots with a courtesy parking code. Check for the code at registration. Without a code, parking at FSU is $3 per day.

A spokesperson for the program was not available to comment on the event and suggested interested students or community members refer to the July 31 Fresno State News press release.

According to the Fresno State web site, one of the focuses of the event will be to “learn about the latest research into crop forcing, nematodes, grape-rot measurement and mechanization. A complete list of presentations are listed.

“Dr. Sanliang Gu, holder of the Ricchiuti Chair of Viticulture, will discuss “Crop Forcing – Yield and Cultural Practices” and his work on introducing degree-hours to better interpret heat accumulation and thermal distribution of regions and vintages for wine grape production.”

Dr. Sanliang Gu briefly discusses crop forcing in this short YouTube video previously posted.

For those interested in checking out the Enology program at California State University, Fresno, and the Fresno State Winery, be sure to contact them at the winery. For Enology inquiries, call 559.278.2791 or call 559.278.9463 for winemaking inquiries. The campus farm, the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market, has fresh produce for much of the spring through fall, including many of the California award-winning student produced wines. Their phone number is 559.278.4511. Be sure to also visit the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology web site on how to become involved as a Fresno State viticulture and enology student.