Story by Nancy Ransohoff/Photographs courtesy Santa Barbara Winery
After studying architecture at McGill University, 32-year-old Pierre Lafond found himself living in Calgary, Canada. “I told my father, who lived in Santa Barbara, that I couldn’t stand the weather, and that I was going back to Montreal. He said, ‘Why don’t you come here?’” Lafond didn’t hesitate, and he hasn’t looked back since. In fact, he proceeded full-speed ahead for the last 50 years, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
In 1962, Lafond established Santa Barbara Winery (202 Anacapa St., 805/963-3633, www.sbwinery.com), the first commercial winery in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition. Two years later, he located a winery facility in an area now known to locals as the Funk Zone. Sitting on the leafy patio of the winery, the upbeat and charming Lafond smiles and notes that back then, the neighborhood was less than desirable, but ”it’s a great location.” Santa Barbara Winery now occupies five buildings in the hip Urban Wine Trail, and its award-winning wines are distributed all over the U.S. and Canada. “It turned out to be a really good spot.”
Lafond initially bought grapes from outside the county because there were none available locally. (Uriel Nielsen and Bill DeMattei planted Nielsen vineyard, the first commercial vineyard, in 1964.) Lafond decided to plant his own vineyard, purchasing 105 acres in Santa Ynez Valley. In 1972, with the assistance of viticulturist Bill Collins, he planted 65 of those acres to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Chardonnay. Today, Lafond grows about half the grapes for his own production.
The hiring of winemaker Bruce McGuire in 1981 helped put Lafond on the world-class wines map. One of McGuire’s suggestions was to plant Pinot Noir, then Syrah. Lafond Winery & Vineyards in Buellton was established in 2000. Lafond is involved with both operations, zipping back and forth between the two. His daughter Michelle is marketing director and son David manages Lafond Winery & Vineyards.
Today, Pierre Lafond owns and operates (with his wife Wendy Foster) the two wineries, wine bistros on State Street and in Montecito, event catering, a gourmet market, four clothing boutiques and a home accessories store. The visionary Pierre Lafond made the right move back in 1962. Cheers to a happy 50th!
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.