Chakras & Chardonnay

Ep. 36: Vintage Vibes & Entrepreneurship in Wine: Navigating Well-Being with Erin Kempe

February 28, 2024 Maria Mayes
Chakras & Chardonnay
Ep. 36: Vintage Vibes & Entrepreneurship in Wine: Navigating Well-Being with Erin Kempe
Show Notes Transcript

In Episode 36 of "Chakras and Chardonnay," host Maria Mayes welcomes Erin Kempe, owner of two wine labels and tasting rooms in California. Erin shares her journey from working in high-end restaurants to venturing into the wine industry, culminating in the establishment of her own labels and tasting rooms in Los Olivos and downtown Santa Barbara. She discusses the unique dynamic of running a business alongside her husband and reflects on the challenges of maintaining well-being while managing a bustling business, emphasizing the importance of carving out personal time amidst the demands of entrepreneurship. She shares her experiences navigating the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the shift to online sales and the profound appreciation for in-person interactions upon reopening.

The conversation delves into the art of wine tasting, with Erin offering insights on simplifying the experience for beginners and encouraging exploration without intimidation. She emphasizes the value of connecting with customers on a personal level, creating an engaging atmosphere in the tasting room, and shares her passion for a diverse array of wine varietals.

Enjoy a guided full-body relaxation at the end of the Episode. 

To get in touch with Erin and Explore Barbiere & Kempe Wines Visit:

Learn more about Maria and her work at Take5.Health and subscribe to receive tips and free Guided Meditations each Wednesday. Connect with Maria on social:

Maria Mayes: [00:00:00] All right. Chakras and Chardonnay listeners, I am grateful to be back with you again today. And my guest today is Erin Kempe, coming out of San Yanez, California. So Erin, welcome to the show. 

Erin Kempe: Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

Maria Mayes: Absolutely. So tell us a little bit about where you're at, what work you do, and then we will get into well being.

Erin Kempe: So my husband and I own two tasting rooms, one in Los Olivos and one in Santa Barbara downtown. Um, and we, our production facility is in Buelton, California, and we source our fruit. Um, mainly for his label from Santa Barbara County, and then for my label, Paso. So we have two different labels. They're his and hers.

We've got a wife label and a husband label. 

Maria Mayes: Oh, nice. Yeah. Nice. And so how long have you been in the wine industry, 

Erin Kempe: Erin? So I grew up in Texas and I ended up working in high end restaurants there, which [00:01:00] I needed to learn about wine. So that's kind of where my wine journey started. Um, then, uh, that led me into moving to Las Vegas.

Um, in 1998 and ended up working in high end restaurants there. I got even more wine knowledge. And so food and wine was my career. Uh, I also worked for a distributor in Las Vegas selling wine for a while as well. So I was super interested in the wine. Once I got into the restaurants and all that stuff, I, I really wanted to be more educated and I just really got bit by the bug.

So I've been doing wine and food since 1990s. six 97. Um, and then, uh, so that was 16 years in Vegas when I met my husband was 2007 and he was already making wine in Santa Barbara County, living in Las Vegas. He was the wine director. He's a master sommelier. Um, and when he passed his exam in 2003. He didn't have to study seven hours a day anymore.

So he was like, well, what, what am I going to [00:02:00] do now? Well, I think I want to try my hand at making wine. So he got the fruit from Ballard Canyon and he processed it over at Foxen, uh, with Dick and drove it back to Vegas in a rented van and made the wine in his garage. And he did that for two years. And, um, then he got the license and started, uh, using our friend, Joey Tensley's, uh, production facility.

And he started really actually making wine for commercial production. And so I met him in 2007 and started helping him with the wine in 2008. And I was like, this is so fun. This, I just fell in love with the Santa Ynez. Um, who wouldn't, uh, and my dreams and his dreams just kind of melded together.

And we decided that maybe this would be really cool to get us out of Las Vegas and out of the restaurants. You can't be in the restaurants forever. It's just so physically taxing. Although winemaking is even more physically, you don't think about [00:03:00] that when you're working in restaurants. Um, and so this was our goal.

We kind of made a decision. And, uh, it took us about 10 years to get here. We saved up all of our own money. We didn't use any loans or get any investors. And we moved here nine years ago and opened up Los Levos and just kind of hoped for the best. Wow. 

Maria Mayes: Well, that is an amazing story. 

So, Erin, I would love to know, since you are juggling, um, both a business and a life, and you happen to do both business and life with the same partner, I'd love to learn more about how you, uh, keep your well being, uh, a priority, and then maybe that's, uh, will lead into a tip that you can offer listeners as well.

Erin Kempe: You know, that's the million dollar question, isn't it? , you know, it's a, I'm not gonna lie. It's a, it's a, it's a real struggle. It's a real struggle. You know, when you own your own business, you, [00:04:00] you, you almost, I mean, you live, breathe, and work it all the time. You're, you're never off, you, you're never, you're never unplugged, you know?

So it, it, it's a struggle. Um, I, I've struggled with it. I mean, for eight years, I've struggled with it, trying to figure out that balance. I think everyone in the world is still trying to find that balance. But I try to make time for myself. Um, working with my partner, you know, it, he's mostly at the winery.

Um, I run the tasty rooms and the wine club. So we kind of have our, our corners, you know, of where we, where we work. I don't see him too, too often in the taste room, maybe once or twice a week. Um, he'll help me on a Saturday or whatever, but most of the time we have our, you know, corners. He's got my stepson, uh, helps him in the winery.

So they're together and luckily they love working together. So that's good. Um, [00:05:00] and then I'm in the taster room most of the time. So I, you know, I love what I do. So it, it, it's not, that part isn't stressful for me. Um, working in the taster room is, is. It's just, it, that fills my, my cup up, honestly, um, I, I came from, uh, hospitality, my, I worked in hospitality my entire life and, um, actually when I did work selling wine with a distributor in Las Vegas.

Um, I, I was lonely, I found it extremely lonely because I was used to being around people all the time and talking to people all the time, whether it be my coworkers or my customers or what have you. So when I was in my car driving from client to client alone, I really didn't like it. I, I really didn't. I, I found that.

That that part of the wine sales was just [00:06:00] not my shtick. It wasn't my thing. Um, I love people and I love being around them and I love talking to people. And so when I work in the tasting room, it's just so exhilarating. If I can't explain it, it, it's like when COVID happened, I, it was really hard for me because my job is.

is 99 percent social, right? It's not just the wine. It's not just the sales of wine. It's talking to people all day long and getting to know them and like asking them questions and, you know, volleying back and forth. And sometimes it gets. really deep because people are drinking wine and they get really loose and they just start telling you things.

It's like being in a bartender, you know, you're part therapist, part friend, you know, you, you have, you wear a lot of hats, you know, if you do it well, if, if you do your job well, then you. That's where you land, you know, so I really [00:07:00] enjoy. 

Maria Mayes: Yeah. Well, I was just going to say, I can totally relate, you know, when I, cause I have over the last 10 years poured in that tasting room about once a month, and there's something about being in an environment where people are coming with the intention.

To slow down with the intention of relaxing with the intention of enjoying themselves. It's a little bit different than a, than like a cocktail bar, right? The wine tasting experience is quite different, but there's some similarities, as you said, um, there's something about that connection, that human connection.

That's so important for all of us. And I agree. As you mentioned, um, COVID being a challenge at first, I recall that when. I'd go up and pour in the tasting room outdoors. Everything was outdoors at first. That was pretty much the only interaction I was getting, um, at all. Everything else was over zoom and my other, um, worlds of work.

And it literally was part of my saving grace through that period, because I'm like you, where I really energetically lift up [00:08:00] by connecting with others in person. So it takes a lot of self awareness for you to, to tap into that quickly and notice, okay, this is a big part of. What uplifts me and why I do what I do.

So I think that's the fact that you acknowledge that quickly, right? So that you could make sure, um, you took care of yourself. So how did it impact you? At the forefront, were you completely closed for a 

Erin Kempe: bit?

We were closed, the first shutdown we were closed for I think four and a half months. Oh wow, okay. Yeah, yeah, it was four and a half, almost five months we were closed down. Um, so, uh, we just kind of pivoted, you know, just like everyone else and just started doing online sales and, and, you know, phone call orders and whatnot.

And, um, I spent a lot of time on the phone with customers that I barely even knew for like an hour at a time. Cause you know, they were lonely too. Some of these people, they lived alone and they didn't have any contact with anyone. So, you know, [00:09:00] someone would call me and say, you know, I'd like to order some wine.

I'm like, how are you? Like, what's going on? How's your family? How's everything going? Like, are you okay? I'm checking, you know, checking in. And, um, so I, I got my social stuff over the phone that way, just by doing orders every Monday I did orders. And then, you know, throughout the week, I would go back to the taste room and I would, you know, fulfill the orders and drop them off to the shipping company.

So I was still working like five hours a day, every day. Um, but I, yeah. I wasn't getting that one on one that that face to face, you know, contact, which when we were able to go open outside and have that again, I can't tell you how happy I was and how happy everyone that came in was. I mean, everyone was just starved for some sort of social interaction, you know, just even seeing each other in that way, um, was everything.

You know, and, and you don't appreciate anything until it's gone, I guess, you know, [00:10:00] and, and I definitely had a newfound, you know, uh, appreciation for what I do and what it does for me emotionally, you know, I don't think I knew how much it did for me until the pandemic until it wasn't. All right. Yeah. And then I realized like how much I need it in my life.

Well, that's 

Maria Mayes: huge. I mean, I think a lot of, a lot of us. I mean, everyone was feeling it, but not everybody necessarily was able to articulate it aknowledge it and then come back to it. Right. And so I think the fact that you were able to really see that early on and, and realize, you know, how much you enjoyed your occupation, which that alone is, I think, a tip for listeners, like if you can step into something Within your work that you love you, you know, you're never going to work a day in your life as they say, right?

So tell me more about the work world right now. Tell me more [00:11:00] about how I'd love for you to take us on kind of a, a visual tour in our heads of a day in the life maybe of running a tasting room and running a winery alongside your partner. 

Erin Kempe: So I mean, typically I, I get up, you know, I do some stuff in the morning.

Well, I try to do some stuff for me in the morning. I take like an hour and a half for myself to just have some tea and. You know, unplug. I don't turn the television on. Typically I'll go outside and get a little bit of sun and just kind of You know, relax a little bit, um, and get kind of mentally get ready for the day.

And then, you know, once I get to the tasting room, I, you know, I kind of do it all. I run the wine club, I run the business, and then I also work in the taste room. So I I'm never really bored. Even if it's slow and there's no one there, I have lots to do, you know? Um, so I can do admin stuff on the computer. I can answer emails.

I can, [00:12:00] you know, answer phone calls. And then when people start flooding into the taste room, that's when I start, you know, turning it on, you know, I'm there to, I'm there to wear so many hats, but, you know, most people don't understand that, that when people come into a taste room, they're not just looking to do a tasting.

They're looking to be entertained. They're looking for a connection, but they're also looking for entertainment. Like let's say, you know, they come in with their, their partner, they've been together for, you know, 20 something years, you know, they don't really have much to say to each other anymore. They're, that's why I'm there, you know, I'm there to entertain them and be a buffer and like get everyone talking and, you know, having a good time and entertaining and also educating and talking about the wine at the same time, but the experience, right.

It's. It's. It's 90 percent the experience and 10 percent the wine. I'm 100 percent about that. Mm hmm. 

Maria Mayes: So tell me more about, um, the experience part and then let's talk about the [00:13:00] wine part too. I'd love to learn more about. 

Erin Kempe: Yeah, I mean in our tasting room we have a, we have a small little cheese and charcuterie shop.

So people can come in and have a little bit, you know, a little bit of cheese and locally made salamis and locally made jams. We've got fresh baguettes every day. Um, so we're lucky that we're able to offer that to our guests. Um, not everyone in Los Olivos can do that. In fact, no one can except for us.

We're the only ones that have that kind of license. Um, and so it's a, it's a really beautiful accoutrement to the, to the wine. Um, I really believe that food definitely enhances the experience. So people can come in, they'll have a little wine, a little You know, cheese and charcuterie, I'll talk about the pairings and why, or, um, you know, and then go through the different flights.

We actually offer four different flights. We have, uh, the Barbieri label, which is [00:14:00] my husband's, which focuses on, um, Rhone varietals from Santa Barbara County. So, you know, single vineyard Syrahs, and blends of those. And then for the Kempe label, For the Reds, we, uh, do predominantly Bordeaux varietals from Paso Robles.

So we do Cabernet, Cab Franc, Merlot, Petite Syrah, and blends of those. And then we've got two different rosés and then three different whites. And the, the rosés and the whites that we make are not common. Um, we make a rosé of Cabernet Franc, which is amazing. We make a rosé. Oh, it is. It's really good. Um, we make a rosé of Mouvedre.

And then we make, uh, Vermentino, which is an Italian white. We also, me too, my husband's Italian, so there you go um, and then we also make a Viognier and Claret Blanche blend. And then we also make Malvasia Bianca. So we don't make the typical Chardonnay and Sauvignon. [00:15:00] Yeah. 

Maria Mayes: You know, we have a, um, there's a.

A grower here, local that grows Malvasia Bianca, and we've made one up at the winery that I pour at, and it's a beautiful white. Um, all of those, I mean, my mouth is watering as you're talking, Erin. All my Rhone and Bordeaux loves all in one place. Are you kidding me? Um, so I'll definitely plan a visit soon.

So tell me a little bit about, um, because I love, so, so the piece of the experience is so huge for me. I love. Taking people through a tasting in a very mindful fashion, right? Where we really arrive, we become present, and then we explore the different attributes of the wine. What tips do you have for someone who's just starting out in the world of exploring wine?

Erin Kempe: Um, you know what everyone gets in, they get in their own head about it. You know, wine is so [00:16:00] it's, it's. It's a, it's a weird thing because people look at wine, if they don't know anything about wine, it's very intimidating. Um, and it shouldn't be, it really shouldn't be, but it, it is for people. And my, my way of approaching it is, Really?

I try to keep it as simple as possible. Honestly, I, I don't want to overwhelm people with knowledge and explanations and education. Um, I really am a simpleton about it. Um, you know, it depends on how, how deeply people want to go. You know, if people are just getting into wine, Um, I say try things, try things that you're not sure if you're going to like, you know, that's the whole point.

Try things. All you need to know is if you like it or if you don't really, that's all you need to 

Maria Mayes: know. That is all that it boils down to. 

Erin Kempe: It really is, you know, and if you get really interested in it and you want to learn more and you want to know more. You know, I, [00:17:00] I'm happy to go down that path, you know, with people, um, whether it be in the taste room or whatever.

When I have people who are new to wine and they want to learn a lot about wine or more about wine and they need something like a beginner book, um, I always recommend Wine Folly. Yes. It's amazing book. It has, it's, it's the most simple broken down way of explaining wine, the production side, the aging part, the different types of barrels, why people do what and when, and then going through the varietals and just hitting on the basic flavor profiles.


Maria Mayes: such easy to digest 

Erin Kempe: graphics and so easy. I just love that book and I always, I just tell people like, get this, buy this and just, just read it. It's so easy to read and it teaches you so much. And it's so [00:18:00] easy to learn about, you know, wine in that way. When I started wine, there was nothing like that.

There was nothing like that. So I had to learn the hard way. But, you know, if people want to learn, I'm happy to educate. You know, when I go through a flight, um, I look at it like this. So when people come into my taste room, what I grew up eating, because I'm from Texas, Maybe you didn't. Maybe you grew up on a different kind of cuisine than I did.

Maybe you're from a different continent and you have a completely different Rolodex of flavors and smells, right? I look at it like everyone has a different Rolodex of smells and flavors. And so, what I may pick up on a wine, maybe you pick up something different, but it could be kind of equally the same.

Meaning, like, I had a guy in my taste room one time, and he, he was Asian. And he said, is it weird that I'm getting seaweed on this [00:19:00] Syrah? And I said, actually No, it's not weird. I said, what you're getting is salinity, kind of that salty salinity. And in that wine, there was Kalamata olives, the salty Kalamata olive.

So he was taking what he grew up on, and he was equating that to the wine. And he wasn't wrong. He was not wrong. He was getting the salinity, but he was pulling from his own Rolodex, right? Right. So I try 

Maria Mayes: to keep never smelled a lychee nut before you're never going to smell it on a glass of 

Erin Kempe: wine.

Correctamundo. Right. So, um, when I'm going through the flights, I stick with very simple, simple, um, Adjectives to describe the wine. I stick with fruit because everyone's had fruit and fruit is the one, the easiest thing to actually pull out of wine. So I like to try to make it as interactive and more [00:20:00] and as fun as possible for the guests.

So when they actually taste the wine and they go, wait, I taste that. I'm excited for them and they're excited because they actually pulled it out and they're like, wow, I'm I'm I'm an expert. I know about why now, 

Maria Mayes: you know, you know, as humans, we make things so much more complicated than they need to be. 

Erin Kempe: We 

Maria Mayes: do pulling in that simplicity.

I love it because that's, you know, that that's what I always love to. Do to when I'm working with people that are virgins, if you will, to the wine world is we just, it doesn't have, it doesn't have to be really super fancy. We don't have to use the word barnyard to do all the fancy things. It's just how does it leave you?

Do you enjoy it? What right mind you have all those fun things. So yeah. I want to come taste with you, Erin. 

Erin Kempe: Oh, it's, I, it's so fun. I love what I do. I love what I do. I love it. So I've got 

Maria Mayes: one more question for you. Well, first, tell [00:21:00] the listeners where they can find your wines. Is it just in the tasting room?

Can they order 


Erin Kempe: Yes, they can order online at barbiearywines. com and we are 100 percent direct to consumer. So we do not sell to retail markets, grocery stores, even, we're not even in any local restaurants. So the only place to find our wines are either online. or at one of our tasting rooms. So one of the taste rooms is in Los Olivos, um, and it's Barbieri and Kempi Wines.

And then the other one's downtown Santa Barbara and it's the same name. Beautiful, 

Maria Mayes: okay. And then I'd love to know, and I'm sure the listeners would too, what type of wine is your favorite to mindfully 

Erin Kempe: enjoy? You know, that's a loaded question. Of course it is. Um, I have been fortunate enough to taste some amazing wines because I lived in Vegas for so long and my husband was a wine director and a buyer [00:22:00] and I was fortunate enough to go to many, many tasting dinners at really amazing restaurants in Vegas and Try some of the best wines ever produced in the history of winemaking.

Um, and so I just really appreciate well made wine in general. I don't have anything that's kind of a favorite, I guess. I guess when it, it comes to wine, I just love it all. I love white, I love red, I, I, I'm not so much of a, of a dessert wine person, but I can definitely appreciate a good one and understand good versus decent or not that good.

Um, but I can tell you the best wine I've ever had was actually a 1970 Vega Sicilia Unico from Spain. Oh, and it [00:23:00] was up against, we went to a dinner at Bradley Ogden and at Caesar's Palace with Brian Ogden and, uh, there was about 17 of us and everyone brought a hundred point wine from Spectator. So there was about, I don't know, 16, so probably 32 wines because everybody brought two.

And there was 82 Margot, 82 Lafite. Um, there were, uh, say Williams Selyem Pinots from the 1970s and eighties. Wow. Um, there was, let me just tell you this, there were full bottles of scarecrow and screaming eagle on the, on the table at the end of the night. And no one drank them. Wow. How do you get invited to that party?

Palo Barbieri.

So we were, you know, there's perks to working in the, in the high end restaurants in Vegas, for sure. Just like [00:24:00] being in the wine industry, there's perks, but definitely big perks working in Vegas for sure. Cause there's collectors there and you make friends with, he's a wine director and then he makes friends with collectors and then they invite us to dinner and then we get to partake in their.

Lovely wine. Wow. 

Maria Mayes: Beautiful. Ah, beautiful. Well, I am so grateful that you chose to come on the show today. I mean, there's so much that you offered us from just that first hour that you said that you dedicate to yourself to allow yourself to have the tea and not be connected to screens. That is something that we can all take away as a great way to incorporate into our day to really uplift our wellbeing, to the connection.

That you saw you were missing during COVID and what makes your job so enjoyable. I think that's so important as people consider going to different tasting rooms. You want someone who's in there wanting to spend that time with you and you feel it when you walk in. If it, if it feels like you are very welcomed or if it feels like, oh, [00:25:00] I'm not.

Wine educated enough to even walk in this joint, right? You feel that energy right away. And I can tell you, I already know that you have some beautiful energy over the line and I'm sure walking into the tasting room. I don't doubt it for a minute. So I encourage everybody to go check out her very and campy in, uh, both locations, right?

You said you had one in downtown Santa Barbara and then lots of Livios. Is that correct? 

Erin Kempe: Yeah. Los Olivos. Yes, correct. 

Maria Mayes: Los Olivos. Beautiful. Well, thank you so much for coming on, Erin. And I would love to have you back maybe on a future episode where we could just focus on pairings. 

Erin Kempe: Sure. That would be great, Maria.

Maria Mayes: Beautiful. Anything else you want to leave the listeners with before we call it a day? Just keep 

Erin Kempe: drinking wine. 

Maria Mayes: Just keep drinking wine. Let's do it and keep it mindful. Yeah. Thanks so much, Erin. I 

Erin Kempe: appreciate it. You're welcome, Maria. Thank you for having me.