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Petaluma vintner pursues his passion

A precipitous turn of events led Petaluma vintner Mike Barber into the wine business.

Barber was studying archeology at San Francisco State University, with plans to get a masters degree in museum studies, but a stop into K&L Wine Merchants changed everything, he said.

“One day, my then-girlfriend Lorraine and I walked into a wine shop run by a guy named Mike and I joked, ‘Do you need to be a Mike to work here?” Barber said. “Boss Mike said, ‘Why, do you want to work here?’?”

The two Mikes hit it off. Barber canceled his plans to leave the country and study, took a post at the wine merchant and married Lorraine.

The San Jose native started in the warehouse and worked his way up to sales and then international trade, where he was sent to Italy and other countries to meet producers and conduct business. He forged connections closer to home as well, making friends in the East Bay and Sonoma County wine industries.

The Barbers continued living in San Francisco and commuting to jobs until they were able to scrape together enough to start their own wine business in 2007, working with two or three partners. The next few years were a struggle, Barber said.

“We almost gave it up in 2009; it was tough,” he said. “Then we took a leap and landed in Petaluma. We bought a house and living here reinvigorated my desire to make wine. So we quit our other jobs and went for it.”

The Barbers settled into Petaluma, learning about the town, its people, history and the growing number of local wine grape producers.

Studying with other winemakers proved inspirational for Barber, who said he learned certain techniques in his quest to make a leaner, brighter red. He was inspired by the sangiovese grape-styled wines of the Montalcino region of Tuscany, as well as by local wine producers such as George and Mick Unti of Healdsburg’s Unti Vineyards and Jerry Seps of Storybook Mountain Vineyards in Napa. He said he seeks to make a wine that’s “not over-oaked but a fruity, balanced style that goes great with food.”

Barber said he became aware that the Hotel Petaluma was undergoing a transformation, and the couple opened Barber Cellars on the bottom floor of the beautifully restored Hotel in October 2015 and have been hosting wine tastings ever since.

“We love the town and the historic downtown,” Barber said.

They have vintage game tables and offer local cheeses, charcuterie, movies and even game nights along with their own Petaluma Gap variety of wines.

“Getting our own business going has been great and since we took such a great chance, it’s been rewarding to see the tasting room become a success,” Barber said.

Years after his fateful stop into the wine shop, Barber says he’s happy with the path he pursued.

“I love adventure and I absolutely love what I do,” he said. “The art of wine - my style and seeing people enjoying themselves with things that I have made is really satisfying.”

(Contact Lynn Schnitzer at arguscourier.com)

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