Triathlete, Race Car Driver, Poker Player and Winemaker – Dusty Nabor has done it all, but the grapes have always reigned supreme

I like to talk about wine with people who share my passion. We open bottles, we swap stories of travel and types of soil, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk about taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines, we drink and we learn a lot.

In Wine conference, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances and people I meet while traveling the world, people who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who grow and make wine. You will appreciate their insight and I hope you will learn something from them as well.

DUsty Nabor’s journey into winemaking began with a carboy in his kitchen in Ventura County, Calif. A business associate passionate about cult Napa wines had introduced Nabor to this rarefied sector of the wine world, and he began attending events as a consumer. But this son of SoCal wanted to do more than drink wine. He also wanted to do it.

“I got interested in wine as soon as I became legal in the late 1990s, but I didn’t really learn much about it until around 2005,” says Nabor, referring to the influence of that partner over him. “I have always been very drawn to the production staff at the winery rather than the front desk staff or the property, and wanted to know what they were doing. I wanted to make wine commercially.

In 2014, Nabor visited a bespoke fulling facility near his home and drew up plans for his first vintage, two barrels of cabernet sauvignon harvested in 2015, mine and opened my cellar, in Camarillo, in time for the 2020 vintage, ”he says. Dusty Nabor Wines was born.

Nabor’s stated focus is on Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and he and his partner Karin Langer source their fruit from vineyards in Santa Barbara County, from of the AVA of Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon and Los Olivos District. (His production last year was around 1,500 cases, and he expects 2,000 cases this year. Wines are sold primarily through the Dusty Nabor Wines mailing list – click here to add your name.)

Nabor is a self-taught winemaker, although he hastens to cite a few mentors, including Matt Dees, Nile Zacherle and Paul Frankel. And he learned on his own (an ongoing process, as always) while working in the family business, 101 Pipe & Casing. The company was founded by Nabor’s father, Fidel, and the winemaker is the company’s executive vice president. He has worked there for 28 years.

In addition to Dusty Nabor Wines, he and Langer are behind Bolt to Wines and NSO Wines.

Another thing to know about Nabor is that he has raced cars, competed in triathletes (he and Langer still do), played poker and golf competitively, and. . . well, the point is, he loves adventure and accomplishment.

Let’s see what Nabor has to say in Wine talk.

James Brock: How has COVID-19 changed your work and your life?

Dusty Nabor: COVID for us (Karin and I) was extremely easy. It was definitely the story of two pandemics. Those who have been greatly affected and those who simply have not. For me personally, I did not know anyone I am close to who was affected by the virus. We were also able to get vaccinated very early on due to our affiliation with the food and service industry.

Our lives have been introverted from the start. We practice endurance sports a lot (triathlon, cycling, running and swimming) and these sports by nature are very individual and solitary. We don’t need to be surrounded by large groups of people, and we usually aren’t.

Professionally it was very similar. My day job was seen as essential business from the start of the pandemic, and so was the cellar. So the income never stopped for us and the winery continued as usual. Plus, the cellar started up as if I knew the pandemic was coming.

We do not have a tasting room and the cellar is not open to the public. All of our sales channels were done online or remotely. While others had to pivot to meet the demands of the pandemic, we just kept doing what we were already doing. Make no mistake, it was all out of luck. I had no idea this would be the case when I created the winery years ago.

JB: Tell us about three wines that you think you’re drinking right now. What makes them interesting? How about a food pairing for everyone?

DN: Yeesh, this is difficult for me. I suck at food pairings. Three wines that are doing well at the moment. . .

Well, our 2019 Spear Vineyards Chardonnay is really starting to catch on. This is a Wente Chardonnay clone and it just needed a bit of bottling time to set in. It suffered a little bit of shock in the bottle after bottling last year, and it’s come back to shape well. I would pair it with just about anything, but I would really like to enjoy it with a pear salad with candied walnuts.

The second wine would be our 2018 Ballard Canyon Syrah Bolt To Wines. This is a serious bell for a Côte-Rôtie Syrah. It has all the characteristics we look for in Syrah. . . bloody meat, iodine, a little forest mold, a little cigar box and beautiful blue and black fruits. I would drink this wine with anything salty.

The third would be the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Jaimee Motley 2017 from Peter Martin Ray Vineyard. What a wine. Just a magnificent example of what Cabernet Sauvignon can be without any oak extraction or heavy mass. Just flowers, tea and fresh berries. . . just lovely. I had this wine and paired it with light pasta with red sauce and “Beyond” meat sausage.

This Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with red sauce and pasta, according to Dusty Nabor.

JB: If the cost was not factored in, tell us which bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why?

DN: I would like to discover the DRC. I don’t have the financial capacity or enough friends who have to have been able to try it. I would like it because Pinot Noir is a joy for me to make and I don’t feel like I really lived it without having some of the inaccessible Grands Crus of Burgundy.

JB: What is your favorite grape and why?

DN: Syrah. Always the syrah. I love Syrah because of all the magical expressions it has. I will die trying to create the perfect Syrah. . . I am far, very far away.

JB: How about a bottle that our readers should buy now to keep for 10 years in the cellar, to celebrate a birth, a birthday or another milestone? Can be one of your wines, but not necessarily.

DN: Our 2019 Pinot Noir from Spear Vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills, which was done 100% whole bunch. I’m dying to move quickly into the future and try this wine in 10 years. It has all the structure of a brilliant wine to keep in the cellar. He’s got so much nerve and tension in such a big way. Once it starts to relax I think it will be a really good wine.

Dusty Nabor and Karin Langer are partners in life, endurance athletics and wine.
Dusty Nabor and Karin Langer are partners in life, endurance athletics and wine.

JB: Where is your favorite place when you want to have a drink or a bottle (outside of your home and your workplace)?

DN: Our local wild boar paste tasting room is our Cheers. Always good wines and fun people.

JB: If there was one thing you would like everyone to keep in mind when buying and consuming wine, what is it?

DN: If this is an honest wine, made by a small producer, keep in mind how much love, care and heartache has gone into this wine. Wine is a living being and it goes through phases like any living being. And these are not all big phases.

JB: What is your “eureka wine moment”, the incident / taste / encounter that put you and you on an intimate level forever?

DN: A 2007 Hundred Acre Kayli Morgan Vineyard, which I opened on Karin’s birthday six or seven years ago. My tastes have changed since then, but I had no idea wine could taste like this.

JB: What has been the strangest wine-related moment or incident you’ve experienced in your career so far?

DN: Experiencing the shock of the bottle of our first vintage, a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. A week after bottling, it was absolutely terrible. I thought I had totally ruined everything and it really made me doubt myself. A year later the wine was very good. So now we wait 18 months in bottle before releasing our flagship cabernet.

JB: Your favorite oenological reference in a literary work?

DN: I’m a sucker for Next to. I’m a SoCal kid and this whole movie took place in my backyard and in the area where I work now. I still think it’s a fantastic movie.

For more wines, travels, and other James Brock stories, check out Getting Started.

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