EB Winery: From Backyard Hobby to Boutique Brand

I saw the brochure before I sipped the wine. It was a thin and narrow thing, glossy, with a dark, black background and it sat inconspicuously on the edge of the EB Winery booth at the California Wine Festival in Dana Point, CA. A few words, printed with clean font along the bottom-left corner, read: “Follow our dream at ebwinery.com.”

Maybe it was the wide-eyed optimist in me but I really, really wanted to, and so with my empty festival wine glass outstretched, inquired about the Chardonnay. Moments later, I found the good stuff twinkling golden and sunlit inside my glass. Now I was ready to find out what those EB Winery dreams were made of … or at the very least, how they tasted.

The answer: Absolutely delicious (with a warm, buttery flavor and crisp finish).

I soon after connected with EB’s winemaker, Ed Szubielski, an aficionado of the finest sort who began collecting wines in the 1980s then decided to grow his own grapes out of what became affectionately known as “Eddie’s Backyard.” After making several wines in his garage, Ed finally launched EB Winery and coaxed it into the boutique brand it is today. Of course, questions for the practiced and sagacious winemaker fermented in my head like a grape off the vine and here today I share with you what Ed told me about his wines.

MELISSA: You have a pretty unique story about how EB Winery came about. Take us to the beginning …

ED: In 2002, we planted 25 Cab vines in my backyard in Laguna Niguel and it grew from there. In 2004, we made wine in our garage and frankly, it was bad. After that we sourced our fruit, got our license. This will be our fourth harvest in 2017. Before then we were making about 150 cases out of our home but had reached the legal limit. We made about 60 different wines as an amateur and now make about 18 wines available.

Woah, 180! How did you get your start in winemaking?

I’m self taught. I joined the Orange County Wine Society, took part in mentoring programs and learned online. Now we make our wines in North San Diego County at a place called Solterra. I have an alternate proprietorship; I produce everything there, bottle it under our brand and sell it either through our website or in our retail store in San Juan Capistrano. It’s also available at a few restaurants and country clubs. [A lot of our wine sales] are through friendships and relationships.

Winemaker Ed Szubielski sits with boxes of his EB Winery 2013 Cab Sauv.

Let’s talk a little more about your retail store, We Olive & Wine Bar in San Juan Capistrano …

It’s part of the We Olive franchise, which currently has 18 locations. We sell four California extra virgin olive oils certified by the California Olive Oil Council and a number that start with extra virgin and are then infused with ingredients like garlic or basil. We also sell specialty food items like jellies, sauces and balsamic vinegars. 

And what about the wines?

We have 50 wines by the glass; eight of our wines available there and the rest are from small boutique wineries.

Is that a big part of your philosophy? Little wines, big taste?

Well, I don’t want to compete with Total Wine or Costco. For example, another guy who poured at the California Wines Festival—Barlow Vineyards—is a good friend, I’ve known him for years. We keep it in the family. If you look at our wine list at We Olive, the production on those wines is very small; most of them are in the hundreds of cases per year. It’s a unique experience.

Speaking of production, what do you expect to produce at EB Winery this year? 

We’ll probably make about 1,500 cases this year. We had an opportunity to land some Pinot grapes from Oregon, came across some tannat grapes out of Lodi, California, which is an unusual grape and we made some port out of those. We just got lucky. We source all our grapes from small vineyards.

So, you’re sourcing these grapes from different regions. What’s the turnaround from vine to winery?

If the fruit gets picked this morning in Santa Barbara, we’ll have it by tonight. If it’s from Pine Mountain—north of Alexander Valley—and we’re talking about Cabernet grapes that are picked Tuesday, then we’ll have them by Thursday. The grapes we buy are put on a 40-foot refrigerated truck—the temperature in there is cranked down to 40 degrees or 42 degrees—and the owner/operator is a guy we’ve been using for years.

Like you said, keeping it in the family! And what’s your role in the whole winemaking process?

I supervise all winemaking. I make all the game-time decisions—when to pull the grapes, when to throw in more enzymes to get more skin extraction. I also pick the barrels, the yeast strain and all that. When we fermented our 2014 Syrah, we used 70% new oak. We’re known for our Syrah. Some grapes have some pretty unique characteristics. An example is Zin; you don’t want to over-oak a Zin to mask those unique characteristics of the fruit. You don’t want a vanilla Zin.

From checking the grapes to extracting the skins to tasting with friends, Ed Szubielski, EB Winery’s winemaker, does it all.

How did you learn so much about wine?

When I started, I was very involved in the Orange County Wine Society. The group has about 950 to 1,000 members out of Costa Mesa and they have some of the biggest commercial competitions in California. We entered six wines in last year’s competition and were fortunate enough to receive a gold, a silver and a couple bronzes. I was very happy about that.

Awesome! Congrats! Last question: Where can someone who is right now reading about this award-winning wine pick up a bottle?

On our website, although we can’t ship to every state. You can pick up a bottle of our wine either through our website or at We Olive. We’d love to see you there! 

Melissa Kandel is a Southern California-based writer and the founder/author of little word studio. Follow her on Instagram here.