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Triathlete, Race Car Driver, Poker Player and Winemaker — Dusty Nabor’s Done It All, But Grapes Always Reigned Supreme

A Man With a Sense of Adventure Has Built a Life In Wine With a Trusted Partner

BY // 12.23.21

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

In Wine Talk, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who farm and make wine. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

Dusty Nabor’s journey into winemaking began with a carboy in his Ventura County, California, kitchen. A business associate with a passion for cult Napa wines had introduced Nabor to that rarified sector of the wine world, and he began frequenting events as a consumer. But this son of SoCal wanted to do more than drink wine. He wanted to make it as well.

“I got interested in wine right around when I became legal, back in the late 1990s, but I didn’t really learn much about it until around 2005 or so,” Nabor says, referring to that business associate’s influence on him. “I was always really drawn to the production personnel of the winery rather than the hospitality staff or ownership, and I wanted to know what they did. I wanted to make wine commercially.”

In 2014, Nabor made his way to a custom crush facility near his home, and laid the plans for his first vintage, two barrels of cabernet sauvignon harvested in 2015. “After a couple of years at the custom crush I decided to venture out on my own and opened my winery, 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 fruit from vineyards in Santa Barbara County, from the AVAs of Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon and Los Olivos District. (His production last year was around 1,500 cases, and he is anticipating 2,000 cases this year. The wines are sold mainly through the Dusty Nabor Wines mailing list — click here to add your name.)

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Nabor is a self-taught winemaker, though he is quick to credit a few mentors, including Matt Dees, Nile Zacherle and Paul Frankel. And he taught himself (an ongoing process, as always) while working at his family’s business, 101 Pipe & Casing. The company was founded by Nabor’s father Fidel and the winemaker is the firm’s executive vice president. He’s 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 as a triathlete (he and Langer still do), played competitive poker and golf, and. . . well, the point is that 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 life?

Dusty Nabor: COVID for us (Karin and me) has been extremely easy. It definitely was a tale of two pandemics. Those who were affected greatly and those who simply were not. For me personally, I didn’t know anyone whom I am close with that was affected adversely 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 set up in sort of an introverted way from the beginning. We do a lot of endurance sport training (triathlon, cycling, running and swimming) and those sports by their nature are very individual and solitary. We don’t need to be around large groups of people and usually are not.

Professionally, it was very similar. My day job was considered an essential business from the start of the pandemic, and the winery was as well. So income never stopped for us and the winery kept on going as usual. Also, the winery was started as if I knew the pandemic was coming.

We have no tasting room and the winery 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 continued doing what we were already doing. Don’t get me wrong, all of this was by sheer luck. I had no idea this would be the case setting up the winery years ago.

JB: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one? 

DN: Yeesh, this is a tough one for me. I’m terrible at food pairings. Three wines doing well right now. . .

Well, our 2019 Chardonnay from Spear Vineyards is really starting to hit its stride. It’s a Wente clone of chardonnay and just needed a little bit of bottle time to settle in. It suffered a little bit of bottle shock after we bottled it last year, and it’s regained it’s form nicely. I’d pair it with pretty much anything, but I’d really like to enjoy it with a pear salad with some candied walnuts.

Second wine would be our 2018 Bolt To Wines Syrah from Ballard Canyon. This is a serious dead ringer for a Côte-Rôtie Syrah. It has all the hallmarks that we strive for in syrah. . . bloody meat, iodine, some forest mustiness, a little cigar box and beautiful blue and black fruit. I’d drink this wine with anything savory.

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

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

JB: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why? 

DN: I’d like to experience DRC. I don’t have the financial ability or enough friends who do to have been able to try it. I would like to because pinot noir is a joy of mine to make and I don’t feel like I’ve really experienced it without having some of the inaccessible grand crus of burgundy.

JB: What is your favorite grape variety, and why?

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

JB: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day? Can be one of your wines, but need not be. 

DN: Our 2019 Pinot Noir from Spear Vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills, which was done 100 percent whole cluster. I’m dying to fast-forward into the future and try this wine 10 years down the road. It has all the structure of a brilliant wine to cellar. It has so much nerve and tension in such a great way. Once it starts to relax and unwind, I think it will be a very 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 go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle (outside of your home and workplace)?

DN: Our local spot Boar Dough Tasting Room is our Cheers. Always great wines and fun people.

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

DN: If it’s an honest wine, made by a small producer, just keep in mind how much love, care and heartache went into that wine. Wine is a living thing and it goes through phases like any living thing. And they ain’t all great phases.

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

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

JB: What has been the strangest moment or incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career thus far?

DN: Experiencing bottle shock of our first vintage, a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. A week after it was bottled it was absolutely terrible. I thought I totally messed everything up and it made me really 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 wine reference in a work of literature?

DN: I’m a sucker for Sideways. I’m a SoCal kid, and that entire movie took place in my backyard and in the region I now work. I still think it’s a fantastic movie.

For more wine, travel and other stories from James Brock, check out Mise en Place.

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