Our Team

MEET THE TEAM BEHIND SAMSARA WINE CO.

JOAN AND DAVE SZKUTAK
Owners

Joan & Dave Szkutak fell in love with Santa Barbara Wine Country in part because it so closely resembles places they have felt deep, meaningful connections to when traveling abroad.

They love few things more than the experiences they’ve had in wine regions around the world, all because of a few common characteristics these places share: lovingly prepared foods, stunning wines made with traditional techniques, breathtaking beauty of the natural environment, and a real sense of community.

Under Joan & Dave’s stewardship, Samsara Wine Co aims to provide its guests, fans, followers and customers with the same type of rich, personal, multi-sensory experiences that they feel so lucky to have enjoyed during their travels.

Read more about Joan
Read more about Dave

MATT BRADY
Winemaker

Matt first fell in love with Santa Barbara wine country as a college student at the University of California Santa Barbara. During that time, He used available weekends to explore all that Santa Barbara County has to offer including, of course, wine tasting and wine education. In 2005, while completing his last courses at UCSB, Matt joined the team at Jaffurs Winery and worked his first harvest in their cellar. Matt climbed the ladder at Jaffurs, earning the role of Co-Winemaker in 2012, and was named Head Winemaker in 2015. Matt also took an opportunity to broaden his winemaking experience by working a harvest season at Two Hands Wines in the Barossa Valley of Australia.

Matt joined SAMsARA Wine Co and took over winemaking duties in 2016. His winemaking philosophy of minimum interference and maximum patience were a perfect match for SAMsARA’s award winning style. Matt especially loves spending time in the vineyards working with our farmers and vineyard managers to maximize the potential of our esteemed growing sites.

Outside of winemaking, Matt enjoys being outdoors, adventuring, and listening to a wide range of music, new and old. And tacos.

NEAL KENNEDY
Cellar Master

Neal fell in love with the world of wine as the son of a distributor. He grew up immersed in the wine culture, and was lucky enough to go on some trips to a couple different regions in the world at a young age. This inspired him to relocate from Indiana to places where vines were growing and wines were being made. Thus, after graduating from Indiana University in 2014 Neal moved out to the Napa Valley for his first gig on the production side of the wine industry. While working and living in Napa, he met a plethora of international “harvest interns” and decided he wanted to continue learning winemaking by traveling to other regions around the world just as they were. This lead to working 7 harvests in 5 countries around the world, before ending up in Santa Barbara and landing his first full time position at Samsara in 2019.

Neal is now the Cellar Master for Samsara, and loves being a part of the Santa Barbara County wine scene. Although the cellar is where he feels most at home, he also helps out pouring wine and educating guests in the tasting room.

Outside of work, Neal enjoys running, hanging at the beach, and exploring everything Santa Barbara County has to offer!

LILY HAYS
Director of Hospitality and Education

Lily Hays is the Director of Hospitality and Education for SAMsARA. She grew up in Santa Barbara and has always loved the wines of the area. As a kid, she would help Chris and Drake Whitcraft of Whitcraft Winery at harvest and fell in love with the honesty, camaraderie and passion of winemaking culture in this area.

After college, she moved to Lake Tahoe to ski for a winter and then stayed there for 9 years during which time she completed her Certified Sommelier certification and UC Davis Viticulture and Enology Extension Certificate, while working at the Lone Eagle Grille as a sommelier. Sommelier life made her realize how much she loves educating people about wines from around the world and continuing to learn with every new bottle opened.

Coming back to Santa Barbara in the fall every year around harvest kept her connected to her hometown roots and she is so thrilled to be back and working for a winery who’s mission and wines she truly believes in. Outside of the wine bubble, she loves waterskiing, mountain biking and most of all her dog, Brodie (who doesn’t?).

Read more about Lily

SARAH NEWELL
Director of Marketing

Sarah first fell in love with wine when she was completing her undergrad at UCSB and got a job waiting tables at a restaurant. The experience of wine elevating a dining experience made quite an impression on her, she still remembers the by the glass menu to this day.

Having been bitten by the winebug in college, she attended classes and wine education for many years (in fact, she took the Wine Class at the Culinary Academy at SBCC and met Matt at Jaffurs on a class field trip some 10 years earlier) joined wine clubs in the region, and spent a lot of time carousing in the Santa Ynez Valley. With a background in working with consumer goods she felt passionate about, including fashion and surfboard manufacturing, it was only a matter of time before she would come home to work in the wine industry.

One of her favorite things about wine is connecting around the table or across the tasting room bar and sharing it with others. The intersection of nature, chemistry, stylistic choices, and that little bit of magic that is inherent in thoughtful winemaking is hard not to get excited about. At SAMsARA, expanding guest’s wine horizons with a sense of joy and discovery along with sensory pleasure is an incredibly fun aspect of the job. Also, when it comes to wine and wine production, wether it be historically, culturally, or geographically, there is always more to learn.

DEVON DEFAZIO
Wine Club Manager

Devon fell in love with the wines of California’s Central Coast after moving here from Florida after college. He loved the natural beauty and temperate weather of the area and all the wonderful wine Santa Barbara County had to offer. He has worked in the wine industry since 2014.

At SAMsARA winery, Devon’s primary responsibility is managing the wine club, keeping track of all the member requests and making sure that everyone’s custom order gets fulfilled. As Wine Club Manager, his role involves a lot of back of the house operation, and his favorite part of the job is guiding wine tastings for guests.

Read more about Devon

CHRIS SKRABUT
Tasting Room Manager – Goleta

Chris is a seasoned hospitality professional who’s pandemic era reallocation from Los Angeles bought him back into the wine industry as our Tasting Room Manager in Goleta.

Originally from New Hampshire, Chris’ first wine industry experience took place at Matanzas Creek Winery in Sonoma County before a decade long stint in bar management at some of LA’s most in demand food and beverage hotspots.

Interestingly, Chris was a SAMsARA Wine club member for years before his resume ended up on Matt’s desk as he sought experience in wine production and cellar work.

With undeniable passion for both wine and hospitality, Chris is both an architect and skilled creator of “the SAMsARA experience”, our signature fun, friendly, educational on-site wine tasting experience.

Chris LOVES Pinot Noirs and the SAMsARA wines produced from Zotovich vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills, that so eloquently convey a sense of the place where the fruit is grown.

Chris is also an avid outdoorsman and extremely talented photographer, known for his sense of adventure.

JULIE MUNOZ
Hospitality Lead & Cellar Assistant

Julie is the Hospitality Lead and Cellar Assistant for SAMsARA. During her final year at UCSB, the wine industry piqued her interest and she decided to jump in as a tasting room associate in Santa Barbara’s funk zone. After catching the wine bug, she decided to explore the production side of the wine industry, and was offered a harvest intern position at SAMsARA.

Enthralled by the magic of production and her background in hospitality, she was thrilled to join the team full time at SAMsARA in December 2021 and have the opportunity to continue working in the cellar and be involved with administrative and hospitality projects as well.

One of her favorite things about the wine industry is how it intersects art and science in the most interesting way– it’s impossible to be bored and every question leads to 5 more. There’s something magical about finding a special bottle of wine made with intention and love and sharing it with the people in your life.

Outside of wine her interests include film photography and exploring Santa Barbara with her dog, Wesley!

PETER MCWILLIAMS
Tasting Room Associate

Peter had little experience with the world of wine as a fresh college graduate. Following his love for fermentation, Peter first began in the spirits industry as a distiller in 2016 while at UNC before moving to Santa Barbara in 2018. There, he was exposed to world class wine for the first time, so he set out to learn all he could about exceptional wine.

He began as a harvest intern at Rusack Vineyards in the Santa Ynez for the 2018 vintage before joining Samsara at the end of the year. Peter splits his time between the tasting room and the cellar, sharing the knowledge he’s gaining about winemaking with everyone who comes in for a taste. He particularly enjoys harvest time where he can bring visitors to experience firsthand the process of making wine.

As an avid lover of all things made with yeast, Peter spends his free time baking and talking about fermentables, hiking the beautiful Santa Barbara mountains, and playing board games with friends.

GRACE HOLTZCLAW
Tasting Room Associate

Grace is one of our tasting room associates who you will often see in our Goleta location. She is a UCSB student who grew up making wine with her father. What started as a passion project in her garage grew into a custom crush label that sourced Barbera and Sangiovese from Paso Robles. She fondly remembers riding home in the backseat between two bins of fruit, looking out at the grazing cattle in the hills above. For as far back as her memory goes, wine has always been a part of her identity. 

After she turned 21, she was eager to be a part of a community she could share her passion with and grow in her education. When she stumbled into SAMsARA last year on a tasting with her parents, she took one sip of the 2012 Larner Grenache and decided this was where she belonged. 

If you can’t find her in the tasting room, Grace is probably at a yoga class, visiting the beach with one of her many dog friends, or cooking up something good in the kitchen!

GEORGE STAIKOS
Director of Sales & Distributor Management

George’s wine journey began as a hospitality student and restaurant manager in Key Biscayne, Florida. Upon graduation from Florida International University, George developed award-winning wine programs for Four Seasons Hotels in Washington DC, New York City, and Santa Barbara. His passion for wine was ignited during his time in Santa Barbara in the mid-1990’s as the wine region began to gain acclaim and he would regular visit producers throughout the region. After earning his Sommelier certification, George settled in New Jersey to run the food and beverage operation and wine and special events programs at the only AAA Five Diamond Hotel in the Hilton Corporation, Hilton Short Hills. This era sparked George’s passion to dedicate his career to wine.

After George’s work for Four Seasons and Hilton, he has led distributed sales and marketing strategy for iconic California family owned wineries like Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Quintessa and Ramey Wine Cellars.

George also serves as Professor of Wine Education at Fairleigh Dickinson University and runs a renowned wine education and consulting company, “The Educated Grape”. Through his teaching at FDU and “The Educated Grape”, George inspires all levels of wine enthusiasts to gain greater enjoyment through wine education.

George resides on the East Coast in Erwinna, Pennsylvania with his wife Christi, with their 3 adult children and grandchild nearby.

BETHANIE BUTCHER & GUENTER MATTHEWS
Directors of Marketing and Analytics

Bethanie and Guenter’s love of wine began when they were living in Geneve, Switzerland, a mere few hours from some of the world’s best vineyards.  It’s there they began their formal education which culminated in them both Passing the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Diploma examination “With Merit.”  Today, Bethanie and Guenter run BG Wine Consulting, a strategy, marketing, and analytics firm that helps wineries uncover unique insights to grow their businesses.  They bring the latest in consumer research, behavioral sciences, and machine learning to help wineries make the most of their data and consumer interactions.  In their spare time, they are active in the food and wine scenes in Toronto and Cincinnati where they spend their time.