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.
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 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 Assistant Winemaker 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 is the Direct to Consumer Business Manager 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?).
Chris is a seasoned hospitality professional whose pandemic era reallocation from Los Angeles brought 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, and educational on-site wine tasting experience.
Chris LOVES Pinot Noirs and the SAMsARA wines produced from Zotovich Vineyard in the 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.
After achieving a degree in Philosophy from the University of Massachusetts, Jesse went on to
pursue his only logical career path, delving head on into the world of wine!
“Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was every granted by the gods to man” – Plato.
He has held management positions in all three tiers (retail, wholesale distribution, and production) of the beverage industry, even co-owning a distribution company for nearly a decade in New England focused on family-owned vineyards practicing sustainable agriculture.
In 2021, Jesse moved to Solvang, CA with his family and dog after selling the business in 2019. They were drawn by the dynamic growing conditions and stunning natural beauty of the Santa Ynez valley.
Jesse has an Italian Wine Specialist (IWS) designation from the North American Sommelier Association, and an Advanced Level certification from Wine & Spirits Education Trust. In his spare time, Jesse enjoys gardening, hiking, reading (history) and writing (fiction and poetry), and playing guitar & ukulele.
Stephanie’s first experience with SAMsARA as a club member opened her eyes to the vast world of wine in Santa Barbara. Stephanie has enjoyed her time on the other side of the bar learning about our region and the winemaking process and getting to know our awesome community of fellow wine lovers.
With her shift into the role of Wine Club Manager, she is devoted to making sure all of our members enjoy everything SAMsARA has to offer.
In her free time, Stephanie enjoys playing music – she has recently taken up playing the drums – and ocean swimming, with her next goal of racing the mile at Reef and Run.
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!
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.