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Wine Country Wanderings
updated: Jul 20, 2013, 2:00 PM

By Billy Goodnick

I was on my way back from a San Francisco speaking gig earlier this year and stopped to stretch my tush in Los Olivos. Not being a wine guy, I don't spend much time in Santa Barbara County's legendary wine country. But I'm always sniffing the bushes for cool stuff to write about.

Turning off the main drag onto a side street, I parked under a massive oak tree, locked the car, and was quickly entranced by the mellow, meditative tones of massive wind chimes hanging from an equally massive valley oak. As luck would have it, I was at the gates of J. Woeste of Los Olivos (2356 Alamo Pinto Ave.), a creatively curated collection of home and garden treasures, peppered with delightful container arrangements, fountains, obelisks, and countless other delights.

Founded in April 1998 in a restored 19th century cottage, they occupy a corner lot one block west of the Grand Avenue wine tasting corridor. J. Woeste's is a smile-inducing excursion that inspires writerly adjectives like elegant, playful, artistic, whimsical, quizzical, charming, frolicking, magical, tasteful, sincere, animated, childlike, irreverent and quaint. (I could go on, but Biff the Wonder Spaniel needs my thesaurus). I was going to include that Yiddishly mispronouncable noun, "tchotchke" but that's not quite correct, since Wikipedia defines it as implying "worthlessness or disposability as well as tackiness." Nothing could be less apt.

I'm not usually a knick-knack kinda guy, but Jefferson Woeste and his team have a wonderful talent for finding garden pieces that put a big ole smile on anyone's face. My favorite bit of eye candy was a cartoony metal sculpture of what I believe is Don Quixote galloping off to battle. Lots of the offerings that decorate dozens of displays and benches exude a similarly playful, cartoon-like vibe.

Even Jefferson's dogs, Lady and Lucy, who pretty much have the run of the place, are just the perfect scale.

No garden shop should be without gazing globes, but Woeste's are not your typical baubles. The selection of these beautifully conceived and artfully crafted orbs set them apart from most I've seen.

It's not just the merchandise, but also the clever displays that invite visitors to drift somnambulistically through the aisles. Tucked in a corner around the back of the store was this striking combo featuring an arrangement of ceramic calla lilies, living succulents and what I'm guessing are a pair of wizards' bocci balls.

These delightful ceramic flowers are either the work of a highly skilled second-grader, or an artist who's still deeply in touch with her inner child. Granted, they're not botanically accurate, but the vibrant blooms will animate your garden year round when all your other posies have moved on to the Big Mulch Pile in the Sky.

There's nothing timid about Woeste's commitment to color. On the side of a wood shed is a fun array of rustic bird houses. I'm no expert on avian rental pricing, but one of these compact cuties should easily command $2000 a month in Santa Barbara's rental market - more, if it's in a good school district.

If you've run out of space on the fridge to espouse your life philosophy, Woeste's will help you display your world view for all to see on your fence or over your doorway. On our last visit, Lin and I came home with "Love My Dog", which now shares the garage wall with my collection of repurposed Crocs hanging planters.

In an earlier life, Jefferson was an accounting major at Cal Poly SLO and fell into a job doing books for a lawn care company, which opened the door to a life of horticulture and nurseries. Even though Woeste's is now on the must-see list for garden loving Valley visitors, he started his business catering to locals and their need for tough, heat-tolerant plants that thrive in inland gardens. Over time, his core clients brought out-of-town guests to show off their cool "secret find" and word spread. Asked about his own garden, Jefferson describes it as "Very German, like my roots - clean and structured." Sort of like the miniature hut surrounded by tightly packed sempervivum, sedum and other diminutive succulents.

Speaking of which, they stock a fabulously diverse palette of small succulents in very affordable 4-inch pots, great for tucking into rock crevices, creating your own miniature landscapes or easy-care patio table center pieces. Need a container to plant them in? They've got that, too, glazed or unglazed, short and fat or tall and graceful.

Although I trained my camera primarily at the outdoor offerings, on display inside the house is another reflection of Woeste's tastefully funky style. Books, sculpture, candles and candleholders, glassware, vases, lamps… you get the idea. And tucked away in another small room is a tasting bar for William James Cellars, an exceptional wine reflecting the best of the Santa Barbara County's traditions. The lovely Robin Bogue, who runs the winery with her dad Bill, was taking a break from her other duties to pour samples for eager visitors.

So my advice for you is next time you're in Los Olivos, give your palate a rest and build an extra hour into your itinerary. And as you pack those cases of Santa Barbara's nectar of the gods into your car, leave room for a few garden treats.


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