by JEFF WING
An ancient Persian fable explains the genesis of wine. A young woman is jilted by her lover (who happens to be the king; awkward!), and so decides to do away with herself. She spies a bowl of rotted grapes. Guessing at its probable toxicity she ingests the liquefying mash and soon passes away; or as we say nowadays, passes out. When she awakes she finds her problems have dissipated. We can only imagine the brilliance of the light bulb that must’ve gone off over her mildly aching head.
Fast-forward a couple millennia. The intervening centuries have given us approximately two kinds of wine appreciator, those who tipple Boone’s Farm from chipped jelly jars, and the other ones. Mr. Picky is one of the other ones. Emphatically. “We’re up here!” Mr. Picky calls out cheerily from his second-story balcony as we approach, he and the statuesque Ms. Picky hoisting their omnipresent stemware in greeting.
Santa Barbara locals Mr. and Ms. Picky (SPOILER ALERT: their secret identities are David and Patti Mallen) are devoted wine hobbyists, epicureans, and raconteurs. The one polysyllable they cannot embrace is “oenophile.” You will never find Mr. Picky spewing a yapful of fine wine into a decorative spittoon, for instance. The good stuff hits his discriminating palate and continues south.
“I can’t quite get used to the spitting thing,” he confesses. “I understand it, but it’s a little odd.”
He has, however, devised a tool that no self-respecting wine-spewer should evermore be without. Mr. Picky’s Santa Barbara Wine Tasting iPhone app is just the pocket-sized divining rod for which local followers of the grape have been praying to Bacchus.
Want to know your way intimately around the region’s picturesque, crazy-quilt wine country, llamas, emus and all? You can scroll with forefinger through Mr. Picky’s alphabetically arranged and footnote-heavy winery list. Or if you prefer, several satellites in low earth orbit can put their heads together, find you in the S.B. back country, and point you to the nearest grape-juice stand. Mr. Picky knows where you are, even if you don’t. It’s that easy. The many wineries and eccentric little vine-covered pit stops that dot our beloved home county wine region now fit into your pocket. Click on the desired winery and up pops a Google map. From the regionally iconic to the mildly ironic; from the sometimes corrugated-tin urban wine trail to the highbrow and horsey Santa Ynez Valley and back again, all the wineries and stops along the way can be found in this embraceable invention. The app is being continually updated and renewed, like the S.B. wine country itself. Mr. and Ms. Picky see to it; your standard labor of love. Mr. Picky also has created wine-tasting apps for Paso Robles,, and Temecula. He’s currently working on an app for an unsung little wine region called the Napa Valley.
“It’s a lot of work, but we love it,” Mr. Picky understates in typical fashion. One supposes it’s the sort of work that is approached with a certain joie de vivre. This post-modern treasure map is packaged in a graphically delightful interface that charms even as it edifies. Downloadable through iTunes for less than a dollar (a penny less, to be exact), the Mr. Picky app has quickly endeared itself to the town-and-country set both here and abroad. Word is spreading like a Communion stain on your Sunday best.
“People are visiting the blog, and there are more hits every week,” Mallen exults. “Some weeks there are spikes. Word is getting out.” The blog is indeed a one-stop portal for many things wine, featuring such reading rooms as Picky’s Raves, Picky’s Pet Peeves, Picky’s Favorite Wineries and Restaurants, and so on. It is just the sort of cozy and entertaining online grotto best enjoyed while savoring a glass of you-know-what. To our common good fortune, Mr. Picky, despite his nom de plume, is One of Us. His blog and its genial, humorous layout speak to that. There is no snobbery here, only a bemused and informed love of food and drink. The ceaseless march of visitors to mr-picky.com says all that need be said on that subject. For both the blog and the app, Mallen is following an organic promotional model, and one that might be favorably compared to the grapevine chatter that is often the most effective way to launch a good vintage. Mr.Picky doesn’t feel the need to shout from the rooftops. Appreciative fans are spreading the news.
“Traditional advertising is old school,” Mallen says dismissively, between sips. “Social networking is it. An online mention or a word passed between friends is forever. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.” As Mallen suggests, folks are indeed discovering the Mr. Picky app and crowing helpfully about how great it is.
Today Mr. Picky is rubbing shoulders and touting the app to local wine giant Doug Margerum, of the storied and many-splendored Wine Cask. Befitting his exalted station in the regional wine-making firmament, Margerum greets us dressed to the nines in a notably un-ironed checked shirt and blue jeans, reflecting the cuff-link-free ethos of the recently resurrected Wine Cask.
“I can’t hear so well!” Margerum hollers good-naturedly, hand extended. “Staples Center last night! Fourth row center! Saw The Muse!” Whether he’s referring to a nocturnal visit from a fluttering wine-whisperer or a rock band will soon become clear. Ms. Picky, the entrepreneurial engine that drives the Mr. Picky enterprise, discreetly places a small easel with colorful Mr. Picky business cards on the countertop. The hope is that Wine Cask patrons will pick up on Mr. Picky and join the growing throng who have already downloaded the app and meandered over to the blog and its many offerings.
Margerum expresses his appreciation for all that the Pickys are doing to promote and fun-up the regional wine scene, some of which, incidentally, sprang from Margerum’s figurative loins. Meanwhile, wine director Aaron Watty, introduced by Margerum as the Wine Cask’s “guy in charge of all things liquid” fairly bounds around the room, trading bons mots with Margerum, jabbering excitedly about his latest fruit-laden cocktail fusion, slowing down just long enough to genteelly refill my water glass every few minutes, and generally exuding happy wit and sybaritic expertise like nobody’s business.
The glib, easy repartee between Margerum and Watty is itself worth the visit. A number of spectacularly yummy wines are poured for tasting, all products of the Margerum Wine Company; Chukker (fun, fruity, young, dashing), Washington State’s Klickitat Pinot Gris (zesty and refreshing), and so on. All the while Margerum holds forth on his various wine experiences in the Olde Country (“Champagne from a barrel! Incomparable!”), his wine holdings in Washington state, the new Wine Cask dinner model (unbuttoned, approachable yet masterly, easy on the purse strings), and last night’s concert. Watty puts the disc on.
“This is The Muse!” Margerum shouts through his still-ringing ears. He and Watty bob their heads in time. This polite head-banging says much that need be said about the Wine Cask’s new spirit.
The Mr. Picky iPhone app was born, like most strokes of genius, of necessity. The Mallens had been out and about one day, touring their beloved local wine region and partaking of sun and vine, the only sour grapes that afternoon being the largish, floppy wine country map they continued to wrestle with, and which resolutely would not refold.
“Is there another way?” they wondered aloud, possibly in unison. As they’d been toying with their recently purchased iPhones and marveling at all the functionality, as well as the iPhone’s open-source approach to iPhone app development, a light came on in the wine cellar. They soon hit upon the idea of a dynamic, searchable winery-guide app for the iPhone. In short order they teamed with a Canadian developer and Pennsylvanian artist to help cobble the app together, and the rest is history in the making. Every experience listed on the app has been vetted by the Mallens. They know of what they speak. The app includes all known wineries in the region, and a few lesser-known stops. Recently Mr. Picky allied with DiningSantaBarbara.com. The Mr. Picky logo is in use there, indicating which restaurants have met Mr. Picky’s approval. Food and drink, you see.
Back at the Wine Cask, Ms. Picky is tossing her head back and laughing in the combined ambiance of autumn sunlight and a glass of Margerum’s smoky red blend M5. Mr. Picky regards me over the top of his glass, eyebrow arched in an unmistakable expression of “How great is this place?’ Margerum purses his lips, dutifully leans forward and dribbles another of his celebrated wines into a lovely maroon bucket. Mr. and Ms. Picky swish and swallow.