Sparks’s Independent Wine Label, Kings Carey, Celebrates Ten Vintages in 2024, Finds First Proprietary “Home” in Santa Ynez Valley’s Danish-Settled Village of Solvang
November 29, 2023 – Solvang, CA – Santa Barbara County winemaker, James Sparks, has opened the doors to his new small-production winery and tasting space for nearly-ten-year-old wine label, Kings Carey (www.KingsCarey.com), in the Danish-rooted Santa Ynez Valley wine country town of Solvang, along the California Central Coast. The industrial winery space, the first of its kind to open in recent years just steps from Solvang’s village center, houses portions of Sparks’s Kings Cary wine production and is open to wine tastings by appointment.
Kings Carey entails boutique, small-production wines crafted by Sparks, who prefers to “keep it simple” with single varietal and single vineyard bottlings and minimal manipulation. Varying from Liquid Farm, the label for which Sparks has been winemaker since 2013, the Kings Carey wines mantra of “single/single” contrasts the Liquid Farm wine program, where many of the bottlings are blends of multiple vineyards.
Originally a Grenache-focused project, Kings Carey officially launched as a brand in 2016 with the release of its first three wines: the 2014 Grenache (John Sebastiano Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley AVA); a 2015 Grenache (John Sebastiano Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills AVA); and a 2016 Rosé of Grenache from then-new Santa Ynez Valley AVA vineyard, Brick Barn, in Buellton.
At the release of his first three wines, Sparks was quoted as saying, “I’m trying to produce ‘untypical’ wines of typicity. It’s not that this region can’t produce these types of wines; it’s just that you don’t see it very often. These are not fruit bombs. These are clean expressions of the fruit at-hand.”
Kings Carey started with production of approximately 75 cases and has grown to between 900-1,200 cases produced per year. The brand’s varietal line-up has also expanded, over the years including Sémillon, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc, and two different Chardonnay bottlings, and is currently in the process of releasing a sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir, the first release of Sparks’s sparkling program. The sparkling program will also include a blanc de noirs, and Kings Carey will release a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Sauvignon Blanc in 2024.
Sparks started life as a Mormon. In 2009, having already left the religion, his brother-in-law brought him to the Santa Ynez Valley, a move which would kick-start Sparks’s career path in wine. Originally assistant winemaker for Santa Barbara County label, Dragonette Cellars, Sparks left Dragonette to join Liquid Farm as the boutique label’s very first, dedicated winemaker. He transitioned over to Liquid Farm at the start of harvest 2013 and continues to make Liquid Farm’s variety of wines (now five-plus Chardonnays, Rosé of Mourvèdre, and four to five Pinot Noirs) in addition to his Kings Carey wines. Liquid Farm is an established wine label focused mainly on Sta. Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Mourvèdre-based Rosé, all produced with the mission of achieving an Old World style.
Sparks’s wine world press nods for Kings Carey include a handful of mentions in, or on, Food & Wine Magazine (print and/or digital); consistent red wine scores between 92-94 points in Wine Enthusiast ratings; and a recent Decanter taster musing about the 2021 Kings Carey Syrah (95 points), “Medium-bodied with racy acidity, it is a dark horse of a wine lifted by freshness and easily a Northern Rhône lookalike.” Sparks is also often quoted on topics related to eco-conscious winemaking practices, such as comments provided for a recent Modern Farmer article about eco-friendly drinks choices.
One of Sparks’s main winemaking tenets is in the use of organically grown and organically farmed grapes. As part of this, one of the vineyards from which Sparks sources for multiple bottlings, has for the past eight years been CCOF certified organic Spear Vineyards, located in the lauded Sta. Rita Hills AVA, known best for its award-winning Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs but also for Grenache, as picked for Kings Carey wines.
A dabbler in multiple things “fermented,” Sparks also once owned a cottage industry bakery business, “Another Bread Company.” Combining his interests in both food and wine, Sparks chose Philadelphia-based illustrator and artist, Hawk Krall, to “depict” the Kings Carey brand on the bottle labels. Krall is well known for his food illustration and murals, as well as his humorous editorial illustration, gallery showings and installations (Art in the Age; Space 1026; Mural Arts Philadelphia; Arts & Crafts Holdings).
Krall’s work has appeared on the streets, in massive murals; in the homes and businesses of private clients; and at many a restaurant, food shop or beverage business in the form of custom work for posters, menus, packaging and the like (1732 Meats; DBGB Kitchen and Bar; Pizza Brain; Tröegs Independent Brewing; Two Roads Brewing Company; Kings Carey Wines). His art has also appeared in outlets such as L.A. Taco; Lucky Peach; Serious Eats; Philadelphia Weekly; Philadelphia Magazine; Baltimore City Paper; Cincinnati Magazine; Las Vegas Weekly; Narratively; Next American City; NY Press; Rachael Ray Every Day; Variety; Restaurant Business; The Village Voice; and Willamette Week.
SAVEUR Magazine also counted Krall as one of its contributors. He penned and illustrated a recurring series of pieces in the publication, “Hawk’s Illustrated America,” which “follows his journeys through the back roads of the U.S. in search of our country’s most obscure and delicious regional specialties.”
Kings Carey wines are available for purchase via the company’s website and in select wine and retail stores, wine bars, and restaurants. A listing of where Kings Carey may be found is available on the label’s website.
Wine tastings at the Kings Carey winery and tasting space in Solvang, California, are by appointment only. Reservations may be made by emailing James@KingsCarey.com. Currently, the winery runs two different tastings comprising either four or six wines per tasting, the latter including Kings Carey’s sparkling wine(s).
For more information about Kings Carey, including how to join the label’s mailing list and Wine Club, visit: www.KingsCarey.com. Kings Carey – and James Sparks – are on Facebook and Instagram at facebook.com/KingsCarey, @KingsCareyWines, and @JamesSparksWine.