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Laguna Beach


Local team brings the Bianchi Winery vision to unique North Laguna building

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

The recently opened Bianchi Winery and Tasting Room is the stunning result of what happens when talented and creative people collaborate – all with a singular vision in mind.

In 2017, when the historic building on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Myrtle Street went on the market for the first time in 20 years, Laguna resident and General Partner of Bianchi Winery, Beau Bianchi, already had a concept for his winery and tasting room. 

Raised in Laguna, Beau’s family moved here when he was 6 years old, so he’s familiar with every nook and cranny of the town. “I grew up driving by this property,” said Beau. “For a couple of years, I’d been looking around for a space – not necessarily in Laguna – but it had to be one with the feasibility for creating what we wanted. This building had been vacant for a while.”

History

A third generation family business, Bianchi Winery was started by Beau’s grandfather Joseph Bianchi. Beau, along with his father Glenn, who is managing general partner, carries on the 47-year tradition. 

The family’s long history began with Joseph Bianchi’s first foray into California winemaking in 1974 with an investment in a winery and vineyard on the banks of the San Joaquin River in the Central Valley of California. There the Bianchi Winery quickly grew to become an industry leader, producing award-winning wines using the most advanced farming and production technologies. 

local team Glenn and Beau

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(L-R) Glenn and Beau Bianchi

Glenn worked to continue building upon his father’s legacy with his own lifelong ambition of producing ultra-premium wines, searching throughout California to find the finest terroir to meet his high expectations and requirements. 

“In 2000, when we were looking around for property in Napa (and a few other places), I told the Realtor to show me all the listings,” Glenn said. “We found the 40 acres in Paso Robles. I had already visualized it, and then I needed to find a winemaker. You have to have great grapes.” 

According to www.EnoBytes.com, Bianchi Winemaker Chris Stanton embraces a hands-off winemaking style; with little human intervention, he allows Mother Nature to showcase what the region has to offer.

Now, Beau has brought the Bianchi tradition to Laguna in a captivating space to be enjoyed by wine lovers from far and near.

“It’s been a long project,” Glenn said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Looking to the future, he added, “We have three varietals now and when we replant 15 of the 40 acres, we’ll have five to six varietals.” 

The vision 

Built in 1926, the corner space at 496 North Coast Highway was a rare combination of residential (in the rear) and retail components housed at various times: an MG dealership in which there was a ramp leading into the building for cars to be driven in, a photography studio, a kitchen design store and an insurance company – among others. At the time of sale, it was described as an iconic mixed-use Laguna Beach trophy property. 

local team exterior

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Bianchi Winery & Tasting Room is located at 496 N. Coast Highway. The landscaping was done by James Dockstader Landscaping.

Beau had a clear idea of what he wanted, but he needed to enlist a team of brilliant and experienced people to bring his vision to fruition. And he found them right here in Laguna.

Thus entered a series of well-known local experts in their fields – Architect Todd Skenderian; Al Olignio and Michael Laux of Oligino Laux Construction; Lisa McDennon, owner of Lisa McDennon Design and Nuance Home Store; and Landscaper James Dockstader – each one passionate about bringing the dream to life.

In 2018, the designing process began. 

“I knew the Skenderian name and stellar reputation,” said Beau. “Initially, Todd and I met several times with the city to make sure what we had in mind was viable. We knew it would be challenging, because it was a non-conformist use of the space, but the Design Review Process went well. The city was cooperative.”

The building begins

However, once they started construction, there were a few bumps.

Founder and partner of Oligino Laux Construction, Oligino has spent his professional life of more than 50 years bringing ideas to life. He launched Oligino Laux Construction more than two decades ago. Michael Laux, president and partner, has more than 30 years in the construction industry.

“We do about 25 percent commercial and 75 percent residential projects,” said Laux.

“During the building process, it was a delicate dance due to the pandemic,” said Oligino. “We tried to keep one trade on site at a time and not mix them, and they had to adhere to masking mandates.”

“We were afraid we were going to be shut down, the city was a ghost town,” Laux said. 

local team group

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Back row (L-R) Adam Genre, Beau Bianchi, Michael Laux; Front row (L-R) Al Oligino, Lisa McDennon, Todd Skenderian and Mehwish Shoab

“Once we got deep into the project, we realized we could take our time,” Beau added.

“We left the façade,” said Skenderian. “It was a challenge architecturally due to the disjointed components. It was a series of small disconnected rooms. We had to change the elevation to marry them together to create a flow. When we demolished the house in back, we could see remnants of old rail from the ramp from the MG dealership.”

It is now a combination of fluid spaces – a ground floor retail area for wine tasting, a series of office spaces, a residential area and a patio event space in the back that opens onto a garage with a television and a few sporting elements.

“We’re taking baby steps with the events,” said Beau. “We’re not sure how the flow will work.”

“We left the original ceiling and trusses,” said Oligino. “We embraced them. They hold the ducting.”

“They were stained wood and we painted them black,” said Laux. “From a building perspective, it was very collaborative. It was a real team effort. We had a pretty good idea early on how flow would work and the materials.”

“Not every project has a team like this,” Skenderian said. “Everyone knew how to get things done.”

local team tasting room

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McDennon custom-designed elements – from the sofa, wallpaper, chairs, bronze and onyx bar and lighting (The Lisa McDennon Collection) create a welcoming space

The ceiling and trusses add to the “urban industrial” style as McDennon describes it. 

McDennon founded her Laguna Beach-based interiors firm, Lisa McDennon Design in 2000. Nuance, her trend-setting home and lifestyle boutique in Laguna Beach, showcases her style with custom furniture, lighting and linens. The Lisa McDennon Collection for Hinkley lighting debuted January 2017. 

“I design mostly residential properties, but I do a lot of commercial too,” McDennon said. “This is the first winery I’ve designed.” 

The tasting room is a compact 400-square-foot space and McDennon made full use of her design skills to maximize the space and include one-of-a-kind design touches. 

“It’s like a little jewel box,” she said. “We wanted to really brand the Bianchi Winery with an inviting environment. The sofa was custom made with brass railing and a low back. We gave it the crush test. It’s very comfortable. The room has a street presence, so it had to be low, and the chairs and tables are easily movable.”

Custom-designed wallpaper adorns one wall. Behind the wine displays, the lights change color – altering the mood as they switch. The lower bar top is made of brass and combined with onyx which seamlessly blends together. “We worked with the artisans to get the right patina,” McDennon said.

local team patio

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Patio for events with a garage has sliding doors that open onto the outdoor space

The space is filled with eye-catching details, such as metal handles on the doors, and the custom wallpaper on the walls and ceiling of the restroom with swirls that resemble red wine. The light fixtures are exquisite and give the space a warm inviting glow. “The lighting comes from my line with Hinkley,” said McDennon.

The walls are composed of brick with over grouting which adds to the urban industrial feel. 

“Lisa understood the project and how it could most reflect the architectural elements and be reflective of Bianchi Winery through a series of design selections,” Skenderian said.

Custom design elements

Designer Mehwish Shoab has been with Lisa McDennon Design for a year and coordinates on-time deliveries. “Since everything is custom, it was a challenge during COVID due to delay in shipment,” said Shoab, who also coordinated the brass work. 

Nuance Retail Director Adam Genre joined McDennon in April. He selected the accessories for the tasting room – glassware and smaller pieces. “For availability, I had to pick what was in stock,” he said. 

“We’ve gotten a lot of community support,” said Beau. “Ninety-five percent of our patrons have been from a five-block radius. People will turn their chairs and bar stools around and chat with the people on the sofa.”

Very much into supporting local artisans, he features their work in the bar. 

“We focus on local designers,” he said. “The custom wine bags and bottle tags are from an OC leathermaker, the cheese boards and coasters are created by a local company, Don’t be Basic. We also partner with The Butchery in Crystal Cove Shopping Center. It’s a nice community project to bring everyone together.”

local team Beau

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Stop by for a tasting

The Bianchi family is firmly rooted in the community and has been for decades.

Beau went all through Laguna schools, and his three children are following in his footsteps. He also spent a lot of time at the Boys & Girls Club and is a staunch supporter of their organization. 

His son Geste is a sophomore at University of California, San Diego, Lucas is a junior at Laguna Beach High School, and Ivy Lee, an eighth grader at Thurston Middle School.

Of Beau’s three children – who have wines named after them – is it possible one of them will follow the family tradition?

“My daughter Ivy Lee seems to be the most interested,” Beau said. “She helps out around here, and she has a ‘great nose.’”

It’s possible that one day in the future, Bianchi Winery might be a fourth generation family business.

In the meantime, drop in and have a glass of wine, and enjoy the warm and inviting atmosphere in this extraordinary spot.

Bianchi Winery and Tasting Room is located at 496 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach.

They are open Monday, 4 p.m.-8ish; Tuesday CLOSED; Wednesday, 4 p.m.-8ish; Thursday 4 p.m.-8ish; Friday 4 p.m.-9ish; Saturday 1 p.m.-9ish; and Sunday 1 p.m.-7ish.

For more information about Bianchi Winery, visit www.bianchiwine.com.

 

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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