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As I sip my glass of pinot noir and listen to the hum of people reuniting, the clink of glassware, and the chatter of busy service staff, I realize that in previous years, I have taken for granted the ability to drink in public. Like many, I have been desperate for a sense of normalcy (also wine). Because of their ability to think quickly and re-imagine their operations over the past year, Septentrio Winery and Tasting Room has been my go-to — a place to enjoy each other’s distanced company, to feel somewhat normal on a date night and to fuel my new-found day-drinking hobby.



Having only opened their tasting room about six months before shelter in place took effect, owners Tynel Humphreys and Jared Sandifer saw the need for a quick and early pivot in order to adapt their service to the new challenges and regulations set in response to the spread of the virus.

Humphreys and Sandifer began as wine lovers — Sandifer found that he had a talent for tasting, and Humphreys had pursued wine studies in Croatia. For fun, they began helping Humphreys’ mother, a talented home winemaker in Napa, where Sandifer quickly discovered his passion for winemaking and dove in headfirst, learning from mentors who encouraged his natural talent. Septentrio’s first official vintage was in 2012 and from there, production continued to increase.

Sandifer’s wine making style is an elegant combination of Old World traditional notes and New World combinations and flavors. Septentrio features a large selection of wines — both single varietals and blends — in a spectrum of pricing, making it easy to find something for everyone. In conjunction with the winery’s celestial name (Septentrio is a Latin term referring to following the North Star), my personal favorite is the 2017 Retrograde blend, which combines cabernet franc, malbec, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon and merlot to create a wine with notes of sour cherry, field strawberries, tomato leaf, slate and green bell pepper that is both complex and extremely drinkable. And if you’re looking for big red wine, the 2016 Sonoma County petit verdot is the perfect bold solution with notes of tart huckleberry, blackberry, cedar and cigar smoke. Other lighter selections include the crisp and refreshing gewurztraminer, or the large offering of pinot noir, including a 100 percent Humboldt County selection that features the bright red fruit and acidity that differentiates our own AVA from the rest of warm California.
click to enlarge The spacious patio. - RYAN MCGAUGHEY
  • Ryan McGaughey
  • The spacious patio.

From the beginning, they intended to open a tasting room in Arcata. The dream was to create a space to bring the community together, recognizing that, as Humphreys says, “wine is a connector.” When they found the perfect space on C Street, they again dove in headfirst and spent two years renovating, making sure that it reflected their vision before opening in August of 2019 in conjunction with the Hatchet House Throwing Club across the street. (If you haven’t thrown an axe at a wall like a lumberjack before, I strongly suggest checking this place out.)

The space that they created is a stylized blend of industrial and rustic pieces that create an elegant, high-end experience. A sign that displays the winery’s name is made an art piece by the surrounding barrel staves, bottles line the walls and plants decorate the corners. And they built out a patio for outdoor seating, which features chic planter boxes, fire pits and a food truck.

Business was good in those six months. The tasting room was full with guests lounging on the couches, lined up along the bar for tastings, laughing and gathered around the fire pit, connecting in all of the usual, beautiful ways. When the shelter in place orders came down, Septentrio Winery shut off the lights and locked the doors indefinitely, as unsure as the rest of us how long it would last.

As restrictions lifted, Humphreys and Sandifer watched closely as other businesses reopened and crafted protocols for the ever-changing landscape. Humphreys began delivering wine to doorsteps from Orick to Hydesville, offering curbside pickup and using social media to update customers about how and when they could get their hands on wine, all while Sandifer diligently stayed the course of regular production.

Septentrio reopened with offering outdoor seating in the patio. Humphreys and Sandifer expanded the courtyard to increase space between tables, placed hand sanitizer on each table, replaced the self-service water station with water service, created single-use menus and implemented sanitizing protocols for tables and chairs after each seating, and masking rules for guests and servers. Humphreys says, “It’s our job to try to make our guests feel normal, but it’s my duty as an owner to make sure my staff and clients feel safe.”Though the terrain of the past year was tumultuous and difficult to navigate, Septentrio Winery is thriving. Today the tasting room is buzzing and guests circle the fire pits with blankets on cool Humboldt nights.

Septentrio has also partnered with Pat Knittle from Wrangletown Cider and Northstory Wines in acquiring a production facility and barrel room in what Tynel calls the “beautiful winery that Robert Goodman built,” in the old Iron Works building on I Street. They are now arranging for private barrel tastings and working with a variety of local caterers and restaurateurs to create pop-up dinners and small events.

click to enlarge Market salad with seared peach. - RYAN MCGAUGHEY
  • Ryan McGaughey
  • Market salad with seared peach.

They have also begun a new partnership with Executive Chef Casandra Kelly’s The Nosh food truck, offering small bites like fries, oysters, almonds and olives, as well as salads, lamb sliders, barbacoa cauliflower tacos, and rotating entree specials like fried chicken and steaks. All of which pair wonderfully with the vast variety of wines created by Septentrio.

Humphreys and Sandifer’s goal in beginning Septentrio Winery has always been to bring people together, to offer a space for guests to gather and connect and to collaborate with other businesses in the community. The past year has made connection difficult but they stayed firm in their intentions. And now as many of us are reconnecting with friends and loved ones, Septentrio Winery has tables ready. Whether you gather at the tasting room, or in a private small group in the Barrel Room, the professional (and very fashionable) staff and phenomenal wines make it easy to relax and begin to feel a bit like ourselves again. After all, “wine is a connector” and there is nothing we need more right now than to feel that connection (and maybe get a little wine-drunk).
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Erin Young

Erin Young

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