TriWine Interview: Meet Erin Kempe & Paolo Barbieri of BARBIERI & KEMPE WINE COMPANY

man ,woman and pet dog

What happens when a Master Sommelier and a culinary master who both have a love for food and wine meet? They open a winery of course! Paolo Barberi and wife Erin Kempe opened their first tasting room in Los Olivos, California in 2014 which houses both of their namesake wines, Barbieri and KEMPE. Barbieri is a family-run business, run by their son Massimo and their mascot pet dog Penny. Their red, white, and rosé wine varietals consist of Petite Sirah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Albariño. These grapes add unique flavors and notes to their wines as they are cultivated in 3 different California vineyards whose soil types characteristics vary by location: Colson Canyon, Plummer, Rodneys, and Brick Barn Vineyard. Both KEMPE and Barbieri Wines produce reds, whites, and rosés that are vibrant and complex and can be found in their Los Olivos tasting room or purchased online.


Paolo’s love of winemaking started way before his garage winemaking days as he left his home in Rome at the age of 22 to pursue a career in the restaurant industry in England. This pursuit eventually landed him in the United States where he traveled the world as a sommelier for 30 years, which allowed him to experience and manage the best of the best wine lists. Paolo studied for five years and passed the exam to become a Master Sommelier, this led him to found Barbieri Wine Company in 2005. His exposure and love for central coast wines and Rhone varietals inspired him to make small batch lots of Syrah in his Las Vegas garage using a small wine press back in 2003. The grapes used to make these small-batch lots were cultivated in Santa Barbara County, so he would commute to Buellton, CA to craft the wines and commute back home to Vegas to bottle. 

In 2007, Paolo met his now wife and business partner Erin Kempe of KEMPE wines. Erin’s culinary passions led her to work in Las Vegas alongside culinary masters and James Beard winners. After meeting Paolo, she became passionate about wine, and as her wine knowledge grew she joined Paolo to help in the winemaking business. This led them to create a new brand labeled under ner name, KEMPE, which focuses on Bordeaux varietals.

In 2014, Paolo and Erin decided to pursue winemaking full-time and left Vegas to open their own tasting room in Los Olivos, Califonia where they produce wines under two brands – Barbieri and KEMPE.


Since opening in 2014, Barbieri and KEMPE brands have expanded to include a wine club, introduce new red wine blends and offer unique white and rosé varietals.


When was the first time you knew you had a passion for wine and or winemaking? Can you walk us through the process from the time you started the winery to how you felt when you first opened the doors of the tasting room in Los Olivos? 

Coming from Italy, wine was a big part of our culture. When I moved to England and worked my way up in the restaurants is where my curiosity and obsession with wine began.

How did you decide where to procure your grapes for both Barbieri and Kempe wines?

When I passed my Master Sommelier exam I decided to make wine for fun. One of my favorite varietals has always been Syrah and the quality I was tasting from Santa Barbara County was what led me to this region. When we decided to start the Kempe label we decided to focus on Bordeaux varietals and they do extremely well in Paso Robles.

Running a winery can be tough and rewarding at the same time, how would you compare your first year of operating Barbieri, versus now? 

Our first year having a tasting room and making wine was challenging because the entire business was myself and Erin, so we were spread thin. Today, we have my son Massimo to help with the winemaking and tasting room and we’ve finally hired a full-time employee to free us up to open our second location in Santa Barbara.

What’s your vision for the winery in 5 to 10 years?

We would hope to have a full-time winemaker, management staff, and employees so we can stop working so hard and play more.

Can you recall your very first glass of wine and if so, has your palate changed over the years or stayed the same?

My father had wine every night growing up and he would allow us boys to have a glass with dinner. We were not wealthy, so my father would have me take an empty jug to the closest wine shop and have it filled up with whatever local wine was there. My palate got much more refined when I started to learn more and taste wines from all over the world.

If your palate has/hasn’t changed, what is/are your favorite varietals to drink now?

We really enjoy all well-made wines, but if I had to choose one it would be syrah.

What are your thoughts on the use of technology, such as wine apps that help to promote wineries and/or help you find wines or discover wineries based on your wine palette?

We love the way technology has come around to help the average consumer educate and help find new wines they may enjoy.

How does Barbieri promote their wine and drive traffic? 

We don’t advertise, but we have an amazing customer base and they love to share wine with friends which does the advertising for us.

What are your thoughts on TriWine and would you be willing to use it when it rolls out?

We think it’s a great idea and we would absolutely use it.

Just for a fun, “get to know you” interview ending – When you’re not making wine or running the winery, what do you and Paolo enjoy doing?

We love to go hiking and fishing.

To learn more about Paolo and Erin’s story or Barbieri and KEMPE wine brand and its varietals, click here.

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