Santa Barbara County region
93 Pts, International Wine Review - 92 Pts., -Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar
Very few wineries’ road to success can be guaranteed. But, in the case of this month’s Platinum Series selection, Longoria Wines’ Fe Ciega Vineyard Pinot Noir, its destiny can be traced directly to its owners, Rick and Diana Longoria.
Rick Longoria began his wine odyssey while a student at Cal Berkley in the early 1970’s. The school’s close proximity to both Napa and Sonoma wineries beckoned to the young sociology student and his friends. The charming, bucolic setting made a marvelous impression and the seed of an idea began to take root in Longoria’s mind.
“I took a year off after college,” he recalled recently, “and traveled throughout South America. What I saw there were some extremely poor people that were incredibly happy with their lives. They lived off what they were able to grow and seemed quite content.” After returning to California, Longoria sent off a letter to a number of wineries inquiring about possible work at any level in the wine industry. He received one reply – from the iconic Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma.
“Buena Vista was absolutely incredible for me,” Longoria added. “It had been founded in 1857 and still made its wine in the original stone buildings. I became a cellar worker and started taking some viticulture and enology courses at the nearby Santa Rosa Junior College.” During that period, he also met world renowned winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff who was Buena Vista’s wine consultant. The two began a friendship that lasted until Tchelistcheff’s death in 1994.
Impressed with Longoria’s work ethics and enthusiasm for the business, Andre Tchelistcheff made sure that the young cellar worker was present in winery tastings and winemaking sessions. He next suggested that Longoria apply for the job of cellar foreman at Firestone Vineyards in Santa Barbara County, another of his consulting positions. Longoria obtained the position and spent the next two years at Firestone. He next moved to Napa Valley’s Chappellet Winery where he was also cellar master for Donn Chappellet, one of Napa’s most respected vintners. Longoria met his wife Diana while in Napa, but admitted that he soon became homesick for the Santa Ynez Valley. A position as winemaker opened up at the smallish J. Carey Cellars in 1979, and Rick Longoria was hired in May of that year.
It was almost four years later that the first Longoria wines made their appearance. Some 400 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were produced and well-received by the general public.
“I wanted to make these varietals for some time, and the opportunity finally came. I became the winemaker at Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez, but there we produced mostly Bordeaux varietals. I began Longoria Wines on a part-time basis because neither Diana nor I was sure we could make the transition and make Longoria into a full time business,” he added. In 1997, Longoria Wines business was successful enough for both Rick and Diana to take the full-time plunge. Their winery is now nearly thirty years old and the accolades and awards have steadily grown. Rick Longoria, for his part, is seemingly unfazed by his winery’s continuing success.
“I got into the wine business from the aesthetic standpoint,” he explained. “I fell in love with the entire process and all the hard work involved.” Longoria Wines will produce around 2,800 cases this year, down slightly from the winery’s pre-recession production figure of 3,400 cases. Longoria Wines’ current level is very comfortable for the facility and Rick Longoria sees little change for the future.
“I have a long term contract leasing our Fe Ciega Vineyard and that accounts for around 35 percent of our production. The remainder of our fruit comes from a dozen or so properties in Santa Barbara County, from Santa Maria to the east end of Santa Ynez Valley,” Longoria informed. Rick Longoria also believes that any winery owner misses a great deal by not enjoying a hands-on operation. “I feel as if I am connected to every bottle of wine I make. I don’t really relish traveling, so I am completely happy to stay at home and put in the hours doing the grunt work.”
Longoria Wines’ bonded facility is in the City of Lompoc where one of their two tasting facilities is also located. A second tasting facility is in the tiny town of Los Olivos, in the middle of Santa Barbara’s wine trail. Longoria Wines have extremely high pedigrees and tend to sell themselves, a rarity in today’s wine business.