Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards - Toccata Wines
Santa Barbara County region
One of the leading Santa Barbara County wineries with 3 world-class vineyards
Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards came into existence when two old friends decided they wanted to get into the winery business in the right way. Long-time Central Coast grower Louis Lucas and retired Judge Royce Lewellen were both members of the Santa Maria Wine and Food Society as well as the local Rotary Club and had known each other for more than 20 years when they decided to make the move in 1996. Over lunch, Louis Lucas approached Judge Lewellen about possibly selling one of his proven vineyards, but a deal was struck where Lewellen bought a 50 percent interest in both Lucas Brothers Vineyards - if Lucas would continue to farm them. Two years later, the entity bought another top area vineyard and became a major supplier to numerous wineries throughout the State of California.
Louis Lucas had prior experience with the winery side of the business when he was involved with Tepusquet Vineyards (during the 1970’s, when it produced 75,000 cases) and when grape sales softened in the late 1990’s, a decision was made to enter the vintner side of the wine industry. The first Lucas and Lewellen wines were made in a number of friends’ facilities, but the principals knew that to control their destiny, a new winery was a necessity.
The winery, built in nearby Buellton, was completed in 2002 and encompasses more than 20,000 square feet. The equipment there is state-of-the-art and allows for Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards’ penchant for producing an unusual number of varietals under its three winery labels (Lucas & Lewellen, Toccata, and Queen of Hearts). In fact, a review of the entire portfolio shows that most of the top varietals are represented at Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards.
Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards’ first release was a smallish 400 or so cases that was overseen by noted winemaker Jed Steele, a level that has expanded to around the 35,000 case level. Co-owner Louis Lucas feels the winery is set for some incredible growth in the upcoming years.
“Right now, we still sell almost half of our grapes to other wineries,” he explained. “With the great reputation of our grapes and with the skill of our winemaker, Megan McGraw Gates, we could easily grow to three, four or even five times our present production levels.
We are going to pay close attention to the commercial market and expand when the timing is right, but it’s really comfortable for us to feel that we are sitting on some of the finest grapes being grown in the whole country.”
Lucas and Lewellen also operate a pair of high quality tasting rooms in the Danish-inspired tourist village of Solvang, also home to one of the company’s premier vineyards known as Valley View Vineyard. One tasting room is devoted to Lucas and Lewellen wines and the other showcases the company’s growing boutique line of Italian varietal wines that are known under the Toccata label.
Since inception, Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards has striven to produce sound, affordable wines that afford good price/value relationships. The company has developed a fierce and loyal following and is something of a cost legend with Central Coast locals who have often witnessed major price increases as their neighboring wineries become more successful.
The Art of Fine Wine
This oil painting was done by Karen Winters and depicts the Lucas & Lewellen estate vineyards in Los Alamos.
Painted by Jennifer Vranes, who enjoys working with extreme textures and vibrant colors, capturing an intense energy that is both positive and uplifting. She gains inspiration for her pieces from her extensive travels and strives to bring joy to the homes and lives of collectors all over the world.
Santa Barbara County
The vineyards of the Santa Barbara County growing region have become incredibly popular during the past three decades and include a number of differing climactic conditions that allow for a wide range of varietal productivity.
Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards has wisely managed to position themselves in three distinct growing areas that run the virtual gauntlet regarding temperature, one of the most important growing factors that influence grapes. The coolest growing area is the Santa Maria Valley, home to one of Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards’ two initial tracts. More moderate temperatures can be found at the Los Alamos Vineyard, while the latest acquisition (1998) of Valley View Vineyard near Solvang (Santa Ynez Valley) is most certainly the warmest growing area under Lucas and Lewellen plantings. With 400 total acres under vine, a wide variety of fruit is available for the wines of Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards. These vineyards provide a wide swath of possible varietal alignments and allow for an unusual number of fruit and acid mixes.
Megan McGrath Gates - Winemaker
Eighth generation Californian Megan McGrath Gates is winemaker for Toccata Wines, as well as the Lucas and Lewellen and Queen of Hearts brands. She possesses a number of outstanding credentials for her all-important job at the winery. A graduate of nearby Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, McGrath also holds a winemaking certificate from prestigious UC Davis.
She gained valuable experience in Sonoma Valley with Cahill Winery in Sebastopol and also Flowers Vineyard and Winery on the Sonoma Coast. Gates has worked with almost all varietals in her present role and was promoted from within in 2006 after former winemaker Daniel Gehrs left to found his own winery. Although a classical winemaker, she utilizes several state-of-the-art techniques in formulating the wines for Lucas and Lewellen. She prefers not to classify her philosophy as either Old World or New World, explaining, “I believe in balanced wines with all components married together so that layers of complexity are allowed to unfold."
Louis Lucas - The Dirt Man
Louis Lucas has a great nickname, the dirt man.
“I guess you could say I earned it,” the personable grower-turned-winery owner recently explained. “My family has been in the growing business my whole life. My grandfather, my father, all my uncles, in fact, everyone in our family grew something. Some grew vegetables, but mostly it was grapes. I come from a small Croatian community around Delano (CA) and I was exposed to growing grapes since day one.”
Louis Lucas chose to attend Notre Dame where he was a letterman in track and a walk on for the famous Notre Dame Fighting Irish. When he finished school, he returned to California and the business his family knew so well.
In the late 1960’s, Lucas felt the need to explore new growing sites, where cooler temperatures and conditions would allow his grapes to achieve new levels that were unpractical in the extremely hot Central Valley. He traveled to the nearby Santa Maria Valley on the Pacific Coast and found what he was looking for.
“To say the area was virgin grape country would be an understatement,” he recalled. “We (his brother) only found one small vineyard planted, but the soils and conditions looked perfectly good to us and we decided to see what we could do. We met Brother Timothy of Christian Brothers and he thought the area was sound for producing high quality grapes, so we decided to go ahead and develop some acreage."
The first Lucas Brothers Vineyards were planted in 1970, and from there on, the rest, as they say, is history. Santa Maria Valley proved to be a great home for many different varietals and soon the Lucas Brothers were sending their incredible grapes northward to the stellar wineries of Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
“We got an early contract with Beringer Brothers Winery (now Beringer Vineyards) and soon a number of other top wineries began purchasing Lucas Brother’s premium grapes. Since they were the first commercial growers in that part of Santa Barbara County, the Brothers became something of a legend in local growing circles.
“Beringer helped us decide what kinds of varietals to produce,” admitted Lucas. “And we made our share of mistakes in the beginning. But we learned a lot and hoped we wouldn’t make the same mistakes twice. The big northern wineries began winning a number of really top medals with our grapes along with top scores for their wines. We knew there was a lot to do with the winemaking process, but we also felt that much of their success started with our grapes.”
Louis Lucas also became the principal supplier of Chardonnay for Kendall-Jackson Vineyards and winery and watched as the upstart winery increased its size dramatically and became a real force in the California wine industry. Since Kendall-Jackson’s best-known wine was its Chardonnay, the Lucas Brothers and their reputation as growers continued to also rise.
Louis Lucas ultimately joined forces with retired Judge Royce Lewellen in 1996 to form Lucas and Lewellen Vineyards. They continued selling fruit, but started making wine with the help of Jed Steele from Mendocino. “I can say that I learned a great deal about the wine industry during that period, and a good deal of it was what not to do in order to be successful.”
With his iconic growing career behind him, a successful future with Lucas and Lewellen, Toccata, and Queen of Hearts is an almost given probability. Lucas also has six daughters, two of whom have already indicated their willingness to follow him into the winery business.