We aren’t big Chardonnay fans, but when we tried the wines from Liquid Farm they showed us how wrong we were. Their Burgundy-style wines were so different from 99% of the CA chards we’ve tried to drink over the years that we just had to get them into the Festival. (Lisa even joined their wine club.) You need to know about them. We help you out by asking them about their wines and how they got started.
Owners: Nikki and Jeff Nelson
Winemaker: Brandon Sparks-Gillis/Dragonette Cellars
Tasting Room: None at moment. By appt when available.
How long making wine/first vintage?
2009 – 4 barrels made.
1) What was the first wine you ever made?
4 barrels of Chardonnay from Kessler-Haak Vineyard (next door to Clos Pepe) – it became 48cs of White Hill and 48cs of Golden Slope
2) What is/was your day job?
I was formerly a Fine Wine Specialist for HWG for 3 1/2 years in SLO and Bev Hills. Jeff and I are based in LA still with day jobs in the industry. I have a company called Band of Vines that helps small CA family owner operated producers get some extra love in the market by championing thier wines/managing thier distributors and runs the day to day operations of the Liquid Farm project: accounting, deliveries, sales, social media, wine club – you name it I do it. Jeff still happily works for Henriotl Inc. as their Regional Sales Manager and helps with LF in his spare time. We work A LOT! But, we love what we do.
3) What bottle turned you onto wine?
I can’t say that is was one particular bottle – but, once I took a chance and left my full time job with a medical company in my early twenties to help open up the first retail wine store in my home town of Temecula, CA I was almost instantly obsessed. I right away went from not having the money nor people in my life to allow fine wine in my glass (it was all about the grocery store stuff as no one in my family really drank wine at the time and – I lived in Temecula!) – I started keeping tasting notes in a journal on everything I put in my mouth and began studying more about wine regions, winemaking and viticulture in my off time that I was studying for my degree in Psychology I was concurrently pursuing. After two months at the shop I had no choice but, to switch my major or forever wish I had! So, I did.
4) What bottle made you want to MAKE wine?
I would say White Burgundy in general and wanting to find more of that style and that grace in modern day CA Chards
5) What region are you making wine in/from? Why? What makes it special?
Sta. Rita Hills AVA in the Santa Ynez Valley on the Central Coast – Chardonnay only (tiny amount of Bandol-inspired Rose mostly for home consumption and wine club)
SRH is a true region 1 sitting on incredible ancient diatomaceous soils – it is Chardonnay heaven in CA!! The minerality and salinity that shine though in the wines is something that I have never tasted in quite the same way ANY where in CA – including the other few region 1’s like Sonoma Coast and Santa Cruz Mountains. The fruit here is stunning. The people – both farmers and winemakers, make it even more special. This, as Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe puts it, is “the Wild West of winemaking – like Napa 20 years ago. Most of us don’t have fancy tasting rooms, We make wine in the tiny town of Lompoc – most in what is called The Ghetto. It’s all about great fruit and winemaking – not the bells, whistles, trams and moats. Yes, I said moats.
6) If you could only work with one grape, what would it be? Why?
We do! And, it’s Chardonnay!! It is what we love to drink when grown in a cool climate and made in an elegant and balanced style to maintain lots of naturally high acidity and structure. (exception in the Rose which is from the East side of the Valley in Happy Canyon AVA – Mourvedre)
7) Which is harder, making red wine or white wine? Why?
We are not the winemakers as it is truly a craft we have not yet undertaken although we are super involved in blending, stylizing, harvest, etc. I would say white wine is less labor intensive (no punch downs!) but, white wine shows flaws more than red wine – I would say it’s harder to make stunning whites than reds…but, you’d have to ask Brandon and John that question as they make both and are the true winemakers.
8) If you got an all expenses paid vacation to any wine region in the world, where would you go? Why?
Burgundy and Bandol (and if we had time Campania/Sicily or maybe Croatia)…
9) Besides your own, what types of wine do you like to drink?
Burgundy, Bandol and Italian…see a pattern here? Also, cool small CA producers like Dragonette Cellars, Clos Pepe, Habit and a growing number of others, who are making awesome cool climate, age-worthy, food-friendly wines.
10) Do you have a piece of equipment you just can’t live without? Neutral oak barrel
11) Is it harder to make blends or 100% varietal wines?
Again, not being the winemaker – I don’t have the right to really comment on that – especially since with our project we don’t blend varietals. We do, however, blend the vineyards (left vineyard specific in barrel during fermentation and aging) to create a sort of house style among the White Hill, Golden Slope and as of the 2011 vintage, a 3rd bottling of Chardonnay – the 4th wine we’ve made (name still in debate) that will be produced from our best 4 barrels. The barrels earmarked for it are OFF THE HOOK! 2011 was an incredible year for intense wines that we cannot wait to drink and share.