In the history of wine, 35 years is a mere nanosecond. The world's first winery was discovered in Armenia by UCLA researchers who dated it to 4100 B.C. On the Central Coast, 35 years represents almost a lifetime and is also a significant landmark. 1982 is the year that three of the region's best known wineries -- Au Bon Climat, Qupé and Longoria -- were founded.

Each represents a very different story. Au Bon Climat owner Jim Clendenen has become an internationally celebrated winemaker and has grown his production to over 50,000 cases. Bob Lindquist sold majority interest in his Qupé Winery (40,000 cases annually) to Charles Banks and his Terroir Selections in 2013. Clendenen and Lindquist share a winemaking facility in the Santa Maria Valley and are beloved locally for the way they promote not just their own wines but Santa Barbara County as a region.

Rick and Diana Longoria share in the local lovefest but otherwise, theirs is a very different story. They've kept their production at about 2,500 to 3,000 cases annually. And while their counterparts employ full-time winemakers to handle the day to day of turning farm field produce into a bottled beverage, Longoria has his hands and feet in it full time.

"He really makes the wine!" said Diana with enthusiasm and more than a little pride. "He loves making wine. Rick's least favorite thing is being on the road."

He's been making wine since 1979 when he was hired by J. Carey Cellars five years after he got his first job in the industry as a cellar "rat" at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County. It was there that he had the good fortune to be mentored by the legendary André Tchelistcheff, often referred to as the "godfather" of California wine, who was consulting for Buena Vista at the time.

"Then André was consulting for the Firestones and helped start that winery. He told me about it and that they were looking for a cellar foreman. It was a modern state-of-the-art facility. I took the job and stayed two years."

The Firestone job was more than just a nice move up for Rick. It's also where he met Diana, who was Firestone's first tour guide. They married a year after that meeting, and will be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary on Aug. 6.

It was while Rick was at Carey that he and Diana decided to launch Longoria Wines as a side project. With a loan from his father, they bought grapes and barrels, and made their first wine: 250 cases of chardonnay and 250 cases of pinot noir.

Rick went on to be winemaker at Gainey Vineyards for a dozen years, continuing to make Longoria on the side (at Gainey and other wineries) and growing it to 1,000 cases.

Following the 1998 harvest, Rick and Diana decided it was time to go it on their own. They quit their respective jobs and went looking for affordable space to make their wine. They found it in Lompoc in the industrial park that is now called the Lompoc Ghetto. At the same time they opened a tasting room in Los Olivos.

With Diana running the business side of Longoria (bookkeeping, retail sales and marketing, the tasting room, etc.) and Rick making the wine, Longoria Wines took another notable step in December 2012 when they purchased a vacant, rundown building in downtown Lompoc. Two years of dealing with permits, contractors, financing, and construction led to the October 2014 opening of their very own winery production facility and tasting room, putting all of Longoria Wines under one roof for the first time.

The tasting room at 415 E. Chestnut Ave. resembles a cozy living room. There's a fireplace and deep, comfy chairs. Knowledgeable tasting room associates walk visitors through the impressive catalog of Longoria wines. While perhaps best known for his pinot noir and chardonnay, Rick also makes syrah, grenache, cabernet franc, pinot grigio and the Spanish varietals tempranillo and albarino.

Much of the pinot noir and chardonnay comes from Longoria's own Fe Ciega Vineyard. It's a 10-acre vineyard they planted on land they've leased and managed since 1998.

A separate room with a long attractive wood table and chairs, frequently used for wine club tastings, is decorated with original art work of blues musicians. It's a homage to Rick's decadeslong love of the blues which he attributes to growing up in the '60s.

"Listening to those English bands like the Rolling Stones -- they were English kids who loved the blues," he said. It got him to delve deeper and explore the history and music of greats like Muddy Waters.

It also led him to develop his Blues Cuvée, a blend of four Bordeaux varietals and syrah. 

"We once did a survey on which of Rick's wines he most famous for. We assumed it would be pinot noir. We were shocked that it came up Blues Cuvée," Diana said. The clever label and price point -- at $30, it is one of the least expensive Longoria wines -- both played a role, Rick suggested.

On display in the winery production area is a small press where Diana's grandfather made wine in their Buellton backyard. 

"It was nasty but I didn't know it," Diana laughed when recalling her childhood tastings and the life it ultimately lead her to.

The Longorias, who live in Solvang, are all about having work and family in balance. That's why, Rick said, he's making 3,000 not 30,000 cases each year.

"Winemaking is not a lifestyle for me," he said. "I don't live and breathe and sleep wine. I have a really good separation between a good, normal, healthy life and this wine business which, if you're not careful, will consume you. I'm not saying that's bad. I've just always valued balance. I got into wine because I wanted to work in the country and live the organic, peaceful life."

That quality of life, Rick would argue, plays a critically important role in his ability to produce quality wines.


Load comments