Making wine for Larry Schaffer was a second career. After working in the educational and trade publishing industry, he decided to pursue wine. His interest in wine led to returning to school to receive his viticulture degree at UC Davis. After graduation, he was drawn to the Santa Ynez Valley and took a job as enologist at Fess Parker Winery. Shortly after, in 2007, he started his own project, Tercero Wines.
Tercero Wines focuses on Rhone grape varieties sourced exclusively from leading Santa Barbara County Vineyards, including Larner, Tierra Alta, Thompson, Camp 4, and Vogelzang. Larry’s approach to winemaking is rather “pragmatic” and he sees the sum as greater than its parts. Ultimately, his goal is to make wines that express the vineyards and the varieties as well as the vintage.
What made you choose the region you are in to make wine?
When deciding where to ‘set up shop’ so to speak, I wanted an area that was serious about winegrowing and winemaking but still had plenty of upside potential – that was and still is Santa Barbara County.
Is there something specific that you love about the region you are in?
I really dig the vibe of Santa Barbara County – a bit more laid back than other wine regions – and the fact that our area is more about the product than it is about the ‘pomp and circumstance’, as it is in other winegrowing regions.
What is your favorite wine variety? Why?
It is difficult to cut it down to one as I really love Rhone varieties, but I guess I would have to say Mourvedre if I had to choose just one.
Is there a wine variety that intrigues you? Have you worked with it or do you have plans to?
I am enthralled with Roussanne and Marsanne – they are ‘magical’ white varieties that do not act like any other varieties I have ever worked with.
What are you drinking right now?
The last few wines I have had have been a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc (in honor of Seth Kunin), a fantastic Mt. Etna white, and a number of my wines as I try to understand them better.
What was the moment or experience that piqued your interest in wine?
I was doing a wine tasting at Chateau Montelena a number of years back, and I was mesmerized by one of their cabernets. I could not believe you could start with grapes and end up with something so complex.
If you were not making wine, what would you be doing?
At this point, probably trying to promote or sell someone else’s wines – I really am enamored with wine in general.
As a winery, how do you typically reach your customers? What are you doing to increase DTC sales outside the tasting room?
I do not regularly research my competitors – the market is large enough for a number of small producers like myself. In terms of DTC outside the tasting room, I am very active on social media, which I believe has plenty of indirect DTC benefits. I have also been conducting several live Zoom tastings with wine club members as well as businesses and groups around the country and plan on continuing to do so.
In the “new normal” of the COVID world, how are you doing? How are you adapting? What is working for you?
I am doing okay as of now. I am working my behind off, in the tasting room pretty much every day. I am using it as not only a tasting room but also as a packing and shipping center and as a studio for my live zoom tastings.
What is the one tip you would give the average wine buyer about finding great value wines?
The average wine consumer should continue to seek out variety in wine and try not to have preconceived notions about varieties, regions, countries, etc. There is so much great stuff out there and going in with an open mind will yield some wonderful experiences. Also, look beyond the ‘name brand’ regions for value – search out Santa Barbara County wines, of course!!!
Allison Levine is the owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing and event-planning agency. Allison is Level 3 WSET Certified from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and is certified as an Italian Wine Specialist from the North American Sommelier Association. She also has a Master's Degree in International Communications with a focus on cross-cultural training from the American University School of International Service. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications, including California Winery Advisor and the Napa Valley Register, while eating and drinking her way around the world. She is also the host of the Wine Soundtrack podcast. You can find additional content on her blog at Please The Palate; Twitter and Instagram @plsthepalate; Facebook: Please The Palate