California Winery Advisor - How did you get started making wine?
Luke Sundquist - I made my first vintage, 2011, in my garage in Solvang: 2 barrels of Cabernet Franc. I got into cooking about 10 years ago while I was working as a musician and in service at high-end restaurants. Winemaking seemed like a natural progression from a culinary/musical background. Both are creative processes that interact directly with the senses.
CWA - What interests you about wine?
LS - I think it’s the combination of many things: the improvisation, the sensory analysis, the science, the sublimity, the mystery, the seasonality, the relationship with nature, connecting the dots.
CWA - Do you have a particular consumer in mind when you start making a wine?
LS - I’m looking to make wines that appeal across the board. I hope my wines convert non-believers, while still giving snobs something to talk about.
CWA - What can you tell us about your winemaking style?
LS - I make California wine. It is hot here in the summer, it does not rain during most of the growing season, we deal with the double-edged sword of irrigation, meaning we can control the exact timing and amount of water the vines get - until we run out of water. These factors lead to fruit that develops with different balance than, say, France. For me, riper red wines with both big fruit and proficient structure provide the best balance for our climate here in Santa Barbara. You can get European alcohol levels if you pick early, but you wont get the same complexity in reds unless you value under-ripe greenness. I will pick red grapes early for one reason: Rose, still my roses are fruitier than European ones. Trying to make a European-style wine in California feels a bit unnatural.
CWA - Organic/sustainable/biodynamic wines are getting a lot of press lately. What do these terms mean to you?
LS - I have tasted some amazing wines from biodynamic/organic/sustainable vineyards, and I have tasted some that I don’t care for. I believe the terms can be indicative of quality, but not inclusive of quality.
CWA - Is there any advice you wish you got before you started making/selling wine?
LS - Trust your senses and intuition, don’t over-react.
CWA - Which wine law/regulation would you change if it were up to you?
LS - Definitely the ridiculous 3-tier system that squeezes smaller producers out of many opportunities. It’s a disservice to the consumer as well.
CWA - How do you market and promote your wines? What kind of advertising works for you?
LS - If you have a quality product at a fair price, and a quality and unique label concept, sales and marketing become much simpler. I’ve found that when you put yourself out there in the right places, the consumers will speak.
CWA - Do you use social media for promotion? Do you feel it is effective?
LS - Yes and yes. It is necessary these days.
CWA - How does an event like the Garagiste festival impact your business?
LS - It’s a great event - I have met many different business contacts and customers through it.
CWA - Do you have any favorite wine publications/websites/social media sites you follow?
LS - Winebusiness.com, The Gray Report, Spectator, New York Times
CWA - What do you think the big corporate wineries get right?
LS - They pay their employees well.
CWA - How do you feel about the current wine rating system? Do you feel it helps consumers with their wine buying decisions?
LS - It is funny when I open up wine spectator and, within a few pages of one of the featured rated wines, is an advertisement for said wine. The rating systems seem political, and at best, subjective.
Costco, the largest wine retailer in the USA, has a head buyer who had previously never worked in wine before. She started there as an accountant, and I would guess her palate has more similarities with the average consumer’s, than someone like Robert Parker’s does. That being said, from a business perspective, who doesn’t want high ratings?
CWA - What were the last two truly memorable wines (that weren’t your own) you tasted?
CWA - Is there a particular winemaker that you are excited about?
CWA - Where can people taste your wine?
LS - I do tastings by appointment in Buellton, CA. firstname.lastname@example.org
CWA - Where can people buy your wine?
We caught up with Ray Sliter of Travieso winery at the recent Garagiste Festival in Solvang. Mats Hagström and Ray Sliter founded the winery in 2003. […]
Bret Urness dispels all preconceived notions of the traditional winemaker. The twenty-something Idaho native moved to California to play college football by the beach. As a […]
Jasper Dickson is a true garagiste winemaker. Though he works retail at Silverlake Wine in Los Angeles, he moonlights as a small-batch producer under his […]