My visit to LIOCO Wine in Santa Rosa couldn’t have happened at a better time. For the past few months, I’ve been studying for my Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification through the Society of Wine Educators, which has proven to be an extremely challenging, often overwhelming, and very exciting experience. While I’ve loved learning about the seemingly infinite world of wine, I was excited to put down the flash cards for a bit and head up to wine country.
I’ve wanted to visit LIOCO for quite a while. I tried their wine at a couple of restaurants in LA and it always stuck in my head as being really good. Owners Kevin O’Connor and Matt Licklider – a sommelier/wine director and former wine importer respectively – aim to make wines that pair beautifully with food and communicate a true sense of place.
We made a Saturday morning tasting appointment and were told to meet at Punchdown Cellars – a custom crush facility in Santa Rosa.
From the outside, Punchdown Cellars looks like a typical industrial warehouse and the reception area looks like a small, no-frills corporate office space. Emily Virgil, Director of Hospitality for LIOCO, greeted us and walked us past the front desk and into the back of the building.
Suddenly we were in a massive, state-of-the-art facility where many of Sonoma’s finest boutique wineries and independent winemakers rent space to craft their wines. I soon realized we were visiting during one of the times of the year I’ve always wanted to experience first hand – it was the middle of harvest.
As Emily walked us through the facility, I saw many of the things I’ve been studying happening right before my eyes. Huge bins of grapes were being unloaded from the early morning pick. People and machines were busy sampling the fruit, sorting, crushing, de-stemming…the energy in the facility was buzzing as the 2016 vintage was about to begin its long journey to the bottle.
We hadn’t even tasted any wine yet and I was already blown away by the experience. We arrived at a small tasting area towards the back of the facility where LIOCO has their space. We got to sample two incredible Chardonnay’s from 2014 – one from the Demuth Vineyard in Anderson Valley and one from the Hanzell Vineyard in Sonoma Valley. Both had a completely different flavor profile, reflecting the uniqueness of the vineyards from which they came.
After the Chardonnay, we moved on to the reds which included two ’14 Pinot Noirs and a 2013 Valdiguie from Mendocino County. While I loved all the wines we tasted, the Valdiguie might have been my favorite. As a Pinot Noir lover, the Valdiguie was a great alternative – bright, juicy, slightly tart with lots of red fruit.
Don’t miss LIOCO if you’re in the Santa Rosa area. I left with several incredible bottles of wine in tow and a re-ignited passion for my wine studies. Certified Specialist of Wine, here I come…