Specializing in small-batch, handcrafted varietals, winemaker Gretchen Voelcker believes the best way to produce wine is with minimal human interference. This Central Coast local plans to discuss her winemaking style and other topics during an upcoming virtual panel. As part of Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard’s Women in Wine series, the event will be hosted by the Solvang winery on Friday, March 26, at 5:30 p.m., via YouTube.
Prior to starting her own boutique wine company, Luna Hart Wines in Buellton, Voelcker’s minimalist philosophy blossomed while working in various capacities for both Rideau Vineyard in Solvang and Faith Vineyard in Los Olivos.
“My first two harvests were full of trials with yeast versus non-inoculated fermentations, and I always preferred the non-inoculated,” Voelcker said, recalling her time at Rideau, where she started as an intern and left as an assistant winemaker.
During one summer at Rideau, Voelcker simultaneously worked as a vineyard and production assistant for Ryan Roark at Faith Vineyard.
“He [Roark] showed me the world of garagiste, minimal interference winemaking, and taught me a lot about organic and holistic farming approaches,” she said.
Voelcker described these experiences as catalysts to her beginnings as a small-batch winemaker. While still owning and operating Luna Hart Wines in Buellton, she also works as the winemaker for Piazza Family Wines in Solvang, which she helped owners Ron and Nancy Piazza bring to fruition (pun intended) back in 2019.
Looking back at 2020 though, Voelcker is surprised to say it was technically her winery’s [Luna Hart Wines] most successful year to date.
“I certainly ran a lot of aggressive discounts to help get through the pandemic, but it worked out quite well,” she said. “I would say that more of my sales went directly to consumers, which yields better profits but much less volume, so it has certainly been a give and take.”
As for her day-to-day routine over the course of the pandemic, COVID-19 mitigation measures didn’t disrupt her regular work flow too much, as Voelcker works by herself for the most part, she said. Outside of winemaking though, circumstances of the pandemic inspired Voelcker to revisit one of her older passions.
“I did end up delving more into horse sports last year because of the pandemic and now have two beautiful horses at our vineyard property,” said Voelcker, who loved growing up surrounded by horses at her family’s lavender farm. She’s originally from Coatesville, Pennsylvania.
While Voelcker didn’t relocate to California until her college years, to study at UC Santa Cruz, she became interested in wine and winemaking during high school.
“My most memorable early wine experience was a private tasting experience that my mother had organized for my family in Bordeaux,” said Voelcker, who was able to visit many wine regions throughout France during her youth.
Voelcker said she was immediately drawn to “the balance of science and creativity” in winemaking and wine culture. During the Bordeaux visit, Voelcker took part in a wine class that really opened her eyes—and nose—to “what wine could become and the poetry behind it,” she explained.
“The host introduced us to a game to smell different scents detected in wine. This showed me that I really could not identify even the simplest and most common scents, like roses, which prompted me into years of smelling and tasting anything I could get my hands on,” Voelcker said.
After graduating with a degree in plant science from UC Santa Cruz, Voelcker applied to several wine industry positions throughout California.
“I had a few opportunities in Napa and Sonoma and a few down here. I ultimately chose Santa Barbara County because of the town and beaches of Santa Barbara,” Voelcker said. “Little did I know how amazing the wine industry itself would be down here.
“We have an extremely supportive community of winemakers, a lot of whom are women,” added Voelcker, who will be joining three other guest speakers during the upcoming Women in Wine panel.
Local winemaker Anna Clifford, co-founder of Final Girl Wines in Los Alamos, was also invited to speak during the virtual event, presented by Buttonwood Winery in celebration of Women’s History Month. As aficionados of both wine and film, Clifford and her husband, Peter, based their brand’s theme on the “final girl” trope popularized by the horror genre.
Winemaking team Mireia Taribó and Tara Gomez, of Camins 2 Dreams in Lompoc, will also discuss their production style and unique varietals during the event. Like Voelcker, Taribó and Gomez strive for minimal intervention when it comes to their handcrafted wines, fermented with natural yeast and made from grapes sourced exclusively from Santa Barbara County vineyards.
In summing up the appeal of the area, Voelcker cited a handful of reasons Santa Barbara County attracts so many winemakers, whether they’re up-and-coming or already established elsewhere.
“Santa Barbara County is unique in its opportunities for entrepreneurial winemakers, due to more affordable fruit, more reasonable winemaking facilities, and a great supporting community,” Voelcker said. “We are also blessed with microclimates throughout the valley that allow us to grow the best of a wide variety of varietals.”
Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood is feeling blessed. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.