Mark Aselstine
 
July 9, 2013 | San Luis Obispo County | Mark Aselstine

Laetitia Vineyards and Winery

Laetitia Vineyard & Winery

I’ve made the drive down the 101 Freeway between Santa Barbara and the Bay Area at this point more times than I can count and each time it seems like grape vines are springing up.  One thing that you only see rarely though, is an actual winery within eyeshot of the freeway.

Laetitia Vineyard & WineryLaetitia Vineyard and Winery is one exception to that rule and it provides a litany of other differences between it many of the other wineries that consumers are more familiar with inside California as well.

Let’s start with the basics, Laetitia is located inbetween the towns of Santa Maria and Arroyo Grande which puts it about 75 miles north of downtown Santa Barbara and 50 miles south of Paso Robles.

For a long time people within the wine industry noted that this was the dead area when it came to California wine because although the only profitable grape vines back then (think the crash of 2008) were the vines right along the 101, wineries weren’t thriving there because of a lack of foot traffic. 

Laetitia Vineyard and WineryLaetitia thrived then and continues to thrive now, yes they get some casual tourists passing by, but they’ve created a destination for people who love wine to enjoy on their trip up the California Central Coast.

Laetitia is different in another way as well, unlike virtually every other winery that has a household name in the state, they own all their own vines, or at least a huge percentage of them depending on whom you ask.  Either way, it seems as if they either own, or have long term contracts with every important vineyard that they choose to work with.

Located largely in the Arroyo Grande AVA, Laetitia takes advantage of some of the unique characteristics of the area.  First, you have an evolved and geographically diverse AVA, complete with both mountains and valleys.  That combination of traits allows Laetitia to offer a range of estate wines both in terms of red and white wines, but growing blocks of both Syrah and Pinot Noir directly on the estate.

The Pinot Noir program, not surprisingly given their location near the land which brought the world Sideways, is largely the highlight of the winery.  They offer at last count 6 different estate Pinot Noir’s, allowing consumers a real opportunity to experience the differences that small changes in either winemaking technique, clone choice or vineyard location can have on wine.  One of our favorite experiences is the opportunity to taste different vineyards and compare them, but also to taste the stylistic differences between their whole cluster Pinot Noir versus their standard estate bottle.

Of course, if my wife had written about Laetitia, she wouldn’t have even gotten around to mentioning the Pinot Noir because Laetitia also boasts one of the most expansive sparkling wine programs in America. Yes, their estate vineyard and its blocks of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are well suited for sparkling wine, but like most everything on the estate they’ve gone that extra mile to create the best wine experience possible.  Laetitia boasts the only two remaining European style basket presses in America.  It’s a Middle Ages technology that most wineries have modernized for one reason or another (ease of administration, winemaker frustration or profit among them) but it adds more than an incremental amount of work to the process of making their sparkling wines.  It is true that most estate’s in Champagne still follow this process, which calls for four separate manual presses of each grape, often in the early hours of the morning to ensure that the Pinot Noir skins don’t touch the grape juice for too long a time period.

Of course, no winery exists only in a vacuum and no winery simply drops their grapes from the vineyard and lets them seemingly ferment on their own.  Winemakers make a big difference in the finished product which has helped move this industry into the whole winemaker as celebrity culture which abounds.  Eric Hickey is the lead winemaker at Laetitia and has had a long ongoing relationship with the estate.  Trained largely at the Central Coast standout of Maison Deutz, perhaps the areas most prototypical French estate in America, his job as winemaker and general manager at Laetitia seems somewhat predestined.  That training and the French style of thought process that goes into winemaking at Laetitia, as well as the belief that the winery and vineyard should be inexplicably linked, shows that Laetitia is a good fit for Hickey, himself with an expressed appreciation for all things French (wine at least).

Of course, just as a vineyard doesn’t make wine itself without a winemaker, a winemaker doesn’t exist without an owner.  Laetitia’s owner is Selim Zilkha, whose biography I won’t try to lay out in any detail here (the winery website does a good job, as does this profile) but I can have a ton of respect for anyone with as diverse set of interests as an international mom’s to be store as well as wind energy.

All of this is to say that if you find yourself planning a trip to either Santa Barbara or Paso Robles, a slight detour to Laetitia makes a ton of sense.  It’s a gorgeous estate with a ton of history and some of the best and most varied wines anywhere in California.

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