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Learning to like LIOCO
LIOCO Pinot Noir, from the Petaluma Wind Gap

Among the new class of wine makers are upstarts who eschew the expense of  vineyards, fancy tasting facilities and big payrolls. Instead, these newcomers settle into readily available warehouses and establish crush facilities. They contract with vineyards owners to buy grapes and then set about making wines.

One such winery, LIOCO, takes the process one step further and seeks to answer the question: Can a true wine of origin be produced in California?

Co–owners Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor both enjoy noble wines of France, wines uniquely tied to a provenance of terroir, aged vines and careful handling. LIOCO suppliers are the cream of the crop – typically the same growers who sell grapes to big name labels like Ramey and Patz and Hill.

These guys have got to have good grapes. Their wine making philosophy dictates letting the grape be the star – not the oak, not the manipulation. To insure that, LIOCO white wines are fermented in all stainless steel. Red wines age in mostly neutral oak.

Honestly, the first vintage of these wines did not impress me. And, for the money, I could find far more comparable wines for less money.

However, the LIOCO team has roared back with recent vintages and seem well on their way to meeting their goal of crafting genuinely origin–specific wines. Pricing, in my mind, is now right in line with the quality and enjoyment that comes from their bottlings.

In a recent tasting with Licklider, here are my favorites:

LIOCO 2008 Chardonnay Carneros: These grapes come from the best blocks in the  vineyard – and are hand–selected a second time on the sorting table. Like many new vintage Chards I’m tasting, this one is bright with sweet orange notes and a crisp minerally finish.

LIOCO 2008 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast: Talk about specific terroir, this vineyard sits in the Petaluma Wind Gap, a place renowned for cold wind and fog – perfect for Pinot Noir. Expect a nice conflict of black cherry and earthiness like mushrooms on the nose – then brace yourself for a silky, decadent sip that’s reminiscent of cherry, orange peel and comforting spice.

LIOCO 2007 “Indica” (Mendocino County): This proprietary “heritage blend” of old-vine Carignan, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre and Grenache comes from cool benchland vineyards in Mendocino’s Redwood Valley. Indica is a sensory wine, one that taunts the senses from your nose to your palate. A 10-month slumber in neutral oak brings great balance to a cornucopia of smells and flavors that range from tart cherry to ripe blueberry to a curiously enjoyable herbaceous mid-palate surprise.

Lots of labels are available, like a juicy Ros , and several other origin–specific Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.