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LIOCO Winery: A Different Path

Sommeliers approach wine from a different perspective, less focused on the hedonism of wine and more concerned with how the components of wine act in unison to compliment and enhance the experience of dining. Their profession teaches them about what kind of wine makes food sing. It is no surprise, then, that in recent years many sommeliers have launched their own wine labels, directing the crafting of wine or even making wines themselves that reflect their preference for food-loving wines. Many sommeliers have established intimate relationships with winegrowers and winemakers through the years, making it easy for them to gain access to talented people in the wine business to assist in the start up process. One of these sommeliers is Kevin O’Connor of Spago Restaurant in Los Angeles.

O’Connor predates the current surge in sommelier wine producers, having made wine for years under the O’Connor label. Beginning with the 2005 vintage, he teamed with former North Berkeley Imports wine importer Matt Licklider to found the LIOCO label, specializing in non-manipulated site-driven wines. LIOCO is a combination of the partner’s last names.

O’Connor works closely with University of California at Davis graduate Kevin Kelley (pictured below), who also crafts wines for Salinia Wine Company, Heintz Vineyard, and Spot-On Cellars. Like a number of winemakers who started out with ambitions to enter the medical profession, he was derailed after reading Charles Sullivan’s Like Modern Edens, the story of the origins of the Santa Clara Valley wine business. After serving an internship at Domaine Meo-Camuzet in Burgundy, he became an assistant winemaker under Wells Guthrie of Copain. He founded his own label, Salinia Wine Company, with his wife Jennifer in 2003, with the intention of producing wines with minimal winemaking imprint using indigenous yeasts and very little to no oak (only seasoned oak barrels are used). To achieve his goals, he picks early, does not temperature control fermentations, avoids fining and filtration, minimizes sulfur usage, and lets nature take its course.

The LIOCO Chardonnays fermented in stainless steel and the non or barely-oaked Pinot Noirs are a revelation. The food-loving style will appeal to winos who like their wines lean and bright. LIOCO produces about 12,000 cases annually of what Kevin likes to call “honest” wine out of a facility in a Santa Rosa, California industrial park.

LIOCO Wines are available on the website at, at select restaurants, and at fine retail wine stores. The labels are highly informative detailing the winemaking, the tasting profile, and all the pertinent scoop (see below). Most of the wines reviewed below are still available on the website. The 2009 Sonoma County Chardonnay ($20), 2009 Carneros Chardonnay ($30), 2008 Demuth Vineyard Chardonnay ($35), and 2008 Charles Heintz Chardonnay ($45) are now offered. There is also a Rosé of Pinot Noir ($14), and a Indica (blend of old-vine Carignan and Petite Sirah) wine ($20) and Indica Rosé ($14). The winery’s business office is in Los Angeles (310-717-1892).

2008 LIOCO Sonoma County Chardonnay

13.5% alc., $20, screw cap. Fermented in stainless steel sur lie for 5 months, wild yeast, 100% MLF. · Straw color in the glass. Aromas of lemons, ocean air and brioche with a little funkiness that persists in the glass. The flavors trump the aromas with tasty baked apple, pear, dark toffee notes. Slightly creamy with bright acidity. Good.

2008 LIOCO Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.71, $35. Clones 115 and 667 from vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. 7-day cold soak, 20% whole cluster, wild yeast fermentation, aged 11 months in neutral oak, unfined and unfiltered. · Heavy scent of crushed black cherries and allspice. A bit tart and lean for my taste with a blast of citrus on the dry finish. Improves some over time in the glass and I would recommend pounding it in a decanter and drinking it with food. Decent.

2008 LIOCO Graham Family Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

15.2% alc., $40, screw cap. · Penetrating and haunting aromas of red plum, red berries, violets and graham. Lip smacking hedonistic core of sweet red berries that are nicely spiced. The attack is impressive and the fruit is startling good. This is a perfect sipping wine, the fruit hanging around on the finish for at least half a minute. Very Caliesque and atypical for the LIOCO style. The alcohol is well-integrated and the wine was still drinking well the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating spot on balance.

2007 LIOCO Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley Chardonnay

14.1% alc., pH 3.81, 160 cases, $35. Whole cluster pressed, cold fermented, no oak, wild yeast fermentation, natural MLF, aged 6 months sur lie in stainless steel, unfined and unfiltered. · Golden yellow color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile offering scents of crushed rock, papaya, lychee, petrol and smoke. Discreetly rich and slightly viscous with flavors of lemon peel, white peach, Asian pear and melon. The wine’s modest acidity reflects a warmer site. Very good.

2007 LIOCO Sonoma Carneros Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., 504 cases, $35. From a vineyard near the Napa/Sonoma border exposed to cool winds and fog from San Francisco Bay. 7-9-day cold soak, 16- day fermentation in open-top tanks, wild yeast, aged 12 months in neutral barrels, unfined and unfiltered. · Lovely perfume of plums, currants, spice and a whiff of oak. An impressive wine that captures the essence of dark stone fruits and grapes. I was captivated by the purity of this wine and the generous finish that lingered for over twenty-seconds.

2007 LIOCO Henni’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.74, 45 cases, $45. This vineyard is in a cool site in Green Valley, planted densely (4’ x 4’) on Goldridge soil. This wine is from the first harvest at this vineyard (“Virgin Vintage”). 7-day cold soak, long (19 days), cool wild yeast ferment in open-top tanks, manual punch downs, aged 12 months in once used oak barrels, unfined and unfiltered. · The aromas of berry tart, Asian 5-spice, and warm brioche really come at you from the start. Would make a very sensual perfume. Pure flavors of red berries and cherries, pomegranate, spice, and a subtle Concord grape note. Unencumbered by oak flavors and tannins, this wine is both exotic and erotic.

2007 LIOCO Klindt Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.80, 265 cases, $45. A diverse mixture of clones. · Nicely nuanced nose showing aromas of black cherries, balsam, spice and melon. Tasty core of cherries and berries with a touch of spice, savory herbs, pine tar and savory herbs. Clean, smooth, nicely balanced, and opens smoothly over time in the glass. Very good (-).

2007 LIOCO Michaud Vineyard Chalone Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.77, 343 cases, $48. This vineyard is located at an elevation of 1,600 feet on granite and limestone soils. The climate is extreme, with 40 to 60 degree diurnal shifts, resulting in stressed vines. 10-day cold soak, aged 12 months in 1, 2, and 3- year-old oak barrels, unfined and unfiltered. · Deeply colored. Appealing, even ridiculously sensual aromas of warm cherry tart, tea, ground savory and dark roses. Flavors of loamy black cherries and berries, spice and grilled mushrooms. A sweet and sour thing is going on with the fruit. Silky and smooth with healthy ripe tannins yet a charming elegance. Amazing persistence of berry fruit on the generous finish. This wine will stand up to hearty foods. Very good (+).

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