After Rick Longoria received his degree in sociology from UC Berkeley back in the early 1970s, he decided that he’d either become a winemaker or a lawyer. If he was going to become a lawyer, he’d have to hunker down and go to law school. If he was going to become a winemaker, he decided, he’d probably have to go to UC Davis. Longoria had developed an appreciation for wine during weekend trips away from the college dorm, during which time he and his friends would take wine-tasting tours through Northern California.
Somewhere between deciding on one path or another, a young Longoria took one year off to travel through South America. Back then, Longoria says now, he was a “bit of a radical. I was very involved in the student movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.” Longoria chose to visit South America, rather than Europe, because he was deeply concerned about how Americans were being perceived in these nations, considering America’s ongoing involvement in South American politics at that time. Though Longoria planned to travel widely through South America, he never got past Ecuador, where he fell in love with the people and the scenery of the land there. It was while he lived in South America that Longoria decided his heart was not in law school, nor in attending UC Davis. Instead, upon his return stateside, he wrote to a number of wineries in Sonoma and Napa, asking if he could find employment among their ranks, despite his complete lack of experience.
The only winery that showed interest in his passion for wine was Buena Vista in Sonoma, where he began working in 1974. Longoria quickly moved up through the ranks, and was soon promoted to a full-time cellar worker. During the next few years, Longoria held posts as winemaker or Cellar Master at a number of wineries, including Rancho Sisquoc, Chappellet Winery, and Firestone Vineyard, where he met his future wife, Diana, who was, coincidentally, the first tour guide there. Though Longoria established Richard Longoria Wines in 1982, it was not until leaving noteworthy appointments at J. Carey Cellars, Gainey Vineyards, and Rideau Vineyard, where he helped launch the Rideau Vineyard brand, that Longoria was able to dedicate himself full-time to his first love — the production of his own handcrafted wines, with an emphasis on producing an unforgettable pinot noir. By then, it was 1997. Flash forward nearly 10 years, and Longoria is not only producing award-winning wines, which often fetch high points from leading wine critics, he has somehow, through it all, managed to sustain a pure love for winemaking. While many of Longoria’s winemaking colleagues spend much of their time on the road, peddling their wines, Longoria stays close to home, where, with the help of assistant winemaker Lorna Kreutz, he remains a truly hands-on winemaker. The term “hands-on” is widely misused these days by any number of “craftsmen” in any number of specialized fields. In truth, many of them have passed the actual crafting of, say wines, for example, to cellar workers, while they’re out schmoozing with celebrity chefs and wine writers. As a result, the quality of the wines often suffers, and as quantities increase, often to sustain the winemaker’s increasingly glamorous lifestyle, the wines lose their focus and become of secondary import to the increasingly star-struck winemaker. This is not the case with Rick Longoria. He is so obsessed with creating wines that are true to their varietal origins that he can often be found at his small winery in the warehouse district of Lompoc. Though he’s not polished in the areas of public relations, and is not written about as much as he should be, his wines still garner the recognition that they deserve by receiving high scores and mention in articles about definitive Santa Barbara pinot noirs and chardonnays. This is all due, in no small part, to the fact that, despite Longoria’s almost hermit-like existence in his cellar, the wines speak for themselves. And what great examples of focused and thoughtful winemaking they are. Though Longoria was the first winemaker to “set up shop” in a warehouse in Lompoc, the unassuming visionary laid the groundwork for others to make their wines there, as well. Now known as the Lompoc Ghetto, where fashionable, hard-to-find wines such as Brewer-Clifton, Bonaccorsi, and Holus Bolus are made, Longoria still holds the largest winery space there and is greatly admired by younger winemakers, who now find themselves in the same neighborhood.
Wine communities are often built on the backs of hardworking and dedicated winemakers such as Longoria. They may not be the trendiest, hippest guys around, but their belief in their winegrowing region of choice and their own deeply held passions are what lend a winegrowing region its authenticity. Though they are often the unsung heroes of an increasingly self-conscious industry, without them, we would witness the complete commodification of wine, and the Disneyland-ification of Santa Barbara County wine country. To learn more about Richard Longoria wines and his tasting room, located in Los Olivos, visit longoriawine.com.