Résumé: Worked his first harvest in 1996 at Cline Cellars in Sonoma County, followed by Sonoma gigs at Fisher Vineyards and Williams Selyem. Spent 2001-2004 at Byington Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Came to Santa Barbara’s Star Lane and Dierberg Vineyards in 2004, worked there as winemaker until 2010. Has been running his own Ground Effect Wine Co. ever since and took over winemaking at Sunstone earlier this year, as well.
From Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara County: “[In Santa Cruz] all I did was ride mountain bikes and make wine. It was a great time, a total gas.” But de Luca’s Carpinteria-raised wife wanted to move closer to home (and also told de Luca to “get serious” about his career and stop “goofing off”).
Ground Effect Explained: “It wasn’t that I was tired of making classic varietal wine,” he said of his experience at Dierberg and elsewhere. “It’s that I knew there was more out there. I wanted to experiment, and I wasn’t about to do that on someone else’s money and time. This is my way to try out all the wacky ideas that I have.” Those ideas include Gravity Check, a white wine blend of chenin blanc from Curtis Vineyard with albariño and pinot gris from the Paragon Vineyard in Edna Valley, and the Rock Garden, an annual red blend that mixes dry-farmed zinfandel with Rhône varietals like syrah, grenache, and counoise.
Sucked in by Sunstone: Bion Rice’s parents planted Sunstone in 1990 as an organic vineyard of merlot, syrah, cabernet franc, and viognier grapes when he was just a kid. Now president and CEO, Rice put a bug in de Luca’s ear nearly two years ago. After a brief stint living in Paso Robles, de Luca bit. “Organics is close to my heart and really jibes with my own personal ethos,” said de Luca, who is now making the winery’s flagship merlot and viognier, along with a little bit of syrah and the Eros Bordeaux blend. “It was a great opportunity, and I wanted to be able to do something that had some meaning to it.”
Your Chance: De Luca — and some of his first Sunstone bottlings — will be on hand in Santa Barbara on November 14 for Arlington Tavern’s six-course pairing dinner prepared by chef Ron True, featuring persimmon and fig salad, pork belly, duck confit tart, and braised lamb shank, as well as hors d’oeuvres and dessert, all paired with Sunstone wines, and all for $85. See sunstonewinery.com and arlingtontavern.com for tickets and info.