Marco Lucchesi vividly recalls the time when he was 10 years old and tasted a lineup of new wines from Piedmont with his grandfather and father at their family’s restaurant in Pisa, Italy, where his dad was one of the early professional sommeliers in the business.
“I was stuck to the glass,” remembers Lucchesi, who now makes Section Wines, as well as a higher-end eponymous brand from Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria Valley grapes in a Buellton warehouse. “I could taste the fruit and then a developing flavor profile that I couldn’t even name.”
Though he was supposed to take over his parents’ restaurant — called Marcellino Pane e Vino, which they owned until four years ago — when he grew up, Lucchesi came to the United States for a visit in 1998. “I promised my mom that I’d come back in a couple of months,” said Lucchesi. To her dismay, he’s never left.
He wound up in the Bay Area at first, studying wine at Napa Valley College while working restaurant jobs, and then found his way to Santa Barbara, getting married (since divorced) and having a daughter (now 16 years old) along the way. Here, he worked in restaurants as well, primarily Italian eateries in Montecito like Via Vai and Pane e Vino in the Upper Village and Trattoria Mollie and Tre Lune on Coast Village Road.
But the primary goal was to make his own wine, which he started doing in earnest in 2014, launching Section Wines with a few partners. (One died last year, and he parted ways with the others around the same time.) “I’ve got to do anything I need to do to support this,” he said.
Things got serious in March 2016, when Lucchesi opened his winery for tastings, and started growing production, hitting about 1,600 cases by 2019. His lineup is a compelling blend of what Santa Barbara County does well: pinot noir from the cooler parts of the Santa Maria Valley, Bordelaise varieties from the warmer Los Olivos District and Happy Canyon appellations, a bit of Rhône from Ballard Canyon tossed in. But he’s also producing wine from Italian grapes such as sangiovese, nebbiolo, vermentino, and, yes, even that arneis, still a very rare variety in California.
Today, Lucchesi is tightening his focus on a few select properties, including pinot noir from Rancho Ontiveros — he believes he has the first grapes that vintner James Ontiveros has sold to anyone else from that coveted property — and Bordeaux reds from Star Lane and Stag Canyon vineyards. He’s steadily removing oak influence from the process, and the wines, especially the newer ones, show that freshness and savory, herbal tones that are hallmarks of the region.
“I’m just locking down on my properties,” said Lucchesi. “Now I have a continuum.”
He’s particularly proud of the sangiovese he is pulling from the Terry Evans Vineyard, located between the Gainey property and the Santa Ynez River. “Now we are getting the whole vineyard, and there is no one else,” he explained of that planting.
While he exudes Italian exuberance — he’s borderline manic in his excitement over the entire process — and an affinity to traditional techniques, Lucchesi is meticulously careful in his winemaking. “I don’t want to be the boring guy, but people need to know that there’s a lot of science and chemistry involved,” he said while showing off his small lab. “Sensory evaluation tells you a lot, but you would be a fool not to check your chemistry when you need it.”
But his heart remains very much in his native land, where thousands of years of wine culture imbue a tangible spirit into Lucchesi’s manner and methods. “I want to bring the Old World to Santa Ynez,” he pledged. “This is my culture, and this is my soul that I’ve been living and breathing since I was a young kid.” See sectionwines.com.