When winemaker Anna Clifford met risk management analyst Peter Lancucki at a party in New Zealand in 2016, their first conversation was about what skills they would bring to the zombie apocalypse. Other than revealing that he could fly a Cessna and that she made wine for a living and could shoot a gun, they learned that they both had an affinity for horror films.
Lancucki, in fact, wrote horror stories, screenplays, and podcasts in his spare time but only knew wine as a fan from the outside. With nearly 20 harvests under her belt at that point — including 10 years in Napa and Sonoma and three in New Zealand — Clifford knew wine intimately but was technically an amateur when it came to horror, just a fan of Halloween season and scary movies since her Thousand Oaks childhood.
Fast-forward a few years — past their first date in Fiji, where they shared a 2005 Atlas Peak cabernet sauvignon that she made; past their 2017 wedding in Hawai‘i; past the immigration struggles they had (he’s Australian); past ideas for other brand names that were already taken — and the Lancuckis finally settled on the name Final Girl for their own line of wine.
It was a nod to their shared horror love — “final girls” are the ones who survive all that gore until the end — but also reflective of Clifford. “She’s a female winemaker who is gritty and determined and able to survive the challenges,” said Lancucki. “It made a lot of sense to us.”
They launched Final Girl in 2019 with a party on Friday the 13th of September, of course, showing slasher flicks while pouring sips of their inaugural petit verdot and grenache-syrah. Their logo is a silhouette of a chainsaw-toting woman, and each bottling pays homage to specific final girls. (See sidebar.) Final Girl quickly attracted attention from wine lovers in the television and film industry and from aficionados of horror like themselves, but also many others. “We found a very eclectic group of people who are wine club members,” said Clifford. “We’ve got a huge range of racial and economic diversity.”
It’s possible, of course, that these folks simply like their wines, which range from skin-contact viognier and minerally yet tropical chenin blanc to their hallmark petit verdot and a syrah-grenache blend called Tethered. All of it comes from Santa Barbara County, where Clifford has worked as a winemaker for Cambria Wines since 2018 after nearly seven years at Terravant.
She found this region much more entrepreneurial than her experience up north and enjoys having access to so many different grapes, which she explored while working on different projects at Terravant. “You can buy high-quality fruit of whatever you’re interested in,” she said. “Prices aren’t super prohibitive, which is amazing.”
The daughter of an Irish-Catholic father and Guatemalan immigrant mother, Clifford didn’t grow up with much wine around other than at church. But her life took on direction at age 13 when she saw the film French Kiss. “There was a subplot of this guy starting a vineyard, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” recalled Clifford. “Maybe it’s appropriate that we ended up with a movie-inspired brand.”
Her parents were supportive, taking her to Leeward Winery when it still existed in Oxnard and to vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley. After graduating from UC Davis in 2002, Clifford worked at a murderers’ row of North Coast wineries: Beringer, Buena Vista, Atlas Peak, William Hill, and Geyser Peak, to name a few, plus some in New Zealand. She moved to Santa Barbara County in 2012.
It was a 2014 lot of petit verdot from Happy Canyon Vineyard that inspired Clifford to chart her own path, in part because she had to watch the wine be purchased and blended away by a client. “It broke my heart,” she said, so she bought her own in 2015. Then came Lancucki, whose Australian background inspired the grenache-syrah blends, and Final Girl slowly grew, from 250 cases to an expected 500 in 2021.
They even picked up some dolcetto this year and pride themselves on being a brand that can show wine lovers more than the usual pinot noir, chardonnay, and cab. “Instead of cab, try our petit verdot, instead of chardonnay, try chenin blanc,” said Clifford. “That’s a little like what genre movies are like. We aren’t the big blockbusters. We have a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
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Odes to Final Girls
Final Girl is a nod to the fierce women who survive the grisly challenges of horror films, and each label pays homage in subtle ways to certain characters, sometimes with supportive imagery. “There are little Easter eggs for horror fans,” said winemaker Anna Clifford. Here’s who the bottlings represent and why.
Rosé: Wichita from Zombieland. “It’s fun and light, and she’s young and spunky,” said Clifford. Added co-proprietor Peter Lancucki, “And it’s Emma Stone. She’s a redhead.”
Orange Wine: This skin-contact viognier is dressed in a Halloween-y orange, so it’s an ode to Halloween’s Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. “That was obvious,” said Clifford.
Chenin Blanc: With fruit from Jurassic Park Vineyard, they opted for Dr. Ellie Sattler, Laura Dern’s character in Jurassic Park. “That’s a creature feature, not necessarily a slasher,” admitted Clifford.
Petit Verdot: Barbara from Night of the Living Dead. “She starts out as being meek and mild but, by the end, she’s kicking ass and blowing people away,” said Clifford. “That’s like petit verdot: It’s seen as a blender, but we’re making it stand out on its own. It can take a punch and give it out as much as any other wine.”
Grenache-Syrah: This 60 percent grenache, 40 percent syrah blend recalls Buffy and Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “Buffy is the light grenache, and Faith is the dark syrah. They work together to kick ass and slash vampires.”
Tethered Red Blend: The opposite of the original blend, this is 60 percent syrah and 40 percent grenache. “We chose Red from the Jordan Peele movie Us. It’s sort of the evil twin doppelganger of the original red blend.” It also has cloned bunnies on the label.
Sangiovese: Clarice Starling from Silence of the Lambs. “Sangiovese is so versatile and so many people love it, similar to the movie. Plus, it goes well with liver and fava beans.”