This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on February 18, 2022. To receive Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter in your inbox each Friday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
After a pioneering career in Santa Barbara County winemaking, Rick and Diana Longoria pass along their eponymous brand with stereotypical grace.
In the spring of 2000, I was a scraggly-haired, recent UCSB grad only a few months into what would become a journalism career. I was still a proofreader — the $7-an-hour job I first landed here at the Independent — but also picking up hours as the assistant listings editor and getting paid 10 cents a word for writing articles. I was starting to dabble in the newsroom, which would lead to my next five years as a news reporter, but I was eager to write about anything and everything at that point, from fishing and backpacking to restaurants, music, and more.
Plans were in the works for a cover story on the Santa Ynez Valley, with a central article written by then-resident Donna Mulgrew, and a series of small pieces about various things to do around the area, which was much dustier, cowboy-centric, and, some would say, more charming than the polished wine country sheen of today. I agreed to take on that part of the package — my first cover story! — and headed up to Santa Ynez for a handful of experiences, including glider rides and square dancing at the Los Olivos Grange Hall.
Little did I know that the assignment would creak open the door to what’s now the dominant part of my job: writing about wine.
On one of those Santa Ynez Valley excursions, I made a quick stop at Sunstone Winery, whose impressive setting still serves as the regional entry point for many first-time tasters. Long, late nights of revelry in the stone chateau would come years later, but those are stories for a different time.
Then I found my way to downtown Los Olivos, where only a handful of tasting rooms existed at the time. I walked into one of them and was warmly welcomed by Rick Longoria, a pioneering Santa Barbara County vintner who started as a cellar hand at Firestone Vineyard in 1976 before making wine for J. Carey, Rancho Sisquoc, and, from 1985 to 1996, The Gainey Vineyard. With his wife, Diana, Rick also launched his own brand in 1982, was the first winery to set up shop in Lompoc in 1998 (the first resident of the Wine Ghetto), and helped create the Sta. Rita Hills appellation in 2001.
I didn’t know any of that as a mostly beer-drinking 22-year-old. But the ever-patient Rick proceeded to give me my first lesson on how the east-to-west-oriented Transverse Ranges afford Santa Barbara County the unique ability to grow pinot noir and syrah and cabernet sauvignon and everything in between. Though I surely wasn’t spitting my sips back then, I remained clear-headed enough to recognize that Rick was a kind and wise man, that Santa Barbara County was indeed special, and that I should continue to pay attention to wine as my life and work went forward.
As I did that, the Longorias kept doing what they did best: making excellent wines in a humble manner while quietly collecting deserved accolades along the way. We frequently crossed paths at vintners events, regional tastings, and so forth, and Rick agreed to be interviewed at length when I briefly tried to start a wine magazine with my former Indy colleague Kros Andrade about a decade ago. He later became one of the largest chapters in my book Vines & Vision: The Winemakers of Santa Barbara County, in which my co-author, the photographer Macduff Everton, took a great shot of Rick wearing his Italian racing jersey while riding his antique bicycle through the Sta. Rita Hills.
Perhaps most tellingly of his impact was the intimate event that I attended with about two dozen vintners at Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in May 2013 (a couple of days before my dad died, incidentally). Amid the new wave of winemakers as well as regional legends, guess whose wine was voted best? Longoria’s 1987 pinot noir. “It’s the best pinot I think I ever made,” he said that day.
He must have been on a streak in that era, because a few years later, while camping on Santa Cruz Island with friends and another vintners’ family, I popped open a bottle of 1986 Longoria pinot noir that was appellated as Santa Barbara County. It was quite easily one of the best wines I’ve had in my life — not just because it was still good despite being so old, but because it was excellent on every level.
So I was happy for Rick and Diana this week when I reported on the sale of Longoria Wines to a younger couple, Brooke and Lindsey Christian. They’re new to the wine business but will have Rick onboard for at least 18 months to help the ship steer in the right direction. The Christians hope to use their business acumen to grow the brand, and perhaps open a Funk Zone tasting room down the road.
There was certainly some relief in Rick’s voice when we spoke on Monday, and Diana was excited to see the money hit their bank account while I was on the phone with them. She went off to go get the bubbly.
But best of all was Rick’s comments toward the end of our conversation, which is my favorite quotation of the year so far, and truly some words of life wisdom that can teach us all. I had asked if he was happy with the undisclosed sale price, and he was, but he said that the money was really just the cherry on top.
“For 40 years, it afforded us a comfortable living,” Rick told me. “We never sought out to be rich, and we never got rich, but we loved what we were doing. In the end, that’s the best reward.”
Cheers to that, and thanks to Rick for being the first to open my eyes to what a fascinating world can be found through the lens of wine.
Lompoc Restaurant Week
Longoria Wines is headquartered in the heart of Lompoc on Chestnut Avenue, just a few blocks from the city’s main drags. Those blocks of Ocean and H streets are where you’ll find most of the 15 or so participants in the seventh annual Lompoc Restaurant Week, which runs February 21-27.
For $20.22, plus tax and tip, the restaurants are offering either prix-fixe meals for one, two-for-one meals, or special events, and the couple of participating wineries are also pouring more than usual for that price.
It’s a great reason to head up to Lompoc and literally see what’s cooking up there right now. See Lompoc.com for specifics.
Six Test Kitchen Check-In
Last week, I ventured north to visit vineyards around Paso Robles, Chalone, and the Santa Clara Valley for some stories that I’ll be doing later this year for Wine Enthusiast.
But what really got me moving in that direction were the coveted reservations that I scored at Six Test Kitchen, which won a Michelin star last year. I plan to write about the insanely creative culinary experience later this year — much like I did when I first visited in 2016 — but for those who want a sneak peek, check out my Instagram story about the dinner here.