“The wine is not about me,” says Jessica Gasca of her brand, Story of Soil. “That’s why I don’t put my name on the bottle. It’s about the place where it’s grown. It’s my job to tell you that story: the vintage, the microclimate, the place. That’s what I’m trying to do, to let you know as a consumer where it’s from and what it’s about.”
Gasca’s story begins among the pines of Lake Arrowhead, where she was born, but begins to blossom in New York City, where she moved in 2003 after getting a psychology degree from Cal State L.A. While pursuing big city dreams, Gasca helped open a restaurant, where the resident sommelier taught wine classes every Tuesday.
“That sparked my interest,” she explained. “The amount of knowledge he had about a simple beverage just blew me away.”
The New York experiment fizzled fast — “it was way too hot” she recalled, “and then way too cold” — so Gasca went back to restaurant work in Los Angeles while considering a graduate degree. “Ironically, I was going to get my degree in counseling for drug and alcohol abuse,” she said. “But I decided, screw it, I want to be happy.”
After New York, Gasca realized that she was more curious about wine than her friends. “I was interested in the whys and the whats when we would go tasting,” said Gasca, though she can’t help but laugh about her former buying habits. “I thought I was a wine drinker, drinking $12 bottles of J. Lohr cab or Estancia or Coppola that I bought at Safeway,” she says. “I thought it was fancy.”
She did have a direct connection to hand-crafted wine, though. Her uncle through marriage is Gary Burk, the founder of Costa de Oro Winery. “I called him up and said I would love to make wine,” explained Gasca, who quickly took the offer of an unpaid harvest job in 2009.
Cellar life was immediately intoxicating, especially since she was surrounded by the legendary winemakers who then worked at Central Coast Wine Services. “The culture back then at CCWS was a good ol’ boys club,” she remembered. “It was really fabulous. All the winemakers would get together at lunch time, cook together, eat and drink, and then go back to harvest. That was a really fun introduction to wine culture for me.”
Her first real wine job was working in the cellar and on sales and marketing for Matthias Pippig of Sanguis, who’d been hired to open Grassini Family Vineyards. “It was a perfect fit for me, because I had a lot of experience in hospitality and I had opened new businesses before,” said Gasca, who stayed with Pippig until 2013.
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After a brief harvest stint at Fess Parker Winery, Gasca found an ideal gig at Dragonette Cellars. “The reason I took the job at Dragonette is, well, they are incredible humans, but they were also extremely supportive about me doing my own wine,” explained Gasca, who had started her own brand in 2012 with one ton of pinot noir and two tons of syrah. “They hired me knowing my wine would eventually become my purpose and my focus. Any time harvest came around, or when I had to bottle, they let me do my own thing. I don’t know how many other wineries would have been so gracious.”
In May 2017, Gasca and her husband, Brady Fiechter, opened the Story of Soil tasting room in Los Olivos. By April 2018, she’d left Dragonette with a big slap on the back and was finally on her own.
Story of Soil’s lineup includes a dozen different small-batch wines, rarely more than 200 cases each, including syrah, pinot noir, gamay noir, sauvignon blanc, and grüner veltliner, grown across an assortment of 11 different vineyards. In line with her philosophy, Gasca is meticulous about sourcing, aiming for “top-tier, highest-quality” vineyards.
“There are seven biodynamic certified vineyards in Santa Barbara County — I work with five of them,” she said. “There is something magical to me about these vineyards, where the owners are walking the vines constantly. And if you work with great grapes, there is very little I have to do in the cellar, to be quite honest.”
Gasca is also becoming an important part of the wine industry’s charitable efforts as part of the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation, where she became president of the board in 2019. She was integral in shifting the biannual Santa Barbara Wine Auction to benefit the Community Health Centers of the Central Coast, while still supporting Direct Relief, the international aid organization based in Goleta that the auction was founded to foster in 2000.
“I had never heard of the CHC before, so I went and found a mobile unit in Los Alamos, knocked on the door, and talked to the doctor on site that day,” she explained. “They have the capability to drive their mobile health units from vineyard to vineyard and give our workers health care, which is amazing.”
The 2020 gala was the first to benefit both organizations, and it also connected Direct Relief more directly to the CHC. “The cherry on the top is that we’re checking the box for vintners who want to give back locally, we’re still supporting Direct Relief, and they are partnering with the CHC to provide medicines, vaccines, and all the things they need,” says Gasca. “The three of us have come together to do even bigger and better things locally. It’s really exciting.” She further cemented that relationship by raising more money during the Vintner Foundation’s recent golf tournament at Sandpiper.
On the wine front, she never wants Story of Soil to eclipse 2,500 annual cases. That’s despite the wines already selling out at a brisk pace, which means a waitlist will soon be required.
“Brady and I don’t own any land, and I don’t know if we will ever be able to afford land,” explained Gasca, leaving that door open just enough. “But I never dreamed that we would be this far along so quickly.”
2928 San Marcos Ave., Los Olivos; (805) 686-1302; storyofsoilwine.com