Lucchesi Vineyards Friends, wine and good times
October 14, 2008
The air was full of the scent of things at the end of growth – rich and brimming with the promise of feasts to come. A light drizzle fell, water glistening on the leaves of the grapevines, row upon row of liquid greenness turning the Lucchesi Vineyards into a shimmering dream.
It was easy to understand how Mario and Linda Clough fell in love with the land. “It was our property even though it wasn’t ours,” said Linda Clough. When it came up for sale, they bought it on “a romantic whim.”
Back then, it was full of wild scrub and pine. In 1998 they decided to clear an area for a yard. The next year, they thought they’d clear a little more. The idea of maintaining more lawn was not something on which Mario Clough was too keen. “Why don’t we plant some grape vines?” he suggested. When those were in, they were encouraged to plant more, and 14,000 vines later, they had a gorgeous, terraced vineyard.
It may have seemed like a bit of a leap for an individual in the publishing business to start planting grapes, but not when Mario Clough’s experiences came to the fore. He fell in love with wine while attending the University of Texas. An elective was available in wine appreciation. What could be more tempting to a college student Ð a class where one could drink? He signed up and discovered that there was a little more involved than just consuming glasses of red or white. In fact, Clough feels it was the hardest class he ever took.
The farming aspect of the industry wasn’t new to him either. Mario Clough’s stepfather became an agriculturalist in Missouri, and that upbringing gave Clough his love of farming.
“This harvest has been really condensed,” said Linda Clough. September flew by as many of the days were spent harvesting then crushing the grapes. With the Cloughs and two helpers, harvesting 20 acres in a short span of time was quite the challenge. This year they also battled flu and fever while out in the fields, but their passion for the product carried them through.
The scent of wine and rain mingled as everyone filed into the tasting room. As the Cloughs came in, so did their winemaker Kristen Vartan and their vineyard manager Matthew Wentz. As each person arranged themselves around the room, a feeling of family filled the space.
Proudly the Cloughs spoke of Wentz’s education at the University of California, Davis. Because of his current schooling, the vineyard has had the opportunity to be on the cutting edge, including growing some Portuguese varieties of grapes that are not found anywhere else in California.
The Cloughs also spoke of Vartan’s impressive experience. She worked harvests in New Zealand and then harvests in Napa, taking advantage of the opposite growing seasons to gain double the knowledge. This impacted studying has served Vartan well. She worked for Frank Family Vineyards, Cloudy Bay, and the Mondavi family among others before moving to Nevada County’s foothills. Her abilities have brought even more depth and character to Lucchesi’s already excellent wines. Look for the New Zealand influence in the Sauvignon Blanc.
As wines were tasted and the group shared their experiences, that cozy feeling of family persisted. Mario Clough felt that the friendly environment extended out to all of the winemakers in the region. In Nevada County, it’s still easy to meet the owners and winemakers when one goes to a tasting room. He spoke of how everyone works together, helping with harvests when needed, lending equipment, “It’s friendly competition Ð together we’ll all be successful.”
Lingering over the recently released 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Ð made with the best of the harvest in the very best French oak barrels Ð it was easy to reflect on how doing what one loves can be fruitful. The family has only had wines available for five years. In that short space of time, not only have they won numerous awards, they also did their first exporting recently, selling to the Ritz Carlton in Brazil.
“It’s been a labor of love,” said Mario Clough.
Mellisa Hannum is a graduate of Humbolt State University with a degree in journalism. She lives in Nevada City with her husband and two cats.