Revealing the Hidden Asset of Santa Barbara County
Forced to lay on his back, Louis Lucas had enough.
For 40 years, the veteran Santa Barbara viticulturist had been the man behind the wines. His extensive knowledge of the area dates back to a time when the area had 60 acres of vineyards. Today there are more than 200 wineries, six AVAs and more than 21,000 acres of vines.
If there was an ideal place to grow a grape variety, Lucas would not only find it, he'd fit it with the optimal trellising system, even if it meant he had to create a new one. Because every detail mattered, he'd tinker with the canopy until it was just right.
But just over two months ago, the man in the vines, the man behind the wines went on a doctor's visit, for what he thought was a heart murmur, that turned into double bypass and mitral valve repair surgery.
"I was on my back seven days and I can't stand to lay on my back," Lucas said. “I was in intensive care for 11 days."
The man who cared for the vines, who'd co-founded the Lucas & Lewellen label in 1996 with Superior Court Judge Royce Lewellen, wanted to return to his routine: vineyards in the morning and winery in the afternoon.
Lucas & Lewellan has a remarkable wine with Hidden Asset.
It's a play on words - Santa Barbara has become synonymous with Burgundian varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Hidden Asset is a daring attempt to reveal the region's other wines.
While Lucas admits Pinot is still his "bread and butter," he said there are new climate zones every four miles. Combined with a plethora of soil types and elevation changes, the area is teeming with potential for different grape varieties to thrive.
"We wanted a lush, delicious red wine," Lucas said. “I've enjoyed what I do and have been doing it for a long time. Our goal was a lush, not overly tannic wine that was more toward the softer side. We named it after the varieties that don't get a lot of attention in the area."
Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards Hidden Asset 2016 ($29) is a well-balanced, medium-bodied red blend that has a charming nose of boysenberry and ripe raspberry. The flavors range from milk chocolate to sage and blackberry. It's a beautiful blend of Malbec, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Franc that's sourced from vineyards spanning all off Santa Barbara County.
In what Lucas said was "an interesting project," the estate vineyards span 380 acres, feature 24 varieties of grapes and span three of Santa Barbara County's separate and distinct climate zones: Santa Maria Valley, Los Alamos Valley and Santa Ynez Valley.
Lucas' grandfather and father grew table grapes. As a third-generation grape grower, Lucas is the right person to dial in where the conditions are ripe for grapes to grow.
"I grew up growing table grapes where we would manipulate the vines a lot," Lucas said. “That used to be frowned upon, but then a big name winery does it and suddenly it's canopy management."
While he traveled through the world's classic wine-growing regions of Europe as he was honing his craft and picking up new techniques, today it's Lucas who has helped transform a once sleepy region into a thriving wine-grape growing community.
Like his wine, he's also a hidden asset of Santa Barbara County,