It’s the only place on the Central Coast where sparkling wine is produced, but that isn’t the whole story about Laetitia Vineyard and Winery.
When you walk into the tasting room you can’t miss the two huge Coquard presses in the adjacent room. Laetitia is the only winery in the United States to have these rare European wooden-basket wine presses that are manufactured by the Coquard Company of France.
Using these, Laetitia makes sparkling wine according to the Methode Champénoise, the authentic French method that puts that famous sparkle into the beverage. During harvest time guests are invited to take off their shoes and get into the large presses to stomp the grapes, “I Love Lucy” style
Bubbles, or CO2, are the most important thing about sparkling wine and there are four methods of getting those bubbles into the wine. It can be injected, just like it is in soda drinks, but the fizz doesn’t last long. There is an Italian method called Charmat that allows for smaller, long-lasting bubbles, and there is a transfer method. But the original French method is the supreme one and has produced award winning champagne for many years. However, the designation “champagne” cannot be used outside of the Champagne region of France, thus all others are referred to as sparkling wine.
You might think producing sparkling wine would be enough, but the owners and the winemakers at Laetitia believe in diversity and offer a full complement of fine wines including white wines such as Chardonnay, Rousanne, and Riesling and red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Two related winemakers are responsible for all the products. Dave Hickey has been the sparkling wine producer since 1999 and was apprentice with Maison Deutz, under the former owner of the winery, since the early 80s. His son, Eric, joined him, working in the cellar while in high school, and in 1994 became Cellar Master at Maison Deutz. Eric studied winemaking at UC Davis and after new owners bought the winery, he was named winemaker over the still wine program.
Laetitia Vineyards was purchased by Selim Zilkha, an entrepreneur who was born in Baghdad and has lived in Egypt, Lebanon, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He founded the Mothercare retail chain in the United Kingdom as well as Zilkha Renewable Energy, a wind power development company with his son. He became interested in the wine industry and purchased both Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard and Laetitia Vineyards. His daughter Nadia is Executive Vice President and has her own line of wines.
Pinot Noir grapes comprise a majority of the plantings at the Laetitia Estate along with Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo, and Riesling that enjoy the cooler climate of the Arroyo Grande Valley. The Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard label utilizes grapes grown in the Santa Barbara Mountains at 3,200 feet above sea level. Here there are warm, sunny days that lend themselves to quality grapes of both red and white Rhone varietals.
Farming methods under the care of Lino Bozzano have resulted in Laetitia and Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyards being awarded certification by the Sustainability in Practice (SIP) program. Rather than using chemicals and pesticides for weed control, goats are employed to browse the areas between the vines. The goats are watched over by Lucky the llama, who also helps out with grazing. Bio fuels are used in the tractors and rose bushes are planted at the end of the vineyard rows to attract insects away from the fruit. Grapes are picked at their optimal times and teams of pickers move down the rows hand picking the grapes.
Laetitia Vineyards produces seven different sparkling wines with the best being their Brut Cuvee and Brut Rose. Between Laetitia, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard and Nadia labels, more than 30 different varieties are offered.
When you visit the winery you will drive up the hill past rows and rows of Pinot Noir vines to reach the tasting room. Outside is a fountain with picnic tables under the shade trees. A bocce ball court is available and there is a lovely walking trail. Laetitia provides van pick up for guests staying at the Cliffs, Dolphin Bay, Spyglass, Seacrest, Sea Venture, and Sandcastle Resorts, which includes free wine tasting of five selections.
There are a number of events throughout the year such as Roll Out the Barrels in May, and the SLO Vintners Harvest Celebration in November. Guests get to ride through the vineyard in gondola cars for tours.
Laetitia means joy and happiness and an afternoon spent tasting the diversity of these wines is guaranteed to give you joy and make you happy.
— Ruth Ann Angus