Laetitia’s Pearl Anniversary
Sparkling Winemaker Dave Hickey has been on the team almost since the beginning, albeit in roles as varied as cleanup crewman and cellar hand. And his son, Eric Hickey, who started out observing winery operations as a kid on the fringe, is now President and Head Winemaker of the venerated brand.
“When I started here, the winery was empty,” said Dave Hickey. “The tasting room was built but had never been used.”
The inception of Laetitia Vineyard & Winery is woven into the history of Central Coast winemaking, though sparkling wine was something of an anomaly for the area at the time. In the early 1980s, French viticulturists came to California to seek out a New World outpost for growing vines and producing wines similar to those of their homeland in Champagne’s Epernay region. Their search ended just south of Arroyo Grande, nestled among the foothills that stretch parallel to Highway 101. The property soon boasted several acres of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, as well as a production facility equipped with two traditional French Coquard presses – still, the only two in North America.
As Maison Deutz Winery (the original name for what is now Laetitia) a culture of respect for Old World methods was established with the Coquard presses and méthode champenoise, a traditional, labor-intensive and time-consuming approach to making sparkling wine. And even after the property changed hands and the name became Laetitia Vineyard & Winery several years later, that culture remains.
“When it comes to sparkling wines, the only difference between Old World wine and Laetitia sparkling wine is the use of New World grapes,” said Dave Hickey. “I was trained by French winemakers who were, themselves, trained in Champagne. They wanted it done exactly the same way here as it was there. And to this day, one of the highest compliments anyone can pay me is to say that my wine reminds them of Champagne.”
Today, Laetitia’s estate vineyards have expanded to include over 600 acres and more than a dozen varieties, in addition to the 1,100-acre Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard in eastern Santa Barbara County which sources all fruit for the brand’s sought-after NADIA label. Between Laetitia and NADIA, nearly 1,000 tons of grapes were harvested in 2012 and 160,000 gallons of wine produced.
Both properties are sustainably farmed under the purview of Vice President Vineyard Operations, Lino Bozzano. “With a large addition of new Pinot acres just before I started here eight years ago, there was a lot of unknown,” said Bozzano. “Today, these vineyards show several different expressions of Pinot Noir. Being here to watch these terroirs develop has given me a great personal connection with the property.”
But no matter how the Laetitia Vineyard & Winery domain grows, its backbone will always be pure, complex and utterly festive sparkling wine. To celebrate the brand’s 30th year, Laetitia will offer a limited edition etched magnum series for purchase. Additionally, the winery will host an intimate and formal Dual Winemaker Dinner on Saturday, September 14 at 5 PM. Winemakers Dave Hickey and Eric Hickey will pour their coveted library wines from over the course of their time with the winery, accompanied by dishes from the culinary genius of Chef José Dahan of Et Voilá Restaurant.