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Ninety.  Thirty. Twenty. Seventeen…

I’ve been counting down the days to the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference since cancelling my trip to the 2013 conference in Penticton, BC, Canada, just two weeks before the event due to an unexpected work trip.

In seventeen days 300+ wine enthusiasts will gather in Buellton, CA for the seventh annual Wine Bloggers Conference to learn more about the wines, wineries and winemakers of Santa Barbara County (and Paso Robles for those on the pre-conference tour).

For many 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference attendees, this year’s event will be their first visit to the Santa Barbara County wine region (and to Paso Robles for those on the pre-conference trip).

Over the next seventeen days leading up to WBC14, I will be posting a series of eight interviews with notable winemakers that attendees will meet during the conference.

The purpose of this winegrower interview series is to serve as an educational prelude to the conference and to raise awareness of the Santa Barbara County wine region.

I’m excited to begin the ‘Get to Know the WBC14 Winegrower Series‘ with one of the coolest dudes in the Santa Barbara County wine industry — Larry Schaffer, winegrower and owner of Tercero Wines (on Twitter: @TerceroWines).

Photo credit: Larry Schaffer.

Photo credit: Larry Schaffer.

I first met Larry at the 2009 Rhone Rangers event in San Francisco. We’ve stayed in touch since then so he was the obvious choice to kick-off this series leading up to WBC14.

Tercero Wines officially started in 2006, one year after Larry completed a Masters Program in Viticulture and Enology.

When WBC14 attendees meet you, what should they know about your background?
A few things to understand here: 1) My ‘winemaking background’ at this time was a single vintage at Fess Parker Winery as their enologist and 2 part time jobs at wineries in Temecula; 2) Before going back to UC Davis to get my winemaking degree, I had been a financial analyst with a record company and done sales and marketing in the publishing and toy businesses; 3) 2006 was a VERY challenging vintage in Santa Barbara County for Rhone varieties — short and hot! Therefore, I consider 2006 ‘mother nature’s vintage’ and will take a bit more credit for 2007 being my first real harvest where I had a clue as to what I was doing and hoping to accomplish!

Describe your winegrowing philosophy?
As far as winegrowing goes, I leave that to the vineyard managers and viticulturists out there. I try to work with top-notch folks who know a heck of a lot more about the vineyards they farm than I do! I will walk the vineyards in the spring and throughout the harvest season and will make the final picking calls based on a plethora of factors, but I do not try to micromanage them.

How has the wine narrative in California, and the larger wine world, changed since your first vintage?
A tremendous amount has changed in the near decade since I made my first wine with regards to the ‘wine narrative’ in CA and beyond. In 2006, there were very few bloggers and folks with much clout when it came to wine reviews and wine opinions. The likes of Robert Parker and James Laube still ruled the roost, so to speak. Therefore, if you were lucky enough to ‘have their ears’ or their taste buds on your story or your wines, you were able to emerge above the fray. Opinions such as theirs really did have a great impact on both on and off premise accounts.

This has obviously changed quite a bit with the emergence of the blogging community, with the power of sites such as CellarTracker and WineBerserkers, and the general move away from just following what a few have to say. That’s not to say that these publications have completely lost their pull with the market – far from it. There are just more opinions out there, and consumers are searching around for alternatives.

In addition, there are a whole lot more wines and wineries now than there were in 2006. The barrier to entry in the wine world has never been smaller, and I’ve seen numerous occasions where the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of a storyline has propelled new wineries to great heights – regardless of the quality of what’s inside the bottle.

What is the one myth about wine that you would like to see ended?
I am not a fan of the ‘conventional wisdoms’ that continue to exist in our industry. Just because it’s said often does not mean it’s true. You CAN serve red wine with fish and you CAN serve white wine with red meat. Period. Unfiltered wines are not ‘better’ than filtered wines as a general rule. ‘Native fermentations’ do not necessarily lead to ‘more complex’ wines — period.

The Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) is a fast-paced, wine-soaked weekend with many wines, stories and experiences.  What would you like WBC attendees to know about you, your wines, and/or your winery?
That’s a great question. I would like the WBC community to know that, though I’m passionate about wine, I am generally NOT passionate about our industry in general. I do not like the pompousness of it, and I strive every day to come at this through the eyes of a consumer, not a winemaker, to try to understand my messaging better and what consumers really want – not I want them to have.

What do you hope to gain from the WBC experience?
There may not be a bigger ‘homer’ for Santa Barbara County and its wines than I am. Therefore, I hope that attendees gain a much broader understanding of what we as a County have to offer. We are so far beyond being just pinot noir and chardonnay but I don’t believe most consumers understand this – even those in our own backyard of Southern California. I’m excited to have that story told – and excited to be a part of that storytelling itself!

What wines will you be sharing with the WBC group?  Why did you select these particular wines to share at the conference?
Each year, I make at least a dozen different wines, so this is not an easy question to answer – but I’ll try (-: I’m hoping to shine the spotlight on the Rhone varieties grown in Santa Barbara County and will therefore proudly be pouring as many as I can as often as I can – starting with a hotel room at the Marriot Friday night that will be a ‘Rhone room’ with other like-minded wineries such as Zaca Mesa! Specifically, I will be pouring my Grenache Blanc, my Viognier, my Mourvedre Rose (!!!), and a collection of reds that will include 100% Mourvedres, Grenaches, Syrahs and a few blends ta boot! And I may even sneak in a wine I call The Outlier — you’ll have to ask Thea Dwelle (on Twitter: @luscious_Lushes) all about it 🙂

What is the most exciting grape variety you work with, and why?
This is another tough question to ask — kind of like asking a parent with more than one child who their favorite is 🙂 I’m gonna go with two if that’s okay. First off will be Grenache – to me, no other variety encompasses as much a balance between intoxicatingly beautiful aromatic complexity and mouth-watering flavors as it does . . . Second will be Mourvedre – I work with numerous different vineyards for this variety each year, and I dig the combination of fruit, funk, pepper, leather and spice that the variety brings to the table. Not for the faint of heart, but when it’s on, it’s fantastic!

What would you be doing if you weren’t making wine?
Well, I’ve already lived a couple of other lives prior to getting into the wine biz!!! At this point, if I weren’t making wines, I’d probably be at a winery assisting them with overall strategic planning — or playing beach volleyball as often as I could. 🙂

What vintners or regions do you look to for inspiration (and favorite wines)?
I love wines that offer a sense of ‘distinct place’ and therefore love the more ‘old world’ wines of Chateauneuf Du Pape, the wines of the Loire Valley (especially Chinon), and some of the more old-school Northern Rhone producers. But for true inspiration, I look locally for the wines produced from the vineyards I either work with or would like to in the future. There are a plethora of world-class producers in my back yard — and I couldn’t be happier about that!

What is the worst (wine related) mistake you’ve ever made?
I think the worst mistake I ever made was submitting wines to reviewers before the wines were really ready to strut their stuff.

What wine (or variety) do you not currently make but would like to?
I love aromatic whites and will have the chance this harvest to work with Albarino — can’t wait!!!

What did you drink last night?
I had small tastes of a Viognier from Sunstone that I helped make last harvest, a nice but somewhat simple Languedoc rose, and barrel samples of the 2013 whites I’ve yet to bottle – Roussanne from two different sources; Grenache Blanc from two different sources; and Viognier – all from vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County.

Tercero Wines
2445 Alamo Pintado Ave #104
Los Olivos, CA 93441
(805) 245-9584
On Twitter: @TerceroWines
Larry’s blog:  Wine Verbiage

Please be sure to seek out Larry during Wine Bloggers Conference and introduce yourself.

Check back on Thursday for another Santa Barbara County winegrower interview!