LIOCO is a funny name for a winery, isn’t it? A combination of founders Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Connor’s last names, their moniker reflects how tight this team is when it comes to crafting real wines for real people. Kevin was the Wine Director at Spago Beverly Hills and Matt was the National Sales Director for North Berkeley Imports when in 2005, they decided to leave the security of their day jobs and live out their dream of owning a winery.
The decision to venture out on their own was made over a series of casual tastings in the back alley behind Spago. While tasting the great wines from Burgundy, Rhone, Piedmont, and Champagne the idea of making some “vintage style” California wines–like those made back in the 80’s—came to them. And LIOCO was born.
Not owning any vineyards of their own, these two industry insiders relied entirely on their Rolodexes to source grapes from premier California vineyards. That they immediately put on the roster bottlings from iconic vineyard addresses such as Hirsch, Hanzell, Heintz, and Durell speaks to the credibility of their shared resume. “We were interested in producing highly expressive wines—wines with soil expression– and the only way to do that is to get the best source material.” LIOCO’s winemaking style is inspired by the European philosophy of ‘”wine is groceries—it’s something we do every day. We wanted to produce approachable wines that were refreshing and low in alcohol”. Their average level is between 11% and 13% ABV which is quite impressive by California standards, considering most hover around the 15-16% mark.
With no estate fruit and very little overhead, Matt and Kevin (and their star-winemaker John Raytek) are awarded the freedom to produce wines from all over California and from many different grape varieties. Currently, they make wines from Mendocino, Sonoma, and Santa Cruz counties, with an emphasis on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But their intrinsic curiosity about wine allows them to entertain new grape opportunities that arise. LIOCO makes a delicious (and inexpensive $22) red wine from Carignan—a variety that nearly went extinct in California—as well as some rarities like Gruner-Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, and Valdiguie.
Their efforts have been rewarded with status on the most exclusive restaurant wines lists in the world– from Tokyo to San Francisco to New York to London. At one time these LIOCO wines could only be found in restaurants like The French Laundry, Boulevard, Spago, Per Se, etc. Now Matt and Kevin have made small quantities available to the public. LIOCO offers an exceptional wine tasting experience in several unique locations.
The first option is at their winery cooperative in Santa Rosa.
[$25/person | Tuesday – Saturday | 60 minutes | 2-6 guests].
This behind the scenes experience is like “…eating at the chef’s table in a busy restaurant.” The tasting area is tucked in amongst the barrels, surrounded by tanks and hoses. This is not a hospitality area—this is quite literally where the wines are made.
On the day we stopped in for a visit, we began with a splash of their Rosé of Carignan followed by:
- 2014 Chardonnay from Anderson Valley: crisp and light, only 12.6% alcohol.
- 2014 Chardonnay from Santa Cruz Mountains: a cleaner, mineral style of Chardonnay with only 11.4% alcohol
- 2013 Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast: bright fruit with slight hints of sour red fruits. And you won’t believe the price at only $38 a bottle!
- 2012 Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley: deliciously smoky with deep, dark fruit and a lengthy finish.
The second location is at the James Beard Award-winning The SHED. This is the place to be seen dining, drinking and shopping in the now-bustling town of Healdsburg. With an emphasis on local foods, The SHED boasts a market-like setting filled with artisanal food and pantry items, along with a café and fermentation bar–all in a modern setting complete with a full schedule of culinary and garden-inspired events.
Weather permitting, the private tasting [$50/person| 90 minutes | Wednesday-Saturday | 2-6 people] takes place on the charming private garden patio, or it can be hosted upstairs in the sun-filled space called The Grange. You’ll taste a lineup of four wines paired with an absolutely scrumptious plate of local cheeses and house-made charcuterie. The wine and food combinations are simply divine!
Don’t feel like venturing out? Not a problem—the last option has LIOCO bringing the wine tasting experience to YOU. They offer private tastings in your home (or hotel room if you’re staying in Healdsburg), which are fully customizable to suit your palate and wine interests. Knowing you can enjoy their limited-release wines in the comfort and safety of your own home (no drinking and driving to worry about) makes the experience all that more special. For more details on this unique wine tasting option, email them at email@example.com.
Lastly, LIOCO has created a lunch series at another culinary hot-spot in Healdsburg called Barndiva. Held the last Friday of each month from 12-2 PM, you’ll be treated to a seasonal three-course tasting menu expertly paired with four LIOCO wines by French Laundry alum Chef Ryan Fancher. The lunch includes an open discussion about all things wine with LIOCO proprietors Matt and his wife Sara. For more details and to make a reservation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
So if you’re looking for a unique wine tasting experience of some stellar, “insider” wines at very affordable prices, then LIOCO is definitely for you.