March is the month we celebrate women during Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is women providing healing and promoting hope. That can be interpreted in many ways, and for someone who loves wine, it is a female winemaker who promotes hope by nurturing the vineyard and creating a wine bringing hope as we can come together to share a glass of her wine over a good conversation. One female winemaker that comes to mind is Gretchen Voelcker, who, besides having her own label Luna Hart also is the winemaker for Piazza Family Wines.
Female Winemaker Gretchen Voelcker – The Beginnings
For Gretchen, her passion for wine began when she lived in Europe after her mother accepted a job in Brussels. During this time, her mother introduced her to wine when they visited wineries in Bordeaux.
Gretchen was raised in Pennsylvania on a horse and lavender farm. She studied Business and French at Georgetown University. She switched to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she obtained her degree in plant science. Following college, she moved to Santa Barbara and began working as an intern at Rideau Vineyard. She moved up the ladder to assistant winemaker. After six years, she started working for Ryan Roark as a vineyard and production assistant. During this stint, she decided to try her hand at winemaking.
While at Roark, an opportunity for a work trade for grapes availed itself. She leaped at the prospect. The trade was for Sauvignon Blanc grapes, a variety she is not fond of but took the challenge.
Gretchen’s love of nature and the outdoors makes her job in the vineyard easy.
As a female winemaker, Gretchen believes less is more. She begins by only using organically farmed fruit. Minimal intervention is key to the wines she creates for both Luna Heart and Piazza. She only works with vineyards that practice sustainable, organic, or biodynamic farming. All her wines are unfined, unfiltered, thereby representing the purest portrayal of each vineyard. Gretchen’s wines are about place, the vintage, and the variety. Her wines showcase bright acidity and balance. They also consist of high acidity and low alcohol and considered lighter in style.
From her background, Gretchen believes in small-batch handcrafted varietals that pursue the balance of science and creativity.
Gretchen strives to create wines that see more skin contact with white wine. In the reds, she works with native fermentation and some stem inclusion.
Established in 2014, Luna Heart, Gretchen focuses on perfecting and experimenting with her favorite varieties, including Sauvignon Blanc and Gruner Veltliner in the whites and Syrah and Cabernet Franc in the reds.
Originally calling the winery Moon Unit, an endearing name her father called her, she was forced to change the name after receiving a Cease and Desist letter from Moon Unit Zappa. Taking a positive from a negative, she rebranded her winery to Luna Hart. Looking back Gretchen now knows the name is more befitting for a female winemaker and the goals she aims to achieve.
For Gretchen, she wanted a name that represents masculine and feminine energy. Luna is the moon and signifies feminine energy. Hart is another word for stage and therefore symbolizes masculine vitality.
The spirit of family is vital to the philosophy of Ron and Nancy Piazza and their Piazza Family Wine. For Gretchen, the Piazza’s seem to be like a second family. This quality is evident because she keeps her horse Ebony at the property.
Along with vineyard manager Ruben Solerzano, Gretchen nurtures the vines of the 14-acre Bella Vista Vineyards in Ballard Canyon. This vineyard was planted in 2001 and 2019 and consists of limestone and clay soils.
At Piazza Gretchen works with a different set of varietals; Grenache, Graciano, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, and Montepulciano. The Graciano is the flagship wine of Piazza and Gretchen creates in addition to the more traditional Graciano, a carbonic Graciano.
Mt Carmel Vineyard
Located in the Sta. Rita Hills, this vineyard is primarily dry-farmed and was planted in 1989. This historic vineyard was the second established in the Sta. Rita Hills. The vineyard location in the AVA lies in the western portion. The soils consist of limestone, botella clay, diatomaceous earth, calcareous deposits, and sandy loam. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grow at this site.
Life Beyond the Vineyards
You will find Gretchen spending the day with Koru, her dog, at her side, whether in the vineyard or enjoying nature and the outdoors on a hike. She also trains her horse Ebony, a Friesian Filly, and partakes in mounted archery with her thoroughbred, Marco.
Gretchen has succeeded in the wine industry by combining her science knowledge with her creativity. As a female winemaker, she joins many other ladies in Santa Barbara Wine Country that have made a name for themselves in the industry.
Let’s lift our glass to the female winemaker who gives us hope as we sip their wines.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted visit. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.