Brian Loring of the Loring Wine Company: No Labor Where There’s Love
Interviewer & Writer:
Uncorked Monthly Contributing Writer, Kim Brittingham
Starting his own wine business wasn’t easy, but it was a dream come true for Brian Loring and he wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, if the entire zany process could be summed up in a movie montage, he says the soundtrack would be “Mint Car” by The Cure on account of these happy-go-lucky lyrics:
The sun is up
I’m so happy I could scream!
And there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be
Than here with you
It’s all I ever wanted
I almost can’t believe that it’s for real
Loring says the song, “has a sense of movement to it because everything (involved in starting a wine company) would be movement. It would be cleaning, driving, picking. Even though you get pretty tired and you might see someone dragging a bit, but all of a sudden, you think, God, this is wine!”
Confucius meant wine?
It seems Loring understands what Confucius meant when he said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life”.
Loring says he was a “wine geek” by the time he was seventeen. He started working in wine shops during high school, where “the owners were really into wine and guided me pretty well. I’d have my mom come buy the wine and we could try it at home on the weekends.”
During college in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, he worked at Victor’s Wine Shop in Hollywood, where one of the owners was a Burgundy fanatic. Loring got to taste some fantastic European wines, like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. But when it came to domestic wines, young Loring was unimpressed, at least in Pinot Noir. He says, “The Pinot was still a grape that California hadn’t figured out where to plant, pretty much.”
How I got into the business
Eventually Loring got himself a day job in Los Angeles writing software for aerospace companies. But every chance he got, on weekends and weeks off, he found himself driving north into southern California’s wine country. At a 1990 tasting event with the Orange County Wine Society, Loring stumbled upon a Pinot that really knocked his socks off – specifically, a Santa Maria Pinot Noir by Cottonwood Canyon. “It was unbelievable,” he remembers. “Norm (Beko, winemaker and owner of Cottonwood Canyon) subsequently became a good friend and…how I got into the business.”
He peppered Beko with so many questions that Beko invited Loring to join in the crushing process.
And that was it: the beginning of Loring’s love affair with Pinot Noir and what sealed his winemaking destiny.
Working in software by day, Loring still found a couple of weeks each year to do everything at the Cottonwood Canyon winery, “from cleaning and hauling stuff around, to actually being able to pick fruit. It was unbelievably awesome. And I’ll tell you, from that point on, it was something I at least wanted to give a shot and do it on the side.”
So in 1999, Loring convinced Beko to sell him three tons of fruit, and Loring started processing and making wine from the Cottonwood Canyon winery.
“It was a lot of driving, a lot of late nights
And keeping a full-time job and making wine wasn’t simple, but it was a great opportunity. And it was so much fun that I think we’ve never really seen (it as being) too difficult. I look back and go, ‘Man, how did I do it?’ I don’t know that I could do it now, but they were fun times.”
In one of Loring’s favorite photos of himself, he’s standing in a South Park Cheesy Poofs t-shirt, covered in grape stains. “We had finished processing the first vintage of our wine and crushing it and putting it into the fermenter. It was really cold. It was really late.” But judging by the grin on his face, he’d never been happier.
Now, Loring has caught up with his bliss and is making wine full-time.
Never guessed it got this good
Wondered if it ever would
Really didn’t think it could
Do it again?
I know we should!
Says Loring, “If you get farther into Santa Barbara, the growing season’s so long that you usually get past any major tannin issues in the wines. And because of the long hang times, we get a lot of thick skins. We get really bright fruit. So our wines are usually pretty plush and ripe-fruited, ready to drink right away…but good acidity. They go well with food, but they can stand along. And at Keefer Ranch, especially as a vineyard…boy, that’s a great site. Marcy Keefer…I don’t know what it is about the soil, the clones, the weather, but it captures a real bright, crisp cherry flavor which is pretty alluring.”
Loring also makes a Chardonnay as well as two sparkling wines – namely, a Brut Blanc de Blancs and a Brut Rosé. His process looks something like this: “We decided to do something completely different. We just picked Chardonnay and Pinot at our normal amount and sugar levels, and made a 15% base. Then we de-alked it to 11%, the theory being that we’re actually working from riper fruit with riper flavors. Then we started the complete méthode champenoise process. Did everything in-house…We do our own riddling and our own disgorging.”
Loring adds that, “I’m really intrigued with this process. I think it has the potential to produce something…not necessarily better, but I think different. Something that maybe is somewhere between the flavor profile in champagne and California…Talk to me in ten years.”
It’s unlikely that Loring will ever forget Beko’s generosity in taking him under his wing and introducing him to winemaking up close, and he continues to find himself part of a community of winemakers who are selflessly cooperative. From the beginning, he said, “Everybody was willing share because we were all starting these (winemaking endeavors) as second careers…It’s a really nice change coming from an aerospace world where it’s so competitive. Here, people will really help each other. I think it probably stems from the early days when it was a farming community…You might not necessarily always get along with the person down the road, but if their equipment breaks down, you help them out, because you’re going to need their help, too.”
While Loring moves further away from amateur status with each passing day, winemaking still maintains its mystery. “There’s never a point where it’s static and you can just go on autopilot. That I think is the exciting thing…It’s in sharp contrast to my previous life where I wrote software, there is a right and wrong. Wine, there’s no right or wrong. There’s just better, maybe. Or just different actually.”
Loring’s winery is in a little town called Lompoc, California, a 45-minute drive north of Santa Barbara, where a tasting can be arranged by appointment. There’s also a Loring tasting room in Buellton that’s open five times a week.
For more information and to purchase wines online, visit www.LoringWineCompany.com.
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