LIOCO Winery: A Different Path
Sommeliers approach wine from a different perspective, less focused on the hedonism of wine and more
concerned with how the components of wine act in unison to compliment and enhance the experience of
dining. Their profession teaches them about what kind of wine makes food sing. It is no surprise, then, that in
recent years many sommeliers have launched their own wine labels, directing the crafting of wine or even
making wines themselves that reflect their preference for food-loving wines. Many sommeliers have
established intimate relationships with winegrowers and winemakers through the years, making it easy for
them to gain access to talented people in the wine business to assist in the start up process. One of these
sommeliers is Kevin O’Connor of Spago Restaurant in Los Angeles.
O’Connor predates the current surge in sommelier wine producers, having made wine for years under the
O’Connor label. Beginning with the 2005 vintage, he teamed with former North Berkeley Imports wine importer
Matt Licklider to found the LIOCO label, specializing in non-manipulated site-driven wines. LIOCO is a
combination of the partner’s last names.
O’Connor works closely with University of California at Davis graduate Kevin Kelley (pictured below), who also
crafts wines for Salinia Wine Company, Heintz Vineyard, and Spot-On Cellars. Like a number of winemakers
who started out with ambitions to enter the medical profession, he was derailed after reading Charles Sullivan’s
Like Modern Edens, the story of the origins of the Santa Clara Valley wine business. After serving an internship
at Domaine Meo-Camuzet in Burgundy, he became an assistant winemaker under Wells Guthrie of Copain.
He founded his own label, Salinia Wine Company, with his wife Jennifer in 2003, with the intention of producing
wines with minimal winemaking imprint using indigenous yeasts and very little to no oak (only seasoned oak
barrels are used). To achieve his goals, he picks early, does not temperature control fermentations, avoids
fining and filtration, minimizes sulfur usage, and lets nature take its course.
The LIOCO Chardonnays fermented in stainless steel and the non or barely-oaked Pinot Noirs are a revelation.
The food-loving style will appeal to winos who like their wines lean and bright. LIOCO produces about 12,000
cases annually of what Kevin likes to call “honest” wine out of a facility in a Santa Rosa, California industrial
LIOCO Wines are available on the website at www.lioco.com, at select restaurants, and at fine retail wine
stores. The labels are highly informative detailing the winemaking, the tasting profile, and all the pertinent
scoop (see below). Most of the wines reviewed below are still available on the website. The 2009 Sonoma
County Chardonnay ($20), 2009 Carneros Chardonnay ($30), 2008 Demuth Vineyard Chardonnay ($35), and
2008 Charles Heintz Chardonnay ($45) are now offered. There is also a Rosé of Pinot Noir ($14), and a Indica
(blend of old-vine Carignan and Petite Sirah) wine ($20) and Indica Rosé ($14). The winery’s business office is
in Los Angeles (310-717-1892).
2008 LIOCO Sonoma County Chardonnay
13.5% alc., $20, screw cap.
Fermented in stainless steel sur lie for 5 months, wild yeast, 100% MLF.
color in the glass. Aromas of lemons, ocean air and brioche with a little
funkiness that persists in the glass. The flavors trump the aromas with tasty
baked apple, pear, dark toffee notes. Slightly creamy with bright acidity. Good.
2008 LIOCO Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.0% alc., pH 3.71, $35. Clones 115 and 667 from vineyard in the
Petaluma Gap. 7-day cold soak, 20% whole cluster, wild yeast fermentation, aged 11 months in neutral oak,
unfined and unfiltered.
Heavy scent of crushed black cherries and allspice. A bit tart and lean for my taste with
a blast of citrus on the dry finish. Improves some over time in the glass and I would recommend pounding it in
a decanter and drinking it with food. Decent.
2008 LIOCO Graham Family Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
$40, screw cap.
Penetrating and haunting aromas of red plum, red berries, violets and graham. Lip smacking
hedonistic core of sweet red berries that are nicely spiced. The attack is impressive and the
fruit is startling good. This is a perfect sipping wine, the fruit hanging around on the finish for at least
half a minute. Very Caliesque and atypical for the LIOCO style. The alcohol is well-integrated and the
wine was still drinking well the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle indicating spot on
2007 LIOCO Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley Chardonnay
14.1% alc., pH
3.81, 160 cases, $35. Whole cluster pressed, cold fermented, no oak, wild yeast
fermentation, natural MLF, aged 6 months sur lie in stainless steel, unfined and
Golden yellow color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile offering
scents of crushed rock, papaya, lychee, petrol and smoke. Discreetly rich and
slightly viscous with flavors of lemon peel, white peach, Asian pear and melon.
The wine’s modest acidity reflects a warmer site. Very good.
2007 LIOCO Sonoma Carneros Pinot Noir
14.2% alc., 504 cases, $35. From a vineyard near the
Napa/Sonoma border exposed to cool winds and fog from San Francisco Bay. 7-9-day cold soak, 16-
day fermentation in open-top tanks, wild yeast, aged 12 months in neutral barrels, unfined and
Lovely perfume of plums, currants, spice and a whiff of oak. An impressive wine that
captures the essence of dark stone fruits and grapes. I was captivated by the purity of this wine and the
generous finish that lingered for over twenty-seconds.
2007 LIOCO Henni’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.1% alc., pH 3.74, 45 cases, $45. This vineyard is in a cool site in
Green Valley, planted densely (4’ x 4’) on Goldridge soil. This wine is
from the first harvest at this vineyard (“Virgin Vintage”). 7-day cold soak,
long (19 days), cool wild yeast ferment in open-top tanks, manual punch
downs, aged 12 months in once used oak barrels, unfined and unfiltered.
The aromas of berry tart, Asian 5-spice, and warm brioche really come at you
from the start. Would make a very sensual perfume. Pure flavors of red berries
and cherries, pomegranate, spice, and a subtle Concord grape note.
Unencumbered by oak flavors and tannins, this wine is both exotic and erotic.
2007 LIOCO Klindt Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
14.4% alc., pH
3.80, 265 cases, $45. A diverse mixture of clones.
Nicely nuanced nose
showing aromas of black cherries, balsam, spice and melon. Tasty core of
cherries and berries with a touch of spice, savory herbs, pine tar and savory
herbs. Clean, smooth, nicely balanced, and opens smoothly over time in the
glass. Very good (-).
2007 LIOCO Michaud Vineyard Chalone Pinot Noir
14.3% alc., pH 3.77, 343
cases, $48. This vineyard is located at an elevation of 1,600 feet on granite and
limestone soils. The climate is extreme, with 40 to 60 degree diurnal shifts,
resulting in stressed vines. 10-day cold soak, aged 12 months in 1, 2, and 3-
year-old oak barrels, unfined and unfiltered.
Deeply colored. Appealing, even
ridiculously sensual aromas of warm cherry tart, tea, ground savory and dark
roses. Flavors of loamy black cherries and berries, spice and grilled mushrooms.
A sweet and sour thing is going on with the fruit. Silky and smooth with healthy
ripe tannins yet a charming elegance. Amazing persistence of berry fruit on the
generous finish. This wine will stand up to hearty foods. Very good (+).