We had the good fortune of connecting with Gretchen Voelcker and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gretchen, how do you think about risk?
Taking risks has been my guide to where I am today, and I have always viewed risk as intimidating, yet great opportunity in my life. Even at a younger age, I had a very adventurous spirit that encouraged me to take the risks presented to me.
In high school, I had worked hard to be at the top of my class and get accepted into a national drumcore, which took countless hours of practice and perseverance, but when presented with the opportunity to move to Brussels with my parents for my mother’s job, I did not hesitate for an instant at possibilities that could arise from a year in Europe. This led to my introduction to the wine industry and an incredible exposure to culture that I had never dreamed of.
This was again demonstrated when I decided to leave Georgetown University after studying two years of business to move to California with only having visited San Francisco once at a very young age; at this point, all I knew was that I wanted to head west and go into Sciences, but did not have a precise direction.
Shortly after that I took the risk to do a backpacking semester abroad in Patagonia, which was hands down the most difficult and rewarding experience of my life: hiking extremely long hours, studying botany and being encouraged to embrace experiences out of my comfort zone. This experience paired with the move to California gave me the strength to be who I needed to be, even if it was someone I never knew existed growing up.
With my business, Luna Hart Wines actually started as a work trade. A friend of mine gave me a ton of grapes as payment for helping him with his vineyard, and I took that opportunity to invest in myself and launch my own label quite early on in my career. My business was always a platform for me to play with different winemaking styles and often I take risks with different approaches to making wine. This continues to help me to hone my craft and make the wines that I love to drink, as well as make wines that are more unique!
I look forward to seeing what other adventurous opportunities or risks guide me in the future!
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I’m the owner and winemaker of Luna Hart Wines, where I make handcrafted, minimal manipulation wines of Santa Barbara county where I get to work with some of my favorite varietals and delve into some further exploration of winemaking.
Luna Hart Wines started in 2014 as a work trade with Ryan Roark of Roark Wine Company. He has a small Garagiste wine label and first introduced me to this world of very small production, back to the basics winemaking without all of the fancy machines and tools. I helped him that year on a vineyard he was managing and as part of my payment, he offered me a ton of Sauvignon Blanc from that vineyard. I took this opportunity and ran!
After selling out of my first 25 cases of wine under another name, I received a cease and desist followed by a “maybe we should do business together” letter from someone with the name trademarked under music. At this point, I had consulted a trademark attorney who taught me that I would most likely win a court case of this nature but at what cost! This pushed me to take a year off and go through all the processes of legalizing my business, but also gave me the opportunity to go back to the drawling board and really choose a brand name that resonated with me.
With my winemaking, I seek to bring a balance of both feminine and masculine energy to my wines. I like to keep the wines more acidic and crisp with delicate handling, but I also like to incorporate some skin contact with whites and pay close attention to fruit manipulation of reds to get good tannin structure from the wines themselves. This is why I choose “Luna Hart” as a representation of this balance. Luna or the moon being the feminine and Hart or the stag being the masculine.
With Luna Hart, I make minimal intervention, unfined and unfiltered wines from grapes organically, biodynamically or sustainably grown. Most people are unaware that a lot of wines have a long list of hidden ingredients used in winemaking and most have at least a few undisclosed ingredients; these include synthetic chemicals, dyes and animal products. The only ingredient used in making my wines is a small amount of sulfur added to keep the wines healthy and tasty.
By using less modern tools, I am aiming to give a more natural and timeless expression of the vineyards that I work with. The grapes are all hand harvested and when I choose to harvest, I seek to find a balance of good acidity and flavor. As grapes ripen, acid drops and sugar and flavors develop. I want to maintain acidity to make the wines more food friendly and have natural protection against spoilage. This allows me to not add artificial acids and to add less sulfur to my final product. I also allow spontaneous fermentation by allowing the native yeasts on the grapes carry out this process instead of commercial yeasts.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I live in Santa Barbara, so I don’t have the best familiarity with the city. Perhaps I need to go on one of these perfect days with someone else’s response!
My perfect LA day would start with bike riding along Venice beach and walking the shops of Abbot Kinney with a little lunch and wine stop at Gjelina.
Then no stop to LA would be complete for me without taking advantage of the awesome music scene. There is pretty much always an awesome concert at the Forum which must be met with a pre-show dining experience at Margot for a beautiful rooftop restaurant with stellar food.
My other favorite LA restaurant is Found Oyster! Incredibly fresh seafood fare!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have to shoutout to my parents first and foremost for always giving me new experiences and supporting me along my path. I could not be here without them! And specifically my mother for being an incredible business and goal setting role model in my life.
I would also like to shoutout my right hand bestie and business partner, Tymari LoRe. Her winemaking knowledge and palate have always been my behind the scenes tools in making great wine, but more importantly, her inspirational leadership, continual encouragement and support to try new things and stand firm in my winemaking style have brought me to where I am today.