LIOCO Wine Co. is unlike any other Sonoma wine producer you’ve ever heard of—there’s no brick-and-mortar winery, and there’s no vineyard. Instead, Sara Licklider and her husband, Matt, buy grapes from farmers to produce their own county, appellation and single-vineyard wines.
The two of them founded LIOCO with one goal in mind: to create wines that favor nuance over power. “We founded the company in 2005, a time when wines had become very ripe, extracted and heavily oaked—and were sometimes reaching 16 percent alcohol,” Sara told us. “That’s not what wine is supposed to be like, in our opinion.”
In response, they founded a small, family-owned label that focused on wines made in more of a Burgundian style: low in alcohol, high in acidity and designed to be enjoyed with food. “There’s a movement happening right now called ‘new California wine,’ and we consider ourselves to be one of the pioneers in that movement,” Sara says. “Our wines are meant to really showcase authentic terroir in California as well as showcase the true profile of each varietal.”
At LIOCO, Sara helps manage partnerships with family growers from Santa Cruz, Sonoma and Mendocino counties to buy grapes for county, appellation and single-vineyard wines within a 200-mile range. Aside from bustling between the three counties, she can frequently be spotted around Healdsburg or on the farm at Noci Sonoma, the organic farmstead where she’s a founding member. We asked her to share what day-to-day life is like as the co-founder of a young wine label.
7:30 a.m.: We just bought a house in Healdsburg in April, a block from the square, and I usually wake up to the jays—they’ve taken agency over our yard! We have some breakfast together and an herbal chai latte at home. During the summer, we usually have full-fat Greek yogurt with whatever fruit is in season, and in winter months we go for farm eggs on farmer’s toast. Then we get ready to go to work.
8:30 a.m.: Our first stop after we leave the house together is to grab coffee. In Healdsburg, there are two locations of Flying Goat Coffee: One’s the main Flying Goat that all the tourists go to, but there’s another one that we called the “local Goat.” I go to the local Goat on my way to the office (which is right on the square in downtown Healdsburg), and Zach makes me an oily, delicious Americano every morning.
10:00 a.m.: Matt and I have a meeting with our viticulturist, Alex MacGregor. The three of us head up to Lolonis Vineyard in Mendocino’s Redwood Valley. LIOCO has never been very interested in Sauvignon Blanc, but when our grower called us to tell us about the oldest Sauvignon Blanc planted in California (circa 1943!), we got really excited. They’re giving us the first pick of which rows in the vineyard we want. My husband walks through the vineyard and identifies the ones with less vigor and more vine stress—more vine stress equals more concentrated wines.
People ask us all the time if we’d want our own estate. It’d be great to have one, but right now working with all these different vineyards in various climates allows us to make such an array of wine. Each wine is so singular and they’re all so different from one another.
1:15 p.m.: After our meeting, it’s, like, 100 degrees, and we’re sweltering, so we head back to Healdsburg for lunch. We like to go to SHED to get takeout from the larder and bring it back to the office. I spend approximately 38 percent of my income there: I love to get the kale salad and carrot hummus with gluten-free crackers. My husband gets the smoked chicken sandwiches. We both love the SHED salad. They also make great shrubs and kombuchas—try the strawberry tarragon shrub.
1:35 p.m.: I walk back to the office and eat lunch at my desk while checking email. I touch base with Emily Virgil, our director of hospitality, about events we have for the month and what’s going on with our mailing list blast for the month, as well as Sarah Harshaw, our Austin-based national sales director.
2:15 p.m.: Matt and I head to the winery, which is near the Santa Rosa airport. It’s inside a cooperative called Punchdown Cellars, and it’s really a glorified garage. Once a month, we taste through all the wines we’re working on with Kai Kliegl, our winemaker, and what we’re tasting depends upon the time of year. Sometimes we’re tasting a bunch of harvests that are about to be assembled, and sometimes we’re doing blending trials.
Tasting wine early on in the process is challenging: You have to get beyond the fact that everything tastes and smells like fermentation, first and foremost. You really need to use your imagination and skills to see where it’s headed. Today we’re doing blending trials for our appellation wines, with different barrels, blocks and vineyard sites. It’s my favorite stage to be tasting at, and at this point, I’m starting to really get a picture of how the vintage is going to turn out.
4:15 p.m.: Happy hour is big in our household. After Matt and I are at the winery, we love to go to Santa Rosa Seafood; it’s the best seafood north of the Golden Gate Bridge. They’ve got ocean trout, steelhead salmon, oysters, littleneck clams—everything is gorgeous. We pick up some salmon and oysters and head back home.
5:00 p.m.: Matt fires up the grill in our yard while I pull out some LIOCO rosé from the fridge to go with the oysters. Every night in the summer we eat outside in our yard; if the days are hot in Healdsburg, then the evenings are magic, and we take full advantage. Matt enjoys grilling everything from ribs to burger to salmon to wild mushrooms, and summertime’s my favorite time to cook, since I love making all different kinds of beautiful salads. Tonight, Matt grills a beautiful piece of steelhead salmon with salsa verde to go with the rosé—you know, since pink wine goes with pink food. I make a salad with cherry tomatoes, frisée, Armenian cucumbers, sheep’s milk feta and fresh chives, and we move from the rosé into a bottle of Chablis. It’s a happy time for me.
8:00 p.m.: Our house is a little bit higher up in elevation, so we have some nice views of Healdsburg, so we stay to watch the sun set over the town. Inevitably, when you’re married and you work together, you recap the day and talk about the business. Sometimes we try not to talk about work, but it’s tough: We don’t have kids, so LIOCO is our child. We’re constantly talking about how we can improve. Today we wind up brainstorming ways to connect with current LIOCO loyalists as well as people who might not know about our brand yet, which can be challenging since we don’t have a tasting room or estate. We decide we’re going to have a little harvest party at our new house in September for some of our top clients, and that we want to partner with SHED and do a happy hour there. Could we think about ways to host a LIOCO block party?
9:30 p.m.: Matt cleans up while I make sure the garden’s set to be watered—squash, cherry tomatoes and lemon cucumbers are coming in right now! Back indoors, I pour myself a Fernet nightcap and get ready for bed. I catch most of the day’s episode of Real Time with Bill Maher before I fall asleep.
See what day-to-day wine country living is like for three more of the region’s farmers, winemakers and culinary professionals.