Brentwood Contractor Finds Passion in Winemaking

    0
    Bryan and Michele Lucay of Serendipity Cellars

    Tucked away in a quiet Brentwood neighborhood, the newly formed Serendipity Cellars hopes to one day soon open its doors to East Contra Costa as a boutique winery for guests to relax and have a casual tasting in the midst of the property.

    Bryan and Michele Lucay are working towards fulfilling their dream of becoming a bonded winery which they hope will be approved by the TTB in 2016/2017. Prior to doing so they will need to pitch the idea to the City of Brentwood for approval. As a bonded winery, they will be able to sell their wine to the public and local restaurants.

    For now, to stay within state law, they make up to 200 gallons each year to enjoy with family and friends.

    “We love people and we love to entertain,” says Michele. “We have great family and friends who we love to share our wines with. We pop open a bottle or give it away as gifts. It’s fun to hear the feedback and see what everyone has to say about it. I enjoy making candy such as wine infused truffles. I love to cook which plays so well into the whole social aspect that wine brings.”

    If all goes as planned, the Lucay’s hope to host private tastings on a small portion of their property where they can seat up to 25-people at a time to keep the experience intimate.

    Winemaking was not always the plan for the Lucay’s who own Groundworks, Inc., a landscape and concrete company. They admit they stumbled upon the industry by chance after sending out flyers hoping to land new clients in the Napa area to promote Bryans artistic ability with concrete.

    Out of 2,000 flyers mailed, only Ceja Vineyards in the Carneros area responded.

    “Only one business responded and when Bryan met with them Amelia Ceja said it was serendipitous as she was just mentioning how she would like to engrave their logo into the tasting patio of their winery. Low and behold as she was looking through her mail she saw our flyer,” explained Michele. “She said our relationship is serendipity.”

    The first day on the job at 8:00 am, Pedro Ceja asked Bryan if he wanted a glass of chardonnay before he started.

    “I told him I don’t really like wine, I drink tequila,” explained Bryan. “He told me by the end of the week I will be drinking wine and he wasn’t kidding. By mid-week, he said it was time for some wine and again I told him I don’t really care for wine and never had a good experience. He told me I just never had a wine I liked.”

    From there, the wine education began.

    “He would ask me random questions such as how much wine comes out of Napa Valley. My guess was 80%, he told me nope, 3-5%. That is when my education began. I asked him what makes his wine so good. He said well we do this, we do that,” explained Bryan. “It sparked an interest and I ended up ordering a book.”

    Bryan admits one book led to another book led to another book and that led to wanting to really learn the industry while transforming his property to allow him to make and store his wine.

    It was at that point in 2006; they caught the wine bug and never looked back by tasting lots of different wines and trying new things. That year, they were given mourvedre grapes, planted them and had their first crush in 2009.

    Sauvignon Blanc harvest at Serendipity Estate
    Sauvignon Blanc harvest at Serendipity Estate

    “The first crush was in the garage with a hand crank crusher. Grape juice flying all over everywhere and everyone being a big sticky mess, but you know what, it’s still one of my fondest memories because it’s where it all started,” explained Michele. “We just had a few close friends and family come over and had no idea what we were doing but laughing and learning as we were going. It was fun.”

    The grapes were given to Bryan by a customer. Prior to harvesting the grapes, Bryan noted the brix to be low and sought out advice from Pedro Ceja. Pedro suggested to harvest the 2nd’s from the Ceja Carneros Pinot Noir vineyard and blend at the crush of the mourvedre which in turn brought the brix up to where they needed to be – it worked!

    In 2009 the Lucay’s produced their first bottle.

    “We were proud of that wine, it’s where it all began,” said Michele. “We did 10 gallons in a small barrel and we laughed because it was small enough to move from end table to buffet table trying to keep it cool for 9-months in the house. “

    To Bryan’s surprise, he says his wine was drinkable.

    “I’ve tasted commercial wines that were worse than that,” stated Bryan. He added the caveat, “But it’s not one that I would share today.”

    The Lucay’s found it fitting to call their first wine “Serendipity” as a tribute to the Ceja family for introducing them to wine. Today, the Lucay’s have five varieties totaling approximately 300 vines which are all about 1-3 years old and will be ready to produce in the next few years.

    Since the bottling of their first wine in 2009, they have produced small batches of 9 other varietals including plum.

    “To us, Serendipity is the perfect name because we are in a hectic world in contracting dealing with customers, builders, deadlines and just by chance, through that, we contracted a concrete job with a winery, and were accidentally introduced into the wine industry.” explained Bryan.” It’s serendipity that wine got brought into our lives. It’s an out for us from the everyday hectic business.”

    Michele added that Serendipity is work but its work that we enjoy.

    “All the family comes together, our 3 kids and friends, it’s a joyous time and that is what wine is all about in bringing people together. It’s fun we can do something like this and thanks to Bryans research in being self-taught we make a really good product,” added Michele.

    Bryan admits he intentionally planted some varietals as a way to compliment other local vineyards in the area because they did not want to plant the same grape, but instead work with other existing varietals planted in the East county for blending with Petite Sirah and Tempranillo.

    serindipity-wine-ribbonsTo date, they have won 18 medals between Wine Maker Magazine the Alameda County Fair and the California State Fair, including a gold medal and best of show for their 2012 Chardonnay and a Silver and Best non grape wine for the plum at the Alameda County Fair. They also won gold for their Petite Sirah that same year. At the Bottle Shock Open in Lodi, they won Gold and Best of Class for their 2012 Chardonnay.

    The grapes from their award winning Chardonnay came from Bloomfield Vineyards according to Bryan where it did well in multiple contests.

    Bryan says his chardonnay is his favorite wine that he makes, but Michele says their zinfandel is her favorite.

    They both highlighted that what they have learned about wine is although they have their favorites, there are so many different kinds of wine. In the wine industry there are so many different palates. You will make a wine that some will like and some won’t. Wine really is about personal preference.

    “It’s okay not to like a wine, move on and try something else until you find one you like,” says Bryan.

    Bryan hopes to one day create a wine that everyone will like and can help put Brentwood on the map.

    “We envision a boutique winery in Brentwood which is a tough sell, but if you go to places like Sonoma or even Napa, you get off the beaten path, you have neighborhoods with a boutique winery. Even in Livermore you have housing developments surround a winery. It would be nice to have something in Brentwood because there are a lot of home winemakers,” explained Bryan.

    One of the biggest lessons the Lucay’s have learned is wine is not always going to come out the way they want it to the point where they have dumped a few batches. They also noted time was a big lesson as they are at the mercy of their business schedule—however, winemaking has become a form of relaxation and a part of their sanity because it makes them happy.

    Serindipity-Wine-cellar-rack

    Bryan build his homemade wine racks to store his wine

    In fact, winemaking became such a part of their lives they utilized leftover materials from projects to create a small area on their property to allow them a better workstation and storage area while having wine themed décor throughout the property.

    As the wine area came together Michele noted “we are getting serious about this”.

    Michele admits the hobby took a step up the more Bryan became educated and each year they would add new equipment.

    “The joke is if you want a new piece of equipment, take me along because we will come home with a new piece of equipment,” explained Michele in a laugh. “Our first crush was a hand press crank which we thought was fun at first, but after awhile it was crazy and sought to find a better way which was through better equipment. We ended up buying a press and a bottle filler which made things much easier.”

    Over time, the Lucay’s have been able to get feedback of their wine and have worked on improving it each year. Michele explained their zinfandel is bold and rich which has a long finish.

    Michele also admits she is not into the entire food pairing tradition of the experts but insists on drinking what wine you like with any food.

    “Our zin is my favorite, I love the initial taste which is subtle, you can taste the fruit but more fruity towards the end. I can drink it and pair it with anything. I find it to be a very broad wine. I know some say you drink a red with this but I drink whatever we like with whatever we want. I am not a big rule follower when it comes to food pairings. Drink what you like,” explained Michele.

    In fact, over the years, the Lucay’s have learned that good wine actually comes from how good they treat their grapes in the vineyard.

    “Good wine is grown in the vineyard; you can’t make a great wine without great fruit. You can make okay wine, you can baby it, adjust it and do what you can with what you got, but from every vineyard from season to season it changes,” explained Bryan. “Unfortunately with our life being busy, you have to harvest when the grapes tell us to harvest. We don’t always have that freedom to pick that day; our harvests are often scheduled around our construction business.”

    Harvest-Chardonnary-10-1-11-and-HHS-@-Concord-1145The Lucay’s admit that their business sometimes allows them to put off their vineyard for a few days, but realize it will only make them better once they retire. They also plan to adjust their varietal amounts of wine from eight varieties down to four and play with specialty wine in smaller amounts all available to East Contra Costa if they can get all required approvals.

    “My goal right now is to not get into a 10,000 case production. I am talking boutique around 500 cases which is small and intimate. We could easily do 2,000 to 3,000 and still be a boutique,” explained Bryan.

    He further highlighted the difference between boutique versus mass production is quality and consistency.

    “Boutique has the ability to produce high quality wine as often more attention is payed to the development and aging of the wine,” explained Bryan. “You are a victim of the vintage each season the grape is grown. In boutique wine making you produce the fruit you are dealt, as all vintages vary from year to year.”

    The Lucay’s are okay with small because they have learned bigger is not always better through their current business.

    “We have had our landscaping and concrete business for 13-years. We have had over 200 employees. Today we are at our lowest at 52 employees and are much happier. Bigger is not always better and bigger does not always make you happier either,” explained Michele. “We are happy with manageable and keeping our finger on everything. Smaller is what we learned makes us happier. We are going to grow with control which we did not learn in our first business. I want to keep it at a size where we can still enjoy it every day.”

    The Lucay’s say Brentwood is their first choice for a boutique winery saying it’s the perfect location.

    “If we had a choice of where to do a boutique winery, it would be Brentwood. It’s an amazing community, lots of great people, it’s a family community and I would love to do it here. Will they ever allow it? I don’t know, but we are sure going to try,” says Michele. “I think if it’s controlled and small, a boutique winery would work. It would work because it’s small and manageable that is a place where people can come and enjoy a little fun in their hometown. It’s our dream is to have an intimate gathering place that is a hybrid between a full blown winery and a wine bar.”

    The Lucay’s believe that Brentwood is ready for something small, simple and intimate as grape vineyards are popping up all over East Contra Costa County and rather than ship grapes out to other areas, help build Brentwood’s name recognition.

    “We would never want to do anything to impose on our neighbors or the community, but at the same time we are talking about simple and intimate in Brentwood,” explained Michele. “There are a lot of local grapes grown that are shipped out. We want to focus on wine with grapes that are locally produced whether they head up to Napa or Sonoma. The fertile soil in our area(s) makes for a great vine.”

    They hope that over time, the City of Brentwood and Contra Costa wine can become known like Lodi and Livermore wineries.

    “If you go to Napa and they ask you where you are from and you say Brentwood, they ask where is that,” said Bryan. “You explain it to them they say oh okay. But you do that at Cline Cellars, they know exactly where it’s at because we produce a great grape in this area. We want to help put Brentwood on the map.”

    The Lucay’s would also argue that with all the vines being planted lately, they don’t see why East Contra Costa could not petition to become an AVA (American Viticultural Area).

    Although the future is not clear of where Serendipity Cellars will be located; whether it is on their property or somewhere else, they want their passion of the wine to shine through to all who experience it.

    The Lucay’s admit they are now playing the waiting game on bonding and licensing and hope to make their dream a reality.

    “I Bryan-and-Michele-Lucayam very proud of our Groundworks business, but when it comes to retirement, this is what I see for us. I would love to see us doing this and living our dream. The best part for us is people coming in and are smiling while enjoying themselves which is all positive,” explained Michele. “When the time comes, it would be great to say we are retiring and be able to do a small winery, it would feel really good and be a great way to retire.”

    For now, because they cannot legally sell their wine to the public, they can give it away to family and friends and even get to donate it to certain causes. They are aiming for late 2017/2018 where their bottles will be on shelves locally and served at restaurants.

    “We have to adhere to laws and can only make 200 gallons, but the potential is there to make more while staying local. We have no interest in going out of state or overseas. Our goal and intention is to stay local. Right now, we can’t be purchased, but in a year or two we hope to put it out into the community,” says Bryan.

    Michele added wine is all about being social while bringing calm in a world that is hectic and busy.

    “Right now, we are having fun with our wines and really enjoying the calm it brings us,” explained Michele. “A lot of people are making wine in their home or garage. It’s where winemaking began and we were no different. As we continue this journey, I do not want to forget where we came from and the great friends and family that were by our sides while doing it. The joy winemaking brought us began in our garage.”

    Below is a list of awards the Lucay’s have won for their wines:

    WineMaker Magazine

    • 2011 Sauvignon Blanc     Bronze Metal

    Alameda County Fair

    • 2012 Sauvignon Blanc     Bronze Metal
    • 2012 Chardonnay             Gold Metal & Best of Show
    • 2013 Chardonnay             Bronze Metal
    • 2012 Plum                           Silver & Best Non-Grape wine
    • 2011 Petite Sirah              Bronze Metal
    • 2012 Petite Sirah              Gold Metal
    • 2012 Zinfandel                   Bronze
    • 2013 Zinfandel                   Bronze

    California State Fair

    • 2012 Chardonnay             Silver
    • 2013 Chardonnay             Bronze
    • 2012 Syrah                          Bronze
    • 2012 Zinfandel                   Bronze
    • 2013 Zinfandel                   Bronze

    Bottle Shock Open Lodi

    • 2012 Chardonnay             Gold & Best of Class
    • 2013 Chardonnay             Silver
    • 2014 Sauvignon Blanc     Silver
    • 2012 Plum                           Silver