story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 3/12/15
In fact, “everything I learned about growing grapes and making and selling wine, I learned at Melville,” Brent says, referring to the two decades he, himself, spent managing his family’s namesake vineyard.
But Brent Melville is on his own now. He’s emerging, actually, from a defining year – 2013 – which saw big changes to his life, personally and professionally. And his new wine label, Lucky Dogg, helps mark what is, in many ways, a fresh start.
|The Lucky Dogg tasting room|
The name was inspired by one fortuitous day on the golf course. After a series of great shots, “My buddy turned to me and said, ‘Boy, you’re a lucky dog,” Melville recalls. Lucky is also the name of his vineyard dog, a three-month Siberian Husky-pit bull mix.
The Lucky Dogg tasting room opened its doors on July 4th of last year. It enjoys a prominent spot in the heart of tourist-friendly Solvang -- right on the corner of Mission and Atterdag -- so foot traffic has been critical to its growth. And the vibe is decidedly laid back and hip. Tasters can bring their dogs, in fact. It’s also kid-friendly. And some of Brent’s favorite music, from classic rock to reggae, plays throughout the day.
“I love talking and teaching ‘Wine 101,” Brent tells me as I step up to the bar to taste, pointing to a marketing approach that’s hands-on and user-friendly.
Lucky Dogg’s inaugural release includes five wines, all sourced from Verna’s Vineyard, a 100-acre plot in Los Alamos’ Cat Canyon. Interestingly, the property, half of which is planted to wine grapes, was actually owned by the Melville family for many years. An L.A-based investor bought it in 2013 for just under $3 million and brought Brent Melville on board to run it.
The 2013 Viognier ($25) is named for Brent’s 13-year-old daughter, Ryann, and has a tropical slant, with apricot flavors and a clean finish. The 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($22) pays homage to Brent’s 11-year-old daughter, Pressley, and is a refreshing mix of citrus and watermelon flavors, and a top tasting room seller. Brady, Brent’s 8-year-old son, gets label recognition on the 2013 Syrah ($35), with a layered, almost meaty mouth feel, a dash of white pepper and an acid-driven finish.
The 2013 Pinot Noir ($38), aged in neutral oak, is soft in the mouth with cranberry and pomegranate notes, while the 2013 Reserve Syrah ($42) is textured and lush, with a spice-touched finish.
Production for all wines is right around 100 cases a year. “I want to keep this small enough so I can control everything,” says this grower-winemaker-business owner. The portfolio, though, will increase this year, and two brand new wines have already hit the tasting room, including the lip-smacking Honey Badger late harvest viognier. The Risqué is a lovely, clean stainless steel chardonnay that even comes with tongue-and-cheek opening instructions on the back label; the fifth step reads, “Rinse and repeat.”
A new richer, buttery chardonnay is in the works for later this year, too, and there’s a social media contest afoot to name it. A tried and true marketing method, actually: Lucky Dogg adopted its horseshoe-inspired logo after an online contest. The label has a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Brent Melville makes his wines at his own custom crush facility, a growing co-op space in Buellton called Le Crush; he makes house wines for a handful of Southern California restaurants there, as well, and labels like Artiste and Barbieri are produced here, too.
Lucky Dogg tasting room, 1607 Mission Drive, Suite 102, Solvang. 805-331-3698. www.luckydoggwinery.com.