From Garage to Tasting Room: The Journey of Carucci Wines to Santa Barbara
Carucci Wines has come a long way since its humble beginnings in a San Diego garage. Founder Eric Carucci first became interested in the wine industry while working on a marketing project for a German wine importer in college.
However, it wasn’t until he sat in a cubicle for the first time that the idea of a career in wine really took hold. With the encouragement of a local winemaker, Eric began experimenting with winemaking in his parents’ garage in 2009. From the moment he started, it was clear that this was the perfect blend of his love for creating something tangible with his hands, spending time in the vineyard, and sharing the finished product with others. In 2010, the first commercial vintage of Carucci Wines was produced, with a small output of just a few hundred cases a year. Eric had to teach himself how to make wine and funded everything independently, with survival being the key driving force.
Eric finally opened the Carucci Wines tasting room in 2019 in Los Olivos, in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, legitimizing the business. The Central Coast region offered the perfect combination of top-notch growing conditions, the opportunity to break into the industry without breaking the bank, and proximity to his family.
At Carucci Wines, the family component is huge. Eric is trying to build a multi-generational business from scratch, something the family can take to new heights when he is gone. Additionally, it is an opportunity to teach his three children important lessons about chasing their dreams and believing in themselves. “It’s about showing them that they should never be afraid to bet on themselves. They may not be interested in the winery when the time comes, and that’s okay, but they’ll still be able to apply the things we’ve learned starting and building this business to whatever they’re excited about,” said Eric.
As a winemaker, Eric’s goal is to create wines that are aromatic, drinkable, and full of varietal character. To bring out the best in the grapes, he favors cooler climate sites across Santa Barbara and Paso Robles as well as uses lower fermentation temperatures to increase aromatic intensity while gently extracting tannins. While some vintages may be easier to work with than others, the commitment to making high-quality wines remains consistent.
Carucci Wines makes a Cabernet Franc, a wine that is often underrated, but the Portico Hills Cabernet Franc is unique in its cool climate and steep hillside location, which gives it ripe flavors at lower sugar levels and an aromatic profile of green chili, jalapeno, and salty strawberry. This wine is much closer in style to the Cabernet Francs of the Loire Valley than those typically grown in warmer climates in California. Affectionately known as a “taco wine” for its savory flavors, it is a joy to drink as an ambassador of Cabernet Franc.
They also make a Syrah from Duvarita Vineyard, located in a cool climate near the ocean with beach sand soils, low yields and a windy climate. Duvarita is a challenging place for grapes to grow, but it is perfect for Syrah– the combination of sandy soils and coastal location allows for the acids to drop quickly as the Brix becomes more elevated, resulting in a wine with a distinctive character of black pepper, brine, olive and violets. Eric uses 100% whole cluster fermentation and ages in the oldest barrels available, which enhances the varietal characteristics and softens the tannin profile making the wine more approachable when young.
The 2022 harvest was marked by a series of challenges, including extended heat, rain, and high humidity. These conditions created the potential for mold, mildew, and fungus, requiring winemakers to be proactive and highly focused in order to produce high-quality wines. Despite these challenges, the final product is expected to be delicious, though yields were lower, resulting in less wine overall. This year’s vintage was a difficult one that required strong relationships with fellow winemakers and growers in order to be successful.
Disclosure: The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives was provided from wineries or importers for inclusion in the story. As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative and unbiased reporting.
2019 Cabernet Franc- sourced from Portico Hills Vineyard. This wine boasts a garnet red color with tantalizing flavors of strawberry, boysenberry and a touch of jalapeno. On the palate, this wine offers a velvety structure and is an easy sipper with a smooth finish.
2019 Syrah- sourced from Duvarita Vineyard. Dark purple in color with flavors of cranberry, black pepper and olives. Spicy and savory with softer tannins and a long finish.
2019 Pinot Noir- sourced from Greengate Vineyard. Presents an earthy red color in the glass. On the palate, flavors of cherry, lavender and pomegranate are balanced by light tannins and medium acidity.
2019 Grenache- sourced from Morro View Vineyards in the Edna Valley. Crimson in color with flavors of black cherry, licorice and baked spices. Grippy tannins with a long finish.
2020 Chardonnay- sourced from Greengate Vineyard. This wine is bright and expressive showcasing flavors of ripe peach, juicy melon and zesty Meyer lemon. On the palate, it is refreshing and satisfying with balance and finesse.