Q&A with Gainey Winemaker Jeff LeBard

Q: How many years have you worked at Gainey? 

In September it will be 9-years. 

Q: How did you get into winemaking? 

When I was 18, I found out I was going to be a father and needed a job. I was living on the central coast at the time and my dad suggested I get a job in the local wine industry. In 1997, I had my first job at Fess Parker Winery.  It was sometime in my second year that I caught the winemaking bug. I discovered I had aptitude for and passion for it.  I can so clearly remember the day I came to realize that winemaking was what I wanted to do with my life.  Almost twenty years later I am still pleased with that decision. 

Q: What makes working at Gainey special? 

A: I was most attracted to Gainey because of their dynamic portfolio and reputation. I had just moved back from Napa and wanted to utilize the Cab and Merlot experience I garnered while there. However, I was also excited to make Pinot and Chardonnay again back on the Central Coast (Sta Rita Hills specifically). Another huge attraction was that Gainey is small enough for a personal life outside of work, but it’s diverse enough that it keeps me challenged. 

Q: What’s the most exciting thing happening in the wine industry right now?

A: To me, excitement is the unknown. And the question is—will this drought end or will it get worse?  Everyone is optimistically waiting, let’s hope the vines feel the same way. 

Q: What’s your drink of choice after a long day in the vineyard? 

A: Pacifico beer with lime and salt.  

Q: What’s one tool or gadget you can’t live without? 

A: My iphone. It has a flashlight that I use a lot. There’s also multiple winemaker apps that help with on-the-fly addition and conversation rates for nutrients.  I also use it for all the intended business elements: emails, calendar, etc. while I am on the run. 

Q: Do you have a favorite varietal? 

A: Not specifically. But I find a lot of attraction to varietals that are more challenging to make. Especially when those varietals come close to what you envision before they were ever made. A good example is Pinot Noir. It can be a finicky wine to make, and in my opinion isn’t a wine that everyone makes well. I often say about Pinot “It doesn’t suffer the inconsequence of neglect. If you do something to Pinot it doesn’t like, it’s not coming back.” Pinot requires a wise, patient hand. 

Q: How much of winemaking is an art versus science? 

A: 50-50. I’ve seen winemakers that rely too heavily on the science or go too deep on the artistic side. Any time you make a decision based on one of those aspects alone, it doesn’t turn out as well as it could have.  It takes time to learn how to apply the art and science at the right time and balance your decision. Every decision should have an equal amount of art and science. Sometimes there are times when you need to rely on one or other. Being able to discern those differences is what makes a good winemaker a great winemaker. 

Q: What’s your winemaking philosophy?

A: I try not to be a wine “maker” because the term maker implies I’m forcing the wine to become something it doesn’t want to be. I like to consider myself more of a shepherd or student of the wines and the craft. Knowing when to be involved and when to allow the wine time and space to let the wine become what it wants.

Q: What’s your favorite Santa Ynez Valley restaurant? 

A: Grappolos. My family and I eat there once a week. 

Q: What is your perfect day off? 

A: Any day spent in nature and the wilderness. There is something so pure and regenerative about nature for me.  I have been drawn to it my whole life.  Nature provides me a much needed “ego reset” and I always return home and back to work better for it.  I compete in adventure races on weekends so I’m often training doing trail running, kayaking, mountain biking and rappelling. My first love here locally is mountain biking. 


Categories: Q & A
Tags: get to know gainey