About the Name
Lune Solaire is a collection of close friends and family that gather together throughout the year to make the best wine possible for themselves and their friends. Lune Solaire is not a made-up word but is French for a Solar Moon, or better known as a “Supermoon”. Lune Solaire is a predictable astronomical event in nature that is a massive presence when it arrives and becomes an occasion to offer the subtle promise of awe and beauty. This is how we regard our friendship within the co-operative. Using the French translation is just our way of paying homage to the Rhone style of wines we’re making.
You likely have shared in a bottle of our wine at some point and you’ve managed to turn up here. Since you’re here, we will assume the wine was enjoyable to you and we invite you to feel free to poke around our website and enjoy the tour. If you have any comments or questions please send them in and we promise to answer them, eventually.
Our Cast of Characters
- Cable Oh-la-Veche & The Sandwich
- Jet Rubber & Barbed Hook-n-Jab
- Kitsch Tchotchke & Meyer-Linda Lemonsky
- St. Joan & Yertle The Turtle
- San & Jerry Alameda
- Cable Oh-la-Veche & The Sandwich
- Wino & Malo Lactic
- Merrie MacCheese & The Thin Mint
- Jet Rubber & Barbed Hook-n-Jabs
- Whisky Rye Chevy & Ms Kym
- The French Germain
- Kitsch Tchotchke & Meyer-Linda Lemonsky
- Gromit & Mo’ Rain Wallaby
Friends and Family
- Spam Rubber
- Energizer Bunny
- Doctor-Doctor & The Genie
- Jannello and The Crooner
- Shy Mike
- Larry, The Trailer Guy
- Storm Trucker and Da Nelia
- A school of Herring
The beginning starts with a very close-knit neighborhood that had no less than three individual home winemakers/grape growers making wine together and sharing it within the neighborhood. This started with The San and Berry-Jerry Alameda planting their 580 Zinfandel vines in 1997 followed by Kitsch Tchotchke and Meyer-Linda Lemonsky planting a 42 vine test vineyard of Barbera and Zinfandel in 1998. Both Jerry and Kitsch harvested and fermented their first batch of wine in 2002. In 2003 St. Joan de Arc and her son, Yertle, The Turtle, planted 734 vines of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
By far, theirs was the most ambitious grape farming foray by anyone in the neighborhood and, the beginning of what will later become Cashel Vineyards and the “Estate” source of fruit for the Lune Solaire Winery Co-operative.
Over those first years, many of the other neighbors came and went, but the three winemakers remained on the street and together made wine with each other’s help by sharing knowledge, techniques, failures and successes. They generally produced five or ten gallons of wine with a few 5 or 6-gallon glass carboys, plastic buckets, or food-grade trashcans. Success was measured by drinkability more than aroma components and flavor nuances.
In 2005, after experiencing a particularly bad bird problem in the 2004 season, Kitsch and Meyer-Linda ripped out all of their vines and later installed a vegetable garden in its place. Both having full-time day-jobs, they realized that farming was not their calling and they also discovered they could purchase grapes form larger growers that were, by far, better fruit than they probably could ever grow themselves. Kitsch found well cared for fruit that he could afford at his neighbor’s vineyard (Naggiar Vineyards) and Clos du Lac Vineyards located in Granite Bay.
During this time Berry-Jerry and The San were making some nice Zinfandels from their vineyard and sharing some of the sourced bins of fruit that kitsch and Meyer-Linda purchased from Naggiar and Clos du Lac. Some of these collaborations on Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Mourvedre were great successes – even though Kitsch and Berry-Jerry were not quite sure how they achieved it.
Meanwhile, Yertle and St. Joan increased the size of their vineyard by about another 420 vines, adding in Mourvedre, Grenache, viognier, and Aglianico. Yertle also purchased the 40-acre property and house between Berry-Jerry, and Kitsch’s neighbor (Che and Sparrow Guevara) where Yertle began to realize his dream of having the highest winery in the neighborhood and so he began converting the existing horse barn on the new property to a 1300 sqft winery.
The three winemakers plugged along, slowly, gaining confidence by learning from their mistakes and from friends and acquaintances in the wine industry. Together they managed to bump into many of the possible winemaking troubles and occasionally trigger minor disasters along the way. They learned as much about themselves as much as they did making wine and when they thought they did know a thing or two about winemaking, an event would come along that instructed otherwise.
The early 200Xs was also a time where the three winemakers graduated from primarily using glass containers to using stainless steel tanks and from managing oak chips to managing a small number of 30 gallons and 60-gallon oak barrels. They also slowly developed a sense for the fruit that they were growing and buying and developed an understanding and their innate qualities and characteristics and built-in problems. This is when they began experimenting with fermentation temperatures, skin contact time, press strength, and sur lie ageing. They were learning about yeasts and yeast nutrients, oxidation, topping and SO2 levels, and barrel rotation. This was really the time when they began to really connect how some of the characteristics of their finished wines were related to not just the science of the fruit and chemistry, but decisions about the process they made along the way.
For the next eight or so years the three winemakers continued on together this way, helping each other, experimenting on their own, and slowly making better wine and fewer mistakes. By 2011 they each had temperature-controlled wineries, with small scale stainless steel tanks and modest oak barrel programs. They kept decent notes and often co-experimented on multiple batches of shared wine. Even though they knew better, collectively, their barrel topping and SO2 programs suffered neglect due to day jobs, travel and family obligations. These programs were lax, at best, and sometimes resulted in wines with more than detectable VA and or aldehydes that were excused or passed off as having more maybe more complexity. Occasionally these neglected wines were so bad that they pretended it was never made and later poured it into the ground – sometimes in the middle of the night under the dull light of a waning crescent moon.
Near the end of this time, the two grape growers of the neighborhood made some life changes. Berry-Jerry and The San left for Arizona, selling their home and vineyard under a super-secret deal to a couple of unsavory characters named John Smith and Sam Good. They were ‘honey oil’ producers and cannabis growers who were later raided and arrested by the FBI for shipping for narcotics production and shipping over state lines. This property and the vineyard are still under the control of these quiet folks as of today.
St. Joan was getting on in years and she was having less energy to put into the vineyard and was needing some care herself. So, Yertle the turtle, deciding that running a business in the bay area, managing a vineyard here in Nevada County, and giving proper care to St. Joan was too much, so he put the vineyard property up for sale and fully moved into the house up on the hill.
Earlier during this same period, close friends of Meyer-Linda’s and Kitsch’s, named Jet rubber and Barbed Hook-n-Jabs, had purchased the property between Berry-Jerry and Yertle’s vineyard and built a vacation house there. Jet and Meyer-Linda had a close mutual friend, Merry McCheese, who was looking to retire soon, and Jet convinced Merry to purchase the vineyard from Yertle. Merry, who lives in Alexandria, VA took over the property in 2014 and named her new vineyard Cashel Vineyards after the Rock Of Cashel in Ireland. Soon afterwards, a new chapter in wine began for Kitsch, Meyer-Linda, Jet, Barbed, Merry, and Merry’s Jet-setting sister in New York, known as The Thin Mint.
A New Chapter
So, Merry with the enthusiasm of a teenage sheep shearer and the steely discipline of a jet pilot set out to become a grape farmer. Not actually knowing anything about grapes, vines, or viticulture, she set out to look for help and so, with encouragement from Jet Rubber, she turned to longtime friend and master of everything, Wine Lactic. Merry and Jet convinced Wine to help manage the vineyard and like with everything he does, threw himself into it completely. Now Wine, at the time, had almost no vineyard experience, sought advice and help from the Turtle and St. Joan who still are living in the neighborhood up on top of the highest hill on the street. They helped Wine understand not just more about the vines, viticulture, and winemaking but also the genesis of the vineyard. They answered many of his questions concerning the subtle growing characteristics and needs of each variety planted, the layout of the vineyard, and its climate and seasonal environment. Wine and Merry also hired the Naggiar vineyard manager, Smoked Salmon, to help him and Merry care for and improve the vineyard.
Le Trois Dames
It might be helpful at this point in the story to explain that three of the current members of Lune Solaire (Jet, Meyer-Linda, and Merry) grew up together in Santa Barbara during the 1960s and have kept in contact with each other on and off over these many years. Meyer-Linda, in 1992, was first to move into the neighborhood with her husband, Kitsch and they were also the first people to make wine (2002) in the neighborhood. Meyer-Linda and Kitsch were later followed by Linda’s friend, Jet and Barbed (who built a vacation home in the neighborhood in 2006). Jet and Barbed still maintain Their main residence in Buellton, California and have no plans to move into the neighborhood permanently. Merry, now the new owner of Cashel Vineyards currently lives in Alexandria, VA and plans to break ground this year on a new Frank Lloyd Wright style home overlooking the vineyard and the Sierra Nevada Crest and she hopes to be a neighborhood fixture by 2020.
Cashel Cellars, a Commercial Winery
Each future member of Lune Solaire, in their own way and along their own path has developed a serious passion for wine. In late 2017, before any notion of a winery co-operative, had developed, four of them (Merry, Jet, Kitsch, and Meyer-Linda) began exploring the idea of a commercial winery business. They began having long discussions of wine production, securing long term fruit supplies, commercializing the winemaking operation at Kitsch and Meyer-Linda’s, and then later moving it to a newly proposed gravity-flow winery facility at Cashel Vineyards. These discussions got very earnest in early 2018, which happened to be the year that Kitsch and Merrie had individually planned to retire. They employed the help of Wine Lactic to help them design the proposed winery and help them through the construction process. They hired an architect firm in Nevada City, set up a business bank account, and filed for an LLC with the government.
Enthused with the prospect of growing Cashel Vineyards and building a brand new 3 tier gravity-flow winemaking facility, the four ”Partners” set off to understand if they had a real business. They were all the way in! They structured the organization, splitting up the responsibilities and tasks that matched up more or less with individual skills. Merry as the CEO, Jet as the CFO, Meyer-Linda as the CMO, and Kitsch as COO and Winemaker. They were just a lot of Os’. They catalogued and researched local competition, they continuously discussed product mix and wrote an endless number of preliminary business plans. They researched and refined the facility plans and location, discussed alternatives with the hired architect and planner and started working on a site plan for the county.
They had done a lot of the due diligence, set in motion the growth of the Vineyards and the building of the winery and created such a significant amount of forwarding motion that self-analysis wasn’t even a second thought, and any attention to hard personal questions had fallen by the wayside.
The Trailer Guy & The Energizer Bunny
Questions such as, “What are their personal goals and what does each of them expect to get out of the project?” “Who among them wants to go out every day and try to sell wines?” “Who among them wants to work long hours behind a tasting bar every day?” “Who among them wants to work that hard in their mid-60s?!” They had totally ignored The Turtle’s warnings about the difficulties and fickleness of sales and the hard work good marketing takes. Yertle even introduced Kitsch to a buddy in Paso Robles who was a heavy hitter in the wine industry.
He called himself The Trailer Guy and was very frank and generous in giving advice and a sense of reality. The Trailer Guy didn’t Mince words about the hard work and commitment marketing wine requires but much this all washed over the “Partners” heads.
Next Kitsch arranged a meeting with a friend known as the Energizer Bunny. The aptly named Energizer Bunny has been a fixture in the local Nevada County wine scene for nearly 35 years and maybe had worked at almost every job in the industry. The Bunny was almost cold-hearted in his drive to get the “Partners” to understand the amount of work and commitment that lay before them and over the course of a two-hour meeting it finally began to sink in.
The “Partners” ended up having a meeting a few weeks later chaired by Merry who framed the discussion around personal desires and expectations in regard to not just the winery but also their personal lives as well. This was where they all began to fully appreciate the scope of the entire project and what they were really doing to their retirement years.
The bottom line was that the “Partners” was moving forward with such inertia that it took an insightful friend participating as a consultant to get them to see the truth in themselves and take stock of not just what they wanted but also what they didn’t want. Not one of the “Partners” wanted to do the marketing and sales the enterprise would require. They didn’t want to work that hard. So, after a bit more introspection and frank discussions they killed Cashel Cellars – they were out.
Let’s Just Have Fun
It became obvious that to the now “Ex-Partners”, us, that we really enjoyed making and improving our wines and we are proud of and impressed by our own accomplishments and so we began looking at ways to formalize the fun part of it.
We now have totally restructured ourselves as an informal winery co-operative. Becoming a real co-operative would have tax implications that looks like too much work and it would involve the government. We are not just yet ready for that so we are keeping things small and informal.
We have had four recent additions to our membership; Wine Lactic, the vineyard manager at Cashel Vineyards, his wife, Malo; Whisky-and-Rye, Kitsch and Meyer-Linda’s son who is an experienced and longtime Cellar Rat; And Barbed Hook-n-Jab, Jet’s partner in life. These additions doubled the membership to eight which has strengthened our workforce and added a bit of robustness to our collective thinking with a welcome difference in points of view.
The additional members give the co-operative a solid critical mass and significantly raises the fun quotient. So, we are now doing just what we want without the pressures and worries of running a successful business – making good wine, drinking it, and sharing it.
The Journey Continues
We have come a long way from first producing small batches of wines we really didn’t like that much (but still got us excited enough to drink it anyway) to now, as Lune Solaire – A Winery Co-operative, producing a style and quality of wines that are fun to make, and on balance, suites our tastes and desires. Where we go from here, who knows?
The Benefits of an Informal Co-operative
Basically, we are finding the benefits of a home winemaking co-operative is that the economy of scale improves many aspects of winemaking by spreading costs across the membership. Through greater purchasing power we are able to acquire better equipment, very high quality of barrel storage and much higher quality of fruit through better sourcing and more investments in our own “Estate” Cashel vineyard.
The co-operative has a labor pool beyond the average home winemaker which enables it to develop a production process that should rival some of the smaller scale boutique commercial wineries along the Sierra Foothills. Meaning the quality of wine produced should be medium-to-high-end boutique caliber, but in the end, does not need to compete because the co-operative cannot sell its wine on the open market.
The co-op’s only goal is to offer its members a modest annual supply of high-end wine that is only designed, created, and crafted by and for the members of the co-op. The co-operative winemaking activities and events are great sources of fellowship, pride in craftsmanship, and opportunities for some damn good partying. We are just as much excited about the wine we receive as we are about sharing it with friends and family and at the end the day, this might be the perfect retirement job where we are collective, masters of our own domain.