By LAURA NESS
While only six years old, Lightpost Winery has decades of experience—and talent— behind it.
From the first vintage, awards began consistently rolling in. Proprietor Sofia Fedotova and Winemaker Christian Roguenant were thrilled to be awarded Wine of the Year at the 2022 Monterey Wine Competition for their 2019 Lightpost Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, made from Paso Robles fruit.
It scored 97 points and was awarded a Platinum medal. In addition, Lightpost had eight additional Platinum- and Gold-winning wines, as well as four that scored Silver.
“We are very honored to have received this award and to be recognized by this prestigious competition that features many wonderful wines and wineries,” Fedotova said. “It is a great acknowledgment of our hard-working team and our efforts to create some outstanding wines that people enjoy. We are looking forward to a bright future for Lightpost Winery and many more amazing wines to come.”
Visitors can find Lightpost in Morgan Hill, in a small industrial park off Highway 101 at 900 Lightpost Way. Fun fact: the tasting room and winery occupy the former offices and warehouse space of one very famous artist, Thomas Kincade.
The tasting room is open Wednesday-Sunday, from 11am until 6pm. The age limit for this room is 21-plus. There is a separate family room available for those with children. The tasting room is dog-friendly.
For Roguenant, achieving an honor like this is a gratifying affirmation of his lifelong success in the wine business. Arriving in the U.S. from France with a little English and even fewer dollars, he stepped off a bus to make his first purchase of snack foods at a convenience store. When he went to pay for the Coca-Cola, the checker asked, “Paper or plastic?” He thought they were asking whether he was paying by credit card or with paper money.
Fast forward 40 years and he has had the chance to pay for plenty of experiences with both, many times over. But one thing has always guided him, and that is making the best possible wine out of carefully farmed grapes, because that’s where it all starts.
Roguenant began his U.S. career at Champagne Deutz in Arroyo Grande, which was a partnership between a wealthy French businessman and Beringer USA. He was with the company from 1986 to 1997.
“I loved California and the opportunity,” Roguenant said. “The Frenchman from Versailles who owned the land and the winery building kept charging more and more money for the grapes, which caused Beringer to become pissed off.”
The partnership dissolved in 1993, leaving him president of the company, which was renamed Laetitia, after the French owner’s daughter. Roguenant says that Roederer actually acquired the Deutz name and wanted to buy the facility but the price was too high, which is why they ended up going to Philo, in the Anderson Valley.
Eventually, the French owner, whose father had made millions importing coffee beans from the Ivory Coast, wanted to sell the facility and it was time for Roguenant to move on. Although he had job offers from Opus One, he was intrigued by the opportunity presented by the Niven family to build a dream winery.
“I knew Tim and Michael Mondavi, but they were only making one wine at the time, which I thought was too boring,” Roguenant said. “The Niven’s gave me $4 million to design and build a winery. I was there for 20 years and then sold the business, after which I took time off and eventually met Sofia.”
He actually wasn’t loafing around in the meanwhile, though, instead keeping busy with winery projects in Australia and in the Loire, where he was making sparkling wine from Chenin Blanc.
While Roguenant himself loves Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Fedotova enjoys big bold reds: hence the Cabernet Sauvignons from Paso Robles vineyards like Onyx in Templeton and Old Oak in the Willow Creek district.
Having been in the area for 37 years, Roguenant knows the vineyards and the people who farm them.
“Old Oak is on a slope and faces east and is 40 years old, from old clonal material, whereas Onyx is a new generation of planting, in a flat area with more sandy soil,” he said.
He also gets some grapes from the Derby Vineyard in Paso.
Lightpost also sources Cabernet from Bates Ranch and Zayante Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains. These Cabs are named in honor of Fedotova’s family. Roguenant says the 2019 Sevastien Cabernet Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains (Silver) is from the Zayante Vineyard, and is 75% Cab Sauv and 25% Merlot. It’s named for Fedotova’s eldest son.
The 2019 Rion Reserve Cab (Gold, 93 points) also hails primarily from the Zayante Vineyard, with a tiny bit of Petit Verdot coming from Onyx. Rion is her younger son Teo’s middle name and means “Little King.” The 2019 Alexander Reserve, Paso Robles, (Gold, 91 points), is Cabernet, made of 85% Old Oak with 15% Petit Verdot from Onyx Vineyard. Alexander is a tribute to Fedotova’s father’s name, which means, “Defender of the People.”
Also from the Santa Cruz Mountains comes two of their Pinot Noirs, one from the Ferrari Vineyard and one from Saveria Vineyard. The 2019 vintage of the latter just scored 94 points from Wine Enthusiast. They scored Silver for their 2020 Spanish Springs Pinot Noir from SLO, and Gold for their 2020 Winemakers Select Pinot Noir, which contains a bit of Edna Valley fruit from a vineyard that was subsequently torn out, to complement the Spanish Springs.
Roguenant says the harvest of 2020, with the fires and the relentless scorching heat was the worst thing he’d ever witnessed from a grape-growing perspective.
“When the fires broke out, I called the majority of vineyards where we were planning to buy fruit and said, ‘no thanks, please sell the fruit to someone else,’” he said. “We took less than 50% of what we normally get. We did 30 tons in 2020, but 80 tons in 2021.”
One thing they did make more of in 2020 was sparkling wine.
“We picked the second week of August before the heat,” Roguenant said. “It turned out to be very good sparkling, even though it wasn’t a good vintage overall.”
They made three sparklings in 2020, including a sparkling rosé from Spanish Springs, a Blanc de Blancs from Spanish Springs and a Brut from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir from the Edna Valley vineyard that no longer exists. These sparklers, for which the base wine is made at Tooth & Nail in Paso Robles, will be released in the fall of this year.
A friend of Roguenant, who was a winemaker for Schramsberg, has a special bottling truck for handling sparkling wine, which is based in Napa. He brings the truck to Paso to do the bottling, after which the wine is shipped to Lightpost in Morgan Hill. There, it is aged and riddled.
When ready to be disgorged and finished, the bottles are then shipped back to Paso, where the wine is disgorged, and the dosage is added. The wine is then corked and finished with a wire hood and foil, and shipped back to Morgan Hill.
Yes, that’s a lot of work: work that most wineries are happy to hand off to a larger sparkling house to handle. But, says Roguenant, “If you want to do a good sparkling, you have to do it yourself. I learned this in France.”
This is some well-traveled sparkling, not unlike its prodigious maker.
Top Scoring Lightpost Wines From 2022 Monterey Wine Competition
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Paso Robles – Wine of the Year
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Winemaker Select Paso Robles, Platinum Medal 94 points
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Paso Robles, Platinum Medal 97
2019 Rion Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains, Gold 93 points
2020 Pinot Noir Winemaker Select San Luis Obispo County, Gold Medal 92 points
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Old Oak Vineyards Reserve, Paso Robles, Gold Medal 91 points
2019 Alexander Reserve Paso Robles, Gold Medal 91 points
2019 Ignition San Luis Obispo County, Gold Medal 91 points
2020 Pinot Noir Deer Ridge Trail Vineyard Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains, Gold Medal 90 points
2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Dessert Wine Los Olivos District, Gold Medal 90 points
2019 Teo San Luis Obispo County, Silver Medal
2019 Sevastien Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Santa Cruz Mountains, Silver Medal
2019 Grenache Reserve Paso Robles, Silver Medal
2020 Pinot Noir Spanish Springs Vineyard, Reserve San Luis Obispo Country, Silver Medal
2019 Pinot Noir Reserve Sta. Rita Hills, Silver Medal