Last June Mr. WINEormous wrote about winery owner and winemaker Teri Love. Her story touched my heart and I was determined to meet her on our first visit to Solvang. Her winery is named Gioia (Italian for Joy) and she fully expresses her joy for life through her love of wine. We met at her home and she recounted the almost mystical adventure that brought her to Solvang and the creation of Gioia Wine.
Up until 2005 I would have thought of Teri as a “real housewife” of Malibu – living a charmed life, active in animal rescue charities and her community. That year a devastating event rocked Teri Love’s world. Her 22 year old son Tyler came home from studying in Florence, Italy and assured Teri that he would be the man of the house and began working two jobs. Never having worked outside her home or family business, Teri considered her lack of “experience” and age to be a detriment but pursued all work options.
On November 12, 2005 Tyler went out on his motorcycle for the evening with a high school friend riding on the back. His parting remark to Teri was “Mama, I’m always going to be here to take care of you.” He died that night on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu when a car illegally made a u-turn in front of his path. Her only son – her prince – her “gioia” was gone.
Teri knew she had to leave her old life behind and start anew. What would a new start entail? Here is where the resilience of a woman comes to the forefront. Tyler was her inspiration and guide down a new path. They had traveled together when he was studying in Italy, visiting wineries and discovering “gioia” in the charms of the wine regions. Tyler had taken a wine course in Chianti and they loved discovering new wines and developing their palates. Teri had always ordered and bought the household wine – in restaurants or bringing her finds home to share with her family. She had developed a distinctive taste and loved pairing food and wine to come up with a new ways of working old recipes. “This is like a dream I would love to do.”
Everything fell into place. She found a perfect healing property in the Santa Ynez valley. Through friends she met winemaker Jim Porter of William James Cellars and told him about her dream. “It’s got to be my taste and me doing it,” she told him. “I need an escalated course.”
Teri didn’t have time to study for years as she knew that time was precious and that she needed to make the most of every day and every opportunity. Jim’s background was crop science and farming. He took her to meet growers and fellow winemakers. Teri started buying grapes and then went through every step of winemaking with Jim by her side, first developing her 2007 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Teri did all of the blending and after about a week decided on the formulations which Jim Porter put together. Her first chardonnay sold out in 8 months. The 2007 Pinot Noir won a silver medal out of 3300 wines at the Los Angeles Wine and Spirits Competition in 2009. She thought maybe her taste was pretty good. The most difficult part of the process? – developing the winery name and distinctive label. Here Tyler came to Teri’s rescue again. She wanted his influence on everything. With a mutual love of Italy and the knowledge that Tyler was her “joy”, the Italian word “gioia” was a natural. She developed the gothic angel wings label knowing the design was a symbol Tyler would like to wear. She thought of a necklace that was one of his favorites by designer King Baby. The image featured a heart with a crown. Was this an appropriate image? Absolutely. “Tyler was my prince and our last name is Love. He was and is my “gioia”.”
Once her wine was created I wondered how Teri marketed Gioia. Here’s her answer. “I put my dogs and my wine in the car and drove and drove. I keep my prices low. I want my wine to be in places I like to go.” This highly personal approach has worked well for Teri Love.
In addition to the first two wines she soon developed a Syrah and Cabernet. Her latest offering is a Zinfandel with grapes from Paso Robles. We were fortunate to taste one of the first bottles. It was lighter than many Zins but fruit forward and delicious. Then Teri offered up one of her favorite warm afternoon concoctions. First she picked some fresh mint from her garden, muddled it with ice and poured the Zinfandel into the glass. Wow – the “Zinjito” – a flavorful warm weather treat that I will be drinking on hot summer days as a white wine alternative.
Teri then described the Gioia mission. She has developed the Tyler Love Foundation dedicated to making Pacific Coast Highway safer as well as a local scholarship fund for high school students to study abroad. “Tyler used to tell me every day was a gift and not to waste one minute. He was right.”
All too soon it was time to leave this peaceful love-filled oasis. Teri and I parted with her saying one of Tyler’s sign-offs – LUMU (Love U Miss U) and his completion WIWTWURN (Wish I was there with U right now). Gioia.