Meet the Maker

If Goldilocks Drank Sauvignon Blanc, It Would Be From Lieu Dit

Lieu Dit is giving Sauvignon Blanc a permanent place at the table, on the beach, or anywhere you please.

Maker Wine Square Blue Logo for Article Author

By Maker Wine

February 08, 2023

Lieu Dit winemaker in a row of grapevines looking at grapes


Sauvignon Blancs are known for being frank. Pungent on the nose and acidic on the palate, they tend to be bright, light bodied, and pretty straightforward — ranging from grassy and crisp, to in-your-face fruity and flowery. But for people who prefer a more restrained wine, finding a well-balanced Sauvy B can be a bit of a challenge. 

Not anymore. Lieu Dit has taken Sauvignon Blanc's innate boldness and honesty and crafted it into something balanced, nuanced, even mysterious.

Two buds bond over food, wine, and that je ne sais quoi

Justin Willett and Eric Railsback started Lieu Dit back in 2011. They first met as part of a small group of young winemakers and restaurateurs in Santa Barbara, where they bonded over their love of balanced wines, interesting wines, wines that were likable on day one (*gasp*) or day one thousand. Specifically, the two favored varietals from the Loire Valley in France because they were approachable yet still had that je ne sais quoi.

Lieu Dit winemaker walks in a row of vines on a sunny day

Finding France in Santa Barbara

As a Santa Barbara native, Justin believed the region was well-suited to grow the same set of grapes as the Loire Valley. And because he knew the valley up and down and inside out, he pinpointed the ideal location for these vines to thrive.

Santa Barbara lies in a transverse valley along the Pacific Coast. Because of the surrounding mountain ranges, the majority of valleys run parallel to the coast. But there's an odd 20-mile zone where the valley actually runs perpendicular. This area gets a healthy hit of brisk early morning fog, heaps of unbridled sunlight throughout the day, strong marine winds at night, and temperatures that swing 30 degrees... very similar conditions to the Loire Valley in France.

The Lieu Dit team realized the combination of bright sun, wet fog, salty wind, and mineral-rich soil would create dynamic yet balanced wines—bringing a bit of France to their own backyard while also screaming serene California coast. In other words, it was the perfect place. And so Lieu Dit was aptly named.

Vineyard sign that reads "Sauvignon Blanc"

Everyone has their Lieu Dit

Roughly translated, Lieu Dit means 'named place.' There's a tradition throughout France of naming a place, because when you do so, you imbue it with meaning across generations. Everyone has their Lieu Dit — be it your grandparent's lake house, your favorite ski mountain, or the dive bar where you and your partner had your first date. 

Wine is Justin and Eric's Lieu Dit. It's a communication tool for a certain time and place that connects the sentiment and value of time to the now. Open a Lieu Dit varietal in a year or five, and it still speaks with as much clarity and presence as it did at the beginning.

Thanks to Santa Barbara’s unique geography, there’s a sunniness to Lieu Dit wines, which are exuberant without being heavy-handed. They have a ripe energy without the “ripe” taste so often found in California wines. Rather, they speak to the presence of the sun in the growth process. They speak to the place in which they were cultivated. They speak to the essence of Lieu Dit.

A culture of collaboration and experimentation

The Santa Barbara valley not only informs the types of grapes that can be grown, it also informs the overall culture of winemaking. With a short 50-year history, the vintners aren't bound to old traditions, standard processes, or rules. The community celebrates experimentation when it comes to new concepts, craftsmanship and collaboration. In fact, Santa Barbara's early wine community fostered mentorship and collaboration across all generations, and everyone had room in their cellar to make an extra barrel of wine with and for their wine-making friends. 

Justin and Eric have taken friendship and collaboration to the next level with Lieu Dit. Rather than owning their own vineyard, over the decades they developed strong relationships throughout the valley—allowing Lieu Dit to dictate farming and pick fruits to their specifications. For a winery that doesn't have its own estate fruit, they're vertically integrated and have reached a maturity in scale that distinguishes them in the space. The very spirit of this collaborative effort in this unique space is, in fact, what makes Lieu Dit Lieu Dit.

The art and science of Lieu Dit's balancing act

So what separates Justin from his Santa Barbara winemaking peers? According to them, it's his uncanny ability to balance intuition and rigor in the cellar. There's something emotional and sensorial about the way he makes wine, making decisions based on the way things taste, smell, and look. With his observations, he continues practicing experimentations and processes in both the cellar and the vineyard. And while you typically get people who make wine by sense or by recipe, Justin recognizes the need for both. And that's what promises Lieu Dit's consistently precise and communicative wines. 

Given Lieu Dit's age, this balanced style isn't something they stumbled upon. It's part of their ethos and origin story. It would be easy to make these wines over the top considering the savage elements of the Santa Barbara Coast. But Lieu Dit isn't about that. In fact, balance is the through-line you'll find in all their wines; there's just the right amount of everything, and nothing is out of place. 

Maker Sauvignon Blanc with glass and leaning can

Nearly. Perfect. Vintages. 

This particular Sauvignon Blanc vintage is sourced from a single vineyard source: The Santa Ynez Vineyard in Happy Canyon just outside Santa Barbara, California – the same vineyard Maker's Albariño by Camins 2 Dream is sourced from.

Making great wine in Santa Barbara requires a deep sensitivity to the variable pace of vintages. This means remaining agile – possessing great rapport with your wine growing-partners, cultivating an eager and dynamic team in the cellar, and marrying weather reports with frequent walks through the vineyards.

True to form, the Lieu Dit Sauvignon Blanc is perfectly balanced, with notes of crisp apple, melon, and bright citrus. It pairs with just about anything—complementing foods with salinity and richness like oysters, Thai, and sushi, or pasta with butter, lemon, clams or mussels. Or you can enjoy it without any food, and it drinks just fine on its own.

That's kind of the point of Lieu Dit wines: they're for everyone, everyday, everywhere, and they’re sneakily affordable too. So pronounce the name however you like. As long as you can taste that it's a Sauvignon Blanc and feel the balance of the Santa Barbara elements coming through, it's all good by Lieu Dit.

Maker Wine Sauvignon Blan can with glass

Get Sauvignon Blanc

Perfectly balanced, with notes of crisp apple, melon, and bright citrus. Pairs with just about anything — complementing foods with salinity and richness like oysters, Thai, and sushi, or pasta with butter, lemon, clams or mussels.

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