Fire captain unveils vintages
by Denise Ellen Rizzo
Jun 14, 2013 | 4829 views | 0 0 comments | 175 175 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Inner Sanctum Cellars, owned and operated by Capt. Pete Luckhardt of Tracy Fire Department, recently released three wines ... Torro, Dwell in Joy and The Beginning. Denise Ellen Rizzo/Tracy Press
Inner Sanctum Cellars, owned and operated by Capt. Pete Luckhardt of Tracy Fire Department, recently released three wines ... Torro, Dwell in Joy and The Beginning. Denise Ellen Rizzo/Tracy Press
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Tracy residents Bonnie Wills (from left), Molly Karl, Ivar Bjoralt and Debra Schneider enjoyed a taste of the newly released wines from Inner Sanctum Cellars on Friday, May 31. The wines, created from a Tuolumne County vineyard owned by Tracy Fire Department Capt. Pete Luckhardt, were unveiled that evening at a wine tasting at Vino 100. Denise Ellen Rizzo/Tracy Press
Tracy residents Bonnie Wills (from left), Molly Karl, Ivar Bjoralt and Debra Schneider enjoyed a taste of the newly released wines from Inner Sanctum Cellars on Friday, May 31. The wines, created from a Tuolumne County vineyard owned by Tracy Fire Department Capt. Pete Luckhardt, were unveiled that evening at a wine tasting at Vino 100. Denise Ellen Rizzo/Tracy Press
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With the pop of a cork, Capt. Pete Luckhardt of the Tracy Fire Department introduced a taste of his Sonora winery to Tracy.

Luckhardt poured glasses of red and white fermented grapes from his winery — Inner Sanctum Cellars — at Vino 100 on May 31. The pouring, at 2467 Naglee Road, was his first wine tasting event in the city.

“It’s been exciting,” Luckhardt said as he uncorked bottles. “This is the first time selling in a retail environment, and it’s good to know people are happy with what we’re doing.”

The 15-year Tracy firefighter said he and his wife, Karen Luckhardt, decided six years ago to expand their résumés to include winery ownership.

In 2007, Karen Luckhardt was selling Sonora-based wines from vineyard owners Ron and Lori Gianelli at her retail shop in Jamestown.

By 2010, the Luckhardts had partnered with the Gianellis and were set to release their first two offerings — a cabernet sauvignon called “The Beginning” and a merlot named “Little Joe” after their Jack Russell terrier.

In 2011, the Luckhardts — residents of Sonora for 25 years — were ready to open Inner Sanctum Cellars at 19672 Whitto Mine Road in Sonora.

“We had a retail business and it was flat,” Pete Luckhardt said. “When I looked at the business side of it (winemaking), I realized, when done properly, it should be able to grow. People drink when they’re happy and when they’re sad.”

Lacking their own vineyard, the Luckhardts bought grapes from Tuolumne and Calaveras counties and processed them in Jamestown.

The key to their success was getting involved in every aspect of the business — from picking the grapes to barreling the wine and selling the bottles.

“It’s a lot of fun, but it’s not a passive project for us,” he said. “There’s no hobby in this. You’re either in or you’re not.”

Pete Luckhardt might be new to the wine business, but his family isn’t. His great-uncle had a 50-acre vineyard in Napa, where he lived as a boy.

“I did have some roots in there, and it’s kind of called me back,” Pete Luckhardt said. “I felt it was the right time and right place for me to do this.”

Plans are in the works for growing grapes, too, after the Luckhardts’ purchase of 28 acres in Chinese Camp, Tuolumne County.

From 600 cases a year, Pete Luckhardt said he hopes to expand to producing 2,000 cases annually.

“It’s a passion for us,” he said. “The best part for me is pouring and watching the reactions of people drinking it.”

During the wine tasting at Vino 100, about 50 people tasted the Luckhardts’ wine.

“I’m a red (wine) fan and I like the Torro a lot,” said Kristina Brachna. “It’s light, but it’s got sweetness to it, and I like the smoothness of it. They did a good job.”

Bonnie Willis said she enjoyed the chardonnay, describing its taste as buttery and smooth.

“I’m usually not a fan of a chardonnay,” she said. “I think it’s really good.”

Inner Sanctum wines are not sold locally yet, but fans can join a quarterly wine club or make purchases on the company website at www.innersanctumcellars.com.

• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or drizzo@tracypress.com.

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