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University of Missouri

Dinner and Drinks

Alumna and Simi Winery winemaker hosts dinner at UClub.

Susan Lueker

MU alumna and director of winemaking at Simi Winery, Susan Lueker will be at the University Club of MU at 6 p.m. Friday for a five-course meal paired with Simi wines. Photo courtesy of Simi Winery.

It’s not hard to imagine that the best part of Susan Lueker’s day is when she gets the taste the wine. As director of winemaking for Simi Winery in Sonoma, Calif., she says it’s magical — counterintuitive, even.

“You can pick out your favorite lot [of wine],” Lueker says. “But when you taste it, you’ll notice it’s missing something. Then you throw in a blend with a not-so-great entry and a beautiful finish, and it fills in the holes in the blend. It’s great.”

Lueker, who has been at Simi Winery since 2000, will be at the University Club of MU at 6 p.m. Friday for a five-course meal paired with Simi wines.

Born in Little Rock, Ark., Lueker moved to Missouri at age 12 when her father got a job with MU Extension in Buffalo, Mo. Lueker, HES ’89, studied child development and chemistry at MU. Making wine and beer at home with friends was still just a hobby.

But after working briefly in a hospital as a play therapist and patient advocate, Lueker decided she wanted to try something different.

She enrolled in the enology program at UC Davis, where both of her parents attended college.

“It’s not a great romantic story,” she warns. “I ran out of money and had do three jobs to put myself through school.”

In addition to working as a medical counselor at the Davis Free Clinic and as a part-time nanny, Lueker was an assistant to the wine buyer at the Davis Food Co-op, tasting, making decisions on what wines to bring in. She was hooked.

Lueker went on to work at Hacienda Winery, Kendall Jackson and Dry Creek Vineyard before landing at Simi. She spends most of her day managing the day-to-day operations, looking at sales figures and production numbers, writing technical notes on the wine for her marketing team, entertaining distributors, and finally, sitting down at the end of the day to taste.

“I love sauvignon blanc because it takes me back to the vineyard,” Lueker says. “It’s the truest vineyard experience, a pure reflection of the fruit. I love zinfandel because it’s a finicky grape. It ripens unevenly, so you’ll have overripe and unripe berries on the same vine. It’s challenging, but it’s rewarding.”

But her favorite pick-me-up? A sparkling pinot noir rosé

“I love sparking wine because I don’t make it, so I don’t analyze it.”