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Sunday, December 4, 2011

La Follette's Strange Fruits


No winemaker is as widely known, and often misunderstood, as Greg La Follette

La Follette in Sangiacomo Vineyard
This profile and interview was originally composed for Sommelier Journal (Nov. 2011), where it appeared in abbreviated form as a winery profile.

We like our winemakers to be unique, but not odd.  We like their wines to be intense and expressive of something, but not so different that we can't easily compare them to other wines within our points of reference.  We even like to talk concepts like "natural" and terroir, as long as the ramifications of such are reasonably easy to sell -- at least for those of us in the restaurant or retail trade.

Greg La Follette has never been one to make things easy for us, despite the notoriety of being first real winemaker at Flowers, during this extreme Sonoma Coast estate’s formative stage in the late nineties.  When La Follette ventured off on his own, founding Tandem Winery in 2001, it was almost as if he wanted us to forget the glory years at Flowers, and even earlier milestones, such as the years when he led Hartford Court into the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Big Leagues.

For one, he’s been rarely seen:  after starting Tandem, he turned into one of those flying winemakers, designing and consulting for more than a dozen wineries across the globe, at one point on five different continents (including at home in Sonoma, for it was La Follette that Jean-Charles Boisset first called upon to restore De Loach after taking it out of bankruptcy in 2003).  Between raising kids (a total of six, between wife Mara La Follette and himself) and whispering to vines, there simply hasn’t been much time for public relations or even sales.

Second, when there were La Follette sightings, it was usually of a grizzled man in well worn overalls and an unfortunate haircut – not an image of the suave celebrity winemaker – while the twenty or so wines produced each year under the Tandem label became known more for their tendency to stick out in comparative tastings, challenging even the most adventurous palates with oft-times discomforting sensations of down-and-dirty earth, pungent meats, unidentifiable flowers, or strange fruits – love it or leave it – despite their structural integrity and sleek, coiled intensity.

Still, La Follette’s energy quickly grew Tandem to over 9,000 cases a year; and although the winemaker’s legend also expanded, especially among geekier elements of the cognoscente, the wines were not exactly flying out the cellar door.  Enter Peter Kight, owner of Wine Creek LLC, which also handles Barossa Valley’s Torbreck Wines and Dry Creek Valley’s Quivira Vineyards.  In 2008 Kight began chatting with La Follette about taking Tandem off his hands, in a deal that would also retain his consumnate skills as a winemaker, and his uncanny eye for edgy vineyard sourcing.  In January 2009 Tandem officially became part of Wine Creek. 


Kight’s company immediately brought steadier management, sound marketing and broader distribution to Tandem; particularly by halving SKUs to less than ten, and bringing the products into more realistic price points (from $40-$70 to $30-$40).  After a year into it, Kight came to La Follette with an even better idea – scrap the Tandem label altogether; establish a new name, and re-focus it on what it really is:  La Follette Wines, launched in summer of 2010.

Within the Wine Creek fold, La Follette himself enjoys more freedom than ever as a winegrower; his feet firmly set, so to speak, in the terroir:  if anything, he has always been known for a single minded focus on vineyard expression, even at the expense of “varietal” or brand identification.  To Kight’s credit, Wine Creek has rolled with it, and so far so good.

While fewer in number, the brand formerly known as Tandem still consists of single vineyard and Sonoma Coast bottlings from some of the finest, most prestigious vineyards on the North Coast:

  • DuNah – in the fog and windswept Sebastopol Hills, at the southernmost end of the Russian River Valley AVA
  • Sangiacomo’s Roberts Road – (not to be confused with the Sangiacomo family’s Carneros plantings), falling in the Sonoma Coast AVA on the eastern edge of Petaluma Gap, at the base of Sonoma Mountain
  • Van der Kamp – a 1,400 ft. elevation Sonoma Mountain planting (highest in the AVA) dating back to the early sixties
  • Lorenzo – an historic 36 year old Chardonnay vineyard on the floodplain south of Santa Rosa in the Russian River Valley AVA
  • Hawk’s Roost – another late ripening Russian River Valley site located on the Santa Rosa floodplain
  • Manchester Ridge – a newer site (planted 2002-2004) on a remote, dizzyingly high 2,800 ft. peak in Mendocino Ridge, and one that has only solidified La Follette’s reputation for edgy, iconoclastic winegrowing.
Lorenzo Vineyard

This past spring La Follette sat down and talked about his 27 years of winegrowing, now crystallized in his eponymous new brand:

RC:  Although you’ve established a reputation for the unorthodox, I’ve heard you say that you attribute most of what you’ve learned to U.C. Davis.

GL:  I originally thought of becoming a Catholic priest.  Instead I ended up studying chemistry at U.C. San Francisco, earned my degree in plant biology and chemistry, and started doing research in the U.C. system.  My specialty was infectious diseases, particularly AIDS, but it became difficult for me emotionally.  Finally I said, life’s too short, and much to the chagrin of my parents I went back to school to study analytical chemistry at U.C. Davis, and got my degree in winegrowing.  That was in 1987.

RC:  What did they call that degree at that time?

GL:  My diploma read, Food Science and Technology.  I actually stayed an extra year at Davis, working on-staff as a chemist, while continuing to take as many viticultural courses as I could.  In fact, three years earlier I had already started working at Simi Winery, where Zelma Long was winemaker, Paul Hobbes was assistant winemaker, and Diane Kenworthy was the viticulturist – all great people to learn from.  While attending Davis and working at Simi, I was primarily looking into the role of pectins and their uses as a possible marker for ripeness.  Then after taking my degree at Davis I started working at Chalone with Dick Graff, who actually gave me 67 barrels for my research.  Then I recruited John Kongsgaard, who was at Newton, to help me out as well.

RC:  Sounds like a lot places to be at one time.

GL:  No kidding – I was going crazy, driving all over the place.  But what I really wanted to look at was the effects of Burgundian winemaking techniques, which I was able to do in three different places.  Right about that time, in 1991, I met André Tchelistcheff at Beaulieu, who became probably the single biggest influence in my winegrowing career.

RC:  How so?

GL:  André was huge – an amazing man, so focused on wine, holding so much knowledge in his hand, which he would sort of take little bits out from his pocket, hold it forward in his hand for you to examine, or pick up to put into your own pocket.  He would never force anything down your throat – most of the time he was more interested in listening to what I had to say.  André also taught me things like, “never let winemaking ruin your personal life,” and “pay attention to your children” – which I never forgot.

Van der Kamp on Sonoma Mountain

RC:  Aside from Tchelistcheff, who were your other key influences?

GL:  Ralph Kunkee, Roger Boulton and Ann Noble were my three thesis professors at U.C. Davis, and they were influential in the way that I thought.  Not so much what they tried to teach me, but how to investigate, how to ask questions.  They gave me tools, not answers – how to problem-solve. 

It was an incredible stroke of luck that I was able to work for André Tchelistcheff because he gave me the opportunity to put that approach to problem-solving to work, all the while encouraging me to go off on other projects – like starting up Yarra Ridge in Australia, and Jarvis in Napa Valley.  I took those jobs, but kept boomeranging back to Beaulieu for the privilege of working with André, and doing exhaustive research for him, like 24 Pinot Noir clonal trials.  Finally, in 1994, a job offer came up with Kendall-Jackson – to start up a new brand called Hartford Court, and to help resuscitate La Crema,  André thought that this was going to be the next big thing, the wave of the future, and he encouraged me to go.  So I started with the K-J properties, where I ended up carving out my own position as an in-house consultant/problem-solver, viticulturist/winemaker.

RC:  This was right before your move to Flowers?

GL:  In 1996 I was out in the Sonoma Coast during the harvest, walking through the rows ahead of the picking crew and flagging vines, because there was some real variability in that field.  I looked across the canyon and saw another picking crew really having a hard time, and so after I was done I got into my car and drove on over – we were on a different ridge, so the drive took 45 minutes – hopped out and introduced myself to Joan and Walt Flowers, who had just recently planted their first 18 acres, and just starting to build their winery.

Walt looked at me and said, “who are you?”  I told him I was Greg La Follete, and Joan said, “oh, you’re Greg La Follette – I just read your column last night about designing a winery for minimal cost and maximum quality output.”  Long story short, they were looking for help.  Their vineyard, frankly, wasn’t planted properly – in fact, a lot of their acreage had already slipped down the slope – and winery construction was running about a million dollars over budget.  And so 5 weeks and about 10 interviews later, I started work for Joan and Walt, sat down with their winery design team to make the necessary changes, and got it completed by the following vintage.  We came in several hundred thousand dollars under budget, and still improved the quality output.

RC:  What was the appeal of Flowers to take you away from that plum job at Kendall-Jackson?

GL:  There weren’t a lot of vineyards in the area at the time. Hirsch was established across the way, and the Bohans were the first to plant out there, although they had planted Merlot which ripened only about two out of every three years.  There were no wineries other than Flowers.  We were planting some very cutting-edge clones and rootstocks, and we did some really cool vineyard engineering to deal with the high elevation, heavy rainfall and steep slopes.

It was a great place to be a pioneer, and a great place to raise children.  Nick Peay was my cellarer for about two years, Luke Porter Bass was my cellarmaster, and I hired Hugh Chappelle as a day-to-day winemaker and Ross Cobb as a harvest enologiest.  I helped out Linda and Lester Schwartz, who were planting out Fort Ross Vineyard next door, and of course, Marcassin and people like Ehren Jordan were doing some big things in the region as well.  I think Flowers was a nucleus for a lot of things that were starting to blossom on the coast at that time.


RC:  How did your experience at Flowers change your outlook on winegrowing?

GL:  It didn’t.  I already had just about all my thoughts and ideas in place well before I got to Flowers.  At Flowers, though, I was able to fully implement them. 

RC:  Such as?

GL:  It was kind of like new viticulture:  using every part of every day in vines’ processing of their surroundings to make the most effective wine possible.  Employing a carbohydrate repartitioning strategy, which involves timing of leafing, not just leafing.  Pruning strategy, appropriate modifications of the Guyot-Côte methods employed in Burgundy.  Bringing that information into the winery and doing wild primary and secondary fermentations.  Doing a lot of gentle nudging rather than bashing of wines.  Open top fermenters, hand punching, going to barrel early and dirty, moderate use of oak rather than big, whacking heaps of oak.  Letting yeast interact with barrel polyphenols to unleash flavor.

RC:  Could you elaborate on your last point about yeasts?

GL:  Yeasts are actually capable of bio-transforming barrel phenols and softening them.  Prior research, at U.C. Davis, and during my time with André, had indicated that going to barrel early was very important for that.  But of course, the work starts in the vineyard.  One of the first things I did at Flowers was take the 18 acres they had planted – which was all cordon spur pruned, resulting in wines with very hard tannins – and do the Texas Chainsaw Massacre thing.  We lopped off all the cordoned arms, and implemented a double Guyot modified cane system.  Almost immediately tannin ripeness and fruit balance improved dramatically.  In other parts of the property we went from meter x meter to 5 by 8 foot spacing, increased yields from 1 to over 3 tons per acre, and we improved quality significantly – something borne out by higher scores. 

RC:  So you were able to improve quality by increasing yields?  That doesn’t sound right, especially for Pinot Noir.

GL:  There is an old adage that says “low yield makes better wine,” but this is horse-puppy.  Balanced vines make better wines.  Sometimes lower yields can make worse wine.  The earliest vintages of Flower Pinot Noir, for instance, were tannic monsters – their fruit is long gone.  The key is putting the breaks on shoot tip growth and initiating carbohydrate repartitioning – encouraging vines to go from a vegetative stage to a reproductive stage, preferably at lower Brix.  This is where you get earlier formation of color and flavor aromas.  You get that by doing things like opening up canopies and getting earlier light penetration, not dropping leaves too early or too late, getting moderate leaf size, not too large and not too small.

At lower yields vines aren’t always interested in ripening tannins, so they make you wait for it – often at a higher Brix than what you want.  Of course, for Pinot Noir it depends entirely upon the clone and site.  While many clones perform better at lower tonnage, there are clones grown on a fertile site that actually need to be picked at higher tonnage to come into better balance.

RC:  When you talk about this – achieving ripeness at lower Brix – it also sounds like a good way to address the issue of high alcohol, which has recently become a big topic, or bone of contention, in the press.

GL:  Whether a wine is below 14% alcohol or above 14% alcohol is really not my focus, but I will say this – I haven’t used a refractometer in over 30 years.  I learned long ago, working with Zelma Long, the right way to taste grapes – how to excoriate the seeds in your mouth to ascertain ripeness, and why you always pick for flavor.  In 2010 my lowest picking was probably about 20° Brix, and my highest maybe about 24°.  Among our current releases, we have wines under 14% alcohol, and wines over 14% alcohol. 

I realize that sommeliers really are the first line of defense – they’re tasting wines, and deciding which wines people will experience – and they can probably decide for themselves whether or not a wine is balanced, whether a wine is good for the food they’re serving, or whether a wine is better off served by the glass like a cocktail.

But for winemakers, our job is to make wines of balance and harmony.  This argument about whether wines should be lower or higher than 14% alcohol reminds me of the argument between a married couples having troubles, especially those with children.  You know who always suffers the most from those arguments?  The children.  You know what suffers the most from this argument about wines having too much alcohol?  The terroir.  We let terroir fall through the cracks when we go back and forth on alcohol, and it’s terroir that really matters – at least for the wines that matter most to me.
Pinot Meunier in Van der Kamp Vineyard

RC:  But doesn’t the high alcohol question call into question the wisdom of how California wine is grown?

GL:  No question, with good farming practices you don’t have to wait forever – for higher sugars or dessication – in order to find balance.  Regardless of where you’re growing or what you’re growing, intra-cellular machinery has to start well before veraison – you can actually start getting carbohydrate competition to effect berry cell division and berry cell expansion just after flowering.  Less berry cell division means fewer cells per berry, which means smaller berries and more concentration.  Less berry cell expansion means small cells per berry, which means smaller berries and more surface to volume ration, resulting in more concentration in the absence of excess sugar.  If you’re not getting that, it probably means you need to re-examine what you’re doing in the vineyard.  It also means you may have planted the wrong grapes in the wrong site.

What I’m more interesting in learning is the language of wine, which is nothing more than the language of vine physiology and yeast cell biology, and the more you learn those particular speeches the better you can speak to those needs.

RC:  At a conference in Santa Cruz, I once heard you talk about yeast cell biology in terms of wild fermentation and nutrient deprivation.  How is that consistent with what you learned at U.C. Davis?

GL:  One of the first things you learn at U.C. Davis is that Saccharomyces can produce aromatic molecules – for instance, one that produces the beautiful smell of rose petals.  But the only way yeasts are able to do this is if they first exhaust their nitrogen sources.  The first thing they eat is ammonia, and then they start on amino acids, preferentially.  The first amino acid they eat is analine, and the last amino acid they eat is phenylanaline.  And so yeasts chop off the phenyl group to get to the analine portion, and basically substitute the remaining benzene ring, or molecules, for 4-ethyl phenethanol – and voila, the smell of rose petals.

What you learn from this kind of winemaking is, “wow, you can push the dragon’s tail and get some really cool aromas and flavors.”  This is why it’s not such a good idea to add a bunch of yeast nutrients or to inoculate prophylactically.  Wild ferments can take forever, and often require prayer and occasional interventions.  But the advantage is their stress responders.  Think of yeast cells as being like athletes – you train them by making them run, not by feeding them bonbons.  When the yeasts start to tire, molecular walls start to crumble, and they begin to build macro-molecules that give wines more structure, like steel girders.  You also get more attractive mouthfeels, and complex aromas, like the smell of rose petals or roasted meats.

RC:  But isn’t it true that at U.C. Davis winemakers are discouraged from employing wild fermentation?

GL:  Davis doesn’t really teach you answers – they teach tools of investigation.  They tell you about the good and the bad stuff, wild ferments vs. inoculated ferments, where you can go wrong and where you can go right.  Make no mistake – wild fermentation is not practicing safe winemaking, but it can produce more interesting and unusual wine.  Wines I call enigmatic, which speak to a sense of place, rather than simple varietal character.

RC:  When you say “sense of place,” aren’t you talking more about following the French, and specifically Burgundian, traditions, as opposed to the science of U.C. Davis?

GL:  I certainly investigated Burgundian techniques very thoroughly, but my idea was to find out how these things work, not necessarily to follow them.  Once you find out how, you can improve upon it.  One of the things you discover is that some Burgundian techniques work, but for reasons that are the opposite of what they say.  A good example is the practices of sur lie and bâtonnage, the stirring of lees, and the idea that this reduces the amount of tannin in wine.  It is true that these practices result in a better mouthfeel, but the opposite is true when it comes to tannins – you actually increase tannins by practicing sur lie

In my own research I’ve found that the absorption of tannin into proteins happens very quickly following primary fermentation, but if you sweep away the lees you’re sweeping away a big pool of tannins.  If you allow lees to remain in contact, there is a slow re-release of tannins back into the wine, along with macro-molecules that are also enriching the wine and bathing over those tannins.  The result is a taking away of the aggressiveness of those tannins.  So instead of feeling those tannins like a big punch, you’re masking those tannins by grabbing them, and putting more fatness and richness into the mid-palate, and extending that feel into the late palate.

RC:  Does this also explain the more consistent longevity of Burgundian wines, compared to most New World wines?

GL:  You got it.  About a couple weeks after primary fermentation, yeasts always begin to prepare to go into a deep space.  So what they do is jettison all their intra-cellular material, all the guts that they don’t need for anything but going into deep sleep survival mode outside the presence of sugar, and a lot of those compounds are great anti-oxidants.  That’s why you stir, and you add oxygen, and even encourage brown juicing – because the lees are able to absorb these compounds, resulting in much more interesting, profound and longer lived wines.
Lorenzo Vineyard, Spring 2011

RC:  It seems to me, when I taste one of your Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs, there is invariably some kind of odd fragrance or unusual perfume not found in Chardonnays and Pinots from other producers – even those who espouse natural fermentations and work with other cold climate sites in the North Coast.  What’s up with that?

GL:  It’s no accident because I’m never focused on just primary fruit – I’m always looking for complexity.  I think, for instance, that if you can combine the smell of mushrooms, or forest floor, rose petals or roasted venison, by favoring a cold loving yeast during early stages of fermentation, and if you have that yeast as an indigenous part of a particular vineyard, then what you are doing is opening yourself up to form a closer partnership with the land.  You are digging out all the possibilities of the land, and you’re letting a vineyard speak in a voice or language it wants to speak in.  I’ve always felt that it’s my job, my mission, to bring that voice forward.  I’m not going impose anything, I’m going to remain quiet and listen, and really try to form a partnership in the same way I might partner with someone I love and respect.  To me, this is a wilder, more satisfying approach to wine.

RC:  Even if those aromas and flavors come out “weird?”

GL:  Especially.  Complexities inherent in a vineyard’s yeast population can be like an exotic flower, a rose petal, or a forest floor.  It can be feral, often sauvage et animale.  If you can find that fine seam of tension that exists between the floral and the feral, and get it just right, I think you make a more transcendent wine – like the tension in the notes that build up in, say, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

RC:  Yet in the past, you’ve often used the term “Euro-centric” to describe your wines.

GL:  When I used that term, I meant relying less on oak and ultra-ripeness to make a meaningful wine.  Relying on higher acidity, but a balanced acidity, and less focus on fruit, more focus on complexity.  There was a time when it seemed like the highest scoring Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs were bigger, higher in alcohol, oakier, and jammier or more opulent in fruit, but that never seemed to keep many of our wines from scoring very high, or even finishing on top.

RC:  Was this also a way of saying that your wines are less “manipulated?”

GL:  It’s mostly about practicing good vineyard husbandry, but I never felt that we were that good when it comes to handling in the winery.  So we watch our wines very closely – giving them a little nudge here, a little nudge there.  We ferment in shallow tubs so that we can do hand punch-downs, because that’s more intimate, and because that’s how you can feel the heat and aromas coming out of the musts.  We sample lees in our mouth, to see if they’re nice and creamy, sweet or stinky.  We monitor our wines barrel by barrel, handling each one like separate lot.  It’s like little children – you have to be there early on to diaper them, then you watch them stumble and fall as they get older, and you’re still watching them closely when you’re handing them the keys as they walk out the door. 

RC:  Back up a little and tell me what makes your fermentors unusual? 

GL:  We use halved stainless steel milk tanks, which range from one ton to six tons.  As they get bigger, they get longer and broader, insuring that the cap stays within the human strength-range of punchdown ability, including a 114 pound teenage boy.  A very important consideration in my sons’ training as young men who have the wherewithal to work hard and know what it all means.

RC:  Now for the million dollar question – is it pronounced “La-FAH-lette,” or “LAH-Fol-lette?”

GL:  My name is “La-FAH-lette,” but the brand is “LAH-Fol-LETTE.”  We figured it’s easier to identify with the French pronunciation.

RC:  Final question – if you could shuck it all away tomorrow, what would you be doing?

GL:  Growing grapes, of course, but in my own vineyard.  But I think I’d like to try it with a horse and plow.  When you plow the dirt yourself, you see everything, and every clod means even more.  Then again, I always liked horsing around!


LA FOLLETTE WINES’ CURRENT RELEASES

2009 La Follette, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($30) – Cold, foggy coastal air funneled in a direct line through the Petaluma Gap to this cobbled, rocky, old riverbed site has consistently made for the nutrient starved wild yeast ferments favored by La Follette; engendering, in Chardonnays, flavor/aromas with as much minerality and toasted almond as intense apple, pineapple and lemon varietal fruit definitions, while slapping a viscous layer over snappy, sinewy, high acid texturing.  Make no mistake, the profile is Californian, but definitely with an Old World raunch.

2008 La Follette, Lorenzo Vineyard, Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($38) – While not the coldest site in the La Follette book (that would be Du Nah in the nearby Sebastopol Hills, and Manchester Ridge on Mendocino Ridge), the clay soil, older vines and microbiology of the vineyard conspire to yield one of the slowest evolving Chardonnays grown in California.  After three years, ‘the 08 remains tight, compact, steel rimmed – more like a wine coming right out of the shoot – although the viscous lemon and honey roasted nut qualities oozing out of a citrus center are clearly indicating a fleshing out into those lavish, creamy sensations for which Lorenzo is always known.

2008 La Follette, Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge Chardonnay ($48) – La Follette is fond of calling this “the new paradigm” of California Chardonnay,” and he kids you not:  there are outward sensations of minerality that remind you of Chablis, although nothing in Chablis comes close to the flowery perfume – an almost Riesling-like exoticism – typifying Manchester Ridge.  In fact, there is no Chardonnay based white in the world that has this; necessitating a rearranging of one’s comfort zone when addressing this particular animal.  Terroir plays its part, and so does the Chardonnay clone 809 -- a sexy new variant of the Musqué clones, sans the millerandage (shot, or uneven sized, berries) – which composes a third of this bottling.  The other two-thirds is vinified from Old Wente, a classic shot-berry Chardonnay Musqué favored up and down the coast.  Ergo, it is clearly the high elevation, frigid, late ripening nature of the site itself that fashions the edgy, lean, tart edged yet ultra-fine, silken threaded qualities of this wine, bursting with the honeysuckle flower and citrus/lime driven fruit, just hinting at old fashioned butterscotch beneath the stony veneer.

2009 La Follette, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($30) – Pretty much a classic, voluptuous, sumptuously fruited North Coast style of pinot, but with earthy, forest floor, almost soy-like nuances that whisper into the ear like a salacious, husky voiced harlot.  The chubby, young fruit mixes red and black berries with a touch of cola, its lacy sweetness barely hiding sharp, bony tannin.


2009 La Follette, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40) – In the Sangiacomo Pinot Noir, the feral aspects of this vineyard’s microbiology infuses the varietal’s fragrant raspberry and exotic tea spices with nuanced rose petal and sensations of roasting meat.  Smoke of oak piles on to the complexity, and the feel is sensual in its silkiness, young tannins poking through like sharp elbows, thickening the wild, earth toned fruit.

2009 La Follette, DuNah Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40) – Here, luscious strawberry preserve perfumes are underlined by pungent organic notes consistent with this site, suggesting rubber boots trudging through crumbling leaves and damp earth.  On the palate, the earth toned flavors is dense, meaty, yet sweet with the vibrant red berry qualities.

2008 La Follette, Van der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir ($40) – The La Follette penchant for tertiary extraction – in this case, leather, mushrooms, forest floor – kicks up a notch in the Van der Kamps; the ‘08, girded by the site’s typical, muscular mountain tannin, and a varietal profile that is less floral, more fruit focused, tinged with a sweet peppermint, leafy herb spice.  The feel is dense, savory, fullsome; tannins coming across with clove-like, almost malty thickness.

2008 La Follette, Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir ($50) – Early studies of Manchester Ridge done by La Follette for U.C. Davis revealed the presence of more polymerizable phenols in its fruit than in any site he’s ever examined; a phenomenon certainly borne out in the ’08:  by far, the most animale of the La Follette cuvées – the essence of the sweet, slightly soured scent of the inside of a woman’s leather glove that Tchelistcheff often spoke of – combined with the oak to give charred meat sensations, suffused by ultra-rich, ringing, berry liqueur quality of the varietal.  On the palate, the luxuriousness takes on sensual textures, like chocolate melting on strawberries, all but making you forget what a unique, or strange, fruit of a pinot this really is.

Rick DuNah in DuNah Vineyard

1 comment:

Joel Brüt said...

This is a really great interview. I am a very big fan of the La Follette wines and all of this side projects. The Manchester ridge wines I have had are stunning.