Phoenix flight

When Vacu-Dry ceased operations in Sebastopol, California, many bemoaned the continuing decline of the apple industry in Sonoma’s West County region. Yet from those ashes many a high-flying phoenix has taken flight.

The large and rather dingy industrial complex that used to house Vacu-Dry has been turned into a rabbit warren of artisan winemakers, each with their own boutique operations. Dan Berger and I had the opportunity to visit recently with two of the stars in residence, Rick Davis and Greg La Follette.  These men cut their teeth, making wine together for some of California’s most famous names. Today they are crafting their own brands and consulting for clients who are eager for their experience and expertise.

Rick Davis makes the wines for the Londer family. We tasted the latest vintage of Gewurz. which was fabulous.

Londer Vineyards, Anderson Valley, Dry Gewurztraminer 2007 In the nose there’s lots of fresh floral notes. The floral essence follows through in the mouth along with a healthy amount of fruit and acid. This is not an austere or bitter Gewurz, as can often be. The alcohol is in balance and there’s a mere 2 g/l RS in the background. The grapes that make this wine are sourced from the Ferrington Vineyard. P&B in Sebastopol 14.2% $26 at the winery Londer

Rick’s own brand is Calstar and he poured for us a terrific Zin.

Calstar Cellars, Lodi, Old Vine, Zinfandel, Za-Za-Zin 2006 The nose is loaded with jammy berries, just like the blackberries we’re picking these days in the late summer in Sonoma County. The mouth is one easy drinking fruit bomb – yes. P&B in Sebastopol $13.75 at the winery Calstar

Greg La Follette has more projects and energy than the day is long. He takes a seriously scientific approach to crafting world-class wine yet can explain the technical concepts in a way that makes it easy for a philosophy major to understand.

Among Greg’s clients are the DuNahs.  We tasted some great Pinot including:

DuNah, Sonoma Coast, Sangiacomo Vineyard, Pinot Noir 2006 The nose is a medley of red fruits and brown spices.  There’s a great concentration of fruit in the mouth and elegance at the same time.  This isn’t a contradiction but rather a way of saying that the structure is toward the background supporting the fruit and allowing it to star. P&B in Sebastopol 13.3% $50 at the winery DuNah

Greg’s brand is Tandem, known already to many Burgundy hounds. We tasted a number of great Chard and Pinot, among them these stars:

Tandem, Mendocino Ridge, Manchester Ridge Vineyard, Chardonnay 2006 This is a very bright Chardonnay with floral and stone fruit notes. The very rich, buttery palate is balanced by an ample supply of fruit. Greg explained to us that the expressiveness of the fruit is amplified by the wild yeast ferment that he oversees, where a tiny bit of RS in the final wine is mostly the sweeter tasting fructose. P&B in Sebastopol $54 at the winery.

Tandem, Sonoma Mountain, Silver Pines Vineyard, Pinot Noir 2006 This is a turbo-charged Pinot, still restrained in the nose while intensely concentrated in the mouth with lots of acidity to drive the flavor a long, long time. Sourced from the Silverman’s property, a north facing vineyard up Crane Canyon. P&B in Sebastopol 14.9% $60 at the winery.

Tandem, Sonoma Mountain, van der Kamp Vineyard, Pinot Meunier 2006 What a treat to be able to taste a single varietal Pinot Meunier that is not drowning in oak. The floral, fruit and bracing acidity of this wine come through load and clear. This is the oldest Pinot Meunier planting in California that is being replanted due to phylloxera.  Get this while you can. P&B in Sebastopol $60 at the winery. Tandem

Not having enough to do locally, Greg also makes wine in the southern hemisphere.  One of his projects that will be available to us in the autumn is Australian Semillon. This is the real deal, Hunter Valley Semillon, which the Australians age long-term in their cellars, watching the bottle development turn wines with ripping acidity into complex gems. I got to taste some wonderful examples in the Hunter at McWilliam’s and Peppertree and Greg is on track to be one of the stars in this genre as well.

We tasted a terrific blend of two tank samples of the ’08 vintage shipped over from the Hunter. Look for the name, Ablington Vineyard from Pokolbin in the Hunter Valey and Greg La Follette.

About RJ

Ray Johnson is the Executive Director of the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University. He writes about food and wine, his travels and the business of wine. He makes his home in Sonoma County, California.
This entry was posted in Anderson Valley, California, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Hunter Valley, Lodi, Mendocino County, Mendocino Ridge, New South Wales, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, Semillon, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma Valley, Zinfandel. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply