Monday, July 12, 2010

Wine that smells like sex

In addition to being one of my favorite winemakers, Greg LaFollette is one of my favorite quotes.

A globetrotting scientist with a Masters in Food Science and Technology, LaFollette talks with enthusiasm about things like carbohydrate repositioning strategy. He's a farmer who is proud to be raising six kids without television. But he also wears Hawaiian shirts and leather pants and likes telling jokes about his big Pinot, and other such topics.

So after a morning of tasting wines from his new label, LaFollette, I wasn't at all surprised at lunch when he came up with this description for his 2006 Tandem Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay:

Greg: "My wife swears that this wine smells like me in a certain aroused state."
Me: "So this wine smells like you when you're aroused?" (Journalistic technique, as in, "Huh? You really mean that?")
Greg: "I wouldn't say that. My wife would."

Mrs. LaFollette wasn't around to verify, but she played a huge role in his decision to restrict his schedule. No more zipping down to make wines in South Africa (Flagstone) or Chile (Vina Casa Marin). And no more Gewurztraminer, Syrah or other Rhone varietals.

From now on, LaFollette's plan is to make only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from a few vineyards.

He and Atlanta-based patron Pete Kight are retiring the Tandem brand, and opening a new brand called LaFollette. There really aren't any differences between LaFollette and Tandem except the new name and the restricted focus.

Since his postgraduate work in Burgundy -- funded by Napa Valley Vintners -- he has been an expert on Pinot and Chard, as he showed at Tandem, Casa Marin and as GM/winemaker at Flowers Vineyard & Winery in the '90s.

Still, for a guy who's used to playing with dozens of different wines, won't making less than 10 get dull?

Every time I asked that, he had the same answer, along these lines: "My kids last year started calling me Uncle Dad. I got the message. I need to spend more time at home, with my flesh and blood kids and my vinous kids."

Honestly, while I loved the Tandem Pinots, it's too early to tell about how the LaFollette Pinots will be as a group. The '08 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir and the '08 Sonoma Coast blend showed well; two others, bottled very recently, did not.

The three Chardonnays he poured, however, were spectacular, even if I now feel like I know Greg's, er, aromatic qualities more intimately than I'm comfortable with.

Indeed, Gay Pride Week must have affected me more than I knew, because the '08 LaFollette Sangiacomo Vineyard Chardonnay was my favorite wine of the tasting. It's savage -- Greg's term, but a fair one -- with strong flavors of pear, floral notes, loamy earth, ginger and an animalistic undertone, while still having a very round, smooth mouthfeel. It starts so roughly and ends so gently, and that's another image I wish I didn't have in my head.

I also loved the '08 LaFollette Lorenzo Vineyard Chardonnay, which is intense and seamless but not at all fat: lemon curd, toast, earthiness and even some marshmallow.

LaFollette has also pioneered a vineyard on the edge of wild marijuana country in Mendocino County, Manchester Ridge, which is a three hour drive from northern Sonoma County on hazardous old logging roads. The '08 LaFollette Manchester Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay is extremely floral, in part because nearly a third of the vines are the relatively rare Chardonnay Musque clone. I might have guessed there was Muscat in it had Greg not corrected me.

All three are so different from each other, and so interesting on their own, that it's just possible they might keep LaFollette interested. But hopefully, not too interested. I already know what that smells like.

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