California Pinot Rooted in Burgundian Traditions

Today’s Story: Littorai Wines

Littorai is a small family-owned and operated winery established by Ted and Heidi Lemon in 1993. Dedicated to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Littorai produces vineyard-designate wines (save for the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) from coastal vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley of California. Ted is a career winemaker, having earned an Enology degree from the University of Dijon in Burgundy in 1981. During his time in Burgundy, Ted worked stints at a number of prestigious domaines including Domaine Georges Roumier, Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Parent, Domaine de Villaine, Domaine Delorme, and Domaine Dujac. In 1983, he became the first American ever to become winemaker and vineyard manager of a Burgundy estate by taking the reigns of Domaine Guy Roulot in Meursault. Though his stint at Roulot was fairly short-lived (this was during the uncertainty following Guy’s death), Ted returned to the United States and worked or consulted at a number of wineries before establishing Littorai. Heidi worked in wine as well prior to the couples’ own project, with an impressive resume including Domaine Chandon, Robert Pecota Winery, Robert Long Vineyards, and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.

As one might surmise, Ted’s winemaking philosophy is shaped tremendously by his studying and work in Burgundy. Ted believes the soil and more broadly terroir are the leading factors of winemaking and he strives to showcase a true sense of place with each bottle of wine he produces. To this end, Ted is very particular about the vineyards he sources from (though today his fruit is roughly half purchased and half estate grown) and common characteristics include low yields, organic viticulture, and biodynamic practices. Ted and his team further believe in manual farming and they only use natural materials such as “estate produced compost” for “fertilizer.” In the winery itself, Ted remains somewhat hush on his process but does certify there are no additives in his wines such as cultured yeasts, cultured bacteria, acidification, or enzymes. Littorai wines are also bottled unfined and unfiltered off the original lees. Production numbers are quite limited, and all wines sell direct to consumer via the mailing list or to various restaurants.

In 2003, Ted and Heidi purchased a 30-acre biodynamic farm to advance their goal of generative agriculture. The Lemons produce as much as they can on-site for both farming and winemaking needs, which the inhabitants of cows, sheep, chickens, and ducks assist with. Several years later, the Lemons completed their winery in 2008 and the walls are made of caged bales of hay! Natural cooling from nighttime temperatures helps maintain the winery and the cellars, and it is set up using gravity flow to minimize handling of the wines.

To view the source of the above information, view pictures of the winery and vineyards, or join the mailing list for Littorai Wines, visit their website (previously linked) here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.4% ABV

The 2016 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is translucent pale to medium ruby in color, though it’s almost opaque. This requires about 45 minutes to an hour to blossom in the glass, showcasing a nose of black cherry, black raspberry, stewed strawberry, blueberry, violet, leather, tilled earth, chopped herbs, baking spice, and white pepper. The palate showcases classic notes of bing cherry, jammy raspberry, stemmy strawberry, plum, cola, leather, sweet tobacco, underbrush, slate, clove, and oaky spice. This is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60. I could argue there are better values for California Pinot Noir, but this is a very high quality and well-made Pinot Noir that does pose good value against the more “cult-level” bottlings that can be twice as expensive.

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