La Follette Wines at the Barlow
Perhaps you have heard of Sonoma County winemakers Greg La Follette, perhaps not. More likely, you’ve heard of the wineries he’s been involved with: Flowers, La Crema, Beaulieu, Kendall-Jackson, and umpteen others.
Now, thanks to a partnership with the owners of Quivira Vineyards & Winery, the flying winemaker who’s logged 60 harvests in 30 years has got his own brand and a new tasting room in Sebastopol’s Barlow project that’s a must-stop for serious fans of new world Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Be fruitful and multiply
“This is all about reproduction,” La Follette said about his mission to partner with the grapevine, so that its destiny to be fruitful and multiply aligns with his own aims to make great wine. If this sounds a little woo-woo and mystical, then you ought to hear him talk about the finer points of mucopolysaccharides, carbohydrate repartitioning strategy, and winemaking at the quaternary level.
As a winemaking consultant, he’s more of a guru than a dictator of high-point-scoring formulas. And a yeast whisperer — La Follette says he listens closely to yeast, like one listens to a child’s cry: What does it want?
Is this guy for real? Well, it all won’t matter one whit to you if his wine doesn’t please your palate, so let’s get to that matter forthright. But just keep this in mind when visiting the spacious, contemporary tasting room, which the always overall-wearing vintner — so far as I can tell, that’s not just for the photo shoot — said he left up to folks experienced in such things to design: When La Follette says that “winemaking is a contact sport,” he may say it with a characteristic, broad smile, but he’s not just joking. Here’s a guy who still jumps inside wine tanks with a shovel, scooping up handfuls of pomace to crunch seeds between his teeth and taste them — to determine just what’s going on in there. And it’s what’s going on in Sonoma County grapes that’s most important to him now.
Take a sip
If you like Burgundy, but find that many “Burgundian” claims don’t pan out, then friend, give these a try. Take the Chardonnays: They’re made with full malolactic fermentation and French oak barrels, like lots of California Chardonnay. But these are just instruments — like a violin may be in the hands of a drunken fiddler in a honky-tonk or a violinist at the symphony; results may vary.
For instance, the 2011 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, Sangiacomo Vineyard ($38) merely need whisper softly, “oak and buttercream,” before serving a modest snack of dried apples drizzled in lemon, leaving with a finish that’s — how to say it? — just so.
La Follette allowed the 2010 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Lorenzo Vineyard ($38) to ferment until the following May after harvest — way outside of where many winemakers are willing to venture. Smoky aldehydes lend a deli meat character — the winemaker’s own words, and I tend to agree — to vanilla-cream soda, lemon meringue flavors.
The 2010 Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir ($40) hails from the legendary Van der Kamp Vineyard. Here the red berry fruit is shy, but complex; the finish silky, but not sweet. It’s wines like these that have made La Follette’s new tasting room a frequent stop for other wine industry folks, one of the greatest compliments (even if they do get a discount!).
Hit the road
You don’t have to get in your car and drive to get to the next wine tasting room, or beer tasting, for that matter. La Follette is located in the Barlow development, a collection of new and renovated warehouses and cannery buildings arranged in a neighborhood of low-traffic, walkable streets. Stroll up the lane to lunch at acclaimed Zazu restaurant, perk up with organic Taylor Maid Farms coffee, and explore shopping on Sebastopol’s Main Street, just a few blocks away.