I don’t know how I initially heard of Littorai, and it’s bugging me. Perhaps I read of them at some point? Certainly, since joining their members list, I’ve been seeing the name everywhere: kind of like when you buy a new car and suddenly you notice that same model all over the road. James Laube from Wine Spectator recently listed Littorai in his “top 20 favorite Sonoma pinot noir producers.” But I’ve started seeing their wines on restaurant menus, at K and L Wine Merchants, and hearing about them in conversations with other, wine-loving friends.
Hegui and I had a marvelous introduction to Littorai last September at a fun dinner at the 5th Floor Restaurant here in San Francisco. Winemaker Ted Lemon was on hand to introduce the numerous delightful pinots and chardonnays, as well as walk us through the various nuances of these gems. So what better way to follow up on a good thing then to attend the Littorai Client Appreciation wine tasting event at their facility in Sebastopol?
The day we went was dreary, rainy and cold. In fact, it started coming down in buckets while we were there, making the drive back into town along all those twisty country roads that much more exciting. I like living dangerously 😉 Seriously though, Littorai is in what appears for all the world to be a residential neighborhood. That wasn’t quite how I’d envisioned it. But none of us were disappointed when we finally arrived at the indicated address to find an imposing dark gate blocking the drive. There was a tiny sign on the electronic keypad that indicated the secret access code. We entered the numbers and were delighted and a bit awed when the huge thing silently swung open. I felt like Scooby Doo with Fred, Shaggy and all the rest riding in the Mystery Machine, about to enter something wild and spooky!
We glided down the long drive in our red Camry (not a van) past the houses, and suddenly we were greeted by a stunning vista of rain soaked vineyards sprawling across rolling hills. The golden color of the vines almost gave the illusion of a sunny day. Almost.
We had just come from the Williams Selyem fall pick-up event. That was large with an almost carnival atmosphere. Littorai, by contrast, seemed positively intimate by comparison. We had the pleasure of speaking with Ted Lemon while there. I really like the guy. He’s got this understated charm and subtle sense of humor that I especially enjoy. We talked a lot about the Fifth Floor Restaurant, naturally enough, since we’d both been there the same evening. I think that I’ve got to stop complaining about that perspiring cheese as I’m starting to bore myself!
It was fun to chat some more with Sheri Wood, who we also met at the San Francisco dinner. She mentioned that she’d read my story about it, which normally makes me a bit anxious—nobody wants uninvited criticism after all, but she was completely kind and warm—thank goodness! In fact, she encouraged us to return on a sunny day for a tour of the vineyards. I look forward to that.
The event was catered with lots of appealing amuses bouches, but it was the wine that really got our attention, as usual. First off there were so many to try! Just among the pinots, there were nine. Plus there were several chardonnays, and two dessert wines. Since Americans don’t spit, we had to really focus here. If you guessed that Hegui and I went right for the reds, you’re right. Whit and our other friends tried the delicious chardonnays, but I simply didn’t have room.
It was frightfully cold so we all struggled a bit with the aromas of these lovely wines. Here’s what we thought:
2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: It was beautiful transparent purple red (all of the wines had a similar color so I’ll stop noting here unless there is a difference) with a nose of dried rose petals and hibiscus that led to ripe raspberries, pepper with a long finish.
2010 Les Larmes Anderson Valley Pinot Noir: I was told that they consider this to be an Anderson Valley “appellation blend.” It had a spicy nose with some sour berry highlights. Concentrated and powerful, with rich raspberries and mineral notes, this was good. Whit bought some on the spot.
2009 Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir: We detected saw dust, cola and leather which led to supple raspberry, red stone fruit, and earthy notes.
2009 The Pivot Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: The person pouring this delightful taste for me referred to it as the “estate” wine and said the vines “are right outside.” That’s cool. This had an intense barnyard aroma with less fruit on the nose. It was earthy with red berries and an almost buttery texture with a long finish. I liked it a lot and bought a couple.
2009 Mays Canyon, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Darker than the others, this was more powerful, too, with full body, lots of earth notes and good fruit.
2009 Hirsh Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: A bit more acidic than the others, somewhat like how we found it at the Fifth Floor, it was fruit forward, and really enjoyable. I got some to stash in my cellar for a while.
2009 Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir: We had a long chat about the origin of this wine. Apparently the grapes are grown in Mendocino County near the town of Boonville. One of our group was from the area so was completely taken with the story. A deep purple red with that barnyard aroma that is so intoxicating, lots of mineral notes, red fruit and sour cherry.
2009 The Haven Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir: This was delicious, just like at the restaurant: full bodied, rich red fruit and earth, it has everything.
2002 One Acre, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir: This was an amazing wine! You could detect some of the secondary flavors, which took it to a whole new level. A brownish red on the nose we detected cola, raspberry, garrigue. It was complex and still had lots of fruit. I wrote on my notes “stunning!” “wow!” and “almost indescribable!”