NORTH COAST, CA
Littorai’s Ted Lemon cut his teeth working at some of the most storied estates in Burgundy throughout the early 1980s, and as Jon Bonné notes in The New Wine Rules, “almost no one in California has managed to bridge the traditions of Europe and California as [he] has.” After a stint as winemaker and vineyard manager of Domaine Roulot in Meursault—an honor never before bestowed on an American—and several posts on this side of the Atlantic, Lemon and his wife Heidi turned their attention to California’s north coast in search of the state’s best plots for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Since founding their winery in 1993, they have been committed to hands-on sustainable farming (according to biodynamic principles for all of their owned and leased vineyards) and restrained, detailed renditions of the two grape varieties that prioritize the individual expressions of the sites.
The Lemons are light-handed in the winery, working with as little intervention as possible. All primary and malolactic fermentations are spontaneous, and the team favors native yeasts and natural acidity over any fermentation aids or added acids. What doesn’t happen at Littorai: micro-oxygenation, reverse osmosis or any aggressive lees stirring, fining or filtration. What does happen: long fermentations using a portion of whole clusters for the reds, racking and bottling during the waning moon cycle and a winemaking regimen tailored to the unique character of the vineyard and vintage rather than a desired profile or standard formula.
Thieriot Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay
variety: chardonnay soil type: loam & sandstone avg vine age: 23 years
This 900’ elevation site near Occidental has been leased and farmed biodynamically by the Lemons for over a decade. The Chardonnay here grows on Gold Ridge loam. It’s pressed whole cluster and settled overnight without fining or filtration before being run into barrel for fermentation and 12 months’ aging.
Savoy Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
variety: pinot noir soil type: loam & shale avg vine age: 27 years
Savoy is one of the most reputed sites in the Anderson Valley AVA thanks in large part to Littorai, who has been bottling its Pinot Noir as a vineyard designate since 1995. Although located in the cool, northeastern side of the valley, it’s bookended by hills that protect it from extreme temperatures, and its sandy and clay loam soils are relatively moisture-retentive, allowing for Littorai’s blocks to be dry farmed.
The Pivot Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
variety: pinot noir soil type: sandy loam & marine sandstone
avg vine age: 15 years
The Pivot is Littorai’s estate vineyard—a three-acre stretch of the winery’s farm outside Sebastopol in western Sonoma County, seven miles from the coast. The Lemons modeled this property on Rudolf Steiner’s concept of an integrated farm, including undeveloped woods and streams, open pastures populated by cows and hay for the production of home-grown compost, and land dedicated to legumes, grains and grasses.
Wendling Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
variety: pinot noir soil type: sandy loam, sandstone & shale
avg vine age: 9 years
A relative newcomer to Littorai’s collection of vineyards, Wendling is owned by Paul Ardzrooni, but Block E is farmed by Ted Lemon. It’s characterized by gravelly, low-vigor soils and has thus far produced bright, concentrated, aromatic Pinot Noirs that shed their tannins quickly.
Les Larmes Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
variety: pinot noir soil type: loam, shale & sandstone avg vine age: 20 years
A blend of free-run and press wine from Cerise, Savoy, Wendling and One Acre vineyards, Les Larmes sees approximately the same percentage of new oak as the vineyard designated wines yet is considered more approachable in its youth.