La Rochelle Winery
Our mission at La Rochelle is a simple one: to make California’s best, most interesting, most collectable Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Today, we partner with the state’s most renowned vineyards – Sleepy Hollow - Rosella’s - Londer - Paraiso - Tondre - Ferrington. Deer Park - Bacigalupi and more. We craft Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown on these famed estates that let the individual vineyard’s terroir, its special sense of place, shine through.
Located in the heart of Kenwood, California.
- California’s best wine.
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A little pretentious perhaps – but I believe necessary precursors to great wines.
The philosophical question is where does the winemaker fit into the framework which allows great wine expression? IF, as the fashion of the moment proclaims, great wine is made in the vineyard, then the winemaker can be considered incidental. Unfortunately wine happens to be made in wineries and the winemaker’s sensibilities fairly strongly controls vineyard expression.
I believe in the prime importance of a given vineyard site. Its location, climate, soil, aspect, drainage, air movement, fog, row direction, training methods and most important the vineyardist desire to create quality fruit. Close behind are its clones of Pinot Noir and their additional contribution to the quality potential from each vintage. Vintage variation expresses itself strongly between each district, each site and within clones within the site. Every vintage is different.
So what is the role of the winemaker? Simply to find the expressive core of each site’s fruit and to learn how to bring that expression into a recognizable form year after year. It takes imagination, requires considerable experience, a deft hand with technique and an openness to relearn from each vintage something known or forgotten or unknown. This complex tapestry of elements is what keeps the vocation alive for us day by day.
First, one must learn the optimum ripeness for each site to produce the starting flavors sought. This requires tasting other people’s wines from the vineyard, identifying desirable flavor potentials within those wines, relating those flavors to what you see in the fruit – or better yet, finding flavors with positive distinctiveness which we can accentuate. There are many vineyard trips to evaluate the fruit development and more importantly, to evaluate the person running the vineyard – their philosophy, experience, willingness to make necessary efforts for quality production. Finally, one must track the flavor development to define the picking window. Repeat for several years to find your own style. Always, always, always – it’s about flavor – we’re making the wine from fruit because of its flavor!
In the winery, we look to handle the grapes appropriately with minimal abuse consistent with delivered quality. I like to fully destem because of the tannin profile you obtain. I avoid SO2 at crush to retain greater fruit intensity and favor a rich diversity of wine micro-flora in the earliest stages of fermentation. Likewise the cold soak period favors other wine yeasts, allows for some non-alcoholic flavor extraction, improves color stability and moderates later fermentation rates. The use of a wide range of diverse wine yeasts allows accentuation of flavor, tannins, texture and mouthfeel in a reproducible manner. This becomes one of our main tools for re-enforcing and differentiating the typicity of expression from each site. Cooler fermentations keep more fruit in the wine and less in the winery’s atmosphere. Low stress fermentations avoid off-aromas. Low nutrient fermentations accentuate differentiation. Long maceration periods impact mouthfeel, texture and length. Here is where we create the complexity potential which is the hallmark of our wine style. All of these aspects need a level of tweaking depending upon the individual season. Herein lays the necessity for clarity of vision for each lot to reach its potential.
I particularly like the word ‘elevage’ as the essence of my job during aging. We are ‘raising’ the wine during this period. We’ve made critical barrel decisions with an eye to enhance desired flavor development – but the decisions of wood are made months before harvest and may need adjustments at the moment of barreling down. The role of oak in Pinot can hardly be attended to enough. Pinot loves oak. The flavors compliment each other wonderfully and herein is a seductive potential for imbalance. And ‘elevage’ is all about finding the wine’s balance. Finding the balance of overall fruit and oak flavors and sweetness. Finding the acid balance and creating the lingering length redolent of fruit while holding an appropriate line of oak and always finishing cleanly. The evolution of texture – losing the harshness of the grape tannins, integrating the structure and sweetness of the oak tannins while retaining the viscosity from the alcohol and yeast byproducts. This is a moving target through the passage of time and timing becomes important for the final balancing of the individual barrels into a blend expressing the looked-for typicity of the site, the richness and vivacity of the Pinot fruit / yeast combinations and the structure and length from appropriate barrel choices. Tie this in with bottling and release plans to present the wines at appropriate levels of development while retaining great aging potential and you have a vocation which does keep one involved.
Folks often chide me for not being enthusiastic enough about our wines. So let me explain. During the above period of two plus years (on average) I’ve been into the vineyards many times and made an irreversible picking decision. We receive the grapes and make irreversible handling and fermentation decisions. I’ve been into the bins during fermentation most every day and made an irreversible pressing decision. We go into what we hope will be an optimal barrel mix – and have to question the fit for many months as the wines evolve. We pick a mix of barrels to create the final lot – each barrel is an individual and each barrel tastes differently at that point and each taster reacts differently to those tastes at blending. The blends have to be evaluated not only for what they are at blending – but what they will be at release and what they may become at some ‘optimum’ age window. And all during the above period there have been points where each wine sample has been exceptional, then dull, then promising and finally – well decisions must be implemented and the final die cast and a bottle produced. If I’m successful – you are delighted in what you’re tasting – but forgive me, for I am not only tasting what is in our glass – but everything that might have been in our glass as well…
Estate Vineyards / AVA
Our first Anderson Valley vineyard, the Conzelman site was orignally known as Claudia Springs. Located a couple of minutes south of the town of Navarro on Highway 128, 160 miles north of the Winery, this small site has provided us small quantities of Dijon clone 667 Pinot Noir in 2007 and 2009. Redolent of cherry and the characteristic cranberry notes of the appellation, this wine has gorgeous acidity and a comparatively hearty structure.
Deer Meadow Vineyard:
This vineyard is located near the town of Boonville in Mendocino County and rises from about 1000′ to 1700′ in the Valley’s eastern hills. Planted in the early 1990s by Richard Savoy, a retired San Francisco book seller, Deer Meadow offers both amazing views of the Anderson Valley’s wine country as well as extraordinary conditions for the growing of spectacular Pinot Noir. Our first vintage of Deer Meadow fruit was 2010; we contracted for about 2 tons of the Swan, Calera, and Dijon 667 clones of Pinot Noir. We anticipate that the elevation changes and relative lack-of-vigor of the soil on this down-sloping site (compared to a Valley floor site like Ferrington) will result in smaller yields of fruit per acre.
Ferrington Vineyard is home to our only Anderson Valley Chardonnay site as of 2012. Located near Boonville, on the same side of Hwy 128 as Deer Meadow, Ferrington was originally planted in the late 1960s. The 70 acre site is planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer on decomposed sandstone and clay soils. In 2010 we entered into a contract to purchase about two tons of Robert Young clone of Chardonnay, and the first vintage yielded just over 100 cases. Ferrington was purchased by the Schoeneman family in 1997 and it has since become one of the most sought after sites in Anderson Valley. We also received Pinot Noir from this site in 2012.
Londer Estate Vineyard:
Our first vintage of Pinot Noir, made from Dijon 115, from the Londer Estate site came from the 2009 vintage. Larry and Shirlee Londer started their project in 2001, and since, their wines have been very well received by the press and the wine consumer. Their vineyard is located right near the town of Boonville in the southern end of Anderson Valley on the Northwest side of Hwy 128.
The Arroyo Seco AVA is just down the bench and slightly southeast of the Highlands. Its close proximity to Monterey Bay makes for a very cool climate, perfect for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the Arroyo Seco, we source grapes from Mission Ranch Vineyard
Originally planted in 1961 by the fourth and fifth generations of the Mirassou family, the Mission Ranch was one of the first commercial vineyards planted in Monterey County. The vineyard is comprised of more than 200 acres and planted to several different varietals. The largest share of the vineyard is planted to Pinot Noir, and many clones, including Wadensville, Pommard, Mariafeld, are planted there. A significant planting of the Dijon clones – 115, 667, and 777 are also part of the mix.
Officially recognized as an appellation in 1983, Carneros is a butterfly shaped growing area that extends north and east from San Pablo Bay at the upper edge of San Francisco Bay. Moderated by water and hillsides, much of this AVA is ideally suited to cool-climate grapes such as Pinot Noir.
One of the oldest growing areas in California, with viticulture dating back to the 1830s, Carneros was home to one of the first great vineyard sites in California: the Stanly Ranch. Planted in the late 1800s, this site was home to some of the great wines of turn-of-the-century California.
Donum Estate Vineyard:
In 2008, we started talking with one of the premier growers in the area, Anne Moller-Racke, President
of Donum Estate Winery about acquiring fruit. Moller-Racke has had a long relationship with the original Buena Vista vineyard block, serving as the vineyard manager for years. When that brand was sold, the family retained 70 acres of vineyard. This site, which was planted in 1989, became the Donum Estate Vineyard. In 2009, we were able to buy a couple of tons of the “Donum Selection” clone of Pinot. Thought to have originated from the Roederer clones brought from France and meant, primarily, for sparkling wine production, this selection is central to the wines of Donum Estate Winery, and exhibit wonderful organoleptic complexity.
La Rochelle’s first release from Donum Estate fruit will be in 2011.
RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY:
A relatively large appellation (it accounts for 1/6 of the total planted acreage in Sonoma County) that encompasses both cool climate sub-appellations such as Green Valley and warm areas – Chalk Hill – for example, the Russian River Valley (RRV) suffers from a lack of specificity that makes it difficult for consumers to truly know what the appellation means. Granted appellation status in 1983 and enlarged in 2005, RRV, nevertheless, it is home to dozens of fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sites. Four such sites: Dutton-Campbell, Freestone Hill, and Dutton-Morelli Lane, and Saralee’s are extraordinary vineyards, producing fruit that captures the elegance and mystery of these two noble varieties and elicits (in me, at least) a certain wistful wonder at the beauty of it all.
Located near the town of Graton and farmed by the famed Dutton family, the Dutton-Campbell (D-C) Vineyard is our first Russian River Valley (RRV) Pinot site. Though planted to several clones, we have exclusively used the heritage Pommard clone of Pinot for our D-C offerings (the first of which was 2007). This vineyard, like many others in the appellation, is planted on the Goldridge soil series, a well-draining and relatively infertile sandy soil.
Dutton-Morelli Lane Vineyard:
Planted to three varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel, this 25-acre site is located near the town ofOccidental only a few miles from the Pacific and planted on the Goldridge soil series. The two Burgundian varieties were planted in 1995-1996 and the curiously-chosen Zinfandel (a favorite of the original property owner) in 1935; this extremely cool site, 765 feet above sea level, produces wine with an extremely long, finely-honed finish. The leanest Chardonnay in our Grand Cru Collection, this Hyde Selection (of an old Wente clone) wine, reflects its site and scion material beautifully.
Freestone Hill Vineyard:
After a wait of five years, we were finally able to source Pinot Noir from this spectacular site located near Freestone. From a 23-acre vineyard planted to nine Pinot clones, we receive the Dijon 115 clone from a 1.25-acre block situated in the toe of this hilly and cold site. With yields of around 2 tons to the acre, we will be able to make about 120 cases of wine. The vineyard has a southern aspect and the cane-pruned Vertical Shoot Position (VSP) trellis architecture is oriented North-South.
Saralee’s Vineyard is the source for three acres of Pinot Meunier (PM), our only source for this extremely tasty mutation of Pinot Noir. Comprised of 275 acres and planted to more than 20 different varieties, this site has been used as a source of budwood for other vineyards. The 3.18 acre PM block was planted in 1989 on Pajaro gravelly loam and Yolo loam. Our first vintage from this site was 2012.
We are delighted to have added the famous Bacigalupi Vineyard to our list of vineyard partners. The Bacigalupi family have been instrumental in developing the ultra-premium reputation for California wines. The Bacigalupi name gained recognition during the famous Paris tasting in 1976 when the 1973 Napa Valley Chardonnay from Château Montelena (made with 40% of Bacigalupi fruit) triumphed over many acclaimed French wines.
In 2014 the family offerd us a small amount of Chardonnay, planted with a selection of cuttings from their Paris Block. Needless to say, we are now very proud to be producing both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from this amazing Family & Vineyard.
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS:
Spanning three counties but having just over 700 planted acres (about 150 devoted to Pinot Noir) the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation offers rugged beauty, trying growing conditions, and gorgeous Pinot Noir. Having vineyards on both sides of the Santa Cruz mountain range makes this appellation somewhat unique. Contrast Santa Cruz Mountains to the appellations in Monterey County, including Santa Lucia Highland, where there are a significant number of vineyards there planted to more acres of Pinot Noir than the whole of the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation.
Depending upon where vineyards are planted, the best varietal for the site can differ tremendously. North along the range in Santa Clara County, Cabernet grows beautifully, on the Pacific side at lower elevations, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow best in the cool climate. Established in 1981, the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation’s ruggedness contributes greatly to its small size: Pierce’s Disease, fatal to vineyards, thrives in the blue green sharpshooter insect that inhabit the numerous streams twisting through the hillsides. Though known for producing angular, tannic Pinot Noir, the one vineyard we are currently using – Deer Park Vineyard – produces more opulent wine with tremendous flavor and structure.
LESTER FAMILY VINEYARD AT DEER PARK RANCH:
Overlooking Pleasant Valley Road, 539 feet above sea level, in the Santa Cruz mountains, Deer Park Vineyard offers a wide variety of Pinot Noir clones. Comprised of 21 acres, two-thirds of which are Pinot Noir, the vineyard is planted to the Wadensville, Pommard, Mariafeld, Jackson clones as well as several Dijon clones including 115 and 667.
Deer Park Ranch is owned by the Lester family and is managed by Prudy Foxx. 2005 marked the first vintage that we incorporated fruit into our program, making less than 100 cases of the 2005 Pinot Noir, Deer Park Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains , for our Pinot Noir Program . Prior to this, David Bruce Winery used most of the fruit.
SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS:
One of the most exciting Pinot Noir appellations in the world, this slender hillside growing area extends roughly 18 miles northwest to southeast in Monterey County. Cooled by wind from the Pacific ocean just a mountain chain to the west and gaining ripening sun from its elevated exposures, the Santa Lucia Highlands is home to some of the most profound Pinots now being made. La Rochelle works with a number of vineyards spanning the entire length of the appellation. Each wine we produce has its own special site-driven character. They all share, however, the passion of the people who farm them.
Owned by boyhood friends, Gary Pisoni and Gary Franscioni, this acclaimed vineyard was planted to the Pisoni clone in 1997. Comprised of 50 acres, 42 planted to Pinot Noir, Garys’ sits at 300 feet above sea level and rises at a 10% grade to 500 feet. This vineyard is fairly densely planted (6’ x 8’ and 5’ x 8’) and is trellised in the Vertical Shoot Position to maximize ripeness and sunlight on its open canopy. Planted in a north-south configuration, Arroyo Seco sandy loam is the predominant soil type. La Rochelle Winery purchased fruit from this site from 2003-2005.
Located on Sanchez Road, this vineyard is the source of Pommard clone Pinot Noir for our Sparkling wine and Rosé. We bring in 4-5 tons of fruit each year; the free-run juice goes into a Blanc de Noir and the press fraction is used to make the base for a bone-dry Rosé.
Paraiso Vineyard is owned by Rich Smith, one of the pioneer wine growers in the Santa Lucia Highlands appellation, the Paraiso Vineyard is the most southerly-located vineyard in the appellation from which we source fruit. Comprised of seven blocks of Pinot Noir, covering nearly 80 acres and planted to the Martini and several Dijon clones, this site sits 119 miles south of the Winery. Paraiso Vineyard, which was planted in 1973 on decomposed granite and Arroyo Seco loam, one of the predominant soil type in SLH, uses Vertical Shoot Position and California sprawl trellising. Yields vary by block but average about four tons per acre. Situated at more than 500 feet above sea level, this site receives plenty of sunshine during the day before cool ocean breezes drop temperatures later in the day.
One of the most desirable vineyard designates, Rosella’s Vineyard is owned by Gary Franscioni, one of the partners in Garys’ Vineyard and Soberanes Vineyard. This 50-acre site is planted to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Starting in 2010, we have been harvesting about 2 tons of Dijon 76 clone Chardonnay as part of our “Grand Cru Collection” of wines.
Also referred to as the Smith-Lindley vineyard, Sarmento is comprised of 300 acres of Pinot Noir and 60 of Chardonnay and is located 660 feet above the Salinas Valley floor. Co-owned by Rich Smith and Butch Lindley, Sarmento is 5 miles north of Paraiso Vineyard and 114 miles south of the Winery in Livermore. Composed of granitic loam soils and home to both the Pommard clone and Dijon clones such as 667 (both of which are part of our Sarmento Vineyard offering) this site offers stunning view of the much of Valley floor all the way east to the Chalone appellation. Because of their elevation, vineyards such as Sarmento receive plenty of late-morning sunlight, being above the fog-line, and are then cooled significantly in the evening by the ocean breezes that crest the Santa Lucia range. Planted in 2000, this young vineyard is just now beginning to show the quality of fruit it is capable of producing. Trellised in the Vertical Shoot Position mode and averaging yields of about 4 tons per acre, this vineyard’s fruit is made into a Pinot Noir made exclusively for our Pinot Noir Program wine club.
Sleepy Hollow Vineyard:
This 450-acre hillside vineyard has been part of La Rochelle’s portfolio for several years. Managed by Sam Balderas (who was a winemaker at Mirassou Vineyards) and owned by the Talbott family, we have gotten consistently beautiful fruit from one of the more northerly-located vineyards in the appellation. Block A, planted to the Martini clone, is located at the upper edge of the vineyard 448 feet above sea level, 108 miles south of the Winery. Block A, like Garys’ Vineyard, is planted on Arroyo Seco gravelly loam soil, which allows for excellent root penetration and enables vines to pick up subsoil minerals that increase flavor complexity. One of the older sites in our portfolio, Sleepy Hollow was planted on its own roots more than 30 years ago.
Named for a gentleman who received a Mexican land grant of over 8,900 acres of Monterey County land in exchange for a “loan of 40 horses, 50 head of cattle, 4 oxen and some sheep,” this vineyard was planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah by the Franscioni/Pisoni partnership in 2007. These world-class growers and wine-producers planted Pisoni clone Pinot Noir on an alluvial fan adjacent to Garys’ Vineyard; La Rochelle receives about 2 tons of fruit. Our first vintage of Soberanes fruit was 2010. This wine is part of our “Reserve Collection.”
A couple of miles further north and very close to Garys’ and Rosella’s vineyards, is another new site in 2009: Tondre Grapefield. Managed by Joe Allarid, this site’s reputation for producing top-quality fruit is growing rapidly. We purchased a couple of tons of two different Dijon clones including one we have never used before but which has great potential…943.
White Sage Vineyard:
The first vintage of fruit from White Sage Vineyard, owned by sixth generation Mirassou family-member— Mark Mirassou— came into the winery in 2009. Mark’s vineyard is planted exclusively to Pinot Noir and is located just south of Hahn winery on River road just south of the center of the appellation. Dramatically narrow and tucked into a small valley cleaving the lower hillsides of the Highlands, White Sage Vineyard provided Dijon and classic clones to us
Similar to the RRV, Sonoma Coast is large enough (500,000 acres) to defy easy explication. Ranging from San Pablo Bay to the southern border of Mendocino County, the appellation encompasses an impressive diversity of weather and soil. Generally regarded as a cool climate appellation, the recent creation of sub-appellations (Fort Ross-Seaview) has gone a distance to more accurately define the appellation. La Rochelle is sourcing fruit from two sources in the appellation. Though each wine is distinctive in organoleptic detail, each shares the general Sonoma Coast characteristics of blod orange/root vegetable aromas and rose hip flavors.
La Cruz Vineyard – El Coro Block:
Carved from more than 650 acres on the east side of the Petaluma River, the 20-acre El Coro Block of La Cruz Vineyard is a gorgeous site planted to seven different clones of Pinot Noir on very light, well-draining loamy and volcanic soils. Our first vintage from this site was 2007, and the clonal mix of the wine has changed over the years. In 2012, we will be harvesting exclusively from the Dijon 828 clone “Block C.”
Across the Petaluma River from La Cruz, at the southern end of the Petaluma Gap (7 miles from the ocean) lay the Springhill Vineyard. This site, owned by Chris and Karen London, is home to 20 acres of Pinot Noir (La Rochelle sourced the Swan, Dijon 828, Dijon 115, among others) and Scottish Highland cattle (crazy good burgers!). Our first vintage from this site was 2008. Planted on the loamy Steinbeck soil series, the windswept site is 600′ above sea level.
Four Sisters Vineyard:
The Four Sisters Vineyard is located high above the Petaluma Gap and San Pablo Bay. As fog fills the valley below during the warm summer months, Four Sisters basks in sunlight throughout the day. The cool temperatures, from the fog below and windy afternoons, allow the Pinot Meunier grapes to ripen slowly and achieve full maturity with long hang time. Pinot Meunier, a close relative to Pinot Noir loves this environment.